Tag Archives: family movies

The Worst Thing on Netflix

There’s good stuff on Netflix, and plenty of bad, and then there’s the stuff that only Sean could find during his endless scrolling – find, and watch. What he subjects me to on Netflix could probably be defined as spousal abuse, and there’s no better evidence than Pup Star: Better 2gether.

Now, as the rest of you can probably guess from the “clever” use of the number 2 in the word together, this is a sequel. Have we seen the first? No we have not. Did we even know that a first one exited? No we did not. Did we start with the first? Of course we did not: we jumped right in to the complex world building of the Pup Star universe and took our chances.

Tiny is an adorable little Yorkie who apparently in a previous film, won the hearts of MV5BZTk4MjMwNWEtMmVhNy00YTdmLWIzNmYtNWE5MDU5OGNmYWU5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDQ0MDI4OA@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_America and the Pup Star singing competition. This film she’ll have to defend her championship BUT some gangsters are getting in her way! They dognap Tiny and replace her with a street-smart rapping Yorkie who looks identical, called Scrappy. Scrappy says “yo yo yo” a lot, usually in front of “rap lyrics” that sounds like they’re being read directly from a Hallmark card. But anyway, Scrappy’s a ringer who will pose as Tiny only to throw the competition at the last minute. Meanwhile, Scrappy gets pretty comfy cozy in Tiny’s lavish lifestyle, and Tiny makes some new friends hanging with Scrappy’s rap crew.

This is NOT a cartoon, folks. They’re real dogs with moving lips superimposed onto their faces. They speak English and are understood by humans. There are dog characters with racially-based personalities and names like Guido and Rasta. There’s a disconcerting amount of human-based slapstick. And there’s a very confusing ‘cameo’ by Dave Coulier. I found I could only take the nonsense for a max of about 10 minutes at a time so we actually watched this movie over a series of 7-10 nights, over a period of maybe 2 months.

Why though? Especially when we have our very own cute and cuddly Yorkie at home.

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That’s Fudgie. He was a unicorn for Halloween. He’s an amazing dancer.

 

 

What’s the worst thing you’ve been duped into watching?

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The Princess and the Frog

As a young girl, Tiana loved making gumbo with her father, and the two dreamed of opening up a restaurant together. Even after he passes away, she keeps the dream alive, though she doesn’t have the means to make it come true. Meanwhile, Prince Naveen is in town, setting all young hearts aflutter. Unbeknownst to them, the prince is actually broke and needs to marry a wealthy socialite to keep up his lifestyle. Both of our leads are in desperate situations that cause them to act rashly. Naveen strikes a deal with a voodoo doctor, who transforms him into a frog, and thinking that her magical kiss will transform him back, Tiana does so – only it turns her into a frog as well!

Then the adventure really begins, and they traverse New Orleans, befriending MV5BMjE2OTg0NDk2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTUwMjIyNw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1723,1000_AL_a trumpet-playing alligator and a Cajun firefly along the way. You may have heard that Sean and I are in New Orleans at the moment and time will tell what sort of friends we’ll make – but you can keep in touch on Twitter – @assholemovies.

The Mama Odie character was inspired and by the famed New Orleans storyteller Coleen Salley, even down to her voice. Coleen consulted with the director several times, but never lived to see the completed movie. Her name is mentioned in the credits. Dr. Facilier, the bad voodoo doctor, also takes sinpiration from New Orleans trandition: he looks just like the voodoo god of magic, ancestor-worship, and death, Baron Samedi. The trumpet blowing alligator is named Louis in honour of – you guessed it – Louis Armstrong. Another alligator, a hungry one who tries to eat our heroes, is named Marlon, after Brando star of A Streetcar Named Desire. Marlon is voiced by New Orleans celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and even uses his signature catchphrase “Bam!”

Alicia Keys and Tyra Banks both lobbied personally for the part of Tiana. Beyonce was considered but refused to audition (I mean, really). Instead it went to Anika Noni Rose who was relatively unknown to those outside Broadway audiences. She was 41 when she gave voice a 19 year old.

