I watched The Kid Who Would be King the other day and I was surprised by how... ungreat it was. It's not bad; it's an engaging and fairly charming way to spend 90 minutes but it's surprisingly un-sharp for something from Joe Cornish and the broader school of filmmakers from which he springs.
Like his brilliant breakout hit Attack The Block, The Kid Who Would Be King brings a big fantastical idea to bear on surprising characters who normally don't feature in these kinds of screen stories, or on screen much at all - namely the disenfranchised youth belonging to an unglamorous and unpicturesque Britain. This time rather than alien attack vs. council estate, it's The Once and Future King as an ordinary schoolboy.
The heroes of Attack the Block are disenfranchised by class and poverty (and the intersections of those issues with race). The Kid Who Would Be King's heroes are less on the hard edge, their world a bit less severe, befitting an essentially whimsical kids' film, but are de-powered by dint of being, well, children.
My guess would be that sense of specific bathos is the starting point for the film. When I see images in The Kid Who Would Be King like kids in medieval-esque armour over puffer jackets or Excalibur shoved into a backpack or Merlin in a Led Zep t-shirt, I feel as if I'm glimpsing the kinds of images that first came to Joe Cornish to inspire the project.
In fact I'd make a guess at the final battle being what Cornish imagined first, since it distils this sensibility into a climatic set piece, where the stuff of mundane school life is thrown into confrontation with magical skeletal minions of evil. That's the same thing that Attack The Block, Shaun of The Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End did in their own ways in their own climaxes. Each culminates by pitting their larger-than-life threats - aliens, zombies, thriller baddies, aliens again - against some particular manifestation of British mundanity: the council estate, the pub, the picturesque village, pubs again.
I love all those films and that pointed bathos, and as a devotee of children's stories I'm doubly excited for a school-age manifestation of the idea. So why didn't The Kid Who Would Be King come together in similar fashion to these successful examples?
The most general flaw of the film to me is that it has a feeling to me of not quite making choices, of hedging its bets by trying to to include more than one version of an idea rather than picking one. I'll start with a small and contained example to explain what I mean before getting to the much bigger way this manifests:
The clearest example of somewhere it doesn't feel as if the film has made a definitive choice in its approach, but rather tried to play a single story element in two ways, is in Merlin. This character is played mostly by Angus Imrie but sometimes by Patrick Stewart. Sometimes the young Merlin will transform into this older self in order to make a point more impressive, or... honestly I don't know; the justification is never very clear. It feels a lot like this happens less for any reason internal to the emotional logic of the film and rather when the film wants to invoke especial effect or isn't quite confident in the power fo a story beat so tries to sure things up by dropping in a National Treasure.
Youtuber Big Joel did a video on Moana in which he pointed out that the emotional beats of the Moana/Maui journey feel perfunctory and shallow, obeying story structure guides more than springing from the story itself. The Patrick Stewart appearances in this film had the same feel to me - of a film that understands what emotion needs to be felt at a certain point but isn't sure of having got there by its own story and so brings in a heavy hitter to make up the ground.
I'm talking as if this is all writing missteps, implying that what's wrong is because the creatives involved lacked skill or confidence. In fact I I think there's a good chance that this split casting for Merlin has more to do with a studio demand. A British indie film whose principle cast is children badly needs a name actor if it's to have much hope of attracting press and an audience, and there really aren't many adult roles in this film where such an actor might be inserted. Merlin and Alex's mother are the only really significant adult roles. The better decision might have been then to use only Patrick Stewart as Merlin, much as it would be a shame to let go of the Angus Imrie direction. But I think a secondary constraint is likely to be that Joe Cornish couldn't get Patrick Stewart for more than a couple of days' filming and for just a few dialogue-led scenes. Stewart is both a busy and famous actor and in his 80s; there wouldn't be the opportunity to deploy him in all those physical scenes.
So that's a tricky one. But we do see elsewherethe same failure to commit to a single idea, with the film instead trying to play two or more versions of a single element, which weaken one another.
