Jake is a young aspiring magician, who sees a famous magician perform a disappearing trick on TV. His imagination set afire, he’s dying to perform the trick at his 10th birthday party. But the celebration is in five days, and he still hasn’t perfected the disappearing act yet.
He practices and practices, but it looks unlikely he may not master the trick — until he finds a mentor of sorts who helps him along in his desire to become the best magician he can possibly be.
Directed by Paul and Simon Wade with a script from Simon, this very British short comedy is equal parts sweet and sharp: a fun, charming entertainment that lands a zing before the proceedings get too twee.
There’s a stylish quirkiness to the craftsmanship, with a faded, almost vintage look-and-feel to the photography and lighting. Reminding viewers perhaps of early Wes Anderson, the visuals emphasize offbeat details and an almost deadpan sense of composition and performance, adding a level of creative sophistication to a seemingly simple child’s story.
The pacing and editing move at a brisk clip, eschewing the deeply psychological and staying focused on Jake’s quest to master the disappearing trick. Like many hero’s journeys, he doesn’t quite get the hang of things until he gets some guidance from a higher, wiser source — and the encouragement to keep practicing and studying. Of course, this discipline and cheerleading come from within, though it’s externalized for the child protagonist — but eventually Jake learns that practice makes perfect.
In this case, though, perfection may be just a bit too perfect, as the ending of “Jake the Magnificent” upends the sweet sentimentality that most viewers may expect from a family film, finishing with a sharp little zinger of an ending that is both unexpected and ominously funny. But it’s not entirely unprecedented, falling into the category of children’s storytelling epitomized by writers like Roald Dahl, who imbued his tales with a mischievous sense of the macabre.
That same spirit exists in “Jake the Magnificent.” Children’s lives, after all, aren’t all entirely innocence, sweetness and light, and they soon learn that actions and desires have consequences that can be unexpectedly weighty — and perhaps mistakes and failures are fail-safes that allow us to grow gradually into our powers, instead of letting us wield responsibilities that we may not be quite ready for.