Tiana was of course the first black Disney princess, and though it was about damn time, it wasn’t without controversy. First, Disney had to change the film’s title. Originally called The Frog Princess, the Internet informed them how terribly this sounded, and The Princess and The Frog was born. And Tiana too was renamed – originally she went by Maddy, which the peoples thought sounded too much like Mammy. Because of Disney’s history of being 99% white and 1% ugly stereotype, it’s only natural that this film was experienced under a microscope. And it’s kind of too bad that our first African-American princess spends most of the film as a frog instead of, you know, a black princess.

But it does get to splash the fun, colourful New Orleans as a background, from city scenes to the bayou. And directors Rom Clements and John Musker did some good while they were in town, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

If we’re in the neighbourhood, we may just pop into Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. Leah Chase is the inspiration for Tiana. Known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, she’s cooked for the likes of Quincy Jones, Jesse Jackson, Ray Charles, and Barack Obama. Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was one of the only public places where mixed race 28-leah-chase-obama.w710.h473.2xgroups could meet, so it became home Civil Rights meetings, even though it was illegal.  Leah is also a patron of the arts, and her restaurant was once considered New Orleans’ best collection of African American art. Dooky”s reopened after Katrina but now operates under limited hours, a decision Leah’s family has made since the 94 year old woman still works as the head chef during its opening hours. Yes, you read that right. Forget Disney princesses: Leah is a formidable woman, and Tiana should be so lucky.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure

Anna and Elsa ring the bell to mark the beginning of Arendelle’s yuletide season, their first since the gates have reopened, but then the crowds disperse, leaving the Frozen ladies to contemplate their lack of holiday traditions. Moved, their good buddy and everyone’s favourite snowman, Olaf, goes off in search of other people’s customs in order to find the right ones to adopt.

Originally Disney planned for this to be a televised episode but as production continued they felt it was too “cinematic” and deserved to be on the big screen, which is how it wound up in front of Pixar’s Coco. It’s only the second time that a MV5BMTg0MDc1ODY2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODg3MTE2MjI@._V1_CR0,60,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_.jpgnon-Pixar short is in front of a Pixar film (the first time, for Toy Story, was the Roger Rabbit short, Roller Coaster Rabbit) but like any blended family, the Disney-Pixar merger has now been solidified, and when better to spend time together than the holidays? In fact, the two do seem to be appropriate companions since they’re both about appreciating different cultures. However, audiences in Mexico were less than thrilled with the “short” (it’s 21 minutes!); impatient to get to the movie that pays homage to their country, they rebelled until theaters dumped the short altogether.

Like Frozen Fever that came before it, the ladies seem to be confronted yet again with emotional loose ends, as it were, which means this short serves as a bridge to the inevitable sequel. And Olaf is evolving too. A kid favourite, the child-like snowman with a sense of wonder has always entertained, but in this short, he’s becoming more thoughtful and self-aware. He’s not just a side-kick anymore. And at 21 minutes, this short has time for 4 new original songs; That Time of Year is a particular stand out, and I was tickled by the mental comparison between Olaf (voiced by Josh Gad) knocking on villager’s doors, and Gad doing door to door with the ding-dong song Hello from Book of Mormon.

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is fun in a giddy kind of way and fans of Frozen will be glad to revisit their old friends – though I do wonder if the fans aren’t sort of ageing out of the Princess phase by now. But Elsa and Anna still have a long way to go before their healing’s complete, so there are plenty more ways for Olaf to save them, and he’s always going to be enchanting as heck while he does it.

Coco

First, if you haven’t read my piece about John Lasseter, please do. It feels like an important piece of the conversation.

