Mr. Peabody & Sherman – 4/5 stars

Anyone from Generation X (my generation I should add) is likely to remember Rocky and Bullwinkle on television where you’d hear Bullwinkle open by saying “Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.” That was the show we watched when our homework was done or after soccer games on Saturday. In the deeper recesses of our pop cultural memory, you find the sub-show inside that was the original Mr. Peabody & Sherman. It was sarcastic yet subdued. Perhaps the time gave it an air of university, peace, and love. Rod Serling? Beatniks? I don’t relly know how to explain it. The era was indefinable. In the show, the ingenious Mr. Peabody has “a boy,” the inverse of a boy having a dog. Yes, Mr. Peabody is a dog but he’s also a history buff, a professor, and a time traveler. This dog got it goin’ on! Still, you never get the impression that Mr. Peabody “loves” Sherman as his son. Trust me, I watched a bunch of old episodes on Youtube this morning and you don’t. Then there’s the new film. A somewhat different animal.

The film Mr. Peabody & Sherman (2014) creates the duo well and we are given much adventure in the process. Unfortunately, for this viewer who came with high hopes, it fails to recreate the cult feel of the 1959 animated shorts. It’s sort of like that but set to Jimmy Neutron styled animation. They also make a huge deal out of Sherman being his “son.” This gets odd, even for me an adoptive father. I think they took that “new” slant on the time traveling story and made it the bedrock of the movie, It should never have been added. The feel of the old cartoons was enough to build without additions. Still, the animation is incredible. The kids of today will also get some historical references they may have not heard in their short lives. I took all three of my kids and they seemed to enjoy it beginning to end. For me as their dad, that says a lot about how I will rate a family movie. 4/5 Stars.

The Impossible

The Impossible is a film about the 2004 Tsunami that killed over 200,000 people and a family that fought to survive in its aftermath. Naomi Watts does a stellar job portraying the real life mother that struggles to survive and to reunite with her family.

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (known for Orphanage and a host of movies made in Spain). It stars Ewan Mcgregor and Naomi Watts who are widely known for many things. Both do an amazing job in this film portraying the mother and father of a family that goes through adventures that are often bordering macabre to attempt to survive.

The Impossible is a true story of a family separated by a natural disaster. When a middle-to-upper class family of 5 gets in the way of a Tsunami wave, they are separated and forced to find inner strength and survive. The disaster puts them in the company of hundreds of thousands of strangers with death at every turn. Still, they keep hope alive in the film and we see them fight for survival in many inspiring ways.

I didn’t think this movie would be very good after seeing the preview. It looked like another sappy “I love my kids so much I’ll kill for them” type of survival movie. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The movies’ portrayal of this family’s struggle to survive and “find each other” is so realistic and gritty. At the same time, it has some truly touching scenes of human love both within the family as well as with strangers it comes across. This movie seeks to show us we are stronger as humans than we think and it achieves that through portraying this incredible true story. For that reason, I gave it 5/5 stars.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

When this animated film was released, it appeared in the ads to be similar in its stop action and quirky appearance to some of its predecessors like: Wallace and Gromit, Flushed Away, and Chicken Run. It certainly piqued my interest with its mega marketing campaign.

I must have seen the trailer 100 times both in theaters and on the web. The Pirates! Band of Misfits was directed by Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt who are the masterminds behind Aardman Animations which is known by some to be one of the most prestigious animation companies in the world. One thing that sets them apart in my view is that they produce stop animation where the camera must be stopped intermittently and the figures are moved millions of times to create the animation.The biggest voice actors are Hugh Grant as The Pirate Captain, Martin Freeman as The Pirate with a Scarf, Imelda Staunton as a ruthless Queen Victoria, David Tennant as Charles Darwin, Jeremy Piven as Black Bellamy, and Salma Hayek as Cutlass Liz. It is most definitely a quirky work with little inside (often hidden) jokes throughout. For example, when Peg Leg Hastings says “lock up your daughters” it’s a reference to a Slade song. But you wouldn’t get that if you were a kid right? I know mine didn’t get it. It’s too bad that much of the humor of The Pirates! Band of Misfits is lost on kids.

Original and quirky, but over kids’ heads is how I would describe this movie in a sentence. For that reason, I’d only recommend it for Aardman enthusiasts and not optimal entertainment for kids 13 and under. Mine were bored most the way through.

The story is about Pirate Captain who is seeking to be “Pirate of the Year.” Through a disjointed and often unexplained chain of events, he comes into contact with the historical figure Charles Darwin. Darwin is taken aback by Captain Pirate’s dodo bird and convinces him to come to London with the bird to present it at a science convention. From there, Queen Victoria gets involved who hates pirates and loves to eat endangered or exotic animals. Confused yet? Well, like most animated movies, there is a happy ending where everything gets wrapped up in a pretty bow. For me, the metaphorical beauty was the end credits. Watching my kids yawn, ages 13, 7, and 5, was far too contagious for I myself to fend off.

