Movie Reviews: Inkheart and Hotel for Dogs

We saw a couple of movies in the last week with the boys. Last Friday we saw Inkheart, based on a very popular book series. Gail’s read the first book of the series, but I knew nothing about it going in. We were a bit concerned about this one, since Ryan is pretty sensitive when it comes to movies — he doesn’t like anything scary, and tends to really empathize with the characters, so if something bad happens to them, he gets pretty upset. Gail and I rented a movie called Bridge to Terabithia a little while ago to see if the boys would like it — we thought it was very good, and there were certainly parts that the boys would like, but one very sad thing happens in the film, and Ryan would have cried for a week. We won’t be suggesting that movie to him anytime soon. Anyway, like I said, we were a little concerned that this one might be too scary, but they were fine.

The plot was interesting — there are people who have the ability to bring characters out of books by reading the books aloud. Unfortunately, when they bring someone out, someone from our world goes in. Brendan Fraser is one such person, but hasn’t read anything aloud in nine years, after bringing characters out of a book called Inkheart and losing his wife into the book in the process. The character he brought out has been chasing him ever since, trying to get Fraser’s character to read him back into the book. Gail said that a bunch of things were cut from the book or rewritten, as pretty much always happens when making a movie from a book. Since I hadn’t read the book, I figure I shouldn’t have been able to tell what had been changed, but there were a few instances where I could, usually because things that should be quite difficult and time-consuming happened quickly and easily – Elinor’s change of heart for example, as well as convincing Fenoglio (who was very English for a guy with an Italian name living in Italy) that characters had been pulled out of his book into the real world.

ObNit: OK, this one is really pushing it. It’s never revealed where Fraser’s character and his daughter live, but considering they hop in the car and drive to Italy on a moment’s notice, it’s likely somewhere in continental Europe. (The book is German, so presumably the book’s characters live in Germany.) After twelve years of living in Germany, wouldn’t the father’s American accent change somewhat? And why would his daughter have a British accent after living in Germany with her American father (her British mother has been gone since she was three)? I agree, in terms of plot holes, that’s one pretty thin.

I thought the acting was very good, particularly Paul Bettany, who was excellent as Dustfinger (and completely unrecognizable from his Silas character from The Da Vinci Code). Fraser is no Dustin Hoffman, but he has become an actual actor, not just the doofus from George of the Jungle. Eliza Bennett (I got a kick out of the actress’s name) was also very good, though she seemed older than the twelve her character is supposed to be. Andy Serkis was suitably slimy as the bad guy Capricorn, and Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren were also good in smaller roles.

For a while, whenever I heard the name Brendan Fraser, I thought of movies like Encino Man, Airheads, George of the Jungle, Blast from the Past, Dudley Do-Right (to be fair, none of which I have ever seen). I would see his name on a movie poster and immediately think “OK, there’s a movie I can skip”. I remember wondering if I could ever take him seriously as an actor. But after The Mummy series, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and now Inkheart, he seems to have done a pretty good job of reinventing himself as a real actor, not just a goofy guy that does physical comedy.

The other movie we saw was Hotel for Dogs, which we saw specifically because the kids wanted to see it. I had precisely zero interest in seeing this movie, but hey, when you’re a dad, that’s what you do. But it turned out to be a pretty decent movie. Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon (Matt’s brother) are very funny as wanna-be hair-rocker foster parents, though how they would remain foster parents once any child care worker sees their apartment is beyond me. The movie did have its silly parts (which is why the kids liked it), but the poop humour was kept to a minimum, and thankfully, there wasn’t a single scene where the dogs talked or winked or raised their eyebrows or otherwise had their faces digitally enhanced and anthropomorphized. I hate that. If you’re want to have an animal with human characteristics in your movie, make it animated (Bolt, Finding Nemo, a zillion others).

I do wonder why more wasn’t made of Bruce’s ability to conjure up crazy devices for entertaining the dogs. Bernie really couldn’t find foster parents to look after a sweet and caring girl and her genius brother? I also thought it was awfully nice of the unseen pet store owner to let his employees leave the store and use the van whenever they wanted. And where did the kids come up with the hundreds of dollars to buy all the required dog food? And who arranged (and paid) for the dumpster full of “doggy doo” to be picked up? Did none of the strays they found have fleas or any other condition that might require the services of a vet?

Near the end, when Bernie stood up and looked like he was going to make a speech, I was kind of hoping that he would explain some loophole in the law that got the kids off, or that he had purchased the hotel and so the dog catchers were on his property, or something like that rather than making a “Come on, everyone, just look at these adorable dogs! They’re a family!” type speech, but no such luck. But overall, this was less of a kid movie and more of a family movie. Don’t bother going without the kids — it ain’t that good — but kids and parents alike will enjoy it. Not like Curious George, during which Gail and I both fell asleep.

I suppose I really should just shut up and enjoy movies, rather than continually pointing out flaws. But I can’t.


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