Two years after we first met her, little Angela, an Irish lass living in the very early 20th century, is still known in her little town for having stolen the baby Jesus from the church’s nativity scene. It was pretty innocent, as far as thefts go; she only thought he looked cold lying there in his manger, and took him home to make him warm and cozy.
Nowadays the baby Jesus has a very nice knit sweater to keep him warm, but Angela still visits him in the church to pray and ask for help. With Christmas fast approaching, Angela has her eye on a fancy dolly in the storefront window, but her family is still largely impoverished despite her father having left for work in Australia over two years ago. Setting aside their own interests, Angela and brother Pat decide to use their Christmas wish to bring their father home – or rather, to go and get him. When digging to Australia doesn’t work, they start busking for a train ticket. Their plan is not the most efficient, but their hearts are in the right place.
Is there any chance that Angela’s family will find happiness this holiday? You’ll have to watch to find out. The characters are based on the writing of Frank McCourt. The animation is as sweet as it sounds. And at just 47 minutes, it’s a great little watch for a special pre-bedtime treat with the kids.
Eleanor (Jillian Bell) is the youngest trainee and the only person who’s bothered to apply in decades; fairy godmothering just isn’t what it used to be. But head mistress Moira (Jane Curtin) keeps on teaching the same tried and true formula: 1. glittery gown 2. true love 3. happily ever after. Except humans stopped believing in ‘happily ever after’ a long time ago. No fairy godmother has been on assignment in years – the school’s about to close, the godmothers to be retrained as tooth fairies. Eleanor is devastated. Godmothering is all she’s ever wanted to do and now she’ll never even get the chance to start, so she takes matters into her own hands and finds a neglected assignment, a request for a fairy godmother that was never granted. She heads down to earth to fulfill the godmothering duties, and hopefully prove that godmothers are still in demand.
Of course, when she eventually finds herself in Boston, she finds not a 10 year old girl, but a full grown woman named Mackenzie (Isla Fisher) (apparently the letter was a little dated). What a disaster: in what way could a single mother in a dead end job possibly need godmothering? Well, both Mackenzie and Eleanor are about to find out because Eleanor refuses to go back to the motherland a failure.
Godmothered doesn’t exactly skewer the popular Disney fairy godmother formula, but it expands on what was traditionally a pretty narrow definition of happily ever after. Welcome to the modernization of Disney. They’ve been rehabbing their image and redefining the princess genre in movies like Frozen and even Ralph Breaks The Internet. Godmothered asks whether magic, wishes, and belief still have a place in modern society, and if not, what should take their place. It doesn’t quite go all the way as a ‘message’ movie but it does get some pretty great mileage out of good old-fashioned kindness and cooperation, which never go out of style.
Eleanor is charming as a fish out of water, a magical being in the land of humans for the first time, not unlike Enchanted Giselle or even Elf’s Buddy the Elf. Jillian Bell is simply enchanting, more grounded than flighty, but with enough fairy dust on her performance to give her wings. Director Sharon Maguire delivers a warm and feel-good story that is perfect for cozy family viewing.
Black Beauty has been adapted many times, but in Ashley Avis’ movie, Black Beauty is female, and so is the little girl who loves her.
When we meet Black Beauty (voiced by Kate Winslet), she is a young Mustang running wild and free, just starting to be wary of new animals encroaching upon the land. Not wary enough, as it turns out; Black Beauty is captured and sent to live in a stable so she can be broken and sold. John (Iain Glen) who runs the stables and trains the horses isn’t a bad man, and he’s soon joined by his orphaned niece Jo (Mackenzie Foy). Jo is not your classic Horse Girl; in fact, she’s never ridden. But she must see a bit of herself in Black Beauty, who is also adjusting to new surroundings having just lost her parents and her home. Their bond is immediate and undeniable. Jo insists not on breaking Beauty, but on “partnering” her, based on friendship , respect, and gentleness. But the stables are a business, and Beauty is leased out to a wealthy family whose daughter is training to be competitive in dressage. Georgina (Fern Deacon) isn’t a natural horsewoman but makes up for what she lacks with spurs and whips. She is not kind to Beauty (nor to Jo), but sadly nor is she the worst owner that Black Beauty will encounter in her life.
Told from Black Beauty’s unique perspective (don’t worry, she’s not a talking horse, we merely hear her thoughts voiced by Winslet), we follow her as she’s transferred from home to home, owner to owner, many more pitiful or abusive than the last. Anna Sewell’s wildly popular novel from many moons ago opened people’s eyes to the mistreatment of horses, but it’s clear from Avis’ adaptation that things have not changed nearly enough for horses in nearly 150 years. Set in various modern American environments, Black beauty knows pain, overwork, and perhaps worse still, loneliness. The bond she shared with Jo endures and holding her memory in her heart is the only reason Beauty has the strength to go on.
