Category Archives: Children’s Films

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Beauty and the Beast-2017

Director-Bill Condon

Starring-Emma Watson, Dan Stevens

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.

WALL-E-2008

WALL-E-2008

Director-Andrew Stanton

Starring-Various voices

Reviewed February 1, 2009

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

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

Reviewed July 8, 2010

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

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.

Dumbo-1941

Dumbo-1941

Director-Ben Sharpsteen

Starring-Various voices

Reviewed December 24, 2016

Grade: A

One of the best produced (and at sixty-two minutes, one of the shortest!) of the classic Walt Disney films of the golden age, Dumbo, in similar fashion to another Disney classic, Bambi, is both heartbreaking and mixed with fun entertainment. It should be heralded and viewed by everyone- children and adults alike, and teaches a valuable lesson in acceptance and tolerance- messages that never go out of fashion, despite the film being made in the grand old year of 1941.

To draw more comparisons to Bambi, we are introduced to the title character, as Dumbo is nuzzled and cherished upon being brought into the world by storks, by his warm and affectionate mother. Dumbo is an elephant and his mother a circus elephant, where she spends her days as entertainment, along with a group of other female elephants- none of whom has her grace, kindness, or dignity.

Sweet Dumbo is born with an imperfection- he has enormous ears. While others- namely the female elephants- ridicule and stare in horror at the lovable little elephant- his mother embraces and cuddles her little bundle of joy, eliciting a genuine, good-nature warmth rarely seen in cinema history. There is something so innately good about this character, (Mrs. Jumbo). She has a richness and way about her that is fantastic and consuming.

Sadly, one day, while entertaining the masses, a bratty human kid taunts Dumbo, causing Mrs. Jumbo to go ballistic, immediately going into protection mode. She is then deemed a “mad elephant”, shackled, and chained, and worse yet- separated from her baby. How anyone can watch this portion of the film and not shed a tear or get a lump in their throat is beyond me. Walt Disney was a master at eliciting raw emotion from his audience and writing a heartbreaking yet charming stories.

The centerpiece of Dumbo is the wonderful bond between mother and son- a sweet and powerful connection almost everyone can relate to. The pride and joy in Mrs. Jumbo’s eyes when she is granted a visit from Dumbo while imprisoned is magical- it means the world to her.

The supporting characters are key to the richness of the film- Timothy Q. Mouse is an important character to the story. Upon Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo’s separation, he becomes Dumbo’s only friend, sympathizing with Dumbo, and is instrumental to Dumbo’s reunion with his mama as well as his future successes in the circus. The bitchy female elephants are crucial too- despite being one of their own, they still reject Dumbo and mother. There are some light moments, as when the ladies, (Catty, Giddy, and Prissy), gossip and act superior to others.

Another fun scene, to balance out the heavy drama, occurs when Timothy and Dumbo accidentally mistake champagne for water, causing them to hallucinate and imagine pink elephants.

Dumbo is important in that it sends a powerful message about the way animals (especially circus animals) have historically been treated. Why animals should be used to amuse and entertain human beings is anyone’s guess, but this film is a powerful reminder of such. Fortunately, the film goes for a happy and satisfying ending, which should please fans. An animated classic for the ages.

Bambi-1942

Bambi-1942

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various voices

Top 100 Films-#88

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A

Simply lovely, endearing, and a heartbreaking tale, Bambi is one of my favorite classic Disney animated features of all time. Gorgeous and flawless, the film sends a definite message of animals longing for peace in a world filled with hunters attempting to disturb and kill the graceful deer. After all of these years, this message still resonates loud and clear, in sad, heartbreaking fashion. All deer hunters should watch this film and then have the audacity to hunt. Bambi was released among the Golden Age of Disney films, led by Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio, to name but a few.

We first meet baby Bambi as his dear mother nurtures and nestles him, fawning over him with pride and teaching him the joys of the forest.  Bambi’s father is the Great Prince of the Forest- protector of all the creatures of the land. Bambi’s mother (unnamed) warns an exuberant Bambi to be cautious of the gorgeous, yet dangerous, meadows, where the deer are vulnerable and unprotected.

