Tag Archives: family movies

Feel The Beat

Not only did I fail to feel the beat, I couldn’t even find a pulse.

But that’s me, discerning movie viewer, critic without a cause. I won’t deny that it may hold some cachet as a family-friendly offering for the tween set. For the rest of us, it’s exceedingly missable.

April (Sofia Carson) is a hometown success story, having left for stardom on the Broad Way. She didn’t find it, of course, and slinks back home, tail between her legs. Luckily the small town where she’s from is sufficiently square that their twitter feeds have sme sort of hillbilly 3 day delay (a mild scandal brews on social media). To them, she’s still Impressive April, and the (very) humble dance studio where she got her start fawns over her terse, uninterested, one-word replies to their burning questions. This they call a “master class.” But when April gets a whiff of redemption (ie, a national dance competition with a handy dandy “teacher feature” which could put her in front of a judge’s panel including a top Broadway producer), suddenly she’s interested. Sure her interest is self-serving and mostly takes the form of verbally abusing an eager if unskilled dance troupe. They’re a bunch of misfits, as dictated by the trope, with a lineup including a deaf girl, a chubby girl, a poor girl, and a boy.

As you might venture to guess, the road to nationals is predictably paved with teachable moments and personal growth for our girl April, who never quite got to likable with me, which is just fine since I also found her unwatchable. Absolutely nothing personal with any of the cast, who were dancing their little tushies off. This is merely a trite script and a small budget and a green, though not necessarily untalented, crew. Which adds up to a harmless but ultimately subpar, forgettable movie that I did not need to see.

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl is a series of quite beloved fantasy novels written by Eoin Colfer. If you are a fan of the books, may I suggest you put that aside right now and meet Artemis Fowl the movie as a similarly titled but only loosely based third cousin twice removed type situation.

Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12 year old genius rambling about his big old house in Ireland with only his definitely-not-a-butler manservant/bodyguard Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie) for company. He learns from TV that his father (Colin Farrell) has gone mysteriously missing (is that redundant? i think yes) and also, I think, that he’s behind some major art-thievery. Which is when Alfred Mr. Butler gently guides young Bruce Artemis down to the batcave secret lair and lays some truth on him: he comes from a family of criminal masterminds. He’s meant to be some sort of prodigy villain, and so donning the batsuit and sunglasses, he receives the obligatory ransom call and gets down to saving the world or maybe just his dad, I’m really not sure, this part wasn’t entirely clear to me.

Meanwhile, keeping in mind that Ireland is apparently quite magical, we’re introduced to some non-human characters such as Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad), a felonious oversized dwarf who seems like he would have bad breath, Holly Short (Lara McDonnell), who I think is a fairy, and her boss Commander Root (Judi Dench), who’s in charge of making sure magical creatures don’t mix with humans, and Juliet (Tamara Smart) who is some much younger relation of Mr. Butler’s and whose presence I never quite understood. Also various goblins, elves, trolls, Italians, and even a centaur with a sexy little canter. Most of these…beings…are technically enemies. Well, enemy is a strong word for people who don’t even know each other. Maybe “non-belligerent” is a better term for it, a term I picked up mere moments before watching this film thanks to a Spike Lee movie about the race discrimination and the Vietnam war (who knew these two movies would have so much this one thing in common!). Anyway, it’s hard to keep track of who’s on who’s side and what that side wants and why. And then there’s you know, alliances made and broken, objectives intended and abandoned, just stuff. Presumably. I don’t really know. There’s magical force fields/space-time continuums (?), dislocating jaws, and a coup against an 800 year old stickler for rules.

The movie is kind of a mess. This is a kid’s movie and I’m struggling to relay any of the plot points, and I’m frankly not even 100% convinced there were any, it may have just 90 minutes of pure pixie chaos for all I know. It hurt my brain to try to keep up, but on the other hand it wasn’t really interesting enough to pause let alone rewind.

Those who have read the book(s) will of course bring important supplemental information to the film, which will either a) make it a more pleasant, sensical viewing experience or b) make it that much more frustrating, just a big old soak in a bath of disappointment. I’m guessing it’s b but let’s not marinate in negativity. Let’s optimistically assume that you subscribed to Disney+ hoping for a child’s version of Men In Black where the aliens are now fairies and the good parts are now the suck and the idea of a sequel both frightens and confuses you.