I didn’t expect to like Black Beauty as much as I did. It doesn’t feel emotionally manipulative – Black Beauty is a horse, and though we inevitably anthropomorphize her, she isn’t asking to be pitied. But her indominable spirit is enviable and some pretty cinematography, we feel a sort of empathy, a sort of kinship with animals of all kinds, and an emotional attachment to Beauty herself, whose loyalty and resilience remind us of the four-legged family members in our own homes. Not without its flaws, Black Beauty is still a worthy version for 2020 audiences and a nice little treat on Disney+.
In the first The Christmas Chronicles, Kate and brother Teddy had recently lost their father. With their mom covering an overnight shift at the hospital, the kids are alone on Christmas Eve, and devise a trap to catch Santa on tape once and for all. But their trap works a little too well and they soon find themselves on his sleigh and on a pretty epic adventure.
Two years later, Kate (Darby Camp) and Teddy (Judah Lewis) find themselves on the beaches of Mexico for Christmas, courtesy of mom’s (Kimberly Williams-Paisley) new boyfriend Bob. Kate isn’t thrilled to about a tropical Christmas but she’s even less enthused about her mom tarnishing dead dad’s memory with a new guy. That’s why she resolves to run away, which unfortunately plays right into the plans of disgraced elf Belsnickel (Julian Dennison), who uses Kate (and Bob’s son Jack) as bait to distract Santa while he makes off with the star that powers all of Santa’s Christmas magic. Big disaster. Huge. Now Santa (Kurt Russell) and Kate will be off on a sleigh-riding, time-traveling adventure while Jack (Jahzir Bruno) and Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn) defend Santa’s village from an onslaught of evil elves.
This movie is basically a nerf gun aimed right into the hearts of children and when it hits, it delivers a dose of holiday cheer and joy that’s undeniable. In sequel mode, this one has a little more razzle dazzle and a little less natural charm and sparkle than the first, but it’s still a good, clean, fun time for the whole family. Kurt Russell is a hot Santa who injects more than a little Elvis into the jolly old guy, donning sunglasses and swiveling his hips to belt out another show-stopping tune once again. And rather happily we see much more of Goldie Hawn, who brings her own twinkle to the mix, sweet but pro-active, not exactly the passive knitter in a rocking chair Mrs. Claus is often made out to be.
The Christmas Chronicles 2 is wonderfully, effortlessly cheerful. It has great acting and its attention to detail surpasses even the first, for a glossy look that feels, well, merry and bright. And if it is perhaps pandering and slightly disjointed, well, at least it knows its audience. The exploding gingerbread cookies, gravity gloves, dance breaks, flying jackotes ( jackal-coyote hybrids that look more like giant, extra-inbred pugs), and crossbow battles will all be very well-received by young audiences tuning in to get a second look at this Santa guy who’s so much cooler than the one at the mall. And who can blame them? He is pretty great and I count myself rather unashamedly among his fans.
Holly (voiced by Kaliayh Rhambo) and her parents are elves in the North Pole. In fact, Holly and her mom are – brace yourselves for this – puppy elves! As far as I knew, elves just hammered wood into bulky toys on an assembly line. Manual labour? No thanks. But puppy elves! It makes sense: plenty of people get new pups for Christmas, and Holly and her mom make sure their fur is all fluffy and cute, and they’ve got bows around their necks, doggie essentials for the holidays. I’m making way too big a deal out of this considering it’s a throwaway detail in the movie, but I can’t believe I’d never thought of it, and that I’ve been wasting my life this whole time.
Anyway, Holly’s dad is an inventor elf and he’s been working overtime on a new sleigh that would cut Christmas Eve delivery time by 90%. Except it is Christmas Eve, or pretty near, and his prototype’s still not working. He can’t be with his family, so to appease his daughter he hands her what he thinks is a doll.
In fact, the doll is actually an alien named X. X comes from a race of dull, kleptomaniac aliens who steal everything – and he’s the first wave in attempt to steal earth’s gravity.
It’s a stop-motion sci-fi holiday offering from the Chiodo brothers and executive producer Jon Favreau. Many of us grew up watching iconic TV movies like Rudolph and Frosty, and this is Netflix’s attempt to bring that kind of nostalgic Christmas viewing into our living rooms once again, with a 21st century twist.
The Klepts are aliens who have no longer have any concept of joy, but they take inspiration from humans – humans on Black Friday, specifically, who rush into stores frantically at 4am to buy cheap TVs they don’t need.
