Hello, Spongey here.
Today we finally do something a bit different. But before I get to it, let’s talk about a book series from my childhood I’ve never mentioned before, Magic Tree House.
Created in 1992 (Same month as that OTHER book series I sometimes mention), and written by Mary Pop Osborene, this was a series of children’s books about two kids name Jack and Annie who stumble upon a magic tree house.
What does the magic do? Lets them travel through time. Yeah. The tree house belongs to Morgan Le Fay who is a good guy here. Long story short, Jack and Annie help her out, using the Tree House to do various tasks for her.
They get a bit larger in scale as the series goes on, especially when the series went from short paper book books, to longer hardcover adventures, which sometimes took them to mythical dangerous lands.
The thing that made the books appealing to kids is that they could be fun due to the adventure aspect, but also educational for obvious reasons. It didn’t exactly have huge adult appeal, but they are harmless breezy reads with some charm to them, especially the later ones.
I read them on and off as a kid, and read all of the original paperback run and a few from the Merlin Missions ones. But of course as I grew up I lost interests. I haven’t read one in years, but they are still going strong.
Despite not being as relevant as before, the series is going strong as of 2016 with 54 main series entries as of this entry. That’s some staying power. Back in the day, they were hugely popular with kids.
So why haven’t you seen too many adaptions? Well, there have been a few, but not the ones you’d expect. There was a musical for some reason, and a few other smaller things. A couple months again it was announced that Lionsgate got the right to possibly make a live action film of the series.
But there actually has been a film of the series. An animated one that came out in 2011. But here’s the thing: It came out in Japan.
That’s right, this is an Anime…based on an American book series. Wrap your head around that one. That’s what I’m here to discuss. Yes, I’m finally reviewing an anime. This may be or not be a terrible idea.
I haven’t done one before since there are better people to do that kind of thing. While I like plenty of films and shows, I don’t watch too many since I had a hard enough time catching up with American Animation!
I’m only doing this one since no one else cares about it and I’ve been curious about it since I heard about it. I’m not sure why this was made, but it was and we’ll see how it is. By the way, there’s no English Dub as far as I know, so we’re doing this subbed.
If you are wondering, I usually watch whatever version is easiest to find, I’m not picky. But I do usually go for the dub, so it’s weird when I don’t do that. No use in going into the creative team, as no one has has done anything too huge, not even the studio.
But given how knowledge I am about Japanese animation, I could be wrong on that. So will Japan be able to give us a solid adaptation of this series? Let’s find out.
This, is Magic Tree House
The movie opens in a huge library, as a woman is approached by these two kids named Teddy and Kathleen. And already I’ve found something interesting. In the books, Teddy and Kathleen are two apprentices who befriend Jack and Annie during their adventures and really help them out with magic stuff.
But they are introduced way later, and yet are among the first things we see in the film. Interesting.
Teddy has broken a vase that belongs to his Father, so the woman uses magic to fix it. Horray for not accepting responsibility for our actions!
The kids run off and the finds a random book on the ground, talking about four medallions found in various places. This was sort of in the books, but she knew about them, and it wasn’t a real McGuffin chase.
Then suddenly, Merlin appears out of nowhere and turns her into a Mouse, leading us into the title. Well, that did happen in the books. It was actually one of the big arcs, only it was a mouse they found and it being Morgan was not revealed until the end because twist.
And because the books were still small scale at that point, we didn’t see Merlin do it. It seems like this is our main conflict for the film and will be combined with the starting stuff. Hmm, I’m cool with this as it’s an efficient way to adapt the first arc and give us a simple conflict.
With that, we cut to our main characters, Jack and Annie while they are in school. Interesting, in the books we never really saw them at school, or really anywhere besides home while in the present. But again, it’s another thing to make it more cinematic, which is fine.
Annie comes in and shows off a frog which runs amuck. I must question her motivation for doing this, beyond being a dumb kid. After the most exciting frog case in the history of cinema, we cut to Jack and Annie walking home from school.
Apparently Annie likes befriending random creatures, but I still question why thought bringing a frog to Jack’s class like that was a good idea. Morgan the Mouse pops up, and before I can wonder how she ended up here of all places, Annie spots here and gives chase because she is just that curious, I guess?
