Quarantine Diaries Vol. I:
Flying Cars, Talking Pigs and Unfortunate Events
Heeellllllooo…..! Can anybody hear me? Can anybody see me? Does anybody out there have one ounce of sanity left in them? The past few weeks have been chaotic to say the least, and I don’t know about you all, but I’m pretty exhausted. Some days are fine, others are so dull that everything seems overtaken by a hideous shade of grey. Sometimes my anxiety goes from zero to 100 in milliseconds without warning. Other than that, everything is just hunky dory. And after weeks of adjusting to isolation and mulling over what to do with my now-unlimited supply of free time, I decided, “You know what? Now is the time for nonsense. Random, glorious nonsense”. So that’s what you’ll be getting from Cosmic for the next few months. I promise to not be boring. With that said, let’s get started shall we?
For this first edition of the Quarantine Diaries, I want to talk about movies (I know, shocker). More specifically, I want to talk about a few movies that have helped keep me in good spirits, and ones that could possibly lift your mood as well if you give them the chance. The first is a fantastically bubbly and colorful odyssey co-written by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach) and based on a book by Ian Fleming, who you may know as creating the character of James Bond. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was directed (and partially written) by Ken Hughes and released in 1968. The film stars Dick Van Dyke as Caracacticus Potts, a hapless inventor whose latest project of refurbishing a broken-down race car inspires an adventure of epic proportions.
Despite its tiring 2-hour and 24-minute runtime, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is beautifully chipper and cavity-inducingly sweet. When I learned Roald Dahl had a hand in writing the screenplay, it all made sense. The level of creativity on display is outstanding. The whimsical environments and the kooky characters that reside within them feel like they exist within the same universe as Dahl’s other stories. Tonally, the film exuberates a sense of childlike wonder. It’s an infectious feeling, but one can get exhausting after a long while. What never gets tiring though, is the choreography. Although the songs themselves aren’t super memorable, the dance sequences are. The ones currently ingrained in my brain include a sequence in a candy factory, and a scene where the love interest (named Truly Scrumptious, funny enough) is pretending to be a wind-up doll. If you happen to catch this on Netflix, I’d say give it a watch. I’m sure you’ll have the time. It’s a fun escape into a world of safe and buoyant adventures.
Next up is a movie that’s equally cheerful and vibrant, but only within the first 40 seconds. Even then it’s a total farce. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events came out in 2004, and is an adaptation of the first three novels in the children’s book series of the same name. The story revolves around the tribulations of the Baudelaire orphans- Violet, Klaus and Sunny- who lose both their house and their parents to a horrific fire, and are placed into the care of the villainous Count Olaf (played by Jim Carrey). The count has his eyes set on the Baudelaires’ massive fortune, and when the orphans are forced into a perilous journey, the Count is right on their heels.
I loved the book series growing up. The only downside was that my elementary school library never had the full series in stock, so I could only get my hands on a select few. The ones I managed to snag, however, did not disappoint. And you know what? The film adaptation doesn’t disappoint either. Although it only incorporated the first three books of the franchise, the film’s narrative maintains a solid beginning-middle-end structure. It’s set design and gothic atmosphere helps establish a unique identity, one that matches the darkly whimsical aura of the books. Aesthetics-wise, it’s very Tim Burton-esque. Jim Carrey does the usual over-the-top Jim Carrey schtick, though there are moments where he is genuinely intimidating, moments that I remember giving me the creeps when I was a kid. The acting from the Baudelaire characters isn’t particularly strong, but it’s solid enough to help carry the story along. Upon rewatch, I realized there are a lot of famous people in this. Besides Carrey you’ve got Meryl Streep, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Coolidge and Jane Adams, just to name a few. And none of them feel out of place. Overall, this movie isn’t anything spectacular, nor is it super memorable. I would argue it’s one of the better book-to-film adaptations we’ve had, especially in the realm of children’s literature. The filmmakers didn’t try to hyper-modernize the story or dumb it down. They respected the original material and fans of it. They respected the fact that children can handle a little darkness, as long as there’s a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.
Now for the really good stuff- Babe and Babe: Pig in the City. The reason I’m putting them in the same breath is because both films are equally fantastic. The first Babe movie holds a lot of nostalgic value for me, whereas I only discovered its sequel a few years ago. After watching them back-to-back, I realize the two complement one another seamlessly, like peanut butter and jelly or The Godfather parts one and two. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Babe story, it’s really quite simple to explain. A humble farm pig named Babe (voiced by the late Christine Cavanaugh in the first film and E.G. Daily in the sequel) is determined to become a sheep dog to prove he’s more than just holiday dinner. And in Babe: Pig in the City, Babe travels with the farmer’s wife to the big city, hijinks ensue.
Like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Babe movies transport you to another world, a simpler, more lighthearted world where life just seems easier. Both movies have a relaxed, laid-back feel to them, but Babe is charming without teetering towards being overbearingly cute. Everything about how these movies are crafted is utter perfection in my book. The human actors are great, the voice actors for the animal characters deliver empathetic performances, the digital effects are seamless, and the animal trainers did an amazing job at keeping the animals focused and present. The magnificent production design creates environments that feel lived in and familiar. Yet it feels unfamiliar, in a way that spurs a childlike curiosity. At the same time the films don’t execute this story in a way that’s childish. Yes, these are technically kids movies, but they’re still treated like works of art. The filmmakers had a mature approach, a keen eye for detail and a passion to tell a great story. To them, I say thank you. Babe and Babe: Pig in the City are some of the best family films out there. There’s no other way I can describe them but magical. They are simply magical. And a small taste of magic is something we can all use a little of right now.
*All photos are courtesty of Flickr*