Category Archives: Children’s Films

Toy Story 4-2019

Toy Story 4-2019

Director-Josh Cooley

Voices-Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts

Scott’s Review #966

Reviewed December 10, 2019

Grade: B

Toy Story 4 (2019) is the fourth installment in the Pixar/Disney produced Toy Story series, now nearly twenty-five years old! The glitter is beginning to fade on a once endearing franchise and hopefully this is the last one- additional segments are not needed unless desperation develops.

After a slow start and too many retread moments, the film shows bombast and familiar heart and tenderness in the finale, presumably wrapping up the lengthy story with a neat bow. The animation is vivid and colorful, almost astounding, making up for an unnecessary story.

In a flashback sequence, nine-years after Toy Story 2, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is donated to a new owner and Woody (Tom Hanks) begrudgingly decides to maintain his loyalty to owner, Andy. Years later and now a teenager, Andy donates a forgotten Woody to a young child named Bonnie, who lacks the affection for the toy that Andy had. When Bonnie makes and bonds with Forky, a toy made of plastic, Woody struggles to convince Forky that each is more than garbage.

When Bonnie and her parents embark on a summer road trip to an amusement park, Woody and other familiar faces are along for the ride. The group meets other forgotten toys, some benevolent and some sinister, at the park and a nearby antique store. Woody’s dear friend and comic relief, Buzz (Tim Allen), is in the mix and helps all the toys realize that they are not forgotten, and that they can still bring joy to children.

The film provides an unwieldy list of celebrities in major and minor roles. The incorporation of characters like Chairol Burnett, Bitey White, and Carl Reineroceros (voiced naturally by Carol Burnett, Betty White, and Carl Reiner) may not be necessary, but it’s fun to watch the credits roll and see who’s who from the cast. The minor characters are little more than window dressing, but the creativity is admirable.

The main story of abandonment, loyalty, and discarding of one’s toys is ample and nice, but has occurred in every segment thus far in the series. Do we need to see this again? Yes, it is an important message for both children and adults, but why not simply watch the first three installments of Toy Story, each brilliant in their own right? Ty Story 4 plays by the numbers with little surprises.

One glaring notice is how almost every single adult is either incompetent or played for laughs. I get that the main draw is the toys and outsmarting the adults is half the fun, but when Bonnie’s father assumes his navigation system is on the fritz, rather than catching on to the fact that one of the toys is voicing the system, one must shake his or her head. Suspension of disbelief is required more and more in these types of films.

Toy Story 4 picks up steam in the final twenty minutes with a thrilling adventure through the amusement park and a cute romance between Woody and Bo Peep. When long forgotten toy Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) emotionally rescues a lost child, she is rejuvenated and breathes new life into both the child’s life and her own. In a darling moment, Forky meets another creation named Knifey. Knifey suffers from the same existential crisis as Forky once did, and Forky immediately becomes smitten with her, both realizing that even though they are odd looking, they still matter.

The nice lesson learned is that even toys from the 1960’s and 1970’s can provide warmth and comfort to a young child and are more than “of their time”. This is a clear and bold message that correlates with human beings and how advanced age does not come with an expiration date. Everyone matters and brings importance. The overlying theme is heartwarming and central to the film, bringing it above mediocrity.

What should certainly be the final chapter in a tired franchise that continues to trudge along, the bright message and strong animations remain, but the film feels like a retread. Given that Toy Story 3 was made in 2010, Toy Story 4 (2019) needs to bring the series to a conclusion before installment 5, 6, 7 or 8 results in dead on arrival.

Mary Poppins-1964

Mary Poppins-1964

Director-Robert Stevenson

Starring-Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke

Scott’s Review #965

Reviewed December 9, 2019

Grade: A-

Mary Poppins (1964) is a lovely Walt Disney production that shines with zest and an ample supply of good, cheery tunes. A family affair, it will hardly disappoint, with sing-along’s and enchanting story for miles. It’s tough to knock a film that has it all, but it does border on sickeningly sweet wholesomeness at times with too much schmaltz mixed in. This can easily be forgiven because of the robust music, dazzling visual effects, and perfect casting, making the film enjoyable entertainment for all to enjoy.

The Banks family reside in London, England, the foursome consisting of George and Winifred Banks, along with children Jane and Michael. They live a comfortable and happy upper-middle class existence. When their nanny quits after the children run away to chase a kite, the panicked George requests a stern, no nonsense nanny, while the children (now returned home) desire a kind, sweet one. Through the marvel of magic, a young nanny (Julie Andrews) descends from the sky using her umbrella. Mary Poppins teaches the children to enjoy chores through tunes with the help of a kindly chimney sweep, Bert (Dick Van Dyke).

Mary Poppins cheerily take the children on several adventures teaching them valuable lessons along the way. The drama created involves light situations such as the irritable George threatening to fire the nanny because she is too cheerful, or a mini-scandal at the bank where George works. These side stories are trivial and nonthreatening since the film is really about the antics of the magically odd nanny and her relationship with the children.

The film is unique in that it combines live-action with animation so that the result feels magical and inventive. This is most evident during sequences that feature animals, especially the superb scene where Mary Poppins transports Bert, Jane, and Michael into a picture where they ride a carousel and leisurely stroll the day away. The appearance of horses and a fox makes the scene both beautifully crafted and filled with joy.

The casting could be no different and is flawless across the board. Standouts are Andrews and Van Dyke, the former appearing in her very first film role. Not to be usurped by her most iconic role as Maria in the following year’s brilliant The Sound of Music (1965), Andrews possesses a benevolent and delightful spirit which works perfectly in the role, to say nothing of her powerful voice. Van Dyke as the romantic interest, is equally well-cast, and together the chemistry is easy and apparent.

Mary Poppins was met with critical acclaim when it was released, during a time when Disney ruled the roost and musicals were a dime a dozen. It received a total of 13 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture – a record for any film released by Walt Disney Studios – and won five: Best Actress for Andrews, Best Film Editing, Best Original Music Score, Best Visual Effects, and Best Original Song for “Chim Chim Cher-ee”. This was quite a feat as the film was up against My Fair Lady (1964), a similar film, which won the biggest prize of the year.

Rated G and a box-office success, Mary Poppins (1964) is a legendary Walt Disney film that uses creative techniques and musical numbers to develop a fine finished product. The song standouts are “A Spoonful of Sugar”, “Chim Chim Cher-ee”, and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, as each offers candy for the ears and immeasurable fun. The classic songs and the cohesive sentimentality make this one easy to enjoy with repeated viewings.

The Sword in the Stone-1963

The Sword in the Stone-1963

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Voices-Sebastian Cabot, Karl Swenson

Scott’s Review #896

Reviewed May 10, 2019

Grade: B

The 1960’s, while not known as the very best of decades for Walt Disney productions, offers a small gem of a film in The Sword in the Stone (1963). The film, flying marginally under the radar, is not typically well-remembered but is a solid offering, mixing elements of magic and royalty within a cute story. The production holds the dubious honor of being the final Disney animated film to be released before Walt Disney’s death.

While the film is not great, neither is it bad. Engaging and innocent it does not offer the ravaging tragedy of Bambi (1942), the emotion of Dumbo (1941) nor the beauty of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). What the Sword in the Stone does offer is an adventure with an appealing lead character, mildly entertaining supporting characters and a whole host of fun antics enshrouded around education.

Set during ancient times, the King of England has died, leaving no heir to the throne. This elicits peril and worry since with no successor in place, the country is doomed for war. One day a miracle occurs and an odd “Sword in the Stone” appears inside a sturdy anvil in London, with an inscription proclaiming that whoever removes it will be the new king.

Despite a myriad of attempts none of the strong townsmen succeed and England is reduced to the Dark Ages, leaving the sword and the stone forgotten. When one day a twelve-year-old lad named Arthur appears, he teams up with his tutor, Merlin the wizard, and the adventures commence. Inevitably Arthur can remove the sword from the stone and will go on to lead the Knights of the Round Table, accomplishing many amazing feats and becoming one of the most famous figures in history- King Arthur.

The Sword in the Stone entertains and pleases the eyes in many regards with vibrant colors and an array of bells and whistles creatively interspersed throughout a myriad of scenes. The main villain of the story, Madam Mim, is Merlin’s main nemesis. Haggard and dripping with black magic powers, she can turn from a pink elephant into a queen with the flick of her wrist as she giggles and prances about. Despite being dastardly she is also fun and zany and delights in her brief screen time.

The whimsical antics of Merlin are the best aspects of The Sword in the Stone as the senior gentleman bursts and bumbles from one oddity to another in earnest attempts to aid Arthur. Thanks to clever writing an educational angle is a robust incorporation to the story. Merlin can see into the future, at least in glimpses, such as knowing that the world is round not flat. What a great learning tool the film provides for young kids to discover.

The story risks playing too amateurish in some parts where I can see children under the age of twelve enthralled but adults finding the film too childish to take seriously. Despite my best efforts to stay tuned I noticed tidbits of the film that seem too cute for me. When Merlin and Arthur are turned into squirrels and strike the fancy of adorable but clueless female squirrels, the scene seems best catered to very young audiences.

What would give the film some bombast would be a good solid theme song or a powerful love story. Both aspects, able to solidify a hit for Disney, are glaringly missing. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs contains the lovely “Someday My Price Will Come” while Snow White and the Prince offer a rich love story. While good, The Sword in the Stone can reach only second tier of Disney classics, missing the upper echelon with only so-so musical offerings.

