Tag Archives: Children

Christopher Robin

[3 stars]

I happen to be a serious Pooh fan. One of my most treasured items from childhood was my father’s copy of Winnie the Pooh, which became mine, which I handed down to my niece. There is something magical about the easiness with which Pooh and his friends approach and survive the world and its day to day joys and disappointments. They are are a blueprint for getting through modern life.

Marc Foster (World War Z) wasn’t an obvious choice as director, though he certainly tackles more emotional material as well. While he found the characters and a sort of balance for his movie between adult and child, it never quite got to magical for me. Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t eventually get to a sweet point; but, like a local train can, it sure took its time.

Ewan McGregor (Our Kind of Traitor) hits just the right tone of father, worker, and lost soul to neither scare children nor come across as too unbelievable for adults. And, as his wife, Haley Atwell manages something similar, though she has to stay a bit more bound to the real world by design. The only other major role was Mark Gatiss ( Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time),  who seemed to be in a different movie; something a bit more wacky than realistic. He isn’t bad, he just doesn’t fit.

Part of the challenge with the movie is the story itself, which has to set up a lot of information before it even gets going. Along with that they changed quite a bit of Milne’s history too–you cannot separate Milne’s family from Pooh easily, especially with other flicks out there like Goodbye Christopher Robin released so recently. Admittedly, this was not supposed to be about Milne, but I had a hard time separating the the intention and reality in this case.

The result is ultimately a nice, family-style adventure. Not a brilliant classic, but certainly a nice pass-time film. You can also see Disney rev’ing up to redo Mary Poppins, having stolen a good part of the main spine of that story and overlaying it here.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

[4 stars]

This is one of those rare occasions when the sequel is better than the original. Wreck-It Ralph was amusing, but was mostly a nostalgia run with some laughs. This follow-up, by returning directors and co-writers Phil Johnston and Rich Moore, actually has some meat on its bones, even if they gave away some of it in the trailers. Most importantly, the Zootopia duo remembered they had adults in the audience this time around, which really helped.

John C. Reilly (The Little Hours) and Sarah Silverman (The Book of Henry) re-deliver nicely on their characters. Helping them are a host of guest voices, including Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman) and Taraji P. Henson (Proud Mary) in pivotal roles, not to mention just about every princess voice known to Disney. There are no brilliant stand-outs, but everyone hits their marks nicely to support the story.

This is clearly a juggernaut so there is no point in trying to sell you on it. Every kid is going to want to see this movie over the holiday. I can just promise you that adults, particularly those that game or know Disney flicks, won’t be bored. There are also two tags during the credits…in fact one of the funniest moments of the movie is the first extra scene, so stick around if you go.

The House with the Clock in the Walls

[3 stars]

The first two-thirds of this film are really spot-on and fun. A beautiful crossing of Stranger Things and Supernatural, but for kids. No huge surprise given the writer is Eric Kripke (Supernatural). Unfortunately, the final act of the film got away from him, and the movie devolves into the worst of the 70s and 80s Disney-style “horror” endings (Think Hocus Pocus or Escape to Witch Mountain). Given Eli Roth (Death Wish) directed, that was a surprise given his darker and tougher nature. It still works, but it ends up much more of a film for kids than a four-quadrant deal…but it was so close.

Even with those concerns, watching Jack Black (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) and Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s 8) play together is worth the time in the seat. Black is every kids wish for a weird uncle and Blanchett is, well, Blanchett. Owen Vaccaro (Mother’s Day) as the young lead actually holds his own with them, which is as much a credit to their ability to share screen as it is to his presence. And, though I looked forward to seeing Kyle MacLachlan (Inside Out), he never really gets to spread his wings on this one though he does fine with what he has.

This movie is still a fun romp and certainly aims at its 6-15 yr old audience, with just enough for older viewers to keep them happy. The issues are really more the plot than execution. Sunny Suljic (The Killing of a Sacred Deer) as the friendly nemesis for Vaccaro has no supporting story for his actions. Not everything that is introduced gets used (which is the writer’s fault). And, even more importantly, the ending is rushed, though it has some clever bits to it (and some logic holes).

