Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Movies: For Kids?

Why is it that I cope better with the spring Daylight Savings Time switch than I do with the fall change that theoretically should be easier? This morning, I woke up earlier -- without an alarm -- than I did last week. I think DST just fits my body clock better. I tend to wake up at that same time, but it seems too early to get up, so I fall back asleep and then sleep a lot longer. With the time change, I can just get up when I first wake up.

There was nothing on TV this weekend, and I was brainstorming, so there was a lot of movie-watching going on, mostly as background noise.

Saturday night, I watched Monsters vs. Aliens, which is very much truth in advertising as it was about a group of monsters warehoused by the government who are then asked to help defend the world against alien invasion. It was cute, but with the Dreamworks films, I tend to get the feeling that they're trying too hard, with all the celebrity voice casting and a lot of the characterization coming from associations we're supposed to have with that voice, plus all the efforts to be hip and cool, with pop culture references and jokes intended to be funny for adults while they fly over children's heads. That really showed up in sharp contrast for me because I watched my DVD of Up immediately afterward. I think a lot of the difference between Dreamworks and Pixar could be summed up as irony vs. sincerity. Dreamworks makes animated movies that appeal to both adults and kids by having kid-friendly stories (usually with at least some bodily function humor) that also include voices from celebrities adults will recognize and character traits that are inside jokes based on the celebrity casting, along with double-entendre humor adults will get that kids won't. Pixar makes films that appeal to both kids and adults by finding universal themes that don't rely on age or current culture. You may approach it in a different way, so that it's an entirely different movie with a different impact depending on where you are in life, but it's still got an emotional tug for everyone, and they aren't afraid to go to that emotional place and wear their hearts on their sleeves. With the Dreamworks movies, I get the feeling that the people behind them would laugh at you if they knew you cried in the movie -- like "Ha! We totally got you!" but the Pixar people would be crying right there with you.

On an entirely different note, I watched Inkheart Sunday afternoon. This one was mostly interesting to me because of author geekery/ego (and the fact that I find Brendan Fraser in middle-aged dad mode even more appealing than he was in 20-something romantic comedy leading man mode -- though his romantic comedies did tend to be awful -- or in his action hero mode). It's hard to sum up this movie quickly, but Dad has the power to bring things from books into this world when he reads out loud, though something from this world may then be sent into the book world. When reading the book Inkheart to his daughter, he inadvertently brings the villains (and one other character) from the book into this world while his wife is sent into the book. Now, years later, he's on a frantic quest to find a copy of this out-of-print book to try to get his wife back, all while being stalked by a character who wants to go home and by the villains, who want to use his power to bring the Big Bad from the book into this world to give them ultimate power. To try to stop all this, they have to find the author and his original manuscript -- and then maybe rewrite the ending. There were sparks of utter brilliance in this, like having the various characters from a lot of (public domain) books interacting -- the good guys' team eventually includes one of the thieves from Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, as well as Toto and some flying monkeys. Plus, there's Helen Mirren on a unicorn (which may become my new exclamation). This movie had the seeds of greatness in it, with an intriguing story and a cast loaded with Oscar winners and nominees, but I don't think it quite got there. In spite of the stellar cast, there was something kind of low-rent about it, but not intentionally or ironically campy (a la The Princess Bride). More like "ah, this is just a kids' movie" campy.

I did find myself kind of wishing for something like this on an adult level because there were some interesting thematic concepts I would have wanted to explore. The core of the story is two men wanting to be reunited with their wives, and those parts were really strong, and then it was like they remembered that this was for kids, so they had to move the kids front and center. I'll be checking the book out of the library today, so I'm curious how it works. And, oh dear, although this was a movie based on a book, there's a novelization of the movie, written by an entirely different author. Something tells me I may not recognize the original book.

You know, I got a whole series out of wishing there was something like Harry Potter, but for grown-ups and about adult issues and themes, so maybe I should put the subconscious to work here.


Evi said...

I'm from Germany, so I first read the original book ("Tintenherz" in German) and saw the film much later...I didn't really like the film, but I love the book (and the next two in the series). Hopefully you'll feel the same way about it. Please post your thoughts when you're done with reading it.
It makes me feel kinda hip when I know stuff my favourite authors don't know yet. (-:

Shanna Swendson said...

I just started reading the book. I'm only three chapters in, but I like it so far, and I can see some of the elements that made it into the film and some of the changes. Oddly, although they changed the beginning a lot, they kept a lot of the dialogue almost the same.