One of the highlights of NBC’s “Qubo” children’s educational program schedule is Jane and the Dragon, created by author Martin Baynton and Oscar-winning animator Richard Taylor, visual effects designer for the The Lord of the Rings series. Jane and the Dragon is a CGI series about a medieval girl and her friend, a vegetarian dragon. Jane does not want to be a lady-in-waiting. She wants to be a knight. I spoke to Martin and Richard about the show as they visited Los Angeles to attend the Annie Awards; the show has been nominated for the most prestigious honor in animation.
How did the show come about?
MB: I wrote the books over twenty years ago when my children were both very young, and they’ve been in print ever since. It’s always a book I’ve been extremely fond of and you get so attached to them you want to see them grow and flourish. In the literary field you hear horror stories about having books made into film. But meeting Richard it was clear he wanted to honor what the book was trying to do.
RT: Martin sat with us for an hour and a half at a picnic table in our back courtyard, and thatâ€™s all it took. We shook hands and had a deal.
Scott Farrell of Chivalry Today interviewed me about the portrayal of chivalry in movies, and the podcast is available on the website (you can skip the intro and start about halfway through). We talked about some of the Hollywood greats, like The Adventures of Robin Hood and Ivanhoe and some recent knight-related stories for kids like “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.” And we talked about how movies about knights and chivalry can give families a chance to talk about the way the ideals of that era continue to inspire us.
This is a curious hybrid combining contemporary language and violence with a retro set-up right out of a 1930’s James Cagney/Pat O’Brien movie and pulsating undercover law enforcement action of 1970’s films like Serpico and The French Connection.
The story is simple: two brothers find themselves on opposite sides of the war on drugs. Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix), is a nightclub manager with a gorgeous girlfriend (Eva Mendes as Amada). He loves the nightlife, he loves to feel important and respected, and he loves to feel that he is something of a rule-breaker. He loves to feel far away from his law enforcement relatives and has changed his last name to Green so no one will know he has cops in his family. His brother Joseph Grusinsky (Mark Wahlberg) hates anyone who breaks the law, especially drug dealers. his father Burt (Robert Duvall) wants to be proud of both of his sons.
Bobby and Amada show up at Joseph’s promotion ceremony, high and giggling. Joseph, Burt, and some of the other officers take Bobby upstairs to the church sanctuary to ask him to help them capture a drug dealer named Vadim (electrifying newcomer Alex Veadov), nephew of the club’s owner. The owner and his wife have treated Bobby like a member of the family. Bobby refuses — until catastrophe occurs and he has to think about who really is family and whose side he will be on.
Despite a powerful chase scene and some affecting performances, the movie’s retro slant makes it simplistic and superficial. Instead of commenting on the conventions of the past, it awkwardly tries to pretend that they are still in effect.
Parents should know that this movie has intense and graphic peril and violence, including a lot of gunfire. Many characters are wounded and killed. The plot concerns drug dealers and narcotics officers, and characters use and sell drugs, drink, and smoke. They also use strong language. A strength of the movie is its diverse characters, but there are some racial epithets.
Families who see this movie should talk about what made Bobby and Joseph alike and what made them different.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Departed and classic crime dramas of the 1930’s like Angels With Dirty Faces.
There’s nothing wrong with a little fakery now and then if it smooths out some rough spots and eliminates some distractions. But this film goes past fakery into condescending phoniness that knocks the story off its tracks. What is frustrating is that it is so unnecessary and intrusive. We start out on the side of the characters, John Cusack as David, the grieving widower, a successful writer of science fiction, and Bobby Coleman as Dennis, a troubled orphan who spends all day in a cardboard box and says he comes from Mars. We want them to find a way to connect to each other. But every time the movie has a choice between what might really happen and ramping up the dramatic tension to raise the emotional stakes, it chooses the latter, until we begin to feel less engaged than resentful. My heart was ready to be warmed. But it never got above room temperature.
David and his wife had planned to adopt a child. After her death, he intends to cancel, but something about the boy in the box reminds him of his own time as a misfit kid. He knows that most people labeled “weird” as children never eradicate the weirdness; they just find a way to push it inside. In a sense, every adult who fits in lives in a kind of a box. Except that Dennis’ box is not only literally labled “Fragile — Handle with Care,” but someone has to point that out, in case we miss the point.
When Dennis says he is afraid of the sun, some ultra-strength sunblock and a gentle game of catch help to coax him out of the box. Dennis says that he is afraid that he will float up into the sky because “Earth’s gravity is weak. Mars is constantly pulling me back,” David creates a weight belt to anchor him to the ground. When he comes to live in David’s house, he tells Dennis to “think of it as a bigger box.”
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