To be fair, Morgan ran for no reason to begin this. She’s currently a rat, no one is gonna think anything of it. This is mostly a contrived way to bring them to the titular tree house. I guess just finding it randomly like in the books wasn’t really interesting enough.’
Annie is naturally curious and climbs up, forcing Jack to follow her. Yes, that happens with them a lot.
‘There are lots of Books here!”
That gets his attention. He goes inside and indeed finds a ton of books. Also, Annie names Morgan the Rat Peanuts. We already know who the rat is, so I won’t be using that name. I know you need to have a cool opening, but you could have not shown her becoming a rat.
Jack finds an interesting book on Dinosaurs.
“I wish I could go there”
Why would a shy smart want to be surrounded by ferocious beats like that? Besides, you’re just gonna find annoying never ending chatter added in at the last minute.
But just in the books, this is what makes the Magic Tree House spin a lot and after you all truly made a Doctor Who reference, it comes to a stop. They find themselves a new location and it actually takes them like a minute to figure out they are in the world of the Dinosaurs.
Now I wish I had Noddy with me to nitpick all the things they got wrong. Annie gets out of the tree house to approach a pterodactyl, because she wants me to make an obvious joke. Also, because she wants to cross the line between curious and stupid.
They’re lucky this one happens to be nice and not react to two humans popping up. Jack decides to write down their findings in a journal, which was a staple of the books. It was mostly used to help the kids keep track of the stuff they learned, but it works in story too I guess.
They took a look at at this magical world full of killer beasts, and not so killer beasts. This visit is more casual than I expected, but I’m sure something scary will happen soon. Jack finds a strange medallion with the letter M on it.
See, that’s what I taking about it. They find objects like that but there, they just happen to be things Morgan owned and that’s it. I suppose we need a bigger purpose for them here.
But since is the world of Dinosaurs, they have to be chased by a T-Rex. After a big chase, the pterodactyl helps them out, with Annie riding it. Annie riding a pterodactyl while Jack is being chased by a T-Rex.
After being saved by the pterodactyl ex machina, they safely make it back to the Tree House. In the book, the pterodactyl was actually Morgan, in disguise before she properly revealed herself to them.
But since she’s a mouse here, I wonder why that thing is so smart it was able to save them like that.
But despite leaving the T-Rex behind really far away on a cliff thing, he makes it to them in the span a minute to cause more trouble. They remember how they got there, and do a similar trick to get them back home, pointing to a picture and saying they want to go there.
It works and they make it back home. They certainly portrayed the dangerous Dinosaur World better than the book, where it’s more like an inconvenience then anything. The books in general didn’t have them in terrible danger too much, which is hwy it was good when they did, like the one where they end up on the Titanic with a Dog!
…Don’t ask. And no, it doesn’t rap.
They wonder who the heck would make such a tree house and why it’s even here. You’ll have wait until Book 4 to find, kids. Yeah, they split the series up into these Arcs, and this one wasn’t the best since it felt like a lot of it was pointless.
We then cut to Jack and Annie at dinner. Their parents were mentioned on the books, but never got any extended scenes from what I recall. But maybe they did something in the recent books, I don’t know.’
They don’t know about the tree house stuff, by the way. It’s a secret, and only certain people can see the thing anyway for reasons this film will hopefully explain. Kind of weird they never thought of breaking it to them even after 50 books of peril, but okay.
We then move on to more school antics.
“We’re going there after school, aren’t we? To the Magic Tree House!”
“Why is it called the magic tree house now?”
It’s more marketable than Time Traveling Tree House.
Annie suspects some kind of magician made the thing, so they sneak out there at night to get to the bottom of this. They find Peanuts reading a book talking about the 4 McGuffins and where they can be found. There are in places inside the book to place the medallions.
So now we have ourselves a goal to reach, onto of the kids just discovering the tree house and it’s secrets. It’s an efficient way to combine the first two arcs to make one story, I think. It seems like this will take us through the first 4 books too.
