Tag Archives: family movies

I’ll Be Home For Christmas

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, it was 1998, and we thought they were pretty good, but looking back, it’s 100% cringe. What were we thinking?

It’s hard to even imagine a world in which Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the middle brother from Home Improvement, could break out into movie stardom, but Disney did right by its ABC stars, making Tim Allen the voice of Buzz Lightyear and Thomas the voice of Simba. In fact, if you watch I’ll Be Home For Christmas, also a Disney movie, closely, you’ll see some similarities to Lion King. Thomas plays Jake, a college kid who’d rather go to Mexico with his girlfriend than home for the holidays. His girlfriend Allie (Jessica Biel), however, is more family-minded, and Jake’s father (Gary Cole) bribes him with a Porsche. So suddenly Jake is motivated to get home for Christmas, but a rival for Allie’s affections gets in the way of things. Jake comes to in the middle of a desert, and the scene closely mirrors Simba’s own desert scene, down to the turkey vultures squawking at him.

Jake is wearing a Santa suit, and finds that his beard and hat are glued to him. He has no Jake-Wilkinson-763712money, and since it’s 1998, no cell phone. He does know people’s phone numbers though, which is weird, so he’s able to call people collect from a gas station payphone. Nobody comes to his rescue. So now he’s got a cross-country road trip to make, relying on the kindness of strangers, in order to get home by 6pm on Christmas Eve and claim the keys to the Porsche.

Thing is, Jake is not exactly the kind of guy who inspires kindness from strangers. He’s well known for his sweet-talking but he’s a flake and he’s selfish, so he wears out his welcome quickly. Jonathan Taylor Thomas does his best Christian Slater impersonation throughout the movie, and it never, not once, works for him. But since the rest of the cast is also rather talentless and annoying, I guess it blends in?

This isn’t exactly a classic Christmas movie, and it probably won’t win any new fans – basically, unless you had JTT centrefolds from Tiger Beat magazine on your walls as a kid, you’ll probably never get around to this movie, and that’s totally fine. On the other hand, it’s probably the only Disney movie with the world ‘butthole’ in it, so maybe that’s something?

 

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Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium

Molly Mahoney (Natalie Portman) was a child prodigy, but now that she’s 23, she’s just a woman who hasn’t made a musical mark yet. She’s the manager of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which Mr. Magorium claims to have owned for 114 years. The toy store is frantic with happy children – like FAO Schwartz given the Toy Story treatment. The toys are nearly alive with magic. The store is filled with the strange and the fantastic.

Molly’s right hand man is Eric Applebaum, a kid who struggled to make friends his own age, but shows up the toy store every day in one of the many hats from his impressive collection. One day, Mr. Magorium (Dustin Hoffman) realizes, in his 243rd year, that Magorium3perhaps it is time to get his affairs in order. He hires a very straight-laced accountant named Henry (Jason Bateman) to set things right before he dies. His lifetime supply of shoes is on its last pair, so his death is imminent, if not quite predictable. Unable to decipher the difference between important documents and doodles, Mr. Magorium’s files are intimidating, even to an ultra boring accountant like Henry. And Molly is not keen to inherit if it means the death of her friend.

The toy shop itself seems to be suffering from some affliction; it too is in mourning, sulking over its fate, and the magic is seeping out in a fit of rebellion.  With Mr. Magorium gone, from whence will magic come?

I’ve never understood how this movie isn’t more watched and applauded and beloved. Yes, it tries hard to be wonderful and whimsical. And just where, exactly, is the criticism in that? It’s about a magical toy shop, for the love of dragon scales! Isn’t maximum effort appreciated anymore? My inner child adores this movie. My grown up self adores this movie! It’s the good kind of cutesy, filled with moving pieces and primary colours. But with themes of belief and inspiration, this isn’t just for kids. It’s for anyone with a little sparkle in their hearts, or the space for some.

Angela’s Christmas

Some people believe they’ve seen a stone statue cry tears of blood. Others think they’ve seen Jesus in toast. This is the story of Angela, a little girl who thinks that the baby Jesus in her church’s nativity scene looks awfully cold, underdressed in his manger. She sneaks in to rectify the situation, which is how her sneeze has members of the congregation believing that the baby Jesus has caught the sniffles and has come to visit his germs upon them (or something like that, but very holy and earnestly felt). And if that had been the entire story, this review would be very short. But the thing is, Angela snatches the baby Jesus in order to warm him up. She is sincere in her good intentions, but this is still the theft of the lord we’re talking about – and on Christmas, no less.

