by Robbie Fischer
Some of you may be familiar with the Book Trolley, whose main mission is to suggest good books for you to enjoy while you wait for the next Harry Potter book. But, being almost as much of a movie buff as a book lover, I thought: Why shouldn’t I also suggest a list of movies that you should try while you impatiently await the next Harry Potter film?
There’s no reason why not. So here goes…
Part 1: Magical Movies for Kids
The most obvious films, to console Harry Potter fans in their agony of anticipation, are the type of films that contain magic and appeal to younger viewers. Here are the top twelve that come to my mind:
1) Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, which is, hands down, my favorite feature-length animation from the Mouse. Based on the first part of T. H. White’s retelling of the King Arthur legend, it features an adorable little boy named the Wart, who lives in Medieval England, and whose fondest dream is to be a page to a real knight. A wizard named Merlin has other things in store for him. Merlin becomes the boys tutor, teaching him a variety of lessons by turning the Wart into different kinds of animals. The movie also features some delightful songs, a wizard duel, and some moments of both heartwarming tenderness and side-splitting hilarity. Plus, you cant help but love the Wart! (Side note: I should have mentioned the Higitus Figitus method in my Burrow article on Moving Magic.)
2) The other Disney movie that I have deigned to buy on DVD–so sue me, theyre expensive!–is The Black Cauldron, based loosely on the first two or three books in Lloyd Alexander’s beloved Prydain Chronicles. I must admit that some of it isn’t the way I imagined it when I read the books. I particularly didn’t like the way Gurgi was portrayed. But it is a breathtaking movie nevertheless, with romance, humor, menace, and mystery, starting with a pig that can tell the future, and involving a minstrel whose harp busts a string every time he fibs, a spoiled princess, a farm boy who wants to be a hero, and a villain that gives Skeletor nightmares. Not for nothing was this the first Disney animated feature to earn a PG rating!
3) The Neverending Story, once again based on a favorite book of mine, though I saw this movie loooooong before I read the book. I think the sequel, Neverending Story 2, is based on a part of the book that the first movie does not cover. These are live-action movies, and their special effects are somewhat dated now, but I think they still have a lot going for them–luck dragons, magic rings, youthful heroes, books that the reader becomes a part of (Tom Riddle’s diary, anyone?), and for you LOTR fans, a well-known theme song by Annie Lennox.
4) The Wizard of Oz, a 1939 classic that still looks new. I must confess, the flying monkeys scared me when I was very little. Later on, though, I loved this movie, and the book it was based on. A tornado sweeps young Dorothy Gale from her gray, Kansas farm to the vibrant, colorful land of Oz. Follow Dorothy and her friends–the Lion, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man–down the yellow-brick road to the Emerald City, so that she can destroy the wicked witch, meet the mighty wizard, and prove that there’s no place like home.
5) Mouse Hunt. OK, Ill admit, the connection to magic is very thin. But there is a scene in which Nathan Lane and Lee Evans listen to a tape of Christopher Walken saying to a mouse, “Put that down! That tickles!” And Nathan Lane says, ”I don’t think were dealing with an ordinary mouse.” Only if you can accept the idea of magic (at least for the duration of a movie), can you imagine the wonderful possibilities of what that mouse was doing. This modern-day slapstick from the director of the celebrated Budweiser frog commercials is breathtakingly funny. Sometimes laughter is the best magic of all.
6) The Iron Giant. Since I’m already stretching the definition of magic in movies, I can’t let this one slip by. This is an old-school, cell-animated feature from Warner Bros. and the director of the recent, deservedly Oscar-winning movie The Incredibles. It is the story of a twenty-foot-tall, indestructible robot from outer space, who crash-lands off the coast of Maine in the 1950s. He soon befriends a very special little boy named Hogarth Hughes, who teaches him that you choose what you become. The giants choice becomes a matter of survival for the whole planet, in a very, very touching story featuring the voices of Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, and Harry Connick, Jr.
7) A Series of Unfortunate Events. You already saw this one, didn’t you? Well, wait till it comes out on video. Then see it again!
8) Lilo and Stitch. I just recently saw this movie on cable TV. I think it came from Disney, but if that’s the case, I am amazed. Disney usually doesn’t do anything quite so edgy, weird, and full of character. Set somewhere in Hawaii, it depicts a tough, lonely little girl being raised by her older sister, and who adopts as her pet a dog that turns out to be a destroying machine escaped from another planet. How Lilo converts the little menace into a true member of her family, and averts a major interplanetary incident, comes about at the end of a wild, funny, scary, and just plain bizarre adventure which should apppeal to fans of both Disney animation and animé.
9) Holes. Innocent boy gets convicted of a crime he didnt commit (stealing athletic shoes). Gets sent to a juvenile prison / boys camp in the Texas desert, where each boy is required to dig a hole in a dried lake-bed, five feet deep and five feet around, every day. Gets caught up in a dangerous adventure that spans several generations, including a gypsy woman’s curse in the old country, a female outlaw in the old west, a buried treasure, and a date with destiny. A very powerful story, starring an impressive cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, and Henry Winkler.
