Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Less Horror and More Dark Fairy Tale

29 08 2011

A remake of the 1973 made-for-TV movie of the same name, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a Guillermo del Toro produced “horror” film starring Katie Holmes, Guy Pearce and  Bailee Madison. Here’s the breakdown:

When Sally (Madison) moves in with her architect father (Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Holmes), she unwittingly uncovers a centuries old secret and unleashes a living nightmare.

The Monkey: The tone of this movie was rock solid. From the set design to the music; from the cinematography to the script, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark thoroughly maintained its “creepiness” factor. The sprawling Victorian mansion became a character all its own, with its blood-red stained glass, creaking stairs, secret chambers, roaring fireplaces, labyrinthine gardens and classic fixtures. It was a haunted house from backyard to buttress.

Del Toro brought much of what made his critically-acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth a success to this endeavor as well. A classic story, with genre tropes twisted just enough to feel refreshingly original and genuinely creepy. More of a “dark fairy tale” than a true horror film, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark played out its fantastical elements without apology and del Toro’s contributions continued to shine throughout, especially regarding the honesty of the storytelling (not to mention his almost infamous creature designs).

While the “Don’t go in there!” moments were myriad, it lent to the overall “We’ve seen this before but we don’t mind seeing it again” feeling that permeated the whole movie. Fairy tales are grounded on archetypes and familiar plots…so it becomes all about the embellishments. And there were many here. A truly blood-chilling opening sequence, creepy music-box music, grotesque drawings and even a homage-ish shower/bath scene, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark rests firmly on the bones of tried-and-true ghost stories, allowing the filmmakers room to get creative with the trappings.

The Weasel: Unfortunatley, the movie was not exactly marketed well. Touted as a true horror film, the movie was much more thriller, much more dark fairy tale. And while there were wonderful tastes of this (especially when the story began to focus on its own mythology), the fantastical elements seemed almost out of place, in that it kept the movie from becoming actually terrifying. The fantastic nature of the story should have been given more prominence.

The acting was neither here nor there; decent enough to support the story, without being distracting.

There was a significant portion of the movie dedicated to the family drama surrounding Sally’s estranged parents and Kim, the new girlfriend. This relationship was played up even more in the final moments of the film; however, the build-up was shoddy at best and unbelievable at worst. Tonally, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark was never quite sure of itself, and the mismatched drama/horror/fantasy pieces were evidence of this.

In the end, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a big-budget camp-side ghost story, an extended episode of the Twilight Zone, a twisted fairy tale. A bit of mis-marketing and some tonal inconsitencies aside, don’t be afraid to give this movie a chance.

And on a side note: there was NO reason for this movie to be rated R. This was practically cable TV ready, with no gore, swearing, nudity…R for “Violence and Terror”? Please. The most ridiculous rating I’ve ever seen.

2.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark a decent remake? Did you find it more horror or fantasy? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Tangled: Disney Unravels A Magical Tale That’s Fun For Everyone

24 11 2010

Disney’s Tangled is its 50th animated feautre-length film and, reportedly, the last one to feature a princess. Here’s the breakdown:

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) lives with her mother (Donna Murphy), alone in a tower. Her flowing golden locks provide healing and life and her mother has stayed young and beautiful thanks to Rapunzel’s gift. But when Rapunzel encounters a wandering scoundrel (Zachary Levi), she embarks on a quest to find out where she really comes from and learns the values of family and love along the way.

The Monkey: The animation is gorgeous. From the stylized character designs to the intricately detailed sets, Tangled is a masterpiece of CGI and digital animation. For that reason alone, the movie should be seen in 3D or at least in a theatre that offers digital projection.

The voice acting is superb. Mandy Moore brings an innocence and vibrance to Rapunzel that sets her apart from what could easily have been another generic princess. Zachary Levi brings equal parts Han Solo and Robin Hood to Flynn Ryder, the suave scoundrel with a heart of gold. Finally, Donna Murphy, as Mother Gothel, delivers a performance like no other Disney villain, bringing a humanity and uncomfortable familiarity to an otherwise evil character.

Speaking of Mother Gothel, this was one of the most interesting Disney villains to date. Her role as Rapunzel’s mother prevents the audience from dismissing her as pure evil from the start, like so many one-dimensional villains. Instead, Gothel is a bitingly subversive, verbally abusive and ultimately misguided villain, giving her far more layers than her previous counterparts. While most Disney films stick to the “sacrificial single parent” model, Tangled flips this notion on its ear, telling the tale of a dysfunctional family and how damaging it can be to make excuses for wrongful behavior, even from the ones you love and claim to love you. Sound deep? It is, but not stiflingly so – this is a layer of storytelling that will be missed by most younger audiences (despite its positive message) but adds a maturity to the story that older audience members can appreciate.

Composer Alan Menken (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) is back and the songs in Tangled are wonderful. From a rowdy bar song involving thugs and cutthroats (“I’ve Got A Dream”) to a beautiful, romantic duet (“I See The Light”), Tangled delivers the magical musical moments that you remember from the most classic of Disney films. Mother Gothel’s signature song (“Mother Knows Best”) is the standout performance, recalling the spectacle of Aladdin‘s “Friend Like Me” as well as the villainous belting of The Little Mermaid‘s “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.

The magic of Tangled doesn’t stop there. The film includes enough humor to keep kids (and adults) laughing, thanks to the movie’s animal pals, chameleon Pascal and horse Maximus. They were wonderful secondary characters that were used for well-placed laughs without being overdone.

The Weasel: While it can’t really be helped with a fairy tale story, Tangled is pretty predictable. No one of importance dies, it all ends happily, etc. This could be one of the reasons why Disney is “discontinuing” fairy tale princess stories from here on out…there’s just not much that hasn’t already been done.

Another point of contention: the number of songs. I can think of six amazing and distinct songs from Aladdin, yet Tangled only offered up three really memorable tunes. This is a case where less does NOT equal more. The existing songs are exceptional and it would have been nice to have several more.

I have to say, I’m not thrilled with the title. It was originally called Rapunzel, but in an effort to appeal to a male audience, the name was changed. I think it shows a lack of faith, on Disney’s part, in the finished product. If this truly is the end of the princess genre for Disney, they should have gone all out, title and all.

There have been some complaints about the 3D making the screen very dark. It does darken the screen, so if you have a theatre that offers 2D digital projection, you won’t miss much by skipping the 3D; however, there are one or two particular scenes that are quite thrilling in three dimensions.

With great voice talent, wonderful animation and classic music, Tangled delivers the Disney magic like I haven’t seen in a long time.

4.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Will Tangled rank among some of the best Disney animated movies? Do you think the title change was a good decision? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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