I saw two movies this weekend, one ostensibly a kids' movie, and one a "grown-up" film. Anyone care to guess which one I actually enjoyed?
On Saturday night I had a very rare girls' night out with a friend. We had Mexican food for dinner and then saw "Revolutionary Road," which we both thought we'd like since it's gotten a fair amount of Oscar buzz. Good God in heaven, sitting through this was like having root canal work done. What I want to know is when it became acceptable to completely dispense with the idea of plot in the movies. When the characters start out screaming at each other from almost the very first frame, with absolutely no context or back story or explanation, for some reason the filmmakers think this will be riveting. To me it was just mystifying.
So it's the 1950s and everybody's a chain-smoking drunk, apparently, and everyone ignores their kids 95 percent of the time, and in a vague generalized sense, they have angst. In the viewer, this creates questions: Why specifically do they have angst? And why should I give a shit? The filmmakers have told me exactly nothing about the characters, so why should I care if they hate each other and their marriage is falling apart? It's evidently supposed to be entertainment enough to watch Leonardo DiCaprio (who is looking weirder as he ages, with those child-like features becoming obscured by creeping middle age) and Kate Winslet, who is certainly capable of much better acting, shrieking at one another in naked pursuit of Oscar nominations. The whole thing was an ordeal to sit through. I want my $10 back!
Then there was Madagasacar 2, which we watched on DVD after having seen part of it in the theater a while back. (We had to leave early because the Peanut was freaked out by the scary parts.) As I've said before, the people making kids movies these days (Dream Works in this case) seem much more concerned with delivering a satisfying story. And while the Pixar folks are the undisputed masters of computer animation, this film shows that Dream Works is capable of giving them a serious run for their money. Some of the animation work here is astonishingly sophisticated. Fast, funny, engaging and moving, this movie was every bit as good as its predecessor, which you can't always say about sequels.
That said, I do have one gripe: why must the scary bits be SO scary? It's fine for, say and 8- or 10-year old to see the terrifying shark trying to eat the cute little lemur guy--not so great for a 4-year-old. Same thing for the use of an actual child's voice for baby lion Alex in the scene where he is being abducted by poachers. This certainly added realism, but it's disturbing to hear a real kid crying "Daddy!" in that scene. We had to fast-forward through that part when the Peanut was watching, and then watching it ourselves later after she went to bed, we found it terribly off-putting.
But, even given that issue, give me the latest and greatest from Pixar or Dream Works before some lumbering pretentious novel adaptation any day of the week.