Tag Archives: family movies

Nightbooks

Nightbooks is a horror movie for kids – not young kids, mind you, but older, braver ones not prone to nightmares.

Young Alex (Winslow Fegley) is a prolific writer of scary stories, only some recent bullying has him vowing to give it up. On Halloween night he wanders into a strange apartment which turns out to be a witch’s lair, and a prison for the children she holds captured within. Yasmin (Lidya Jewett) is also being held prisoner there, by a witch named Natacha (Krysten Ritter), who collects kids. In order to survive, Natacha forces Alex to read her a different scary story every night, a new one that he writes. Natacha is very fussy about her stories; she actually knows ghosts and vampires and the demons, and the details have to be right. An even stricter rule: no happy endings. Alex will spend the rest of his life trying to write stories that please Natacha, and being threatened with death (or worse!) when he doesn’t!

The movie felt a little familiar to me, but I could definitely see kids, who have fewer references than I do, enjoy this as a gateway into horror. Horror-lite. Magic potions, toothy creatures, frozen children, a hairless cat, sleeping witches, poison candy: this movie has pretty much everything a kid’s nightmares are made of. But director David Yarovesky isn’t trying to scare the stuffing out of your kids, just sort of creep them out a bit, things looming in the shadows, light playing tricks on you, that sort of thing, horror’s oldest tricks, still classics, all of them.

NIGHTBOOKS. KRYSTEN RITTER as NATACHA in NIGHTBOOKS. Cr. CHRISTOS KALOHORIDIS/NETFLIX © 2021

Nightbooks won’t be any adult’s favourite film but it’ll likely be a popular benchmark for kids, possibly a hit among the sleepover set. Fegley and Jewett are sweet kids and perfectly able to carry this film upon small, slimy shoulders. Ritter lends a little something new to the wicked witch trope, with fabulous costumes and beautiful, unwitchy hair. Most of all it’s nice to see aspiring writers and young creative minds being lauded. What a wonderful thing.

PAW Patrol: The Movie

PAW Patrol is a popular (9 seasons popular so far) children’s cartoon, at least here in Canada, where one small boy named Ryder is the Bosley to an intrepid group of puppies who form a rescue operation in their small town of Adventure Bay. Here, every kid under 5 can tell you who their favourite pup is: most will pick Chase, the police officer German Shepherd, or Marshall, the Dalmatian fire fighter. Sky, the Cockapoo helicopter pilot, Rocky the recycling, handyman Schnauzer/Scottie mix, Zuma the water rescue Lab, and Rubble the construction Bulldog round out the PAW Patrol, contributing when Ryder deems it necessary, each episode a lesson in thoughtful problem-solving and selecting appropriate skills. The pups each live in a special doghouse that easily transforms into their custom vehicles or “pupmobiles” and besides the collars that alert them to emergencies, they also wear pup packs that contain tools related to their jobs, like grappling hooks, zip lines, and jet packs. They assemble in a tall tower called The Lookout which serves not just as their lair but as their phone booth (Superman style, where they get into costume). They each have a catchphrase and over the years they’ve made a number of friends – Everest, who helps with snow rescues, Rex, who operates in the jungle, etc. As the show is incredible toyetic and in fact seems to serve primarily as a merchandising machine, each of these special helpers inspires its own toy line, so even if you already had all the original pups, plus their vehicles, and the Lookout, you’ll aslo need all of their specialized snow equipment, jungle ensembles, archeology outfits, etc, etc. With all of my nieces and nephews at some point whole-heartedly devoted to the show (even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his kids are fans), I cannot tell you how many dollars I have spent on these items. As good aunts and uncles, we watched enough episodes to be able to identify the pups, name our favourite (Rubble), utter the correct catch phrases during play, and scorn the show’s main antagonist, a mischievous mayor from a nearby town named Humdinger, who has a harem of cats, of course.

In the movie, which is only available in theatres here in Canada but may be streamed elsewhere on Paramount+, Humdinger has gone to the nearby metropolis of Adventure City to see what trouble can be caused there. The pups are summoned to provide help when he is immediately responsible for a number of catastrophes, including a fireworks display gone horribly wrong, a “hyperloop” subway that does a series of upside-down loops, and a cloud catcher that ensured good weather but of course was overused and goes rogue.

