It's a good week to be a kid in Whistler. Youthful movie lovers don't need to sneak into any R-rated films this week (or any 14+ either) because the always-dependable Village 8 has three kid-targeted films on deck and at least one of them is actually pretty good.
The story of The Lorax is a Dr Seuss classic, an environmentalist parable about the dangers of taking too much. Director Chris Renaud (Despicable Me, Horton Hears a Who!) populates his animated adaptation of The Lorax with humming fish, mischievous furry bears and plenty of visual pizzaz but he also tries a little too hard to be fresh and funny. All the jokes and one-liners (delivered by Danny DeVito as the Lorax) detract from the wistful sadness of the original story and the flick lacks emotional punch.
Dr Seuss stories exist so perfectly in their original form, as books you read to kids in the 10 minutes before bedtime, that the cinematic translations almost always feel padded out and clunky. Such is the case with this one but I bet five year olds don't give a hoot about that kind of thing — bring back those humming fish...
Also gracing the silver screens of the Village 8, amidst much hype and excitement, is the franchise-ready, teen-lit adaptation The Hunger Games. Set in an Orwellian future, The Hunger Games portrays a society of two classes — the ultra-rich and privileged who live lavishly in "The Capitol" and everyone else, forced into 12 impoverished districts as punishment for some prior rebellion.
Part of the government oppression/intimidation are the Hunger Games, a made-for-TV reality show in which 24 kids, chosen by lottery from the 12 districts, must compete in an outdoor to-the-death battle royale while everyone else watches on TV — it's The Running Man meets Gladiator with a dash Surviving the Game.
The Hunger Games is jam-packed with bankable talent in the supporting roles including Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz but up-and-comer Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) steals the show as Katniss Everdeen, a young archer who steps up and volunteers for the game to save her younger sister. Katniss's beefy love interest doesn't make the cut (at least not yet) but the shy kid who's always liked her from afar does — who smells a love Twi-angle?
Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit. Pleasantville) delivers a decent (if choppily edited) piece of teen entertainment but with huge potential for commentary on our media-saturated, celebrity-overloaded culture The Hunger Games is not transcendent. It's also brutally non-violent, which makes sense for a PG-rated flick but not so much for one about one kid killing 23 other kids. Ross fails to build more than three interesting or fleshed out characters so the tragedy of the story is essentially lost.
Plus, the plot seems kind of lifted from the 2000 Japanese blockbuster Battle Royale and none of the kids in The Hunger Games ever seem all that hungry, thirsty or scared. For a life and death coming-of-age tale it's all a little too safe for me. This one also plays at Squamish Garibaldi 5.
Speaking of the Japanese, The Secret World of Arrietty opens in Whistler. It's an animated masterpiece from the studio that did Howl's Moving Castle and Spirited Away. This one, based on an old children's novel from the '50s, is about a family of tiny people who live parasitically beneath the floor of an old mansion until a sickly young boy moves in and notices them. Friendship blossoms amidst conflict and the dichotomy between large and small (adult and child) is examined in a simple, refreshing and entertaining manner.