A. O. Scott

The movie, like the book before it, is an expertly built machine for the mass production of tears. Directed by Josh Boone ‘Stuck in Love’, with scrupulous respect for John Green’s best-selling young-adult novel, the film sets out to make you weep – not just sniffle or choke up a little, but sob until your nose runs and your face turns blotchy. It succeeds.

Those reliable axioms about the taste and expectations of the mass movie audience are not so much laws of nature as artifacts of corporate strategy. And the lessons derived from them conveniently serve to strengthen a status quo that increasingly marginalizes risk, originality and intelligence.

Recently, I took my son to see The Haunted Mansion, which was one of the worst things (I hesitate even to call it a movie) that I have ever seen. He thought it was better than Finding Nemo and we had a fruitless argument which I’m sure made him acutely aware of the disadvantages of having a film critic for a dad.

The silliness-much of which is clearly intentional-is blended with some genuine grandeur. The Pixar touch is evident in the precision of the visual detail and in the wit and energy of Michael Giacchino’s score, but the quality control that has been exercised over this project also has a curiously undermining effect. The movie eagerly sells itself as semitrashy, almost-campy fun, but it is so lavish and fussy that you can’t help thinking that it wants to be taken seriously, and therefore you laugh at, rather than with, its mock sublimity.

My fellow critics and I may occasionally fault a movie for departing, in detail or in spirit, from its literary source, but the grousing of a few adult pedants is nothing compared to the wrath of several million bookish 10-year-olds. Their presumed demands, and the hovering spirit of Harry’s creator, J. K. Rowling, inhibit this movie as it did the first Potter film.