Previous: Scintillations | Picofarad #6 contents | Next: The Theme Park Commando's Guide to Disneyland
Directed by Gore Verbinski
Running time: 150 minutes
Once again, Disney sets sail with an attempt to make a quick buck off an old ride, and once again, comes up with a movie that's far better than it deserved to be. This time, it's off to dig up an old piece of sea lore.
Davy Jones, this version of the story goes, was once a mortal sailor. Spurned by the woman he loved, he ripped his own heart out of his chest and locked it in a box, whereupon he was transformed into the world's biggest H. P. Lovecraft fan and oomed to sail forever at the helm of the Flying Dutchman. He also controls the Kraken, a giant squid-like thing which can pulverize a ship in a matter of seconds, and commands a crew of undead sailors, making him a very useful person to have on your side, if you can just find the right leverage to get him there. This is where the Dead Man's Chest comes in: it contains the heart, and whoever can find it and unlock it will, the theory goes, be able to command Davy Jones. And so everyone is after the heart-- the East India Company for unspecified nefarious tea-related purposes, Will (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) to buy their freedom, Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) to get out of a deal that will add him to the crew of the Flying Dutchman, plus a few minor characters, plus a late-breaking adversary returning from the first movie.
The first order of business is for Will to track down the captain and rescue him and his crew from a tribe of cannibals, in the best and silliest action scene in the whole movie. They form a tentative alliance to try and find the chest, the key that opens it, and a quiet moment out of the reach of Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) to put them together. This will take the better part of two and a half hours, but with a pace keeps things moving well for most of the movie. Near the end, I started picking out a minute here and there that could have stood to be cut, but it doesn't feel anywhere near as long as it is.
The special effects are about what you expect. The Kraken is reasonably believable; the fully animated undead crew still don't walk quite right. But the show-stopper is Davy Jones's octopoid head, a seamless masterpiece of makeup and CGI. If the people responsible for it don't get an Oscar of some sort, there's no justice in the world.
The only defensible reasons to avoid this movie are if you have a small bladder or can't stand cliffhanger endings. In either case, at least rent or buy the DVD when it comes out, so you can watch it right before going out to see the third Pirates of the Caribbean.
Directed by John Lasseter
Running time: 116 minutes
Cars is the latest thing off the Pixar assembly line, working to the usual template: Take a movie formula, render in spectacularly good computer animation, insert into the Disney distribution system. With The Incredibles, this resulted in a technically polished movie where it was possible to predict the turns of the plot practically to the minute. Cars, though, executes with grace and style.
Our hero is Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), racing for the highly prestigious Piston Cup against perennial champion The King (Richard "The King" Petty, made to look like the Plymouth Superbird he drove in 1970) and perennial runner-up Chick Hicks (Michael Keaton), a nasty car with a prominent mustache and a habit of wrecking cars that get in his way (but who is not in any official way supposed to resemble the late Dale Earnhardt, uh-uh, no sir). He ties for the win of what should be the season-ending race, leading the officials to call for a tiebreaker in one week at the other end of the country. Due to events slightly beyond his control en route, Lightning suddenly finds himself stuck in the town of Radiator Springs, chained to an infernal paving machine until he can put a proper layer of ew blacktop on the town's main street, damaged in his frantic arrival.
Radiator Springs is well off the beaten track, populated with a potpourri of automotive character actors. There's Mater the bucktoothed redneck (tow truck) (Larry the Cable Guy), cheerful and solid (gas-station) waitress Flo (Jennifer Lewis), and the kindly old advice-dispensing country doctor (Paul Newman), who will provide the movie's one chance at actually surprising you. And then there's the sporty little number running the local motel (Bonnie Hunt), to provide the opportunity for romance.
And there you have the story. Despite the occasional menace of Chick Hicks, the real villain of the piece is Interstate 40, which forces Cars into doing something vanishingly rare among animated blockbusters: sticking with a character-driven plot. And it works, thanks to never getting overwrought or feeling forced, and keeping up its visual inventiveness all the way through. Like the old byways it pines for, Cars will not get you anywhere fast, but it provides a memorable trip.