Disney films hit a couple of significant milestones this week.
If anything signaled the end of Disney’s dominance in the feature-length animated-film department, as well as the rise of computer-animated films over traditionally hand-drawn animated films, it was the release, ten years ago, of Ice Age.
Prior to that, most of the major cartoons — the successful ones, that is — were produced by Disney, distributed by Disney or, in the case of DreamWorks, produced by former Disney people who were either imitating Disney’s style (a la The Prince of Egypt) or mocking it (a la Shrek).* But Ice Age changed all that: produced by Fox, it borrowed at least some of its sensibility from the old Warner Brothers cartoons — certainly where the hapless Wile E. Coyote-like Scrat was concerned — and its makers didn’t seem to have Disney on the brain at all. And audiences still flocked to it anyway.
GIVE the Spider-Man series points for good intentions. Ever since director Sam Raimi first brought the web-slinging super-hero to the big screen five years ago, he has made a point of emphasizing the character’s humanity, indeed his fallibility. In doing so, he has shown how we, too, can learn from our mistakes and live more virtuously.
Even better, Raimi has given these virtues a distinctly Christian flavour. Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), the science student who fights crime as Spider-Man, clearly owes his sense of right and wrong to the uncle and aunt who raised him after the death of his parents — and the films have depicted Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), in particular, as a devout woman who says her prayers and thanks the angels for their help.
MAGIC is everywhere you look these days. From bookstores to movie theatres, stories about wizards, witches and mythological beasts are all the rage; and for a person like me, who grew up with hobbits, aliens, flying horses and Jedi Knights, the current fantasy craze — and the various Christian responses to it — bring back a lot of memories.
How popular is fantasy right now? The most successful movie of the year (so far) is Shrek, a cheeky parody of the fairy tale genre that turns conventional wisdom about ogres, dragons and beautiful princesses on its head. That film’s box office performance could be surpassed in a few weeks by Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first film based on J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular novels about a young orphan and his classmates at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.