Disney is no stranger to animated feature films where someone goes on an adventure into the strange and unknown (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, Up, Lightyear), so can this one bring a fresh and new story to the same ‘ol, same ‘ol?
Super explorer and adventurer Jaeger Clade (voiced by Dennis Quaid) is hailed a hero as big as his massive ego. He’s proud of his only son, Searcher (Jake Gyllenhall), who is far less brave than daddy dearest. After Searcher finds Vibranium. . . I mean, Pando, a plant whose seed can power anything, he and his dad part ways. Fast-forward 25 years and the hidden utopian Shangra-La city of Wakanda. . . sorry, I mean, Avalonia is thriving thanks to Searcher and Clade Farms that grows the mysterious electrical-like plant. Searcher’s wife, Meridian (Gabrielle Union) is an ace pilot while his gay teenage son, Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) hangs out with his three-legged dog, Legend. One day, they get a visit from President Calisto Mal (Lucy Liu) in her giant steampunk-like ship, the Venture. The Pando plants are at risk of dying and it’s up to Searcher to find out why!
The family Clade joins the dangerous expedition and soon they find themselves inside the center of the world and see all manner of strange and weird plants, animals, and creatures that defy description. In the middle of all this, Searcher manages to bump into his long-lost father, which dredges up all sorts of abandonment and deep-seated parental issues, the same kind that he’s having with his own son. Anyway, Ethan, who never bothers to listen to anyone, nearly gets killed while exploring on his own and makes friends with a gelatinous blue blob he called Splat.
As the crew and all the reunited Clades continue to search throughout this Fantastic Voyage-like trip, both fathers & sons are constantly arguing with each other; with Searcher caught in the middle having to deal with both his cantankerous, blow-hard father and his rebellious son. This becomes a conflict with the other plot, trying to find out what’s killing the Pando and their way of life. When the strange world around them is the focus, the film picks up speed and has direction, but then it grinds to a halt whenever the father/son dynamic comes back. Then there’s that confusing ending which I’m still trying to figure out.
For a heavily promoted movie, I expected so much more than a listless, dull, and unfunny movie like this. At one point, Jaeger Clade says, “That’s just bad storytelling”. He’s not too far from the truth. Screenwriter Qui Nguyen (Raya and the Last Dragon, She Kills Monsters) has written two plots that clash directly against each other. Practically void of any real LOL jokes, the humor is dialed back and all the dialogue is clichéd and stuff you hear in a Lifetime movie. What surprised me was all the heavy-handed father-son conversations. Okay, I get it! You guys got daddy issues! Move on, already! Geez! It would have been alright if the characters were halfway interesting, but they were generic, cookie-cutter, uninteresting people.
Director Don Hall (Big Hero 6, Moana) tries to breathe life and excitement into this Croods-wannabe, but even the action sequences felt flat and boring. As far as the voice acting goes, Quaid is great as the pompous, action-loving Jaeger, and Gyllenhaal has a wonderful, sincere voice as Searcher, the struggling father. I found it curious that, of all the Disney movies banished to the Disney+ streaming service, this one was sent to the theaters! Movies like Prey, Disenchanted, and even their remade Pinocchio are the ones that should have been on the silver screen. Go figure.
**Now showing only in theaters
Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
There have been many, many film versions of the classic 1864 Jules Verne novel, but this one, in particular, was made especially in 3D for children that plays out just like a video game. In other words, it’s fast, visually exciting, and really dumb.
Say hello to Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser), a boring Boston professor/teacher whose volcanic lab research is about to be kicked out due to lack of funding. Lo and behold, Trevor’s estranged teenage nephew, Sean (Josh Hutchinson) comes to visit for 10 days while his mom leaves because. . . reasons. As the two guys bond, Trevor discovers his long-lost brother’s copy of the book, Journey to the Center of the Earth, but it contains mysterious notes and clues about an amazing discovery. This means only one thing. Road trip!
Taking off to Iceland, Trevor & Sean find a fellow volcanologist and pretty rock climber, Hannah Asgeirsson (Anita Briem) whose late father was into the same Jules Verne book, too. Faster than you can say, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom“, the three venture up a mountain, get trapped inside, fall down a mining shaft, and almost get killed using crazy mining death carts as an escape. This drops them into an unbelievably long tunnel where, as they’re falling to their certain doom, they have a nice chat! They survive and find (surprise!) the center of the Earth, complete with a ginormous cavern with its own light, luminescent birds, two-story tall mushrooms, and the dead body of Trevor’s brother. Oh, bummer!
Anyway, they gotta escape across a huge ocean, so they make a raft, battle prehistoric fish, then get separated back on land. While Trevor and Hannah get attacked by giant Venus Flytrap plants and fall in love, Sean is on the run across gravity-defying rocks and a badly rendered CGI T-Rex. They finally get back together and escape through a geyser spout using a huge dinosaur skull as a sorta makeshift rescue craft. Yeah, it’s all just as stupid as it sounds.
With a screenplay by Michael D. Weiss (Hostel III), Mark Levin & Jennifer Flackett (Nim’s Island, The Adam Project), it was obviously written for kids as nearly every scene specifically catered for a 3D audience (things flying at the screen). Teenager Sean is smart & cool, helping out the lame adults with dialogue is dumbed-down and something you’d hear in a Nickelodeon cartoon. Not to mention nearly every scene is ridiculous, silly, implausible, or just plain eye-rolling. The direction isn’t much better as Eric Brevig only directed two movies in his career, this film and the disastrous, embarrassing Yogi Bear in 2010.
Thank goodness the acting is on par, even with the dreadful script. Brendan Fraser is doing his best here, despite having to recite silly lines, and you can see his charm factor is working overtime. Icelandic actress Anita Briem is wonderful, losing layers of clothing as the movie progresses and spouting inane dialogue. But it’s young Josh Hutcherson that sells it. He could have played Sean as a pouting brat that “learns a valuable lesson”, but Josh plays it real and true, showing a remarkable depth of age. There was a 2012 sequel, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island with Hutcherson and Dwayne Johnson, but it bombed at the box office.