This year, the Dubai International Film festival decided to add focus to films for children. The lineup consisted of 5 titles, of which I managed to see 2. George Miller's Happy Feet was undoubtedly the better of them. I have already reviewed the film, so you might want to read about it here, but let it be said that it stands a pretty good chance of winning an academy award for best animated feature. A perfect cartoon should have humour, good animation, possibly a message and high entertainment value. Happy Feet provides generous doses of all of these, plus its a musical, a good musical. The film goes into wide release soon and should allow everyone and their families an opportunity to enjoy its mirth.
The live action adaptation of the celebrated children's book, Charlotte's web was a mixed bag. If I were to use the same set of guidelines as the one used above for Happy Feet to make a judgement of it (barring animation), then it had everything except high entertainment value. The story was very pleasant, certainly for the frenzied little ones with whom I attended the packed screening. It featured Julia Roberts as the voice of Charlotte the spider, who devises ingenious methods to save a newly born Spring pig, Wilbur, from becoming Christmas dinner. The method, interpreted as miracles by the farmers on whose farm these and other animals lived, involved Charlotte spinning words on her spider web to describe Wilbur. The included 'Some pig', 'Terrific', 'Humble' and so on. I understood what the filmakers were upto. It was a noble attempt at letting the film be more than just entertaining, but in doing so, it sacrificed its spontaniety, needed to make spunky entertainment for children (and their adult escorts) work. Case in point was how the film tried to explain to the children in attendence, jokes that were meant primarily for adults, such as when a rat, terrifically voiced by Steve Buscemi, used the term 'last one out is a rotten egg' to describe both the usage of the term and the fact that one of the eggs of a family of geese had not hatched. Thankfully, the movie was short, and this continued assualt of cuteness crossed with pontification did not last long.
By being critical of the film I do not mean to be critical of DIFF's objective to reach out to the young ones. I think the initiative is a welcome one, certainly one that has the long term objectives of inculcating an artistic, media based mindset amongst the culturally aware denizens of this fine city and I hope next year the organizers at DIFF will be just as daring and diverse with the choice of selections.