Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

I’d only seen Big Trouble in Little China once before this, ages ago, and had largely forgotten about it. I’m not sure when it crossed my radar again, but it suddenly struck me that our son was certain to love it. The smooching is kept to a minimum, it’s just mayhem, magic, fight scenes and at least two characters who later got pilfered by the people who make video games. I was right; he enjoyed it very much and thought the video game comparison was apt. “Some of that,” he observed, “looked a lot like a ‘cut scene’,” as those things are called.

It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that John Carpenter’s film has inspired so many people who later worked in movies and games. I was absolutely at the right age for it when it was originally released, but I somehow missed it until it showed up on cable, and thought it was pretty good. It’s actually a little better than that. It’s a very clever and very fun film, and about the only complaint I can make is that the drum-machine music has aged really badly. Everything that Carpenter put on screen is really entertaining.

I especially like how Kurt Russell just effortlessly sells this. Jack Burton is one of the greatest action heroes from his day: resourceful, if not particularly intelligent, and loyal even when he is in way over his head and in the middle of other people’s problems. Dude just wants his truck back. I can get behind that. Support comes from the terrific James Hong as the main villain, along with Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, and Al Leong. I like how there’s a surprise around every corner, and there’s no predicting what the villains can do or what grotesque creatures are going to show up next. I also like how nobody’s cleaned up any of the cobwebs and skeletons in Lo Pan’s fortress underneath the streets of San Francisco.

So our son was incredibly pleased with darn near everything in the movie, and wowed appreciably all the way through it. I think his favorite bit might have been Dennis Dun’s character having an aerial swordfight with one of the baddies, but pretty much everything that Kurt Russell did amused him. I was surprised to learn the movie was a box office flop, only earning back about half its budget, because I’d just assumed it was a hit because everybody loves it. That’s a shame, because the late eighties and early nineties could have used another two or three Jack Burton adventures. With some different music, of course.

Serenity (2005)

I’ve rewatched all of Firefly a couple of times since I first saw it in 2005. I’ve left Serenity on the shelf. It’s not at all a bad film, but the experience of seeing it that one-and-only time, having no idea what was coming, was just so deliciously potent that it overpowered the narrative. It overpowered it so much that I forgot several important plot points, in particular the whole business about the nasty future government being responsible for the creation of the Reavers. That’s why the last time that I wrote about them, I said they were unlikely threats, but there was a perfectly good explanation that I didn’t recall. I’ll tell you what I did recall in just a minute.

So since we left Firefly with its ignominious cancellation in December 2002, some of the show’s small-for-a-network audience of two million viewers were discouraged, but their ranks quickly swelled. Firefly‘s home video release was a phenomenon for its time, and the audience of people who had no idea Fox had commissioned such an entertaining program just kept growing. The original studio couldn’t be bothered with new episodes, but Universal liked the idea of a reasonably-budgeted movie with a built-in audience. You might make the argument that they then undercut the possibility of turning the project into a hit by making sure every member of that built-in audience got to attend one of what seemed like hundreds of free advance screenings in the summer of 2005, but at least the audience kept quiet about what happened in the movie.

But almost sixteen years on, we’re past the point of spoilers, so I’ll say that this was one of the best theater experiences of my life. The setup is that those two creepy dudes with blue gloves don’t find River; an Alliance operative played by Chiwetel Ejiofor does. He seems reasonable and not at all angry; he just wants Mal to surrender. When Mal doesn’t, the operative and his crew systematically raze every bolt hole our heroes have ever used, and one of them was where our old friend and castmate Shepherd Book had been living. Book dies in Mal’s arms and about half an hour of screen time later, Wash joins him in one of the most shocking and surprising death scenes ever.

So things are very bad and they start getting very worse, and with absolutely everybody injured and the Reavers charging in, Simon also takes a bullet, and I remember sitting in that half-empty theater by myself silently swearing and realizing “They’re doing the last Blake’s 7.” None of them were getting out alive. I couldn’t believe the moxie and just marveled that the film was seriously going to kill off all the heroes. What stones.

As it turned out, I was completely wrong, but we all learned in 2005 is that capping two of your nine lead characters going into the climax really is an effective way to tell your audience that you’re not ready to play by the rules.

