Voices of Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, Lucy Liu, Jaboukie Young-White, Alan Tudyk, Karan Soni, Abraham Benrubi
“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
When Dorothy Gale enters Oz through the farmhouse door, leaving behind black-and-white Kansas, it’s a magical moment. Oz is a technicolor marvel full of strange creatures, whispering trees, beautiful witches, and talking lions. The contrast between drab Kansas and wonderful Oz is important. It’s the same contrast we get in Alice in Wonderland or Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo series. Strange World, Walt Disney Animation’s 61st feature film, is another in a long line of fantasies taking its hero into what is supposed to be an exciting new world. Its big mistake is making Avalonia, the world we begin with, more interesting than the strange world we will spend most of this movie in. Here, the hero’s name is Searcher Clade (Gyllenhaal), son of the legendary Jaeger Clade (Quaid), husband to Meridian Clade (Union), and father to Ethan Clade-Disney’s first openly gay teenage character. Searcher is revered by his neighbors for discovering a plant that turns Avalonia into a prosperous community, but when that plant shows signs of dying out, he and his family are thrust into action, leading them to the subterranean strange world of title. The three generations of Clade men, Jaeger, Searcher, and Ethan must figure out how to listen to and accept one another as they search for answers to save their world. Labeled a woke failure by some and a massive bomb at the box office, Strange World will likely find its place among films like The Black Cauldron or Home on the Range in Disney’s deep catalog. I like those films and I basically liked this one, though it is certainly mediocre. The strange world isn’t strange enough. It isn’t until the film’s final reveal that it becomes a little more interesting in hindsight. The characters are likable but with little romance, mystery, and no compelling villain, Strange World is never as exciting as it should be. (1)
Walter Tyrone Howard
Starring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Thomas Mitchell, Rita Hayworth, Richard Barthalmess, Sig Ruman, Allyn Joslyn, Noah Beery Jr.
Adventurous. Exciting. Polished.
Bonnie Lee: I’m hard to get, Geoff. All you have to do is ask me.
When Bonnie Lee (Arthur), American showgirl, stops over in Barranca, a remote airbase in South America, she expected to stay for a night. After meeting and instantly falling for the brusque Geoff Carter (Grant), head-pilot and the base’s leader, Bonnie finds she doesn’t want to leave but can’t bear to watch him put his life in danger night in and night out. He loves her but refuses to stop flying. Only Angels Have Wings is an excellent picture. It’s amazing to me how quickly filmmakers figured out the art of filmmaking and how adeptly they expanded its limits. Howard Hawks was a consummate Hollywood storyteller and he’s working with two of its greatest stars in Cary Grant and Jean Arthur. Wonderful, well-drawn characters, romance and action.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-
Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon, Raymond Massey, Nigel Bruce, Anthony Bushell, Joan Gardner
(7-Very Good Film)
Entertaining. Frenzied. Slight.
Percy Blakeney: They seek him here, they seek him there, / Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. / Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell? / That damned elusive Pimpernel!
Sir Percy Blakeney is an English nobleman during the late 18th century. While England enjoys its time of peace, nearby France is plunged into hell by the Reign of Terror and its new leader, Robespierre’s penchant for the guillotine. Blakeney, in response, becomes “the Scarlet Pimpernel,” masked vigilante determined to rescue condemned aristocrats from France and bring them over to England. He also affects the role of idiotic fop in his own country so that no one would ever suspect him of being the masked hero; including his beautiful wife, Lady Marguerite (Oberon), who’s ashamed of him. This premise has been recycled through the decades and told much better in my opinion through the characters of, first, Zorro and, later, Batman, but I believe it started with The Scarlet Pimpernel. It’s a well-crafted swashbuckler with a compelling romance between Blakeney and his estranged wife, but I do wish the ending was more exciting.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-