Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Saw This!! Kids stuff

In this I Saw This!!:
TMNT
Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
Enchanted
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TMNT - 2007, Kevin Munroe - blu-ray

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blew up just at the tail end of my adolescence, when I was about 11 or 12 or so when peer pressure was starting to take hold and make me feel silly for watching cartoons, reading comics and playing with toys.  I didn't abandon these things that I quite loved, but if it was exceptionally juvenile, like, say, talking turtles who know martial ars, well it was too goofy for me to take up. 

I was a rather adamant anti-Ninja Turtle guy, the characters were cheesy and they very concept itself seemed like it was designed by a four-year-old.  Plus, Ninja Turtles had dethroned He-Man and superheroes and Star Wars as the boys' franchise-du-jour and that just rankled me.

Even still, I bloody know all about the Ninja Turtles.  As a geeky teen, even if you didn't like something you still had to know it.  By the late 1990's (and my 20's) I decided to give up on this quest of knowing all things geek, as with the burgeoning internet started to reveal all manner of geeky thing I had not time, nor money, nor access to.  I mossed out on the last Ninja Turtle movie, and the 2000' revival with the female turtle, Venus, and yes, this rather larger budgeted cgi animated feature meant for an audience that had grown up with the property.

It's set after the Turtles' defeat of Shredder and the gang has split.  Leonardo spends his time haunting a rainforest, Michaelangelo is a kids party rent-a-dude, Donatello is in tech support and Raphael spends his nights as a vigilante.  There's a lot of tension between the brothers and when Leo returns from his excursion, things only get worse.  Not a good time for them all to be fighting as a centuries-old prophecy is about to come true as an unstoppable army from the past, resurrected by an immortal, is about to invade New York.

Truth told it's a decent film, surprisingly mature without alienating a younger audience completely, but I still can't see fit to care all that much about it.  My daughter has become a huge Ninja Turtles fan somehow which explains how we came to watch it, and she quite enjoyed it, though certainly not as much as the current TV show  (which this movie is one iteration removed from).  The animation, for a feature, is on par with what's considered television animation today, so it's acceptable but not incredible.

Honey, I Shrunk The Kids - 1989, Joe Johnston - netflix
I was surprised to learn that this film came out in 1989.  I thought I was a bit younger (like 9, versus 13) but that doesn't make it any less a crucial film from my childhood.  Despite the unruly title and the looming Disney moniker, this is a flat-out great family movie.  Watching it with fresh eyes (I can't even guess how long it's been since I last saw it, 20 years or more) I was overjoyed by how much it holds up.  Stylistically it's a product of its time, but the adventure is absolutely timeless.  It's a unapologetic rehash of The Incredible Shrinking Man, but it's tribute to the sci-fi classic is what makes it so good.  The use of practical effects take the everyday world and make it alien terrain with countless dangers, recognizable but unfamiliar at the same time.  Blades of grass are like trees, a drop of water like a five-foot water balloon, an and the deadliest creature you could face (until a scorpion comes along)... it's like Avatar without all the bullshit.

The cast of kids here are amazing, playing into their archetypes of popular girl, thoughtful loner, bratty bully, and science geek, but naturally revealing a deeper side as their harrowing adventure across their backyard progresses, and ultimately respect, if not something more.  Meanwhile, the parents (Rick Moranis, Matt Frewer, Marcia Strassman, Kristine Sutherland) all have their own issues to deal with when their kids seeming disappear.  Moranis is the perfect grounding force for a movie like this... he's got an easy charm, a hint of mania always percolating underneath.  Frewer, meanwhile, does a hot head like no one else, but is able to layer it with something resembling humanity.

Director Joe Johnston does a phenomenal job of making the 1-inch-tall world and the normal-side world interact, and gaining appropriate measure of the difference between the two.  Sure the sets look like sets and the props look like props, but it's all charming rather than obvious.  Unless you really want to resist, it's easy to buy into the conceit and follow along for the ride.  I'm anxiously anticipating Edgar Wright's Ant-Man motion picture which, hopefully, will feature much of this kind of spirit of adventure and not get too bogged down in tying a world of heroes and villains into the Avengers/Marvel universe.

And I dare you not tear up just a little when poor Anty bites it.

