Judge Gordon Sullivan keeps looking for his lost sock collection.
Long Lost Treasure. New Found Friends.
I grew up loving The Goonies for all the nostalgic reasons most fans have, but one thing always bothered me: Astoria, Oregon, just seems like a really strange place to find treasure. I know that's part of the point, but I always found that just a little bit weird. The recent treasure-hunting film Labou avoids this problem by setting its story in the bayous just outside New Orleans, one of the most logical places for treasure hunting I can imagine. Although Labou won't ever hope to match the level of fan worship that The Goonies has accrued, it makes for a decent bit of family entertainment that'll keep kids interested without driving parents batty.
Facts of the Case
In 1806, the pirate LaRouge was thrown from his treasure-laden boat during a hurricane at the mouth of the Mississippi. Legend has it that he still stalks the bayou, looking for his lost treasure, and the locals call him Bayou Bob. Now it's 2006, and three young kids are planning on searching out Bayou Bob. When they actually encounter the ghost, they are so terrified that they run in to the woods, getting lost. Along the way they meet a curious bayou creature, the Labou, as well as a couple of "Oil Cowboys" who want to turn the entire area into an oil refinery with the help of the mayor. To protect the Labou, the kids have to find LaRough treasure with a pirate and cowboys on their trail.
Making family films is hard work. The creators generally have to craft a story that kids can grasp but adults can tolerate, then there's the dearth of unannoying child actors, and the budget for such films are often not great either. Surprisingly (for a film that didn't see significant national distribution), Labou manages to avoid these pitfalls.
The plot succeeds by throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. We've got a "finding friends" movie between the three child actors. We've got a "haunted bayou" and "pirate" movie with LaRouge and his great-grandson. We've go the "kids have to stop the evil adult developers to save the environment" movie. Perhaps most significant of all, at least judging by the box, Labou offers the title character as part of a "cute and helpful creature" movie. What could have been a cobbled together mess of a film actually comes off as fairly coherent because each act introduces a new plot, from the haunted pirate stuff in the first act, the creature in the second, and the evil developers of the third. I think this manages to make the film interesting to kids, and tolerable to adults.
Kudos should also go to the casting director for finding three child actors who could work together without being obnoxious. All three are asked to play stereotypes (a geek, a tough girl, and a snotty skater), but they're all enthusiastic, and with the exception of a few scenes, very convincing in their roles. The adults for the most part ham it up, especially the cowboys, but that works for the film.
Finally, Labou doesn't show its small budget at all. The primary film location is the bayou, which adds serious production value to the film, and the Solomon Plantation genuinely looks like an abandoned house. The creature effects were the true test of this film, and for the most part they look convincing. The Labou is obviously animatronic for most of the film, limiting its movement, but it's still a pretty convincing effect. Children are gonna love the cute little guy, and because of the decent animatronics, only the most cynical adults will be rolling their eyes.
Labou arrives on DVD with a strong audiovisual presentation and a host of extras. The video looks free of compression problems, and although it doesn't "pop," I expect that's due to the source rather than the transfer. The audio keeps dialogue audible, and the glimpses of jazz on the soundtrack sound nice and full. Extras include a commentary from the director, the producer, and one of the actors, while featurettes cover everything from the making of, to casting, and the creature effects.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I see kids getting a lot more mileage out of this film than adults. Although I found the film fun to watch once, I don't think its replay value will be high. A large part of the reason for that is the previously mentioned plot. It's too easy to watch the film and point out "Oh, that's from The Goonies," or "That looks like Home Alone," or "Wow, the Labou sure looks like a Mogwai there." I don't think it's enough to make the film unwatchable, but I think parents will tire of this film long before children will. If you don't have kids, then Labou is probably not worth your time.
Although I don't think Labou has set a new standard in family entertainment, this cute little creature is sure to find its place in the hearts of numerous children. The disc includes a strong audiovisual presentation and a decent set of extras, making it worth a rental for families with younger children.
Because those creatures are so darn cute, Labou is not guilty.
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