Years ago, when I saw Billy Elliot, my attention was drawn away from where it was intended. I saw instead a tragic film about a little girl whose mother was more interested in a talented outsider. That mother was played by the redoubtable Julie Walters; her presence compared to the weakness of the others drew me away from the filmmaker. It started a long rich journey in creating my own film when the one presented isn’t worth my breath.
Fast forward to this unimaginative splice of Stuart Little and 101 Dalmatians. As with those and apparently many others the intended path is a bit of mild slapstick, a thin threat and a homey moral. But it was so uncompelling, I drifted to an alternative narrative, again the tragedy of the lost daughter.
Here’s the story: a British institution exists that is based on taking things from around the planet. One so-called ‘explorer’ fails in his sponsored journey to bring back anything. The reason is vague and we only have the version from a damaged daughter. This (not exclusively heterosexual) man has a family that is impoverished and the daughter is drafted to be an indentured Cinderella of manure. There surely were other traumas not given.
We encounter her in a confused context; is she a taxidermist for a museum solely on the chance of a Peruvian Bear appearing in London? Or is she merely a twisted vivisectionist with an origin story? Now this is compelling, in part because of what we don’t know. It is in fact so compelling that I found myself disgusted at how Kidman messed it up.
She once mattered. It was a minor way, but she had Australian energy and commitment. She did well in one of my favourite films (‘Moulin Rouge’) as someone torn between emotion and vanity, consumed by both. But here she has passed over into the dark side of the vain, a losing battle with time. She is famous for having ruined the ability to express emotion by excessive botox. Now nearing 50, she presents mannikin-perfect and mannikin-flat skin.
Reinforcing the story of daughter damage is the mirror character in the Brown family, the teen on the brink of an abyss. And guess what? Here we have Julie Walters again, pushing us away from the main story into this backstory of damage.
The British Explorer Society house-of-records is the only set design I thought interesting, worthy of Terry Gilliam channeled through the Coens. Interesting until the explosion, and then we are back to Polar Express territory.
Don’t take your kids to see this.
Ted’s Evaluation — 1 of 3: You can find something better to do with this part of your life.