Because they really have nothing better to do than follow the advice of a random book a mouse read, they search for the book they can take them to the next location. The book mentioned a stone building, and once they find one in a book, they head off.
There are so many big stone buildings in history, that there has to be tons of books with one. It’s a good thing they conveniently pick the right one.
Spoilers, this is a world of knights. The book of this was honestly less exciting than it sounds, so hopefully this will be more interesting.
“Where do you think the iron man is?”
Insert obvious joke here.
They go inside the castle where they find the medal on a suit of armor. This after they get sidetrack by entering a room where a feast it, so it’s a good thing it happened to be where they weren’t headed to in the first place.
They get it but make so much noise that htye get caught.
“By which way did you enter?’
LINKARA: …Through the door. The door that’s right there. See the door?
Well, okay there was no door but there was an obvious spot to enter the room from. Some dudes chase them but Annie scares them off with this crazy futuristic torch called a flashlight. I’m sure that won’t screw up history at all.
They escape then insert their medal into another slot in the book. Then…Peanuts turns back into Morgan. …Wait, what? They didn’t get all 4 Medals yet, what kind of sense does this make?
Oh, she explains that the full moon turns back to normal for a moment. Whatever. I kind of wish they had them meet near the end of the journey, like in the books but ah well. They figure getting all the medals will turn her back to normal.
They ask Morgan how she knew her names, and she says “I’ve been-” before being turned back into Peanuts. And they wonder where she went. …Are these kids idiots or something? They can’t put 2 and 2 together?
Some more guys catch them and they escape through a secret passage. Then after a close call, it cuts to them back in their home town. We don’t even to see them go back through the tree house. Eh.
Also, where exactly were they? When were they? It mostly seemed to be just some generic knight castle, even though the rest of the series would usually explain where they are.
Anyway, we head back to school again as Jack wonders where the 3rd medal is. It says it’s in the “Boot empire”. Hmmm.
“I wonder if there was king named Boots”
If it’s the monkey from Dora, I accept him as my lord and savior.
Jack is approached by this girl he was shown to like earlier. This is another odd difference, as there were no love interest in the book, them being kids, and all. But we’ll see how this goes. The school is putting on Romeo and Juliet, and she is Juliet and wants him to be Romeo.
Oh my. And now for a creepy out of context line:
“It’s my first time too”
Jack says yes and he discusses this with Annie later. Dad randomly brings up that Italy is shaped like a boot and they immediately connect with the Boot empire thing. I don’t get the empire part.
“This area was part of the Roman Empire”
They go the Tree House and get whisked area to a certain town…called Pompeii. Whoops. They apparently don’t know their history and don’t question this. Even Morgan the Rat is like “NOPE” but they ignore her.
My problem is that while they go there at one point in the books, it was quite a bit later. Their 3rd adventure involved Egypt. Since they’ve been following the order, this detour is odd. Anyway, they arrive.
“Jack, I’m getting a bad feeling about this…”
Pfft, it’s nothing.
They walk through the town, learning stuff from the book they have. Guess they haven’t gotten to the whole Volcano section yet. The riddle book says the medal is in a path which water runs. Italy has no shortage of water, even at this point, so that could be a bit hard.
But they are able to find the medal hanging from some statue, so I guess it wasn’t too hard. I think I know what the hard part will be. After like a minute of build up, Jack climbs up and gets it.
But of course, right on cue, the Volcano rains on their parade. With Lava. There was slight up with a mention of small Earthquakes that they brushed off. Huh, I guess all the times in fiction where people brushed off important things, had some truth to it.’
Annie briefly runs off for a reason I forgot, which is dumb even for her. A Volcano is erupting and everyone is running like mad, meaning there’s an easier chance of being trampled on Black Friday!
She does fix that and they run off, and once we again we just cut back to home. That..was even dumber than the last time. Given how epic the situation is, wouldn’t it have been intense to see them try to go off in the tree house while that is going on?
But nope, they leave easily. And wait, this is only Medal 3 of 4, meaning there’s one location left. How the hell isn’t a big ass Volcano our big climax? The only thing that could possible top it is the Titanic, or some war, which I doubt they’d go far in this one.
