Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Blue Bird (1976)

          Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlink’s fantasy about peasant children drifting through a magical dreamworld, originally titled L’Oiseau blue, provided the source material for two silent films and an Oscar-nominated Shirley Temple movie in 1940, all bearing the English-language title The Blue Bird, before venerable director George Cukor helmed this full-color musical version in 1976. Whatever charms the piece has in its previous incarnations are absent from Cukor’s picture, however, which is awkward, dull, and vapid. The whimsical story has two kids whisked away to a trippy fantasyland by a fairy named Light (Elizabeth Taylor) in order to recover the Blue Bird of Happiness, which will enrich the life of a sick child living near the peasants.
          Accompanying the children on their adventure are personified versions of household items like bread and sugar and water, plus walking-and-talking incarnations of their pet cat (Cicely Tyson) and dog (George Cole). During their journey, the kids meet an obnoxious oak tree (Harry Andrews), a demonic creature called Night (Jane Fonda), a seductive woman representing all things luxurious (Ava Gardner), and even cranky old Father Time (Robert Morley). The sheer amount of hokum crammed into one story is numbing, as are the muddled aesthetics of Cukor’s version.
          The costumes are self-consciously artificial (Tyson wears a leotard, a scarf, and half-hearted cat makeup), the settings fluctuate indiscriminately between tacky sets and lush European forests (the picture was shot in Russia), and the songs are so cloying and insubstantial that they barely register as anything more than background noise. The young actors playing the leads (including Patsy Kensit, who years later costarred in Lethal Weapon 2) are weak, and the adults fail to impress—Cukor, who seems to think he’s making a glossy MGM musical in the ’30s, steers his cast toward florid line readings instead of performances, with only Cole offering a glimmer of characterization as a loyal puppy who digs being able to chat with his master.

The Blue Bird: LAME

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