Remember The Little Mermaid and The Lion King? What about Pocahontas? They were classic Disney movies, musical and wholesome and filled with fun and adventure.
Their only controversies surrounded the tactfully off-camera death of the occasional character or the subtly presented themes regarding gender roles and empiricism. Either way, the majority of us wouldn’t think twice about taking our children to any movie with the Disney logo over the movie title.
This is the case no longer.
I saw a preview of John Carter ( originally and more aptly titled John Carter of Mars) and I was pleasantly surprised. The trailers didn’t do the story justice. (I know story isn’t what drives box-office anymore, but the movie is much fuller and richer than the commercials would leads you to believe.) There is a LOT on going on, tons of characters and several storylines.
In fact, my biggest criticism of the movie is that the script probably should have gone through one more re-write for the sake of clarity. There were several children in the audience and I could hear them constantly peppering their parents with story questions. Leaving the kids aside, however, there’s a lot for the adults to process, too. The story itself was never confusing, but from time to time I was pulled out of the movie trying to remember which character or place they were talking about.
If you don’t know (and don’t mind knowing the general idea) John Carter is the movie based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ series of novels about a 19th Century earth man who suddenly finds himself on Mars with some pretty extraordinary abilities. Only Mars isn’t the lifeless little red desert world we know today.
Well, it’s not lifeless anyway.
Wildly diverse and technologically advanced–at least in comparison to late 1800’s earth–life on Burroughs’ Mars, known as Barsoom to its inhabitants, is brutally harsh. Martian civilization teeters on the brink as powerful forces war with each other for all the marbles. And while John Carter searches for a way back home he finds himself swept upalmost immediately in the conflagration…which just might be his destiny.
John Carter is equal parts Avatar and Star Wars: Attack of The Clones, although it’s more likely that those movies borrowed from John Carter, whose novels were written between 1912 and 1964, than the other way around.
The cast is a refreshing mix of new faces (Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins) and the usual suspects (Willem Dafoe, Thomas Hayden Church, Mark Strong). The effects are good. The almost-exclusively amphibious and mammalian lifeforms adequately suspend disbelief. And the environmental steam-punk technology is unique and intriguing.
All of this may sound like typical Disney fare, but you would be a little mistaken to think so. The movie is violent. It stops just shy of gory, but there is a fair amount of bruises and blood (not all of it red). Flesh is stabbed, bashed, torn through, and incinerated. It’s never over the top, but it is pervasive. There are plenty of well-toned, scantily clad bodies. And while that’s more story function than overt sexuality, it may affect some parents’ comfort-levels when watching with young children.
Waiting to see the movie, my friends and I noted how the concept of the Disney movie as a brand was changing. It did so slightly with Pirates of the Caribbean, more so with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. John Carter takes the Disney brand another step toward the Dark Side.
Quite possibly forever more.
John Carter is definitely worth checking out with the fam’, but you might want to drop the littler ones off with Grandma first.
(Frank Frazetta’s John Carter image from: http://www.johncarterofmars.ca/mars/. White Ape screenshot image from: http://screenrant.com/john-carter-trailer-3-sandy-156843/. E.R. Burroughs image from: http://www.freemooviesonline.com/cinema/authors/edgar-rice-burroughs-biography.html.)