From the opening paragraph of Roger Ebert’s review of this unpretentiously sweet home-is-where-the-heart-is fantasy: “Secondhand Lions is about the uncles every boy should have, and the summer every boy should spend.” As written and directed by Tim McCanlies (who previously wrote The Iron Giant), Secondhand Lions is a fantastical lark that recalls the similarly themed Big Fish—though it’s nowhere near as aesthetically daring as the Tim Burton film, it’s no less alive with imagination and feeling. Walter (Haley Joel Osment) is dropped off by his flighty mother (Kyra Sedgwick) on a farm owned by his great-uncle’s Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine). The old men are apparently sitting on a small fortune, and everyone (from distant relatives to opportunist salesmen) is after a piece of it. McCanlies’s story and compositions have a storybook quality to them, and as such it makes sense that the older Walter (Josh Lucas) would transplant his childhood into a popular comic strip. Via a series of rhythmic montage sequences and clever sight gags (young Walter can’t eat his sausage and eggs because of the chicken standing on the huge pig by the kitchen door), McCanlies playfully evokes Walter’s adjustment to living with his uncles. Over time, the two old men spin tall tales about cross-continental adventures, daring warfare and tragic love affairs. The truth isn’t that far off, and it inspires the film’s characters to connect and protect their insular little world for outside invasions. Indeed, there’s no place like home.
Another top-of-the-line transfer from New Line Home Entertainment. The amount of grain visible throughout is surprising, but it's anything but a detraction. This is a film, not a video game, so grain gives any DVD transfer in our digital-happy times a little added personality. The Dolby Digital EX mix is beautifully balanced throughout. Dialogue is clear throughout and the ambiance is full-bodied.
Don't be intimidated by the speed with which Tim McCanlies talks on his commentary track. The writer-director has a distinctly psychological approach to the filmmaking process that's very humane and he talks at length about being able to shoot Secondhand Lions in sequence, and how that helped the three central performances. (Don't know how I feel about McCanlies generously promoting the fact that the gas station in the film was the same one used for New Line's remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre.) McCanlies also shares his thoughts over 11 deleted and alternate scenes, which also includes the film's original ending (no better, no worse really than the existing finale). "On the Set with Secondhand Lions" is a serviceable making-of featurette and "Haley Joel Osment: An Actor Comes of Age" takes a look at how the young actor's awkward, bourgeoning manhood contributed to the film's charm. The best of the disc's supplemental materials is "Secondhand Lions: One Screenplay's Wild Ride in Hollywood," which is ripe with brave potshots against New Line's sister company Warner Bros. for passing on a very protective McCanlies's screenplay. It's difficult for a script to be greenlighted in Hollywood, but this featurette shows how McCanlies persevered. Best anecdote: Paul Newman's agent passed on the script because "Paul doesn't play old." Rounding out the disc are two visual effects comparisons, a theatrical trailer, seven TV spots, and trailers for Elf and the upcoming Laws of Attraction.
No featurette overstays its welcome on this handsome Secondhand Lions DVD package, which should appeal to fans of Holes and Big Fish.