I happened to be hosting my 5 year old niece Ella this weekend, along with 3 rambunctious boys, her older brother and cousins, and thought it might be nice for her and I to watch the movie together. I was surprised to find that all the boys, who have since grown out of the franchise, were keen to watch at all. Having seen the trailer, they’d determined that the movie looked funny, and was probably made for older kids. Indeed, the movie abandons the 2-D animation of children’s cartoon shows and has transformed the pups for a modern movie experience. The kids debated who looked the most different, but seemed to enjoyed the new look overall.

In the big city, the PAW Patrol encounters bigger challenges than they’re used to in their dozy little bay, really raising the stakes of their rescue operation. They also make a new friend a Dachshund named Liberty who’s got street smarts and city savvy. This is a fortuitous choice for a couple of reasons: first, we have a wiener dog in our own house, a pup named Walt who was enjoying movie time with the kids, having 8 hands to pet his extra-long body, and 4 bowls of popcorn to steal from. Walt is still relatively new here, and the current obsession and constant receiver of round the clock attention from the kids. To find that their cartoon counterparts have also adopted a Dachshund was a thrill for the kids, and the fact that Liberty also happened to be a homeless dog provided an important learning opportunity for all of us. These kids live in a small town like the pups on the show normally do, but as we drove them into the much larger city where Sean and I live, we drove by a couple of homeless people, who the kids never fail to spot and need to talk about. The sight is unfamiliar to them, but the concept is of course absurd to them, to all kids I’m sure, that our society just allows certain people to not have a home. We explain as best we can, but we know our excuses are lousy, and they sound particularly hollow when said out loud to innocent children.

When TV shows make the leap to the big screen, it’s an opportunity to expand on the universe, and setting up the pups to perform in the big city is certainly an excellent use of the medium. For me, though, it definitely brought about an uncomfortable line of questioning. Back home in Adventure Bay, the pups get frequent calls from Cap’N Turbot and Farmer Yumi, recurring characters with familiar foibles, who get into predictable and formulaic scrapes and mishaps. In the city, however, you realize the absurdity when small dogs are careening armoured rescue vehicles down crowded city streets, and normal adult human beings trapped in a burning skyscraper don’t object when the only responders are the same dogs who probably spend their days off sniffing each other’s butts and being distracted by squirrels. Suddenly, you’re asking a lot more from your audience.

PAW Patrol: The Movie may look more like Pixar than it normally does on TV, but it is not a movie intended for all audiences. It’s made for children, and the children who watched it with me rated it very highly. They could not have identified the more famous voice cast (including Randall Park, Tyler Perry, Jimmy Kimmel, and Kim Kardashian), but they did appreciate the new design, and actually got up to dance around to the songs – there are over 75 of them, with original contributions from Simple Plan, Alien Ant Farm, and a real catchy bop from Adam Levine. If you have little PAW Patrollers in your home, the movie is sure to be a hit.

Today’s review brought to you by Ella (5), Brady (9), Jack (7), and Ben (also 7): my loves.

The Loud House Movie

Lincoln has 10 exceptional sisters. He’s great at helping his parents navigate the chaos of having such a large, high-achieving family, but at the end of the day, being a great helper doesn’t get him any trophies, and he’s having an existential crisis about not having his own special talent.

The Premise: In pursuit of Lincoln’s special talent, the Loud family travels abroad to Scotland, hoping to find evidence of some aptitude or skill buried in the family tree.

The Verdict: I’ve never seen the show before (the movie takes place between season 4 and 5) but I can assure you you needn’t be a fan to enjoy the film. An intro song conveniently catches us up on what we need to know. And then the songs continue, over the pond to their ancestral land, Loch Loud, where they stay in their clan’s sprawling castle as Lincoln attempts to dig up some innate knack or flair or interest. Lincoln makes friends with groundskeeper Angus (David Tennant) and learns that there’s royalty in his bloodline (and dragons in the basement). Will the Loud family relocate so Lincoln fulfill his destiny and become Duke? When you inevitably watch to find out the answers to these pressing questions, the movie looks and feels just like an extended episode of a hand-drawn Saturday morning cartoon. It’s unpretentious and the songs are simple, but the creators clearly know how to keep us entertained.