A slight miss is the way Arthur’s voice changes back and forth from child to teenager going through puberty and this is drastically noticeable. The reason, rather perplexing when analyzed, is that three different actors were used to play Arthur resulting in some consistency issues. Why not just use one actor or age the character slowly and gradually deepen his voice? The back and forth feels sloppy.

At the end of the day the criticisms targeted at The Sword in the Stone (1963) are minor and forgivable as the film plays above average graded on its own terms. The film has a nice message for children about the importance of education and is a wonderful delight best served to the whole family.

Lady and the Tramp-1955

Lady and the Tramp-1955

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts

Scott’s Review #894

Reviewed May 5, 2019

Grade: A-

Released mid-way through a decade of prosperity, Lady and the Tramp (1955) is a lovely production representing an innocent time that still holds up well decades later. A Walt Disney film, the story, animations, and characters are charming with a wholesome yet sophisticated vibrancy. A year in the life of its main character (Lady) never was more richly created providing adventure, romance, and fun for the entire family.

During the turn of the twentieth century, presumed to be somewhere in the mid-western part of the United States, John Dear gives his wife Darling a Cocker Spaniel puppy that she names Lady. The couple are immediately smitten with Lady providing her with all the comforts of warm and lavish country living. As months go by the Dear’s become pregnant causing Lady to feel left out. When the baby arrives and the Dear’s go on a trip, their dog hating, and incompetent Aunt Sarah arrives, leaving poor Lady at risk for her life.

Meanwhile, a stray mixed breed named Tramp prowls the streets protecting his friends and avoiding the dog catcher. He dines on Italian leftovers at Tony’s and lives his own idyllic life, proud not to be owned, able to live on his own terms. He befriends Lady through mutual acquaintances Jock and Trusty who reside nearby. When Lady faces peril the duo embark on an exciting escapade that leads them to a dog shelter and a farm as they begin to fall in love with each other, eventually resulting in a candlelit dinner for two at Tony’s, the highlight of the film.

Each of the animal characters is a treasure and voiced appropriately providing Lady and the Tramp with life and good zest. Tramp is gruff yet lovable with a “footloose and collar-free” outlook, charming and bold in his determinations. The voice of Lady is the polar opposite- demure, feminine and proper. Her voice is cultured without being too snobbish. In supporting roles, Tramp’s fellow strays Peg (a Pekingese) and Bull (a bulldog) possess a New York street-savvy that is perfect for their characters.

Besides Aunt Sarah, the dog catcher, and a hungry rat, Lady and the Tramp contains no villains and each of these characters are somewhat justified in their motivations. The rat just wants to eat, the dog catcher is doing his job, and Aunt Sarah, a cat lover with two Siamese pets, is foolhardier and more clueless rather than dastardly. She can be forgiven for wanting Lady to have a muzzle because she misunderstands Lady’s intentions towards the newborn baby. These characters are more comical than deadly and Si and Am add mischievous shenanigans to further the plot along.

The heart of the film belongs to the sweet romance between Lady and Tramp. The two dogs immediately appeal to the audience with instant chemistry. The “Footloose and Collar-Free / A Night at the Restaurant / Bella Notte” medley is the best of the song arrangements as the duo share a delicious plate of spaghetti and meatballs. In the film’s most iconic and recognizable scene the pair lovingly munch from the same spaghetti noodle- if that is not love then what is?

Lady and the Tramp (1955) is a charmer containing innocence, vivid colors and a rich, welcoming story. Beginning on Christmas and ending exactly a year later, Lady and Tramp’s wonderful journey is topsy-turvy, but culminates in the birth of a litter of puppies cheerily celebrating life. The happy ending is a perfect bow on a Disney film that is enchanting, harmless, and inspiring. The quintessential American love story between the pampered heiress and the spontaneous, fun-loving pup from the wrong side of the tracks — has rarely been more elegantly and entertainingly told.

Song of the South-1946

Song of the South-1946

Director-Harve Foster, Wilfred Jackson

Starring-James Baskett, Billy Driscoll

Scott’s Review #893

Reviewed May 4, 2019

Grade: B+

Song of the South (1946) is a Walt Disney film buried in the chambers of cinema history, reportedly an embarrassment never too soon forgotten by the legendary producer and his company. The reason for the ruckus is numerous overtones of racism that emerge throughout an otherwise darling film. Admittedly the film contains a racial cheeriness that cannot be interpreted as anything other than condescension to black folk and numerous stereotypes abound.

The mysterious appeal of the film during modern times is undoubtedly because of the surrounding controversies that hopefully can be put aside in favor of a resounding positive message and glimmering childlike innocence that resonates throughout the course of the film. The hybrid choice of live action and animation is superlative, eliciting a progressive never before seen, experience that would be shameful to be spoiled amid the surrounding controversies.

Taking place during the Reformation Era in Georgia, United States of America, a period of American history shortly after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the film has quite the southern flavor and feel. Seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) is excited to visit his grandmother’s (Lucile Watson) lavish plantation outside of Atlanta along with his mother, Sally (Ruth Warrick), and father (Erik Rolf). He is soon devastated to learn that his father is to return to Atlanta for business, leaving Johnny behind.

Johnny plots to run away from the plantation and return to Atlanta but develops a special friendship with kindly Uncle Remus (James Baskett) who enchants the young boy with sentimental lesson stories about Br’er Rabbit and his foils Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. Drama ensues when Johnny feuds with two poor neighbor boys and develops a friendship with their sister, Ginny. He also forms a close bond with Toby, a young black boy who lives on the plantation.

Thunderous applause must go to the creative minds who thought of the idea of mixing the animations with the live action drama which results in positive and compelling effect. As Uncle Remus repeatedly embarks on a new story for Johnny to listen to the audience knows they will be transported into a magical land of make-believe as a clear lesson results from these stories.

Uncle Remus is an inspiring character- extremely rare to find a black character written this way in 1946. Often black characters were reduced to maids, butlers, farm-hands, or other servant roles. While the film does not stray the course with casting these roles aplenty, including Uncle Remus himself, his character is different because he is beloved by little Johnny and respected by the grandmother, treated as part of the family. His opinion counts for something and not merely dismissed as rubbish.

The musical soundtrack to Song of the South is particularly cheery and easy to hum along to. The most recognizable song is “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” which reoccurs several times throughout the feature. The best rendition is at the end of the film when the mix of live action and animation culminates with the sing-along. My favorite appearance is when the “blue bird” referenced in the lyric comes into play resting on one character’s shoulder, true to the lyrical content.

The accusations of racism are justified as keen viewers will understand the condescension towards blacks in several scenes. More than once a parade of black people is seen traipsing through the plantation, singing songs, not exactly cheerfully but not despondent either. The scenes have eerie slavery overtones- despite the black character’s all presumably being free to come and go, the reality is they all work for white folk. The black plight and struggle are completely sugar-coated and feels dismissed.

The animated characters are voiced by strong ethnic voices and are presumed to be ridiculous. The usage of a Tar-Baby character, completely enshrined in black tar seems offensive almost teetering on the implication of promoting a blackface, minstrel show moment as the character, once white, is then turned black because of the tar. Song of the South is not the only film of its time to face racist accusations- the enormous Gone with the Wind (1939) and Jezebel (1938) faced similar heat.

Song of the South (1946) is recommended for those who can recognize the racism that exists throughout the film but also can appreciate the films artistic merits. Wise and resounding friendships between white and black characters are evident as is a lovely story about determination, fairness, and respect. The film should be both treasured for its nice moments and scolded for its racist overtones.

Dumbo-2019

Dumbo-2019

Director-Tim Burton

Starring-Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green

Scott’s Review #889

Reviewed April 24, 2019

Grade: C+

Dumbo (2019), the live action remake of the charming and emotionally charged animated original from 1941 contains some positives but ultimately underwhelms coming up with less than a stacked deck. The problematic and gnawing element that persisted throughout the Disney film was too much of a cute or child leaning quality for my taste. Assuredly though for an afternoon at the theater with young children under the age of twelve the film is a recommended fun activity and utterly appropriate.

My expectation, knowing that Tim Burton was at the director’s helm, was for a darker, perhaps murkier interpretation given some in his catalog of films. After all, Beetlejuice (1988) and Dark Shadows (2012) though flawed contain some wicked charm and naughty humor but Dumbo is considerably soft as the director chooses a safe, more accessible path. To be fair, creating magic from nearly eighty years ago is a tough task for anyone to achieve.

World War I veteran and amputee, Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the war to rejoin the financially problematic traveling circus owned by Max  Medici (Danny DeVito). A widower, reunited with his two children Holt is assigned to oversee the pregnant elephant, Mrs. Jumbo as she gives birth to an unusual looking elephant with giant ears who comes to be known as Dumbo. The children discover that Dumbo can fly when aided by a feather as the evil V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) attempts to profit from Dumbo’s talents at any costs as he adds to his fabulous creation, Dreamland.

The art direction and the look of the film are where Burton succeeds. With dark looking creations and windy, spider-like sets, especially in Dreamland, the film has the directors signature stamp.  The costumes and styles are to be complimented given the year was 1919 and the wardrobe and hairstyles are in match with the times. The circus stars and characters from the fat lady to the exotic jugglers are well-cast adding good texture and multi-cultural flavor to the production.

