A Wizard's Tale

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
A Wizard's Tale Movie Poster Image
Chaotic fairy tale has dated stereotypes and messages.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 97 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Intended to entertain rather than to educate.

Positive Messages

The core message appears to be that romantic love is the key to happiness. Characters also debate whether happy endings really exist. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Princess Dawn is a stereotypical female; she plays helpless, anxious to get married. She doesn't want to lead her country as queen if she has to do it alone; she'd rather wait until her prince arrives. Sometimes when she's expected to be contributing to the quest, she's filing her nails. Other times, she's powdering her nose, batting her eyelashes, or embroidering. She's encouraged to do her job as queen with the words, "Look at the pretty crown, dear!" She makes many references of hoping/expecting the boy to rescue her, and he often does; at least, by movie's end, she also saves the boy (albeit with a kiss).

Violence & Scariness

Recurring moments of cartoon violence include large stones falling on characters, characters falling from heights and crashing into the ground, the villain being singed by a fire-breathing dragon -- none of which cause permanent damage. The villain shoots magic lightning bolts out of his fingertips. Kingdom catches fire, but no signs of damage later. A teen is pushed into oncoming traffic (he's unharmed). A ball smacks a boy in his privates (played for laughs). Stubborn donkey is pulled by the ears to try to get him to move; he has a bandage on one ear to indicate that he's been hurt before by this practice. Balloon creatures are shot with arrows and deflate to a death-like state but are then patched up and as good as new. Fantasy creature knowingly allows characters to be put in peril because he's bored; he eats popcorn while watching them run for their lives. Christmas trees are made into frightening monsters with bad intentions. A spell cast on Princess Dawn makes her depressed -- crying frequently and wailing that no one loves her. 

Sexy Stuff

Love and romance drive the story. Several kisses are shared as a sign of true love. Plot indicates that love equals happiness; a breakup transforms an upbeat, positive person into a malcontent who makes everyone else equally unhappy. Princess Dawn's sole focus is to find and marry a prince, and she's the pursuer, which is intended to be funny. When one character removes a suction-cup dart from another's behind, he says, "No touching the merchandise, baby"; moments later, he's called a "chauvinist pig" by the villain's minions. 

Language

"Sucks." Name-calling words used include "bozo," "buffoon," and "dumb." 

Consumerism

A kingdom under siege comically retaliates using a Twitter-like social media product with the familiar bluebirds and hashtags. The Los Angeles Times newspaper is shown.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

While visiting a balloon kingdom, Princess Dawn and other characters sip on helium "drinks" in a helium bar; they exhale smoke rings. Princess Dawn is given a concoction that one character declares is "making her loony." She giggles a lot, rolls on the floor, and stares into space while eating daisies. The bartender explains he added "caffeinated oxygen shots to her serving." 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Wizard's Tale is an animated fantasy adventure based on Here Comes the Grump, a trippy cartoon series that ran on NBC from 1969 to 1970. Several throwback elements are incorporated into the film, including a psychedelic sequence, a helium bar where patrons blow smoke rings and act "loony," and a princess without much agency who thinks more like Snow "Someday My Prince Will Come" White than Moana. The story's focus is on finding (and losing) romantic love: The princess believes that her life's purpose is to marry a prince, and a wizard becomes hateful when he believes his girlfriend left him and tries to impose his unhappiness on everyone else. Both characters sort of evolve, but only after 75 minutes of going down those stereotypical roads. Kissing as a symbol of true love is frequently discussed and sometimes seen. Both main characters experience the death of a loved one, although it may not be clear to younger viewers that the deaths occurred. While the characters are often in peril, the movie feels more like a Saturday morning cartoon than anything else, with slapstick violence and evil minions that look like Q*bert -- it's all so silly that the scariness doesn't stick. Language includes "sucks" and insults like "bozo," "buffoon," and "dumb." 

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What's the story?

In A WIZARD'S TALE, an enthusiastic new wizard's happiness spell goes awry. As punishment, the angry king secretly banishes the wizard's girlfriend, Mary (voiced by Amy Thompson), from Groovynham. Sad and disillusioned, the wizard becomes "Grump" (Ian McShane), a nasty troll who retaliates by zapping the citizens of Groovynham into "gloom." Decades later, Mary's grandson, Terry (Toby Kebbell), accidentally travels to the magical land. To get back home, he must complete a quest alongside marriage-obsessed Princess Dawn (Lily Collins).

Is it any good?

This animated fairy tale is an attack on the senses: wild, bright color schemes; fantastical characters constantly moving and bouncing; and abrasive voice acting. It's pretty annoying if you're an adult, but it's in line with programming for younger kids -- think Teletubbies meets Yo Gabba Gabba. If only the messaging were more appropriate for such young viewers. Saying that love is the key to happiness makes sense: There's love of family, love for yourself, a pet, neighbors, even enemies. But promoting the idea that romantic love is the key to happiness -- that unless you have a significant other, you're a "grump" who's trying to push frustration and misery on those around you -- isn't constructive, useful advice for children.

It's almost as if A Wizard's Tale was written in a different era -- and, in a sense, it was. The movie was inspired by a long-forgotten one-season cartoon series called Here Comes the Grump that ran on NBC in the fall of 1969; reportedly, it was canceled because it didn't fit in with the network's direction to be "socially conscious." A princess who prefers to be helpless and can only be talked into becoming queen before she's married because "the crown is pretty" is such an antiquated representation of women that it's hard to believe the movie's script was written recently. Why filmmakers thought it was a good idea to revive this story is as confusing as the film's plot. The events are hard to follow, and key moments are shrouded in such subtlety that kids may not understand what's going on or why. Some dialogue that could make the plot clearer is whispered, mumbled, or just hard to understand. Collins may have intended her take on Princess Dawn to be whimsical, but it doesn't work; conversely, Kebbell's warm sincerity as Terry is the soothing safe harbor among the chaos.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about A Wizard's Tale's messages. What did the movie imply is the key to happiness? Do you agree? What makes you happy now? What do you think might make you happy in the future?

  • Princess Dawn chooses to be a damsel in distress, eagerly hoping a prince will rescue her. Is that a stereotype? How does it differ from the way princesses tend to be depicted in movies these days? How does Dawn evolve over the course of the movie?

  • Grim has a very bad day, during which everything he'd been dreaming of accomplishing blows up in his face. How does he handle adversity? What are better ways to cope with disappointment and loss?

  • Had you heard of the show that inspired this movie? If not, are you interested in watching it now?

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