More action, more romance, more spectacle, a brave princess who wears armor and does not wait to be rescued, and lots more giants — this is a grand bedtime story 21st century-style. As a boy, Jack (“Warm Bodies” Nicholas Hoult) loved to hear the stories about the time that giants ruled the earth and the magical crown that keeps them confined to their home above the clouds. It turns out they were more than stories.
As a young man, Jack lives with his uncle, who sends him to town to sell their horse. The movie Jack is a bit less credulous than the one in the story. He does end up with magic beans, but not because he believes a story about them. He is given them by a man desperate to keep them from being used to bring the giants back to earth.
Jack is warned not to let the beans anywhere near water, but you know what happens. Pretty soon a beanstalk grows five miles up into the sky, taking Jack’s house with it. And, since Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) happened to stop by Jack’s house to get out of the rain, she is up the beanstalk, too. The king sends a rescue squad after her led by Roderick, his highest-ranking courtier and — despite her objections — Isabelle’s fiancé. Also making the climb are a group of soldiers led by Elmont (a gallant but under-used Ewan McGregor), and a volunteer — Jack.
And they find a big community of giants — all male, which may explain some of their anger issues as well as a disturbing lack of attention to personal hygiene. Production designer Gavin Bocquet and costume designer Joanna Johnston have created an eye-filling world that feels fairy tale fantastic but not musty or old-fashioned. Aside from a few clunkers in the dialog (in no fairy tale is it ever appropriate for a character to say “okay” or “pissed off”), it remains inventive and entertaining. The giants are imaginatively designed, with the leader a motion capture performance by Bill Nighy (as at least one of the two heads). Tucci clearly enjoys himself as the ruthlessly ambitious courtier and it is a nice twist to have the real bad guy be someone more close to home than the giants. Jack and Isabelle have a sweet and almost immediate connection, wasting little time on the usual back-and-forth of learning to trust themselves and each other. And that makes the idea of a happily ever after ending even more satisfying.
Parents should know that this movie includes a great deal of fantasy/action violence, with characters injured and killed and some scary monsters and disturbing images like skeletons and skulls and an eye that pops out — plus some giant nose-picking. There is also some gross/crude humor and brief strong language.
Family discussion: What is Roderick’s plan? How does he show that he cannot be trusted? What does Jack to to earn the respect of Elmont and Isabelle? What does Roderick mean by saying that they all think of themselves as the hero of the story?
If you like this, try: Disney’s “Mickey and the Beanstalk” and “A Knight’s Tale”