By BRUCE DENNILL
Sleeping Beauty / Directed by Clyde Geronimi / A 7
Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United / Directed by Eric Radomski and Leo Riley / PG 4
The Smurfs and The Smurfs 2 / Directed by Raja Gosnell / PG 7.5
Muppets: Most Wanted / James Bobin / PG 8
More high-budget entertainment is targeted at children now than at any other point in history, which makes it fairly depressing that there is so much of questionable value to choose from. Happily, if you’re willing to take the time to cherry-pick your way through the list, you’re almost guaranteed to come right at some point.
Classics remain relevant because they were properly structured and imaginatively made in the first instance. Modern filmmaking techniques certainly able to add a number of bells and whistles, but strengths remain whatever the context.
Sleeping Beauty was reimagined as Maleficent using a filter that involved Angelina Jolie and bizarre cheekbones, but an expanded budget and a fresh angle could not make the latter film better than the original, re-released recently as part of its 55th anniversary celebrations. While nowhere near the best of the classic Disney releases, that original still has a kick, with Maleficent being the equal, in sinister villain terms, of Snow White’s murderous stepmother. And the good versus evil themes and Prince Charming love story (ah, less stereotype-sensitive times, the Fifties) remain a basis for good entertainment.
Another animation powerhouse – Marvel – continues their market saturation (if you can leave a cineplex without seeing the latest instalment in one of their franchises, you’ll be in the minority) with regular releases of straight-to-DVD projects including Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United. The basic idea is good – Tony Stark’s arrogance and intellectual superiority matched with Bruce Banner’s aggression and brutality should mean that any adversary is battered into oblivion.
And so said baddies will likely be – comic book adaptations do sometimes offer fuzzy resolutions where villains don’t completely get their come-uppance, but it’s not a regular thing. Knowing the likely outcome detracts from the buzz of watching the superheroes do their bit, as does the fact that the directors don’t see a problem with essentially repeating the same sequences, more or less, every three or four minutes. Stand, punch, jump, run, start again – perhaps the animation department was short-staffed. Whatever the reason, the occasional bit of witty repartee once or twice an episode is not sufficient to hold attention, however old the audience is.
Occasionally an adaptation of a children’s favourite works unexpectedly well. Of the European standards, Asterix and Obelix have always crashed and burned and Tintin has probably experienced at least as many lows as he has highs. The Smurfs have also had some dubious outings, but the most recent Hollywood efforts, titled simply The Smurfs (released in cinemas in 2011) and The Smurfs 2 (2013) have raised the bar considerably.
Much of that success has to do with the casting of the human characters, with Hank Azaria in particular now making it impossible to imagine Gargamel being played by anyone else – he leaps into the role heart, soul, accent and tonsure. In addition, director Raja Gosnell ensures that the quick-fire dialogue is littered with one-liners that have adults smirking into their Slush Puppies while the kids giggle obliviously at all the cute little blue people. Indeed, such is the waggishness that both films bear repeated viewing.
A group that has always fared well – even their critical failures have only been so in the relative sense – is the Muppets, who in Muppets: Most Wanted create their most hilarious caper ever. The influence of Blake Edwards and The Pink Panther is all over the place, down to the terrible French accent of Ty Burrell’s bumbling detective Jean Pierre Napoleon.
Ricky Gervais continues his conquest of Hollywood as the villainous Dominic Badguy (don’t worry, the broad strokes are countered by equal amounts of subtle jocularity) and there are handfuls of other big-name cameos, from – among others, Tina Fey (as the commanding officer at a gulag in which Kermit is held prisoner); Jermaine Clement and Ray Liotta (as fellow prisoners); Hughe Bonneville as a corrupt journalist and Stanley Tucci as a jovial soldier.
Like the Smurf films, Muppets: Most Wanted delivers equal amounts of amusement for viewers of any age, with the excellent musical component alone being reason to watch the film.