Staying with Merlin, for instance, the character has too many introductions. The audience first meet him emerging mystically from Stone Henge in a Terminator reference: he's arrived naked and establishes his character in the way he interacts with the people he encounters (he's not concerned or embarrassed and in fact acts as if he's in charge) and how he acquires the shop-keeper's clothes (he hypnotises him with magic). We see him next pulled over by police in a scene where he demonstrates the same point again: that he's quirkily out of touch and unconcerned with modern mores, and that he has magical hypnotism powers. Next we see Merlin turn up 'undercover' at Alex's school with a comically thin disguise as a schoolboy contemporary of Alex's. He is reintroduced to Alex in his true identity when he turns up at the boy's home to rescue him from attack. Finally, Alex follows his directions to meet him properly, and finds him working incongruously at a chicken shop. Oh and finally finally shortly after this the Patrick Stewart version fo the character emerges to be introduced.
The first two scenes are obviously duplicates of each other in what they show us and so could obviously be reduced to one. But moreover I'd say all of this could be cut apart from the last scene at the chicken shop. We wouldn't lose any information or characterisation from the film for losing those earlier scenes. Of course it's also important that the film is fun, and I think there's an argument for keeping in the Merlin-undercover-at-school stuff for that reason. But these scenes suck a lot of the fun out of each other by removing or weakening the context that would make them come to life.
For instance, the scene where the protagonists go to a location expecting to rendezvous with mystical contact, and he turns out to be the kid working the fryer at the chicken shop, is a really fun idea. In the context of the film it loses most of that fun because there's no surprise here - we've already extensively met Merlin by this point.
(As a side note you might notice that of the two issues I've noted re. Merlin, they could be used to solve each other to some extent: if you've got two actors sharing the role, it means you can do more than one reveal. Why not have Merlin first appear as the Patrick Stewart version, someone far closer to the image of Merlin we imagine by being an older man. Then you can re-introduce him as Angus Imrie's version in the chicken-shop scene. I guess that means you'd have to either cut the undercover-at-school stuff as while the story could be changed to accommodate Stewart (he poses as a teacher or dinner-server or something), but then there's a very different vibe to a sequence of an adult man showing a weird interest in a young boy.)
As for why there's so much superfluous early material with Merlin when surely Cornish must have spotted that it doesn't really do anything... Perhaps tit's partly Cornish just having too many fun ideas for this character that he couldn't bear to kill even where they began to undermine one another, but I suspect there are practical reasons informing this wheel-spinning with Merlin just as I suspect filmmaking realities necessitating the double-casting of the role.
Put a pin in that, because now I'm going to talk about the really big way in which this film is fatally undermined by trying to be two different versions of itself at once.
This has to do with the whole plotting of the film, so I'll quickly go over that plot now:
After the opening act in which protagonist Alex finds Excalibur, meets Merlin, comes to understand and accept that he is heir to Arthur and has to fight evil (specifically the villanous Morgana), and recruits a few tenuous allies, he is faced with working out what his next step should be. He decides he needs to track down his absentee father, having come to the conclusion that his own 'chosen one' status must be due to family legacy, explaining his father's long absence from his life as really being a heroic one.
So Alex and team set off to Tintagel which is where Alex understands his dad to be living. After an eventful journey that brings the fractious team closer together and tests their mettle in a couple of action scenes, Alex arrives at his father's last know address only to learn what any adult viewer has spotted coming from the start of this plot thread - that his dad is no noble hero who has stayed away to protect Alex from a dangerous heritage that he is now ready to be mentored, but actually just a deadbeat with no connection to Alex's chosen-one status at all.
Though this hits Alex hard, he and his allies have also put together the last pieces of the puzzle to find Morgana, and he rallies in time to lead the final assault on her. Morgana tries to play to Alex's emotional vulnerabilities but he proves himself to believe in himself and wins the day.
... Or so it seems. As the kids return to London they soon realise that the threat has not disappeared at all. Morgana has survived and is still on-course to launch her decisive attack against Alex in order to steal Excalibur and take over the world. So finally Alex and co. must rally the whole school to become an impromptu army, and turn the school into a defensible fortress where they will battle her once and for all.
What you might or might not notice from my description is that this is two movies in a trenchcoat. Or more precisely two versions of a movie. There's the London movie and the Cornwall movie. Each is a possible and valid direction you can take the basic idea of a kid who discovers he is King Arthur's heir, but they are separate and not mutually supporting ideas, directions you'd have to choose between to make a successful movie, not parts of one whole.
At a glance, it's a case of a writer inspired with a basic idea unable to pick between two different directions for what he might do with it. It's difficult to quite believe a theory that rests on 'Cornish didn't spot very obvious things about his storytelling' so I wonder if that's it, but that can go up on the pin-board alongside the other point.
