Tag Archives: family movies

Meet The Robinsons

Lewis is abandoned by his mother on the steps of an orphanage. By the age of 12, he’s been through over a hundred adoption interviews with no luck, so he spends his time on inventions that never quite work out. One day his school science fair is interrupted by two interlopers: a weird dude in a bowler hat, and a kid named Wilbur who claims to be visiting from the future. It seems like a pretty dubious claim until his space ship whisks them away.

In the future, Lewis meets the Robinson family, a wacky bunch of people he bonds with instantly. Which is too bad, because for the good of the space-time continuum, he really will have to go back.

This movie feels like it was designed by committee if that committee was a classroom full of kindergarteners shouting out their most favouritest things: robots! dinosaurs! food fights! And Disney’s feeling generous enough to stuff the movie with every last ounce of feedback it received, no idea too outlandish or sporadic to include. A story can be weaved around them all, and it involves time travel and one genius kid with big ideas.

It’s not the best film that Disney has to offer, but it’s got rapid-fire visual gags and a riot of crazy ideas and eccentric characters brought to life by some vivid animation. And eventually it circles back on sweet themes, like family and imagination, things you might expect that Walt himself would have been proud his legacy continues to endorse.

Matilda

Matilda is a precocious little girl who just doesn’t fit in with her family. Her father’s a crook, her mother’s a bingo hound, and her brother is a bully and a dullard. Six year old Matilda is mostly left to her own devices, which is probably for the best. She devours books from the local library but isn’t sent to school until the elementary school’s principal buys a lemon from her sleazy salesman father and her fate is sealed. Now poor Matilda’s got three adults on her case: her buffoon of a father (Danny DeVito), her flighty mother (Rhea Perlman), and the horrid Mz. Trunchbull (Pam Ferris).

It turns out Principal Trunchbull doesn’t just terrorize the students at her school, but the teachers too, and Matilda’s sainted teacher Miss Honey (Embeth Davidtz) in particular because it turns out Trunchbully is also the mean old aunt who raised her. So Miss Honey and Matilda have loads in common, aside from the fact that they both read at the same level. They’re both looking to replace the misfit families they were born into.

As a story for children, Matilda is a bit of a weird one. It turns out that Matilda has special powers that come in handy when an adult in her life treats her unfairly. And objectively, the adults in her life are deserving of her scorn, but they’re wildly drawn caricatures, sadists and criminals. I suppose Roald Dhal wanted to acknowledge that sometimes children feel powerless and small and Matilda gets to confront this imbalance in a way that most little kids never will. They’ll simply wait to grow up and hopefully do it to their own kids one day. Such is life. Matilda gets to exact her revenge now, and it’s exactly the kind of revenge a 6 year old would think up.

Danny DeVito directs this little ensemble and though the effects have aged incredibly poorly, it must be said that the casting of Mara Wilson as the eponymous star was a stroke of genius. She is believable as a little know it all but somehow always sweet, never obnoxious. She never seems like a brat. She’s the kind of kid you might just want to scoop up and take home – so it’s almost understandable when the lovely Miss Honey does just that. Okay, not really. In real life I think it’s much harder to adopt a kid who has two living parents. But in the movie, both Matilda and Miss Honey get their happy ending, and it’s hard to argue that.

However, it’s easier to argue other things. Like when Miss Honey confides in Matilda that her father’s suicide was actually probably murder, and Principal Trunchbull the murderer. Which is a weird thing to unload on a kid. And to not share with the authorities for decades. But Miss Honey isn’t exactly the angelic teacher we’re led to believe she is. She rather passively stands by and watches her wee tiny students get abused on a regular basis. She actually seems a bit like an idiot. But who’s counting?

Arctic Dogs

Swifty is an arctic fox. His cautious parents liked to dress him all in white to make sure that he always blended in with the arctic snow. Blending in is safe. Standing out is dangerous. But Swifty dreams of being seen. He’s tired of being invisible.

