Being a grownup at a kids' movie can sometimes make me feel at a disadvantage (Read: out of the target demo, a.k.a. old).
So, I'll leave Disney's new Race to Witch Mountain to Tess. One look at the 11-year-old's face -- with its elated, slightly astonished grin and saucer eyes that looked like they hadn't so much as blinked since a pair of otherworldly siblings magically appeared in the back of Jack Bruno's (Dwayne Johnson) Las Vegas cab -- pretty much said it all.
"It. Was. AWESOME!" Tess exclaimed breathlessly.
It may be a big detour from the original of my youth. But, Disney took the premise of that genteel 1974 adventure (then called Escape to Witch Mountain) and amped it up with enough shoot 'em up, blow 'em up, race-to-the-finish-line (hence the name) encounters to wow today's blockbuster-generation. All the additions make Race a perfect primer for the young adventure-flick set, and earn it dual citizenship in both the Family and Action sections during its eventual run in the video store. All that, plus Dwayne Johnson (the artist formerly known as The Rock), who effectively works his career transformation from scary WWE villain into oversized cinematic papa bear.
"Kids like big movies today," wisely observed my teenage daughter Alexis.
The thoroughly modern "reimagining" picks up the original's basic premise -- two super-powered kids being chased by guys up to no good. Where the original let the whole "aliens" thing play out like a mystery, Race jumps in with both feet, introducing the brother/sister duo as preternaturally blonde aliens, crash-landed on earth, who speak like super computers (they endearingly call Johnson's cab driver "Jackbruno," as if it were all one word) and embroil the loveable ex-con (who literally and figuratively drives the movie) and UFO professor Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) into a quest to save their dying planet, all the while dodging government agents and a PG-rated interplanetary terminator.
Fans of the original (count me in) will notice that Race is a whole lot, well, louder than its 1970s progenitors, a point that delighted kids like Tess and her 8-year-old brother Aidan, even if it left mom and dad a little stunned. This is not your father's Witch Mountain, after all. It's a long way from "Such fine-looking children" to "Don't get in the pimped-out fridge," which seemed to be just fine with the kids. The high-falutin' action (guns, blazing, car chases, explosions) is at least balanced by liberal amounts of comfort-food humor (points to Mr. Johnson for being endearingly loveable and really quite funny), not to mention a diminished body count. (I don't think anyone actually died.) One scene even took great pains to note that while a derailed train was a goner, the passengers were A-OK. That may or may not assuage parents who remember the low-key sweetness of the original Witch Mountain, with twins Tia and Tony, plus Eddie Albert and a Winnebago.
But, this is 2009. And, ample suspense and action kept the target audience glued.
Just ask Tess.
Somewhere, I bet she's still smiling.
Kids Will Like:
"It was so exciting," said Tess, who loved the whole action-film-for-kids approach. Sci-fi plus suspense make it a film tykes and older sibs can enjoy together. Brother and sister Sara and Seth come with some pretty cool powers, like the ability to read minds, talk to animals, operate machinery through force of will, and pass through solid objects. But, the most popular character seemed to be of the four-legged variety. "I loved Junkyard!" said 8-year-old Aidan of the stray pup that joins the group.
Parents Will Like:
If you've seen the original, you'll get a kick out of cameos by Kim Richards and Iake Eisenmann, the actors who played Tia and Tony in the original '70s movies. Look for them in the bar scene (yes, there's a bar scene!). Garry Marshall is his always-amusing self as a doctor of UFOs. Dwayne Johnson has come a long way from his days as The Rock, and on screen he's a loveably entertaining (albeit hulking) presence who plays like a less doughy Brendan Fraser.