The reason I call this a cut-and-shut job of two different movies might not be obvious from the summary I gave, where the briefness probably makes the disjointedness of the parts less obvious. For example, reading about the middle act in which Alex goes to find his father it's easy to assume that this is connected into the first act by the usual kinds of things you do to establish a coming character arc. We would expect to learn early on that Alex has an emotional need around the absence of his father and so understand, when the plot presents him with a mystery and a few suggestive hints, that he has a well of need ready to supply him with this false solution to the problem.
But in fact there is no such character drive or emptiness suggested in the film. There are artefacts which sort of half-gesture in that direction, like the book of King Arthur stories that Alex goes to as the clues start to add up about what's going on, and which is as far as Alex knows a gift from his father. But the book isn't a treasured personal keepsake, it's forgotten in a box in the attic. Just a random thing he owns which only becomes significant for practical reasons.
There's nothing in Alex's scenes with his mother that suggest he there is anything missing in their family life. The film takes time to establish other points about Alex's character and his situation - that he is brave and righteous and loyal to his friend, but also lacking in effectiveness both within his immediate situation of school and more broadly as an ordinary kid in an increasingly doomy world - but it doesn't tell us anything about how Alex feels about his dad or his absence. The first time his dad comes up is when Alex is deducing that his dad must be involved in this magical heritage.
It's pretty weak. Not only because we haven't been shown that there's any existing want or need connected to the father. But also because the film relies on meaningless externalities instead to convince us that this would be Alex's play.
First of all, the mechanism of meaning of being The Once and future King, i.e King Arthur's heir, is super vague in-film and since in reality monarchy is indeed hereditary and the opening animation went out of its way to include Arthur's father Uther in its precis of the mythology... it seems reasonable that left without other explanation of how Alex is 'heir' to Arthur, that the most obvious conclusion to jump to is indeed lineage. Then there are specific hints which turn out to be meaningless coincidences: that Alex's father's last known address is Tintagel; the book and its inscription. Of all possible books, his father has (apparently) gifted him a telling of the King Arthur story and inscribed 'To The Once and Future King' in it.
I feel it's illuminating to how disjointed all this is by pointing out a hypothetical version of the film which uses a single extra beat that gives proceedings a great feeling of logic, specifically emotional logic.
Imagine for a moment a version of the film in which the opening plays out just as it does in the actual film but with this one difference: this time, as Alex is hurrying to get ready for school in his room in the first scene, he stumbles across the book of Arthurian stories. Perhaps he pulls it unexpectedly from the dust under his bed when he's looking for his trainers; perhaps he knocks it off the bookshelf grabbing something; either way it gives him pause, a flash of feeling. He'd forgotten about that book, or he'd forgotten that it had an inscription from his dad.
For a moment his hurry is completely forgotten and he stands gazing at or into the book - before his mum yells that he's going to be late, and off he goes, book flung aside, to all appearances swiftly forgotten.
Except now when we get to the scene where he saves his friend Bedders from bullies at school - and when we get to the scene where he finds Excalibur in the stone - these moments are implicitly informed by this beat, this moment of ambiguous emotion with the book. They start to form a story we can infer and be interested in.
Now when we see him go above and beyond for Bedders, we feel that the book is at the back of Alex's mind, the feelings it brought up informing his bravery and loyalty. And how that aspiration links to his dad, who have him that book and inscribed it thus.
Now as the tale becomes fantastical it's a fantasy springing from Alex's psyche. It doesn't have to be a literal 'it's all in his head' tale. But there's a proud tradition in children's fantasy films of tying the fantastical creatures and places to objects and images from the protagonist's mundane life in order to place an emotional journey at the heart of the adventure. In Labyrinth before we encounter the fantasy, we see Sarah LARPing in the park as the exact kind of fantasy heroine she is later expected to act as, and we see images on her vanity unit that look very like the as-yet-to-appear Goblin King.
In Time Bandits the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness in which the climax unfolds is full of imagery from Kevin's bedroom, including giant lego-brick shaped stonework. Those films aren't dismissing their fantasy stories as mere dreams or metaphors or coping fantasies on the part of their protagonists but are definitely making the protagonist's psycho-emotional journey a key part of what happens and why.
So in The Once and Future King, had the book of Arthurian legend, and its having some kind of impact on Alex, been established early wit would set up an emotional through-line to follow through what unfolds.