Unfortunately, the movie bigwigs have conspired against poor Swifty, hiring the blandest of the Avengers to voice him. That’s right: Jeremy Renner, who does not have a distinctive voice (some, meaning me, would argue he does not have a distinctive bone in his body). Not all actors can or should be reduced to just their voice: Christopher Walken for sure. Definitely Tiffany Haddish. Patton Oswalt. Sam Elliott. Maria Bamford. Not everyone can do it. If you’re hiring Jeremy Renner, you may as well hire Joe Blow, who’s a heck of a lot cheaper. Well, he’s somewhat cheaper. I can’t imagine Renner commands all that impressive of a salary. You might hire a well-known actor with a boring voice because you need a big name up on the marquis. Again, Renner isn’t exactly fitting the bill. If anyone, ANYONE, goes to the theatre especially for Renner, it’s not a kid who likes mediocre animated dog movies. But the people who made Arctic Dogs don’t cast movies based on “good reasons” or “talent” because Heidi Klum is also voicing a fox named Jade. I suppose it makes as much sense for an arctic fox to have a German accent as an American one, but nobody in the whole history of the world has accused Klum of having a face for radio. Or a voice. She has other assets, and they’re better appreciated in still photographs, or, I imagine, live in person, preferably rolling around on a white sand beach but let’s not be greedy.

Anyway, back to our pal Swifty who wants to be noticed and isn’t. He works in the arctic mail room, sorting packages but he dreams of being on the front lines where the Top Dogs, a team of husky couriers so well-known and respected they’re practically celebrities, are the ones making the deliveries. One day Swifty decides to make his big move, and he highjacks a sled to deliver a package to a secret location, perhaps persuading his curmudgeonly boss Magda (Anjelica Huston) that he’s up for the job.

Anyway, Renner turns out to be the perfect guy for the job because the movie turns out to be just as bland as the man. Had they hired, say, Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Hemsworth, we might have expected something good. Best to temper our expectations with a second (or third) tier celebrity and call it a day. The story and animation are just good enough to satisfy most little ones, but it has little else to recommend it and won’t be memorable for anyone. Is that a plus? Your kid won’t get obsessed with this movie and demand you rewatch it 14 dozen times: GUARANTEED.

The Angry Birds Movie 2

The people (birds) of Bird Island have been deeply engaged in an epic prank war with the people (pigs) of neighbouring Pig Island. But then an actual serious threat arrives from a third island, which has the pigs’ King Leonard (Bill Hader) calling for a truce so the two frenemy nations can discuss. Red (Jason Sudeikis), however, isn’t into truces. He’s the bird who gained popularity last movie when he saved the birds’ eggs from the evil green piggies. He’s afraid that a truce would make him irrelevant, and worse, unpopular.

But the threat is real, y’all. Purple-feathered tyrant Zeta (Leslie Jones) from Eagle Island is tired of living on the cold island. Birds and pigs are going to have to band together to overcome the threat together. Only problem: both Red and Leonard are reluctant to give up alpha status. Red is terrified if no longer being needed. But things are a little more complicated than the bill we’re being sold.

The movie hits all the cute notes the first one was known for: bright characters, great voices, zany antics. Plus pigs and flightless birds breaking out into dance almost constantly to crazy catchy pop songs. That’s literally all an animated film needs to be popular with kids. Angry Birds knows it. It’s undemanding, at times even unthinking, but it harnesses a charming chaotic energy that moves along so agreeably and so quickly you’ll hardly have time to think, let alone be bored. Fire! Ice! Lava injectors! Smells like bacon! Urinal hijinks and pigs in spandex: it doesn’t make a lot of sense but you wouldn’t be watching the sequel of a movie based on an app if you cared about logic in plot.

The voice talent is wonderful though it’s growing so exponentially it’s hard to give everyone their due. The animation seems to have leveled up since its last foray, if you bother to look past the garish colours and frenetic action. The sight gags are almost as frequent as the pop songs which means brainless or not, this movie is light-hearted fun.