During the film’s famous gut-wrenching scene, tragedy occurs, and violence disrupts the peaceful forest, leaving Bambi alone, lost, and devastated, forced into a cruel world of tragedy, realism, and responsibility. The scene gets to me every time as we see the pain and the harshness of what life is like for the sweet deer, to say nothing of the other animals in the forest- namely, Thumper (a rabbit), and Flower (a young Skunk). These characters are Bambi’s best friends. The dripping teardrop that oozes from Bambi’s eye is unable to be forgotten.

To counterbalance the dark tone of the film, Disney successfully adds cheerful scenes of the animals dancing and co-mingling with each other- as one community. This is nice as it shows the power and the bond between the creatures- they are united as a family and take care of one another. I love this message, especially as young people will watch the film for the first time.  There is also a sweet romance offered between Bambi and Faline.

To watch the film and listen to the musical score is to experience sheer beauty. The music makes the film powerful- its classical and operatic elements are gorgeous and will elicit emotions for sure. Visually, each frame is a drawing set against a still and is magical to watch and marvel at the amount of work that undoubtedly went into this preparation.

In the end, the circle of life takes place. Bambi becomes the Great Prince of the Forest, replacing his father as the protector. Now  all grown up with two tiny babies of his own, he must protect his family and friends. Life goes on. A sad yet realistic message. How brave of Disney to create a piece as wonderful as Bambi.

A personal satisfaction for me is observing my beloved female feline friend, Thora, become mesmerized and attentive to the film each time I watch it.

Disney’s Bambi is a wonderful, cherished treasure that evokes emotion and teaches a valuable, though painful message. It is a timeless masterpiece to be enjoyed for generations to come. One will not escape the film with dry eyes, which is a testament to the marvelous film making involved.

Despicable Me-2010

Despicable Me-2010

Director-Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud

Starring-Steve Carell, Jason Segel

70115629

Reviewed January 26, 2011

Grade: B-

My immediate reaction upon seeing Despicable Me is that it is a cute film, just custom made for the masses- children and families alike. This is fine, but I was honestly hoping for something a bit edgier or of more substance, but I did enjoy it at the same time.

To be clear, the film is a fun, family style affair for all ages with a nice story. It basically tells the story of a villain, named Gru, who is in competition with other super-villains and hatches a plan to shrink and steal the moon. He is reformed through three orphans (Margo, Edith, and Agnes) he first uses in his plan, but later comes to love and eventually adopts. The orphans predictably reform Gru and bring out the nice man within him. They clearly change his life for the better.

There is nothing really wrong with this film, nor is there anything really tremendous about it either. I know some people really loved it. To me it was decent, but I wanted a bit more and perhaps a more complex or interesting plot, but that is just my personal taste.

The Witches-1990

The Witches-1990

Director-Nicolas Roeg

Starring-Angelica Huston

20282991

Reviewed September 20, 2016

Grade: B-

The Witches is a G-rated family film with a slightly dark tone that is done in a soft manner as the film is really targeted for children. However, it is a film that adults may love too. I found the film to be entertaining, with impressive special effects, and a dazzling comedic performance by Angelica Huston, but ultimately The Witches has a silly quality, though admittedly not trite, that does not completely make it a success in my book.

The film is based on a Roald Dahl children’s book – with predictably a child as the central character- similar to other Dahl novels that became films like James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I cannot help but wonder if my mediocre rating of The Witches has to do with the fact that I have not read the novel, as I have the other aforementioned novels in his collection.

Our hero in the story is Luke- a  kindly, innocent young boy living in Norway with his parents and grandmother- Helga. When his folks are tragically killed, his grandmother takes him to London to begin a new life for themselves. When Helga falls ill, they stay at a seaside resort where they stumble upon a convention of witches disguised as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Luke’s and his plump friend Bruno become victims of the witches plot to turn children into mice. The witch group is led by the Grand High Witch (Huston), who the other witches fawn over with grandiose praise.

Huston is fantastic as she overacts the part she plays- this is not a bad thing, but makes the role quite fun and energetic. When she transforms from a glamorous woman to a shriveled monster, the transformation is interesting to watch and an impressive part of the film. Furthermore, the way that Luke and Bruno interact when they are mice is also cute and a positive to the film.

