Over the past week I have had the pleasure to see two new movies with my children, Tintin and Hugo. Not children’s movies, though. I call them movies that happen to appeal to children. They were both a pleasant change from the films parents have become used to for a number of years.
The reason I liked both films is because they had a solid narrative at their core. They weren’t making constant asides, endless popular culture references nor patronising to their audience with comic actions put in just for them. They demanded their audience pay attention to the evolving narrative. This is especially the case with Hugo. Hugo is an outstanding film because it demanded that people, not just children, learn and think about the way film used to be made and how it can engage with the imagination. The film itself demanded the audience pay attention to nuance of character interaction. Tintin asked its audience to go back to a time where action was king in movies, where characters were villainous or good.
I liked Shrek and Shrek 2 and their satire on society and storytelling – getting away from the fusty, dry fairytales that Disney were doing at the time. It loosened up the reverence towards old stories to an era that was questioning whether narrative was really relevant to them – made it possible to tell old stories in a new way. The other sequels, however, watered down that effect and the range of films it has spawned have taken audiences away from paying attention to story and wait for the next injoke, slapstick or fart joke. The low point of modern cinema for me have been the Chipmunk films for that reason.
That is why Tintin and Hugo were a welcome change from that. There was a bit of old time magic in both films, combined with subtle use of modern technology that served the storytelling, not an end in itself. Unfortunately, while we were waiting to see Hugo, we saw a preview for a film that shows us exactly what is wrong with most films around – Journey 2. A silly, 3D effects driven movie that cares little for narrative and film magic and engaging with the imagination of its audience. Cynical and manipulative. The moment Michael Caine appears is the funniest part of the absurdity that is the trailer. He is, in modern films, a bit of a cartoon character.
I am not looking forward to whatever kids’ movies we will see through the year. They seem to be continuing the sloppy narrative structure format we have seen and Pixar’s latest effort, Brave doesn’t inspire confidence. However, it was a good double whammy this Christmas / January school holiday period.