The production design is lush and really deserves a big screen, so if you go, see it on the largest format you can afford. I felt somewhat cheated on the smaller screen on which I caught it. And I do suggest seeing this, especially if you have kids. It is a step up from the brainless fare that is often served and it is entertaining.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Sherlock Gnomes

[3 stars]

This sequel to the silly, but adorable, Gnomeo and Juliet is aimed at the same audience as its predecessor (15 and under). That isn’t to say that the riffs on Sherlock, and a dozen or more other shows and movies, aren’t entertaining for adults but it is thin feasting between those moments. However, the message of partnership and equality is a bit more palatable than most animated films aimed at this age group, which tend to fall into cringworthy cliché when it comes to relationships and roles.

Like the first, this also boasts amazing voice talent, adding Johnny Depp (Murder on the Orient Express), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange), Michael Caine (Going in Style), Mary J. Blige (Mudbound), Matt Lucas (Doctor Who), Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van), and Julie Walters (Brooklyn) to a hoard of others whose names are less recognizable. James McAvoy (Atomic Blonde) and Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) reprised their un-starcrossed lovers to complete the cast.

This is John Stevenson’s (Kung Fu Panda) second feature from the director’s seat. He doesn’t break new ground, but he keeps up the pace and finds some solid moments. However, it isn’t for a broad audience like, say, The Incredibles, so approach with caution and ready distraction as you keep your younger companions company (or that necessary large glass of happy juice to launch a mindless evening of entertainment).

Sherlock Gnomes

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation

[3 stars]

You don’t check into the Hotel Transylvania expecting depth or subtlety, even though it was directing and co-written by Genndy Tartakovsky (Samurai Jack). You check in for silly fun, like its previous installments.

There isn’t any voice talent really worth calling out other than Chris Parnell (Life of the Party), whose silly fish was nicely surprising and dry. The rest are either reprising their roles from the past movies or are standard cartoon. Even the new additions of Jim Gaffigan and Kathryn Hahn (Flower), while effective, weren’t great performances.

There some good aspects to this cinematic distraction. Primarily, it is some silly distraction and humor for the summer and kids. The message is solid and well placed for its young audience (and even a good reminder for adults these days). Oddly, the best joke of the entire film is a throw-away chupacabra reference for which the film pauses and then moves on. It doesn’t really come back or mean anything, but it is clearly a gift that Tartakovsky or the producers weren’t willing to give up, even though it added nothing other than a brilliant nod and wink to the audience for those that understood it.

There are some big issues as well. The animation is a bit uneven in design approach. There are very realistic moments followed by oddly flat, cartoonish sequences. Though you can can clearly see Tartakovsky’s sensibility in some of the characters, but it isn’t nearly as inventive overall. Also disappointing was the ending battle, which desperately needed a music expert to pull it off. The idea was a riot, but the presentation was far too clunky to get to the result. A shame, really. It could have been an amazing final sequence.

If you enjoy the series, be assured it hasn’t really diminished over time. It is what it always was and even opens up some new avenues to continue. It isn’t really aimed at adults, though there are some gifts sprinkled in the script throughout. Go to escape the heat or distract your kids, but it isn’t some high form of animation.

Incredibles 2

[3 stars]

The largest part of what made The Incredibles so successful and ripe for a sequel was Brad Bird (Tomorrowland).  Up till now he never treated any of his animations as cartoons, he approached them like drawn movies. Few animators (and their studios) took that approach before him, though it is more common now. It isn’t just in the subject matter, it is in the composition of the frames and the choices of the edits. Watching a Bird animation you could sometimes forget these aren’t real people on screen, unlike, say the Despicable Me series.

But while this sequel picks up seconds (and 14 years) after the original ended, some of the Bird magic seems to be missing for me. For starters, the whole point of the first movie was the family learning to accept who they were and to work together. This second throws that out and starts again, admittedly for different reasons, but it still feels a bit like a loop rather than a progression. The action, probably thanks a lot to Jack Jack, is broader and more cartoon-y. And the mystery…just isn’t in this one. Or at least it wasn’t to me.

