As with buses, so with films – you wait ages for a movie with a certain basic premise, then two come along at once. Be it alien invasion movies Independence Day and Mars Attacks! back in 1996 or asteroid strike flicks Armageddon and Deep Impact in 1998, or even the ultimate double-whammy of Fail Safe and Dr Strangelove back in 1964 (both based on the very same book), the history of cinema is littered with similar ideas hitting the big screen at around the same time. It’s still rare, however, for two movies with such similar basic ideas at their heart to come out in the same month – but with Inkheart out this week and Disney’s Bedtime Stories out on Boxing Day, that’s precisely what’s happened: two children’s films about men who can – quite literally – bring stories to life.
It’s hardly the most original of ideas, to be sure. After all, 1984’s children’s classic The Neverending Story was based on a similar concept, and that went on to spawn two sequels (the second of which helped launch the career of the now unavoidable comic Jack Black), as well as both live-action and animated television spin-offs, the last of which came out as recently as 2001. Even last year’s superb, Oscar-nominated Enchanted had the similar idea of fairy tale characters coming to the real world. Nonetheless, what child – at least, what child that enjoys reading – hasn’t at some point wondered what would happen if they were sucked into the story, or if characters from their favourite books were to come to life? It’s a perennial favourite idea of the bookworm.
Where Bedtime Stories opts for comedy, however, Inkheart gets much more into the spirit of those childhood imaginings. Based on the first of the bestselling series of novels by German author Cornelia Funke, the premise is suitably promising for a tale of fantasy adventure. A young girl discovers that her father, played by the always reliable Brendan Fraser, has the ability to bring characters from books to life when he reads aloud – a talent that, years before, led to her mother being sucked into a fantasy world from a book called Inkheart, and four characters from that world – including the evil Capricorn, played by Andy “Gollum” Serkis on top pantomime villain form – in turn being brought into our real one.
It’s all a fun idea in itself – but what really brings the concept to life is the presence of familiar characters from real-world children’s books that we all know and love. In the original novel, these included characters from the One Thousand and One Nights, Peter Pan, Treasure Island and the tales of Hans Christian Andersen. For the film – thanks, no doubt, to a combination of copyright and fears about audience familiarity – some of these are dropped, while others have been added, including Prince Charming and Rapunzel of fairytale fame. For a movie version, the real stroke of genius is the presence of various characters and creatures from Frank L Baum’s The Wizard of Oz – allowing countless visual references to that seminal classic of children’s cinema that was the 1939, Judy Garland-starring movie version.
But this isn’t just a series of literary references – it’s also a rollicking good adventure of the old school, albeit with top-notch special effects. As the quest for the missing wife and mother continues, our heroes are themselves sucked into the world of the mysterious book Inkheart, and have to struggle for their very lives in a bid to break free, using this strange gift for bringing books to life to the full. Great stuff for the kids, and with a fair nostalgia value for adults to boot, this is the sort of movie we should get every Christmas.