[I was going to write this Sunday night, but a family crisis (my son accidentally nearly set the house on fire — long story) shoved it out of my mind. Everything’s better now, if still a bit smoky.]
The family went with friends to see Happy Feet. Herewith, a report:
Charlotte’s Web looks like it actually might not suck, which is all you can hope for when a filmmaker takes on a classic. You think LOTR fans are rabid? They’re nothing compared to former little girls who adored E.B. White’s arachnid and who will be out for blood if this thing is bad. And of course Steve Buscemi has to voice Templeton. Of course. It’s like Alan Rickman playing Snape: there are some casting decisions so obvious it would be folly to disregard them.
Speaking of Snape, The Order of the Phoenix trailer looks good, too. Alan Rickman looks like he is playing Snape as actually human, going for a nuanced portrayal. Hurrah! I’ve always had a soft spot for Snape, probably because I have adored Alan Rickman ever since he first sneered at Bruce Willis in Die Hard. And the Harry Potter movies are uniformly well-cast, with actors well-known (Rickman, the wonderful Emma Thompson — and by the way, weren’t they so great together as a married couple in Love, Actually?) and the less well known, at least to American audiences (Mark Williams, Imelda Staunton as Umbridge — I can hardly wait to see it, she’s such a wonderful actress).
Oh. My. Goodness. The Nativity Story? They cast an olive-skinned, dark-eyed, dark-haired, teenager as Mary. They cast an Iranian actress as Elizabeth. And to my untutored American eye, Joseph looked like he was born in Palestine (he’s actually Guatemalan). Finally, a religious themed picture that did not cast the holy family as freaking Europeans. (Jim Cavaziel in The Passion of the Christ? Give me a break!) It’s not my ideal religious movie casting (Naveen Andrews — Sayid from Lost — as Jesus) but it’s pretty darn good. And the flashes they show of Mary in labor? She looks like a woman in labor — absolutely panicked and in pain.* Catherine Hardwicke, who directed this, also directed Thirteen, one of the scariest looks inside the mind of adolescent girls ever.
Much better than I expected. Was not the rip-off of March of the Penguins I feared, and has a killer soundtrack. The voice work is uniformly good.
It’s the music and the dancing — yes, I know it’s animated, but the dancing matters** — which carry this movie. The “you have to be yourself” message, which could have been disturbingly cloying, was carried of with humor and restraint. There is also a subplot in there about religious fundamentalism, which is sufficiently subtle that two of the three people I talked to about it missed it — until I pointed it out to them.
And, after seeing this movie, you may become obsessive about cutting the loops open on your plastic soda can holders before you throwm them away, if you’re not already. Which is not a bad thing.
All in all, I give it three and a half stars.
*Of course, there is such a thing as taking Method acting too far: Keisha Castle-Hughes, the young actress who played Mary, had to miss the premiere because she’s pregnant and can’t travel.
** The dancing was done by Savion Glover, the premier American tap and modern dance artist. Glover won a Tony in 1996 at the age of 23 (!) for his choreography of Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk, a show he co-wrote and starred in. His dancing on Happy Feet was transferred to the screen using motion-capture, and the result is that Mumbles the penguin has some really sweet moves.