Elijah Wood is the outstanding, but neglected child in North. Photo courtesy of an Elijah Wood fan site.
When I was younger, my mom told me this great bedtime story. It was about a bunny whose mother made her a homemade backpack for her to bring to the first day of school. But when the bunny saw some other animal's backpack (they're all anthropomorphic animals, I guess), the two traded backpacks. And the bunny keeps trading backpacks and she's still unsatisfied. She goes to a wise, old anthropomorphic animal and he helps her to get her original backpack that her mom made for her back.
Okay, the story was better coming from my mom. And I was five, so I wasn't too difficult to impress.
Anyway, I've always loved that story because I love the fact that the bunny was able to get her original backpack back in the end. Regrets can be reversed. I wished the real world was like that.
So even though my mom told me bedtime stories (I think that is the only one she's ever told me) and I lived in the suburbs (could've been worse, right?), I eventually had this phase where I wanted different parents. Now, I understand that most children don't really want different parents; they just want their original parents to be different, like, you know, not as annoying and demanding. You know, the usual. But I was 10. I didn't know the difference. I just wanted my parents to be different--different attitudes, different personalities, different jobs, different people, if that's what it takes.
It's a selfish, horrible thought, but a thought indeed.
Which brings me to Rob Reiner's 1994 family film, North. A critical and financial failure, the film tells the story of a young boy, North (Elijah Wood) who wants to emancipate ("divorce") himself from his parents (Jason Alexander, Julia Louis-Dreyfus--OMG I KNOW GEORGE AND ELAINE) who just don't appreciate him like everyone else does. He's an excellent student, athlete, and actor--so why can't his parents just stop screaming at each other at the dinner table and pay some attention to him?
After North is emancipated, he goes on a worldwide, two-month search for new parents. He goes to Texas, Hawaii, Alaska, an Amish community, China, Africa, France, and New York. Let the ethnic stereotypes, celebrity cameos (Kathy Bates, Reba McEntire, Dan Aykroyd, John Ritter, Faith Ford, etc.), random Bruce Willis appearances (as some sort of mentor who dresses for the occasion), nervous laughter, and "what the f---"s run loose!
Back at home, his parents are comatose and are displayed at the Smithsonian. Children across America are threatening their parents: if the parents don't fulfill their wishes (one kid commands him mom to clean his room for him), they will, like North, emancipate themselves.
This revolution is led by North's journalist friend, Winchell (Matthew McCurley), who is like 10 or something and he's this expert stalker (it's his job!) who gives these Hitler-esque speeches on podiums across the nation. I wonder what his parents think about that? Anyway, Winchell works with North's lawyer (Jon Lovitz) so they can take over America. Or something like that.
When North begins to have second thoughts (I don't want to actually spoil anything), Winchell tries to murder North because North getting new parents is the key of Winchell's success. The kids are listening to Winchell, and in turn, their parents (who are being threatened) are listening to the kids. Winchell even hires a hitman. Yeah, that's right, KIDS STUFF. I DON'T EVEN KNOW ANYMORE.
And why is North named North? Because that's a really, really strange name.
It's probably cliched if I wrote about all the problems with this movie and how horrible it is. So I won't do that. Mainly because I don't hate this movie and I don't even think it's horrible? The reason I wanted to see this movie for the longest time was because of Roger Ebert's infamous review. I bought the VHS from Amazon for $3 plus shipping. But good thing I ended up liking it, right? Sorry, Roger Ebert!
Honestly, I would be lying if I said I didn't like it. I actually think it's a very funny, sweet, touching movie, minus the jokes about the dead fat kid, dying old people, ancient Chinese hairstyles, barren wombs, Jerry Lewis dominating French television, the Amish, and topless African women. There are also weird sex jokes and unnecessary shots of prostitutes? I DON'T KNOW. The ethnic jokes are often awful and awkward, yet pretty harmless. However, I totally understand why many people would find the jokes offensive.
But I connect with the movie's message, which is pretty much that you don't appreciate what you have until you lose it. And that message is very personal to me. I guess I'm just being sentimental, but who said criticism was objective?
The opening scene conveys a sense of wonder that I haven't seen in recent children's films. Elijah Wood is particularly wonderful as North; he's just so natural, authentic, and convincing. Matthew McCurley is entirely too convincing as the full-blown evil mastermind in a child's body, but he manages to be very funny. And this movie is basically non-stop entertainment; even when there's a terrible joke being uttered, there is still something going on in the movie (the terrible joke being uttered). It's never boring.
So I like North. I also like Batman and Robin and Gigli. Oops? JUST BEING HONEST.