Hansel and Gretel (2007)
★★ / ★★★★
Eun-Soo (Jeong-myeong Cheon) was on his way to visit his mother in critical condition when he receives a phone call from his pregnant girlfriend. The conversation does not go so well and just when he hangs up, he sees something in the middle of the road and swerves to avoid it. The highway is quite windy so the car ends up across the rail and onto a forested area.
Unconscious for what it seems like a couple of hours, he is found by a girl named Jung-soon (Ji-hee Jin) who takes him to her home and introduces him to the rest of her family. They are nice enough to let Eun-Soo stay overnight, but when he tries to find the highway the next day, he ends up back at the house. The looks on their faces suggest that they expected this would happen. Eun-Soo looks for another way out to no avail.
Based on the screenplay by Pil-Sung Yim and Min-sook Kim, “Henjel gwa Geuretel” is composed of many creepy elements from the dark fairly tale and is able to deliver the necessarily visuals designed to establish an off-kilter, isolated world located in the heart of from what it seems to be a magical forest. However, its interesting story is so often dampened by over-the-top sentimentality that it comes off manipulative.
The scenes shot indoors are so catching, I felt like I was right there with the characters as they sport fake smiles in order to hide the fact that something sinister is hiding behind the sugary confections and cute portraits of rabbits on walls. It is typical that each room is well-lit so we can appreciate the flood of colors that manage to complement one another. The camera is quick to focus on specific decorations that appear cute or harmless the moment we glance upon them. But the longer we look, there is a darkness and uneasiness emitted from the objects which reflect how we end up feeling toward the three children (the other siblings played by Eun Won-jae and Ji-hee Hin, both wonderful in providing piercing glares).
Eun-Soo’s early attempts to find a way out are interesting. By about the fourth time, however, it begins to feel repetitive. The problem is that we have been convinced that he is not going to find a way out until he decides to ask the necessary questions. It is most frustrating when the character is much slower than us to pick up on rather prominent clues. Worse, he does not seem to have a plan on how to outsmart the children in question. Halfway through, I began to lose interest because the level of menace has waned somewhat and the pacing has slowed down considerably. While Eun-Soo remains to encounter strange happenings, there is a lack of urgency to them.
The picture’s daze is broken when a flashback involving the children takes center stage. Finally we get to understand how they end up being so clingy to their guests. The explanation is superficial but at least one is offered. However, it does not save the material from the eventual waterworks toward the end. Instead of being in the moment, I started to wonder whether the tears flowing down the performers’ faces were real. The crying feels like a desperate tactic to create a semblance of sadness when it should have trusted us to interpret our own feelings.
“Hansel & Gretel,” directed by Pil-Sung Yim, is successful is setting up a portentous mood but there is not much else to it. Without its wonderful art direction and set design, it emits little magic because the screenplay does not offer enough excitement outside the usual horror pitfalls. Of course Eun-Soo will go up to the attic after hearing thudding noises from above. Naturally, we brace ourselves for the eventual sudden appearance of something hiding in the dark.
Puss in Boots (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
There was word going around that Jack (voiced by Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris), outlaws and lovers, had three magical beans in their possession. If planted in the right spot at the right time, they were to grow for miles and lead to a giant’s castle where a giant goose laid golden eggs. Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) figured that if he were to purloin the eggs and donate them to the small town where he was raised in an orphanage, he would no longer be a wanted cat. Despite his reluctance, Puss eventually teamed up with Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), the sword, the skill, and the brain of the mission, respectively. “Puss in Boots,” directed by Chris Miller, was a thoroughly enjoyable animated film because the fairy tales in question were incorporated in such a way that the filmmakers were able to add their unique spin yet keep the essence of what made them such memorable fables. For example, instead of Jack and Jill being portrayed as cute kids, they were shown as corpulent, greedy adults with pigs as children. Despite their unexpected appearance, there were some funny bits taken from the nursery rhyme which were convincing enough for us to believe that the two of them were the Jack and Jill who tumbled down the hill. The picture had a lot of energy especially in executing its action sequences. The battle between Jack and Jill and Puss, Kitty, and Humpty in the desert was intense and exciting. Although the road was extremely windy, the battle sequence was flawlessly edited. We knew exactly what was happening and why; the crafty twists and jokes that surrounded that chase made the experience all the more fun. Although I enjoyed the animation in general, with its variegation in style that consistently complemented specific environs, I feel that I have to single out Humpty Dumpty. I never thought an egg could amuse me so much. Although the character had wicked sense of humor (he was deathly unable to jump off small steps), I was regaled by his movements: the way he walked, wobbled, and rolled down a hill. His facial expressions were, at times, slightly creepy, but I can’t imagine anyone not being tickled at the sight of Humpty being caught up in all sorts of trouble balancing while in the middle of high-stakes chases. I wished, however, the movie had less scenes of Puss and Kitty dancing. I understood that the two cats had to flirt for the sake of cute puns, but whenever they had to dance, whether it was for fun or competition, it felt like filler. A twenty-second dance sequence would have more than sufficed. A total of five- to ten-minute montage tested my patience. I rather would have watched a longer flashback of Puss and Humpty’s experiences as children in the orphanage led by Imelda (Constance Marie), their mother figure. Based on the screenplay by Tom Wheeler, “Puss in Boots,” despite its inconsistencies, like the golden eggs’ density, very difficult to move from one scene, easily lifted the next, was entertaining because it prevented shoving pop culture references in our faces. It simply told a story where most of its jokes worked due to right timing combined with contagious, effervescent energy.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Walt Disney’s first full-feature animated film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” directed by David Hand, may be too simple in story and animation when it comes to today’s standards but that was what I loved about it. An evil queen (Lucille La Verne) decided to kill her step-daughter named Snow White (Adriana Caselotti) because the Magic Mirror (Moroni Olsen) claimed that the queen was no longer the fairest in the land. The queen sent a man to kill her step-daughter but he instead let her escape because he couldn’t find it in himself to commit murder. Snow White then ran away to the forest and there she met the seven dwarfs with very distinct personalities. Most of this picture was pretty much singing and dancing, while the story could only be found in the beginning and the final showdown between good and evil. While I did think that Snow White was not a very smart character in particular (who decides to eat a random apple that came from a shifty stranger?), she was likable enough for me to ultimately root for her. And although the lesson in the film was questionable because it pretty much implied that women should be good at cleaning the house, washing clothes, cooking and depending on men to rescue them from a sad situation, kids should nonetheless be entertained because of the sheer amount of vivid colors and energy that the film had all the way through. Not to mention the songs were really catchy, especially “Heigh-Ho” and “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” It must be noted that this animated film explored a little bit of darkness that might scare the children. Some examples include the queen’s determination to kill Snow White in not-so-subtle ways such as cutting off her heart and poisoning her with an apple, the witchcraft and transformation scenes of the evil queen to a decrepit old lady, and the nightmarish experience that Snow White had when she ran into the forest. Yet, in a way, I was glad that those elements from the fairy tales of Wilhelm Grimm and Jacob Grimm, from which the picture was based on, remained intact because it kept me engaged, which meant that the older viewers would most likely not get bored by the repetitive singing and dancing. The great artistic endeavor that was “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” opened the door to so many of Disney’s most excellent animated features. Although the film had its flaws, I believe we must honor it not only because it was progressive but also due to the fact that it provided people laughter and hope during the Great Depression.