On to the movie. Coco is Pixar’s latest offering about a little boy named Miguel. Miguel comes from a long line of shoe makers and he knows that’s his destiny even if it isn’t his passion. He lives and works with his parents, his grandmother, and his great-grandmother, who all have the same very strict rule: absolutely no music. So guess what Miguel’s true passion is? That’s right: it’s music. He idolizes Mexico’s most popular singer, Ernesto De La Cruz. And on the day of the dead, he’d love nothing more than to participate in the town’s talent show, but not only is this forbidden by his relatives, he must honour the dead at the family altar instead – every single one of them, except for his great-grandmother’s father, who left his young family to pursue music, which is the whole reason behind the curse.

coco-movie-01Of course, this being a movie and all, things do not go smoothly. Miguel’s pursuit of his passion means he accidentally crosses into the land of the dead himself, and he needs the help of his dead ancestors (possibly including that cur, his great, great-grandfather) in order to return home.

Pixar does not miss the opportunity to splash the screen with colour. It’s a riot, and constantly just beautiful to look at. Sean and I love and visit Mexico frequently, and it’s clear the animators do too. There’s something about the juxtaposition of smiling skeletons and vivid colours that just captures the imagination. But the film treats every day Mexico just as lovingly. The opening scene is done through papel picado – those brightly coloured tissue paper banners with intricately cut-out designs. It’s distinctive and impressive Mexican folk art that really establishes the scene for us early on. Coco is a buffet of visual delight, but it also tells a very compelling story. Yes, the following your dreams thing has been done to death (pun intended) but Coco is also a meditation on family, forgiveness, memory, and love. It takes a kids movie about death to truly speak to the joy and the pain of being alive.

And I’m glad Pixar has finally given us a non-white character in the lead role. It’s about time. I feel like the whole movie reads like a love letter to Mexico and its culture and traditions, but Pixar hasn’t acquitted itself entirely honourably during the film’s production. Pixar has a history of distinguishing itself from Disney movies by not really doing musicals. This isn’t technically a musical either, but it’s got musical numbers, so it seems like a missed opportunity, and in fact a bit of an embarrassing blunder, to have not used a Mexican composer. We have to tread a coco-moviefine line between paying tribute to another culture, and appropriating it. Coco was originally set to be titled Dia de los Muertos, and of course Disney tried to copyright that name. You can imagine the uproar this caused – so much so that Pixar belatedly brought some Mexican ‘consultants’ on board just to make sure they didn’t step in any more shit, and as you can tell, they quickly made a name change. At any rate, the movie felt quite respectful to me, but I’m not really the one who gets final say on that. I will say that it feels like a nice offering by an American studio in the age of Donald Trump and his egregious wall.

And a note to parents: Coco has a running time of 1 hour, 49 minutes. There’s also a 21 minute “short” before it (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure), and when you factor in previews on top of that, you’re looking at nearly two and a half hours. The kids in our screening were quite well behaved, but the middle-aged man who felt entitled to sit in the middle of the row despite his flimsy bladder, got up no less than 3 times. So be prepared.

Coco is Pixar’s best since Inside Out. It’s so layered with detail that it begs to be rewatched. It’s charming and lively and yes, it made me cry.

 

 

 

 

If you can’t get enough of Coco, check out my own Day of the Dead makeover.

Wonder

Auggie is a very special little boy. Born with a genetic condition called Treacher Collins syndrome, Auggie’s facial deformities are the least threatening of the complications but they’re what make him look so different. He’s most comfortable when he’s wearing an astronaut helmet that keep prying eyes and hurtful comments at bay. For the first ten years of his life he’s had countless surgeries and has been schooled at home, but he’s about to start middle school for real, and a classroom of students is more daunting to him (and his mom) than any operating room.

Wonder is based on the wonderful YA novel by R.J. Palacio, which you should, should, should definitely, definitely read. But happily, this is a rare case where the movie does MV5BMTIwOTUwNTEtYzMwNS00N2YxLTg0ZWYtNzM0YzVjOWYwZWM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjg5NDY3Mw@@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_the book justice. And even happilier, the movie doesn’t suck, period, which was a major concern of mine. It seemed far too easy to just let it coast on its sentimentality. But while director Stephen Chbosky doesn’t have a lengthy track record to ease my worrisome nature, he does have one credit under his belt that’s all I really needed to hear: he adapted and directed The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which he’d also penned.