Back at school, Jack is reading up on this and reads detail on how everyone who stayed in Pomeii died. Perfect Family Entertainment!
The girl from earlier approaches Jack about the play, but he randomly doesn’t wanna do it now, which makes her cry and call him a jerk. Uh, I don’t get it. He doesn’t explain her to why he’s not doing it, and it just ends before they can really explain anything.
It might be connected to the fact that their Pomeii adventure kind of depressed him a bit. I suppose, it’s underplayed so I have to gather this from the small bits we have. It seems like he hates he had to get so up close with a horrific disaster and there was nothing he could do to stop that.
Which is…pretty heavy. It’s a bit of Reality Ensues situation, which never really happened in the books. The gravity of some situations was felt but was also brushed off a bit. So it’s cool to see it address in some way.
This is confirmed in a dream sequence where he sees Annie pretty much burning alive. …Once again, Perfect Family Entertainment!
Jack finds out that Annie went out and he runs off to get her. He finds her in the tree house, as she has figured out the last riddle. Basically she figures their last stop if with Pirates. Okay, this was what the last book in the arc was about, but….isn’t a big step down from Pompeii?
Before Jack can even respond, she whisks them away to Pirate Land. Seriously, she even forgets all about Peanuts!
Jack really isn’t up for more adventures after last time, and Annie states the obvious reason why they should press on.
“It was impossible from the start. There’s no way Children like us could help other people….You don’t listen to a word I say. I was against this from the very start…”
Hmm, now this is interesting. For one, it gives us a bit more of an emotional pay off than we would have in the books, which is fine. And the stuff being brought up is interesting to, as Jack finally calls Annie out for dragging him into this without his say.
While some of it is him being a bit dumb (I mean, those people were sadly going to die anyway and it was so long ago), it is understandable enough. I do think he doesn’t realize that they were still able to get 3 out of 4 without too much trouble, which is not something to scoff at.
This upsets Annie so much she cries a lot and runs off. A bit over dramatic, but okay. Naturally, she spot some pirates nearby, singing the obligatory pirate shanty. It’s weird to hear one in Japanese.
As luck would have it, the medal is right in their treasure chest. Now that was fast. I like the introduction to Captain Bones, as he catches one of his goons trying to take his loot. It’s amusing and shows us he means business.
Jack is staying behind and not going after his sister who could likely get in danger because…reasons. Guess he’s too busy moping. Annie stows away and is taken Captain Bones’ ship.
She gets the medal pretty easily, but now the problem, is getting back. She is pretty much caught right away, and the reason she was caught is that she saw they had captured a dolphin and she wanted to save it.
Well, I learned that you shouldn’t save dolphins, or pirates will kill you.
Peanuts run back to Jacke to attempt to inform him of what happened. He eventually gets it and runs after Annie, who is now being forced to walk the plank. Um….they didn’t do that. That’s a dumb mistake to make in an adaptation of an educational series.
“Let the pirate style execution begin”
One last time: Perfect family Entertainment!
Jack tries to swim to the boat, which goes as well as you’d expect. But don’t worry, he is saved by the Dolphin! ….Seriously? That was the reason that bit was there, so this can turn into flipper?!
Jack comes in right before Annie can taste the sea.
“That be the Dolphin Earlier!”
…Think you missed a word, subtitle people.
“I be sendin’ ye to hell this very instant!”
….This is for children ,right?
Thankfully, Jack rescues her but Captain Bones is still around and threatens him.
“Prepare to see hell!’
Oh come on, again?! Is this a Japan thing?
“What the hell?”
Three times in a row!
That was uttered because Peanuts one guy, causing him to shoot a barrel full of Gunpowder. We then get an exciting chase, which ends when Captain Bones shoots Annie from a far.
…This is a touch more intense than the books. Thankfully, he only shot where the Medallion was, so she’s okay. A bit odd, but fine.
While the medal was strong enough to not break on impact and let the bullet hit skin, it’s not strong enough to survive as it breaks a bit soon after. Which means they can’t use it to save Morgan. …Whoops.