Serenity was a box office failure, barely earning back its budget despite some very good reviews. It’s a really good film that ties up most of the show’s loose ends. I don’t think that they put a single foot wrong in its two hours. Our son was very impressed, although, unlike me, he was able to keep from trying to guess what would happen next to whom. We all enjoyed it very much, and even though the whole Firefly experience found smaller audiences than anybody spending money to make it wanted, it’s safe to say that almost everybody who explores this ‘verse was very, very happy with it. Maybe one day, Netflix or somebody else will give it a reboot. I’ll certainly take a look if they do.

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension (1984)

I’ve always said that there are two likely reactions when you get to the end of Buckaroo Banzai: you either thank God it’s over, or you curse the heavens that they never made Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League. Unsurprisingly, but maddeningly, Marie is in the first camp, and I am definitely in the second. That’s despite this movie being so remarkably prickly that it probably shouldn’t appeal to me, but I love its moxie. This plays like the fourth or fifth Buckaroo Banzai film; it did all its character work several stories before.

In the wake of Avengers: Endgame, there were a raft of whiny complaints from “critics” who acted like they hadn’t noticed every previous Marvel movie and thought they were clever asking why Endgame didn’t try harder to appeal to newbies, but that’s exactly what Buckaroo Banzai does, and very successfully. Perhaps it’s a shame we were never introduced to Rawhide, Perfect Tommy, Casper, and Scooter, but we didn’t need to be, did we?

But maybe we needed to learn just a little more about Buckaroo himself: neurosurgeon, physicist, rock star, widower. He’s such a blank slate that even by the end of the movie we know so little about him that if somebody ever did make Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League and wrote the hero totally differently, who could complain? Talking of moxie, I love how he’s introduced. Some guy growls “Where is he,” and since he’s waiting for a man to drive an experimental car, we shouldn’t conclude that the fellow in surgeon scrubs of all things is that man. Peter Weller was never a big enough star for most viewers to recognize his voice or eyes, and first we see him in an operating theater. Jeff Goldblum many people did come to know, very well, later, so we can guess that maybe he’s talking to the hero, and then in his very next scene, the hero is still masked and climbing into a jet car. This is a movie that makes a lot more sense the second time around.

But trust our kid to find a third reaction. “I don’t know what to think of that,” he said. I gave him a little introduction last night that this would be our second example of an eighties cult film that failed in its first run but found a larger audience later on, and that John Lithgow would be overacting unbelievably, and that he would never really learn who the characters were. He liked some of it but was utterly baffled by most of it.

It’s a bizarre film, yet it’s still pretty conventional. The bad guys need a couple of henchmen, and they’re played by perennial Hollywood henchmen Vincent Schiavelli and Dan Hedaya. Christopher Lloyd, who is hilariously concerned about the pronunciation of his Earthling name, is their boss, and the Griffith Park Tunnel is here as well, making two obvious connections to Roger Rabbit. And no, of course the kid didn’t recognize Lloyd despite seeing him just seven days ago in Clue. It follows a pretty straightforward action-adventure plotline, although the climax is really low-key and simple. It’s downright refreshing after watching how much bigger and bloated the finales of movies like this have become.

It’s a movie that leaves me wanting more. I want to read the Buckaroo Banzai comics in that universe, not ours, I want to know the Hong Kong Cavaliers’ discography, and I want to see them in a small club like the one they play here. I want to know how to subscribe to the Blue Blaze newsletter and become an Irregular. Maybe the kid will want to know more one day as well; he just needs to see it a second time and think about it. Give him a few years and he’ll also curse the heavens that they never made Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League.

Matilda (1996)

I wondered whether I might have waited too long to show our son Matilda. He’s a Star Wars-obsessed nine year-old boy, and I thought about whether there would be enough here in this story about a six year-old girl for him to willingly find common ground. At nine, you’re often not looking back at younger kids’ things, after all. Fourth-graders lose interest in first-grader things; that’s how this works.

Happily, he pronounced this one of the funniest films he’s ever seen, and singled out the lovely shot of a corridor full of vengeance-minded elementary school kids ready to pelt their principal with their lunches as one of its greatest moments. Matilda was produced and directed by Danny DeVito from Roald Dahl’s classic novel, and now that we’ve revisited it and refamiliarized myself with it, I’m sure it’s a treat for anybody who still imagines their principal to be a sadistic moron or their parents to be inattentive and terrible.