The standout musical number is the poignant and sentimental “Baby Mine” wisely featured twice during the film. Since the song is so lovely this proves a bold move and my favorite part of an otherwise mediocre experience. Sharon Rooney sings the version featured during a touching and painful scene between separated elephants Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo, and the rock band Arcade Fire performs a different rendition over the end-credits. Anyone needing a good cry would be advised to check out the emotionally charged song.

While the acting among Farrell, DeVito, and Eva Green as Colette, the French trapeze artist who falls for the sexy Holt, all play their roles admirably, two performances left me with critical fire. Keaton, typically a standout performer goes full-throttle with an over-the-top and one-note performance as the villainous Vandevere. Cartoon-like with herky-jerky head snaps and tic-like movements, the actor appears silly and ineffectual at creating any sort of robust character. Young actress, Nico Parker as Milly, Holt’s daughter, gives a dreadfully wooden performance in what could have been the film’s most likable character.

Besides one or two tender scenes the film largely goes for a cutesy vibe, not feeling fresh nor especially genuine. A Disney production, the film feels quite mainstream, lacking edginess, like the producers had dollar signs and major success on their minds over artistic merit or staying true to the original. Other than a quick shot of the number “41” on the front of a train, a clear tribute to the animated original’s year of release, the remake strays very far from the first Dumbo with a few new characters and sadly no gossipy female elephants anywhere in site.

A disappointing offering, the live-action Dumbo (2019), the year’s first in a series of five expected Disney releases (Aladdin, The Lion King, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, and Lady and the Tramp being the others) lacks much more than a couple of sweet scenes, an adorable elephant, and admirable sets, feeling utterly ordinary in flavor. This is a misfire compared to the legendary, teary 1941 version of Dumbo.

Mary Poppins Returns-2018

Mary Poppins Returns-2018

Director-Rob Marshall

Starring-Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda

Scott’s Review #848

Reviewed December 29, 2018

Grade: A-

Mary Poppins Returns is a charming mixture of reboot and sequel to the immeasurably glorious original, Mary Poppins (1964). Impossible to live up to the magic of that film, the 2018 version comes quite close with a delightful turn by Emily Blunt, numerous Hollywood stalwarts in small roles, and gleeful musical numbers sure to leave audiences humming upon their exit from theaters.

Events begin to percolate twenty-five years following the original story and the setting is 1935 London amid the Great Depression. His wife recently deceased, Michael Banks (Ben Wishaw) lives in the house he grew up in with his three children and housekeeper (Julie Walters) in tow. His sister Jane lives and works nearby as a labor organizer. Faced with the dreary reality that the historic Banks house may be foreclosed, Mary Poppins (Blunt) arrives in elegant fashion on her umbrella to resume order and save the day.

Though her character does not overtake the film, Emily Blunt is dynamic in the title role. Her prim and proper good British charm and sensibilities crackle with wit and poise. It is tough to imagine anyone but Blunt in the role as she does so well with putting her stamp on it. With a smirk and a quick matter-of-fact tone, the character is both no-nonsense and utterly kind. The casting of Blunt is spot-on as she becomes Mary Poppins.

The London setting is both adorable and fraught with good culture and sophisticated manners. The inclusion of the storied Big Ben is meaningful to the tale in a major way and a teachable moment for children unfamiliar with London at all. Furthermore, the inclusion of an important time period in history-the inclusion of the Great Depression-is immeasurably positive.

The supporting characters are rapturous and a treat for elders familiar with the original Mary Poppins film. Meryl Streep plays Topsy, Mary Poppins eccentric eastern European cousin to the hilt, but never teeters over-the-top. Colin Firth adds snarky charm as the villainous bank president, and Angela Lansbury gives grandmotherly zest as The Balloon Lady, an ode to the original novel. Finally, Dick Van Dyke is a delight as the heroic Mr. Dawes Jr. who comes to the rescue at the last hour.

The real winners though are the enchanting musical numbers. With the lovely London landscape in full view Mary Poppins Returns gets off to a spectacular groove with “(Underneath The) Lovely London Sky”. Performed by the charming Lin-Manuel Miranda in the role of Jack the Lamplighter, Mary Poppin’s sidekick, the star has what it takes to keep up with Blunt. This is evident as the duo mesmerize and entertain with a colorful number, “A Cover is Not the Book”, alongside an animated music hall. Finally, fans will revel in the naughty and clever “Turning Turtle”, performed by Streep.

The costumes and lighting are both big hits. As Jack lights and defuses the street lights we get to see the luminous dawn and the evening sunsets which give the film a nice luminous touch. During the film’s conclusion and subsequent race against the stroke of midnight the moonlight is featured giving the film a warm glow. The period piece costumes are lush, but not garish, adding flavor and capturing the time-period perfectly.

With not quite enough oomph to rival the original Mary Poppins (but really who expected that?) Mary Poppins Returns (2018) nonetheless is enchanting and inspiring in every way that a remake or sequel should be. The film is polite, polished, and filled with an authentic zest given the mixing of human and animations. A fine creation and splendid entertainment.

Elf-2003

Elf-2003

Director-Jon Favreau

Starring-Will Ferrell, James Caan

Scott’s Review #846

Reviewed December 20, 2018

Grade: B-

Elf (2003) is one of the few lasting Christmas hits of recent memory or at least one that many fans make a regular viewing experience each holiday season. The film is light and unarguably a safe, feel-good experience mixing a hopeful Christmas message with comic gags and romance. The key to its success is Will Ferrell who possesses wonderful comic timing. More wholesome than my tastes and lacking plausibility the film does succeed as a family friendly, ready-made, fun experience.

The story revolves around one of Santa’s elves (Ferrell) named Buddy who learns he is human and was orphaned as an infant. Revealed that his biological father Walter (James Caan) resides in New York City, Buddy embarks on a trip to find the man and spread Christmas cheer in a world filled with grizzled and cynical human beings. In predictable comic form Buddy has trouble adjusting to the human world and the fast-paced lifestyle with misunderstandings arising repeatedly. Buddy eventually wins over his father and family finding love with downtrodden Jovie (Zooey Deschanel).

Hot on the heels of his Saturday Night Live stint ending in 2002, Ferrell was primed to embark on a successful film career. Elf is a great role for him as it capitalizes on his comic timing and energy and the setup works. At 6’3″ who better to play an elf for laughs than a hulking middle-aged man? Due to his talents Ferrell makes the role of Buddy fun, appealing, and the highlight of the film. With a lesser talent the character would have been too annoying (as it is there are too many hug jokes) and the overall film would have suffered.

Other than Ferrell the supporting roles are nothing memorable other than Caan’s role. The once dashing star of films such as The Godfather (1972) Caan still has the charm and charisma to appeal, though the balding and dyed head of hair does nothing for him. A small role by television star Bob Newhart as Papa Elf is fine, but Deschanel’s role and Mary Steenburgen’s role as Emily, Walter’s wife, could have been played by many actresses and nothing is distinguishable about either part. Lesser roles like Walter’s secretary, Walter’s boss, and the Gimble’s store manager are stock parts with no character development.

A major high-point is the New York City setting and the exterior scenes are aplenty. Filmed in 2002 and released in 2003, the location shots were completed not long after 9/11 and showcasing a city with such recent decimation adds to the film’s appeal. Scenes in Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and the Empire State Building are prominently featured making the film festive and merry. What greater city is there at Christmastime than New York?

Elf remains an entertaining experience with enough shiny ornaments and fun moments in the department store and Walter’s office to hold interest. The luster wears thin at the conclusion as all the traditional elements come together. Jovie leads a chorus of strangers in “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”, Walter quits his job without concern for paying bills, and everyone happily rides off into a sparkling winter wonderland. This may satisfy some, but I wanted more conflict than a troupe of Central Park Rangers chasing Santa through the park.

A film that might be paired nicely with holiday favorites of similar ilk such as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) or Christmas with the Kranks (2004), Elf (2003) is an energetic affair with a charismatic lead actor. Containing silly moments, but a spirited and worthwhile message nestled nicely within, the film is worth a watch if in the mood for slapstick. More thought-provoking holiday films with deeper merriment and stronger flair exist, but for a chuckle or two Elf works well.

The Little Princess-1939

The Little Princess-1939

Director-Walter Lang

Starring-Shirley Temple, Ian Hunter

Scott’s Review #827

Reviewed November 6, 2018

Grade: B+

The Little Princess (1939) is a latter-day Shirley Temple film released when the child star’s popularity was clearly on the decline. The film is also the first Temple production to be filmed in Technicolor and the last of her major successes. The picture is very good though not the first I would choose as a starting point in her collection: saccharin, wholesome, and predictable are adjectives to describe the film, but also just what audiences adore about the star’s cinematic projects.

Loosely based on a novel entitled A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the film was criticized at the time of release for straying too far from the original novel. The time is turn of the century England and the backdrop is the Boer war. The setting of the film is a highlight for American audiences who were amidst the first World War and on the cusp of World War II allowing for a timely and relevant quality of the film.