If you wanna hear more, and you know you do: Youtube!

Scoob!

To be honest, neither of us was exactly looking forward to the new Scooby Doo movie. I’ve got nothing against it but I also have no nostalgia for it or interest in it. But these pages don’t fill themselves so we shelled out our 30 bucks(still cheaper than going to the movies) and prepared to be whelmed. But you know what? We were pleasantly surprised.

Or certainly Sean was. We were just minutes into the origin story/meet cute of a young Shaggy and puppy Scoob when Sean was commenting on the interesting animation. He chuckled over many of the references. And he seemed to know some of the characters from outside the Scooby Dooby Doo universe.

Scooby and the gang face their most challenging mystery ever: a plot to unleash the ghost dog Cerberus upon the world! Which apparently would be quite bad. As they race to stop this dogpocalypse, the gang discovers that Scooby has an epic destiny greater than anyone imagined. You’ll recognize Shaggy (Will Forte), Velma (Gina Rodriguez), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), and Fred (Zac Efron) as Mystery Inc. mainstays, even their inexplicably psychedelic van, but this time they’re teaming up with super hero Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his super dog, Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) against the obviously evil Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs). This movie is intended as the first in a rebooted, shared Hanna-Barbera┬ácinematic universe, which nobody asked for, but I suppose explains the randos. Unfortunately, they distract a bit from what makes Mystery Incorporated so fun in the first place: exciting but wholesome teenage detectivery. And despite some of the callbacks to the original series, Scoob! doesn’t quite justify itself.

While it may not win over discerning adults, Scoob! is probably perfect for kids and Seans alike. It’s got a string of pop songs, some childishly crude humour, and a talented voice cast. Will Forte may not “sound like Shaggy” to some diehard fans, but as a casual viewer, I enjoyed him very much. I even though Mark Wahlberg fit in well, and to my knowledge he doesn’t do much animation. I felt a little sad for the other 3 non-Shaggy members of Mystery Inc who got the short shrift. I missed the chemistry between them, and with the addition of both super heroes and super villains (not to mention super dogs, villain dogs, and ghost dogs), we really got away from the winning formula that fans have come to expect.

My Spy

My Spy is about as good a movie as JJ is a spy. Which is to say: not at all. In fact, when JJ (Dave Bautista) is assigned to surveil a mother and daughter with techie Bobbi (Kristen Schaal), they are almost immediately made by Sophie (Chloe Coleman), their 9 year old target. Not just made, but caught on tape contemplating her murder. And instead of admitting the mission has been compromised, JJ then proceeds to allow himself to be blackmailed by said little girl into teaching her spycraft, dating mom Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), and generally posing as the daddy figure she so craves. But he’s understandably loathe to admit defeat because already this assignment was more of a punishment than a true mission. He’s a terrible spy, a lousy dresser, and an awful dancer.

Dave Bautista has no business being a leading man. I can’t help but think the director and/or producers agree since the script often sounds like it was written with Dwayne Johnson in mind, but The Rock is a legit movie star and can spot stinkers more easily that the Bautistas and the John Cenas, who are, frankly, lucky to get any work at all. Well, maybe I’m being a little hard on them. I think Bautista is actually very well cast in the Guardians movies. [Insert silence here, where I’m not saying anything at all since I truly do not have a single nice word to say about Cena]. But even Johnson started off doing things like The Tooth Fairy as he proved to Hollywood that he had what it takes. But he does. He knows his limits, he’s not trying to elbow his way into a Shakespeare adaptation. He chooses roles where his smile and his eyebrow arch are assets, where his muscles are a plot point, where he can ooze charisma and strength in equal measure and coast off the fumes.

Dave Bautista has no charisma, no discernible personality, but I think both he and Cena are trying to coast of Johnson’s fumes. The Rock has proved himself such a Hollywood hit machine that it of course would love to replicate his success, and it eyeballed the heck out of the WWE to see if anyone else would fit the bill. But Dwayne Johnson is a genetic and a talent anomaly. You can’t simply replace him with a similarly oversized man and hope for the best. Bautista is simply a large and lumbering plus-sized blow up doll, and director Peter Segal is too timid to maneuver him into position. A mannequin with its lines taped to its chest would have more character than Bautista does.