This is certainly enjoyable family fare…and with more going for it than most family movies. There are nods and comments for adults throughout that were noticed and enjoyed by the crowd. But I expect a bit more from Bird instead of a, basically, a solid Pixar action flick that took very little time to build characters. There weren’t even any voice performances worth calling out as anything special, though Catherine Keener (Nostalgia) and Bob Odenkirk (The Post) come close. Keener’s exchanges with Holly Hunter (The Big Sick) also verge on something unique, but never quite get there. Overall it felt like Bird was afraid to let the action lull too long and so quickly left any quiet moment. To be fair, it certainly seemed to work to keep the kids all engaged through the 2+ hours (including the uneven, if ultimately surprising, short, Bao).

Certainly, make time for this rollicking and entertaining distraction. But it isn’t quite everything I had hoped for, though it was great to spend time with these Supers again after so long; they deserved a new adventure. Perhaps we’ll get that next time.

Incredibles 2

Peter Rabbit (2018)

[1.5 stars]

I consider myself to have a fairly wide range of likes from the cerebral to the purest popcorn. However, I couldn’t even finish watching this movie. By 15 minutes in I had to turn it off. And I did that on an evening I was looking for something silly and escapist.

I will say that the mixed CG/reality was rather well done. And the script was actually willing to hold onto some of the darker aspects of the original tale. But there was something about how director Will Gluck (Easy A) paced and set the tone of the story that just didn’t work for me. Honestly, unless you’re somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8, I’m pretty sure it won’t really work for you either. Even Early Man, for all its faults and lack of an adult hook, was more watchable.

Peter Rabbit

A Wrinkle in Time

[3 stars]

Some books stick with you from childhood. When I discovered tesseracts at age 9 or 10, the world opened up for me and I was sold on science fiction for the rest of my life. And it is still one of the first books I give to young kids when they move up a level in their reading. What makes the book so special is that it doesn’t talk down to children. Children are, in fact, the heroes in a very real way. While there are more books like that now, there definitely weren’t when it came out in 1962. And it still has the power to enthrall today, despite any competition because it is so accessible and understandable to children on an emotional level. As the trailers were released for this movie, everyone in the audience was murmuring how they wanted to see it and how much they loved the book, to a time.

Well, first let me warn you, let go of the book. In focusing the story so it would fit into a feature-length tale, Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terebithia) decided on some large changes right off the top, especially around Charles Wallace. Most of those are acceptable, but dropping the other siblings and shortening the trials of the children (and a significant change to the ending) left me wondering about their choices.

Ava DuVernay (13th) directed the script she had well. The pace is measured, but matches the book. Despite its impact, the book is very surfacey in its way, and full of huge leaps of place and understanding, but it is true in its emotional core, which DuVernay completely understood. She also walked the line of young love beautifully. But the film is aimed purposefully at 8-15 year olds by design. That is a fair choice, but it makes it less interesting for the returning adult or the more world-aware tween.

Of course, a lot has been made of the three Misses: Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Mindy Kaling (Inside Out), and Oprah Winfrey (Lee Daniels’ The Butler). But this is primarily Storm Reid’s (12 Years a Slave) movie, and she carries it well. She also bounces off her screen brother Deric McCabe nicely. McCabe has his own burdens to carry in this film and is generally good. Because of the changes to his character, though, I did find accepting him a little harder to do. On the other hand, Levi Miller’s (Pan) Calvin is spot on. He too works well with Reid.

Chris Pine (Wonder Woman), does an amazing amount with very few lines and little screen time. Similarly, though with less range, does Gugu Mbatha-Raw (The Cloverfield Paradox). They make great parents in need of rescue. Sadly, Zach Galifianakis (Tulip Fever) was given one of the best roles in the film, but it was so dampened in the adaptation that he is just forgettable.

The visuals are mostly impressive, though often they feel like flash over substance. The story, well, as I said if you can let go of the book and find your inner 9 year old, it will increase your enjoyment. For me, there were moments that were captured and others that were missed. It was like seeing part of a great painting, but not quite all of it. I do understand the point of the writers and director in their approach…but, the excisions and reconceptualizations should have been left to those with a better understanding of the story who could have also looped in the intent. For instance, despite the opening and closing frames trying to impart one of the great reveals and lessons (and it failed on that), they ignored core chunks of the tale. Giving us the simplest, bare emotional core of the story ultimately diminished rather than expanded its potential audience in my opinion. They should have trusted that the book remained so popular because of its detail, not just because of its message.