Just when Bones has the upper hand, his ship blows up from the gunpowder thing earlier, which sends them all flying. Not sure it took so long to fully happen but whatever.
…Then, out of nowhere, the medal magically fixes itself and puts itself in the book, which magically turns Morgan back to normal.
…I’m not sure exactly how that happened, or why this bit is placed in such an odd spot, but as usual I don’t care this late into the film. Also, for someone who was just a Mouse, she jumps back to her normal magic grind pretty quickly.
“There’s a way to bring forth a miracle, even without medallions”
“What would that be?”
“How did you think you were able to complete this mysterious adventure?”
She basically means with teamwork. Cool, but how the the medal fix itself? That doesn’t fit into this ‘they need each other” message.
With that, she brings them home with magic. Then…she thanks them and we cut! Yeah, we get no explanation as what her deal is, why she has that tree house, or anything! Maybe we’ll get an explanation in the remaining minutes, but not in the scene where it makes more sense!
Needless to say, they explain it all in the book, and the kids go on to be big helpers for her. This sort of implies it’s a one off thing and she’ll always remember them. A bit odd. But hey, at least we get to see the play!
That was the most important part, right?
Then, as if to answer me, we cut to Morgan back home. We are not told where home is, but spoilers, it’s Camelot. Then Merlin appears, and Morgan says that if she used magic to help the kids, things would have turned out differently.’
“I’m glad you understand’
Wait, you turned her into a Mouse to teach her some weird lesson? That seems a bit strange, cruel and kind of nonsensical when you think about it. Merlin did do it in the books, but they just say he’s a prankster than move on and let him be a good guy later.
I suppose Morgan agrees, so she brings up her spell book and magically brings up the next scene. I shudder as to what she did to Merlin. But first, a minor wrap up with Jack’s little girlfriend.
And then they spot Merlin as a mouse. Hardy har har. With that, they run back to the tree house.
“Let’s go! To the world of books!”
The end! Eh, a mostly okay ending in terms of tone, not so much in terms of story, as it’s rushed and leaves us with a few questions. But it’s a sort of nice set up for sequels we’ll never get, in this medium anyway.
As both an adaption and a film on it’s own, this was decent. Not exactly anything special, but enjoyable in it’s right. It has it’s share of problems, though.
The biggest problem comes in the 3rd act, as various elements don’t come together that well. Jack’s whole deal is nice but not exactly resolved beyond a tacked on moral about teamwork or whatever.
And like so many adaptations, they leave important things that answer possible questions. Except here it involves things we kind of need to know. All we know about Morgan is that she is from Camelot most likely and that’s roughly about it.
It’s kind of important to explain why she has a magic tree house in the middle of Pennsylvania.
I can let go of some things, but not really that. Aside from that, the main characters could have been developed a bit better, but they least have personality to speak of. With that said, I could sort of forgive certain flaws.
This is a movie for children, just like the books so some flawed elements can be forgiven a bit. It’s roughly in the spirit of the books in that regard. Speaking of, I think it’s fine as an adaption, It mostly captures the spirit and character, and does a fine job of making a bigger narrative out of the elements they had.
I’m even okay with the love interest, since she isn’t in it too much. Despite some grim elements, and four uses of hell, it mostly sticks to the books in terms of tone.
On it’s own, the story is pretty basic but it works for what it is, and they thrown in some other elements near the end to balance it all out. As I said, the main character writing could have been better, since they are the only one that matter, but they are likable enough.
I think the best element is the animation. While I’m not a big fan of the cutes-y main character design, the rest is really good. Each of the Time Period are portrayed very well and feel real. A lot of it feels big and there’s a real sense of wonder in a lot of scenes.
It certainly helps the 2nd half, where things get more epic than in the books, which mostly works.
Overall, the film is fine. It has some writing problems, and doesn’t explain everything, but is overall a charming enough kids movie with some very solid animation. It’s not amazing, and it could have been better, as it is, it’s fine, as an adaption, and on it’s own.
I do have hopes for the live action one, which I hope actually gets made. Could be fun. That’s all I got for this one.
Next time, we find out who is the crappiest of them all.