Tag Archives: family movies

Pets United

Like many cities, Robo City grew and grew and did that ugly sprawl thing, pushing nature and wild animals away so that humans and their pets could have all the space they wanted in the city. Roger is neither a human nor a pet; he is the thief of Robo City, a stray dog serving as the un-elected, unofficial leader of the mutts in his alley. And you may have guessed by the title that many robots also populate the city as humans inevitably grew too lazy to do much for themselves. Roger isn’t fond of the “tin cans” (which sounds oddly like a racial slur) but his real hatred’s reserved for cats, of course.

Roger has an especially contentious relationship with Belle the pampered cat, who’s lucky enough to have a beloved owner. Roger’s insistent that he enjoys his freedom, but he’s also pretty happy to make a friend in Bob, a jolly little robot who looks a lot like Baymax, and who’s about to come in VERY handy. Because guess what? They’re about to have a caper! In fact, the big robot AI thingie that’s driving the whole city has started its own revolution, creating chaos and sending people fleeing for their safety. Belle was enjoying a day of pampering at a pet spa when heck broke loose, so she’s stuck there owner-less with a ragtag group of small indulged beasts, including Ronaldo the big-talking poodle, Walter the insecure pug, and Sophie who identifies as a dog, and we’ll leave it at that.

This is a UK – Chinese – German production that steals from at least that many sources – Robin Hood, Secret Life of Pets, Toy Story 3, Madagascar – and yet even with their combined power this movie still can’t find a spark let alone light up a whole Pixar lamp.

The story is generic. The characters are generic. The music budget was apparently non-existent. Some zoo characters do a little rap that gave me major secondhand embarrassment and reminded me of grade school in the 90s when teachers would make you do raps for presentations as if our tiny catholic school wasn’t 100% white and also, apparently, 100% without rhythm and 100% without irony.

Since it has cute dogs and cute robots, young kids will probably give this is a pass, but if you get stuck watching with them, don’t expect funny jokes or quality animation or recognizable voice actors or any of the high standards we’ve come to expect from today’s animation. These guys didn’t care, and neither should you.

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe

I didn’t know my Phineas from my Ferb until about 20 minutes ago. No, I’m exagerating. I still can’t tell them apart. I vaguely knew they existed but had assumed the teal bird was either Phineas or perhaps Ferb. He’s not. Turns out he’s called Perry the Platypus, so apparently he’s not even a bird. As far as Phineas and Ferb (two human children, step-brothers) know, Perry is just the family pet, but he’s actually been placed in the family as a secret agent, which is old news if you’re a fan of the show – nearly every episode’s b-plot involves Perry trying to foil mad scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz’s latest evil scheme. The main plot usually consists of Phineas and Ferb embarking on some grandiose project – like building a roller coaster in their backyard – which annoys the heck out of big sister Candace, and of which all evidence is improbably erased before she can alert their parents. This movie, it would seem, is when poor Candace finally gets her due, not to mention a starring role (although have no fear: Phineas, Ferb, and even Perry are all along for the ride).

If, like me, you’d never seen the show, worry not, because Candace basically sums up her fraught history with Phineas and Ferb in a cute opening musical number. Which brings me to the next point: Phineas and Ferb is somehow an animated musical comedy. That’s ambitious!

Anyway, poor Candace is usually portrayed as controlling and a tattletale, but I bet you’d feel kind of annoyed if you little brothers were always getting away with murder in the backyard. This is the film that finally reveals that she’s mostly been misunderstood. She’s not mean. She doesn’t hate them. She just feels excluded. So not only will Phineas and Ferb’s project today involve her, she’s actually its inspiration: Phineas and Ferb are going to rescue their sister from an alien abduction!

Yeah, I may have buried the lead. The stepbrothers witness her abduction and recruit Isabella, Baljeet and Buford to build a portal which fails to bring them to the planet where she’s been taken and instead redirects them to Dr. Heinz Doofenschmirtz’s lab, where he too was attempting to build a portal. So instead they board the evil doctor’s spaceship and head toward outer space, with Perry the Platypus secretly tagging along.

But Candace is not having the very bad day you might expect from the recent victim of an alien invasion. She’s bonding with her captor, who commiserates with her hardships (she also has 2 brothers, ugh), and who makes her feel special for carrying the rare element Remarkalonium.

Will the brothers find Candace before extraction takes place? And if they do – will she even want to leave? And will their parents finally catch them in the act?

The movie was surprisingly accessible to a first-time viewer, and was also surprisingly well-written. A stand-alone movie is planned for a theatrical release, but this movie, meant to have taken place before the series ended, was written specifically for Disney+ where it will find its fans the quickest. And that’s who this movie is really for, after all: the people who have loved and supported it since day one. The people, young and old alike, who miss seeing their favourite characters in new adventures. Fans of the show will be delighted with the film, which expands the Phineas and Ferb universe while working in all the things you loved about the original series.

Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe features the voice work of Vincent Martella, Ashley Tisdale, Dan Povenmire, David Errigo Jr., Alyson Stoner, Maulik Pancholy, Bobby Gaylor, Ali Wong, Dee Bradley Baker, Wayne Brady, Olivia Olson, Thomas Middleditch, Diedrich Bader, Caroline Rhea, Tiffany Haddish, John O’Hurley, Weird Al Yankovic, and more besides, but my fingers are cramping. It’s a good mix of new and old, which is what you want in a nostalgia-driven sequel. And what better way to indulge your youthful whim than to spend a Saturday morning in pajamas, with a heaping bowl full of sugary cereal, and your subscription to Disney+.

The Sleepover

Kevin’s having a bad day. First his teacher, the humourless Mrs. W, busts him for fabricating his family history for an oral presentation (hint: pick something less obvious than best-selling novel The Martian), then he gets caught on camera by the school bully dancing his pants off in the boys’ washroom, and then he gets saved by his mommy/lunch lady in front of the whole cafeteria. Could his day get any worse?

Yes. Yes it can. While Kevin (Maxwell Simkins) and nerdy friend Lewis (Lucas Jaye) are having a sleepover in the backyard, and big sister Clancy (Sadie Stanley) and her friend Mim (Cree Cicchino) are trying to sneak out to a party, their parents Margot (Malin Akerman) and Ron (Ken Marino) are abducted by what witness Lewis can only describe as “ninjas.” But the fact that Margot has left them a series of clues hints at another sort of life, one her family knows nothing about, but these intrepid kids are going to follow them into the city and a whole heap of trouble, all in the name of rescuing their parents.

The Sleepover plays like a kid version of National Treasure or The Da Vinci Code; director Trish Sie serves up some decent action sequences, but the tone and the humour do much to dilute the sense of peril and remains appropriate for family viewing. Ken Marino offers up his particular brand of wimpy wit, but it’s the kids who hog the spotlight. Maxwell Simkins is an especially wonderful addition; his bathroom dance is so charming and well-executed it’s hard to believe he’s bullied for it rather than praised – especially in the age of Tiktok, where this kind of thing would likely turn him into an overnight sensation. Actually, it sort of does anyway: the video posted to tease him goes viral, which is sort of what gets them into this mess.

Casting the right kids is imperative for a movie like this, but The Sleepover gets it right. It’s way too easy for a movie like this to go sideways, falling prey to either inauthentic child performances or an overly trite script, but Sie and screenwriter Sarah Rothschild manage a delicate balance of broad humour and credible adventure in crafting a fun ride fit for the whole family.

The One and Only Ivan

At the big top mall and video arcade at exit 8, Mack (Bryan Cranston) is the ringleader of a tiny circus inside a shopping mall. Home to animals including elephant Stella (voiced by Angelina Jolie), poodle Snickers (Helen Mirren), baseball-playing chicken Henrietta (Chaka Khan), mangy mutt Bob (Danny DeVito), Murphy the firetruck-driving bunny (Ron Funches), a neurotic seal named and most impressively, the headlining silverback gorilla, the one and only Ivan (Sam Rockwell). But the truth is, both the mall and the circus within it have fallen upon hard times. The crowds aren’t filling the seats anymore, and the circus is barely making enough money to keep the animals fed.

Mack brings in a baby elephant named Ruby (Brooklynn Prince) to reinvigorate the show, but even though she radiates cuteness, she’s not enoujgh to save the circus. That role, as ever, belongs to Ivan. But for the first time in his life, he’s wondering if maybe circus captivity isn’t the best or only option. He’s not concerned for himself so much as for baby Ruby, who deserves to be in the wild, a concept he can hardly recall or imagine.

This movie is based on the children’s novel by K.A. Applegate, which in turn is based on the true story of Ivan, a western lowland gorilla who spent 27 years living inside a mall enclosure in Tacoma, Washington, never setting foot outdoors. You don’t have to be good at math to figure how emotional this one’s going to be.

A live action/animation hybrid, this movie looks slick, and seamless enough not to detract from its sweet but simple story. The movie, directed by Thea Sharrock based on a script by Mike White (the very one who produced scripts as varied as Beatriz at Dinner and The Emoji Movie), isn’t quite sure where to take its darker themes but it draws some very sympathetic characters and a heartwarming tale about family and home. Cranston seems to be morphing into Ian McKellan before our very eyes, but it’s little Ariana Greenblatt who steals the show and all her scenes as Julia, the arty and intrepid zookeeper’s daughter who just wants her friends to be happy. The One and Only Ivan stole my heart and quite a few tears – a small price to pay for a solid, family friendly option new to Disney+.

