Magic Tree House is an American fantasy series by Mary Pope Osborne. The books have done very well, having been translated into over thirty languages. In 2011, Ajia-do animation works produced the first film based on the series. I’ll be completely honest, I haven’t read these books. I’m not going to know if the film version stays true to the original. I’ll be looking purely at how well it stands on its own. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Magic Tree House.
We open with a sorceress helping some children in a library. Once they’re on their way out she’s attacked by a mysterious wizard and turned into a mouse. We cut to a more recognisable world where our heroes, Jack & Annie experience an incident at school involving chasing a frog. Apparently their teachers are very bad at maintaining order. On their way home, the two stumble across a tree house filled with books that can take them through time and space based on where they want to go from the books. They discover that there are four hidden medallions that they can find to make a miracle happen. While in pursuit of the second they encounter Morgan Le Fay, who tells them of her troubles and enlists their aid. Can they find the medallions and return Morgan’s powers?
The big failing of the narrative is that their visits to the various locations while they’re searching for the medallions aren’t that interesting. Most of them involve the kids wandering around, locating the medallion and getting chased by something. It gets pretty repetitive for a film that doesn’t even run for two hours. There’s also a lot of bluster surrounding whether or not Jack will play Romeo in a play but there’s no reason to get invested in it since there are no real stakes to whether or not he does. Really, the whole thing amounts to a kind of heavy-handed illustration of his whole character arc and how he’s learning to be more adventurous. There’s also the whole de-powering and transformation of Morgan that kick off the adventure. The most intriguing narrative aspect throughout is wondering why. When the answer does come out it’s a big let-down.
That being said, the whole concept is a good one. The disparate settings are also interesting, even though most of them follow the same basic formula.
The cast doesn’t have that much to them. Annie is adventurous. Her brother is more reserved and bookish. They’re character types we’ve seen before but there’s nothing really wrong with the portrayals here.
The artwork is a bit mixed. I’ll use the dinosaur setting as the big example. When they travel to the world of dinosaurs the flora looks good, the scope is grand and the dinosaurs themselves look like they didn’t have much effort put into them. Even ignoring the fact that they forgot the feathers, the dinosaurs have blank looks and just look like they were drawn in five minutes. The same holds up throughout the film. You have some stuff that’s nicely detailed and others where the art team doesn’t seem to have tried.
The acting is perfectly passable. The kids are voiced by Ashida Mana & Kitagawa Keiko. They aren’t the best performances but there’s also nothing really wrong with them. I could say the same basic thing about the music. It’s fine.
There isn’t any, nor would I expect a children’s film to have any.
That’s Magic Tree House. How does it hold up? Well, I can’t call it a good film. There are much better out there, including films made for children. That being said, I also wouldn’t call it bad. In terms of kids’ films it’s pretty average. While it has an interesting concept and the visuals can look nice at times, the story is also kind of dull. The characters are over-used tropes and there are just a lot of points where they decided not to bother putting in much effort. My final rating is going to be a 5/10. Tomorrow I’ll continue film festival week with Hanare Toride no Yonna.