I enjoyed the aspect that, if watched closely, can be seen involving the reveal that numerous witches are really men with female wigs on. This successfully gives the witches a grotesque, obviously mannish quality and emits a chuckle of pleasure at the same time.

Still, there is something slightly childish or juvenile about the offering- while the film appears dark on the surface. The subject is rather played for laughs instead of going full steam ahead as a dark film. Undoubtedly this is due to the target audience that the film is going for. For instance, hotel manager and his affair with a hotel maid seems slightly unnecessary.

The Witches is a decent offering due respect for the creative aspects that it elicits- I just felt the story might have been done a bit more serious. Additionally, the ending feels  slightly forced and abrupt- a Hollywood intended ending perhaps?

Babe-1995

Babe-1995

Director-Chris Noonan

Starring-James Cromwell

268776-1

Reviewed December 6, 2012

Grade: B

Babe is a cute, charming family film about a pig who becomes a hero while living on a farm with a family of other animals and a farmer and his wife. It is not a risky film from a story perspective- any doubts about a happy ending?- though here’s props for some visual creativity. And let’s face it- the film is sweet and heartwarming with not a mean bone in its body.

The film is an inspirational one, nice for kids no doubt, and the visual effects, i.e. how they edited the animal movements with voices successfully is well done and not tacky.

The film is certainly predictable and harmless and I’m not sure I agree with the Best Picture or Best Supporting Actor (for James Cromwell) nominations it garnered, but it was enjoyable and fun all the same.

The Peanuts Movie-2015

The Peanuts Movie-2015

Director-Steve Martino

Starring-Noah Schnapp, Hadley Belle Miller

80057058

Reviewed December 20, 2015

Grade: B-

Having adored the Peanuts comic strips in the “funnies” papers every Sunday as a wee child, as well as the wonderful classic A Charlie Brown Christmas special that aired every holiday season, I was eager to see a full-length film released in theaters.  The Peanuts Movie commemorates the 50 year Anniversary of the Christmas special.  The Peanuts gang are so All-American and ingrained in our culture that I could not resist seeing it. I expected “cute” and that is exactly what I received. The film was nice, but quite safe and certainly predictable.

The Peanuts gang is much more than just the antics of Charlie Brown and his faithful dog Snoopy, who clearly take center stage in the film. It is the entire beloved gang and they are all featured here- Woodstock, Peppermint Patty, Marcie, Linus, Lucy, Frieda, Pig-Pen, and others, albeit in clearly supporting roles.

There are two main stories featured in the film- the long-suffering and (in his mind) friendless (despite actually being loved by the gang), Charlie Brown is enamored with his new neighbor- the Little Red-Haired Girl- well-known from the original comic strips as Charlie Brown’s schoolyard crush-yet never seen. The other is Snoopy’s writing of a book about the Flying Ace- in which he saves his crush, Fifi, also a pilot, from the dangerous Red Baron and his army.

Per usual, the film is really about Charlie Brown’s endless insecurities prompted by bad luck and always screwing things up- no matter that his intentions are noble. When the Little Red-Haired Girl moves in across the street from Charlie Brown, he is immediately smitten and does numerous things to impress and acquire her attention- of course with difficulties arising. A talent show in which he plays a magician goes wrong. To his delight, he is partnered with the Little Red-Haired Girl on a book report, but when she is called out of town he is forced to write the report himself, thereby foiling his attempts at getting close to her.

Per usual, all parents remain unseen and speak in garbled voices as the story is solely about the kids. An interesting element is, while the Little Red-Haired girl is seen and does indeed speak, most of this occurs towards the end. Up until this point we see her only from behind allowing an element of mystery to surround her. It would have been interesting seeing some of the supporting characters explored more- is Peppermint Patty gay and is Marcie her love interest? How about a love interest or background for some of the others? A very quick side story explored is a growing romance between Pig-Pen and Patti.

The film does a nice job with featuring the familiar settings of the original comic strip- Lucy’s psychiatrist’s booth, the wall,  and the skating pond are prominently featured, which is a treat for long-time fans.

In the end, The Peanuts Movie is a nice film. I would have preferred a bit more of an edge or more creativity as original creator Charles Schultz had, but it is nice to be reminded of a simple time in life and this film is a good time.

