Adults seem to enjoy patronizing the need of children to fantasize. It’s as if we believe we’ve grown beyond the need for such infantile means of escape.
Pause here for the obligatory guffaw.
Consider two of the movies that you’ll find new on video shelves this week (see capsule reviews below). Both argue convincingly that fantastic musings know no age boundaries.
“James and the Giant Peach,” for example, is the tale of a young boy raised in particularly difficult circumstances who, because of his inherent goodness, ends up triumphing over cruel and vindictive forces. Based on the novel by bittersweet British writer Roald Dahl, it understandably puts its protagonist through a series of horrible experiences before the ultimate happy ending.
Most of the experiences are familiar to children, though naturally in a more realistic form. We’ve all faced stern teachers, for example, not to mention the occasionally unyielding parent.
But describing Dahl as a mere children’s author, even if his reputation is based on such children’s books as “James and the Giant Peach” and the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” series, is not only condescending but wrongheaded. Dahl’s view of childhood as a trial by tribulation greatly resembles the concerns of Charles Dickens in such novels as “Hard Times” and “David Copperfield.”
And Dickens, though a popular novelist, is no one’s idea of a mere teller of kids’ tales.
For a contrast, consider the James Foley film “Fear.” Based on a Christopher Crowe screenplay, it seemingly is an adult-oriented feature about parental concerns - namely a father’s worries about the questionable dating practices of his teenage daughter.
Yet this is hardly an adult dialogue on the dangers of adolescent lust. “Fear” very quickly devolves into a male-oriented fantasy, a twisted variation on “Father Knows Best” in which the alpha male’s domain must be protected at all costs.
Thus dad is destined to retain his crown while the young pretender to his throne is doomed to take a high dive out a tall window, Calvin Klein undershorts and all.
All of which begs a question: Ultimately, what is the greater fantasy - a child overcoming inherent fears or an adult indulging a fool’s paradise?
James and the Giant Peach
Made by the creators of “Nightmare Before Christmas,” this mostly animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s story tells the tale of a young boy who flees his unhappy childhood to find danger, unusual friends, fun and adventure. But there is a problem: Live-action sequences bookend the animation and weaken, in some cases even change, Dahl’s narrative. The film is at its best when James crawls into the magical peach, escapes from his horrid existence and discovers, like the Scarecrow of L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard Of Oz,” that he indeed does have a brain. The associated animated images, especially those involving seagulls propelling the peach against an azure sky, are breathtaking. Rated PG
For much of this movie, which stars Richard Gere as a hotshot lawyer defending a young man accused of killing a priest, it’s the perfect trial-based potboiler. Gere is once again in his milieu, playing an appropriately arrogant attorney, and the young killer - played by newcomer Edward Norton - is also excellent. But the plot takes too many licenses with reality (hey, folks, after the O.J. trial we’re all a little more aware of what can, and can’t, happen in court), and some of its characters, especially the female prosecutor (Laura Pinney) are treated abysmally. Finally, the surprise ending is a bit of a cheat. Rated R
Designed as a horror study for middle-age men, this sordid little thriller stars former rapper/ underwear model “Marky” Mark Wahlberg as a father’s nightmare: the guy who not only wants to take away his little girl, but who wants to own her outright.
Directed by James Foley (“The Chamber”), who has some talent, the movie moves along nicely, capturing the tension of a blended family and the pressures of latent teenage angst. But then all credibility dissolves as Foley follows a “Straw Dogs”-type storyline in which Daddy emerges triumphant and all is well in mainstream America.
About the only passably interesting aspect to this fantasy is the casting, which sets Wahlberg (who truly can act) up against the equally macho presence of William L. Petersen for the affections of Reese Witherspoon. Rated R
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