Retro Review: Secondhand Lions

The tradition of a solid family film filled with intrigue, delightful characters and a sense of adventure seems to be lost in the quagmire of the ever-evolving multiplex.

That tradition saw a re-ignition when Disney released HOLES last spring and FREAKY FRIDAY last month. It seems the family film is back in a big way if the trend holds.

Before the release of HOLES, studios seemed bent on releasing “brain-dead” comedies and pushing the envelope with computer animation to secure a successful film for the whole brood. Hopefully this is a new era dawning in family entertainment.

With the release of New Line Cinema’s “Secondhand Lions”, a new non-Disney family film revolution could spring forth.

Haley Joel Osment of “Sixth Sense” fame stars as Walter, a neglected and disenfranchised 12-year old boy who is severely lacking a strong male role-model in his life. His delusional mother, Mae (Kyra Sedgwick), learns that her eccentric uncles, Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duvall), have been squirreling away millions of dollars. The uncles have just resurfaced after a 40 year absence and Mae is convinced that if she abandons Walter with them that he will be able to find the riches. Where didn’t the legendary stash come from? Where have Walter’s great uncles been for the last 40 years?

The mysteries and tall-tales are a lot of the fun elements that dwell in this fun and original family film. “Lions” delivers a sense of awe and special bonding a wide-eyed boy might have when searching for a role-model. Writer-director Tim McCanlies finds that whole element of growing up and allows it to flourish within Osment’s character. It’s very magical but how could one not expect magic from the same writer-director who sculpted the nearly flawless animated film, “The Iron Giant”.

There are however flaws in “Lions” and its all-star cast. Osment has grown so much since “Sixth Sense” and looks a lot older than the 12-year old he is playing. Osment, 15, has shot up at least a foot and filled out considerably since his last film.

It is hard finding what McCanlies is trying to see in Osment when he looks like he should already know who Santa really is. The disbelief and wonderment are the cornerstones of the film and it’s hard to imagine them in a vastly maturing Osment.

The second flaw is the overtly rugged portrayal by Robert Duvall who becomes the hero in so many of the film’s legendary flashbacks. Duvall only shows a breakdown and some compassion towards the end of the film which seems very flat. Compared to Duvall, Caine’s uncle is a lot more fun as his character’s depth tries to help flesh out the two-dimensional Duvall. Just wish we got more personable with Duvall’s hero character.

I really loved the casting of Emmanuelle Vaugier (TV’s Smallville) Christian Kane (TV’s “Angel”) in the flashback sequences. Their whole story and acting reminded me so much of those old Arabian Nights movies I remember when I was a kid.

There is a lot of cherish in “Lions” and it is a delightful film for the whole family despite some obvious flaws.

(4 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

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