Okja is one of the strangest movies of this or any year in recent memory. You may have read about its high-profile debut at the Cannes Film Festival. I can’t imagine what audiences there made of this strange hybrid of family film, ecological satire, and farce. Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho is internationally renowned for such unusual fare as Mother, The Host, and Snowpiercer, but nothing could prepare viewers for this fable about a wide-eyed girl and her pet super-pig.

Yes, I said super-pig. An evil corporation run by neurotic Tilda Swinton has created twenty-six genetically enhanced porkers and sent them around the world to grow for ten years. The best animal will then be selected at a high-profile competition in New York City. There’s just one predictable hitch: the Korean girl who raises this gigantic creature (played by Seo Hyun-Ahn) treats him as a pet and falls in love with him. When the time comes for the big bad corporation to haul him away she is distraught.

On the surface this sounds like a movie that might entertain children and send a message about love and compassion…while taking a swipe at genetically modified animals and the way we control our food supply.

So why would such a film drop the “f” bomb so often? And what rationale determined that the key grown-ups would be portrayed so broadly? Swinton even gets to play twins, which makes her performance twice as strident. I can’t explain Jake Gyllenhaal’s approach to his role, as a once-famous animal-friendly TV personality; now he’s a frantic has-been and shameless sell-out.

It’s mildly clever that Paul Dano’s character, who heads an animal rescue operation, is also a bumbler…but even this aspect of Okja is heavy-handed and unfunny.

I’m not sure if I’d show this to any kids I care about. Several scenes involving animal abuse and a slaughterhouse would upset them almost as much as they did me.

Technically speaking, Okja is as much a marvel as Life of Pi, persuading us that this hippo-sized pig really exists… but that’s where the comparison ends. As I say, this is a very strange movie for any audience, young or old.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024