During winter break, most students will have the opportunity to see a movie with their family. Oftentimes, “family movies” are catered exclusively to the youngest members of the family, and end up being boring for ADD Princeton students. However, this year, interesting and family-appropriate movies abound. Over break, I had the opportunity to step outside of the Princeton Bubble and watch real movies (sorry Garden Theatre), including Finding Neverland, The Incredibles, The Polar Express, and National Treasure.
Finding Neverland (3.5 stars)
Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet star in this semi-biographical account of J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. The trailer for this movie was fantastic, so my expectations were high, and fortunately, I was not disappointed. Johnny Depp plays J.M. Barrie, a playwrite who desperately needs fresh inspiration. Kate Winslet plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, a widow with four boys. After a chance meeting in the park, Barrie comes to be the boys’ playmate and surrogate father, and they in turn, inspire him to write his greatest work, the story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up.
The characters of the movie are well developed and, unlike most children’s movies, are not stereotyped. For example, Sylivia Llewelyn Davies’ mother-in-law, Mrs. Emma du Maurier, does not approve of Barrie and tries to keep him away from her family. However, the audience sees that though du Maurier is in conflict with the protagonist, her intentions are well-meaning: to keep away a married man who has been spending the majority of his time with her daughter-in-law and grandsons. And, by the end of the movie, du Maurier is convinced of Barrie’s goodness and the two join forces to help raise the boys.
The central theme of Finding Neverland emanates from the internal conflict of the character Peter Llewelyn Davies, whose name, interestingly enough, J.M. Barrie uses for the central character of Peter Pan. Peter Llewelyn Davies is torn between the magical world of make-believe and the reality he finds himself in. He is hesitant to buy in to the imaginative worlds Barrie creates because his father’s death taught him that “imagination” will not keep the pain of harsh actualities away.
Take out of context, the dialogue of Finding Neverland (about believing in your imagination and closing your eyes and visiting “Neverland”) sounds quite corny. However, whether because Johnny Depp delivers the lines in a gorgeous Scottish accent or because the movie draws in the audience so completely, we find ourselves, like Peter, believing in the magic and emotionally responding to the dialogue and characters.
This movie is a must-see, especially with the family.
The Incredibles (3 stars)
This cartoon tells the story of a family with supernatural powers whose members are trying to live as normal people. Mr. Incredible, the father figure and main character, is nostalgic for the old days when he was a famous superhero. When an opportunity comes along to save an island from being taken over by an evil machine, Mr. Incredible gladly accepts the job and destroys the machine. However, he is deceived. Mr. Incredible was really used as a pawn to test the strength of the machine and allow the machine’s maker, the evil Syndrome, to improve the machine, making it unbeatable.
The plot is fast-paced, and the characters, though one-sided (i.e. either “good” or “bad’), are believable. Do not let the fact that this is a cartoon keep you away. The animation is exceptional, and in addition, the characters are created in such a way that the audience can relate to them and often forgets they are not real.
The Polar Express (2.5 stars)
This movie is based on the book of the same name. The book is short, so the movie adds in many subplots and characters not present in it. In essence, both tell the story of a boy who does not believe in Santa Claus, but through a magical ride on the Polar Express train to the North Pole, he comes to believe. Tom Hanks does most of the voices, accompanied by a few children.
Like Finding Neverland, Polar Express deals with magic. However, Polar Express has difficulties wrapping the audience in this magic because, unlike Finding Neverland where the magic is based on having an imagination, Polar Express must first make us forget what we know to be true about the North Pole and Santa Claus, namely that neither exists (at least, not as storybooks portray them).
However, while we may get a bit bored by yet another drawn out rendition of a child coming to believe in Santa Claus, a younger audience who still does believe is easily captivated by the story. So, take little kids to see this one, but you will probably be bored if you go to see it by yourself.
National Treasure (3 stars)
This movie does not, at a glance, look like it would be a “family movie.” It is not intended for an audience quite as young as that for Polar Express or The Incredibles. However, there are no inappropriate scenes and the plot is straightforward, making it appropriate for young viewers.
Nicholas Cage stars as Ben Gates, a treasure hunter following a trail of clues to try to find a lost treasure once guarded by the Knights Templar. One of the members of his original team double-crosses him, so Gates is not only searching for the treasure, but also must guard his life while doing so. This somewhat stereotypical plot still manages to entertain, however.
Gates is aided in his search by Riley Poole, a computer nerd that provides comic relief, as well as the attractive and knowledgeable Abigail Chase. National Treasure is a fast-paced, captivating show that keeps audiences of all ages interested. Highly recommended for family viewing.