The Lego Movie-2014

The Lego Movie-2014

Director-Phil Lord, Chris Miller

Starring-Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks

70289949

Reviewed October 24, 2015

Grade: D

A child’s movie in every sense of the word, The Lego Movie is silly and amateurish. It contains a hackneyed plot and an incredibly fast pace that makes the viewing experience quite unpleasant, frankly. Computer animated and primarily created by imagery, a scene involving two human beings interspersed among all of the animation only makes the plot more sappy, overwrought, and predictable. The film is a complete dud and a waste of energy save for one lone catchy song appearing throughout the film. I am perplexed why this film received mostly positive reviews as I did not share the same sentiment.

The premise is too complex for the target audience, for starters. In a Lego universe, where all of the characters are Lego pieces, a mysterious wizard- Vitruvious, attempts to protect a super weapon (Kragle) from the evil Lord Business. While he fails, he prophesies that a person named “The Special” will one day find the Piece of Resistance capable of stopping the Kragle. Kragle turns out to be superglue in the human world, as a cameo with Will Ferrell reveals he is really the human version of Lord Business, and refuses to let his young son play with Dad’s Lego set, thereby threatening to permanently keep the set stationary with glue. Inevitably, this leads to a tender scene with Dad and son.

I simply did not find The Lego Movie very engaging story-wise or from a visual standpoint and was bored throughout most of the experience. Admittedly, modern animated films are not my favorite genre- I miss the days of the classic Disney drawing style films like Bambi or Dumbo. The major flaw is the frenetic pacing of the film. Did the powers that be think that all youngsters and parents dragged along to see the film suffer from attention deficit disorder? There was no time to pause and ponder what was going on in the story since immediately it was on to the next scene. In fact, during most scenes the action was non-stop so that the film seems like one long action sequence.

The main character of Emmett, a young Lego piece characterized by everyone as dull is voiced by Chris Pratt. Emmet stumbles upon a young woman named Wyldestyle looking for something at his construction site- she assumes he is The Special and they race to save the world from Lord Business. Emmet, as far as a lead character goes, is likable enough and predictably, a romance of sorts develops between he and Wyldestyle. Through their adventures we meet various creative characters like Batman and Princess Unikitty.

The film contains a sickeningly catchy song called “Everything is Awesome” that will stick in the viewers head whether desired or not and that is the strongest part of the film. It is not that the song is lyrically great or anything, but it is fun and hum along.

Overly high octane and an uninteresting plot make The Lego Movie perhaps appealing to young kids in the seven to ten range, but is a forgettable and tedious experience for this grown-up. The ending of the film leaves room for the inevitable sequel.

Annie-2014

Annie-2014

Director-Will Gluck

Starring-Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx

220px-Annie2014Poster

Reviewed March 25, 2015

Grade: D-

The latest remake of the film version of Annie- the last film production having taken place in 1982- though at least one variation in television exists- and all based on the Broadway hit of the same name- is a saccharin-laden mess of a film. Annie stars Quvenzhane Wallis, Jamie Foxx, and Cameron Diaz as Annie, William Sparks (changed from Daddy Warbucks), and Miss Hannigan, respectively, and features Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavalle in supporting roles.

Let me begin with the one redeeming quality of the film- though admittedly a bit of a stretch, I found the musical numbers okay- not great, but certainly far from the worst parts of the film. The numbers are remixed into hip hop type songs with a trendy approach- presumably to add a modern element. While not great, some songs are catchy and not dreadful, especially “It’s A Hard Knock Life” over the closing credits. Whether the actors actually sing their own songs is another question, which I might not want to know the answer to.

The rest of Annie is terrible. The casting is poor. Wallis, very believable in Beasts of the Southern Wild, portrays Annie as a precocious, social climbing child and I sensed awkwardness to the part- regardless it did not work for me. I did not buy her in the role and how she was awarded a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Musical Comedy speaks volumes for the limited choices that year. Jamie Foxx completely phones in his performance as Cell-phone technical mogul, running for mayor, William Sparks. Why the film felt the need to change the character from Daddy Warbucks is a mystery. He is unbelievable as a germaphobe, aggressive yet sensitive, powerful man who amazingly develops a soft spot for Annie. Cameron Diaz completely overacts and turns Miss Hannigan into an obnoxious, hysterical shrew, who towards the end of the movie somehow “turns good”, with no real motivation for doing so. Rose Byrne and Bobby Cannavalle give uninteresting, very one-note performances in their respective roles of Sparks’s assistant and love interest, and his right hand man.