John Cena recently tried leading man status on for size in Playing with Fire, which was so bad it made me furious. My Spy isn’t good. Everyone involved recognized this; it was delayed 3 times even before anyone had ever heard of coronavirus. But with the pandemic as a convenient excuse, they’ve quietly released it directly to Amazon Prime, which means if you’re a member, you can watch it for free. And free is the only way this math works out at all. Free means you can give it a try. Free means you can shut it off after 10 minutes without feeling guilty. And, in these trying times of isolation boredom and our desperate need for content, this might do, especially since it is a rare family-friendly, non-animated film. This won’t be anyone’s favourite film, but you can only play so many rounds of go-fish.

The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys come from a long line of impressively mustachioed ancestors as evidenced by the numerous oil paintings lining the hallowed halls of their “old fashioned” home. But the buck stops here, apparently.

Mother (Jane Krakowski) and Father (Martin Short) Willoughby love each other passionately. They are so consumed by their marriage neither can see anything outside it. No wonder Father has such a minimal mustache – and Mother none at all! They have four kids but not a thought to spare for any of them, never mind a care. Tim (Will Forte) is the oldest, but is still a young boy, unmustached and still attached to his head protector (you and I might call it a hat). He corals the other children – the golden-voiced Jane (Alessia Cara), and twin brothers both named Barnaby (Sean Cullen) with only a single sweater between them – and makes sure the kids don’t bother their parents with things like hunger or attention. They’re cold and they’re hungry but it’s all they’ve come to expect. Until they get a brilliant idea: to send their parents on a dangerous and frankly deadly trip cleverly disguised as a second honeymoon.

So off go Mother and Father and the children celebrate – finally, as orphans, they might fill their own bellies and occupy space in the house itself rather than the coal bin. But two strange things complicate matters: a baby gets left on their doorstep, and unable to care for her, they leave baby Ruth on the doorstep of the mysterious owner of a candy factory (best home ever!), Commander Melanoff (Terry Crews), and an unqualified but well-intentioned Nanny (Maya Rudolph) arrives. While the kids are initially wary of Nanny, she soon grows on them by providing the basic necessities of life and caring whether they live or die. It sounds a bit dire, I know, but worry not, this is a very family-friendly animated film by Netflix, and the kids are resilient and crafty, and their neglect never feels so serious that it cannot be overcome.

And of course, there are plenty of childish high-jinks, lots of pranks and booby traps and Nanny catapults, and a whole rainbow candy factory montage where a baby has the time of its life while narrowly avoiding death.

Oddly, and luckily, while the children have dismissed their parents, they learn valuable lessons about family. The Willoughbys may not land on the ending you’d expect, but they get their happy ending and they have an awful lot of fun doing it. This is a pleasant surprise from Netflix and I think your young kids are really going to like it.

The Main Event

Eleven year old Leo (Seth Carr) is going through a bit of a rough time. His mother left and his father’s too sad to talk about it. Only his grandmother (Tichina Arnold) tries to give him a sense of normalcy, hitting the couch with a bowl of popcorn when it’s time to watch his beloved wrestling.

But two things happen to throttle his life straight into awesome-town: the WWE is coming to his town to find the next NXT superstar, and Leo just happens to find a stinky luchador-style mask that brings the wearer magical wrestling powers. Retaining the body of an 11 year old, he suddenly has the strength and agility of the ring’s greatest fighters. Wrestling under the name Kid Chaos, he’s not just a fearsome fighter, he’s suddenly a smooth operator as well, the mask giving him confidence and prowess in and outside the ring.

Leo/Kid Chaos has not one but three challenges to defeat: the gulf between himself and his father, the ego trip that keeps him from being a dependable friend, and the enormous opponent Samson that he’ll have to meet in the cage.

Of course, the movie is at its best and silliest when it’s thinking up ways a kid might take advantage of his mask’s special powers: putting bullies in their place, cleaning their bedroom, impressing girls. And luckily, Leo has a trio of friends that help him live out his dreams (the talented young cast includes Aryan Simhadri, Momona Tamada, and Glen Gordon.

I can see this being a very popular movie for kids and I predict that mothers of 6-9 year olds are in for a weekend full of even more bumps and bruises than usual. Furniture will be climbed, pillows will be leapt onto, little brothers will be pinned. But as long as there’s no real bloodshed, it’s a harmless enough way to keep the kids entertained and maybe even sequestered in the basement during what is proving to be a very long lockdown.