The scene where Alex finds the sword in the stone ought to be an emotionally charged turning-point , but in the film as it stands there are no real tensions at play. Nothing to inform the way in which this specific character feels about this moment or what our expectations should be - do we think he'll pull it out or not? What gives us those expectations? What do we hope for and fear? What are the stakes here? If there had been this one early moment of his finding and contemplating the book, there would be a tension implicit in the scene. We'd understand that this is a moment in a latent story. Alex already has personal stakes and feelings connected to all this Arthur stuff. We know that being able to draw the sword and thus really entering into the Arthur mythos is going to plunge him into something with real emotional stakes. And on a practical level now we're wondering about the book. If his dad gave him that book, with that inscription, and now Alex happens to have stumbled upon a sword in a stone, what's the connection? What oes it all mean?
The point is that in the current film, Alex's quest to find his father doesn't feel fundamental to his character drive because the feeling around his father's absence don't come up, and no emotional lack is demonstrated or implied, before Alex comes up with the idea of his connection and the quest to search for him. The film, as I say, provides practical misleads. Between the hereditary nature of kingship, the Tintagel connection, the book and of course Merlin's enthusiastic endorsement of the plan we might be cconvinced on a functional level that Alex's theory/plan is sound. It would all make for an awful shaggy-dog-story if all that amounts to nothing, after all. But on an emotional level there's no buy-in.
That means Alex's Tintagel-dad-quest is completely tangental to the film which was actually established by the opening act. That story has to essentially go on hold while this story starts, plays out, and reaches its conclusion.
You can feel that in how the supporting characters, set-up well by the first act, have very little to do in this section. They are creatures of that other film, the London film. The conflicts seeded in the opening of that story have no where to go in this new story, so all the characters can do is cycle pointlessly around conflicts they've either actually developed past already, or that feel unnaturally imposed upon them.
A middle act in a story like this is traditionally where the hero has realised that they must do The Thing, engage with the plot, pursue the quest, change their life. At the same time the middle act doesn't conclude with a final triumph because throughout this section there is some basic flaw to the way the hero is approaching the task. A
'false philosophy'. They have been going after what they want but haven't yet discovered that's not what they need. They're trying to defeat the bad guy while still avoiding the home truths about themself that really they have to face into to prevail. That kind of thing.
So in theory Alex having a quest in which he has confused wishful thinking for the truth is a solid middle act for this story. It's just that because the film has not equipped us to feel this father stuff as being a driving force for Alex, the middle act feels less like the propelling-but-increasingly-ambivalent momentum of a false philosophy, and more like a listless time-filler.
And that leads me back to the cork-board where I pinned those earlier points.
Because as I say, I think it's unlikely that Cornish wasn't able to spot basic story stuff that I can (even when you factor in how closeness to an idea can be blinding). I think the reason for this cut-and-cut use of two possible directions for the film is simply that either film on its own is just too short.
It's a simple story; 'boy with great potential but flaws and obstacles discovers something which gives him more power and also more responsibility, who has to self-realise in time to fight a straightforward villain according to a ticking-clock deadline'. That's a Disney-animated-movie-sized plot, and Disney animated movies are like 80 minutes long. With songs.
The truth is that in story terms you could cut the middle of this film, the trip to Cornwall, very neatly out and have what remains play perfectly as a story. By the end of the film's first big action sequence (the one where they finish by hijacking a car), the characters have really completed the first two acts of their character development. They have come together as a team over the course of the fight with everyone growing into their role. They're ready to go into the final act of the film already. It's just that's way too short for a film.
(It would be a great pilot TV episode though; setting up a cooler, more street-cred-y, higher-budget version of shows like Buffy or MI High about a small ragtag group of schoolmates who have a secret quest-imperative to fight evil).
Returning to that other pin, I think that's why there's all the superfluous early Merlin material too. With an incentive to add time to a film whose narrative really doesn't take very long to unfold, it must be all the more tempting to say, 'sod it - I like both these intro ideas so much let's use both'.
The thing is, I'm not at all totally condemning of this simple need to pad as motivating the jamming together of the two directions. There's more than one way to arrive at a successful overall product of a story. Films can all too easily sleepwalk though structural coherence, hitting their beats inarguably but without any really internally convincing energy (see the more recent Marvel films). Sometimes if you want there to be room for an unusual or eccentric sensibility to play you need to loosen up on the demands of structure. The most charm and personality is often found in films which don't have a very conventional structure or even one that holds up if you pause to examine it - they are relying on a different kind of momentum, a different glue, made of humour, of charm, of fun, of surprise.
