This week on Radio 3 I talked about Kenneth Branagh’s new adaptation of the classic fairytale Cinderella, as well as Ava DuVernay’s stirring Martin Luthur King Jr biopic, Selma, which finally reaches Hong Kong after a long and controversial march through awards season.
THe story behind Randy Moore’s Escape From Tomorrow proves infinitely more interesting that what ends up on screen. Shot guerrilla-style without permission in Disneyland and Disneyworld, it is a nightmarish surreal horror comedy about the intoxicating power of Uncle Walt’s Dream Factory and the increasingly frightening toll it takes on an innocent holidaying family. Considering the efforts that Moore and his crew went to in making the film, it’s a shame that ultimately it lets Disney off so lightly. Sure, it occasionally touches on subversive prospects like the brainwashing of children and Disney Princesses being pimped out to wealthy Asian businessmen, but focuses way too much of its attentions on the family’s Clark Griswald-esque patriarch, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) as he begins to lose his shit, fantasise about French teenagers and succumb to the stifling attack on the senses that is the Disney Experience. There are moments where inserts and cutaways were required, forcing Moore and Co to shoot on green screen rather than risk another trip to the theme park, but these moments only add to the strange detachment the whole experience has with reality.
In what was considered by many to be an unnecessary prequel to the excellent Monsters, Inc. we learn how Mike and Sulley met at the titular hotbed of education and due to an eronious set of contrivances, are kicked off the Scaring course. The only way back is to join a fraternity and win the Scare Games (courtesy of a bet made between Mike and the fearsome Dean Hardscrabble). So, in typical college movie fashion (Animal House, Old School etc) they are forced to join a misfit collage of weirdos and outcasts in the no-hopers fraternity, only to discover that as a team they might just have what it takes to come through.
It’s all perfectly entertaining while it’s up there on the screen. Plenty of praise has been showered on the prologue (or prequel to the prequel) that sees primary schooler Mike go on a field trip to Monsters, Inc, but pretty quickly it all starts to fade into mediocrity. The first film had a smart, original premise and buckets of heart to go with the laughs, primarily in the form of young Boo, whom the boys are forced to adopt. We learn about the monsters’ ignorance of the human world, that laughter is more valuable than fear, and there is an epic rivalry between Sulley and Randy that sparks with real menace.
Here we have almost none of that, just a parade of frat boy jokes, sporting events, gags that exist solely to utilize some freakish new monster designs (and vice versa), and a scarcity of material that feels genuinely fresh and original in the way that first dozen Pixar movies did. The changing of the guard at the studio post-Up has been glaringly obvious, with Lasseter, Stanton, Doctor and Bird stepping back to allow a new generation of filmmakers to take the helm. This would be fine if the company hadn’t simultaneously lost faith in original product, instead going back to the well to rehash past victories. Sure, it worked for the Toy Story films when nobody thought it would, but Cars 2 was childish nonsense, and Monsters University is just bland and derivative.
With news of Finding Dory going into production there seems little hope of the fad changing up any time soon, and the scene at the end of Toy Story 3, when Andy hands over his beloved, humanised possessions to a new childish mind full of wonder, yet determined to remold them to suit her less-developed tastes, seems all the more poignant.
Futuristic Disney adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel has some interesting concepts smuggled in between servicing the source material. The alien designs are particularly good, and the action scenes are mostly well directed, but throughout the film I couldn’t help but feel the two concepts never quite married together harmoniously and that what I really wanted to see was a straight up animated version of Treasure Island.