Last night, Steve and I went with some friends to see Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. Synopsis in a can: amateur scientist invents machine that makes food from water, greed, lack of forethought, it all goes horribly wrong, amateur scientist and friends discover hidden depths to save world. It was predictable, with all the family-values schmaltz and barely disguised moralising that you have to expect from a kids' movie. But nevertheless it was fun, with lots of gags, silliness, and bits that fly over the heads of the kiddies in the audience while making the adults choke on their popcorn. All the nerds and geeks will feel their toes curl as they empathise with Flint (even while they shout at the screen about the dodgy science and how water doesn't have a "genetic code" - remember guys, it's a kids movie), and there are no prizes for identifying the charcter voiced by Mr T.
But the thing that is still bugging my brain today is one of the trailers, for a film version of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox. There are many things you can say about Roald Dahl, but "his writing is really compatible with predictable Hollywood formula" is not one of them. He was a dark genius, and the glory of his writing is that it is often highly disturbing and that the "winner" is not necessarily "the good guy".
What I recall of the storyline of Fantastic Mr Fox is: a family of foxes who steal their food from nearby farmers find themselves in trouble, when the farmers decide they've had enough and start to take some extreme pest control measures. But with skill and daring, Mr Fox manages to not only evade the farmers, but finds a way to steal even more food than he was stealing before, enabling all the vermin in the surrounding area to "eat like kings" for the rest of their lives. With the notable exception of the Rat who lives in the cider cellar, who Mr Fox and Badger, big bullies that they are, threaten to eat if he attempts to stop them stealing the booze for their party.
Mr Fox is not and does not claim to be anything other than a thief. That the farmers are upset by the constant thefts from the businesses that are their livelihood is quite understandable. However the reader is encouraged to be firmly on the side of the criminals, and against the farmers who are protecting their property. Where's the moral? Who knows? It's quite likely there isn't one. Dahl never claimed to be guiding or educating children - in fact he quite liked the idea that he might be just a little bit corruptive, a little bit wicked.
However I can't see a celebration of breaking rules for purely personal gain cutting the mustard with a Hollywood focus group. There must have been changes, and big changes at that.
Which makes me wonder. Do I go and see it, because I am a Dahl fan and it is a film version of one of his books? Or do I avoid it like the plague, because I am a Dahl fan and I don't want to see his work smashed to pieces with a saccharine hammer?