Goro Miyazaki (son of My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo creator Hayao Miyazaki) begins his animated feature debut with the teenage Prince Arren (Levin) driving a knife into his father’s guts. Talk about your rebellious declarations! It’s one of the more potent moments in Tales from Earthsea (based on Ursula Le Guin’s award-winning novels), precisely because it feels so nakedly personal: The child steps out of his father’s titanic shadow by murdering his onscreen facsimile. The movie that follows, however, is only cursorily related to this opening: Distraught, self-exiled Arren wanders the land, eventually teaming up with the wise mage Sparrowhawk (Dalton) and the equally damaged adolescent Theru (Restaneo) to defeat the evil, androgynous wizard, Cobb (Dafoe).
The sights and sounds are splendid—a lovingly hand-detailed portside city, a touching musical interlude in a windswept field—though they’re largely disconnected from the narrative proper. Arren’s malaise, and his eventual self-actualization, feels like an afterthought to the spectacle, and since his emotional thread is weak, our attention wanders to the supporting characters. It’s fun to hear a miscast, if game, Mariska Hargitay lend her Special Victims Unit cadences to a kindly salt-of-the-earth farm woman. And Dafoe’s gender-bending Cobb, who looks like Cher gone Brandon Lee--goth, is a terrific villain, even if he treads a bit too close at times to limp-wristed caricature.—Keith Uhlich
Watch the trailer