When a franchise runs out of ideas, it’s time to stop, even if the characters and music are still delightful. When a franchise descends to having its own characters wink at the audience with jokes about how it’s run out of ideas, and resorts to just (literally) setting things on fire, not once but twice in it’s 90ish minute runtime, it’s one movie past time to stop. Not that the previous two films had much of a storyline, but compared to this one, they were the Iliad and the Odyssey. It wasn’t fun to hear Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) tell Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) that she’s stupid one time. It borders on agonizing by the third time.
The music is still delightful, exquisitely harmonized and choreographed covers of songs that it is surprising and fun to hear performed that way, especially in the obligatory riff-off, where this edition’s twist is that the other groups don’t care and use — gasp! — instruments!
The original Bellas are all out in the working world and not very happy about it. When Emily, who is still in college and performing with a new group of Bellas, invites them to a “reunion,” they think they are being invited to sing but learn they are just there to cheer on the new group. They decide that finding a way to sing together again is the most important thing in the world, and Aubrey (Anna Camp) suggests they contact her dad in the military to perform for the USO. Chloe (Brittany Snow) points out that there doesn’t seem to be much point if there isn’t a competition. Wink!
And so the Bellas go to Europe to perform for the troops, along with a country group called Saddle Up and a very sophisticated female rock group led by Calamity (Ruby Rose). And DJ Khaled (playing himself) is going to pick one of them to be his opening act because, oh, who cares that it makes no sense; at least Chloe gets to feel that she’s in a competition. Continuing to scrape the bottom of the storyline barrel, the movie then gives us not one but two distant daddy issues, neither of which matters at all, though it’s always good to see John Lithgow. And there is barely a flicker of love interest with a couple of guys who are so generic they seem to have wandered in from a Hallmark Christmas movie.
By the time we get to the end more than one character has made a choice that is completely inconsistent and/or nonsensical because no one seems to be paying attention to anything but the musical numbers, which continue to be delightful. Skylar Astin, Ben Platt, and Adam Devine escaped this mess, and anyone who is not a major fan of the franchise would do well to do the same.
Parents should know that this film includes some very crude sexual references and language, some comic peril and action including martial arts and explosions.
Family discussion: Why did the Bellas want to compete so badly? Were you surprised by Beca’s decision?
If you like this, try: the first two movies in the series and listen to a capella groups like Pentatonix and Home Free
Very subtle suggestion that a character might be gay, tolerance a metaphorical theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters:
March 17, 2017
Disney’s live action remake of one of its most beloved animated fairy tales is every bit as enchanting as we could hope, gently updating and expanding the story to give the characters more depth and appeal and filling it with movie magic.
In a prologue, we see that the Beast was once a handsome but vain and selfish prince who cared only about beauty. An enchantress cursed him to become a beast, the courtiers all turned into furniture, serving pieces, and accessories. If the Beast cannot find a way to love and be loved before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, they will never return to human form. The Beast has given up. He is angry, hurt, and terrified that he is unlovable, as Stevens shows us with just his voice, posture, and piercing blue eyes.
Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, plays Belle, introduced in the opening musical number as a bit of an outsider in her small “provincial” French village. She loves to read, but seems to have read everything on the one shelf of books in the town. Belle is not concerned with her looks, and Watson is encouragingly messy, with locks of hair falling around her face and sturdy boots instead of the animated version’s flats. We can see that she truly loves to learn and has an independent, adventurous spirit.
Belle adores her father (Kevin Kline as Maurice), an artist turned repairman, and she is an inventor herself, creating a washing machine that can do the laundry while she reads. Gaston (a terrific Luke Evans, clearly enjoying the way Gaston enjoys being Gaston) is an arrogant soldier who wants to marry Belle because she is beautiful and because she is the only girl in town who does not think he is dreamy. “She hasn’t made a fool of herself just to gain my favor.” Like the prince who turned into a beast, Gaston judges people only on how they look and how they respond to him.
Away from home, Maurice is chased by wolves and ends up seeking shelter at the Beast’s mysterious enchanted castle where the candelabra and teacup can talk. As he leaves, he picks a rose for Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) furiously captures him. Belle tries to rescue her father but ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner.
But in this “tale as old as time,” we know that Belle and Beast will begin as “barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly,” and it is genuinely touching to see how it unfolds. With additional songs from original composer Alan Menken (with lyrics from Tim Rice, along with some lyrics written by the late Howard Ashman for the original film that were not used), some backstory about both Belle and the Prince, and a more thoughtful portrayal of the development of their relationship. I was especially glad to see that their shared love of books played an important part in their connection.
The storyline is unexpectedly resonant with contemporary challenges, with the greatest threat from an angry mob suspicious of anything unfamiliar and easily spurred to violence. We get to see a bit more of the enchantress behind the curse as well.
The two moments fans of the original film will count on are the “Beauty and the Beast” waltz in the ballroom (now sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts) and the musical extravaganza “Be Our Guest” (now sung by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere), and both are gorgeously, joyously stunning, but the moments that stay with us are the sensitive performances and the tenderness of the relationships.