WWE stars Kofi Kingston, Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin,Stephen Farrelly (Sheamus), Corey Graves, Mia Yim, Eric Bugez,Otis Dozovic, Babatunde, Keith Lee, and Backstage host Renee Young all appear.

Dolittle

I suppose it might entertain very young children.

I have meditated on that single sentence above for minutes and even hours, wondering if I should leave it at that. Explaining the why and the how of this movie’s failure is baffling at best yet won’t even make for entertaining reading.

The story is weak yet convoluted. A physician/veterinarian (we have such a combo in our own family: Sean’s sister), Dr. Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) has sequestered himself behind the doors of his menagerie, gone full hermit since the death of his beloved wife. Luckily he has the unique ability to speak to animals in their native language, so he isn’t entirely alone, but his existence is notably and emphatically human-free. Until, that is, the day when not one but two children come calling.

The first is a boy who has accidentally shot a squirrel who needs immediate medical attention. The second is a girl sent from Queen Victoria’s palate where the Queen lays gravely ill, also requiring immediate medical attention. Dr. Dolittle, unhappy to be disturbed either way, treats the squirrel but needs convincing to attend to the Queen. In the Queen’s bedchambers he learns that she’s been poisoned and the antidote exists only on a faraway island. Dolittle, the boy Stubbins, and a bunch of animals of varying degrees of helpfulness, set sail on an epic adventure to find said cure.

They’re pursued by a villain with questionable motives, they subject us to a minutes-long fart joke (will small children even understand that Dolittle is rooting through a dragon’s anus with a leek, relieving it of all the undigested armor of the valiant knights she’s eaten for breakfast?).

I think the journey’s purpose is that Dolittle must learn he can grieve his wife without shutting himself off from the rest of humanity. They don’t exactly earn this, nor do they try very hard to express it.

The best and maybe only good part is an anxious ostrich voiced by Kumail Nanjiani. The worst part is, sadly, RDJ himself. He’s doing an indiscernible accent through which most of his dialogue is lost. He goes full nut when perhaps only half nut would have sufficed. His tone rarely matches that of the story. The poor guy has spent too many years acting in front of a green screen. I think for his first post-Ironman role he needed something a little more grounded but instead he went full fanciful and feels lost forever. Who can rescue his career now?

But Robert Downey Jr. wasn’t the only high-profile actor duped into signing on: Jim Broadbent, Michael Sheen, and Antonio Banderas all appear. Plus Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, Tom Holland, John Cena, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Marion Cotillard, and Jason Mantzoukas all lend their voice. And yet even standing on all these famous and famously talented shoulders, the film still cannot keep its head above water. Like an ostrich learning the hard way that he can neither fly nor swim, the movie simply adopts a dead man’s float and hopes a film goer or two might take a poke at its bloated corpse.

Dolphin Reef

Last week we were discussing Elephant, a brand new nature documentary released on Disney+. Disneynature films are perhaps not the most scientific among documentaries but they are beautifully photographed and extremely family-friendly. During these difficult days of self-quarantine, parents struggling to home-school their children or even just provide for some less junky screen time may want to turn to Disney+ for this not inconsiderable benefit. In fact, Disney+ is also home to National Geographic programs as well, perhaps better suited to older students. In any case, you can get a free one month trial from the streaming service and it’s hard to imagine a better time than now to use in.

Dolphin Reef is another incredible offering from Disneynature. This one dives under the waves near the Polynesian Islands in the Pacific Ocean to explore a colourful and diverse environment on the ocean’s floor. Dolphins have long been fascinating to we bipedal, air-breathing, earth-walkers. They are smart and engaging. They communicate and express emotion. They are playful and have close family bonds.

Echo is a young bottlenose dolphin who, at the age of 3, is struggling with the notion of growing up. His mom is devotedly and determinedly trying to teach him the ways of the reef but Echo keeps giving in to his silly side. But despite his playfulness, dolphin society is tricky, and survival depends on skill and preparedness.

As if Echo isn’t enough, we’ll also meet a mother-daughter humpback whale duo and learn some of the parallel trials and tribulations of growing up whale. In fact, there’s an entire ocean filled with orcas, sea turtles, and cuttlefish, and we’ll get the most amazing front row seats to it all.

What distinguishes a Disney nature documentary from others is that they write a narrative to go along with the pictures so kids get to know the animals personally. Each one becomes a character we can not only learn about, but root for. A few liberties are taken but on the whole the story fits accurately within the animal kingdom and the result is an exciting and engaging watch.

