Three Family Films from Disney
The Black Hole (August 4/06)
Although the film takes an awfully long time to get going, The Black Hole eventually establishes itself as an engaging (albeit distinctly uneven) piece of science fiction. The story follows the crew of the spaceship Palamino as they stumble upon the U.S.S. Cygnus, a vessel long-since believed to be lost (it disappeared more than 20 years ago after investigating a nearby black hole). It's soon revealed that the Cygnus is still inhabited by its captain - a brilliant scientist named Reinhardt (Maximilian Schell) - and although the crew now consists entirely of robots, Reinhardt is more determined than ever to navigate his ship into the aforementioned black hole. The Black Hole, with its sporadically shoddy special effects and exceedingly deliberate pace, generally comes off as a relic of its time, and yet there's no denying the effectiveness of certain elements within the film - particularly the unexpected, thoroughly intriguing twist that arrives around the one-hour mark. The cast - which includes, among others, Robert Forster, Anthony Perkins, and Ernest Borgnine - acquits themselves admirably, despite the inherent limitations of Jeb Rosebrook and Gerry Day's screenplay (ie the various characters aren't developed a whole lot beyond their most superficial attributes). And although it's marred by an action-oriented third act and a truly baffling, 2001esque conclusion, The Black Hole is ultimately revealed to be an underrated and surprisingly dark Disney effort.
The Shaggy Dog
The Shaggy Dog casts Tim Allen as Dave Douglas, a stereotypically harried father who - through a set of unusually convoluted circumstances - discovers that he now has the ability to transform himself into a sheepdog. When he's not avoiding the advances of a smarmy executive (Robert Downey Jr), Dave is using his newfound power to spy on his wife and kids - thus allowing him to correct some of the mistakes he's made over the years. The Shaggy Dog is certainly better than one might've expected, primarily due to the enthusiasm with which Allen tackles his role; the supporting performances are, likewise, quite effective (Downey Jr's gleefully over-the-top work is an obvious highlight). The screenplay (credited to a whopping five people!) is rife with family-centric life lessons, and although it's clear that small children will find more to embrace here than adults, the movie generally remains an amiable and entertaining piece of fluff.
The Young Black Stallion (August 4/06)
Originally released to IMAX theaters, The Young Black Stallion undoubtedly looked impressive on their enormous screens, but - on home video, stripped of its visual grandeur - the movie comes off as a superficial and woefully inept piece of work. The story revolves around the relationship that forms between the titular foal and a little girl named Neera (Biana Tamimi), both of whom have been separated from their families. Together, the pair enter a race in which the victor is to receive a bounty of prizes - much to the chagrin of Neera's overly-cautious grandfather (Richard Romanus). Infused with paper-thin characters, amateurish performances, and distinctly laughable bits of dialogue, The Young Black Stallion has little to offer even the most indiscriminate viewer; there's a pervading feeling of incompetence at work here, as though everyone involved was simply too preoccupied with the movie's visuals to be bothered with anything else (admittedly, the film looks great). As a result, it's hard to imagine that The Young Black Stallion will appeal to even the most die-hard fan of this ongoing series.