One of the great myths of cinema is that kids movies are for kids. Sure, they might be a bit more brightly colored than most, or hit most of their punch lines a little more on the nose, but never forget that these films are made by grown-ups. Peel back that sweet outer layer, and very often you’ll find a richer, more complex flavor just beneath the surface.
This week, a small army of “kid’s movies” land on area screens, bringing with them not just an opportunity to escape the August heat for an hour or two, but also the chance to head out with a young companion and marvel at the magic that lets two people sit side by side in the dark, watching the same screen but seeing different movies. That is the real magic of cinema – the air conditioning is just a delicious bonus.
To kick off the weekend, Cinemark theaters play Kubo and the Two Strings, an animated tale set in an ancient imagined Japan. In it, the young boy Kubo — street performer by day and caretaker for his tired mother at night — accidentally calls up a vengeful spirit from the past. Forced to flee, he finds companionship with Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) as he embarks on a journey to uncover the truth of his heritage.
Director Travis Knight spent some time in Japan as a boy himself — his father Phil Knight co-founded the shoe company Nike and traveled a fair bit on business — and fell in love early on with the artistic aesthetic of the land. With Kubo, he brings Japanese traditions, in particular woodblock printing, to the screen, borrowing the limited but bold color palettes and rough textures of the traditional form and translating them to a stop-motion world. The result is a stylistic achievement that can only come from a deep love of a culture. How else do you explain the fact that Knight took 19 months, and a quarter of a million laser-cut paper leaves, to shoot a long sequence on Kubo’s boat?
Also at Cinemark, in a 10 a.m. Saturday show, is Welcome to Monster High, a one-day only event that brings a popular toy line to the big screen. Garrett Sander’s line of fashion dolls, created in 2010, came with a twist: all the dolls were imagined versions of the children of popular monsters, giving us “Draculaura” and “Frankie Stein,” among others. In a post-Twilight, post-Walking Dead world, Sander has proved to have a hit on his hands. And while you can say what you will about the staying power of the stories — time will tell — they have found a home with a large swath of tweens who feel like they don’t fit in to the “normal” world around them.
And that’s not all. At Amherst Cinema, Landfill Harmonic (get it?) screens Thursday at 7 p.m., telling the tale of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, a Paraguayan musical group made up of young people that live next to one of South America’s largest landfills. Their instruments are made entirely from scavenged garbage. But when their story hits the internet, the group suddenly finds itself booked into sold out concert halls.
Amherst Cinema also screens Hayao Miyazaki’s classic Princess Mononoke, which spins a story of encroaching change brought to the edge of the forest by the human-led Iron Town. And finally, the wonderful Cinema Northampton group continues its free film series with an August 31 showing of The Muppet Movie at 8 p.m. on the Forbes Library Lawn in Northampton. A muppet movie needs no synopsis — just get out into the late summer night, spread out a blanket, and enjoy it.
Also this week: The Brattleboro Film Festival teams with Northern Routes Film Collaborative to bring the Summer Cinema Slam back to the area, offering an intoxicating mix of locally-made films, music, and beverages along the Vermont/Massachusetts border. Spanning both indoor and outdoor offerings, the Slam will bring filmmakers in for Q&A sessions following the films before sending guests out to grab a beer and a free ice cream courtesy of the organizers. A reminder: the 2015 event was a sell-out show, so if you’re on the fence, it might pay to act fast. For more info and a full schedule of the films to be shown, go to brattleborofilmfestival.org and click on Special Events. The mini-fest will run on Saturday August 27 from 5:30 to 11 p.m.
Jack Brown can be reached at [email protected].