Matilda stars Mara Wilson as a six year-old who’s far too smart for this world and this family, with DeVito and Rhea Perlman as her vulgar and garish parents, with a house full of terrible furniture and knickknacks, and Embeth Davidtz as a kind-hearted teacher, far too sweet for her school, who believes in our little hero. It’s Dahl through-and-through, with grotesqueries and unbelievable situations, and a cast of characters with names like Wormwood, Thripp, Bogtrotter, and Trunchbull. It’s wish fulfillment for kids, but it’s done magically well.

Twenty-plus years ago, I started buying several contemporary “indie” films, often starring Parker Posey, as I built my then-small DVD collection. The nineties were a good time for small-budget movies to come out through Sony Pictures Classics and the like, and I’m sure that once upon a time I really enjoyed lots of these films. But soon, my interest in cinema dwindled, and I completely forgot all of the details of many of the movies I owned. There have been a few that I’ve rewatched in the last few months that I could not even begin to guess why in the world, other than Parker Posey, I actually bought in the first place. One or two have proven to be rediscovered delights; more have been unimpressive and best forgotten. Actually best never having spent the twenty bucks in the first place, but that’s kind of me all over.

But then there’s Matilda, which I saw once, when it was originally released in 1996, and I remembered details of it quite clearly, especially Rhea Perlman’s tacky sleep mask. It still had a surprise or ten, because I’m not the kind of person who remembers things I saw once a quarter-century ago and never read about since, but lots of this one stuck with me, in part because it’s so incredibly visually interesting. Children’s movies don’t get awards attention for things like set and costume design, but the garish and vulgar world of Matilda’s family even outdoes the wild suburbia design in Edward Scissorhands. Then you have the entirely different worlds of the dark and moldy school and Miss Trunchbull’s home, cluttered with junk and forgotten nostalgia, which all feel incredibly real and very much like places you never want to visit.

I think DeVito’s direction is truly great, the design is perfect, and about the only thing I’m not wild about is the music, but I never liked that “Send Me On My Way” song that was omnipresent in the mid-90s and sounds like cast-off late period Talking Heads to me. It’s a perfectly splendid movie, with or without kids of your own.

Adieu Galaxy Express (1981)

A couple of days ago, the delightful @PulpLibrarian made an insightful little observation on Twitter while celebrating Space: 1999. “Harshing on Space:1999 for not being hard sci-fi misses the point: the show is about space being weird and frightening, not about physics and engineering.” And I thought that was particularly interesting because we were coming up on watching another Galaxy Express movie, and this isn’t a world of science fiction, despite the spaceships and laser guns and robot men, it’s a world of allegory and poetry and hero’s journeys and maturity. It’s a strange and occasionally really weird world because it’s so on the nose, but that’s the point of the way this narrative is told: all the ray guns are distractions and fantasies, this is specifically about a boy growing up.

So Adieu Galaxy Express is an arguably unnecessary sequel, told at emphatically unnecessary length. Marie, who really has better things to do than watch boys grow into men in cartoon movies, shook her head from exhaustion and said they could have told this story in half the time. She’s right. There are some things I like and admire about this one, but considering how much more entertaining the original one was, they could have sped this along. There’s a lot to look at in its 130 minutes, and some of the animation is extremely good, but it’s very, very slow.

So how on the nose is this one? It’s so on the nose that Testuro has to kill his father, who is also the devil and is named Faust, before he can grow up. The movie starts with four unimportant side characters sacrificing themselves so that Tetsuro can have his journey, because they know that they are the supporting cast and we’re watching to see the kid. Maetel is back, answering as many questions as a cloud might, refusing to address the rumors that she is now the ruler of a galactic empire of machine people who use humans as soylent green energy capsules. Maetel and Emeraldas share a moment on the platform at the end acknowledging that they’ll never see Tetsuro again but their own journeys never end, even as Tetsuro’s does. After all, somebody else’s story is going to need a mother figure and a mysterious femme fatale.

I like the way the story completely subverts expectations with Harlock and Emeraldas. They each get a very quick little “save the day” moment cameo to remind viewers that this series can use them, and then they’re gone again, completely cut off from the story until they’re needed in the end to help blow stuff up. Unfortunately, our son also has better things to do than watch boys grow into men in cartoon movies, and only really paid attention when Harlock and Emeraldas were blowing stuff up.

His only real spoken complaint about the film was an odd one: there’s a trippy and psychedelic bit where the animators smoked all the grass they could find as they visualized the arrival on the planet Great Andromeda, and the kid grumbled “This is making my eyes hurt.” Otherwise, he was very restless and squirmed quite a lot. There are fights and shootouts, but there’s also no sense of danger or fear, and nothing to really engage him. So this was a big disappointment for two-thirds of this morning’s audience, but even though it’s not as good as the first one, I still like it a little.

