A children's fable come to life.
Embrace your inner child if you wish to enjoy Mio in the Land of Faraway, a film adapted from the popular children's book and now available on DVD from Anchor Bay. It is a charming fairy tale but will it please the parents as much as the kids?
Facts of the Case
Bosse (Nick Packard) is a boy in bad straits, his mother is gone, his father disappeared, and he is left living with a pair of mean-spirited relatives who berate him at every turn. The lonely boy dreams of getting away from all the horrible things in his life, and of finding his long-lost father. That dream comes true when a vendor gives him an apple that turns to gold, and a disembodied head comes looking for him. The boy grabs hold of his huge hanging beard and is whisked off to a fairy tale land: The Land of Faraway. Here lives his father as the King of Green Meadow Mountain and the rest of Faraway, and the boy finds out his true name is Mio. He is overjoyed and finds all the people are happy to see him, and he looks forward to the life that awaits him. Unfortunately there is a nasty bit of business Mio must attend to first. It seems an evil knight named Kato (Christopher Lee) has been abducting the children and turning them into birds that circle and screech at his dark tower. Prophecy has foretold that a prince with one companion would go to the Land Outside and fight the evil one, and so Mio and his new friend Jum Jum (played by a very young Christian Bale) ride off to find the Forger of Swords and defeat the dark knight.
This is a fine film for children. Kids have a lot to root for as the young boys ride off on a white stallion to do battle with the evil knight. The whole film is targeted for young children, just as the book was. Adults need to be able to find that inner child to enjoy it as well; if you can reach that place while watching the film, it can be entertaining. Certainly anyone who had a bad childhood can relate to Mio and his plight, and probably wished there was a land of Faraway they could have gone to, with a loving father who is also king.
It is also a beautiful film. The storybook pictures give way to lush scenery and lavish sets in the land of Faraway, contrasting with the dank tunnels inside Kato's tower and the drab locations on Earth. The theme is to take a children's fable and bring it to life, and visually it succeeds.
The visual quality is amply maintained through the 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer from Anchor Bay as well. The picture quality is quite good, with a nice balance of vibrant color and the dull color palette used elsewhere. Detail level is sharp enough and I have no real complaints. The sound is an adequate two-channel mix; everything is front loaded but clear and understandable. The music comes through nicely. Extra content is restricted to the theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A young hero goes on a quest first to get the weapon of kick-butt to use on the evil guy in the tower, and thereby lift an evil curse. Tell me if you've heard this story before. I know I have; almost every element of Mio has been done in most fantasy films. Perhaps the young ages of the heroes are unique; these are ten-year-old boys being sent out on the dangerous mission alone. But this is straight formula, which is understandable since this is an adaptation of a children's book, and the story must be one that young kids can understand.
The simplicity of the story is also evident in the dialogue and writing. The characters are barely sketched in, and a generally fine cast is reduced to spouting off lines that sound just like…well, a children's book. Christopher Lee holds up the magic sword and pontificates, "This is the most dangerous sword I have ever held," and after throwing it out the window, walks away. Nobody gets a decent line in the whole film. Timothy Bottoms is likewise wasted as a curly-haired dad whose sole job seems to be hugging Mio. Christopher Bale is game enough, even at his young age 14 years ago, but again there is nothing for him to do but say the childish dialogue and tag along as the sidekick.
I know, I know…this is a children's story and this is all to be expected. And I did say that if you could embrace that inner child tightly enough, you could enjoy the story. But the best movies for kids also have elements to entertain the parents, and thereby gain wider appeal. This one doesn't. It feels as if it wasn't meant for anyone over age 11 or so.
If you're a parent looking for something suitable for your kids to watch on DVD, Mio in the Land of Faraway will meet your needs. Your kids will probably like it. It takes an adult a real effort to meet the film on its own childish terms, and this isn't so easy. Most adults without children won't be willing to make that effort.
I can't convict a film that is so obviously child-like in its outlook. Therefore charges are dismissed, and the film and DVD are released to its audience of children.
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