It's not so much that "A Far Off Place" is a bad movie, as that it's an overly familiar one. The story of white kids struggling to survive in the wilderness as they try to make it to civilization, helped by a native son of the area, has been told a few too many times.
But in this case, there is the added disadvantage that "A Far Off Place" is far too violent for children yet is being aggressively sold by Disney as a kids' picture. Parents who take youngsters to this film may be rather shocked at the amount of mayhem they see.
"A Far Off Place" opens with poachers killing elephants for their ivory tusks. Then, big-game hunter Col. Theron (Maximilian Schell), who is helping enforce anti-poaching laws, shoots and kills the poachers.
After this pre-credits sequence, we meet the film's protagonists, 14-year-old Nonnie (Reese Witherspoon, of "The Man in the Moon") and 15-year-old Harry (Ethan Randall, of "Dutch"). Nonnie was raised on the edge of the Kalahari desert and her father is working with Theron to crack down on the poachers. Harry, reluctantly indulging his father on this vacation, is a New York City boy whose mother recently died.
The two teens spend Harry's first night in Africa in a cave with Nonnie's friend Xhabbo (Sarel Bok), a Bushman. The next morning, Nonnie hears gunfire and races to the compound, where she finds the bloody bodies of their parents the poachers have gotten their revenge.
After blowing up the poachers' trucks with dynamite, Nonnie runs to Harry and Xhabbo and soon they're on the run together. Unfortunately, they discover that their only way to civilization is to cross a 1,000-mile stretch of the Kalahari desert.
On the plus side, the cinematography is gorgeous, as you might expect from first-time director Mikael Salomon, whose work as a cinematographer has included "Far and Away" and "The Abyss." And there are some nice moments from the appealing players. (Although the teenagers in question seem a bit young for the implied "romance" that takes on subplot status here.)
But the plotting and especially the violence are rather appalling for a film aimed at so youthful an audience. Even including the likes of "White Fang" and "The Rocketeer," "A Far Off Place" has more graphic mayhem and more profanity than any film yet to carry the Walt Disney Pictures banner.
A dubious trend, indeed.
"A Far Off Place" is rated PG for violence and profanity but seems more like PG-13 stuff.
"TRAIL MIX-UP" is another rapid-fire Roger Rabbit short cartoon (after "Tummy Trouble" and "Roller Coaster Rabbit"), with some hilarious sight gags set in a national park and fabulous animation.
And while one might complain about the animated violence here, it's in the tradition of the old Warner Bros. ("Bugs Bunny") and MGM ("Tom and Jerry") cartoons. One complaint: Is is always necessary to throw in a vulgar double-entendre, such as the verbal gag while Roger is frying a hot dog?
"Trail Mix-Up" is rated G.