FINAL THOUGHTS
The Pirates! Band of Misfits is a visually stunning film. The filmmakers have my respect for their compelling stop action animation. Unfortunately the story is not engaging and lacks side-splitting humor like, for example, that of the slugs in Flushed Away. Still, lovers of the animation style will enjoy it. It’s not the best Aardman feature but it’s not a bomb either. I hope the next one considers the kids a little more because I will certainly want to see what Aardman does next.

Bambi

Bambi was released by Walt Disney Productions in 1942 as a full length animated movie. The supervising director was David Hand, known for Snow White. There were also 7 other directors of this early Disney film. The task of writing was shared by several as well. Among them was the supervising writer Perce Pearce, also known for Snow White. The voice talents, whose identities now are known on the internet and other sources, were uncredited in the movie. Bambi is 70 minutes long and was nominated for 3 Oscars.

It is the story of a baby deer who grows up alongside a cast of silly but speaking animal characters. The most memorable arguably is Thumper, a baby rabbit so-named for the way he stamps his feet. Bambi grows up learning from his friends and after a time, he loses his mother to a hunter’s bullet. This scene is done in a tasteful fashion so children will not be scared but it is meant to be sad. Bambi then meets his father and has to grow up without his mother. A series of events over time, including a horrendous forest fire and haunting thunderstorm, teach Bambi lessons of life and leave him with a measurable amount of maturity. His friends grow up with him and he finds love with Faline, a pretty young doe. The stages of life we experience with Bambi are delivered in a clear timeline that belies the dreamy style of the settings. It’s no wonder Bambi appealed to all ages and personality types at the ticket counter. Bambi clearly was made for a universal audience but it does hold some partisan and controversial messages. Around 70 years later, they hardly seem controversial but considering the time, they were.

Animation for the big screen was still in its infancy but Bambi help catapult it into a brave new world. It would signal an era where animated movies held moral messages. Watching Bambi now, it’s clear to see some moral and cultural trends of the times. It was a time of war and a time where men and women had clearly defined roles. It’s likely the Disney studio execs, especially Walt himself, had a hand in whether a scene or line made it in the final cut. Knowing that, I found a couple scenes surprising. For example, the hunting scenes. Birds and animals are being hunted and some are even shot in the movie. This was a movie aimed at kids. This may be indicative of the popularity of hunting at the time. The point of view of the camera demonstrates how inhumane the act of hunting is. This is an avant garde aspect of the film I think. During World War II, it was probably more popular to preach hunting than pacifism but this movie does. War might be considered a form of hunting. It was not a time like Vietnam where movies could open challenge war and the government. It had to be done subtly or a world that supported war and would not pay admission. All Disney movies have moral messages in them. This, being one of the first, is no exception. It’s interesting to identify the subtle moral signposts in Bambi.

Disney financed the movie himself and it was a hefty project to support. He believed in his vision and its legacy lives on today. It uses old methods of achieving cinematic effects with much success. For example, the thunderstorm sound effects are not actual storm sounds. They are mimicked evocatively with an orchestra and a choir. With regards to effects, less “technology” is more in Bambi. It is a movie I have purchased and I will take it out when I want to relive what the early magic of Disney.

Real Steel

Last night my wife and I sneaked out leaving the brother to babysit and saw Real Steel, the new movie out about robot boxing. I have to say, I wasn’t too excited to see it. The idea of robots punching each other for 2 hours didn’t really pique my interest. But I am happy to recommend it now as a fun family film, with some fight scenes, that has all the charm of the Karate Kid and cgi as good as Transformers.

It was directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the MuseumBig Fat Liar …) and stars Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, and newcomer Kevin Durand. Jackman plays Charlie, an ex prize fighter who now slums as a robot coach (of sorts). Jackman discovers he has a son, Max, and try as he might to do otherwise, he is destined to partner up with his 13 year old son throughout the movie. Charlie and Max try their hand at robot management and coaching but it has mixed results. It isn’t until they have a few shared experiences that they acquire a new, plain, yet mysterious powerful robots. What that power is remains to unfold. Together they discover the worth of teamwork and the analog body in sync with the digital robot technology. I won’t give away anymore about the plot but know that it’s quite a fun ride.

Evangeline Lilly plays Bailey, Jackman’s ex. She is the calming force in his life even now that they are not together. They share a little romance that sizzles off the screen. Max is just happy-go-lucky. He ends up getting a dad and a prize fighting robot in the deal. There is not a while lot of real life character development but for what this movie is, an action movie, that isn’t required. Atom is the robot. You end up feeling like he is an actual person. He is the classic underdog fighter with no chance and a small physique. The twist is that he is not a human, like Rocky from the 70’s, but rather a steel fighting machine. He never says to his corner man to “cut me” but several comparisons are obvious, as well as to the Karate Kid.

All in all, this movie isn’t very real amid the steel. That being said, you will cheer when the good robots win fights. It is just the right time for this sort of movie to be made. Technology makes these things seem like real chunks of 1,000 pound metal to watch, enjoy, and give a high five to. While weak on the storyline and character development, this is the ideal underdog movie for the kids of today. And for those of us in our slightly older years, we should suspend disbelief so this movie can please us as well.

