Movie Reviews | Childhood fantasies

Movie Reviews | Childhood fantasies
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First Published: Sat, Apr 19 2008. 12 14 AM IST
Updated: Sat, Apr 19 2008. 12 14 AM IST
Horton Hears a Who!
What distinguishes Horton Hears a Who! from the other recent Dr Seuss film adaptations—How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Cat in the Hat, in case you need reminding—is that it is not one of the worst movies ever made. That’s faint praise, I know, and I’m even willing to go a bit further. There are aspects of Horton, directed by Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martino under the auspices of the 20th Century Fox animation unit responsible for the Ice Age movies, that are fresh and enjoyable, and bits that will gratify even a dogmatic and orthodox Seussian.
Unlike The Grinch and The Cat, Horton does not try to flesh out the good doctor’s graphical world by means of sets, prosthetic make-up and the other accoutrements of live-action moviemaking. The animation is free, supple and brightly coloured, and the crazy curves and angles that Seuss arranged on the page pop into three dimensions with rubbery energy and elastic wit.
When it comes to telling the story, however, and drawing out the dimensions of the characters, this Horton supplements Dr Seuss’ fable with pages from the battered, worn-out Hollywood family-film playbook.
There are all kinds of extraneous elements in the story. The Mayor of Whoville, voiced by Steve Carell, is a beleaguered dad who has trouble communicating with his son, a moody emo boy named Jo-Jo.
The excitable sidekick is another such requirement, and here that duty is taken on by Seth Rogen in the role of Morton, a motor-mouthed mouse who is Horton’s best friend. Rogen’s casting, like Carell’s, is less a stunt than a kind of pop culture insurance clause. Get some box-office-proven comedians to do the voice work—Jonah Hill, Isla Fisher and Dan Fogler make up part of the B team here, in smaller parts—and you can’t fail.
And Horton Hears a Who! probably won’t, at least as a commercial proposition. But the star whose presence is clearly meant to be its gold-plated guarantee of success—Jim Carrey as Horton—is also the source of its most egregious failure. Carrey, who also played the Grinch, can be an agile and restrained actor when the mood strikes him. But the steadfast elephant is a vehicle for an endless, grating avalanche of clowning and riffing. Carrey not only breaks character with his goofing, he also all but destroys the nobility and sweetness that make Horton such a durable hero of children’s literature.
The Spiderwick Chronicles
Every devoted reader of children’s literature knows that magic is difficult—for the young wizards who practice it, of course, but even more so for their would-be creators, who must compete in an ever more crowded field.
The Spiderwick Chronicles, adapted from books by Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black, represents the latest such effort. Instead of the kind of inspired imaginative synergy that distinguished The Lord of the Rings and later, Harry Potter pictures, this movie, directed by Mark Waters (Mean Girls), feels more like a sloppy, second-hand pander. It conjures a world of fanciful creatures—some benign, others hostile—and introduces into it a group of squabbling human siblings (played by Sarah Bolger and Freddie Highmore) who have moved into a spooky old house in the middle of nowhere, along with their newly divorced mother, Helen (Mary-Louise Parker).
A previous resident of the house was one Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), a scholar of the invisible world of sprites and goblins and the author of an encyclopaedic reference book on their ways. That book, locked away in a secret room, is coveted by Mulgarath, commander of a bloodthirsty monster crew, who wants to use Spiderwick’s lore to wipe out all the cute little elves and fairies, and the children as well.
Why? Well, just because. Mulgarath takes many different forms, the most frightening of which is surely the person of Nick Nolte. But, his malevolence is less scary than routine, as is the anxious twittering of Thimbletack, a honey eating house spirit (voiced by Martin Short), and the jokey gregariousness of Hogsqueal, a porcine fellow with the voice of a suddenly overexposed Seth Rogen.
The Spiderwick Chronicles combines a lot of tried and true ingredients on the assumption that it’s following a foolproof recipe. Movie star voices plus family dysfunction plus pixie dust and CGI plus some quirky Anglo-Saxon names should all add up to magic. But, you can’t just wave a wand and recite an incantation. It’s not as easy as it looks.
The movies released in Mumbai on Friday
@2008/The New York Times
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First Published: Sat, Apr 19 2008. 12 14 AM IST