The Chiodos worked on the stop-motion portion of Favreau’s Elf back in 2003 (in fact, you might recognize a couple of “cameos”) and they were eager to collaborate on this tribute to beloved family holiday viewing. Like those golden age episodes, Alien Xmas is a tight 40 minutes, but a fun watch that’ll put you in the giving spirit.
In a version of 1650 Ireland probably not too different from the one our history reports, Robyn (voiced by Honor Kneafsey) and her widowed father Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) are sent by colonizer extraordinaire, the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney), to a remote outpost of a town that’s growing past its own humble borders into the woods beyond it. The town has suffered wolf attacks as it creeps into their territory and Bill, a wolf hunter, is tasked with their destruction. Young daughter Robyn wants nothing more than to be just like her father, and to hunt by his side, but Lord Protector has a narrower, more traditional belief about a woman’s place. To prove her worth and bravery, Robyn takes on the woods alone and almost becomes prey herself when a pack of wolves circles around her, but she is saved at the last minute by Mebh (Eva Whittaker).
The legends are true: Mebh is a wolfwalker, a girl who has an independent life as a wolf while her human self sleeps. Luckily she also has healing powers, relieving Robyn of the nasty bite on her arm, but not before it transforms Robyn into a wolfwalker too. Robyn loves to run with her new friends at night, wild and free unlike any other female in 17th century Ireland, but she has now become the very thing her father must exterminate, the very embodiment of the village’s superstitions, both the colonizer and the colonized.
The movie’s style begs you to notice it is lovingly hand-drawn; while some images are deliberately rustic, there are so many saturated colours and levels of detail the overall effect is simply gorgeous, like looking at stained glass. It has myth in its heart and magic running through its veins. The script is good but the animation itself is enough to communicate the disparate worlds of human and beast. The lush and vibrant art is alone worth the watch, but the ethereal nature of the woods’ inhabitants makes for a captivating story reminiscent of the kind of lyrical folk and fairy tales that just don’t get told much anymore. Wolfwalkers is certainly among the best animated films of the year and I’m confident that we will see its name on the Oscar ballot this year.
Wolfwalkers is in select theatres now and will be available to stream on Apple TV December 11 2020.
Jeronicus Jangle is a magical, fantastical inventor of “jangles and things” (translation: toys). A new breakthrough that brings a toy to life seems poised to make him an incredible success but while celebrating jubilantly in the streets with his wife, daughter, and nearly the entire town of Cobbleton, the newly animated toy (a matador named Don Juan voiced by Ricky Martin) convinces Jeronicus’ apprentice Gustafson that they should steal the blueprints to all the inventions and strike out on their own.
Twenty-eight Toy Maker of the Year awards later, Gustafson (Keengan-Michael Key) is eccentric and wealthy and about to run out of stolen ideas for toys. Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker), meanwhile, is completely ruined. Gustafson didn’t just steal his blueprints, he robbed him of his self-confidence and of the magic that seemed to inspire his inventions. His wife gone, his daughter estranged, and his toy store now a rapidly failing pawnshop, Jeronicus is dejected, and not even the threat of bankruptcy can jump-start his innovations. However, the arrival of his grand-daughter Journey (Madalen Mills) changes everything. Not only does she share his mind for magic, science, and creating, she’s got something even more important: belief.
Jingle Jangle is a bit of a marvel, to be honest. It’s The Greatest Showman meets Mr. Magorium’s Magic Emporium meets Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. Although I loved the film from the minute Phylicia Rashad started reading a fairytale to her grandkids, I was completely sold not two minutes later when a toy store full of whirring robotics and steampunk costumed people break out into song and dance that totally swept me away.
Writer-director David E. Talbert creates a rich fantasy land that is a pure joy to visit. Although it’s not a perfect film, there’s a lot of talent on display. In addition to a truly unique twist on a family-friendly holiday film, Forest Whitaker is a total champ and Keegan-Michael Key is having a blast. Who knew either could sing and dance – or would? Mills is the true star of course; her voice is strong and confident, but so is her soul, and she shines her novice light even opposite legendary luminaries.
From the inspired music to the brilliant production design, Jingle Jangle was a whole lot of fun and I’m both pleased to have a new classic in the holiday genre, but equally pleased that it is holiday-lite, a perfect November (or anytime) watch.
When Fei Fei is a little girl, her mother (Ruthie Ann Miles) tells her about the moon goddess Chang’e. The popular myth says that many, many years ago, ten suns rose in the sky together, scorching the Earth. The archer Houyi shot down nine of them, and was rewarded an elixir for immortality. He did not take it as he did not wish to become immortal without his beloved wife Chang’e. But one day his apprentice broke into his house to steal it, and to prevent him gaining it, Chang’e drank it herself. She ascended to the heavens, choosing the moon as her residence, where she mourns her husband to this day, because true love lasts forever.