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

This was not the first time that my meticulous, and perhaps faintly ridiculous, preplanning for this silly blog has been thrown off by our son getting bedtime reading with his mom. On one hand, we are thrilled that, at age nine, he still wants bedtime stories, and hasn’t dismissed it as kiddie stuff. On the other hand, Marie unpacked Diana Wynne Jones’ novel Howl’s Moving Castle in January, when the movie wasn’t on the calendar until May. This took whole minutes to fix, but I’m very glad I did.

Castle is not among my favorite Miyazaki movies, despite its gorgeous animation and wonderful design, and what I might think is Joe Hisaishi’s finest score since Nausica√§. There’s a whole lot to love here, but there are other movies that I love much more. I also think the climax is very nebulous and ultimately disappointing. The problem of the war is apparently resolved, but offscreen, and the antagonism between the wizard Howl and the witch Madam Suliman barely gets started, much less finished.

But it worked out very well that they finished reading the novel a few weeks ago. It was very fresh in our son’s mind, and he told us that the book was “real different, but I loved both.” I haven’t read the book myself, so I relied on him to give me a very lengthy rundown of the changes and differences. Among many that he mentioned, Jones apparently had a much more satisfying resolution to the story in mind; her book had two climaxes, according to the kid, and while the character of Suliman is radically different in the original, there’s a lot more meat to Howl and Suliman’s rivalry. Also, the book apparently detours to Wales, while the movie is set emphatically in one of Miyazaki’s signature middle-European never-neverlands.

While the novel gave him lots to chew on as he tried to relax enough to sleep, the movie gave us a very funny fire demon, a hopping scarecrow, a ramshackle castle that walks on bird legs, and basically two mostly satisfying hours. Our son had been looking forward to it all week, and it didn’t disappoint at all.

Night at the Museum (2006)

Longtime readers know that we almost always watch family movies and adventure movies from the past, to give our kid a look at what entertained generations before him. I took it for granted that he’d see Night at the Museum on his own, because day cares and child cares and other families where he might play or have overnight sleepovers are more likely to have contemporary family movies on offer, and not expect kids to watch stuff in black and white, or stuff from the seventies with rotary dial telephones and chain-smoking dad characters. That’s why our son’s never asked to watch most Pixar movies: he saw them all already.

So Night at the Museum served a dual purpose for me: I did want to watch a more recent family film with him, and somehow, I managed to sneak this one in before some other family or after-school care program got there. I figured this would be as ubiquitous as the Toy Story series, but he had never heard of it and had no idea what it was. It sure is fun seeing him discover what a movie’s about. Brilliantly, this movie opens its supernatural discoveries with its biggest one: it’s the big Tyrannosaurus skeleton that comes to life first, knocking the child audience’s socks off, and then calmly adds additional layers of mayhem atop each one. He adored it.

Joining Ben Stiller in the chaos: Robin Williams, Steve Coogan, Owen Wilson, Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney, and several more. I think it’s just an imaginatively good script until the third act, where the villains and their motivations are revealed and a critical eye might want to work backward and spot all the holes in the plan, but as long as you just let everything go and accept the strange – and mighty convenient – rules of Ahkmenrah’s tablet, it’s a fun and silly roller coaster.

They made two other Night at the Museum movies, and I don’t know that I’m ready to believe they’re all that essential, but I’m glad I picked this one up for my son’s own collection. It ended with him saying “Now I want to work in a museum,” which made my heart grow three sizes. That’s where I wish I worked, too.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Sometimes, writing this blog, I’ve learned that time has marched on a little too far for the classics of the past to have much of an impact on kids of today. When I was about nine years old, Creature from the Black Lagoon, or any one of a hundred imitators of Creature from the Black Lagoon, would have had me completely captivated. Our son was alternately bored out of his skull or irritated by the downright dumb decisions of the characters. One guy in particular is so desperate to kill the monster and bring its carcass back to society for accolades and celebrity that you can see a color bullseye on his back in a black and white movie.