And on a personal note, I get that Zeta is supposed to be the villain here, but as a Canadian living in my own wintry wasteland, I get you, girl. You just want to get some sun on your buns. But we could have avoided all this violence and mayhem if you did as Canadians do and buy a ticket to Mexico. Did I mention we’re going to Mexico next week? Feliz navidad, bitches.

The Lorax

Once upon a time, a lovely young woman named Jay flew first class. Yup, all those travels, and it was just the one time. I don’t even remember where we were going. What I do remember: 1. it was an early morning flight 2. the breakfast was good 3. I had a mimosa 4.The Lorax was playing 5. I almost immediately fell asleep and missed the whole thing. I think we got a pretty good deal on the upgrade but still, it was disappointing to have slept through all the luxury. Of course, it was probably only because of the luxury (read: space) that I could sleep. Still. I kicked myself. I kicked Sean too; he also slept, though it’s a less a rarity for him.

But all this time, I’ve wondered: is The Lorax boring, or did I just fall asleep because it was a 6am flight and I was incredibly tired?

The Lorax is based on a Dr. Seuss story in which a 12 year old boy, Ted (Zac Efron), decides to impress a girl, Audrey (Taylor Swift), by bringing her a tree. A real, live tree. Which no longer exist. They live in a place where the trees were replaced long ago by sculptures of plastic lit up by dozens of C batteries. Their whole town is utterly devoid of nature. They’ve been denuded. But Ted has a pretty big crush on this chick Audrey so he treks out to an isolated home where he meets the elderly Once-ler (Ed Helms), the one responsible for the world’s current problems. As a young man he was so determined to have his company succeed that he thought nothing of cutting down all the trees. He butted heads with the guardian of the forest, The Lorax (Danny DeVito), but he wouldn’t change his mind until it was too late. And the thing about too late is that it’s true to its name: too late.

Sean asked me how heavy-handed the environmentalism theme was, but I actually consider it to be more anti-capitalist than anything. The Onceler’s greed costs them everything. And yet this kid-friendly, animated family film is basically one long commercial, replete with product placement, basically neutering its message.

The animation is lovely. Illumination has done several Dr. Seuss adaptations at this point and they’re pretty adept at the translation. Their trees look like swirls of cotton candy. The town is fairly bursting with brilliant details. And yet once again this film has failed to truly grab me.

All I Want For Christmas Is You

Do you believe in love at first sight? Have you experienced it yourself? I do because I have – four times. That’s how many dogs I have, and that’s how it was each and every time. Two pieces of the same soul recognizing each other, and one of us being small enough to jump into the other’s arms. Now I have four little pieces of my heart running around my house and the factor by which they brighten and add to my life is practically immeasurable.

All I Want For Christmas Is You is a sweet little animated movie based on the very popular Mariah Carey Christmas song, the one that every radio station in the world plays ad-nauseum starting in November. In fact, this year, 25 years after its original release, it reached #1 on the billboards, giving her her 19th hit (only behind the Beatles, who have 20). That’s how popular the song is, and has remained, year after year for a quarter century. It’s the first holiday track to top the Hot 100 chart since The Chipmunk Song in 1958.

So who could blame her from trying to capitalize on it, just a little? Well, a little more. This movie is based on the children’s book she published earlier. It’s about a little girl named Mariah who desperately wants a puppy for Christmas, and has for years. Her parents always eschew the idea; apparently, her father is allergic. But this year she’s even more determined because she’s spotted the perfect specimen at her local pet store, a poo-chon she’s already named Princess, who will be the perfect accompaniment in the school’s charity doggie-daughter fashion show.

Instead her dad brings home Jack, a mangy mutt belonging to her uncle and in need of some pet-sitting over the holidays – a test of sorts. Jack is scruffy and wild and gets into lots of trouble, but little Mariah is the perfect caregiver, determined to earn Princess and prove herself worthy.

