The Black Cauldron

Wow, that was quite a disappointment.

Now, I went in expecting “The Black Cauldron” to be pretty bad (thanks in part to this Slate article), but in the back of my mind, I was hoping that my lowered expectations would overwrite the movie’s flaws and let me enjoy it.

 

Sadly, it was not to be. What makes the movie’s fumbles even harder is that I’ve read “The Chronicles of Prydain” by Lloyd Alexander (the movie’s title comes from the second book in the series), and it’s a fantastic and moving coming of age tale about an assistant pig keeper Taran (voiced by Grant Bardsley) and his journey to manhood (and heroism).

However, the film, directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich, has none of those qualities. It’s an overly cutesy tale about bringing down a scary but one-note villain in order to save the world and get the girl. It’s the template for every fantasy story ever written (as a fantasy consumer, that’s not a complaint, just an observation) but the writers and directors didn’t do anything special with the story.

 

The characters are goody-goody bland, the animal sidekicks (on both sides) are annoying, and the wrap-up is too easy and ultimately costs our heroes nothing (something that is completely foreign to the author Alexander).

It’s not often that I wish for a bad movie to be longer, but condensing five extraordinary novels

in to one 80 minute movie is a travesty, plain and simple. Maybe I could have handled this movie better if I hadn’t loved the books as I did, but what’s done is done. Now it’s time for someone to rescue this series from it’s fate and make it into the grand spectacle it deserves to be.

 

The Black Cauldron” (1985)

Written by too many to list here

Directed by Ted Berman and Richard Rich

Starring: Grant Bardsley (Taran)

Susan Sheridan (Eilonwy)

The Princess and The Frog

In the last couple of years (let’s be honest, the last decade or so), Pixar has held the monopoly on good animated kiddie films. Sure, other companies have been producing films here and there, but the ones I can remember the clearest belong to that little upstart company married to Disney.

I’d even go so far as to say that other childrens’ films really get a bad rap for not being Pixar films. So when I can, I try to branch out to other companies, just to see what’s going on out there. And while Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” has a lot to offer (especially to girls looking for a nonprincess character to love), I can’t help but think how much better this film would have been with Pixar’s magic touch.

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“The Sandlot” revisited

Some movies should not be revisited.

Some kiddie movies can last beyond childhood; they are the special ones, the ones that you can come back to time and again, and they always retain that magic you witnessed in your youth.

 

For me, two standouts are “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and Shirley Temple’s “The Blue Bird,” but it really doesn’t matter which ones made the cut. What matters is that for the length of the film, a piece of your childhood comes back to life and you are young again.

But, then there are those other movies, that had magic when you were young, but when you look at them with adult eyes, you can’t go back. All the flaws are right there in the open and you cannot brush them aside. The movie is forever tainted by your growing wisdom.

Unfortunately, “The Sandlot” falls into the second category.

I saw it with my cousin when I was fourteen, and I really liked it; it was a good baseball-and-kids story that for once didn’t center around the big game.

But then I had to go and watch it this past week. There are too many characters, too many improbable (and let’s face it, impossible) situations and too many moments that just make the adult in me cringe.

“The Sandlot” had a lot going for it; a solid setup about a lonely boy in a new town who finds himself on a baseball team (when he doesn’t know how to play); a likeable enough cast; and an unconventional approach to a sports movie.

It all goes downhill from there. I want to remember this movie fondly, but the adult in me can’t find the childhood glee. It’s all gone.

The Sandlot” (1993)

Written by David M. Evans and Robert Gunter

Directed by David M. Evans

Starring: Scotty Smalls (Tom Guiry)

Benny (Mike Vitar)

Tuck Everlasting

Ok readers, we’re going to begin with a question this week: ever seen the movie “Holes” (2003)?

It’s based on the book of the same name by Louis Sachar, an author who specializes in weird kids’ books (such as “Wayside School is Falling Down” and “Sideways Stories From Wayside School”). The movie version of the Newbery Medal-winning YA novel is a completely faithful adaptation that unfortunately lacks all the charm of the crazy-fun book.

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Ponyo

Most fantasy stories fall into one of two groups. The first group places fantasy elements into the ‘real’ world and forces the fantasy to interact with our laws, such as gravity and occasionally evolution (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is a good example of that type). The second group just goes ahead and makes a whole new world and establishes the rules of order in the text (“Lord of the Rings” is a good example for group two).

“Ponyo,” written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, falls firmly in the second group. Miyazaki has taken the backbone of “The Little Mermaid” tale and crafted this world that is absolutely breathtaking.

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In defense of “The Fairly OddParents”

I first stumbled upon the brilliant kiddie show “The Fairly OddParents” in the summer of 2002. I had driven up to Flagstaff on moving day for summer school, but I’d driven up too quickly and I needed to kill about an hour before I could begin moving my stuff in. So, I wandered into the dorm’s common room and parked myself in front of the television (improbably turned to Nickelodeon of all channels).

And there it was; a miserable little kid named Timmy Turner (voiced by Tara Strong) has secret fairy godparents, Cosmo (voiced by Darran Norris) and Wanda (voiced by Susanne Blakeslee), who will grant him wishes (with some restrictions).

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“James and the Giant Peach” revisited

As I’ve written before, it can be really, really hard to get children’s films right. If all the pieces aren’t there, adults (and kids too) will immediately spot a cash grab and recoil.

I had some fine memories of “James and the Giant Peach,” (and I’ve always loved Roald Dahl books) the 1996 adaptation from director Henry Selick, but it’s been quite a while since I last watched it, so I decided to check it out from an adult perspective. Unfortunately, the film has the ingredients for magic, but it just doesn’t deliver.

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Kung Fu Panda

I’ve said it before, possibly even on this blog, but I think kids’ films are the hardest to review. Even if the film is sentimental tripe, kids everywhere are going to love it (even if they shouldn’t), and well, I feel a little bad about bashing something that little ones get so much enjoyment from (even if the film totally deserves a good bashing).

Fortunately, “Kung Fu Panda,” directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson, isn’t that bad, but it’s still not great.

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“Alice” (1988)

For this review, we’re jumping back to the 1980s for a surreal film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Writer/director Jan  Svankmajer takes us on a wild and crazy adventure (not quite down a rabbit hole) is his “Alice.”

What makes this “Alice” stand out from the others is the stylistic choices Svankmajer makes, some that work and some that don’t.

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Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Over the years, I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with the Batman franchise. I watched the cartoon when I was kid, but I thought it was pretty boring. I don’t like the Tim Burton movies, but I don’t like any Tim Burton movies. I liked “Batman Forever,” and Val Kilmer is my favorite Batman, but I (wisely?) stayed away from “Batman and Robin.” I thought “Batman Begins” was one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen, but I loved “Dark Knight.”

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