An example of a great film of this nature might be Life of Brian which absolutely feels like a film with tight story, but essentially only convinces the viewer of that because it uses the opening and closing scenes of an existing good story ('the greatest story ever told' in fact). Everything in between is essentially sketch-scenes with no very strong narrative drive. Life of Brian gives sketches in enough of a sense of narrative that it can spend all its time having fun with the ideas without ever feeling listless or overextended.
The problem with The Kid Who Would Be King is not, in the end, that it finds it necessary to weld this isolated, inessential other story into the middle of the film in order to make up time. The problem is that it fails to be charming or fun or exciting enough to convince you of what it's doing.
The script is fine but not stand-out and the performances on the whole don't elevate the material into provoking fun, humour or feelings. That's not to criticise the young stars who do a very good job But they're children, not seasoned performers able to add magic to a merely serviceable script. Angus Imrie is old enough and talented enough (and son-of-Celia-Imrie enough) to produce a performance that is really charismatic and entertaining and elevates the script. But his parts are also undermined by weak storytelling that relies on inconsistent external factors to move him in and out of action, and by the decision to split his role with Patrick Stewart.
So there's just not enough by way of great gags, show-stealing performances, stylish shooting, sharp editing, distinct world/tone or any of the other factors than can make a film work despite a mechanically flawed script.
And finally, there are some specific moment where the film really fails to paper over the cracks.
Firstly, it is the decision to play the climatic battle of the middle-act Cornwall section as a fake-out final victory.
The big fight at the end of Act II should feel kind of doomed. You're rooting for your heroes but you have the niggling knowledge that he or they are still operating according to that false philosophy.
But because as I've described the middle Cornwall section is essentially its own self-contained film sandwiched in between the two halves of a different film, its final battle instead feels pretty conclusive. We've already had a 'darkest moment' by this point. In a story like this, the heroes can't win they day until they've finally into their faced their fears, their truths. But in the end-ofAct-II battle under Glastonbury, Alex has already come through this. He's faced the darkness, had his 'want' disappointed and his false philosophy crushed. He has had the scales drop from his eyes and in the light of truth recognised his real need, real worth and real power. The fight itself brings these tensions to bear one last time. Morgana plays on his insecurities - but ultimately Alex proves they are his former insecurities. He has self-actualised and vanquishes the demon.
... But the film started in London. And it needs a bigger finale. The battle at the school was probably the inciting image of the whole project, after all.
Cornish's decision for smoothing this discrepancy is to lean into the natural sense of conclusion this battle has and play it as a fake-out. He lets the battle and its aftermath play as an ending. All enemies defeated; all relationships resolved.
That might have worked if there was some really compelling reason why it turned out not to be over. Plenty of films have let the characters believe themselves to have won the day only to be mistaken. But where this beat does work it is because it turns out that there is a genuinely important narrative thread not tied off.
For example, two chapters before the end of Northern Lights almost every part of the narrative seems to have concluded: Lyra has liberated Bolvangar, collected Roger, reinstated Iorek as king of Svalbard and freed her father from imprisonment. All her stated goals and wants are satisfied. So why is there a tingle on unrest remaining for the reader? Because Lord Asriel isn't offering catharsis in his response and that hints that Lyra has been mistaken -and we fear horribly so - about the real needs of the situation. If Asriel's problem was imprisonment, why isn't he pleased to be free? Why was he horrified to see Lyra? Why does it feel like he's not at the cathartic end of a story but on the precipice of something? The themes feel unanswered too. Yes, everything is in place for a happy ending. But has this book made us expect this kind of happy ending? Is that in line with the kind of emotions and philosophies it has played out so far?
When there is a final twist in the tale and one last action scene and emotional drama to play out it doesn't feel like a disjointed addition from an author feeling he hasn't met a mandate for set-pieces. It feels like an inevitable answer to the feeling of tense unresolvedness that has remained in place.
Not so in The Kid Who Would Be King. The film really did end, catharsis was achieved. There is no vital aspect which the characters have missed and is even now undermining their victory.
The reason the film gives for Alex and co.'s victory not sticking again feels like one of those beats with the appearence of having a philosophical or emotional resonance but without, well, resonating.
It states that the victory wasn't total because at the time of his victory Alex wasn't acting at the time in accordance with the Code of Chivalry. Specifically, he had failed to live up to the rule of honouring his loved ones because he had quarrlled with his mother before running off to Cornwall and not yet resolved that relationship.
