See It Instead: The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

See It Instead: The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

Jack Black and Cate Blanchett star in a young adult film about wizards and witches.  We pick three alternatives if the latest wizarding flick doesn’t light your wand.

It may be a little bit late in the life cycle of Young Adult Lit adaptations, especially in the magical children genre.  While director Eli Roth‘s first foray into family friendly fare has me intrigued, I can see that genre fatigue is starting to set in with viewers.  We travel back to the heyday of this style of film to pick three alternatives that are magical, mysterious, and perhaps a little ooky.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018).

The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
I wonder if JB and CB have to win a rock-off against the wizard?

A young orphan wants a normal life, but he is sent to live with an eccentric uncle (Jack Black) in a dilapidated old mansion. It turns out that his uncle is a bumbling warlock, his neighbor (Cate Blanchett) is a witch, and the house is a living artifact created by a semi-deceased evil wizard.  Said wizard is attempting to undead himself and destroy the world, so our young hero has to help his uncle find the magical artifact secreted away in the house before time runs out.  Cause it’s a clock.  Get it?

The Serious Pick:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

See It Instead: The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
Alternate title: Harry Potter Grows a Set.

In the third Harry Potter adventure, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) continues his wizarding lessons at the magical school of Hogwarts.  His life is complicated by the growing rift between his childhood friends Ron and Hermione (Emma Watson)…and the fact that a powerful wizard has escaped a magical prison with the express intent of murdering the heck out of Harry.

I didn’t enjoy the Potter books, and I really didn’t enjoy the Potter films until the third film came along.  Director Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity) gives the franchise some depth and intrigue.  Part of this comes from the source material being more mature and the cast having gone from childish moppets to respectable actors.  Most of it is the sensibility of Cuaron, who manages to remain mostly faithful to the children’s book while crafting a story and atmosphere that doesn’t require you to have slogged through 2,100 pages of made-up words to give a damn about what is happening.  If you want to see a story about an orphan raised by wizards in a fantastic but vaguely dangerous wonderland, I think you know where to turn.

See It Instead: The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
Um. Maybe we should go back to riding brooms?

The Lighthearted Pick:  The Addams Family (1991)

See It Instead: The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
Welcome!

After years of being missing in the Bermuda Triangle, Fester Addams (Christopher Lloyd) returns to the Addams mansion.  His brother and family patriarch Gomez (Raul Julia) enthusiastically welcomes him back, as the two parted on bad terms.  Morticia (Anjelica Houston) is cautious about welcoming Fester back due to his strange behavior.  Wednesday (Christina Ricci) discovers that Fester may even be an impostor, trying to steal the fabled Addams Family treasure, hidden deep inside the mansion.

If a gorgeously creepy mansion filled with oddities and big personalities is what you’re after, The Addams Family is for you.  They may not be wizards and warlocks, but the Addams gang is weird, wild, and packed with tremendous talent.  Rual Julia owns the character of Gomez and has fantastic chemistry with Angelica Houston.  Every role is pitch perfect and delightfully demented.  The mansion itself is filled with every manor manner of ingenious and macabre embellishment, and even nearly twenty years (and easily that many viewings) later, I still find some cool little detail director Barry Sonnenfeld has secreted away in his immaculately crafted film.  If you haven’t seen it, don’t wait for Halloween to fire up this classic.

See It Instead: The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
A clock in the wall? How quaint, we prefer sea monsters!

The Unconventional Pick:  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children  (2016)

Jake is very close to his grandfather Abe (Terrence Stamp), who tells him fascinating stories about a childhood spent at a mysterious home for peculiar children run by an enigmatic headmistress named Miss Peregrine (Eva Green).  When Abe is attacked one night, he reveals a clue to his grandson about how to find Miss Peregrine before dying.  Jake heads out to find the place, which is under siege by evil spirits who wish to harvest the powers of the peculiar residents for dark purposes.

See It Instead: The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
They’re..different.
See It Instead: The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
That’s something new.

This film flew under quite a few radars since it arrived in a glut of magical children stories, all based on young adult book series.  Miss Peregrine may not be the best of this genre, but it is set apart by the eccentric sensibility of director Tim Burton.  It may not rise to the level of Edward Scissor Hands or Beetlejuice, but it is the closest Burton has ome to rekindling the engaging and haunting feel of those classics.  An able and adroit cast keeps the film moving along, even though the plot is a bit arcane even by magical children stories.  If you can bear with the rushed world building, you’ll be rewarded with a bevy of weird and enchanting visuals.

 

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