It’s long been my theory that the really popular kids in high school didnt need to develop the drive and creativity that it takes to get motion pictures made. This goes a long way toward explaining why most movies are made by and about folks who don't fit in. Four big summer movies this year ("Evan Almighty," "Surf’s Up," "Nancy Drew," and "Shrek the Third") all feature central characters--a congressman, a penguin surfer, a girl sleuth, and an ogre gone mainstream--who are out of step with those around them. Of course, each character fights being original before ultimately embracing the different drum. The journey in between is what makes the plot interesting.
Reviews In This Article
'Nancy Drew: Get a Clue'
'Shrek the Third'
"Evan Almighty" was the happy surprise of this month. Anyone going hoping to find the frenetic silliness of Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty will be disappointed, but that’s all right--"Evan Almighty" is meant to be a different animal altogether. It's about a congressman (Steve Carell) who finds himself torn between an influential bigwig congressman and, well, God. The film isn't vulgar and snippety, it's actually a sweet family film about what happens to an ordinary family when their vague prayers are answered very specifically--in this case, by God showing up and commanding Evan to build an ark.
I saw "Evan Almighty" with five children and one adult. Everyone enjoyed it. And here's the crazy thing--we came out in engaging in several interesting theological discussions. The other mom who accompanied me remarked, "Wow, a movie that actually had some interesting theological ideas!" Her 10-year-old daughter wanted to know if the character of God (played deftly once more by Morgan Freeman) matched up with the "real character of God." ("Does God really know everything we do?" the girl asked. "Would he really let a flood kill all those people?") We agreed that writer, Steve Oedekirk, was willing to wrestle with some big questions and came up with some pretty good answers.
"Evan Almighty" did take ideas that admittedly had been played with in other movies (hair and beard that can't be shaved, alarm clock waking the main character at the same time every day, a perplexed family that doesn't understand dad's new obsession), but the film played it out in an interesting and fun way. No one with whom I saw "Evan Almighty" felt that the film was heavy-handed in its approach to environmentalism or politics--compared to "Happy Feet," it was downright subtle. In fact, my own deep theological question at the end of the film was: Why hasn’t God sent an arkful of animals to Washington, if only to catch the attention of the powers that be. If I see Morgan Freeman, maybe I’ll ask.
Coming in second in my "Fun Family Films for Adults Along for the Ride" is "Surf's Up." At this point, it might feel like penguins have been done, but "Surf's Up" isn't going for the cute factor. It's in the form of a behind-the-scenes documentary in which filmmakers decide to follow one penguin contestant who has dreams of winning the Big Z Memorial Surf Contest. Kids will be used to this format from "American Idol" or "Behind the Scenes" shows about their favorite movies. Adults will appreciate how the filmmakers poke fun at our obsession with celebrity and winning (and wanting to know all the behind-the-scenes details).
What I loved about "Surf's Up"--besides the music on the soundtrack--was that it reminds us again that sports--or any kind of activity--should be done for the love of the game rather than solely for the win. In fact, obsessive winners are serious losers. Yes, this has been the message of many a kids' film, but "Surf's Up" really does present the idea in ways that feel fresh and resonates with adults and kids alike. At the conclusion of the film I felt not only had I been entertained for an hour and a half, I'd seen something creative and new. That’s a mighty tall order in family films these days--and movies that pull it off deserve the kudos they get.
Nancy Drew: Get a Clue
Nancy Drew: Get a Clue
"Nancy Drew: Get a Clue" is a fun but odd tween movie. The writers decided to pay homage to the original Nancy Drew series by making a movie that is a nod to the suspense films of the 1940s. Nancy and her dad move into the stately home of a mysteriously deceased movie star. Both the star and the home have the distinct feeling of the bygone era of the 1940s. But, since this is 2006 and the plot happened thirty five years ago … that means the movie star died in the 1970s. Yet the plot hinges on a hidden will and a secret illegitimate child--which could have killed a career in the 40s, but in the 70's? Not to my recollection.
It's kind of odd to have a film aimed at tweens based on an illegitimate pregnancy. However, the two children--aged eight and ten--I took to see it were beyond enthusiastic. They didn't like the opening (it was a convoluted hostage negotiation that went right over their heads and nearly missed mine), but then they thought it picked up steam. The spooky house and the possibility of ghosts were right up their alley. Both had a visceral response to the bad guys having Child Protective Services take away one character’s young daughter. That seemed almost like a throw-away plot strand to me, but both children thought it was a horrifying central development.
Bottom line: "Nancy Drew" is entertaining. Nancy’s fish out of water experiences at Hollywood High were fleeting, and it seemed odd that Nancy wouldn't clarify her feelings about the twelve-year-old mooning for her, especially when milquetoast friend Ned questioned her about it. But my daughter immediately wanted to alter her birthday party to bring all her friends to "Nancy Drew" (didn't happen), and my 8-year-old movie companion uncharacteristically got out of the car saying, "Five stars. Don’t forget that I said to give it five stars!" So, Ian, here--I did.
Shrek the Third
Shrek the Third
"Shrek the Third" was the most disappointing of the early summer crop of films for me. This is partly because the original Shrek and its first sequel were so original and entertaining. "Shrek the Third" felt like the plot was hatched by a committee and a some good writers were hired to spin it out. You had to plod along with the characters till the plot played itself out.
I didn't like any of the princesses in the princess brigade, Shrek's fear of fatherhood was something we've oft seen before, and Charming’s bizarre theatrical extravaganza at the end was … bizarre. And if the citizens of Far Far Away could be made to turn on Shrek because of a musical, well, they don't deserve him anyway. Both Merlin and Arthur were whiny. It was, sadly, the first Shrek film I felt like I was just sitting through. I hope we don’t get dragged back for the toddler years.