The film chose to change so many aspects of the original stage version of Annie, that it is barely recognizable. It takes place in present times rather than Depression era 1930’s, Annie is no longer an orphan, but is in foster care. Miss Hannigan’s first name is changed to Colleen instead of Agatha and is now a former pop performer whose career subsequently died. Hannigan’s brother Rooster and his girlfriend Lily are not featured in this film version. The story has zero interest and zero believability.

But the worst part of the film is the over sentimental, corniness to it. It is so overwrought with contrived scenes that it is tough to take seriously. At a Mayoral function, Annie (an untrained singer) suddenly leaps onstage and belts out a perfectly sung, choreographed number suddenly melting the hearts of the wealthy powerhouses in attendance. The film is pure fantasy with no realism to speak of. Take for example the fact that Miss Hannigan fosters an apartment full of children whom she hates, to collect $150 a week, but her apartment is pretty damned spacious and beautiful for Manhattan standards.

The film contains one inconsistency after another and is a horrendous modern take of a long loved treasure, the 2014 version of Annie should be seen once, snarled at, and put back on the shelf and forgotten for good.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory-1971

Director-Mel Stuart

Starring-Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson

Top 100 Films-#17

60020949

Reviewed December 16, 2014

Grade: A

More than just a children’s movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a terrific, imaginative, fantasy film that is timeless and meant for all ages to enjoy. The mastery and creativity of the sets and art direction are astounding and the story is sweet, whimsical, and capturing. Often with children’s movies, we are treated to dumb or contrived stories that will entertain five year olds, but make adults bored or cringe. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is none of the above. It is intelligent and filled with magic and heart.

Charlie Bucket is a poor child whose mother washes clothes for a living. Along with his four bedridden grandparents, they live a meager existence in a small cottage somewhere in Europe. Particularly close with his Grandpa Joe, the two of them become obsessed with a contest held by mysterious Willy Wonka, the owner of an enormous chocolate factory nearby. The contest consists of five “Golden tickets” being hidden in Wonka bars. The five lucky winners will receive a lifetime supply of candy and a tour inside the long since closed chocolate factory. After a series of circumstances, Charlie obtains one of the tickets and the adventure really begins.

The build-up to the trip into Willy Wonka’s factory is gripping- mainly because the viewer knows that a magical treat is in store and is filled with curiosity- what will the chocolate factory look like? What is Mr. Wonka like? The four other winners- Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teevee are all unique and creatively written characters- all spoiled brats in their own way, Charlie is clearly the “normal” child and has a true rooting value to him. As the five children, along with a designated parent- or in Charlie’s case, Grandparent, begin their journey throughout the chocolate factory the audience is treated to a psychedelic experience with fantastic sets- a river made of chocolate, an entire edible garden, lickable wallpaper, a bubble room, and a frightening river boat. The film is bright and colorful within the walls of the factory which perfectly contrasts Charlie’s dreary existence in the outside world. As the four bratty children meet their fates in joyfully imaginative ways- gum chewer Violet blows up like a blueberry after chewing experimental Wonka gum that she is warned not to, Veruca is deemed rotten after throwing a fit and topples down a garbage chute. The film is breathtaking and imaginative, filled with wonderment.

Gene Wilder plays the role of Wonka as over-the-top and it works tremendously. All of the child actors play their roles competently as each character is distinguished from the others. I love the scary river boat tunnel scene as it is frightening, psychedelic, and magnificent. I also love the contrast between the enchanting colorful second half to the bleakness of the first. The sets are some of my favorites in their lavishness.

Specifically, the relationship between Charlie and Grandpa Joe is wonderful. Grandpa Joe is a father figure to Charlie, but so is Willy Wonka in a completely different way. The greed of the children is also interesting and one hurrahs as each one gets his or her comeuppance.

