American movies for kids have entirely been handed over to Pixar and its swarm of major-studio animation clones. Animation is great, but I can’t recall the last good modestly scaled live-action movie about a normal kid who has to journey to a fantastical realm; I’m talking about your Last Starfighters, your Jumanjis, your NeverEnding Storys. (Harry Potter and the failed Narnia series don’t count, because they were top-loaded for blockbuster mega-franchise status.)
Turns out, the genre isn’t dead—it’s just moved abroad, and Seattle audiences have an opportunity to experience it at Northwest Film Forum’s Children’s Film Festival.
The Belgian-made Labyrinthus is an adventure film about a boy named Frikke (Spencer Bogart) who finds a USB key and a plastic black cube. The USB key contains an immersive computer game, and the cube is a camera with a mysterious power—if you take a picture of something with the cube, that something (a cat, a human, food) will appear in the game. When Frikke finds a real girl in the game, he has to figure out how to save her without becoming trapped in the game himself.
It’s possible Labyrinthus doesn’t have enough Hollywood dazzle to charm American kids. It’s got subtitles, for one thing, and everyone knows American children can’t read. For another thing, the game looks cheesy compared to even the kind of computer-generated imagery you’ll see on American television these days.
But if your kid isn’t a cynical twerp, odds are good they’ll be able to look past the sometimes-cheesy rendering and appreciate the world of Labyrinthus—with its skyscrapers of cardboard boxes, tunnels of maps floating in outer space, and pop-up book villages—for the pleasant diversion that it is.