In the story Temple plays Sara, the wealthy daughter of a military Captain (Ian Hunter) who is left to reside in a well-to-do girl’s school when her father is called away to serve in the war. When he unexpectedly dies in battle Sara is left penniless and forced to work as a servant in the school she one attended. At first treated like royalty by the staff her treatment gradually harbors resentment among the principals especially the dastardly headmistress (Mary Nash). Sara keeps her chin up insisting that her father is not dead at all as she becomes determined to find him in a local hospital.

In the year 2018 Shirley Temple films mainly serve as a source of nostalgia versus any critical acclaim or cinematic dissection- what is the point? Her films are a wholesome trip down memory lane back to a simpler time for many. Ironic that the film is the first color picture in the collection, this detracts from the enjoyment and adds too much of a modern element foreign to Temple fans. My preference is for the black and white productions of the early and mid-1930’s.

The supporting characters spice up The Little Princess quite a bit. Most notably is Cesar Romero as neighbor Ram Dass, a man who fills the void that Sara needs due to the loss of her father. The chemistry between Romero and Temple is wonderful as the kindly Dass leaves warm blankets for Sara in a tender scene. As the main villainous, common in Temple films, Mary Nash as Miss Minchin does her job flawlessly. Serving as the main foil, Nash provides the perfect blend of rigid mannerisms and the brunt of Sara’s tension.

The overall tone of The Little Princess (1939), hence the title, contains a riches to rags, Cinderella in reverse, type of story. The film is above average, but not the best in the bunch. Venturing to say that the film is a forgotten work save for fans of the Shirley Temple series, it does what it sets out to do and entertains. With drama, musical numbers, and a happy ending, the result is a similar experience to her many other films.

Heidi-1937

Heidi-1937

Director-Allan Dwan

Starring-Shirley Temple, Jean Hersholt

Scott’s Review #826

Reviewed November 2, 2018

Grade: A-

During the 1930’s and the 1940’s Shirley Temple was the most prominent and profitable child star around starring in dozens of films deemed “wholesome” and “cute”. Heidi (1937) is one of her most popular and best regarded, a treasure of earnest and sentimental riches. The film is forever known in pop culture as the ruination of the 1968 Super Bowl when the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets game was interrupted at a crucial moment due to the scheduled airing of the film.

An interesting side note is that amazingly Temple relinquished her Hollywood title with dignity and without scars. She left the scene entirely and became a successful world diplomat. During a time in American cinema where child stars were treated like property and sometimes like cattle, her relative healthy exit was a remarkable feat.

The story of Heidi is based on the 1880 Swiss story of the same name. Temple, in the title role, plays an orphan living in the cold mountains with her grizzled grandfather, Adolf (Jean Hersholt). At first bitter for being saddled with raising a child, Adolf finally accepts the girl and he and Heidi become fast friends, exhibiting a warm and tender bond.

Heidi’s self- absorbed aunt ruins the dynamic and instead whisks the child away to live with a wealthy family. The little girl will serve as a companion for their crippled daughter, Klara, as Heidi and Adolf are determined to find each other. Adding drama to the story is Klara’s evil housekeeper and her jealousy of Heidi, leading to attempts to sell Heidi off to gypsies for profit.

By 1937 Temple was beginning to be deemed “too old” for cute roles, but Heidi is one of her best remembered films and the actress is in top form. As one might expect from any Shirley Temple film musical numbers are included- a dream sequence in Holland culminates with Temple belting out the charming “In My Little Wooden Shoes”.

As there are mountains of Shirley Temple fans worldwide there are also her detractors. Some feel her films are completely dated and that the young star was not as talented as some thought she was. Admittedly, watching her films approaching the one-hundred-year mark can be a peculiarity and, on the surface seem a bit hammy and overly sentimental, but my personal experience elicits a return to childhood days. Despite being decades before my existence, Shirley Temple films were commonplace in my household as a child.

Heidi is not a groundbreaking cinematic experience or really all that deep at all. What the film does provide though is comfort. The audience assuredly must know a film like Heidi has a happy ending as the child provides warmth and spirit to every person she meets, making their lives better. Even during peril, the girl has an “awe shucks” manner of being and makes the best of any lousy situation she faces.

The strongest appeal of Heidi comes in the friendship she makes with Klara the cripple. Klara is kind and naive, unaware of her servant’s jealousy and rage. Helpless, she comes to depend on Heidi and we root for Heidi to rescue Klara and bring her to a better life. The film has sappy written all over it, but somehow works all the same.

Films such as Heidi (1937), the best of all the Temple films in my opinion, can be watched and enjoyed as an ode to days gone by or a tribute to someone’s grandmother’s favorite film. Despite perhaps being irrelevant and too sappy in today’s modern world, they undoubtedly provide comfort and support to some and that cannot be such a bad thing. Heidi can easily be enjoyed for the popularity that the film achieved and the warm message the film exudes.

Oliver & Company-1988

Oliver & Company-1988

Director-George Scribner

Voices-Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin

Scott’s Review #818

Reviewed October 8, 2018

Grade: B

Oliver & Company (1988) is a darling animated film released by Walt Disney Pictures, the twenty-seventh Disney feature film to be produced. The film is based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, but Oliver is now a homeless kitten who joins a gang of dogs, and the setting moves from London to the dangerous streets of New York City- present times.

We meet Oliver (Joey Lawrence) as he huddles with other homeless kittens in a cardboard box, chilly from a driving New York rain. As all of the other kittens are snatched up by adoring animal lovers, Oliver is inexplicably left on his own. He eventually meets up with Dodger (Billy Joel), a mongrel with street smarts, and the duo steal hot dogs from an abrasive food vendor. When Dodger swindles Oliver out of his share, the kitten follows the dog to a barge, which turns out to be the hideout of Fagin (Dom DeLuise), a human pickpocket. Fagin houses a gang of assorted dogs as he is bullied by loan shark Sykes.

As Oliver bonds with the miscreants, his life suddenly takes a positive turn when he is rescued from the streets by a kindly, wealthy little girl named Jenny and her bumbling butler, Winston. Jenny’s parents are on holiday in Europe, leaving she and Winston running the house. Along for the ride is Jenny’s sophisticated and spoiled pet poodle, Georgette (Bette Midler), who takes a disliking to Oliver.

By the 1980’s Disney films were hardly the hot commodity they once were, and the small budget is evidence of that. To be fair Oliver & Company is not on par with classic, lovely offerings such as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), or Dumbo (1941). In fact, the film has a severe and decidedly “1980’s quality”, mostly due to the upbeat soundtrack, that decades later make the film feel rather dated. Speaking of the soundtrack, the highlight is a treat entitled “Why Should I Worry?”, a tune sung by the ensemble cast and impossible not to hum along to.

The film features an array of famous voices that are perfectly cast. The film makers wisely cast plenty of native New Yorkers, which results in a huge measure of authenticity. Brazen voices like Midler’s, Joel’s, and Cheech Marin’s as feisty chihuahua Tito, give credibility to their characters. The odd romantic pairing of Georgette and Tito, on the surface completely mismatched, gives a good dose of comic relief to the story.

The story written for Oliver & Company is really the best part of the entire production.  Anyone familiar with the famous Dickens novel or Oliver! (1968), the most famous of the film incarnations, knows how the story will end. This did not hinder my enjoyment of the animated film though, a compelling and charming experience. Sykes makes a great villain, drawn with a long face and enormous chin, interesting, but not too scary to frighten young children.

One conspicuous emission is the elimination of the important character of Nancy. As fans know, Nancy played a vital role in the original story. Perplexing is the decision not to include her, but perhaps her ultimate death would have made the story too dark, so this can be overlooked.

Surely not the best in the Disney bunch, Oliver & Company (1988) is nonetheless a decent offering sadly overlooked by fans and critics alike. In fact, the film is nearly forgotten and suffers from a dated quality if not for the widespread knowledge of the classic novel. The film is not one of the storied Disney treasures, nor should it be dismissed altogether. The result is a darling, innocent experience meant for pure enjoyment.

The Polar Express-2004

The Polar Express-2004

Director-Robert Zemeckis

Starring-Tom Hanks

Scott’s Review #800

Reviewed August 8, 2018

Grade: B+

The Polar Express (2004) is a modern entry into the annals of holiday film history. Along with treasures like Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, and all the other standards, this film has become a popular one to watch throughout the season. The film is not exactly like the others, since it is the first of its kind to incorporate live human characters animated using live action motion capture animation. The mood of the film is mysterious, edgy, and with a dark tint, so jolly it isn’t, but compelling it is, and visually is a marvel.

The story is as follows- on a snowy (naturally!) Christmas Eve, a young boy living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is doubtful of the existence of Santa Claus. When a steam locomotive suddenly appears outside of his house, he curiously boards the train to find a mysterious conductor (Tom Hanks) manning the train. As the train rolls away the boy meets two other children on board and stops for another one, also reluctant to get on. They begin a dazzling, frozen adventure to the North Pole with the promise of receiving the first gift of Christmas from Santa Claus himself.

The main reason to recommend The Polar Express is simply for the gorgeous visual treats offered. In 2004 the film was a unique experience and I fondly recall sitting in a dark movie theater observing the film for the first time. There was a magical element to the surroundings, combining intrigue and fantasy that still holds up well. For adults I do not think the film is at all scary, but I have heard some reviewers complain that the moody ingredients are a bit frightening for children so there is that concern. 