Fearless

I’m sorry to have to tell you that Fearless (Fe@rLeSS_) is a not very good animated film on Netflix. It’s not even a very good video game handle, but that’s what we’re dealing with.

Reid is a teenage boy who is definitely “not” going to sit on his couch playing video games all weekend while his parents are away (at least that’s what he tells his mom when she calls to check up on him – he’s not even that convincing). Logged in as Fe@rLeSS_, Reid (Miles Robbins) is on the last impossible level of a very difficult game into which he’s already sunk many, many hours of play. When fat shaming the monster (I guess this is what passes for PG trash talk?) doesn’t work, he realizes that his character, Captain Lightspeed (Jadakiss), doesn’t have the necessary weapon to defeat the ultimate boss, Arcannis (Miguel). As Fe@rLeSS_ and sidekick/teammate Fleech (Tom Kenny) discover, Captain Lightspeed has one weapon in his arsenal they’ve never deployed: babies. Babies? What kind of creepy code name is that? It’s not. They’re actual babies, triplets actually, who all have some sort of super power like their dad, only they’ll have to be deposited into daycare so they can “grow” into them, or something like that. Obviously they should have been cultivating the baby potential a long time ago. But then something really weird happens (bear with me, and don’t shoot the messenger): the babies end up in Reid’s living room. Reid who is a real, human, teenage boy, with science homework due on Monday, and the babies, who are fictional video game characters, just a bunch of 0s and 1s, are now living and breathing and crying and pooping in his living room. As babies do. Real ones, anyway, which these ones aren’t…and yet here they are, adorable, needy little monsters, encouraging the awful screenwriters to commit a multitude of heinous poop puns. Thank goodness for Melanie (Yara Shahidi), Reid’s unsuspecting lab partner, who shows up to do “homework” (I see you, Melanie: don’t go thinking you invented that move yourself) but gets redeployed into babysitting/saving the world. Which is when this movie tries to rip-off The Incredibles but clearly got a pirated version and a bad stenographer.

Which may still satisfy young audiences, who have notoriously bad taste in EVERYTHING (sorry, but: velcro, Lunchables, Caillou, Baby Shark, toys with sirens, etc, etc), but it lacks Pixar’s more universal appeal. In fact, it’s so far out of Pixar’s league it would be unfair to compare them had they not brought it on themselves by making a carbon copy of The Incredibles and delivering the 7th or 8th carbon down and not pressing nearly hard enough. If you got that reference, you’re way too old for this movie. But you will get the one throw-away E.T. reference, which is hard to miss because it’s both lazy and obvious. I can’t seem to keep the contempt out of this review even though the film itself is relatively harmless. It just reminds me of the kind of forgettable movie Dreamworks would have put out 12 years ago, the kind that only ever gets played in the back seats of minivans (a local car dealership once had a “promotion” – buy a car, get some dijon mustard. Incredible, I know. Yet true. I never saw the numbers on the avalanche of deals that were made that day or just how enticing that $4 jar of mustard was on the back end of a $20 000 investment that starts depreciating the minute you sign on the dotted line ((did lines used to be dotted, or is that just a really stupid expression?)), but I’m sure the Grey Poupon ((I hope it was Grey Poupon)) was better bait than not one but TWO copies of Megamind. Two because mini vans come standard with not one but two screens that have better picture quality in a moving vehicle than even the movie theatre itself had when I was a kid, and how dare you ask your glazed-eye children to choose between The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie for the 6 minute drive to Nana’s?) (Whew, someone sure woke up on the ranty side of the bed this morning!)

Anyway, what was I saying?

Oh yeah, Fe@rLeSS_.

More like Dickless.

Heh. Cross that off the old bucketlist: end a children’s movie review with a swear. Peace out, motherfuckers!

Malibu Rescue: The Next Wave

So apparently Malibu Rescue is a show that people watch and is popular (cheap) enough to have already spawned a “movie.” This is its second, but we’re just jumping in here totally blind, literally never having heard of it before and yet somehow trusting that we’ll “get it.”

We didn’t get it. I mean, we followed the plot, such as it was. It’s basically Cool Runnings meets Baywatch where not only do you wish you were watching Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson instead, you’d even take Doug E. Doug and be grateful for it.

First, we’re going to need to swallow our pride for a minute and realize we’re not getting the Malibu Rescue team but the Junior Malibu Rescue team. The real team is busy competing in an apparently very serious international beach obstacle course that they treat with the reverence of the lifeguard Olympics.