Wonder is a much different beast, however. First, it necessarily involves casting the perfect but very young star. A bad child actor in a lead role will ruin the whole thing, and in this case you have to find someone who can convey a whole range of complicated emotions from underneath a mask of scars. Chbosky went with Jacob Tremblay who’s already proven his chops with the most trying and powerful of roles in Room; Chbosky calls him “a once-in-a-generation talent” and I think he may be right. But we can’t discount the fact that Chbosky surrounds Tremblay with talent.

The secret to Wonder’s success, both in novel and in film, is that yes, it tells the story from the perspective of a sweet and brave 10 year old boy who’s been through hell and is still going through it. BUT it also shares the stories of the people around him. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has had to pause life itself in order to become his warrior. His father Nate (Owen Wilson) copes with humour and cries by himself. His big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) feels like a mere planet revolving around Auggie, the sun. A disease like Auggie’s is a family affair, energy-stealing, all-encompassing, leaving no one unaffected. And no one likes to complain about that because it seems petty in the face of something life-threatening, but it’s true and Palacio’s book as well as Chbosky’s film really add legitimacy to a family suffering as a unit. Even Auggie’s only friend is untouched – being his friend is a social sacrifice most 10 year olds won’t be strong enough to make. Another formidable young actor, Suburbicon‘s Noah Jupe, lands and aces this role.

Wonder is not about the suffering though; that would be too easy. It’s about overcoming that suffering, in ways that are clunky and ungraceful and sometimes accidental. That’s why Auggie’s family seems so real, and why so many real families with sick kids can relate to the material. It’s emotionally raw stuff and you may find that it touches a nerve. But it’s got a takeaway message of positivity that’s irresistible, and will help justify the numerous soggy kleenexes in your lap.

The Little Mermaid

This year for Halloween, Gertie dressed up as Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

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As you can see, she absolutely killed it, even if she did completely hate the wig. But her very convincing Ariel did reveal one shocking fact: Sean had never seen The Little Mermaid. So of course I needed to remedy that oversight, which means we both watched it and to be honest, I have some concerns.

First, was this movie always so racist? I mean, Sebastian (the crab) has an accent that he shouldn’t have. I mean, I’ll describe it as “Caribbean” …possibly Jamaican. The story seems to take place off the coast of some European country, probably Denmark. That’s a pretty far swim for a crab. Voiced by Samuel E. Wright, a black man born in South Carolina, I obviously have to question Sebastian’s provenance. And why does the only “black” (I mean actually he’s red) character in the film sing mermaidracist2about how good it is to be unemployed underwater? He literally calls the land lubbers slaves. But excuse me, there is one other black character, a “black fish” who sings. She is literally panned to for less than a second – blink and you’ll miss her.

So of course while I’m researching this, I’ve come across some other interesting food for thought.