Enchanted - 2007, Kevin Lima - netflix
Something about Enchanted racking up three nominations in the Best Song category at the 2008 Oscars really put a hate-on for me towards this film.  I don't know what it was, partly that I was pulling so strongly for Once's "Falling Slowly" to take the win, but also not only did I hate the film, but also Amy Adams for no discernible reason, and it took me years (basically until she turned up in the The Muppets) to finally warm up to her (thankfully I did, because she's literally in every movie made now).  Also, let's face it, it's a princess movie (a Disney princess movie no less!) starring Patrick Dempsey at the height of his "McDreamy" phase which was about as laughable and annoying a moniker ever created. 

Oh, that moment in the trailer where A-OK-as-a-prince James Marsden (Cyclops!) starts to sing "I've been dreaming..." and then gets plowed into by a blur of bicycles, I have to admit I laughed, but still, no further love.  I forgot about enchanted for the past 5 years, until my daughter started to get into princess stuff (she's still a Ninja Turtles freak, but the peer pressure to be into princess things as a girl is hard to escape), so I wanted to direct her to more respectable princess-y things.  Enchanted, which seemed to be somewhat of a arch presentation of the typical Disney Princess story would certainly be more palatable.  

I have to say, in all honestly, I loved Enchanted, and far more than my daughter actually did.

The film opens in an animated fairy tale land, "Andalasia", where our heroine, Giselle (Adams), lives in a glorified tree house with a myriad of forest creatures as friends and happy workers.  Life is good, but despite her furry friends, she dreams of romance.  Likewise, Prince Edward (Marsden), quite content to hunt giant ogres, still longs to have his heart filled.  As fate has it in Disney fables, the two meet, fall in love immediately, and are to be wed the very next day.  Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon) will not tolerate her step-son's fanciful whim, mainly because she is only Queen until the Prince is married.  She disguises herself as a hag and pushes Giselle into a wishing well which acts as a portal between the animated world and the real one.  Giselle emerges in New York City where it's painfully obvious how out of place she is in her sweeping princess wedding gown, and how unlike this city is to her fantasy homeland...full of technology and noise and rudeness.

Despite his common sense, divorce attorney and all-round practical guy Robert (Dempsey) helps her out, even letting her crash at his apartment at his daughter's behest.  Robert's about to enter into a practical engagement with his girlfriend (played by Frozen's Idina Menzel, although strangely she doesn't sing), but naturally Giselle is going to win him over.  But Prince Edward hasn't given up on his bride-to-be and along with the Queen's toady, Nathaniel (Timothy Spell), and Giselle's chipmunk friend Pip, they enter the real world as well in search of.   Nathaniel takes every effort to keep Edward from finding Giselle despite Pip's every interference (being unable to talk in the real world is a definite hindrance to him), and, at the Queen's behest, even endeavors to poison the young woman.  Eventually the Queen herself must get involved, leading to a climactic showdown where it's Giselle that must save Robert, and not the other way around.

It's a film that delightfully explodes the "princess myth" with reality creeping in at every turn, threatening to beat the upbeat out of Giselle.  But as much as the film pops the bubble of fairy tale romance, it doesn't deny the wonder of fantasy and rewards proactivity and optimism, instead of succumbing to negativity and pessimism.  Though not nearly as successful as the 90's Disney heyday, Enchanted still marks itself as an integral turning point in positive princesses on screen.  The Disney princesses to follow (Rapunzel in Tangled, Anna and Elsa in Frozen, and, to an unfortunately lesser extent Merida in Brave) would all be stronger, more independent, more self-realized characters than those of the past, being the hero of their own stories and not be utterly reliant upon a male supporting character to rescue them.

The film's use of traditional animation in its opening sequence (when Disney has otherwise long abandoned the form) and then throughout in tandem with live action sequences is its strongest stylistic choice, which pays off from moment one (the change in aspect ratio a nice touch).  Even Pip, the chipmunk, transitions into the real world as an animated rodent (in the vein of the live action chipmunk or Smurfs movie) but his character serves as the best shorthand for how the two worlds differ.  Where I should detest this little uncanny valley rodent, I loved how he played out in the film, ever frustrated by this world.

If there's any negative aspect to the film, it's the surreality of Nathaniel adapting to the real world (able to don any manner of disguises such as hot dog vendor or pizzeria waiter) without any sort of self-awareness.  It's the one leap the film continually makes that just doesn't make sense within its own fantasy logic.  So much more could have been done with all of the characters adjusting to the real world...it's understandable how the shamelessly self-involved prince is kind of oblivious to it, but Nathaniel should really be at odds with his new surroundings.  It's not a minor quibble, it's a flaw of the film, but one I can look past to enjoy the plentiful better moments.