But oh no! Tyler (Ricardo Hurtado) accidentally/on purpose poisons the A team so the Junior squad has to sub in. Luckily Gina (Breanna Yde) has a natural drill sergeant inclination but she’s got just 3 days to whip her team into shape. Dylan (Jackie R. Jacobson) and Lizzie (Abby Donnelly) break poor Eric (Alkoya Brunson) out of summer school (resorting to animal abuse and an uninspired not to mention insultingly bad mannequin ruse to get the job done). Cue up the obligatory training montage featuring a lot of sand eating and nobody’s washboard abs glistening in the sunshine (Zac!).

This is the kind of kid show that has such over-the-top acting that you start to feel bad for the adult actors. It can’t have been anyone’s dream to play a bus driver named Vooch who routinely gets overshadowed by diarrhea pranks. It really makes Pamela Anderson’s slow-mo running look dignified by comparison.

Is this a good movie? Not remotely. But I suspect if you like the show, you’ll like the movie. I mean, not only does the movie play like an extended episode of the show, it’s a barely extended episode at just 68 minutes, which sounds like a light commitment but I assure you it does feel like a hard 5 hours. However, if you’re in the market for some Malibu rescue with very little actual rescue and a side of obnoxious American patriotism and just a smidge of G-rated flirtation, wow, that’s an oddly specific fetish, but you’re in luck! And I’ll be relieved not to be alone on the watch list this movie is obviously bait for. Trust me: nothing can be unintentionally this bad.

Latte & the Magic Waterstone

The animals of the clearing are worried about drought. Collectively they have only 4 pumpkins full of water left, and the sources are drying up, but Latte, a spunky young hedgehog and an outcast from the forest community, has her own small reserve. A young squirrel named Tjum tries to seize her water for the communal coffers but in the ensuing fracas an entire pumpkin is upset, spilling a quarter or more of the clearing’s dwindling water supply. Yikes. The animals are, as always, quick to point the finger at Latte, but this time Tjum recognizes the anti-hedgehog sentiment and takes sole responsibility for the accident.

It’s nice and all but still doesn’t account for the water shortage. Luckily a crow with impeccable timing arrives to tell them all about this mythic waterstone that once rested at the top of bear mountain, allowing water to flow abundantly down to to everyone in the forest and beyond. But then the bear king stole it for himself, leaving all the other animals to go without. Latte resolves then and there to retrieve that stone, and Tjum follows after her. If the bear king doesn’t sound scary enough, they’ll have to cross a perilous forest to get to him, encountering predators like wolves and lynxes who are just as thirsty and even more desperate, not to mention a cockeyed toad whose motivations are mysterious.

Latte & the Magic Waterstone is a German animated film, and German fairy tales aren’t exactly known for their light-hearted joviality. Nobody gets their eyes pecked out (Grimm’s Cinderella) or any kind of blinding (Grimm’s Rapunzel) indeed; eyes are largely safe in this one. But there is some real sadness to contend with: a sweet little hedgehog alone in the world, a community content to shun her. But the movie doesn’t really dwell on such matters. It sticks to its simple and predictable story, an easy little adventure to find or not find a stone that may or may not exist. Dying of thirst or dying of loneliness: what’s the difference?

This movie is occasionally visually stunning and mostly just a forgettable little cartoon about a hedgehog who probably deserves better.

Animal Crackers

Zoe and Owen are enthusiastic circus goers when they meet as children, and the circus is the background of their courtship growing up. But when Owen (John Krasinski) is ready to settle down with Zoe (Emily Blunt), he heeds her father’s advice, leaving the circus behind in favour of the family dog biscuit business. It’s not his passion, not even close, but it pays the bills and seems befitting of a family man. It takes a tragedy – the untimely death of Owen’s eccentric, long-lost uncle Buffalo Bob, who bequeaths to him his circus.Unfortunately, the circus is not at its best. With aging performers, absentee animals, and a ledger in the red, it’s definitely past its prime.

Do you want the good news first, or the bad news?

The good news is that Owen finds Buffalo Bob’s recipe for success, one that’ll guarantee amazing animal acts and paying butts in the seats. But he also remembers that he has not one but two long-lost uncles. Uncle Horatio (Ian McKellan) owns the largest chain of circuses in the world, and there’s no way in hell he’s going to let his dweeby nephew Owen threaten his empire.

Animal Crackers has an all-star voice cast, which is the entire list of things it has going for it. The script is clumsy, the story unremarkable, the songs subpar. It’s not going to knock the clown socks off anyone. But since we’re experiencing a movie drought due a certain global pandemic who shall remain nameless, this might just about fit the bill for a family film night. Hand out the Cracker Jack, or dare I suggest – animal crackers? – and I can promise you that young kids won’t hate it. Neither will you, of course. It’s completely harmless and completely forgettable. But it’s new and it’s available for streaming on Netflix, so step right up, put on your red nose, and prepare to be whelmed.

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!