Children's Theatre

Though I usually like to leap from genre to genre like a rabbit on meth, sometimes I find myself settling into a theme. Recently, I fell into one of these themes by happenstance, catching a trio of kids' movies without even having the good grace to watch them with an actual kid. I guess that means you'll have to take this post with a block of salt, because I know full well that I am not the target audience. Still, the best kids' movies out there know how to play to an adult audience, and all three of these drew me in on that level. Luckily, I don't have a little one demanding to be taken to Planes: Who Gives a Crap About Whatever the Sequel Title Is, so I can just partake of films that devote some actual thought to writing.

The first two movies I actually caught in the theater. I was so pleasantly surprised by How to Train Your Dragon that when a friend wanted to know if I wanted to see How to Train Your Dragon 2, I decided I could probably jump in blind. And I was right! Now that the world of Hiccup and Toothless has been established, this movie goes about expanding it into the surrounding regions. The symbiotic ecosystem between the dragons and humans is threatened by an outside foe, but there are friends on the outside as well. Hiccup's relationships and his responsibility to his tribe are all thoughtfully explored, but not to the point that the movie ever forgets to be funny and entertaining. It wasn't quite as good as the original, but as far as sequels go, it certainly measured up.

Critics were pretty kind to How to Train Your Dragon 2, but they came with claws out for Maleficent. Did a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story from the villain's point of view really need to happen? Probably not. But this is where that whole "target audience" thing I mentioned comes into play. Maleficent is Wicked for little girls. Angelina Jolie portrays her as alternately fearsome and vulnerable, and while a lot of the plot details are woefully contrived, her performance is extremely strong. It's a good thing hers is, because just about everyone else in the movie is fairly useless. What the movie lacks in story, it almost makes up in beautiful visuals. I doubt it'll be on anyone's top-ten list of the year, but I liked it well enough as I was watching.

The third movie found its way to the top of my Netflix queue, and looked like a perfect Monday time-passer. This was 2011's Rango, which intrigued me because of the word-of-mouth I'd heard about it. Gore Verbinski has a checkered resume, and the decidedly mixed reviews this movie got seemed to bear that out. Johnny Depp plays a lizard in love with his own Acting Ability, but that bravado gets him into trouble when he finds himself appointed sheriff of a town in the middle of a punishing drought. This is a supremely weird movie. Try to imagine a spaghetti western andUrinetown squished together, with a bunch of bodily humor jokes tossed in for good measure. It may have been a worthy effort, but the final product doesn't really work. It's far too dark and serious to be a good kid's movie, and it's far too goofy to be a good drama. As with Maleficent, the visuals are often stunning, but Rango doesn't have the compensating factor of a powerful performance to make up for its flaws.

How to Train Your Dragon 2: B
Maleficent: B-
Rango: C+


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