Angela’s Christmas is an animated Netflix original, just 30 minutes, perfect for family viewing around the holidays. It’s adapted from Frank McCourt’s children’s book, so MV5BMDRiY2Y0NDYtODViNi00NWQzLWE2M2YtNjc4N2U4NjkzZjQ1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDkwMTM0Ng@@._V1_SX1238_CR0,0,1238,999_AL_presumably this is the very same Angela of Angela’s Ashes (McCourt’s mother). If you’re at all familiar with McCourt’s work, then you know it’s got plenty of Irish authenticity, and so does this little film.

Like all of McCourt’s work, the details are so terrifically rendered that they will inevitably bring a tear to my eye. This is a very sweet film that can’t help but please all audiences. Perhaps you’ve got a lump of coal where your heart should be? No? Well then add this to your holiday viewing list. It’s pure and innocent, and it’ll put a little coziness where you need it most. Angela’s Christmas is the anti-dote to all your holiday cynicism. There are no gifts, no turkey, no reindeer, just childhood innocence and the warmth of family. And that’s really all you need.

Elliot The Littlest Reindeer

In fact – spoiler alert – Elliot is not  reindeer at all. He’s a miniature horse who lives on a petting zoo. His best friend is a tin can-eating goat named Corkie. But Elliot dreams big. The petting zoo is attached to a reindeer training centre, a ‘farm team’ from which Santa drafts his 8 reindeer each year. Elliot does his best to train along with them, though the other reindeer laugh and call him names (will reindeer never learn?).

Luckily, Blitzen announces his retirement 3 days for Christmas, and Santa decides to hold elliot-the-littlest-reindeeropen try-outs for all the aspiring reindeer stars. Elliot and Corkie have to do some fast-talking and some fairly amateur cosplay to even get him in the gates. But Elliot is fast and surprisingly agile. Is he actually a contender? And even if he wins, is it possible for a miniature horse to be accepted onto Santa’s team?

This is a cute little movie that’s sure to please young children. You can tell it’s a Canadian production because it likens the reindeer team to a hockey team – the two great pursuits of the north. The voice cast includes Morena Baccarin, Josh Hutcherson, John Cleese, Martin Short, Jeff Dunham, and Samantha Bee. Packed with cuteness and with a protagonist the whole family can get behind, why not add Elliot The Littlest Reindeer to your family’s holiday rotation this year? It’s got a one-day only cinema engagement in the following cities December 2nd, and will be available on VOD as of December 4.

North Vancouver 🦌  Vancouver 🦌 Langley 🦌  Thunder Bay 🦌 Winnipeg 🦌  Calgary 🦌 Toronto 🦌 Edmonton 🦌  Regina 🦌  Scarborough 🦌  Halifax 🦌  Niagara Falls 🦌  Oakville 🦌 Guelph 🦌 Montreal 🦌 Barrie 🦌  Sudbury 🦌 Cote Saint-Luc 🦌  Windsor 🦌 Peterborough 🦌  Ottawa

The Christmas Chronicles

Kate Pierce is reviewing videos from Christmases past. Her father’s in all of them but he won’t be there this year, and the family’s taking it hard. Her older brother Teddy’s been acting out in dangerous ways and her mom is overworked and stressed out. When Kate’s mom (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) gets called in to work on Christmas Eve, she leaves the kids in a house that feels emptier than it should, but with a video that contains more than it has any right to. Just before a video cuts out, someone’s arm is seen placing a gift beneath their tree. Kate is ecstatic: proof of Santa, caught on tape! But the video is vague and an arm is not really enough, so she begs her brother to pull an all-nighter to collect more evidence.

MV5BMTYyNDE4MjI4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTc4NDY2NjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Long story short, Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) end up as stowaways on Santa’s sleigh, which causes a derailment (I don’t know the technical term for throwing a sleigh off its course while flying through the air), and a crash, and the loss of Santa’s magic sack of toys, and the temporary misplacement of the reindeer. Catastrophe! Santa (Kurt Russell, in absolute bearded glory) isn’t too happy on a whole lot of fronts, but he recognizes in Kate a true believer, so together they concoct a plan to save Christmas.

The Christmas Chronicles involves police chases, gang activity, Elvish, jingle bells, literal jail house rock, and an archive system to die for. And like any good Netflix original, it has a scene of someone watching some other Netflix original. But mostly it has Kurt Russell, who brings everything to the role. Like me, you may be a little bit squeamish about our dear Kurt Russell playing Santa. Is it really the time in his career for this? Worry not. This is not the rosy-cheeked, elderly Santa that Coca Cola is pimping (in fact, this Russell’s Santa is particularly peeved by that depiction). Russell’s Santa is a little cooler, a little leaner, but he’s still 100% magic, and that’s what counts.