It’s not exactly a Christmas classic, but perhaps a nice little addition to your family viewing party, particularly if your family includes some of the four-legged variety.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

I feel like a bad Canadian for even thinking this, but the truth is, I don’t like Jim Carrey. Well, to be fair I’ve never met the man; what I mean is, I don’t like his schtick. I don’t like his over-the-top, cartoony performances. And since he’s playing an actual cartoon character in this, How The Grinch Stole Christmas never really had a fair chance with me, never mind the fact that it skewers a venerated classic film that I grew up idolizing.

Jim Carrey plays The Grinch. He’s green, he’s hairy, and he’s very very mean. Except a little Whovillian named Cindy Lou (Taylor Momsen) sees the good in him – wants to see the good in everyone – and nominates him to be Christmas cheer captain. He is coaxed down the mountain to accept his prize and things actually go fairly well – he gamely stuffs his face as Fudge Judge, wins a potato sack race, and is submitted to carol after carol after carol. But there’s at least one Whovillian who can’t quite accept his presence: Grinch’s childhood bully and current mayor of Whoville, Augustus Maywho. Maywho gives him a gift meant to humiliate and remind The Grinch of what caused him to flee up the mountain in the first place. With plenty of Whovillians joining in the laughter, The Grinch is once again flooded with shame, and this time he vows revenge. Just one catch: little Cindy Lou isn’t quite ready to give up on him.

Tim Burton was attached to direct this for a long time but eventually the studio settled on Ron Howard, who does his best to deliver something Burton-esque. It’s not nearly as dark as Burton would have gone (in fact they got out of their way to establish The Grinch as a sympathetic character) but Howard steps out of his comfort zone in terms of visual style. Whoville becomes a smorgasbord of Christmas cheer; there’s eve a machine gun that helps Christmas be vomited all over town. It’s an abundance that’s hard to ignore: production counts over 8000 ornaments, exactly 1938 candy canes, 152 000 pounds of fake snow, and 6 miles of styrofoam used to create sets. Sean and I actually saw some of these sets on the Universal backlot tour, just behind the Bates Motel from Psycho. During production, Jim Carrey put on a dress and grabbed a knife and ran screaming from the house, scaring the pants off a bunch of tourists who failed to recognize him at the time. Otherwise his days were pretty miserable, spending 2 hours to get into costume, and another hour just to get out. The latex suit was covered in yak hair dyed green. But when you watch the movie, you’ll appreciate just how many other character underwent extensive hair and makeup routines. This movie actually has the most extensively make-upped and costumed cast since The Wizard of Oz – 443 costumes were created by wardrobe, and on busy days, 45 make-up artists were working at once. So if I’m not exactly giving Jim Carrey credit for a job well done, I do think production design (art director Michael Corenblith and set decorator Merideth Boswell) deserve some accolades, along with costume designer Rita Ryack, plus hair stylist Gail Ryan and make-up artist Rick Baker who received his 6th of 7 Oscars for this film

Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson and Tim Curry were considered to play The Grinch, and I think we should all spend at least 10 minutes today thinking about what those movies would have looked like. The truth is, Jim Carrey is probably a good choice for the role. Who else could pull off a costume that essentially has The Grinch running around “naked” a lot of the time, his private area conveniently covered by a suspiciously large tuft of hair. Jim Carrey and Ron Howard both wanted to make a very kid-friendly movie but thanks to studio interference, there’s a bit of raunchiness in the film that may surprise you. The love interest between The Grinch and Martha May (Christine Baranski) is surprisingly sexual. In fact, it’s safe to say that those Whos are pretty pervy, generally speaking. But there’s lots of base humour and visual gags to get you through, and very small children probably won’t pick up on lots of the adult-oriented stuff. Still, it may be hard for those of us familiar with the original made-for-TV movie to really embrace this one. How The Grinch Stole Christmas is probably best left to the kids.