So this was a big disappointment for him, especially since he has a three-inch glow-in-the-dark action figure of the Gill Man and has been looking forward to seeing this movie, but really only the design of the creature held any interest. I think it’s a very fine film for its day and has aged extremely well. Only two things really ring fake and hollow almost sixty years later. There’s the stock “jungle noises” sound effects in the background – count how often you hear the unforgettable ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ooo-ah-ah-ah-ah animal from every movie set anywhere remotely like Brazil – and there’s a wholly unnecessary fake bat in a cave held up by giant wires. Maybe a modern remake would have a more diverse cast shot on an actual location, but it wouldn’t be a very different movie than this. I wonder whether they could find a female lead anywhere as beautiful as Julie Adams, though.

Actually, for a boatload of scientists, our son’s right, and it’s true the people in this movie do act like dimwits. They keep talking about the Gill Man in the singular, like they knew the budget only extended to one really good costume. Surely one of them would have realized that there must be a large colony of them to have survived into the present from the Devonian period. Wouldn’t that have made a much more thrilling ending, to have just gone thirty seconds more at the end, realizing their terrible mistake?

Maybe I should have gotten to this one sooner. I did begin by recapping that Them! was considered terrifying in its day, but was more of an exciting action movie for him, and that’s how he’d probably feel about this one. But time has marched on so much that the isolated thrills that this movie offered the audience of 1954, and certainly for many years after, have long been eclipsed by more immediate and greater dangers.

Netflix just released a new season of one of our son’s favorite cartoons, Jurassic Park: Camp Cretaceous. It’s a show packed with threats and frights and it moves like lightning. Even starting him off on old movies as early as we have, he’s growing into realizing that many of the classics of the past – particularly the ones that relied on urgency and scares to keep the audience riveted – can really only be viewed through the prism of looking back at how these things used to be made. If things work out, we’ve got another Universal classic horror film in the pipeline for March; hopefully we can make sure he appreciates it as an effective period piece instead of something that’s going to give him the same frisson as everything he can find on his own. Fingers crossed!

Porco Rosso (1992)

Shout! Factory and GKids have been releasing director Hayao Miyazaki’s films for Studio Ghibli in these beautiful steelbooks with minimal design and bright, solid colors. I told myself years ago that I would not, would not, would not let myself be tempted down the steelbook path, but all of my Ghibli films were badly in need of upgrades, and I prefer uniform design, and they’re all so gosh-darned pretty.

I was a little concerned and discouraged, because Miyazaki is not the only director with that studio, and their other output deserves the same treatment. Happily, they have announced that the next two in the series were directed by other people: Whisper of the Heart and The Cat Returns, coming in March. I’m very glad to see them shift the focus to the rest of the really talented directors at that studio, and while it does mean that Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso, as well as The Wind Rises, will have to come later on, I don’t mind waiting. After all, I’d waited 29 years to watch this one already.

I sincerely have no idea why it took me so long to get around to watching this movie. It’s been on my get-around-to-it list for decades, but when I decided to introduce our son to old and beloved films together around the structure of this blog, I just picked up a copy seven years ago (DVD, from the Book Nook in Marietta GA, the receipt tells me) and let it collect a little dust until it came up in the rotation. It was worth the wait; we all enjoyed this tremendously.

“Porco Rosso” is the unflattering nickname given to a man originally named Marco. He was a seaplane pilot in the 1910s with many friends, but somehow – and I love how this is not detailed at all – he was cursed by a witch and now has a pig’s head. So he keeps to himself and works as a bounty hunter in the Mediterranean and Adriatic Seas, which are beset by dangerous, albeit lovably stupid, air pirates. One of his old friends runs a hotel and restaurant nearby and he goes to see her occasionally, and another old pal is a mechanic in Milan who occasionally gives him a small line of credit to repair all the massive damage his plane takes.

So one day, a hotshot American contracts with the pirates and shoots Porco out of the sky while he was on his way to Milan for repairs. Milan isn’t safe anymore, and all the young men have joined the army and the air force, but the mechanic insists that his seventeen year-old granddaughter is a great engineer and his all-female crew is perfectly capable of rebuilding his plane. But can he get out of Italy before the secret police find him, and do something about that American flyboy?

So no, I shouldn’t have waited so long to watch this. I really enjoyed it, probably even more than our son, who chuckled and laughed all the way through over the pirates’ dumb shenanigans and people refusing to back down from escalating situations. Miyazaki pulls out several tricks he’d used in earlier movies about flying, including the lever-pulling tech within cockpits, and planes moving in and out of clouds, so it’s familiar in many ways but it’s such an interesting story. It’s set in someplace broadly like our history, but at kind of an odd angle.