A major component is the mixture of human beings and animated tools. The familiar actor who everybody knows is Tom Hanks as the conductor. Therefore, to sit back and observe the character is a wonderful thing- is it really Tom Hanks or is it an animation? Certainly it is ultimately both, but the fun is in the observation and wondering how the film makers created this experience. And listen for Hanks in other voice performances throughout the film. 

The story (or fable) itself is warm and fairly predictable in nature. But, of course, being largely made with kids in mind, this is to be expected. There is never a doubt that the boy (interestingly never given a name) will ultimately believe in Santa after all and live happily ever after. The magic is in the details, though- the boy’s journey to this realization is peppered with fun and creative richness- the little girl’s floating ticket and an ornament falling off a Christmas tree are good particulars. 

Director, Robert Zemeckis, and Hanks worked closely together in Forrest Gump (1994) so the pair are familiar with each other, creatively speaking. Hanks undoubtedly had much input into the decision making and it shows. 

I do not personally rank The Polar Express (2004) among the best of the best of holiday film offerings, but I support an occasional dusting off of this work for viewing pleasure. Perhaps over time the animations may become dated or seem less dazzling, but the film is still to be appreciated for its creative elements. The story is nothing spectacular (in a way Scrooge for kids), but makes for a pleasant family viewing experience. 

A Wrinkle in Time-2018

A Wrinkle in Time-2018

Director-Ava DuVernay

Starring-Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon

Scott’s Review #788

Reviewed July 16, 2018

Grade: C

A Wrinkle in Time (2018) is a film that I had high hopes for given the enormous marketing push, first rate cast, and especially the acclaimed female director involved with the project, Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th). Additionally, having admired the 1962 novel I expected a rich, earthy, and mysterious experience. Sadly, whether it be a “too many cooks in the kitchen” situation given the star power involved, or some other factors leading to disconnect, but this film really disappointed me. It’s not terrible, but definitely suffers from miscasting, way too much CGI, and a story that is not very compelling.

Thirteen year old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is having a tough time of it in school. Smack dab in the “awkward phase”, she is picked on by school mates because her father (Chris Pine) has disappeared- presumably having ditched the family. In reality, he is a scientist who has been transported to another world after solving the question of humanity’s existence. After Meg and her family are visited by a strange woman named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Meg, little brother Charles Wallace, and Meg’s crush, Calvin, time travel in order to find a way to save her father.

Fans who have read the wonderful novel written by Madeleine L’Engle will most certainly be disappointed since many details of the film are vastly different from written page. DuVernay certainly attempts to take the film out of the 1960’s and into 2018 (I have no issue with that), but the film feels so slick and modern with the visual elements and heavy use of CGI, that the story suffers enormously. To be clear, the film is gorgeous to look at, especially in the sweeping outdoors scenes, but in this case, too many bells and whistles spoil A Wrinkle in Time.

The three strange women characters: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) are completely butchered. In the novel, each are portrayed as peculiar, mysterious, and similar to witches: frumpy, awkward, yet lovable. In the film, however, they are colorful, glamorous, empowered, but lack any real uniqueness or intrigue. I am all for female empowerment, but the characters just felt wrong. Kaling is fine in the smallest role, but in the case of Witherspoon and Winfrey, appears a case of “we have big stars, let’s find roles for them.” A tough sell with Mrs. Which is to think of Oprah as anyone other than….well, Oprah! Witherspoon’s attempts to be goofy and the comic relief of the film do not work.

The casting of newcomer Storm Reid is lackluster. I have no issue with the character of Meg being changed to bi-racial, in fact I feel that’s a plus in the modern age. However, the actress is not the greatest, appearing both sullen and wooden in various scenes. Nor does she have any chemistry with her love interest, Calvin. This is a shame since the theme of young love would have been a nice addition to the film and was a coming of age element in the novel.

At the risk of being overly critical, A Wrinkle in Time is not a total disaster either. The progressive and heroic message of the overall film is quite inspired. If kids watch the film (and since it is Disney produced and heavily advertised I can see no reason why they wouldn’t) they will be exposed to a nice message of good conquering evil. And on a side note, the villain is safe and hardly conjures up much fright, so no worries by parents of the film being too scary.

With heaps of buzz and anticipation regarding A Wrinkle in Time (2018) the film seemed poised to become a blockbuster hit and a great spring flick. Instead, the film has largely been derided by critics and audiences alike. With creative genius, star power, and a huge budget involved, something clearly ran amiss as the final product is fair to middling. Let’s hope director Ava DuVernay gets her groove back with her next project- I expected more.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial-1982

Director-Steven Spielberg

Starring-Henry Thomas, Dee Wallace

Scott’s Review #756

Reviewed May 10, 2018

Grade: A

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) is a wonderful, magical film that will succeed in melting the hearts of anyone with even a tad of cynicism. The film is otherworldly (quite literally) and contains a message of acceptance and appreciation of other beings. Mixing many humorous moments with tender drama and tears, the film becomes part fantasy, science-fiction, and humanistic story. The film still feels fresh and relevant today with a bevy of forever remembered scenes and references- a wonderful story of friendship.

The audience is immediately introduced to a pack of alien botanists, arriving in a California forest from their far away planet to study plants one night. When government agents interrupt the peaceful moment, the “extraterrestrials” are forced to depart leaving one creature behind. When ten year old Elliott (Henry Thomas) discovers and begins to communicate with what will come to be known as “E.T.”, the duo forge a wonderful, lasting friendship as they attempt to return E.T. to his homeland.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial is crowd pleasing in every way offering a bit of everything for all of its lucky viewers. Director Steven Spielberg reportedly made this film as a result of his desire to share a childhood imaginary friend with the world so the charm really shines through in this very personal story. The film contains an overall innocence that is pure benevolence- E.T. teaches Elliott as much as Elliott teaches E.T. Who can ever forget the pairs initial interaction as the use of Reese’s Pieces candy became a huge cultural phenomenon? The lovely quote of “E.T. phone home!” is still as poignant and teary eyed as it was in 1982.

Enjoyable and recognizable is E.T. himself becoming a cult figure. Odd looking, wide-eyed, and yet of a lovable nature, even cute, the film makers were careful not to make him too frightening. Using real actors and distorted voices E.T. became famous, appearing on lunch boxes, tee-shirts, notebooks, and binders throughout the early 1980’s.

The film, released in the “modern age” of 1982, provides a genuine portrayal of suburban life at that time. From the sunny sub-division style neighborhood that Elliott and his family live in, the absent father figure (so common in many 1980’s films), the single-mom/divorced parents phenomenon takes hold and makes families like this common place. If made in the 1960’s Elliott would for sure have had two happy parents and a white picket fence. Dee Wallace as Elliott’s mother Mary, received several mom roles throughout the decade, portraying them with a wholesome middle-America quality.

Henry Thomas, as Elliott, is crucial to the success of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and sadly the actor never did much beyond this great film. While tough to create chemistry with a creature from outer space, the young actor does just that as we buy the two as connected friends. The duo especially shine during the emotional “death” scene and the farewell scene finale.

The other supporting characters rounding out Elliott’s family are well cast and appropriate at relaying what a typical suburban family looks like. Michael (Robert MacNaughton) is slightly surly yet protective as the older brother and Gertie, played by a very young Drew Barrymore (soon to experience super stardom throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s) is cute, bubbly, and teeters on stealing the show as the precocious five year old.

At its core and what makes E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial so appealing is its heart- a sympathetic creatures desire to return home and be with his loved ones is the main focus. In this way, only slightly reversed is a comparison to the 1939 masterpiece The Wizard of Oz. As Dorothy yearns to return to her home amid of an exotic, unknown, and sometimes scary world, the same can this be said for E.T. and this makes both films similar and equally appealing.

Rich with elegance, intelligence, and creativity, Spielberg creates a tale that is both primed for mass consumption and rife for mainstream appeal. Rather than weave a contrived or cliched story, he spins a magical and long-lasting, good story that will appeal to the kid in all of us. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) reaped many Oscar nominations, but lost out on the big prize to the epic Ghandi that year.

Coco-2017

Coco-2017

Director-Lee Unkrich

Voices-Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt

Scott’s Review #737

Reviewed April 4, 2018

Grade: B+

Winner of the 2017 Best Animated Feature Academy Award, Coco is an exuberant and colorful affair filled with marvelous lights and a Mexican cultural infusion that serves the film well, making it feel robust with diversity and inclusion. The overall theme of family, traditions, and musical celebration is apparent and makes for good razzle dazzle with lots of upbeat song and dance. Mixed in is a lovely inter-generational theme, where older folks are respected, something all too lacking in today’s real world.

Miguel Rivera is a twelve year old boy living in Mexico with his extended family, including his elderly great-grandmother, Coco- sadly suffering from intermittent dementia. Through flashbacks we learn that Coco’s father, (Miguel’s great-great-grandfather), was an aspiring musician who abandoned the family for greener pastures. Subsequently, all music has been banned by the Rivera clan in favor of a modest shoe-making business.

As Miguel realizes his passion for music, he comes into conflict with his family, who have other aspirations for the young man. Miguel embarks on a fantastic journey to the magical and somewhat frightening land of his deceased ancestors, coinciding with the festive Day of the Dead celebration, a tradition of Mexican culture. There he realizes the true nature of his great-great-grandfather’s sudden departure.

