Last year was a bad year for children’s movies. Pixar had their worst reviewed movie ever in “Cars 2,” which deservedly failed to receive an Oscar nomination. This would have been surprising in a year without decent animated features, but the Academy Award winner in this category, “Rango,” was honestly nowhere near the quality of Pixar classics like “Toy Story” or “Monsters, Inc.” “Hugo,” a live-action children’s film, ran away with the Academy Awards, but it was alone in the race. Following in Hugo’s success, Disney has stepped away from animation momentarily in favor of live-action for it’s newest film, “John Carter.”
The movie has been relentlessly promoted and for good reason. With production costs of $250 million, Disney needs to sell more than just a few tickets. The huge price tag and publicity surrounding the movie has made many eager to see what Disney was so committed to, and as it turns out, not that much. The price of the movie shows in the impressive battle scenes, but even these fail to rescue a film devoid in almost every other category. Even the plot, which tells the story of Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who has been transported to Mars, is cliché beyond a reasonable doubt. The main conflict tries desperately to captivate viewers and push the plot forward as it involves Carter’s discovery of a princess (Lynn Collins) in need of savior. The Princess is a little less helpless than “Sleeping Beauty,” but the plot is borrowed from classic books. Even with Disney using a classic plot in an epic environment, Kitsch is too boring to watch to make any of it effective. The filmmakers’ goals are simple and obvious. They aimed to write a movie about good versus evil, where the good people all have chiseled abs and the evil all have four heads. On this level, they have succeeded, but they lost the viewer’s attention somewhere along the way. At some point, the movie’s basis on beloved books that were original in their time is not enough to justify its complete lack of originality or complexity.
Ultimately, “John Carter’s” dazzling effects feel disconnected from the rest of the movie. This is surprising since the movie was directed by Andrew Stanton, the man behind “WALL-E” and “Finding Nemo.” These movies did a fantastic job of maintaining an incredible level of charm despite large budgets and corporate influences. By the time the movie ends, neither adults nor children will have an itching desire to leave this planet and head towards Mars. It seems like a planet filled with saccharine dialogue and boring inhabitants.