Vivo

Huzzah! Netflix has a new animated film out this weekend, and it’s perfect for a family movie night.

The Premise: An old man named Andrés gets a second chance at love when his old flame reaches out to him in Cuba, inviting him to her final show in Miami for a lovers’ reunion. Andrés is touched, and has just the thing: a love song he wrote for her when they parted ways years ago. Unable to deliver it to her himself, his new partner (in life and in business, but not in love), a singing monkey named Vivo (voiced by Lin-Manuel Miranda), takes it upon himself, with a the help of a little girl named Gabi (Ynairaly Simo), to make Andrés’ last wish come true.

The Verdict: I don’t expect much from Netflix animation, but clearly I need to revise my bias as the last few examples have proven me wrong. I hoped Vivo might be good, but I was delighted to find myself loving it. The animation was quite pleasant, and the songs were nearly first-rate – some of them may even live lives outside of streaming. I even learned a little something: the monkey Vivo isn’t a monkey at all. He’s actually a kinkajou, also known as a rainforest honey bear, a nocturnal, fruit-eating tree-dweller more related to raccoons than to monkeys. They’re also surprisingly good singers and look quite dashing in small hats and foulards. Enjoy.

Jungle Cruise

The Premise: Based on a beloved ride at Disney that’s 20% water ride and 80% dad jokes (now with less racism!), the film adaptation introduces us to Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), thwarted at every turn because of her gender, but dedicated enough to scientific pursuit to follow it all the way to the Amazon where she engages irascible skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to deliver her to the jungle.

The Verdict: While it achieves no great heights, it’s a decent action-adventure the whole family can enjoy. It relies heavily on the charm and chemistry between Blunt and Johnson, who are quite apparently enjoying themselves on screen. Emily Blunt is gorgeous, even in pants, Johnson is formidable wrestling a cheetah, Jack Whiteall stuns in a series of dinner jackets, Paul Giamatti looks like he was born to sport a gold tooth, and Jesse Plemons delivers a memorably villainous accent. A cross between Disney’s successful ride-based franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the more recent Dora the Explorer effort, Jungle Cruise is just fun enough, funny enough, interesting enough, and exciting enough, but with the excessive charisma oozing from our two leads, this is a worthwhile watch – in theatres, or on Disney Plus.

Secret Magic Control Agency

Fairy tales come together in a new and only mildly interesting way in this buddy cop animated film with a magical twist that’ll only prove satisfying to young and undiscerning audiences.

You may have heard of Hansel and Gretel, who in this film are all grown up and sadly estranged. But they’ve reunited, against their will, to work a very important case. Gretel is a dedicated agent at the Secret Magic Control Agency while her brother Hansel is a criminal who uses magic to swindle folks. But when the King is kidnapped by a disgruntled royal chef who can bring food to life to act as her henchmen, for some reason only Hansel and Gretel together can solve the case and save the king. And, I should mention, in the process they get turned into children, making their mission even harder, as people tend to discount kids and not take them seriously and shit.

This movie didn’t strike me as special or interesting or good in any way, but I do think that sentient spaghetti and cupcake dogs will have a certain irresistible cachet with young kids. For adults, though, or even kids over 8 with good taste, this one’s not quite going to cut it.

Yes Day

Allison is tired of being the bad guy in her family, always the one to say no, to stop the fun before it turns into fights or unfinished homework or the destruction of public property. Moms have such a bad reputation for being the ruiners of fun, and somehow dads seem to get off easy, don’t they? So after one too many dictator jokes, Allison agrees to a Yes Day – a period of 24 hours where the parents have to say everything the kids propose. Yes Day!

