It’s been a pretty good year for family films. So far 2012 has seen the U.S. release of Studio Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty and The Pirates! Band of Misfits, two lively and amusing flicks that children and adults can enjoy together. The summer is shaping up nicely, too, with an Ice Age sequel among the movies on the horizon.
And then there’s Journey 2: The Mysterious Island.
A sequel to the modestly successful Journey to the Center of the Earth from 2008, Journey 2 manages to replicate a little of its predecessor’s charm, but only a little. The plot is similar: this time the Jules-obsessed “Vernians” are onto the idea that the title landmass in Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island really exists in the South Pacific, and they’re out to find it and rescue the explorer apparently trapped there. They succeed, of course, and are soon running from giant lizards, riding giant bees and trying to find Captain Nemo’s submarine so they can escape before the island sinks into the sea. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.
Josh Hutcherson reprises his role as Sean Anderson, the boy adventurer who acted as sidekick to Brendan Fraser in the first movie and this time kicks off the story by receiving a radio transmission from the island. Fraser was unable to return due to scheduling conflicts, so his role is filled by Dwayne Johnson, playing Sean’s skeptical stepfather who is unwillingly dragged into the adventure. The movie is unabashedly about parent-child relationships, from Johnson and Hutcherson trying to figure out how to get along as a step-family to the sudden return of Hutcherson’s long-missing grandfather (Michael Caine in all his daft British glory—cross Sean Connery’s Indiana Jones character with Professor Challenger and you’ve got the idea). Vanessa Hudgens and Luis Guzmán round out the cast as a Polynesian girl who dreams of an unlikely college education and a broad ethnic stereotype—er, her foolish and cowardly father who gets into trouble trying to make enough money to send her there. And now that the cast is assembled, it’s on to giant bugs and a volcano that spews golden ash.
Overall, Journey 2 is so heavy-handed and cartoonish that adults may find it difficult to watch, and kids may find it ill-suited to them, too. Hutcherson’s stock teenage angst (stealing motorcycles, slamming doors) appears designed to appeal to the tween set, as does his chaste romance with Hudgens, but the clichéd script probably won’t entertain anyone over the age of nine, and the giant-animal attacks and other violence may be too intense for kids much younger than that. Adult interest in the cardboard characters and exaggerated family drama will probably wane by the time Johnson inexplicably starts strumming the ukulele and singing “What a Wonderful World” in the middle of the jungle that time forgot. The only appeal of Journey 2 for parents is the occasional humorous posturing between Johnson and Caine, and the fact that the parental figures essentially turn out to be right about everything by the time the movie is over, thus inverting the kids-are-smarter-than-adults rule that’s common in the genre.
Bottom line: the special effects are entertaining, and sequences like the volcanic eruption and the bee chase were probably impressive in theatrical 3-D, but the effect is rather less special as soon as anyone opens his or her mouth.
The single-disc standard DVD edition (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group, MSRP: $28.98) is pretty bare-bones: there’s an UltraViolet digital copy of the film and exactly two special features—a short gag reel and a couple of deleted scenes. One of those scenes features a mildly amusing showdown between Caine’s character and Johnson’s over the way they’ve been ribbing each other throughout the movie, but that’s the closest thing to a highlight.
The two-disc DVD/Blu-ray Combo Pack (MSRP: $35.99) features Hutcherson prominently in a series of interactive features: an introduction, a tour of Caine’s tree house home and features on the lost city of Atlantis, giant flowers and mushrooms, the golden volcano, the giant lizard, the bees, Captain Nemo’s tomb and the resting place of the Nautilus, the Nautilus itself and the map that leads the adventurers to the island. The features work all right as interactive games, or can be viewed passively as the movie progresses.
Then there’s the three-disc 3-D edition, which includes the original DVD, the Blu-ray and the 3-D Blu-ray. This one might be worth the $44.95 asking price for diehard effects buffs—the bees and the volcano are pretty cool—but doesn’t add much for the family-viewing crowd. There are no extra features, and seeing objects suddenly lunge out of the screen gets old pretty fast unless that’s the whole object of the exercise.
Maybe the next Journey can take viewers to a place that’s less mysterious and more well-done.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.