The songs from the film are remarkable and quite cutting edge- each time one of the lucky five golden ticket winners meets their doom, the Oompa Loompa’s sing a tune that visually have weird shapes and colors-psychedelic and very hippy, of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s era. Other numbers such as “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket”, “Cheer up Charlie”, “The Candy Man” are memorable.

A film for the ages, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a celebration of creative film and quite cerebral at times and is far superior to most children’s fantasy/musical films. Skip the 2005 remake starring Johnny Depp and enjoy the original.

Oliver!-1968

Oliver!-1968

Director-Carol Reed

Starring-Mark Lester, Oliver Reed

Top 100 Films-#55

822391

Reviewed December 8, 2014

Grade: A

Oliver, a 1968 film based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, which was then adapted into a successful stage musical, the film surprisingly won the Academy award for Best Picture that year. Surprising, not because Oliver is poor, in fact it is magnificent, but it was not predicted to take home the honor. Telling the tale of woeful orphan Oliver, the film wonderfully comes across as a dark musical with a wholesome happy ending feel, largely due to the musical compositions which inevitably make for a cheerier tone.
When the film begins, Oliver lives in a despicable orphanage outside of London. A drawing of straws forces meek Oliver to ask for more gruel. After being deemed a problem child he is sold for cheap to an undertaker where he is bullied. Defeated, Oliver makes his way towards the big city in hopes of finding his fortunes. He then meets sinister characters such as Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and Bill Sykes, as well as the sympathetic Nancy and Mr. Brownlow.

I absolutely love the musical numbers of the film and for me it is the strongest aspect of Oliver. The film would have certainly been much darker had it not been for the musical that it was. Numbers such as “Consider Yourself”, “Food, Glorious Food”, and “As Long As He Needs Me” stick with audiences for miles. The entertaining songs lighten the somber moments- as noted earlier when meek Oliver dares to ask for more gruel, the enchanting “Food Glorious Food” cannot help but be hummed along to, which lightens the mood of the scene. I also enjoy how the film contains the long ago popular trend of containing two acts with an intermission in between- very grand and classy and an aspect of film I wish would return in today’s movies. The London art direction is magnificent, revealing a cold, industrial feel, mixed in with a warm, sunny atmosphere when Oliver stays at the palatial estate of Mr. Brownlow. The bright and enchanting musical number of “Who Will Buy?” is the perfect backdrop for this setting and my personal favorite number.

Nancy is one of the most complex characters- a prostitute, she happily sings, in denial about her life, in “It’s a Fine Life”, secretly wishing her life was better than it is. Later, conflicted over helping Oliver or standing by her man she sings a melancholy number, “As Long As He Needs Me”, which cements her role as a tragic, sad character. However, as she leads a drunken bar room in a dance of “Oom-Pah-Pah”, the drama is thick as she is striving to help Oliver at the risk of putting her own life in severe jeopardy. Shani Wallis fills the character with heart and feeling.

Oliver is a much darker film than one might imagine. Curiously rated G, the film should have at least been rated PG. The films heart is of that of a children’s movie- to me personally a turn-off, but the film is much bolder than that. Certainly, some subject matters are toned down from Dickens novel, but not completely toned down. Examples- the novel made clear overtones of child abuse by the thieves by Fagin, yet there is none of that in the film. Contrasting this, the film blatantly shows the beating death of Nancy- albeit out of camera range, but the audience gets enough of a glimpse to ascertain what is happening. The shooting and swinging death of Bill Sykes borders on brutal.

A glaring flaw of the film is that the voice of Oliver is dubbed by a female singer and not voiced by actor Mark Lester. To me, this seems quite obvious that the voice is not male. The character of Bill Sykes is convincingly played by Oliver Reed, nephew of director Carol Reed.

Perfect around holiday time, Oliver is a terrific musical drama, to be enjoyed for eons to come.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm-1938

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm-1938

Director-Allan Dwan

Starring-Shirley Temple

70040593

Reviewed July 16, 2014

Grade: B

Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is one of a heap of Shirley Temple films to be released in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In this story, Rebecca (Temple) is a confident child singer auditioning for a New York City radio gig with her opportunist Uncle in tow. Through a series of mishaps, Rebecca winds up on a farm outside of the city with her aunt and various other people who live on or near the farm. The race is on for the radio people to find Rebecca in time and make her a star. Other romantic sub-plots involving the supporting characters occur.