Allison (Jennifer Garner) is a stay at home mom, husband Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) the typical overworked dad who likes to come home and take it easy. Their three kids think they’ve got it tough. Mom is SO strict! [Sidebar: I actually thought the mom was perfectly fine and I resent making mothers into villains just for attempting to raise their kids.] But this is why a no-nonsense mom like Allison would agree to say nothing but yes to angelic little Ellie (Everly Carganilla), troublemaker Nando (Julian Lerner), and rebellious teenager Katie (Jenna Ortega) for an entire day.

Now, technically speaking, this is a sweet little family film about getting your priorities straight and spending quality time together. But let’s be real: do you want to give your kids devilish ideas? I know my nephews are very impressionable, and I worried for my sister’s car when Big Ask #2 was driving through a car wash with the windows open. Are you curious now? Do you wonder what kids will ask for if given free reign? Will you lose sleep tonight worrying about what your kids are cooking up? Will they get you in a weak moment and extract a Yes Day promise you’ll live to regret? Or, god forbid, not live to regret? Will your kids be reasonable? Hahaha, just kidding. They will not.

So up to you: is 90 minutes of screen time so you can take a bath undisturbed going to be worth the price you may ultimately pay? If you need help deciding, here are bit a few of the consequences evident in the film: public humiliation, diarrhea, ruined upholstery, incarceration. Sound good to you? If you’re brave enough to continue, know that you’re going to get Jennifer Garner at her Garniest – goofy and super earnest and very believable as a mom who routinely embarrasses her children. She’s hard to resist. Pro tip: if your kids do start agitating for a Yes Day, keep in mind that’s what aunts and uncles are for. We’re physically incapable of saying no.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Once upon a time, in a kingdom called Kumandra, people lived peacefully alongside dragons, who brought them water and protected them. But when a sinister plague known as Druun threatened the land, turning its people to stone, the dragons pooled their power, sacrificing themselves to save humanity, leaving behind only a gem to represent their faith and trust in the people they’d saved.

500 years later, the realm of Kumandra is no more. This last drop of dragon magic proved too tempting, and factions broke off, each desperate to hold the gem themselves. An attempt to steal it breaks the gem into pieces, unleashing the Druun plague monster once again. Raya, a young warrior, goes on an adventure to retrieve the broken pieces of the gem and resurrect the last dragon. It’s going to take more than just magic to heal the world, but trust and cooperation might be even harder to come by.

This is Disney’s latest animated offering, available to stream (at a premium) on Disney+, and if Raya is their most recent addition to the Disney Princess lineup, she’s a good one. Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is courageous, and adventurous. She plots to save herself, and her people. Sisu (Awkwafina) the dragon also has beautiful female energy, more giving and trusting than Raya, who, though brave, is also flawed, making for a far more interesting protagonist and princess.

The realm of Kumandra may be fictional, but Disney animators were inspired by Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos when establishing its unique culture and aesthetic. The film looks stunning, proving that Disney animation is back on top, with or without Pixar. The stellar voice cast includes Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, and Alan Tudyk, but the greatest interplay is between Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina, who share a wonderful, warm chemistry, emphasizing the film’s respect for female friendship.

The best part of Raya and The Last Dragon may be its subtle but timely message. Raya is a strong and skillful warrior, full of conviction and a sometimes impetuous desire to run straight into battle. Success in her mission, however, will depend more on conflict resolution; people who have long considered themselves enemies will have to put aside their differences in service of the goal they all have in common. Someone will need to be the first to cross partisan lines because the real threat is never the outside force, it’s the cracks sown between the people within. Raya’s fighting style is based on the Filipino martial art Kali but victory won’t require her weapons, she’ll need to arm herself with empathy and diplomacy instead.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge On The Run

The film opens with a David Attenborough nature documentary-style narration as we swim through the reef toward Bikini Bottom, where our protagonist resides. It’s a nice touch though possibly lost on a lot of kids, and unfortunately, pretty much the highlight of the entire movie.

