I broke down and took my kids to see the Magic Treehouse film in Japanese. Neither of them have been to a real movie before and I was very worried about whether they were old enough. In fact, I was only going to take Spinky, but Domba begged to go. My husband stayed outside the theatre for the first half an hour just in case she needed to be taken out but all was well, and even my 2-year old was fascinated by this movie.
Who takes their 2-year old to a movie? Oh, me.
The plot of the movie was that Merlin has turned Morgan into a rat, and sent the Magic Treehouse into the woods surrounding Jack and Annie's town. Jack and Annie must journey to different times to collect four medallions to stick into grooves on the front of a book. When that happens, a miracle will occur. The audience knows that the rat called peanuts is actually Morgan, but although Jack and Annie encounter Morgan on their second adventure, they don't realize the rat is her.
When I read the synopsis in Japanese I thought it would be about the first four books (Dinosaurs Before Dawn, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, Pirates Past Noon) and that is what I ordered and read. It was actually the first two and fourth, but the mummy adventure was replaced by Vacation under the Volcano (CAN, JP, USA), which is No. 13 in the Magic Treehouse series.
This is the one book I had wanted to avoid, as we live only a few kilometres from an extremely active Stratovolcano, just like Vesuvius. Actually, my city is twinned with Naples due to the fear of the volcano we have in common. So watching Vesuvius erupt while the citizens of Pompeii, and Jack and Annie, run for their lives, would not have been my pick for a first movie for my kids. It turned out all right, I was more scared than my kids were, and I found the depictions to be pretty accurate (not that I was around then!), more accurate than The Fires of Pompeii when Doctor Who and his companion Donna visited Pompeii on the same day. The preceding earthquakes and lightning striking the volcano were particularly well done.
I am not a big fan of the Japanese anime style. I do not like the small mouths, same noses, and giant eyes. This is just a personal aesthetic preference though, it was well-done and I was able to move past that and enjoy the scenery. Jack and Annie seemed pretty true to their depictions in the books despite Jack getting a giggly girlfriend. I could accept the change of Morgan to a rat (not anywhere as cute as Remi) from a parrot because I think that worked well to tie the story into a single 1.5 hour escapade. It seems like they have purposely made it possible to have a sequel as well, as now Merlin needs to be saved.
My only real problem with the movie is the Shakespeare was misspelled as Shakespear on a book carried by Jack's love interest, which could be fixed in post-editing if they release this abroad with English subtitles.
The big thing for me was that even though we watched the movie in Japanese, my kids could speak about it afterwards with me in English. Reading the books beforehand, even though the volcano adventure wasn't one of them, gave them the vocab to be able to do that. As soon as we got home Spinky made me order the next four as well. Two thumbs up on creating interest in chapter books!
I can't believe I am saying this, but this was actually worth the expense of taking both kids to the movies, it was a great afternoon.