The film is very innocent and cutesy and one needs to be a Shirley Temple fan in order to truly enjoy the film. If not, one might find it contrived and schmaltzy. It felt somewhere in the middle for me- I enjoyed the Shirley Temple musical numbers and the talent of the star, but the story was, of course, predictable and no surprises were in store. It felt more like a pleasant trip down memory lane. The film is harmless and contains the standard Temple curls, smile, and joyfulness. The supporting cast includes Jack Haley (The Wizard of Oz) and Gloria Stuart (Titanic-1997).

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Jack the Giant Slayer-2013

Director-Bryan Singer

Starring-Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson

70213512

Reviewed August 7, 2013

Grade: C

Jack the Giant Slayer is a fantasy, CGI laden film most likely targeted for a young audience. It tells the story of Jack, a farmhand who must rescue a beautiful princess from the world of giants after an accident causes a gateway to open to their world.

The film is loosely based on the fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The special effects in the land of the Giants are the most impressive aspect of the film. Otherwise, it is a love story mixed with adventure and the story is simply not very engaging and very predictable. Heavyweights Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci appear in over-the-top performances and the acting of the princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) is shockingly wooden.

The finale is mildly entertaining as a chase through the castle occurs, but the film is so weighted down by the effects and the lack of good story that overall it was a very middle of the road film.

Frozen-2013

Frozen-2013

Director-Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring-Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel

70279000

Reviewed December 13, 2013

Grade: B

The adjective which springs to mind about the latest hit animated film that has overtaken the nation is “cute”. The story is loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson story (which is modified immensely) and tells the story of 2 royal sisters (Elsa and Anna), one of whom has special “ice” powers and accidentally injures the other causing a rift. From this point, there are a series of misunderstandings, love interests, a handsome prince, and an adventure through the snow, and a Snow White type theme. The story as a whole is uplifting, sweet, and certainly targeted to kids and parents seeking a wholesome, safe experience, but is it too safe?

My one criticism is the lack of diversity and culture in the main characters as they are all similar in looks, which doesn’t set the best example for kids watching. The musical numbers certainly stick in your head as I was humming them for days. The songs are very trendy, pop leaning which may make this film age quickly and have an overly current flavor. I loved the frozen, icy, wintry animation sets which are perfect while watching in the winter months. Olaf, the sidekick, mini snowman is witty and steals the show.

The Wizard of Oz-1939

The Wizard of Oz-1939

Director-Victor Fleming

Starring-Judy Garland

Top 100 Films-#11

70039535

Reviewed December 30, 2013

Grade: A

The Wizard of Oz is a magical film and one of my all time favorites- made in 1939 it still holds up amazingly well and the nuances continue to admire- especially given the time in which it was made. 1939 belongs to this film and Gone With the Wind- as both were and are true classics.

This film is so embedded in people’s minds that it can be tough to look at from an objective point of view. I fondly recall watching this gem annually as it aired on television each holiday season- traditionally around Thanksgiving if memory serves.

It’s a marvel from start to finish and masterfully artistic. How creative to show the first portion in black and white with dusty muted colors, not to mention the astounding twister sequence- done using a stocking. Then, we are introduced to a magic world filled with luscious colors and art direction still mind-blowing in depth. Munchkin-land, Glinda the Good Witch, and Emerald City are beautiful, lavish, and treats.

Who does not become teary-eyed during Judy Garland’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? The poignancy is becoming given the tragic (yet successful) life the star would lead.

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch/Elmira Gulch is delicious in her nastiness. As she mocks Dorothy, who whimpers in tears while missing Auntie Em, she almost sneers at the camera. One can tell she had a ball with this role.

And The Wizard of Oz is not simply a pop culture hit- it has merit and creativity. The special effects hold up tremendously well and were simplistic back then, no CGI in those days, but in many ways better than the CGI of today.

Audiences of all ages must see this film at least once, preferably in Blu-Ray. Judy Garland, later a tragic, troubled, lost figure, captured an innocence that was so sadly lost through the years. All of the characters (The Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man) are perfectly cast and are uniquely created without being too over-the-top. Very few films are timeless and this is one of them.