For me, even besides the dolphin and whale families we’ll get to know intimately, I just love trolling along the sandy bottom and discovering the bright and beautiful life that lives there. Lots of people look to the stars and imagine what alien life might exist, but I’ve always preferred plunging below the sea and exploring those unfathomable depths. There are creatures living on our own planet that defy our understanding. This documentary explores fairly shallow waters and still encounters fascinating species to capture the imagination.

Narrated by a very excited Natalie Portman, Dolphin Reef is an adventure worth taking.

Babe: Pig in the City

Since I snuck Babe: Pig in the City onto our recent Quarantine top ten list I figured I should re-watch it, and in the process, have Jay watch it for the first time. That was a mistake. I had forgotten that the tone of Babe: Pig in the City is startlingly dark for a kids’ movie, and in particular there are several scenes of dogs in distress. As you may know, we lost our little Gertie recently so the last thing we need right now is a scene where a dog goes to heaven!

Assuming you are not grieving a little puppy right now, Babe: Pig in the City remains a really incredible movie. Following directly from the events of Babe, Farmer Hoggett is installing a water pump when tragedy strikes. Bedridden from his injuries, it’s up to Mrs. Hoggett to keep the farm afloat as the bank comes calling. Being a champion sheep-pig, Babe has plenty of offers to appear at state fairs for generous appearance fees, and off Mrs. Hoggett and Babe go to take advantage of Babe’s new celebrity. Unfortunately, the two get hung up in security and miss their connecting flight, and then get separated on their layover in the city while waiting to head home. With all that trouble, how will they possibly find a way to save the farm?

As I said, the subject matter in Babe: Pig in the City is very dire at times, but through it all Babe never loses his sunny disposition. In turn, his good nature charms everyone he comes in contact with, and helps them be better animals (because naturally, Babe only talks to animals not people, though he does understand human speech perfectly). With the ground rules having been well-established in Babe, Pig in the City is free to jump right into frenetic chase scenes, and wastes no time in doing so. In that respect, the non-stop action in Babe: Pig in the City evokes director and co-writer George Miller’s other big franchise, Mad Max.

Babe: Pig in the City is not quite the masterwork that Fury Road is, but it’s a great film in its own right, and a worthy addition to Miller’s catalogue that towers over all but the best kids fare (as well as most “grown-up” action films).

Spies In Disguise

I don’t know if you heard, but Special Agent Lance Sterling (Will Smith) is a lone wolf. He doesn’t work in teams, the world’s greatest spy kicks butt solo. He’s a little peeved when he’s in the middle of a 70 on 1 situation and what he thinks is a grenade turns out to be a glitter bomb. It works but he’s cranky about it, and he wants Walter (Tom Holland), the young tech officer involved, fired.

But Lance has some bigger problems: internal affairs accuses him of stealing the very weapon he was in charge of recovering. He knows he’s innocent, but he’ll need to disappear to prove it, and there’s only one person who can help him: Walter. If it’s at all awkward to ask the guy you just had fired for a favour, Lance doesn’t show it. He’s an incredibly cool customer. But Walter, an inventor since childhood, has all kinds of next generation concealment tech at hand. The very future of espionage! Unfortunately, Lance’s arrogance gets him in trouble once again when he accidentally chugs a potion that will turn him into a pigeon. Technically speaking it gets the job done – he’s not invisible but he’s definitely unrecognizable. If you thought dashing hero and geeky sidekick were an odd couple, try nerd and pigeon on for size.

Spies In Disguise is an easily digestible, fast-paced children’s movie with limited appeal for adults. These spies take on villains just like James Bond but unlike 007, they’ll do it without violence; Walter’s gadgets and indeed his personal credo are more about helping people than hurting them.

The film is propped up by an impressive voice cast, including Reba McIntire, Rashida Jones, Karen Gillan, and Ben Mendelsohn. But the major lifting is done by Tom Holland – affable, eager, guileless Tom Holland, who also voices a major character in Disney-Pixar’s Onward, both roles handily done in the gung-ho American accent he’s perfected playing Spidey, much of his fan base perhaps shocked to learn he’s actually English. At any rate, he is indeed the stand-out actor in Spies in Disguise and his character is the real hero, showing the veterans in his field that there IS a better way, which is a welcome message for young audiences.