The Princess and the Frog, John Musker & Ron Clements, 97 mins (U)
Edge of Darkness, Martin Campbell, 116 mins (15)
Disney goes back to the drawing board, while Mel gets stuck in an Eighties time warp
Sunday 31 January 2010
When John Lasseter's Pixar studios revolutionised cartoons with their spookily lifelike digital animation, their rivals at Disney panicked and abandoned traditional hand-drawn animation altogether.
Ironically, it's only now that Lasseter has taken charge of Disney's cartoons himself that the studio has returned, not just to hand-drawn animation, but to all the other things it used to do before Pixar stole its thunder. The Princess and the Frog may be set in 1920s New Orleans, rather than "once upon a time in a far away kingdom", and its heroine may be a black waitress who dreams of opening her own gumbo restaurant. But beneath these relatively modern trappings there's a prince, a pantomime baddie, a menagerie of talking animals and characters who keep bursting into song, just as Walt might have signed off on 70 years ago.
I'm not so sure that he would have approved of the unwieldy story, however. Seemingly the result of too much brainstorming and not enough editing, The Princess and the Frog has too many villains, too many comedy sidekicks, too many unconnected incidents and not enough plot.
It takes well over half an hour for the waitress and a visiting prince to be turned into amphibians by a voodoo witch doctor, and after that the writer-directors can't think of anything to do with them except turn them back again. But it's still a bright, peppy, lushly animated musical. If Disney is ever going to recapture some of the old magic, then The Princess and the Frog is a hop in the right direction.
Disney's animators aren't the only people harking back to former glories this week. In Edge of Darkness, Mel Gibson's first star vehicle in eight years, Gibson, right, plays his usual "Man Out for Revenge After a Loved One Is Murdered", while the director, Martin Campbell, is on even more familiar ground: in 1985, he directed the BBC series on which the new film is based. But if both men were slap-bang in the middle of their comfort zones when they were making Edge of Darkness, you wouldn't think so from watching the botch-up they've cobbled together.
The action has been relocated from the UK to the US, specifically Boston, but to begin with it's not too different from the TV series. A distinguished police detective (Gibson, of course) is reunited with his 24-year-old daughter one night, only to stand by as a man in a balaclava blasts her in the gut with a shotgun. Gibson's colleagues assume that he must have been the intended target, but Gibson – unlike everyone else in the police department – does the 30 seconds' investigating it takes to reveal that his daughter was mixed up in a conspiracy. It might even have something to do with her highly classified job at a nuclear research facility.
The film's first sticking point is that its concerns are more Cold War than "war on terror". Last year's State of Play film expertly updated its source material, whereas Edge of Darkness feels like 1985 except with smaller mobile phones. And there are a lot more sticking points where that came from. Perforated with plot holes, and disastrously unsure of its tone, it starts steadily and sombrely, before switching to a hysterical parody of a conspiracy thriller: a parade of irrelevant car chases and ridiculously public assassination attempts, plus Ray Winstone as an ill-defined government fixer who goes around quoting Diogenes. I may be wrong, but I don't think the original TV series was a sitcom.
Also Showing: 31/01/10
Breathless (130 mins, 18)
Being a movie gangster usually involves sharp suits, strip clubs and stylised violence, so this low-budget Korean film is a bracing corrective. Make no mistake, there's a phenomenal amount of punching and kicking to be endured, but here it's nothing more than an unpleasant chore performed by a loan shark's impassive debt collector. Assaulting and/or swearing at everyone he meets, male or female, friend or foe, he would seem to be irredeemable, but Yang Ik-June, the film's star, writer, director and producer, slowly but surely lets glimmers of his humanity peep through. Expect imitations and remakes aplenty.
Adoration (100 mins, 15)
A teenage boy reads out an essay in class in which he claims that his father was a terrorist who tried to blow up his mother on a flight to Israel. Atom Egoyan's earnest issue drama touches on a range of ideas about extremism, identity and victim mentality. But when he turns from intellectual debate to the way human beings actually speak and behave, you might feel that he'd be better off writing essays himself.
Horses (87 mins)
Documentary following three Irish "equine athletes" over the course of a year's racing. There aren't many highs and lows – just mediums and lows – and while it may just go to prove how far life is from a feel-good sports movie, it may also be that the director simply backed the wrong horses.
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