I like the characters of Porco and Theo quite a lot, and just love the way the story is told, especially the ending. Perfectly, it sets up a possibility or two after the climax and lets the audience wonder about them. It’s a very, very good film. When Shout! announces the steelbook, I’ll have a preorder in at RightStuf immediately.

Back to the Future (1985)

About a week before we took our blog break, I was with our son at the local Barnes & Noble to pick up Paul McCartney’s new album. There, he spotted one of those expensive little things in the media department for nostalgists with a few more dollars than sense: a picture disc LP of the Back to the Future soundtrack. He asked what that was, and I thought he was asking what a picture disc was. Somehow it just didn’t occur to me that Future would be a perfect film for this blog, where the whole idea is that I’m introducing him to movies of the past – particularly the age-appropriate ones – that he might enjoy.

Although, having said that, I think the MPAA standards have definitely changed since 1985. This film’s downright full of cussing, some of it hilarious, and there’s an attempted rape. It was a PG then, but I really doubt it would get one today.

Amusingly, introducing a kid to this film in the far-flung future of 2021 means that the popular culture of two different time periods will be unfamiliar. I did pause the movie at a couple of points, not to burden him too much with the trivia of yesteryear, but otherwise he might have missed some really good gags, like B-movie star Ronald Reagan, a man about whom no studio executive in 1955 ever offered greater enthusiasm than “he’ll do,” ending up president, and what Pepsi Free was, and how Hill Valley was just on the precipice of being ready for Chuck Berry, but not Eddie Van Halen.

While I admit Back to the Future‘s never been a film that I’ve really loved, I wouldn’t argue against it. Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale really have a lot they can be proud of with this one. It was a movie beset with production problems – go read the story of Eric Stoltz’s involvement and how Michael J. Fox functioned on about three hours of sleep a night while they made it, it’s all amazing – but they set out to make a crowd-pleaser and really nailed it. It’s simple and easy to follow – call it the anti-Primer – and it’s full of great gags and extremely likable performances from Fox, Christopher Lloyd, and Lea Thompson. Actually, Thompson gets one of the movie’s best and most understated gags: it’s always horrifying to learn that your parents were so much naughtier before you were born.

So how’d that discovery of the overpriced picture disc – $36!! – work out for the kid? He chuckled and laughed all the way through it, loving the chase around Hill Valley’s town square and cringing during the embarrassing bits, and said during the credits that he wants a Lego set of the DeLorean. Sadly, he’ll need a time machine himself to get one for a reasonable price. Lego put one out in 2014 and it can only be bought these days by other people with more dollars than sense – $282!! – but for our boy, wanting a Lego set of what he just watched is the highest accolade that a movie can receive.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2017)

I suspect that the question “will there always be a Ghibli” keeps some people up at night. After all, Isao Takahata has passed away, and Miyazaki is working on what must surely be his final movie, unless of course he un-retires again after it so that some other people can make more documentaries about him. Hiromasa Yonebayashi must have once been seen as the hope of a new generation. 2010’s Secret World of Arrietty had been successful and promising, but then he went and co-founded another studio, called Ponoc, after his second Ghibli feature.

And what he took with him, I was disappointed to see, was basically a great big box of Ghibli tricks. Mary and the Witch’s Flower is basically what happens when you throw Totoro, Kiki, and Laputa in a blender and make the inside of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter movies look like Howl’s Moving Castle. When Mary tries mastering her broomstick, our son quietly said “This looks a lot like Kiki.” Visually, there’s not a single surprise in this movie, and the same goes for the script.

Ehhh, the kid was pleased. This is just a simple family adventure movie by the numbers, so just right for elementary and middle school-aged audiences. Strong teen girl protagonist, relative with a secret, magical world just on the other side of reality, danger that threatens our world, villains who talk too much, annoying boy who needs rescuing, merchandise-friendly animal familiar, you’ve seen it all before, although possibly not animated quite as well as this. It certainly looks like they spent millions on it to make it move and breathe with clarity, but the story’s so slight that I don’t imagine that our son will be in a big hurry to revisit it, or remember it very much down the line, when all the movies that are in this one’s DNA are crying out to be rewatched again instead.

On the other hand, I’ve got Howl’s Moving Castle on the calendar for the spring. Who knows, when we watch it, he may just quietly say “This looks a lot like Mary.”