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Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder
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by Jay Seaver

"An adventure that (apologies in advance) doesn't come close to stinking."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: All things considered, "Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder" has got to be one of the least likely kids' film imaginable, and I can't help but imagine a scenario where I'm recommending it to friends and family members with young children and digging myself a bigger hole with everything I say about it. After all, it comes from the director of the earnest but kind of harsh (and crude) "Fatso" and is based on a series of books by Jo Nesbø, the writer of some blackly funny, but very adult, crime stories. It's also delightfully silly and high-spirited; the kids will love it.

After all, they'll probably empathize with Lise (Emilly Glaister), an ordinary girl in a quaint Oslo neighborhood whose next-door neighbor and best friend has just moved away and whose parents barely notice she's around. One neighbor moving out means another moving in, though, and in this case that's Nilly (Eilif Hellum Noraker), a tiny boy with messy hair who is as excitable and curious as Lise is shy, which leads them to investigate a cloud of smoke coming from the home of reclusive inventor Doctor Proctor (Kristopher Joner). He's down in the dumps, too, afraid he will never invent something useful, especially since his latest powder yields nothing but loud, odorless flatulence. The kids, naturally, think this is fantastic, especially once they discover that with enough, you can launch yourself in the air. At that point, it grabs the attention of the neighborhood's other inventor, the jealous Herr Thrane (Alte Antonsen)

How powerful is Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder? They eventually contact NASA. It's a thoroughly goofy and juvenile sort of set-up, but it's kind of a delight. There's something great about a kids' movie that acknowledges that farts are funny, and rides that without ever making it actually gross. As much as director Arild Fröhlich and screenwriter Johan Bogaeus milk the material, it's almost always done without being rude, which fits well with the colorful neighborhood that feels like a kid's playland - Proctor's house and lab has a slide, Thrane's has a secret underground lab, and everybody wears perfect colorful costumes. Even the bullies (Thrane's kids, of course) are sort of perfect movie bullies, pushing other kids around at their mean father's behest and kind of sad when it means they get left out of stuff. There's danger in the form of a great big snake living in the sewers - animated with the sort of style that will never have it confused for the real thing - and some slimy situations, but it's almost all in fun.

It helps a lot to have a couple of charming kid actors up front. Eilif Hellum Noraker plays Nilly with unsinkable energy without ever getting hyperactive, and though it's a bit of a one-note performance, it's one he hits well, getting through a lot of silly material with a straight, happy face and making every goofy bit funnier. Emily Glaister might be a year or two older and has a slightly more complicated character, but she's also a delight in how she gets Lise to go from this droll, kind of sad kid to sharing a lot of Nilly's enthusiasm. Meanwhile, Kristoffer Joner is kind of great as Doctor Proctor, managing to make the guy both kind of timid and deadpan. It's absolutely believable that he lets these kids drag him along while still getting some funny lines in, and he really wears the heartbreak established in a flashback well.

That flashback scene runs the risk of being perhaps a little too earnest and sad; a lot of the movie runs on a sort of kid logic, and the tragedy of how much time Proctor has perhaps wasted is a little heavier than that. Of course, that can also be seen as what makes the movie a little more than disposable, a contrast between kids who see something wonderful in an invention that seems to have no practical use whatsoever and adults who are, in various different ways, just going through routines. Fröhlich and company don't see the need to bring this up explicitly, instead having fun with kids flying through the air on their own wind, shooting off cannons for the holidays, and dealing with giant snakes in a way that's close to pure fun.

(Fair warning for parents who raise their kids right and show them subtitled movies rather than likely-terrible dubs as soon as they can handle it: Scandinavian folks seem a bit less uptight about a little bad language getting into their kids' movies than Americans, leading to a moment early on that had "morons" as the subtitle for a different word beginning with "m". I laughed at this, but I don't have kids.)

Since I don't have kids, I don't know how much weight my recommendation holds, but this sure seems like something elementary schoolers would go for - and for all I know, Nesbø's books are popular enough that American studios are leaving money on the table by not trying to distribute this. Just remember, when it finally does become available - you might want to wait until they're a little older before showing them the other stuff this team has done.

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originally posted: 09/07/14 03:57:41
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

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