That sounds like the kind of thing that could theoretically work to link the fantasy back to the real human stories. The reason it work here doesn't are several. Firstly there's the most practical point, that while the Code of Chivalry and this specific rule from it have been technically been set up as significant, they haven't been established as anything but a philosophical guide on how one really ought to conduct oneself. We didn't know they would act as a kind of 'deep magic' like that found in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe which enabled Aslan to reverse death because he went to it in innocent self-sacrifice. Also unlike in the Narnia example we get no sense of how this even works. Alex stabbed Morgana with a sword. That doesn't feel like the kind of downfall where it's easy to conceptualise how the fact Alex wasn't speaking to his mum at the time would undo.
Even if we're able to metabolise the awkward new information that behaving counter to the Code can somehow negate the effects of a good stabbing, it's not obvious until it's stated where Alex has slipped up and broken the Code.
The issue having to do with his relationship with mum feels like a forced marriage between the need to keep this story going into a third act, and the one plot element that could be said to remain open and available after the film has, as I say, actually really ended.
Alex's relationship with his mum does not feel satisfyingly driving because it's just not a core issue of this film. It was never at stake, for one thing; though Alex argued with his mum it was, once again, a purely practical argument not with any real sense of a wedge coming between them. We're not worried that these two won't be able to reconnect. Further, the relationship has nothing to do with the issues that occupied the middle section and it certainly wasn't relevant to the battle itself.
Deploying the relationship issue in this way feels less like a genuinely emotional point and more like Alex's relationship with his mum is like a line of code he needs to fix in order for his coding project to run smoothly. A random and meaningless little problem that crept in and is easily sorted once identified. It's not got anything to do with the victory it undoes, and it doesn't have anything to do with the finale it precedes.
My first assumption, actually, on hearing that Alex's victory had stuck because he had been operating in some way outside the Code was not anything. todo with the mother, it was, "Aha! Because Alex lied to trick Morgana in order to win! I thought that seemed a bit sus for an Arthurian hero at the time!"
That idea actually has more emotional logic since it is an issue that actually pertains to the conflict between Alex and Morgana.
So the fake-out, and the post-justification for it being a fake-out, are super weak. The fact that the film gave us an apparent victory which tuned out to be defunct for reasons that weren't narratively or emotionally convincing also undermines the final-final battle. The film hasn't really identified anything that wasn't already brought to a cathartic close by the previous battle, so we're looking at a replay of the same stuff we have already seen brought to a climax.
When we've already had one of these battles, which played with full apparent earnestness and conclusion, and its apparent outcome was tossed aside, how can I really care about this, then?
There's another specific moment in which the final act fails to launch off the rest of the film, and in fact actively severely undermines the entire project the scene, and it is when Alex tries to enlist the entire school population as his army. Alex tried an inspiring speech - which they comically decline. That is until the headteacher (hypnotised by Merlin) tells them that this battle is instead of classes whereupon motivated by self-interest they're all in.
The ''Who'se with me!'/*tumbleweeds*' gag is such a hacky old saw at this point I am honestly surprised to see it turn up in a Cornish joint.
But more than that, here the gag is really destructive to the film because it really matters to this film how that plays for Alex. It's a film about an Arthur, a valiant leader who role is to inspire others to nobility. By having Alex give his impassioned speech the film presents the question: has Alex grown into the Arthurian leader?
And the film answers that with a 'no'. For the sake of a bad gag, it negates Alex's whole character arc. If he can't inspire as a leader... well, he's not really Arthur, is he?
It also seems rather antithetical to the film's ideals which otherwise I would characterise as pro-kids, and as seeing young people as having loads of potential for heroism and change if just empowered to act.
And it sets up a weird problem for the final battle which is that is lacks stakes and tension. The children have entered into it in such a weightless gaggy way it's impossible to attach a sense of danger to them or indeed personality. The use of the hypnotised teachers adds a weird dimension into it as well. Once you have introduced the idea that the heroes are happy to override personal autonomy for their cause and able to utilise the power of adults, its hard to see this as a children-empowering, only-children-can-save-the-day kind of thing.
What's the point of so thoroughly critcising a film not a few years old which already did less well than it probably deserved at the box office? None, really. Just the exercise of understanding why a film didn't quite amount to anything very special in the hope that such observations can inform my own creative endeavours. And also, I hope, to respect the difficulties before any storyteller and especially one working in a medium with as many pressures as film.