Parents should know that this film includes cartoon/fantasy peril and violence, wolves, a monster, a curse, some scary images, and a subtle reference to a gay crush.
Family discussion: What did the Beast learn from his enchantment? Why is Gaston so selfish? What do Belle and the Beast discover that they have in common?
If you like this, try: the animated original and the live action “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella”
Action-style cartoon peril, chases, predators, no one hurt
A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters:
February 24, 2017
The second movie in three months featuring cartoon animals singing pop songs is “Rock Dog,” based on a Chinese graphic novel.
Luke Wilson provides the voice for Bodi, a sheepdog in Tibet, raised by his martinet father Khampa (J.K. Simmons). Bodi is never able to muster the “Kung Fu Panda” style mystic power his father tries to teach him as a part of the elaborate defense system he has put in place to protect the sheep from the Mafia-type wolves (led by Lewis Black as Linnux). At one time the community had two passions, making music and making wool. But after an attack by wolves, the instruments have all been locked away so that there will be no distractions from civil defense.
When a radio literally drops from the sky (an airplane loses some of its cargo), Bodi realizes his true purpose. He is not a watchdog — he is a musician.
Inspired by the music of rock star Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), he decides to leave the mountain to follow in his footsteps: he will find a band in the legendary Rock ‘n’ Roll Park and play music no matter who tries to stop him. “Play your guts out and never stop, even when your dad tells you to stop, don’t stop.” He realizes that this is “the answer to my life,” and soon he is making music for delighted new fans.
Khampa reluctantly agrees to let Bodi go, but makes him promise he will return if he does not succeed. In the big city, he finds the Rock ‘n’ Roll Park, where he encounters a bully (Matt Dillon) who sends him to Scattergood’s booby-trapped fortress of a house as a prank.
Scattergood is desperately trying to come up with the new song his record label is demanding, but he is so isolated that he has run out of ideas, like Dana Carvey playing “Choppin’ Broccoli.”
There are some charming details (the sheep’s pub is called the Warp and Weft and serves shots of wheatgrass), and its international production team is reflected in its settings, like the Japan-inspired Rock ‘n’ Roll park, where Bodi and the bully have a shred-off. Bodi is a likeable hero and it is fun to see his cheery optimism paired with the burned-out, cynical Angus. Like the music they create, it is pleasantly entertaining.
Parents should know that this movie has cartoon action-style peril and violence, including predators, chases, fire, and some pratfalls, although no one is hurt. There is also some schoolyard language.
Family discussion: Why was it so hard for Angus to write a song? Why did he think he did not want to see anyone? How did Bodi know that music was his destiny?
“Sing” is an often-adorable, often-puzzlingly off-kilter animated film about animal singers putting on a show despite many obstacles, for the love of music and performing. What’s best about the film is simple — seeing a wild assortment of animal characters sing an even wilder assortment of songs, everything from Lady Gaga to Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift to Christopher Cross. It works every time, with a nifty score from Joby Talbot tying it all together. The story around it, though, keeps getting derailed.
The concept harks back to the musicals of the 1930’s — the old “let’s put on a show.” Koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a failing impresario who is about to lose his theater. He has a devoted assistant with an unfortunate habit of losing her glass eye. Even more unfortunate, the movie seems to think we will find that hilarious.
How about a singing competition! Great idea! Small problem — due to a mistake, the prize money has been vastly inflated and the invitations to participate widely distributed. Oh, well, on to the auditions! Hopefuls include a cynical mouse (Seth MacFarlane) who croons saloon songs, Ash, a punky hedgehog (Scarlett Johansson), a harried pig with dozens of children to care for (Reese Witherspoon), a strange pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll), Johnny, a teenage gorilla in a leather jacket and with a Cockney accent, (Taron Egerton), and Meena, a shy teenage elephant (real-life “American Idol” contestant Tori Kelly).
The singing is a delight and I was genuinely sorry that so many of the performances were just snippets. The same goes for the all-star cast, many of whom have just one or two lines. It never takes advantage of the animal setting and instead relies on overplotted backstories of the participants that are mostly a distraction, with one exception the Rube Goldberg contraption the mother pig creates to care for her children and oblivious husband while she is out singing. Johnny’s father leads a robbery gang, and they expect Johnny to act as lookout and getaway driver just when he needs to be at the theater. Ash has a boyfriend who does not realize how special she is. And Meena is just too shy to perform. The robbery sequence and subsequent visit to Johnny’s father in jail, a serious and scary fire, some predatory loan sharks, and that glass eye “humor” are all especially poor choices for a movie positioned for families with young children.
Parents should know that this film includes some slapstick humor, including a character whose false eye keeps popping out, criminal behavior involving a parent and teenage child, parent in prison, scary fire, business problems.
Family discussion: If you were going to perform, what song would you pick and why? What made Meena so shy and what helped her?
If you like this, try: “Zootopia” and “Despicable Me”