Mini-Review: The Famous Five 4 (Fünf Freunde 4)

As mentioned in my review of the most recent film of this series, learning of the existence of this long-running book-series and subsequent frequent television and cinematic adaptations was rather a revelation. When all is said and done for those unfamiliar with the stories one could look at them kind of like The Hardy Boys plus a pair of Nancy Drews, one a tomboy and one not, with a resourceful Lassie-like dog rounding out the quintet.

Considering that that this is fourth in a series you immediately run in to one positive and one negative: first, as its clear the actors have aged and matured their storylines and characters have as well. The makers of this series rather than recasting their talented bunch have remained realistic avoiding one pitfall the book series seems to have embodied per J.K. Rowling when previewing further Potter books “in book four the hormones are going to kick in – I don’t want him stuck in a state of permanent pre-pubescence like poor Julian in the Famous Five!”

However, the comments on the book series that seem to have come to roost are those about recycled plots and structures. More so than any other film in this series this film seems to most transparently telegraph the very thinly-veiled ulterior motives of characters leaving far fewer surprises in store for the viewer if any. Taking the story to Egypt can add a lot of intrigue and raise stakes but there is little of that and not much overly-unique in the premise here.

Not that this was ever a series that reinvented the wheel but so much of this particular installment on the face of it seemed derivative of other works or redressed self-cannibalized plot points from the past. It doesn’t even move quite as well as the prior installments.

The constants are there, the kids are all right, and there is another very capable new kid on the block (Omid Memar) joins the fray. It’s a film that could be viewed out of continuity if you wanted to, but I’d not recommend it. If interested get to the start of the series, die hards only need apply here.


Review: The Famous Five 3 (Fünf Freunde 3) (2014)

When you dig around through international releases long enough it becomes quite interesting to discover what films, books, shows, music, etc. register abroad that may not have quite such an impact in your home culture. Such is the case of The Famous Five series.

Prior to discovering this current incarnation of these cinematic adaptations I was unfamiliar with the series and author Enid Blyton both. As it turns out both this series and her works continue to be very popular both in her abroad and in her native England. Though she died in 1968 she was one of the top 10 selling authors in the UK during the first 10 years of the 21st century. Her film adaptations to date have been all overseas. The first two were serials in 1957 and 1964 in the UK. Then in 1969 and 1970 there were two adaptations in Denmark. The current German series is the most prolific and most profitable at the box office to date.

I went into part three blind to all these facts, as well as to the cinematic backstory that accompanied these films. Therefore, I backtracked to be better able to appraise these films on their own merits, including how this particular film worked in conjunction with the other two.

The Famous Five feature a familiar formula of smart kids who get embroiled in mysterious capers by chance or insistence and save the day. The fact that there are two boys, two girls and an extra-smart dog make the best of The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Rin Tin Tin rolled into one.

The Famous Five 3 (2014, Beta Cinema)

In this particular installment the villainous foils that go up against our intrepid heroes are perhaps the least successful in the series to date Nick (Michael Kessler) and Cassi (Nora van Waldstätten) don’t successfully balance over-the-top humor and actual menace.

As is the case with these, and many other sequels in franchises the world over, the obligatory new character, Joe (Davina Weber), works here and the love interest plot is not so much of an issue as it can be. Also, the updating of the character from the books making her Thai rather than Romany, is an appropriate modernization.

An interesting thing about the progression of this series is that in each it has seemed to be the turn of one of the four leads to shine. Considering the first film was all the kids meeting George (Valeria Eisenbart) that was very much her breakout, in the second film circumstances pushed Dick (Justus Schlingensiepen) to the fore. In the third installment Julian (Quirin Oettl) emerges with the key, dramatic scenes and mostly acquits himself very well.

Ultimately, The Famous Five 3 is an agreeable third installment to the series that is fairly enjoyable. It doesn’t quite reach the level that the first two films did in terms of balancing peril, adventure and humor; however, it doesn’t completely derail the series. It also has some good reversals of fortune and could easily segue into another installment.