Tag Archives: family movies

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.

Playmobil: The Movie

For a minute I wonder if I rented the wrong movie. These are real, human actors: Marla (Anya Taylor-Joy) just finished high school and instead of going off to college she confides in her brother Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) that she’s destined for a life of adventure. But that all ends when a knock on the door reveals a police officer come to tell them their parents are dead. Cut to: a couple of years later, Marla, having put her dreams on hold, is struggling to keep a household going while brother Charlie is disappointed in the distinct lack of adventure in their lives. He runs away one dark and stormy evening and just as Marla tracks him down at some sort of toy convention with a large Playmobil village, they get sucked into it and pop up an animated Lego form.

Marla reanimates as a girl in a sweater set but Charlie is more fortunate, taking the Viking shape he always carried on his bookbag. Landing in the middle of a viking battle, Charlie immediately makes friends but then gets accidentally trebucheted into another land. Marla scoops up some viking gold and chases after him, not realizing her loot makes her a target as well. She hooks up with Del (Jim Gaffigan), purveyor of magical hay, and he agrees to help if she’ll recompense him.

If you walk down the aisles of the Toys R Us Lego section, you’ll find dozens of Playmobil sets, Lego for the younger set. You will find pirates and police officers, dinosaurs and dragons, mermaids and magic yetis. In the film’s universe, all of these disparate sets are connected by a highway. Turns out, a lot of citizens have been going missing lately, so a debonair secret agent named Rex (Daniel Radcliffe) joins them on their quest.

Confused yet? That may be up to 20% my fault but definitely at least 80% the movie’s. Playmobil is appealing directly to small children, dispensing the shackles of story and logic and just hitting them with a spray of a thing and a thing and a thing and a thing. Are they connected? Vaguely, I think. But mostly they show off a wide variety of toy sets available in a toy store near you while keeping up a colourful and frenetic pace.

A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Shaun is a sheepdog’s worst nightmare. He’s kicking up plenty of mischief on his farm, prompting the poor, overtaxed sheepdog to post signs like: no sheep hot air ballooning, no sheep archery, and definitely no sheep tractor hijacking. But this farm has more alarming things going on than harmless sheep pizza pranks. Shaun has made a new friend, an alien who has special powers. And one of those special powers is for making Shaun’s mischief even more mischievous.

While the rest of the sheep rather obligingly cover for his absence, Shaun goes on an epic journey to get his alien friend back home, all the while evading capture by a certain government agency. Meanwhile, back at the farm, the farmer has had the bright and hopefully lucrative idea to capitalize on the town’s UFO fervor and turn his farm into a Farmageddon theme park – with the poor dog in charge of construction. The film clearly positions the dog as Shaun’s nemesis but you can’t help but feel the dog is given the worst jobs and takes all of the blame. I, for one, feel sorry for him.

Shaun The Sheep is very simple story telling, very charmingly told. There isn’t a shred of dialogue and yet the story is easily communicated. All the gags are visual, and most are aimed at children, but some references to the genre (to XFiles, for example, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), are clearly meant for the adults in the audience.

Shaun and friends provide everything you’d hope for in a sequel, plus a far wider world to explore and enjoy. And as we expect from¬†Aardman productions, the stop motion animation is not only sweet but filled with beautiful detail, a film clearly made with love. The character work is great and the film is gratifyingly simple. What else can you ask for?

Sonic The Hedgehog

Does the world need movies based on video game characters? Not really. But a good story can spring up from anywhere, except perhaps from the minds of screenwriters Josh Miller and Patrick Casey whose credits are so sparse they literally feature “community television” and yet Sonic The Hedgehog will still not make their highlight real.

Sonic The Hedgehog isn’t bad but it is speeding in the exact opposite direction of good, leaving only lightning farts and a blue blur in its wake. Is Sonic allergic to not sucking? Okay, so it’s kind of bad. The script is bland and overly familiar and exceedingly safe. There’s nothing new or exciting here, just a paint-by-numbers that any idiot could have written, and in the case of Sonic, we got two. I mean: someone got paid for this. Miller and Casey literally cashed a cheque for writing the line “Let’s go do some ROCK-conaissance!” and Jim Carrey got a much, much bigger one to say it.

And ugh: Jim Carrey. I was fine with him having disappeared off the face of the earth. I was never a fan of his annoying, rubber-faced schtick, the over-the-topness of his obnoxious expressions and over-enunciation. NOT. HERE. FOR. IT. I very kindly tolerate him when a director keeps a tight leash on him (Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) but Jeff Fowler is not that director. Not only is Carrey unleashed, it’s pretty clear he’s a very bad dog who’s probably pissing on Fowler’s shoes. Fowler, whose credits are no more impressive than Miller’s or Casey’s (ie, he’s never made a movie before), is quite content to simply point his camera in the right direction.

James Marsden, charming and inoffensive, is relegated to saying things like “Good grief!” which is not a thing for grown men to say, or anyone outside of Charlie Brown’s inner circle, really. Tika Sumptner, playing his wife, is given even less to do. Ben Schwartz voices Sonic, and though Schwartz is known for rather larger than life characters, you could go the whole movie without placing his voice, generic white guy √† la Zach Braff.

Sonic The Hedgehog is the film equivalent of an oatmeal raisin cookie. Kids might reach for it simply because it is a cookie, but if chocolate or peanut butter or even plain old shortbread were on offer, it would be no question. But it’s just 6 weeks into this new year and it’s virtually the only family-friendly movie in theatres. This is how oatmeal raisin thrives: a complete dearth of options.

 

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure has a misleading name, because he’s anything but. He may be young (11), but he’s the best detective in town (Portland). He and his partner, an imaginary 1500lb polar bear named Total, run the agency, called Total Failures, together. This may have been Timmy’s first mistake. Total is not the diligent and responsible polar bear he first appeared to be.

Timmy (Winslow Fegley), easily identified by his mullet and his red scarf (if not by his polar bear partner), roams the mean streets of Portland on the failure mobile, which looks suspiciously like a segway. But his case of the missing backpack is usurped by the case of the missing segway (eep!) which is in turn usurped by just trying to survive the 5th grade, his mom’s new boyfriend, his school’s rigid anti-bear policy, and the Russian spies overtaking his city. Gulp.

Winslow Fegley is a delightfully odd kid who pulls off charming and quirky in equal measure, exactly the kind of weirdo who’s a pleasure to watch. The whole cast, largely unknown, and largely children, are surprisingly talented and likable. It’s a good fit for a script that excels at being offbeat. Even the polar bear sidekick looks terrific, a visual witticism crashing about on screen. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is almost like a Wes Anderson starter movie, tonally odd but in a way I quickly became addicted to. I imagine this is the kind of movie the whole family can actually enjoy, its clever moments more than enough to keep adults entertained and the protagonist’s wacky antics enthralling for all ages.

Timmy Failure is a great piece of original programming for Disney+ and I wouldn’t mind a bit if there was more just like it (sequel?) on the way.