Article first published as Real Steel: The Underdog Fight Ensues on Blogcritics.

Oz the Great and Powerful

If you want to bring people in to see your movie, make it a prequel or sequel to a box office explosion like the Wizard of Oz. Additionally, cast mega actors in the lead roles. Oh, and of you really want to blow it up, get the best CGI into it. Voila, you’ll have a monster hit. Will Oz, the Great and Powerful be “monstrous” successful at the box office? Probably but time will have to tell. On opening day, the critics are divided. Some are saying it’s bad writing but should that matter with a fantasy family movie like this?

This Disney film was directed by Sam Raimi, known for the Evil Dead and the Spiderman Trilogy. It stars James Franco as Oz, Mila Kunis as Theodora, Rachel Weisz as Evanora, and Michelle Williams as Glinda. In addition to those giant-name actors, there is cast of lesser-known known yet famous actors.

To summarize the plot with minimal spoilers: Oscar Diggs is whisked away from Kansas and ends up in Oz (familiar?). He meets three witches who he must contend with to stay alive. In the process, her learns about believing in himself as he saves the Emerald City. He uses his skills of illusion to foil the bad witches impress the inhabitants of Oz. An important note is that he never returns to Kansas.

Prequels contain certain unavoidable things. For sure you are bound to hear the origins of things. Oz the Great and Powerful is no exception. My wife was surprised there was no backstory of the slippers but no other stone is left unturned. It’s as if the screenwriters had a checklist and went right down the line. Even though the script seems canned and simple at times, the movie doesn’t need depth to please viewers. We are talking about a prequel to the Wizard of Oz here, the name along with the Disney moniker is enough to bring in the minions. I was there opening night and I have never seen our small town Cinemark that packed. Will it have staying power? Time will tell but I think but probably. It started very slow and laborious but the middle and end were actually a lot of fun. Lower your standards for acting and dialog but not for CGI and cinematography.

The BFG (2016)

This is a repost from last year, the BFG is now streaming on Netflix!

With highly advertised Summer films like The Secret Life of Pets out this Summer of 2016, this film has a lot to stand up to. Fortunately for the giant, he is 26 feet tall so he can stand up to audiences with confidence. Some movies like The BFG should not be over analyzed but rather surrendered to. It has been engineered to take you away as if you were in a dream. Some of the finest names in movie making, including Spielberg as director, have joined forces to do that. Set controls for the heart of childhood, The Big Friendly Giant is here to sweep you away.

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The BFG
Cast

Mark Rylance, Ruby Barnhill, Penelope Wilton

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Written by

Melissa Mathison (screenplay), Roald Dahl (based on the book by)

Other Info

Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Rated PG
117min

There are two main characters: Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) and the BFG (Big Friendly Giant – voiced by Mark Rylance). Both characters don’t quite fit into their respective worlds and find a special friendship with each other. There isn’t much by way of plot but that’s not a problem. The tenderness between BFG and Sophie is so powerfully developed and delivered, they can do anything and it’s engaging. Just watch them opening “dream jars,” for example. The plot is thickest when the other, larger giants threaten to eat Sophie. When that’s not happening, Sophie and BFG spend quality  time in “Giant Land.” At some point, they solicit the aid of a “head of state,” (I’ll call her that to not spoil the surprise of who she is) and the bad giants are dealt with.

bfg1-6628521At one point, BFG tells Sophie giants have been walking about since the beginning of time. There is no growth or transformation in either character, it’s not that sort of film. We are meant to admire them like art hanging in a gallery. Along those lines, one should remember the book is by Roald Dahl, all his books are highly visual. You see a world that is a reflection upside down on a lake. You also see peoples’ dreams in little pixie sizes, squeaking. There are signature silly words here just like inWilly Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. In fact, when a rich human serves him toast and jam, he yells out, “Scrumtapdiliumpcious!”

The main reason The BFG is effective and entertaining because it’s simplified. This is how it should be with a Spielberg film. He’s been making movies since the 1970’s and should know by now a few things that work. He leaves the worthless stuff out. Through the 2000’s his direction was hit and miss. I recall a couple real misses as examples: Cowboys and Aliens and Super 8. I went in to both expecting the caliber of E.T. and instead got uninteresting, worthless movies. Bbfg2-8733606ut after all the modern trial and error, it’s great to see him hit the bullseye again with The BFG. I want to recognize the screenwriter Melissa Mathison as I type my review. She has been a collaborator with Spielberg on several project including ET. She passed away tragically from cancer last year. She was only 65. By way of trivia, From 1983 to 2004, Mathison was married to Harrison Ford; they had two children together.

In conclusion, this is the Summer of 2016, and as most movie viewers know there is some family film competition, including The Secret Life of Pets. While a CGI character, the BFG has a lot of personality in his face and body movements. Clearly byt looking at the actor, you can see they fashioned him after Mark Rylance. He’s well known for winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies. The casting of Rylance in the BFG was an excellent choice. To me, he IS BFG. While it is performing slowly at the moment at the box office, I truly hope a lot of people get a chance to see this film.

Have you seen this film? Care to see it? Leave your thoughts about the film in the comments.