10) Matilda. Directed by Danny De Vito, and featuring Pam Aunt Marge Ferris as the terrible Trunchbull, this is one of my favorite all-time movies, and its based on a book by one of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl. Matilda is a special girl who learns to make things happen by the power of her mind. This is an ability she will need badly, as she is forced to attend a horrible school where the headmistress likes to squish children.
11) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. While Im mentioning Roald Dahl, how can I forget this masterpiece musical comedy/fantasy, based on the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The most amazing thing about it is that the whole movie was made as a gimmick to promote a candy bar that isn’t even made any more. Yet the movie remains a classic, in large part because of the masterpiece performance of Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. I hear tell that Tim Burton is remaking this film, with Johnny Depp in the Wonka role. That might be interesting to see, but Johnny Depp will never replace Gene Wilder!
12) Chicken Run. Magic shmagic, this is just a hilarious send-up of The Great Escape, in the form of a clay-mation film about chickens plotting to escape from a poultry farm before the farmers wife turns them all into pies. HP fans will thrill to vocal performances by the actors who play Peter Pettigrew and Rita Skeeter.
Part 2: Special Effects Extravaganzas for the Whole Family
Now that I’ve unloaded my dozen favorite children’s films, here are my top ten picks from the Eye Candy department. And by the way, I’m not including LOTR on this list because it is so OBVIOUS. You will watch the trilogy some time this year, wont you?
1) Fifth Element. Critics panned it, and the box office didn’t treat this movie very well either, but I think it is becoming a cult classic. You have to understand that it’s a science fiction farce, a kind of movie that has not been made before. It is also a brilliant visual achievement, with detailed and panoramic views of our world (and others) a thousand years in the futurean age when taxis fly through the sky, opera singers have blue skin, and the ultimate evil in the universe is trying to end everything. The cast includes LOTR veteran Ian ”Bilbo Baggins” Holm, our own Gary ”Sirius Black” Oldman, Milla Jovovich, and of course, Bruce Willis.
2) Star Wars and/or Star Trek. Take your pick. Or better yet, watch both series of movies. The Star Wars movies get visually more and more amazing, and they are packed with thrills, though after seeing them I usually find that I cant describe one thing that happened (plot-wise). The Star Trek movies are very uneven; I have heard a rumor of an odd-numbered Star Trek movie curse which, based on what I have seen, is pretty believable. I would begin by avoiding Star Trek: The Motion Picture because it is nothing BUT a special effects extravaganza, with no plot whatsoever. But Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has always been my favorite one.
3) Independence Day / Stargate / The Day After Tomorrow. Three movies by Roland Emmerich that explore the fantasy possibilities of the future (alien visitors), the past (ancient Egypt), and the present (ecological disaster). Loaded with eye-popping images, thrilling action, romance, tragedy, flag-waving patriotism AND subversive themes of distrusting the government, not to mention scenes of national treasures being blown up, each one had audiences cheering and applauding at some point. So I think they’ll be good for 3 evenings of fun, at least.
4) The Matrix trilogy and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I group these films together, not because they are officially connected in any way, but only because they are both epoch-making film achievements. From the moment Trinity high-kicks her way out of a room full of policemen in the first Matrix movie, until Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow float by an island full of dinosaurs at the end of Sky Captain, they reinvented the whole craft of making movies in a visually stunning way.
5) Anything animated by Pixar studios, from Toy Story to Monsters, Inc. and the aforementioned The Incredibles. These are truly adorable movies, and each one is an explosive leap forward for the quality of computer animation. Support them and, in effect, you are supporting the future development of special effects in the Harry Potter movies.
6) The Mask with Jim Carrey. The movie abounded in special effects, but that’s only the half of it. Jim Carrey’s face is a special effect. I think this is the movie that did the most to take advantage of that fact.
7) The Red Violin. What on earth am I saying? This isn’t a special effects movie; it’s a music video for the work of composer John Corigliano, featuring artsy-fartsy characters, superstition, sex, death, and a lot of subtitles (with dialogue taking place in English, French, German, Chinese, and Italian). But it is a movie of amazing beauty, both for the eyes and the ears, and it is so eerie, so full of forboding, so romantic, so tremendously moving, that (as if by magic) you forget that you are reading subtitles and believe that you understand every word in whatever language.
8) Any Marvel Comics movie, going back as far as you like. What they lack in story depth, they make up in thrilling visual effects.
9) Any M. Night Shyamalan movie. Why? They don’t have a lot of effects! Well, that’s why. I cant think of a better filmmaker, working today, to use as an example of the awesome impact that can be achieved without loads of special efffects. Study him to learn what the Harry Potter filmmakers are going about as they obsess over every detail of lighting, make-up, costume, scenery, and photography.
10) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Van Helsing, as particular examples of how a movie can stink, even when it has the best special effectsbecause the story isnt there to back them up. And thus you will learn to be more thankful than ever that the genius of J. K. Rowling is behind the next Harry Potter movie!