Coco is a film that can really be enjoyed by all members of the family and is structured in just that way. The blatant use of multiple generations holds great appeal for blending the family unit together. Pixar successfully sets all the right elements in place for a successful film, and the well-written story only adds layers. The film is quite mainstream, yet appealing to the masses.

Perhaps very young viewers may become frightened by some of the skeleton laced faces of Miguel’s ancestors in the other world where he visits, but these images are somewhat tame and mixed with vibrant colors and wonderful production numbers. These images are undoubtedly meant to entertain rather than be scary and the creatures possess a friendly vibe.

Having viewed the film on an airplane traveling cross-country (admittedly not the best way to watch a film), I was entranced by the lovely and touching  musical number, “Remember Me (Lullaby)”, so much so that I was moved to tears right on the plane. How’s that for effectiveness? The emotional level reached via this song impressed me immensely about Coco, even when the story occasionally is secondary to the visual or musical elements.

In fact, for me, the story began to lag slightly until the aforementioned big musical number came into play. The song really kicked the action into high gear in an emotional way, and I became more enamored with the characters and the connections they had to one another. The love that Miguel and his relatives share became clearer to me and the conclusion is fine and satisfactory.

A slight miss to the film, corrected mid way through, is the bratty and entitled nature to Miguel. Heaving sighs when he does not get his way, this seems more apparent early on and was quite the turn off- at first I did not care for the character, yet I knew I was supposed to. Thankfully, the character becomes, naturally, the hero of the film and ultimately a sweet, likable character. I began to ponder,  “is that what kids are really like these days”?

Pixar does it again as they create a family friendly experience with a positive, yet non cliched message of belonging, forgiveness, and the importance of family connections, that feels fresh. In current times of divisiveness, especially with immigration and other cultures being attacked, how appropriate to experience a feel-good, yet not contrived project.

Cinderella-1950

Cinderella-1950

Director-Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilifred Jackson

Voices-Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley

Scott’s Review #731

Reviewed March 7, 2018

Grade: A-

Cinderella is a lovely 1950 Walt Disney production and a film that rejuvenated the animated film genre after a sluggish 1940’s period, thanks in large part to the ravages of World War II. The film glistens with goodness and bright colors, offering a charming fairy tale based story based on hope and “happily ever after”. Cinderella is enchanting on all levels.

Told largely in narration form especially to explain the history of the story, we learn that Cinderella’s parents have both died, leaving her an orphan and living with her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine. Her stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia are jealous of Cinderella’s natural beauty and she is abused and berated regularly, forced to work as a servant in a rundown chateau- tending to the trios needs and demands. Despite her unhappy life, Cinderella makes the most of it and befriends mice, birds, and many other animals she meets, singing and dancing in a cheery way.

Life chugs along for our heroine, until one day the King of the royal palace decides to throw a lavish Ball in order for his son, the Prince, to finally find his soulmate and marry her. The King requests that all eligible unmarried women attend. As Cinderella excitedly requests to go, Lady Tremaine cruelly grants her request, provided all of her work is done, having no intention of making things easy on her. In true fairy tale form, the Prince falls madly in love with Cinderella while many hurdles face the pair on their way to happiness.

Given the time period when Cinderella was made (1950), the timing was excellent for a lavish production, to say nothing of the fantasy that many young girls undoubtedly experienced of a handsome prince rescuing them, whisking them away from a life of doldrums to undying love. Female empowerment had not yet taken hold during the 1950’s, so the male rescuing female message was palpable and appealing to many. Dated not in the least, a story of true love overcoming hardship can always find an audience.

The colors and animations of the production are lush and powerful, oozing with perfection and drizzling with fantastic elements of romance and spectacular wealth. An example of this is the lavish ball at the palace- as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother  transforms the young girl and her transportation into a magical fantasy of horses, gowns, and carriages, it is quite extravagant in its beauty.

Engaging, with a bit of humor mixed in, are the supporting characters of the three evil ladies and the bumbling Grand Duke- interestingly voiced by the same person as does the King. As Drizella and Anastasia attempt to impress Prince Charming, their awkward and haphazard mannerisms and scowls perfectly counterbalance the charm and grace of Cinderella in sometimes comical fashion.

Comparisons must be made to 1937’s masterpiece, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and both films could easily be companion films to each other, being watched in sequence for better study and marveling about similarities. Both Snow White and Cinderella are purely “good” characters, singing lovely tunes, embracing animal friends and various forms of wildlife- they are both more or less also “saved” by men. In present day, instead of this being offensive or “old fashioned” , it still remains enchanting and a celebration of true love.

Cinderella is a treasure to be enjoyed after all of these years, never aging nor becoming dated or irrelevant, which is a true testament to the power of film. Carving a story of values and honesty, of hard work and of good payoff, generations of fans can appreciate this everlasting treasure.

Pinocchio-1940

Pinocchio-1940

Director-Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Voices-Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones

Scott’s Review #723

Reviewed February 1, 2018

Grade: B+

As a follow-up to the marvelous 1937 Walt Disney production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1940’s Pinocchio is a darling tale  of a wooden puppets longing to become a real boy. The film is vastly different from its predecessor in that the protagonist is male and the thematic elements are Italian (based on an Italian children’s novel), but similarly, Pinocchio is a touching experience and is magical and whimsical, telling a humanistic story about wishes and dreams coming true.

As narrated by a fantastic, cheerful little insect named Jiminy Cricket, an elderly wood-carver, Geppetto, creates a wooden puppet named Pinocchio and wishes upon a star for the puppet to be turned into a little boy. A mysterious, yet lovely Blue Fairy arrives one night and tells Pinocchio that he must be brave and truthful for the desired effect to occur- Jiminy serves as his conscience. Throughout the remainder of the film  Pinocchio’s morals are tested by unsavory characters, who attempt to steer him down a dark path.

Certainly Pinocchio is intended as a message film to little boys and girls everywhere regarding the importance of being honest and truthful, but with some comic elements mixed in so as to not make the experience too dark or scary. This is evidenced by the , by now legendary, way in which Pinocchio’s nose grows longer with each fib that he tells.  What a valuable lesson the film preaches, and is a main reason the adorable story holds up so well in present times. Some values never go out of flavor.

In wonderful Disney form, Pinocchio features an emotional, tearjerker of a scene towards the end of the film as Geppetto mourns the loss of his son.  The scene is sweet, touching, and will fill even the hardest of hearts with feeling- regardless of age. In this way Pinocchio becomes even more of a timeless treasure, and is a film that the entire family, generations upon generations, can enjoy together. Films of this nature are so important as a bonding form.

Enough praise cannot be given to the incredibly effective theme song of Pinocchio, “When You Wish Upon A Star”, belted out by Jiminy Crickett. The resounding tune is as emotional as it is timeless and bold, belted out at just the ideal time during the film and is still identified with the legendary film. In fact, over the years the song has come to be identified with the Walt Disney company itself.

One slight oddity of the film is how Geppetto- clearly at the grandfather age- is the father of a young boy, which perhaps in 1940 might be perceived as sweet, but in 2018 may be perceived as a bit creepy or at least unusual. Still, this is a minor flaw and easily overlooked. In fact, I have come to assume Geppetto serves as the grandfather in the story.

For those in the mood for a charming, classic animated Disney picture, 1940’s Pinocchio is a mesmerizing and creative experience, and at its core is a timeless benevolent lesson in goodness and purity. Artistically filmed and told, Pinocchio is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender.

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Mary Costa, Bill Shirley

Scott’s Review #721

Reviewed January 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Sleeping Beauty is a 1959 musical fantasy film and the sixteenth animated production from Walt Disney.  By this point Disney was a master at crafting wonderful and magical productions and Sleeping Beauty is a solid work. However, due to mixed reviews and a poor box office performance, Disney films were retired for a number of years. The effort achieves a lighter tone than heavies like Dumbo and Bambi, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

In a magical land of royalty, fairies, both good and evil, King Stefan and Queen Leah, the benevolent leaders of the land, are finally able to conceive their first child, named Princess Aurora. After proclaiming a special holiday and celebration, a festive scene turns dark when evil and powerful fairy, Maleficent, jealous with rage, puts a curse on the innocent baby. Thanks to a kindly fairy, the curse of death on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday is slightly blocked in favor of Aurora falling into a deep sleep- only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.

The characters in Sleeping Beauty are quite lovely and, by and large, sweet and kindly. My favorite characters are the three fairies- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  Each has her own personality, but wields special magical powers- all of them of good-natured variety. While Flora and Fauna possess song and beauty, which they bestow on Aurora, it is Merryweather who arguably saves the young girls life. The three women are also instrumental in being the unsung heroes of the film, while the handsome Prince Phillip getting star billing.

Compared to many other Disney films, Sleeping Beauty is quite the grandiose showing, and lush with colors bright as stars. The sparkles which drizzle from the fairies wands ooze with magic that will make children giggle with delight and adults marvel with adoration. In this regard, Sleeping Beauty is extravagant and the most expensive Disney production created up to this point.

Maleficent is a fantastic villain and when she finally turns into a lethal, fire breathing, dragon, this is sure to scare youngsters watching the film for the first time. Sure to mention, Maleficent’s web of thorns that she uses to surround Aurora’s castle is a spectacle in and of itself.

