Recently I spent a morning at the movie theater with two of my children — Christopher (21) and Lizabeth (17). It’s a quick fix for days we’re feeling a bit restless but don’t have the time or energy for something more elaborate.
Lizabeth decided to see “Beastly,” a PG-13 flick that’s billed as a modern-day twist on “Beauty and the Beast” in which the beast is an outcast teen bearing all sorts of tattoos.
She was pleasantly surpised to learn that the cast includes Neil Patrick Harris, a favorite stage and television actor. Other cast members young movie-goers will likely recognize include Vanessa Hudgens and Mary-Kate Olsen.
The message of the movie is clear: It’s what you think of yourself, not what others think of you, that really matters. Lizabeth noted that this was voiced just once, during a pivotal part in the story. She appreciated the fact that the movie’s message is delivered with subtlety. No need to hit teens over the head with it.
Though our movies started at nearly the same time, Lizabeth ended up waiting a good 30 minutes for Christopher and I to finish up with “Rango.” It could have been at least 30 minutes, if not an hour, shorter without losing anything of real value.
“Rango” opens with the central character, a lizard (voiced by Johnny Depp), questioning his own identity — but the closer he gets to finding it, the farther the movie strays from having a clear identity of its own.
Some parts seem too scary for the little ones. Does the big, bad “Jake the Rattlesnake” really need a machine gun where a rattle would suffice? Does he have to use it so often and with such delight?
True, the piece is set in the “Wild, Wild West” — but are all those guns (handled in some seriously unsafe ways) really necessary? I’d have been content with other cowboy references — like the many creatures who walk with bowed-legs from too much time spent on horseback.
There’s some humor that might appeal to teens or adults still fascinated with body fluids. The laxative joke. The “number two” joke. The order by law enforcement to get urine samples and fetch a latte — taking care not to mix up the two.
Folks should know before they go that this is a morality tale about the scarcity of water in the desert, and the impact of that scarcity on individuals and communities. “Rango” becomes sheriff in a little town called “Dirt,” which has mysteriously lost its water supply.
Turns out the meanie banker has stolen the water because he knows something others have yet to comprehend — he who controls the water, controls the world. Near the end of the movie we learn that all the missing water has been running sprinklers and such for his lavish Las Vegas style city complete with golf courses galore.
“Rango” and his posse of misfits find the solution and save their town, but leave movie-goers feeling like they’ve just endured a redundant sermon rather than an entertaining big-screen story. The writer’s apparently no fan of developers or real estate types.
A few that I happen to remember — It’s the deeds that make the man; It’s not about you, it’s about them; No man can walk out on his own story; We each see what we need to see. All true, perhaps. But not what I’m looking for in a movie.
Theater folk might appreciate the many references to their craft. Early on one of the “Rango” characters says “acting is reacting.” Later the good guys try to distract the bad guys by putting on a “thespian performance.”
A bit of advice to younger critters goes something like this — “Stay in school, eat your veggies, and burn everything but Shakespeare.” When a wise old bird sees two critters fighting, you suspect he might be hosting the latest reality TV show. “Dysfunctional family/Need intervention.”
Not surprisingly, a grandmother and her preschool-age grandson left about halfway through. I’m not sure there’s that much material in this movie that kids will feel they can relate to.
Randomly throwing in concepts like “metaphor,” “paradigm shift” and “defense mechanism” didn’t help. No one who aspires to lie down on Johnny Depp’s couch is looking for therapy or philosophical stimulation.
After sharing our thoughts on the moves we’d seen, Lizabeth felt “Beastly” earned a solid “B.” Christopher and I both gave “Rango” a “C” — but we were feeling generous.
Note: Feel free to comment below if you’ve seen either film and want to briefly share your own impressions
Coming up: Poetry meets dance, More movie reviews, Roosevelt Row, “Poetry Out Loud” meets PBS, Naughty puppets