Hello, dear readers! Under normal circumstances I would be reviewing a film, which came out in theaters recently that's certainly of the 'geeky' persuasion. But that's not going to happen. If you haven't been to any entertainment websites lately or tuned out when your comic book fan of a friend started ranting about some movie they went to see this past weekend then I'll give you the low down. Fantastic Four (2015) sucked. I've never come out of a theater feeling underwhelmed, disappointed and angry all at once before now. Thank God my friend Lisa hooked me up with free tickets and I didn't have to actually pay for that drivel! But that's still time I will never get back.
How come The Thing has no... 'thing?'
The tragedy that is the Fantastic Four franchise on film has been going on since the early 2000s and I could go on and on about it, but not right now. Not while I'm still reeling from the most recent and tremendous failure.
I'd like to try and focus on happier things for today's post, things that don't make me want to send an airstrike to 20th Century Fox Studios. So... here's some of the most underrated fantasy films you need to go watch.
Smoothest transition ever.
The fantasy genre has always held a special place in my heart. As a kid, I practically drowned myself in countless worlds that housed mythical creatures and lands of magic whether they existed in books or on film. It was, and still is, a way to transport myself from our world to one where seemingly anything is possible. Somewhere where my student loan DOESN'T need to be paid off and big name studios don't make stupid-nope! Not talking about that anymore!
Anyway, because of my unquenchable thirst for everything fantasy related, I've had the pleasure of seeing many titles most of my friends have never heard of, to my surprise. Absolute classics from my childhood have faded into obscurity and I can't have that! Because all of these films are so special to me, they're not being presented in any particular order. One is not better than the other, nor is any more underrated than the others. We'll start off with:
Based on a book by Roald Dahl, 'The Witches' is about an orphaned boy who goes to a seaside hotel in England with his grandmother, as she's recovering from illness. While there, he accidentally stumbles upon a convention of witches from all over England. Whatever just popped into your head when I said the word 'witch' doesn't come close to comparing to the creepiness and creativity that you actually see on screen. In this universe, witches vehemently hate children and frequently display that hate, whether that means trapping children in paintings for the entirety of their lives or outright trying to kill babies. Then they turn our protagonist, the boy I mentioned earlier, into a mouse. Once again, whatever you just pictured in your head isn't creepy or traumatizing enough compared to what I saw as a kid. You'd face a ton of opposition in today's day and age if you tried to market a film with a scene like that to kids.
So why would you want to see it, then? Well, it doesn't flinch away from the evil apparent in the story. Too many things aimed at kids today are so bright and colorful, treating them all like they're made of glass. If I came away from watching this as a kid and not only liked it but wanted to watch it again, than surely kids today can do the same. There's a lot of speculation over what the story inherently is trying to say, but in it's simplest form, The Witches teaches kids not to trust someone based on looks alone. While we have many stories that tell of beauty underneath what we perceive as ugliness, there are too few that talk about the ugly, dark, and terrifying things that can hide behind physical beauty.
Flight of Dragons
This is a gem from way back in 1982 and was produced by the legendary Rankin/Bass company. As you've probably guessed, it's an animated film. Though the animation is definitely dated, you can't deny that the style still looks just as gorgeous as it did when it was released.
I won't try and give you much of a synopsis because there's a LOT happening in this film and lots of names to put to lots of faces. Basically, there are wizards who need to create a realm of magic since science has become prevalent in our world. But of course, there's one wizard who wants to take over everything for himself and the rest of the wizards have to stop him, only there's a rule that wizards can't fight each other. So they use their own dragons and summon a polymath scientist from our world to help. Sounds crazy, I know, but you really got to check out the film before you judge. The most interesting aspect of the film, by far, is the constant dichotomy of magic and science. There is never really any questioning of which is better or right, just that they both exist simultaneously. If there is any film that I can point to for my becoming a nerd later in life, it's this one for sure.
The Secret Of NIMH
Don Bluth animated films rarely get the attention they deserve and The Secret Of NIMH is no exception. We follow a widow, Mrs. Brisby, raising her children one of whom is ill with pneumonia. Oh, and they're all field mice. They need to leave the field they live in before a farmer plows it, but her child can't leave the house while sick or else they will die. When she seeks council from the Great Owl he tells her to see the 'Rats of NIMH'. Once there she learns from the rat's mystical leader, Nicodemus, that her own husband, along with the Rats, were once used in medical experiments at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that somehow boosted their intelligence and lifespan. Because of her late husband they were all able to escape so Nicodemus grants her an amulet and the promise of help from the rats to move her home. But another rat intent on gaining power won't make things easy for them and his threat along with the loss of time threatens the life of Mrs. Brisby's entire family.
While this film can be dark and has many bittersweet moments, it has so much heart and intrigue that I couldn't help but get sucked into it as a kid. The animation is, once again, beautiful and the voice acting is on par and makes you feel slightly foolish for caring so much for a bunch of genetically modified rodents. If Disney films have taught us anything, it's that people love talking, endearing mice. That being said, it's a mystery to me why so few people know about it.
The Last Unicorn
Based on a book that was one of my childhood favorites, 'Unicorn' is everything you'd expect from the fantasy genre. Unicorns in themselves are an embodiment of all things fantastical. It's that symbolism that, in my opinion, makes this film so powerful. In this world, unicorns guard forests and help them thrive, one unicorn in particular hears that she is the last and must go out into the world and away from her forest to find out what happened to her kind. Along the way she runs into some unlikely allies through harrowing and sometimes humorous circumstances who eventually help her get to the seaside, where the unicorns were supposedly last seen.
Much to my delight, I've noticed many more people taking an interest in this film as well as the book it's based off of (as they should). The style of the animation is unlike anything I've seen since and is still breath taking. Don't even get me started on the voice acting! Acting greats like Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin and the legend Christopher Lee (R.I.P.) lend their voices to unforgettable characters. Out of all the films I've talked about so far, this is the one that still makes me cry every freaking time! It's so ingrained in that child-like part of me that I can't help but feel whimsical and carefree whenever I watch it. I guarantee you'll find a bit of that whimsy yourself if you give it a watch.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec
This is actually a newer film as it came out in 2010. I happened upon it while perusing the foreign film section at my library and was happily surprised to find that it was pretty damn good. Adele is a resourceful, witty, and courageous heroine that was refreshing to watch in an adventure fantasy film. She's a famous explorer and author who is looking to find a way to cure her brain dead little sister by way of ancient Egyptian mysticism and after she retrieves the mummy of a famous physician from ancient times she goes to a scientist who has somehow found a way to bring old relics and beings back to life, including a pterodactyl featured in a nearby museum. But bumbling policeman, hunters, and a great number of other things continue to get in the way. By the way, she gets the mummy in an Indiana Jones-esque scene filled with action all while wearing a dress and heeled boots. Badass.
As you may have been able to guess, this is a French film, and their films tend to have a quality that most American audiences would see as...well, strange? Not that that's a bad thing, but it can throw some people for a loop. For instance, there are quite a few elements to this film that would seem aimed for kids in their silliness and whimsy, but then you get a random nude scene of Adele in the bath. It's brief and there's nothing sexual about it at all, it's just there. Many moments like that are strewn throughout the movie but that just makes it stand out even more to me, in a good way. If nothing else, you can watch the censored version with your kids so they can watch entertainment that's a bit more posh and refined than what's crammed down their throats in America.
Well, I feel much better now! There are tons more where that came from, but I've been rambling too long anyways. Oh well, guess I'll have to make this one a multi-parter. Have any suggestions for my next post on Underrated Fantasy Films? Tell me in the comments below!