Upon watching the film I continue to draw comparisons to another of Walt Disney’s famous films, 1937’s beautiful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as both films resemble each other in a sheer mass of ways. The beautiful and innocent main female characters, both in peril from devious, older women, clearly jealous of the enriched goodness of Snow White and Aurora are the most obvious. In addition, both contain dashing princes to come to the rescue in just the nick of time, and kindly little things who assist in the drama.

Perhaps it is Sleeping Beauty’s similarities to  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- in fact the pair would be perfect to watch together on a rainy Saturday afternoon- that lead me to conclude that Snow White is the more charming and grabbing of the two films. Also, Sleeping Beauty does not triumph in the important humanistic lessons that the aforementioned Dumbo and Bambi (my favorites of all the Disney films) have.

Sleeping Beauty contains all of the elements of an empathetic , feel-good animated experience. A King, a Queen, a Prince, a vicious villain, giddy fairies, and a beautiful heroine are all represented in this fine and satisfying Disney venture- not the greatest in the pack, but assuredly a good time.

The Boss Baby-2017

The Boss Baby-2017

Director- Tom McGrath

Voices- Alec Baldwin, Tobey Maguire

Scott’s Review #713

Reviewed January 12, 2018

Grade: C

True confession- I was not expecting much from the 2017 offering of the animated film entitled The Boss Baby (a brooding, sarcastic newborn offered no appeal). However, since the film was nominated for a Golden Globe award, I decided to throw caution to the wind and settle down for a viewing. Predictably, the film fulfilled my hunch and resulted in a fair to middling experience- the attempt at a nice message was offset by cliched and silly characters and an over-produced film rather than a directed one, but yet held interesting  and sometimes even beautiful visuals.

Seven year old Tim Templeton (voiced by Tobey Maguire), as an adult, narrates a story of his childhood  days, living with his parents Ted and Janice, both busy marketing professionals, who work at Puppy Co.. One day, his parents return home with a bundle of joy in tow, Theodore Lindsey Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin), who immediately monopolizes their time and attention. Isolated, Tim is envious and begins a rivalry with his baby brother, who is secretly a spy named “The Boss Baby”, and who has the mind of an adult in a baby’s body. It is revealed that he is working undercover as a spy to investigate why puppies are now receiving more love than babies. The duo eventually team up and forge a bond to prevent corporate America from ruining all of the love in the world.

To be fair, The Boss Baby presents a positive, good message of love and acceptance, which is nice to see, but this message can only carry a film so far, and there is little else of substance. As with many animated films, the story here contains a “good versus evil” slant, which, in this case, renders the film rather one dimensional. We are instructed who to root for and who not to root for, and while  challenging corporate greed is certainly a cause worth championing, too often I found The Boss Baby causing my mind to wander elsewhere instead of keeping me engaged in the story- not a good sign.

Apparently the target audience for this film is quite young because many sappy or juvenile scenes continue to play out. Closeups of Theodore and whimsical shots of his bulging eyes give the film a cute, too wholesome quality, and in predictable fashion, there are the standard doody and poop jokes, which comedies do all too often to account for sloppy writing.

The character of Theodore is voiced by comedy stalwart Alec Baldwin, and this does wonders to make the baby a bit more interesting than otherwise might have been. Baldwin, fusing assertion and a sarcasm into Theodore, makes him witty and energetic, but again, this can only go so far, and by the time the film has concluded in happily ever after fashion, the once tough character has disintegrated into a hammy kid.

Older brother Timothy is perfectly fine and the idea of having Maguire narrate him as an adult is a nice touch.  The central theme of sibling rivalry between brother and brother and especially the difficulty of some kids adjusting to a newborn debuting into the family may be enough to encourage parents to make it a family outing and see The Boss Baby.

Sadly, the creative and unique sets of animations may be wasted on viewers seeking good story. What a pity that The Boss Baby does not hold both qualities, but alas the film is little more than adequate and will undoubtedly be forgotten before very long.

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens

Scott’s Review #634

Reviewed April 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Upon going to see 2017’s spring release offering of the live action version of the Disney animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, I was not sure what to expect. Would it be a cheesy or amateurish retread of the 1991 animated smash only with human beings? Why the lackluster March release date? Surely this is telling, otherwise why not release the film in the coveted fourth quarter with potential Oscar buzz? I do not have the answers to all of these questions, but this version of Beauty and the Beast is enchanting, romantic, and lovely- a spring treat for the entire family to enjoy.

Our protagonist , Belle, (producers wisely casting Harry Potter legend Emma Watson), is a kindly farm girl living with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline),  in a quaint village outside of Paris. Considered a bit odd by her village mates because she loves to read, she rebuffs the advances of dashing soldier, Gaston, because he is arrogant- the other village ladies (as well as Gaston’s gay companion LeFou) flaunt over Gaston’s good looks.

When Maurice ventures into parts unknown and stumbles upon a dilapidated castle, he is locked up by a vicious beast, having once been a handsome prince, since cursed by a beggar woman. The only way the beast can return to his former self is to find true love before a wilted rose loses all of its peddles- enter Belle to the rescue. Belle convinces the Beast to let her stay prisoner and release her father. Will Beast and Belle fall madly in love? Of course they will. The fated romance is part of what makes the film heartwarming and nice.

The now legendary classic fairy tale feels fresh and energized with the Disney produced project. Director Bill Condon carefully, and successfully, crafts an honest effort, making sure that while providing a fairy tale happy ending, not to make the film seem contrived, overblown, or overdramatized. I fell for the film hook, line, and sinker. it is an uplifting experience. The song and dance numbers abound with gusto and good costumes- my personal favorites being the rousing “Be Our Guest” and the sentimental “Beauty and the Beast”.

The crucial romance between Watson’s Belle, and the Beast, earnestly played by Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey fame), works in spades, as their chemistry feels authentic and passionate. As Belle is at first held captive by the misunderstood bad boy in lieu of Maurice, the pair at first loathe each other, but this is done with innocence and no malice. Condon wonderfully exudes the right amount of slow build to make the pair beloved by audiences with the correct amount of pacing.

The CGI is heavy in Beauty and the Beast, as is expected. The distraction of the Beast is a bit confusing. Was the Beast a complete CGI creation save for the close ups or was Watson dancing with Stevens when filming commenced in certain scenes? I am unsure.

The controversial “gay storyline”, which helped the film be banned in the southern United States and Russia, as well as other countries is pure and utter rubbish. The subject is explored extremely superficially and not worthy of all the fuss. In fact, worthier of mention is the wonderful diversity that is featured in the film, most notably in the opening sequence. Interracial couples appear in the form of Madame de Garderobe (Audra McDonald), the opera singer turned wardrobe, and Maestro Cadenza (Stanley Tucci) turned harpsichord. On the gay issue, how sweet that the implied gay character of LeFlou finds love with another man at the end of the film.

A minor complaint is the scattered authentic French accents by many of the household staff and village people, but Belle and Maurice speak in British tongue. Being a fairy tale, liberties must be taken and suspension of disbelief is certainly a necessity, but this was noticed.

Beauty and the Beast is a lovely experience that mixes fantastic musical numbers with romance with a side of diversity mixed in for good measure. Since the film will undoubtedly be seen by oodles of youngsters and teens this is a wonderful aspect to the film and hopefully, a shining, positive example in film making.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-1937

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-1937

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various Voices

Scott’s Review #625

Reviewed March 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the debut feature length production by storied producer, Walt Disney, and has the grand honor of being the first animated feature ever to be made. Until the time of its release, animated stories were not features at all, but rather, shorts that were shown as gag-filled entertainment not to be taken very seriously. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made animated films something to be appreciated and respected- the film, released in 1937, was re-released in theaters many times until the 1990’s and is a blueprint for what animated features would become. The film is based on the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale and is a cherished treasure.

Beautiful inside and out, Snow White is a lonely princess who lives with her devious wicked stepmother, the Queen. Making the most out of her troubled life, Snow White hums and sings with her bird friends who gather to keep her company as she is forced by her stepmother to work as a scullery maid . The Queen is a vain woman, jealous of Snow White’s natural beauty, constantly consulting her mirror to ask “who is the fairest one of all?”. One day the Queen decides to put an end to Snow White and orders a henchman to kill her in the forest and return her bloody heart to her in a box. When the henchman is unable to do the deed, he pleads with Snow White to flee. She winds up in a little cottage housing seven dwarf men whom she befriends as the Queen is determined to take drastic measures to find her.

Circa 1937, and for years to come, animated features were not created as they are today. Rather, they were simplistic- and wonderful- in the use of storyboards and drawings in their creation. This daunting task, and the creativity involved, makes them just lovely to look at. Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the debut animated feature, the drawings are fantastic to view- like pictures- and to appreciate the craftsmanship involved. The characters are richly created, with bright, vivid colors that distinguish them from one another- the bright red lips of Snow White and the blue and gold colors of her dress contrast with the regal purples used on the Queen, to say nothing of the deep red color of the poison apple. The color makes the apple appear delicious, but also dangerously blood red. These nuances make the characters deep with texture.