Here in Ottawa, we’ve already had frostbite warning and record snowfall, and it isn’t even winter. What we need on cold nights such is these are great holiday movies to warm and soothe our souls. And while this one isn’t an instant classic, it’s a pretty decent entry into the catalogue.

The Grinch

The original, made-for-TV How The Grinch Stole Christmas! will always be the version that’s near and dear to my heart. It’s as old as my mother, and like her, it’s a classic. That’s the one I’ll always need to rewatch. But I can see how 2018’s The Grinch will be a favourite for kids in the years to come.

It’s a safe retelling, sticking fairly closely to the original story, with a few embellishments here and there to puff it out to 86 minutes. The Grinch is a mean, green dude who lives in a cave with no one for company but his faithful dog, Max – and that’s the way he likes it. In the town down below, however, the Whos of Whoville are a happy, joyful people, who eagerly and lavishly celebrate the holiday The Grinch most despises: Christmas.

Whoville is an orgy of colour and action. Imaginative details abound – from the mouse skating by on candy cane skates, to the machine that cleverly collects snow MV5BNjJhYmE0NGYtOThhMC00ZGIwLWExNDUtZmU3NWI3NmNlNmViXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjgxNTQwNw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_and poops out snowballs for the trail of excited children behind it. The animators have outdone themselves drenching everything in lights and tinsel and Christmas cheer. The Grinch himself looks better than ever, his green fluffiness rendered hair by hair. And Max, half companion, half servant, all wonder dog, has fantastic and recognizable doggy traits.

A couple of noticeable differences: The Grinch doesn’t seem to be entirely bad, even while still misunderstood. He can be quite sweet to his pal Max, and he’s compassionate with new addition Fred, a rubinesque reindeer, dopey with good intentions. And The Grinch’s “nemesis” Cindy Lou Who is now the adventurous daughter of a hardworking single mother, a detail that helps move this timeless story into this century. I didn’t mind any of the new stuff, but I did miss just a few details from the original film, which I know and love so well.

A lot of the voicework was fantastic: Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, Rashida Jones, and especially Kenan Thompson. Nothing against Benedict Cumberbatch but I found him terribly mis(voice)cast as The Grinch. And I found it baffling that they hired him only to make him do an American accent – he might have sounded better in his own voice. Ah well.

All in all, kids will love this movie. I know this for sure because my theatre was filled to the brim with some sort of organization’s boatload of kids. Their joy and mirth brought an extra layer of fun to the screening – not to mention squeals like “He’s naked!” followed by every single kid dissolving into giggles, the sound of which is sure to grow anyone’s heart by two to three sizes at least.

Gnome Alone

Chloe and her mother have just moved – again. She’s desperate the fit in with the popular crowd, and she almost (so close!) does it too. There’s just one little problem. The garden gnomes infesting her new house have a purpose. They’re guarding a portal to another dimension. Every night, a few monsters break through, and if left to their own devices, they’d eat humanity out of house and home in a minute and a half. On the other side of the portal, an even bigger monster awaits. Can they keep the monsters at bay while keeping Chloe’s street cred high? And how does the helpful nerd next door fit in?

This is a B-list animated movie with a C-list voice cast: George Lopez is the most MV5BOTdhZThjOTQtYzVhNy00NGZlLWEwZjQtZTI0NDczMGQyNDZjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ3MTA4MDk@._V1_recognizable, following in steeply descending order by Becky G, Josh Peck, and Tara Strong, if those names mean anything to you. The animation is okay, but let’s just point out the elephant in the room: there’s already an animated franchise wherein garden gnomes come to life. Not only does this stink of plagiarism, it’s just annoyingly unoriginal. This is animation, people. You can draw anything. You could have made a retro Tupperware set come to life, or some grubby fridge magnets, or discarded winter parkas.

But, okay, this is a kids movie, for kids, and possibly by kids, judging by the quality. Your 4 year old will probably love it if they don’t find it too scary or notice that there’s very little structure to the story. Nor do we get to know our characters at all. I’m sure there’s a reason why Chloe and her mother move so much, and why her dad’s not around, and why her mother feels comfortable flying to another city, leaving Chloe home utterly alone, not yet knowing a single other soul in the city. What does that matter when the movie is basically a commercial for super soakers, only these Nerf-like guns are filled with green ooze that can banish (never say kill in a kids’ movie!) the monsters on the spot.

And let’s not even crack open the good old trope that tween girls are vapid and self-absorbed. It’s 2018: not every school is filled with mean girls. Not every protagonist has to change herself in order to fit in. And not every nerd needs a pretty girl to popularize him. This may float with kids but it will sink with most parents. And don’t we owe it to the gnomes to strive for better?