  1. Flounder is not actually a flounder. I mean, I realize I’m not actually a Jay Flounder-The-Little-Mermaideither but I find this way more misleading in a children’s movie [possibly my name is also confusing to children: my adorable and super-smart niece Ella, a year and a half old, isFlounder-31-2-640__14096.1414776694.600.600 still refusing to say my one-syllable name and says instead “I no can do that” just to prove that she’s perfectly capable of complex sentences and is just  happiest when she’s spiting me].
  2. How did Flounder get the statue of Eric into Ariel’s grotto? This is Sean’s question of course. Flounder is an overweight fish with tiny little fins for arms. The statue is more than human-sized and made of concrete. What the heck?
  3. Ursula is a Cecaelia (half human, half octopus)…but is she actually an octopus? Ursula_transparentShe technically only has 6 tentacles (it was cheaper than animating 8) but since she has 2 arms, I guess we’ll call it a draw. Octopus tentacles are distributed as 6 arms and 2 legs, but whatever. The team at Disney created Ursula with a drag queen named Divine in mind; unfortunately, 5524736bbf741a40e9bac73206a516b2--phil-morris-john-watersDivine died before voice recording. I kind of love Ursula though. I love that she flaunts her curves and is always wearing a perfectly made up face. She’s got a soft spot for her pets (or sidekicks? henchmen?) Flotsam and Jetsam and a penchant for musical numbers and dramatics. My god, is Ursula ME? I do look hot in purple.
  4. Why doesn’t Eric’s dog Max talk? Most of the characters in this movie are animals and they all talk (and sing and dance) except for poor Max. And while I’m at it, why doesn’t Ariel write? She has no voice with which to enchant Eric so she should just write him a damn letter instead of pathetically miming things and letting a crab try to establish a sense of intimacy. We know she CAN write – she signs her damn name to Ursula’s contract. So she’s just being obstinate.
  5. Okay, Ariel is worse than just obstinate. She’s kind of a bitch. Granted she’s only 16 so probably can’t help it, but damn, why do we even like this girl? She’s chronically late and disrespectful of everyone else. She shames Flounder into doing naughty things. And then she pathetically throws herself at practically the only man she’s ever seen and falls in love with him for no reason whatsoever and even mutilates her own body in order to earn his acceptance. Plus she likes puffy sleeves.
  6. It seems like Ursula actually tried to murder Ariel right off the bat. Their deal is: Ariel gives up her voice to become a human. She becomes human on the spot, and the spot, let’s remember, is miles underwater. She no longer has a tail so she can’t swim, and hello, nor can she breathe. Neither she nor Ursula knew that Flounder and Sebastian were conveniently hiding nearby, so ostensibly Ariel should have drowned on the spot. Good thing her fat fish friend saved her life and got no thanks at all!

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Sean has a video game called LEGO Dimensions. You buy character packs, build them out of LEGO, and then you can play them in the game. The character packs come in all sorts of cool recognizable shapes and sizes: Sean has the Simpsons, and Back to the Future, and Ghostbusters, for example. He builds a Marty McFly, and a Delorean, and then he can go through the plot of the movie using those characters. It’s pretty cool. But as a completionist, he’s also bought character packs that we have no experience with at all, like Harry Potter, Adventure Time, Portal 2, and Ninjago. And while we knew that Harry Potter were popular books, and a franchise of films, we didn’t know Ninjago at all. In fact, we didn’t even know how to pronounce it correctly until Sean called it Ninja-go in front of his 4 year old nephew, who looked at him like he was a complete sack of shit. It’s pronounced Nin-jaw-go, for your information. And apparently it’s a TV show used to sell LEGO sets. But whereas Bill Murray was a real flesh and blood person rendered into a cartoon version of a LEGO mini figure, the Ninjagos were always LEGO. LEGO has sold over 100 different sets of LEGOs based on that show, so you can see how it’s a big money maker for them. The movie is a cog in their money making machine.

AmazeThe gist of the movie: Garmadon (Justin Theroux) is the bad guy threatening the world of Ninjago. But every time he tries to invade it for good, he’s thwarted by a band of teenage ninjas trained by his brother, Master Wu (Jackie Chan) and led by the son he abandoned 16 years ago, Lloyd (Dave Franco) though none bear any familial resemblance. Being the son of a noted bad guy is hard, and so is being the vaguely named “green ninja” in a crew of ninjas otherwise named for the elements – Cole\Earth (Fred Armisen), Jay\Lightning (Kumail Nanjiani), Kai\Fire (Michael Pena), Zane\Ice (Zach Woods), and Nya\Water (Abbi Jacobson). They get to ride around in really cool LEGO robots that can shoot things and fly, and I can totally see the toy appeal. Lloyd’s robot vehicle is a dragon that shoots missiles from every body part imaginable – what kid could resist? But the genius is that that they all have something different, so the potential for you to spend money is almost limitless.

Anyway, when Garmadon makes his most successful bid to capture the city (and a monster threatens to destroy it), Lloyd will have to learn now to harness his vague ninja powers, pull his team together, and also bond a little with his bad guy dad.