Fei Fei’s mother passed away, and every year when her family gathers for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, there’s an extra reason to remember her mother. But this year she is surprised to learn that her father (John Cho) has invited an unexpected guest: his new girlfriend, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh) and her son, Chin. Upset by this sudden turn of events, Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) decides to build a rocket ship to the moon so she can enlist Chang’e’s help to remind her father that true love (ie, his first love, ie, Fei Fei’s mother) is forever. She and bunny Bungee (plus stowaway Chin) are surprisingly successful, but the moon isn’t exactly what she’d anticipated. Her first friend is Gobi (Ken Jeong), a pangolin former royal advisor who was exiled 1000 years ago; he has some important wisdom to impart about loneliness, if only Fei Fei would listen. But she’s still determined to enlist Chang’e (Phillipa Soo), a goddess in the form of a rock star, and every bit as demanding and self-interested as one.
Over The Moon is a new offering from Netflix, an animated musical film appropriate for the whole family. It’s more in the style of Laika films than Disney or Pixar, but unfortunately doesn’t reach the heights of any of these. Although it does use one of Disney’s favourite tropes, the dead mom, it teaches a lesson about a different kind of grief. The visuals are stunning and the moon adventure is sure to please any young child, with rap-battle ping pong games and softly glowing creatures, it’s hard to deny. But the moon adventure is book-ended with family scenes reminiscent of Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, another movie that used food as an excuse to gather and grieve. These scenes are tinged with loss but also hint that life can move on. It is heartfelt but not emotionally manipulative. Some of the feelings are nuanced enough that they may be complicated for very young audience members to understand, but anyone who has loved and lost will feel something familiar here, and that’s a pretty good reason to watch.
Seabrook is a perfectly planned community, where everyone is uniformly beautiful and bright. Fifty years ago, there was an accident involving lime soda at the local power plant, unleashing a green haze that turned people into zombies. Seabrook survivors erected a barrier to keep themselves save, and it has lived securely beside Zombietown ever since.
The ensuing 50 years have harkened 50 years of zombie improvements; they now wear a device on their wrists that emits a soothing electromagnetic pulse that keeps them from eating brains (it probably counts their steps as well). Zombies are are now like anyone else, though they are easily identified thanks to green hair and a pale pallor. Unfortunately, zombie phobia is rampant in the Stepford-like community of Seabrook, and the division is still pretty strict. Zombies wear uniforms, work the worst jobs, aren’t allowed to keep pets, etc, etc. Today, however, Zed (Milo Manheim), a teenage zombie, is super pumped because it’s the first day of school and for the first time, zombies are allowed to attend human school. He shouldn’t be surprised that the school is still very much segregated, with the zombies all relegated to the dank basement and not allowed to mix with human kids or join extra-curriculars. Luckily Zed’s got a zombie edge when it comes to football, and the Seabrook Shrimps are utterly awful without him. Can one zombie jock heal the hearts and prejudices of a xenophobic town? With a little help from his zombie friends and one brave, blonde cheerleader named Addison (Meg Donnelly), yes. Yes they can.
This little ditty is available on Disney+ and will make for some fun, family friendly viewing this Halloween.
Meanwhile, I’m a little embarrassed to say that I really liked this film myself. It’s corny and earnest as heck, but it’s also extremely well put together. I never saw High School Musical, but I imagine this is not unlike it, only half the kids are zombies.
Someone production-designed the heck out of this thing. That person is Mark Hofeling, and he deserves an awful lot of credit. The Seabrook side looks like a Taylor Swift music video and the Zombietown half looks like a Katy Perry video, and for the first time in my life, I mean that as a compliment. Costumes by Rita McGhee follow the aesthetic brilliantly (Sean even commented on the pastel football uniforms), so when they all break out into dance, the effect is rather pleasing. Oh did I mention it was also a musical? And the songs aren’t bad – not worse than a lot of what plays on the radio, anyway. The choreography’s decent too, more current and involved than I would have predicted from a Disney movie. The young cast (Manheim, Donnelly, Trevor Tordjman, Kylee Russell) are talented and charming and quite polished. And the script isn’t terrible either. Or, it’s terrible in a self-aware way, leaning extra hard on archetypes but making use of them and landing a few clever quips along the way.
Do I have a school girl crush on this movie or what? It’s really not meant for adults and I would never inflict this on anyone other than Sean. It’s a living, breathing cupcake of a movie and I guess I was in the mood for dessert.