The friendships Snow White makes with the dwarfs and the animal life in the forest are whimsical and filled with love and the animal element later would become a staple of Disney’s works- Dumbo and Bambi. The animals are naturally fond of Snow White because she is joyous and kind- they in turn warn her of impending danger as the Queen turns herself into an old woman and lumbers towards Snow White, snug in the cottage.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs features an old style romance- the handsome Prince takes a shine to Snow White, noticing her natural beauty as she sings and later determined to save her- which of course he does when he magically kisses her in the films finale. The songs featured only enhance the love story- “Some Day My Prince Will Come” is a lovely ode to romance and is tenderly sung by Snow White as she longs for the Prince’s touch, frustrated with her life.

The creation of the seven dwarfs is done in magical fashion and seven little men living together seems quite natural in those innocent times. Each distinctive from each other- Dopey being my personal favorite in his innocence and playfulness- Happy, Doc, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, and Bashful are all written with great zest as we fall in love with each of them from the first moment we meet them as they belt out “Heigh-Ho” in unison.

Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs deserves merit for being Disney’s first, overlooked can be the omission of any family members of Snow White’s besides the evil Queen. Where is Snow White’s father and mother? Any siblings? Certainly they are presumed dead, but they are never mentioned. Also, why does the Queen have a Magic Mirror and why does she have special powers that nobody else has?

At one hour and twenty three minutes, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a quick film, but does not feel underdeveloped. The story and the characters are rich with appeal and intrigue making the film a classic that should be shared with all youngsters. It is a classic tale of good versus evil, a great love story, and sets the tone for other Disney masterpieces to follow.

WALL-E-2008

WALL-E-2008

Director-Andrew Stanton

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #594

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: B+

After hearing so much buzz about WALL-E, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Disney-Pixar has created another fantastic film. Visually, it is a creative and intelligent experience that warrants the praise it has received. They also do a lot with the intricate graphics and animations.

In a futuristic world where humans have destroyed their environment, and thereby abandoned planet Earth. Robot, WALL-E, is left to clean up the mess. He then meets a fellow female robot named EVE, and the two develop an innocent, sweet relationship that is charming and authentic.

The humans in the film are portrayed as fat, lazy, incapable of intelligent thought, and most unable to move very much since technology has trained them to be as such. Sad.

The story itself is very sweet, touching, and sends a very important message about society and taking care of our environment. Very enjoyable.

The Aristocats-1970

The Aristocats-1970

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #570

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: B+

The golden age of Disney films mainly occurring prior to the release of this film, The Aristocats is a latter day Disney film, released in 1970- the first release since Walt Disney’s death in 1966. It is a darling story with a very cute subject matter- cats living in sophisticated Paris face peril from their butler. Like many Disney works, the film’s message pertains to the treatment of animals. The Aristocats is much safer fare than the dark Bambi or even Dumbo, but it is a fantastic film worth watching.

Glamorous and elegant retired opera star, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, lives peacefully with her gorgeous mother cat, Duchess, and her three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse in the heart of Paris, circa 1910. They are sophisticated beyond measure and enjoy every luxury known to cats, and are accompanied in their estate by English butler, Edgar. One day while Madame is discussing her will with her attorney, Edgar learns that she plans to leave her entire estate to her cats, until their death, then all goes to Edgar. Filled with greed, Edgar plots to kill the cats. This leads to an adventure in the country as the accosted cats attempt to find their way back home to Madame, with the help of feral yet kindly cat friends.

Ever so sweet to the film is the burgeoning romance which erupts between Duchess and Thomas O’Malley, as he  aids the cats in returning to Paris. It is classic girl from high class, meets the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks- only cat style. The chemistry is readily apparent between the pair and, on a personal note, my female cat Thora certainly seemed smitten with Thomas O’Malley as she sat smiling at Thomas as she watched the film.

During their adventure, Thomas and Duchess manage to dance and sing along with Thomas’s best friend Scat Cat, who leads a Jazz band of alley cats- this makes the film light and lively in tone. The group also shares adventures with English geese, Abigail and Amelia Gabble, who share a fondness for style and a prim and proper manner.

Throughout it all, the group continues to be pursued by Edgar, who is portrayed more as a bumbling villain than a sinister one, making The Aristocats a fun film rather than anything too heavy or sinister.

The sophistication of the film is really what makes me enjoy it so much. The high style of the Parisian city blocks, Madame’s gorgeous mansion, and the beautifully drawn French countryside are my favorite elements. I love the contrasts with this film- the city and the country, the high brow characters meet the more blue collar ones, but in the end, everyone comes together to conquer the mischievous foe.

Whereas, in Bambi man is the serious enemy, in The Aristocats, Edgar is more of a buffoon than a true dangerous element. He is cartoon-like (no pun intended), thereby the film is more of a caper with hi-jinks than of true danger.

For the cat lover in all of us, The Aristocats is a delightful film with a nice message, and a wonderful cultural experience. Who can forget the fantastic theme song, “Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat”?

Toy Story 3-2010

Toy Story 3-2010

Director-Lee Unkrich

Starring-Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

Scott’s Review #562

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: B+

It is not easy for sequels to succeed in the creativity or the originality categories, but surprisingly, Toy Story 3 is a fresh, imaginative, fun film. The characters are charming, interesting, and heartwarming, and the film is able to avoid a sappy result. Pixar has another hit.

Andy, now grown up and headed off to college, sees no reason to keep any of his childhood toys, now irrelevant and headed for the scrap box- at least that is what Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and friends, fear will happen as the dreaded day approaches. They must scheme to avoid their fate.

Many interesting new toys are introduced to this franchise with unique personalities, thereby giving a fresh approach, yet not forgetting the past. I adore how Toy Story 3 has many dynamic themes (loneliness, abandonment, togetherness), that play very well together with a nice message.

On a deeper level, the film certainly reflects the modern era. People are so easily thrown out, forgotten, and abandoned, whether through a job, relationship, etc. so that makes this film a sad reality if one chooses to look at it that way, which most won’t.

Great movie for kids and adults alike with a meaningful, relevant message. The film is not a sugar-coated affair and offers a cold reality, while still remaining accessible.

Scrooge-1970

Scrooge-1970

Director-Ronald Neame

Starring-Albert Finney, Alec Guinness

Scott’s Review #561

Reviewed December 25, 2016

Grade: A

A classic that is perfect to watch around the holidays, accompanied perhaps by a roaring fire and a bit of brandy, Scrooge is a magical, musical experience, that should be adored by the entire family. The film is a re-telling of the 1843 Charles Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. Set in London with spectacular London style art direction, it is perfect in its depiction of life around the holidays in the historic city, circa nineteenth century.

To be clear, this is the musical version of the popular tale- not to be confused with the 1935 or the 1951 versions of the story. The film is not as dark or scary as those films are. Rather, the 1970 Scrooge would be a fantastic companion piece to the 1968 classic, Oliver!, both based on Dickens stories, as both mix fantastic musical scores with the dramatic elements.

Albert Finney takes center stage in flawless form as the old, cantankerous, miser, Ebenezer Scrooge. He plays the character as both an old man, and, via flashbacks, as a young man (Finney was merely thirty four years old at the time of filming). Guinness, certainly a high caliber actor, is effective as the ghost of Jacob Marley- Scrooge’s former business partner. Scrooge is a money-lender, mainly to the working class, and is unforgiving in his collection of debts.

Filled with hatred of all things good, especially the Christmas holiday, Scrooge refuses to attend a family Christmas dinner hosted by his nephew, Fred, or to give to any charities. He begrudgingly gives his minion and bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit, Christmas day off. Finally left alone Christmas Eve night, Scrooge is visited by the spirit of Jacob Marley, deceased seven years, who tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts during  the night.

In a chilling scene, Marley takes Scrooge on a journey through the sky where he is greeted by spirits doomed to traverse the Earth as Jacob is, with shackles acquired from their life as living beings. Since they were greedy and wicked, they are doomed in the afterlife, just as Scrooge will be if he does not change his ways.

In a wonderful sub-plot, we get to know the Cratchit’s, led by father Bob, a poor, but earnest man. The family has little, but make the most of what they do have, and appreciate the glorious holiday. They prepare a meager Christmas bird, and savor being together as a family. Their youngest, Tiny Tim, is lame, and he lusts over a lavish train set in the local toy shop. The Cratchit’s epitomize goodness and richness of character, and clearly contrast Ebenezer Scrooge.

As Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and Christmas yet to come, he slowly realizes he needs to change his ways before it is too late, and the audience is treated to stories of Scrooge’s youth, as we realize what has made him the miserly old man that he is today.

The clear highlight to this film is its musical numbers that will leave even the most tone deaf humming along in glee. Throughout each sequence we are treated to various numbers. My favorite is “Thank You Very Much”, as first appears during the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come sequence. By this time feeling more sympathetic and appreciative, Scrooge merrily dances and sings along with the townspeople, unaware of the fact that they are celebrating his death and are dancing on his coffin to celebrate the fact that their debts are now free and clear. This catchy tune is a reprise at the end of the film.

Other cheery numbers are “Father Christmas” and “I Like Life”, which perfectly categorize the film as a merry, holiday one, despite the occasional dark nature of the overall film. This is necessary to avoid making Scrooge too bleak.

I also adore the vivid set designs as the gorgeous city of London is perfectly recreated to show the festive Christmas holiday. The film is not high budget, but makes the most of it by using small, yet lavish sets.

Scrooge is a perfect holiday film that contains fantastic tunes, a meaningful story, that comes across on film as celebratory of life, never edging toward contrived or over-saturated in nature. A wonderful holiday feast.