Yes, it’s all a big ploy to get into your wallet. But like the other LEGO movies that came before it, it’s also shamelessly fun. But this one is the weakest of the three, in part because it only appeals to the kids who know and watch the show. The other two movies preyed on adult nostalgia and reminded them of the toys they played with as kids. The only thing this movie might remind you of is the sharp little buggers that get lost in your carpet and hurt like hell when you step on them at night on your way to the bathroom. LEGO knows what it’s doing: the butt joke ratio is extremely high, and the kids laugh every damn time. So go ahead and take them to it, as long as you understand that it’s likely to cost you more than just the movie tickets.

A Dog’s Purpose

This is the movie I promised myself  I would never see. The trailer itself made it crystal clear: this is the story of one dog who keeps coming back to life as different breeds with different owners. And in order for a dog to be reborn – you guessed it – he has to die. A lot. And it’s never, ever not sad. But the film makes no bones about death not being the worst fate for dogs – and THAT was the worst part. The part when he didn’t die, but lived a miserable life.

27-dog-purpose.w710.h473Anyway, as if a dog’s repeated death wasn’t enough to deter me, there was some controversy prior to the film’s release when a video of one of the actor dogs revealed it looking completely terrified during a stunt. Abuse was alleged, which led people to boycott the film. Not that it mattered; A Dog’s Purpose is not terribly good. It was never going to win the box office. It preys on your heartstrings. The director is so shamelessly over-sentimental that I felt like a dog on a leash being yanked along against my will.

If you’ve been paying attention here, you may have noticed that Sean and I are dog lovers, or that I am a dog lover and Sean never really stood a chance. I already had Herbie when I met Sean, and Sean had to win his approval in order to stick around. Then we got Gertie so that Herbie would always have a friend. And then we adopted Fudgie on the day we bought our house. And Bronx was given to me as a post-surgery recovery gift. So that’s 4 – the maximum amount of animals we can have on our property without legally declaring ourselves a farm. They keep my life full and happy. There’s no better way to feel like a million bucks: simply leave home and return 10 minutes later. Tails will wag, joyous barks will sound, big sloppy kisses will greet you at the door.

While watching the movie, Sean had an epiphany: what if the only god that exists is the god of dogs. And this world belongs to the dogs. And we’re just here to act as their humble servants. And OUR purpose is to create better and better domestic situations for them. If that’s the case, dogs are benevolent masters, friendly and forgiving. Me? Not so much. This is one movie that deserved to be put down, but since it wasn’t, I caution you to tell it it’s a bad boy, a very bad boy, now maybe hit it in the nose with a rolled up newspaper and tell it to go lie down in its bed. And go hug a real dog instead.

Despicable Me 3

Nope.

This movie was made to take your money; it does not feel obliged to entertain you in return. The first two films in the franchise felt sweet in their own way, heart-warming in a villainous sort of fashion. But this one just feels incomplete. The movie ended and I felt nothing had really happened. Gru  (voiced by Steve Carrell), our nefarious villain turned secret agent thanks to do-gooder wife, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), meets his twin brother Dru for the first time (Carrell, again). Dru, though seemingly successful and handsome(er), has always been something of a disappointment bad-guy-wise, and begs his brother to teach him everything he knows. Reluctant to go back to his bad guy ways, Gru instead has them steal the world’s largest diamond back from the evil clutches of Balthazar Bratt, a villain who eluded him at the agency.

nintchdbpict000290313314Bratt is an entertaining character on paper: a washed up 80s TV child star who aged out and resented it until his old shows inspired him to become the very villain he played. Middle aged now, and armed with a mullet, a keytar, and a juicy 80s soundtrack that follows his every move, he pulls of heists with exploding bubble gum and an army of dolls who look just like him.

My nephews, who love the franchise, call this movie Minions 3, which tells you what puts 5 year old butts in the seat. Gru has no need for his minions now that he’s turned straight, but some of their side action lands them in prison, and the movie basically splits in two, one plot following Gru and Dru, and the other following the minions. The movie does just enough to satisfy the kids, but anyone over the age of 8 is out of luck. This is yet another franchise that ran out of steam. There’s no focus, no charm. The only good thing about this movie is Steve Carrell’s voicework. I spent a lot of the movie imagining him in a soundproof booth. It’s not the recitation of dialogue that impresses me, but rather I am intrigued by all the assorted random grunts and noises. He had to sit in his booth, and think, now, if I was about to get impaled butt-first on a poisonous stake, what sort of heavily-accented screech would I let out? And what sort of relieved exhalation would I make if I avoided it? And what sort of self-starting grunt would I make to get back to work? And how out of breath would I get trying to sticky-climb up the side of a lair? These questions fascinated me, and kept me entertained during a movie that was supposed to be doing the entertaining.

