By:Robert T. Trate Date: Wednesday, March 14, 2012
The Geek Life is a weekly look at what is happening in the Geek Culture. Movies, Comics, Books, Video Games and TV Shows encompass more than just release dates and reviews. This week the Geek Life talks about Real Disney Magic.
Who would have thought that a little film like John Carter could have so many people divided? What was surprising to me was that Mania’s own review by Rob Vaux gave it B+. Now I am in no way knocking his review. He does one hell of job and to his credit he is pretty tough on what Hollywood dishes out. Hell, somebody has to be. When I saw the letter grade I was a tad more hopeful than I was 5 minutes before. To be honest, I actually was looking forward to the film and even sought out the book in hopes of continuing my adventures with John Carter. About 25 minutes into the film I was hoping this incredibly long introduction was going to have some payoff. When we got to Mars, I started rewriting the opening of the film in my head in an attempt to cut it down and how they could have made that better. After all Peter Jackson’s prologue for the LOTR is cinematic gold which doesn’t hurt The Fellowship of the Ring. By the end of John Carter I was thankful it was over. I cared more about the CGI dog then I did about the man himself. Taylor Kitsch in no way made a connection to me or the other people I went to the theater with. The story had been done before with Avatar, Dances with Wolves, and the like. Yes, Edgar Rice Burrough's novel was done first but it is the responsibility of the filmmakers, the actors, and everyone involved to make this material fresh and new. If anything, they have to find a way to make this age old story relatable to the audience. I got none of that. Rob liked it and I did not and to each his own.
Like many of you, of I am connected to Facebook and Foursquare and all the other odd modern bragging rights apps. I posted a picture on Foursquare that I was going to see John Carter at the Vintage Vista Theater in Hollywood. The Vista is a grand old movie theatre that used to house the offices of Ed Wood (yes, that Ed Wood). A friend of mine wanted my two cents and I was happy to oblige him. Then, as it is with all other social networks, another friend and another wanted it, too. The opinions of my friends differed vastly from mine. I was told I had a piece of ice for a heart (joke’s on them as the Tin Smith forgot to give me one). What amazed me was how people were comparing it to the Disney films of old; that finally a live action film had that Disney Magic (that wasn’t a Pixar). That is where I draw the line. I won’t go as far as to call it the modern Ishtar (see Brooks Barnes NY Times article) but to compare it to the like of what Walt Disney did, no way.
What an incredible happenstance that this week also happens to be that of St. Patrick’s Day. Now I could have picked 20,000 Leagues underthe Sea, Swiss Family Robinson, or Old Yeller as symbols of real Disney Magic. Each is a classic and will stand the test of time, but that wouldn’t be fair to a movie that is only a week old. No, I’ll pick one of the lesser known Disney Films that has real magic to it, Darby O’Gill and the Little People. Here is the trailer (which sadly does not do it justice):
Darby O’Gill (Albert Sharpe) is the grounds keeper for a wealthy land owner. He keeps the man’s summer home in good repair and, next to his payment, Darby and his daughter, Katie (Janet Munro) live on the grounds. Darby is known to tell a story or two down at the pub; many of which have to do with the Leprechauns. However, daily life is disrupted when Darby’s employer comes to town with a young man, Michael (Sean Connery), to replace Darby since he is getting on in years. With a heavy heart, Darby agrees to train his replacement but concocts a grand scheme to capture the King of Leprechauns, thus gaining three wishes and securing his daughter’s future.
Walt Disney truly made magic with this film and started it all with his "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color" episode about the making of the film. Walt wasn’t after any old story about Ireland and the Leprechauns. No, he enlisted the help of Darby O’Gill to meet the “real” King Brian and make his story as true as possible. It was upon seeing their chemistry together (Darby and King Brian) that Walt knew he had a real story on his hands. All this can be seen on the DVD special features and is a perfect compliment to the film. Walt was a mythmaker and storyteller who delivered more than just an adventure. He gave you an experience that lives with you long after the film is over. Will people be relating to John Carter and his fish out of water/ man looking for an identity tale 50 years from now? I doubt it. Every St. Patrick’s Day I marvel at the timeless special effects Walt used, dance with the Leprechauns (seen below), practice the wishing song, and live in fear of the Banshee. This film was and is real Disney Magic.
The Disney Magic that John Carter stands on barely exists anymore. The corporate run Hollywood where business men with out a lick of artistic anything make decisions is the norm. The occasional stroke of brilliance gets through (the original Pirates of the Caribbean) but now it seems Disney is out to copy that with mass produced franchises (see Prince of Persia). While I sat there in the darkness struggling to keep my attention on John Carter (thanks for helping with that, Lynn Collins) I thought there might be a better film of John Carter out there somewhere. I would gladly watch an extended cut of John Carter, if only to give it one more chance.
We can differ in opinion on films. The arguments are what make loving movies so great. One person can think Zaat! is cinematic gold and a cheesy night of fun entertainment. Another can find the The Incredible Melting Man (see review) a waste of ninety minutes. To each his own and have a happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Robert Trate writes three weekly columns for Mania: the DVD Shopping Bag, the Toy Maniac, and The Geek Life. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings, Cosplay photos and film criticisms.