In today’s extended episode, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) decides that his longtime rival Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) is not the true bane of his existence; it’s his devoted employee SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) who seems to thwart all his nefarious plans. And so Plankton hatches yet another nefarious plan, this time to rid Bikini Bottom of SpongeBob by kidnapping his beloved pet snail, Gary. Gary winds up in the hands of King Poseidon (Matt Berry), ruler of The Lost City of Atlantic City, who’s just a little bit obsessed with youth (and snail slime, or snail mucin, an even worse word, is an actual, legitimate ingredient in a lot of skin care products). So SpongeBob, his best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), and their robotic chauffeur Otto (Awkwafina) will embark on a road trip adventure that will take them across the sea and even on land in search of said Lost City. On the way they’ll find a sage named Sage (Keanu Reeves) and be guided spiritually if not geographically by him in their quest to bring Gary home.

Sean and I are not fans of SpongeBob generally, and without prior attachment to these characters, this movie isn’t exactly spectacular. Longtime fans might be quite happy to find out how young, cute SpongeBob, Patrick, and Sandy (Carolyn Lawrence) first met, but for the rest of us it feels suspiciously like padding for an extremely thin concept.

Not to mention you REALLY can’t get nitpick this show. You have to accept that they live under the sea AND their glasses can still be only half full AND there can still be puddles on the ground AND they can light grills and keep burgers from getting soggy etc etc. It’s a cartoon so I’m going to work on letting this shit go but just know that I’m on to you, Nickelodeon.

Sponge On The Run isn’t really meant for non-fans, and possibly not for adult fans either. Its simple story is constantly interrupted and sidetracked, with so many distractions no one would blame you for losing track of the plot. The stars of the show are upstaged by a tumbleweed and the truth is you’re just not going to be blown away by this film. There’s a slim chance you might be entertained by it though, at least mildly-to-moderately, especially if you care for these characters and wouldn’t mind paying them a socially-distanced visit.

Tom and Jerry

Did you ever wonder how Tom met Jerry, and why it was hate at first sight? Well too bad, this movie’s going to tell you anyway.

Jerry is a mouse, newly arrived in Manhattan, and while apartment hunting he comes across a blind, keyboard-playing cat busking in Central Park. Only the cat isn’t really blind, and of course Jerry finds time in his busy schedule to provoke him just before disappearing into his new digs, the fabulous Royal Gate Hotel. Between its floorboards he sets up a little rodent bachelor pad, and he sets out to sample all of the hotel’s fine amenities. The hotel’s manager is none too pleased to have vermin in his prestigious hotel, particularly before the year’s grandest event – the wedding of Preeta and Ben, set to take place in his hotel ballroom in just a few days. Event planner Terence (Michael Pena) needs help, and Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz) needs a job, so she fudges her qualifications and through the magic of live action-animated children’s movies, Kayla has herself a job.

Kayla’s first task is of course ridding the hotel of its mouse infestation, and what better way to get rid of a mouse than to hire a cat to do the job. Enter Tom, who we know already has a beef with Jerry due to their earlier altercation in the park. True to their heritage, Tom and Jerry will get up to their same old antics, the same old back and forth, cat and mouse, push and pull of destruction that they’ve been getting up to since the dawn of time (well, since 1940, which is pretty much the same thing). Director Tim Story doesn’t have much of a modern twist to add to the proceedings, nor does he have much respect for his young audience.

Inserting Tom and Jerry into an uninspired live action scenario is not the best use of these vintage television characters. It won’t please older fans, nostalgic for the cat and mouse of their childhood, nor is it likely to impress young audiences meeting Tom and Jerry for the first time. Terence and Kayla are helping to plan the wedding of the century. Preeta (Pallavi Sharda) and Ben (Colin Jost) are getting married in the most over the top, larger than life way you can imagine; obviously this leaves lots of room for hijinks and lots of opportunity for trouble. The problem is, the hijinks are kind of played out, like, last century. I can’t really guess who this movie is made for, but I do know it wasn’t me and it definitely wasn’t Sean. Will it be you? Probably not. But if you’re willing to find out, wait until the movie doesn’t cost $25 to rent anymore. Even if you don’t hate it, there’s definitely not 25 bucks worth of movie in here and you’ll end up hating yourself, and possibly an age-old rivalry between a cat and a mouse.