Have you ever strolled into a modern art exhibit and found yourself standing in front of some paint splattered canvas, muttering under your breath, "Heck, I could do that!" You may have the same reaction to Disney's shameless resurrection of their time-honored (though hardly sacred) Witch Mountain franchise, a film so incompetently directed and poorly written that it insults kids' intelligence, not to mention the adults who brought them.
AnnaSophia Robb and Alexander Ludwig are Sara and Seth, two Aryan alien children who crash-land on Earth in an effort to recover a piece of evidence that will save their dying homeworld (they've polluted their planet to the point of inhabitability) and exonerate their embattled scientist parents. It's a task that would be a whole lot easier if they weren't being chased by an extraterrestrial bounty hunter and a cabal of U.S. government spooks (led by Ciarán Hinds) intent on dissecting them.
Their only help is Jack Bruno (Dwayne Johnson—don't even think of calling him "The Rock" anymore), a convict-turned-cabbie, and a beleaguered UFO specialist (Carla Gugino) named Alex. Oh, and a dog too; it is a Disney movie after all. As the group races from Las Vegas to the Nevada desert (and back again, and back yet again), the government, gangsters, and one very persistent bounty hunter converge to prevent them from reaching the fabled Witch Mountain and their waiting spacecraft. Little do they know that if the children fail to get off the planet, it almost certainly means an alien invasion of Earth.
Director Andy Fickman directs with all the sophistication and elegance of a sledgehammer. His incoherent action scenes (the film was co-written by Mark Bomback of Live Free or Die Hard fame, who obviously believed this film should be similarly paced) work kinetically though hardly intelligently. While there are some nice touches (such as setting some of the action in a Sci Fi convention populated with weirdly-costumed participants), overall there's not a creative or original frame to be found anywhere.
I sometimes feel that they shouldn't let adults review kids' movies; it can be difficult to see past your own adulthood. In this case, a reasonable amount of simplicity is something to be desired. And yet, we adults can still tell when a kids' movie knocks one out of the park, can't we? Surely we can still remember the tingle of wonder and magic a good kid flick imparts.
The sad truth is that good children's films have all but disappeared. When I was growing up in the '80s, movies like The Goonies and The Explorers fired my imagination and created worlds of adventure in which kids conquered pirates and outer space all in the span of two hours. And why do we need The Rock, er, Dwayne Johnson in the first place? Does the presence of an adult somehow legitimize the narrative? What's wrong, preposterous as it may be, with letting kids be the true champions, unaided by any adult? That's why they call it fantasy, no?
Unfortunately, there is almost nothing like those films being crafted today. In fact, Race to Witch Mountain is the sort of movie that makes you question your memory and wonder if even your most beloved childhood movies were terrible all along and you simply weren't mature enough to recognize it. But when you see something like Coraline or WALL-E (or anything by Pixar, frankly), and it snaps things right back into perspective.
Kids deserve far better than this dreck, whether they comprehend the difference between truly great children's film or not.
This review originally ran in the Colorado Springs Gazette.Discussion starters
- Sara and Seth come to Earth to not only save their planet, but exonerate their parents back home. Do your kids ever imagine themselves as heroes with the ability to right wrongs in an adult world?
- Sara and Seth have a hard time trusting Jack at first. Have you ever been in a situation, far from your comfort zone, in which you had to place your trust in someone you didn't really know? What happened?
- The question as to whether or not aliens exist is brought up throughout the film. On what side do you fall? How does your faith influence your answer? Or does it?
- How far should a government go in keeping secrets? Is it necessary, in a transparent democracy, to still keep things (like the existence of extra-terrestrials) from the population?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Race to Witch Mountain is rated PG for sequences of action and violence, frightening and dangerous situations, and some thematic elements. There's no blood or gore, just lots of car crashes, flying laser beams, imposing mafiosos, machine gun battles and people getting thrown across the room by a hulking alien. Speaking of said alien, his mask does come off at one point to reveal a none-too-pretty face, but it shouldn't be too traumatic for young ones. Additionally, the alien children have the ability to telekinetically move objects.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney Pictures
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