Four years after a family-friendly 3-D version of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, the same studio (but different filmmakers—and an entirely different cast, except for Josh Hutcherson) have come up with another PG-rated adventure yarn aimed at the same demographic. The good news is, it isn’t bad. Even the use of 3-D is pretty good.
Hutcherson plays a self-described “Verne-ian” who has an admirable knowledge of, and regard for, classic literature, although that aspect of the story is dismissed after the opening sequence. He hates having moved away from his home town, and has no use for his new stepdad, played by Dwayne Johnson. Johnson scores bonding points by helping him to decode a radioed message from his long-lost grandfather. Then, in the quickest bit of exposition I’ve ever seen, the two of them fly off to the South Pacific in search of the adventurer and his mysterious island. They reach it with the help of helicopter pilot Luis Guzmán and his nubile daughter, Vanessa Hudgens. Soon they come upon the old adventurer himself, played by a jaunty Michael Caine, and learn that they are surrounded by prehistoric creatures and flying predators.
Younger children may find some of the action a bit scary, but the filmmakers have tried to keep this element under control—brief and just intense enough to get a rise out of their audience but never gory.
The visual effects are as artificial as the genially preposterous story, but the movie is all in fun, and painless for grownups. (I always enjoy watching Caine at work, though I suspect most kids will simply write him off as an old guy with a beard.) Journey 2 doesn’t having the substance or staying power of a great Verne adaptation, but if it piques even a few kids’ curiosity about the author, I figure we’re ahead of the game.
Not so incidentally, Journey 2 is preceded by another brand-new, 3-D widescreen Looney Tunes short, Daffy’s Rhapsody. Based on the old Capitol kiddie recording featuring the great Mel Blanc with music by Billy May, this energetic cartoon has Daffy rendering his rapid-fire version of Liszt’s “Second Hungarian Rhapsody,” with lyrics by Warners cartoon stalwarts Warren Foster and Michael Maltese in which he bemoans his fate as a target for hunters—like Elmer Fudd (voiced here by Billy West).
Director Matthew O’Callaghan brings the vintage Warner Bros. characters to life with verve and vigor and makes entertaining use of 3-D. The mere sight of Daffy and Elmer on the big screen again makes me smile.