This isn’t the first attempt to adapt Wrinkle in Time to screen, nor is it the best, but it makes a game try and is a solid story for children trying to find their place in the world, even if it leaves out and changes great swaths of the original book. So, if you have a young person in your life, sure take them. Skip the IMAX… it just isn’t filmed for it on the whole. And, if they haven’t read the book before the movie, make sure they read it after so they truly understand the magic and possibilities. The remaining four books in the series are totally missable in my opinion. The second is interesting, but the rest… well, make up your own mind. As for the movie…I wanted it to be so much more than it was, but it wasn’t a total fail. I don’t see a franchise coming out of this, but perhaps a Disney Channel series.

Someday, I’d love to see the book tackled again as a mini-series, bringing in the best of this and the best of the 2003 version, which had its good points too (though no widescreen version was ever released). For now, we have this attempt to hold us till someone does it the right way.

A Wrinkle in Time

Early Man

[3 stars]

There is something about stop-action animation that remains magical to me. I don’t know if it is the effort behind it or simply the way inanimate objects come to life when it is done right, but it captured me as a kid and continues to grab me as an adult. Until Laika Studios (Kubo and the Two Strings) came online about 10 years ago, the torch and almost sole standard bearer for stop-action was Aardman Studios and, in particular, Nick Park.

Park created the wonderful Wallace & Grommit, Shaun the Sheep, and a slew of advertisements and short films. Then, in 2005, tragedy struck when a fire wiped out nearly all the decades of models and sets Aardman had brought to life. What has followed that devastation has never quite hit their high mark, at least in long-form adult fare.

Early Man is no exception. If you love footy and have kids, this film is a riot. It is full of humor (adult and child) and has a sweet and empowering tale for all children. And, of course, it has a great animal sidekick, voiced by Park himself, that steals the film. The rest of the story, for adults at least, is fine, but not brilliant despite a well-known and talented voice cast. Most importantly, the animation is wonderful.

Where does it lose adults, or at least me? The movie starts off with cavemen and dinosaurs alive at the same time in order to tie in the great meteor strike to the plot (wholly unnecessary, but they couldn’t resist the dinosaur thing). Then it goes on to not think through its production design; the clothing is all whole, wild animal furs when all they hunt are rabbits for example. And, finally, it has several key script contradictions. Will kids notice any of this? Probably a tiny bit, but most won’t. However, it was effort to keep having to forget the errors as I was watching–and I love Park’s work. I will say the script does have a lot of fun British humor. Perhaps part of the challenge was seeing the movie after seeing the new Shaun the Sheep trailer, which looks so very funny and sly…and this film just didn’t seem to have the same level of intelligence and cleverness.

I’m not saying don’t go to this film. I am saying go with the right expectations. This is a fabulous film for young kids with enough humor for adults that it works. It just isn’t the classic I had hoped for, and always hope for, with Aardman Studios. Their technique is still great and their sense of whimsy still very much alive, but they need to get better writers on board to keep the adults fully engaged. Though, admittedly, Mark Burton, who brought us the wonderful and clever Curse of the Were-Rabbit and last year’s Shaun the Sheep Movie, was one of the primary writers on this feature. So it isn’t so easy to point to where this particular film went off-track. But go and support the art form and enjoy the escapism of it all. It may not be a classic, but it is still solid animation from a studio that is a master of the art.

Early Man

Despicable Me 3

[3 stars]

Remember that threequel conversation from a couple nights ago? Well, here we are again and the result is mostly meh. As much as I enjoyed the previous installments, the brother relationship that drives this entry in the franchise just doesn’t hold the emotional punch the young girls did. The movie really only exists as a bridge to a new direction…rather than actually taking a new direction…and it has all the impact that weakness implies.

The shift in focus even pulled away from the Minions, who are the real stars of this series. They, at least, got one truly brilliant sequence in stripes. There are moments for the other characters, but not enough to carry even this 90 minute trifle. This installment is probably good to distract your youngsters, but it really missed the mark for me as hybrid adult entertainment, even with all the nostalgia-themed material.

Despicable Me 3