Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Kid Who Would Be King

In a couple years, or maybe a generation, there's going to be some interesting film writing about the British family movies being made as the older generations fight over the country leaving the European Union. It's not something that ever comes up explicitly, in that you won't hear "Brexit" mentioned during those films, but it's hard not to notice that there's a certain emphasis placed upon Paddington being an immigrant in the new films and living in a neighborhood with many others, while this film certainly makes a lot more noises in the direction of Britain lacking effective leadership and the country being ready to implode. Indeed, the end has Merlin telling the kids that the country is going to need their leadership, and it's a bit different than the usual version which concentrates on how the kid has proven himself or herself worthy.

Or maybe I've just read way too much commentary on social media that seems way too familiar.

Anyway… That second film can be a bear to get done, can't it? It's been eight years since Attack the Block, which may not have been a hit, but which certainly Joe Cornish him on a lot of people's radar, and the only credit he got in that time was as a co-writer on Ant-Man, which could very well have predated Block. How that doesn't get you right back to work - and how not getting back to work doesn't drive you mad to the point where you find some more obviously productive way to make a living or create art (he's apparently not the photographer of the same name) - is something I can't fathom.

I had to admit, I was a little surprised that the guy who made Attack the Block was following it up with a kids' movie, but he was one of the writers on Adventures of Tintin, so it's not like making fun movies for kids came out of nowhere.

The Kid Who Would Be King

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 26 January 2019 in AMC Boston Common #8 (first-run, DCP)

There's a fascinating urgency in this film's opening scenes that you don't often see in family movies - most go for an optimistic timelessness even when presenting their young heroes with a dire threat, rather than being grounded in the present anxiety. It doesn't permeate the movie, which is for the best, but the fact that it's there and comes and goes as needed certainly marks this as a bit better than a lot of what gets made for kids.

It opens with an animated retelling of the King Arthur legend before introducing Alexander (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who is probably second-lowest on the totem pole in his middle school but, to his credit, tends to stick up for Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), the one guy below him and his best friend, rather than passing any bullying he receives along. That mostly comes from Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), and it's them chasing him after detention that causes him to stumble upon an actual sword in a stone in the middle of London. He is able to draw it, not quite realizing what he's stumbled upon, at least not until the undead start chasing him at nightfall and a weird older kid calling himself "Merton" (Angus Imrie) shows up at school, warning that Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) is close to returning to Earth - a solar eclipse in four days time is just the thing to make it happen - which sends the four kids on a quest to learn how to combat her evil and learn why the sword chose him.

In case the name doesn't give the game away, The Kid Who Would Be King is aimed squarely at the young members of the audience, not sneaking jokes for the adults in, making its points and point of view very clear, and having definite lines in terms of intensity that it will approach but not cross. It is not looking for the grown-ups to think it's clever, even though it is - though he'll spend some time pointing out obvious deliberate parallels with the classic Arthurian myths, it also becomes very clear by the end that he knows the perils of offering up a chosen-one narrative in this day, and that he knows kids Alexander's age deserve a more honest narrative than one that blames the shaky state of their home on some supernatural cause that can be vanquished with the proper sword (it's a different thing to say that such instability opens the door for other dangerous threats). He navigates the fuzzy border between the overt fantasy in this movie and the sort kids construct that must be punctured carefully with grace even as adult viewers might be inclined to ignore that because the kids are talking about a round kitchen table.

Full review at EFC.

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