Continuing the Journal that was begun yesterday, I keep looking at family films, discovering some of the best and the very worst the genre has to offer. It appears that through it all, there is no substitute for imagination and storytelling, something two of the three films here possess and the other seems to shun like the plague.
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 38
ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE (2001) – Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) is working in the boiler room of a museum in 1914. His lifelong dream is to lead an expedition to the lost city of Atlantis, a passion shared by his now-deceased grandfather. Naturally, everyone thinks he’s a kook. Fortunately, an eccentric millionaire (John Mahoney) was friends with the grandfather and believes in Milo’s potential. He assembles a strange but top notch crew and some very advanced machinery. After many obstacles which wind up costing the lives of hundreds of people, Milo and company do indeed find the lost civilization of Atlantis. But the next threat comes not from the living Atlantians, but from within their own ranks.
I initially saw ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE when it was released twelve years ago (dear God, that long?). I was not impressed. I found the story basic and I didn’t care for the animation or the rhythm of the film. Well, the rhythm is still a problem. The film seems all over the map when it begins and focuses on a lot of comic relief sequences before jumping to the next thing just a few seconds later.
However, perhaps because I have cultivated a love of classic pulp literature and fantasy-based adventure since then, I found myself enjoying the film this time out (It helps that I could see it this time, which caused me to realize that I had initially seen the film through a lousy projection, with the bulb turned to half-power.). Even if the film is far from perfect, it’s an enjoyable and visually interesting animated adventure film in the spirit of Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
DADDY DAY CARE (2003) – Eddie Murphy and his friend wind up on the wrong side of a floundering economy and are laid off. This means taking their kids out of a pricey day care center and learning to take care of the kids themselves. Faced with their unique situation, they decide to open up their own day care center. They are in over their heads and they learn to sort of let the kids run wild as they try to manage them while encouraging their individuality. But uh-oh, the bitch at the other day care center doesn’t like that and tries to shut down Daddy Day Care for good.
Much as I’ve been intrigued by the evolution of family fantasies in the 21st century, the family comedy still rests at the bottom of the cinematic barrel. This represents the absolute nadir of that genre and it contains everything that I have learned to despise about the genre. The kids are obnoxious and annoying, but only until the script requires them to make puppy dog eyes and sneak in some cheap sentiment. The film is painfully unfunny and resorts to quite a lot of gross-out humor in order to score easy laughs from six year olds. There is not a single believable character in the whole thing, nor is there anyone you’d care to run into, much less spend 90 minutes with.
Everyone from the ground up should be deeply, deeply ashamed of their participation in this film. And maybe they are, since neither Eddie Murphy nor Jeff Garlin returned for the Fred Savage-directed sequel, DADDY DAY CAMP. This is the worst film has to offer and the idea that they are marketing this to children makes it no less shameful. An absolute disgrace. ZERO STARS (out of ★★★★)
WRECK-IT RALPH (2012) – This film takes place in the world of arcade games, most notably the came Fix-It Felix, which features a guy with a magic hammer who fixes the messes left by the game’s villain, Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly). That’s a problem for Ralph who isn’t such a bad guy, he’s just the villain of the game and stuck with his lot in life. Just once, he would like to receive the respect of his peers. He gets the idea that he needs to win a medal to become the hero for once. He leaves his own game and steals a medal from a violent first-person shooter called Hero’s Duty. Unfortunately, he then winds up losing the medal in a neighboring game, a candy-coated kart racer. In order to get his medal, he agrees to help a little girl in the game, Vanellope (Sarah Silverman), who is also hated by her peers because she’s a “glitch.”
Kids are sure to like this one, sure. But if you grew up in the arcade like I did, chances are you will like it more. There a lots of references to classic games. And it’s not just there for cheap gags either. There seems to be a reverence not only to today’s games, but to a bygone time when we plonked hundreds of quarters into stand-up games. It also acknowledges that in our quest to always have the newest thing, we may have lost something along the way.
WRECK-IT RALPH is visually stunning, particularly the scenes in candy game. It’s also quite funny and touching, tugging on the heartstrings with the relationship between Ralph and Vanellope. This one is a winner. ★★★1/2 (out of ★★★★)
OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) – This is sort of a deconstructionist prequel to THE WIZARD OF OZ. Most people are aware of how that film turned out and their final image of the Wizard was likely that of a befuddled man, guilty of reckless endangerment and fraud. And that Glinda wasn’t exactly clean in the whole deal either. Sam Raimi’s newest film seeks to delve a little deeper.
When we meet the magician Oz (James Franco), he is an impressive but far from perfect performer in a traveling carnival. He is a smooth talker, out for money and women, something that gets him in plenty of trouble. He is also very much aware that he is incapable of any real magic, which only seems to remind him that he may never be the great man he wants to be.
After escaping another angry mob, his hot air balloon gets caught up in a tornado and like Dorothy would years later, he winds up in the land that bears his name, Oz. He meets Theodora (Mila Kunis) a witch who tells Oz he is destined to put an end to the evil witch Glinda (Michelle Williams). Whatever our opinions of Glinda from the original story (seriously, stop looking so smug, Glin), we know she wasn’t the bad guy in the story. Instead, the source of Oz’s troubles can be put on Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz), something which Theodora is initially unaware. Oz travels on a quest to put a stop to Glinda, mainly because it will give him access to the treasures of Oz. Along the way, he finds out the truth and seeks to finally become a great man.
I was initially skeptical of OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. It seemed like Disney was hoping to replicate the success of Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, a major financial success that I didn’t care for at all. But this isn’t Burton going through the motions. It’s Raimi handling something completely new.
There are moments in this film that attain the level of movie magic. Beautiful, colorful landscapes mesh with wonderful sequences and intriguing character depth make this more than just a film for the kids. The performances are pretty great too, with each one giving their own personality. I liked everyone, right down to the china doll voiced by Jamie King. A few wonky CGI moments involving one of the characters might have struck me a bit odd, but not enough to discount this wonderful surprise. This is one Disney spectacle that deserves its success. ★★★1/2 (out of ★★★★)
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 181
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