But okay, there was a SECOND thing that was rather cute. Gru’s unicorn-loving daughter Agnes is again in unicorn mode, determined to see one in person. A kindred spirit, I happen to be hosting a unicorns & rainbows party on Sunday. Because they’re so fluffy I want to die. But two little bright spots do not a good movie make. Despicable Me 3 was boring. Not so boring I wanted to die but I was certainly conscious that its 90 minute runtime brought me closer to the grave, which is not exactly what you want out of a children’s movie. The end.

Cars 3

Pixar doesn’t have many missteps in its catalogue, but for me, the Cars franchise just never had any traction. I was only just recently able to watch the films straight through, and it made me want to put the Pixar crew on suicide watch. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I already knew Pixar had a real nostalgia fixation, but Cars crystallizes that notion. MV5BZDRiYmQ1MjgtNmNiOS00YTNhLTkwNWMtMjliNWFkYmFkMDc2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk2MjI2NTY@._V1_The Pixar animators are living for the past. But for the first time, I could also watch the film through the eyes of my  5 year old nephew. He and his younger brother adore the franchise. They have every iteration of every car that got even a fraction of a second’s worth of screen time. Last year for his birthday, I made him a Cars racetrack cake. So even before I’d truly seen the film, I had a kinship with it.

In this third installment, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) hits the racing circuit once again, but it’s been 11 years since the first film made its debut. McQueen isn’t the hot shot rookie anymore, he’s a veteran being challenged by faster, sleeker next generation race cars. Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) is the fiercest of these new competitors, but McQueen isn’t ready to be counted out. Unfortunately, McQueen’s best efforts result in a terrible crash that many believe spells his retirement. You may remember from the first film that his old friend Doc (Paul Newman) suffered a similar fate: by the time he’d healed up\gotten road-worthy again, the racing world had moved on without him, ultimately forcing him into retirement before he was ready.

Two things about what I’ve just written: One, that crash was spectacularly animated. Disney-Pixar’s animation technology has clearly improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade. They work hard to keep the cars we know and love looking like themselves MV5BZGYxZDVjM2EtMWRiMi00MWNlLWE3YWItZTYyNDcwMjQ4NjY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3Mzk1NTk@._V1_while still improving the overall quality of the animation. The crash scene is a show-stopper. But, second, so too are flash-back scenes of McQueen and his friend Doc, in a different, more emotional way. Paul Newman, who voiced him, passed away in 2008, and so did the character by the time the sequel came out. But Doc was a formative figure in McQueen’s career, and Cars 3 pays tribute to both the character and the actor in a very satisfying way.

Cars 3 focuses on McQueen’s relationship with a new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who is well-versed in all the newest techniques. Old school clashes with new school. In fact, watching it, I wondered if McQueen’s mid-life crisis would resonate with the kids watching it. My nephew certainly enjoyed it, though I don’t think he picked up on McQueen’s fear of being aged out\replaced. What he did like were the repetitive race track scenes, many of which I could have done without. I guess what it boils down to is: Cars 3 panders to its audience. It does not reach the heights we adults have come to expect from Pixar’s best work, but it’s exceptionally talented at marketing toys to children. There are dozens of new characters (65 to be exact) to be bought for Christmas. Is that cynical of me? Sure. Here’s the thing: I admit I was charmed by the ending, glad old McQueen had it in him. If this is the end of the franchise, it’s a pretty noble note to go out on. But as a cynical, toy-buying aunt, I can’t help but feel that this Cruz character has the whiff of spin-off to her, and I’m not convinced that Cars 3 bought into its own message of retiring with dignity.