The Tiger Rising

Posted on January 17, 2022 at 5:46 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements, language and brief violence
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Adult and school-age bullies, sad death of parent, fist-fight, animal shot and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 21, 2022

Copyright The Avenue 2021
Imagine the enchantment of this invitation from one lonely, sad, 10-year-old to another: “I know where there’s a tiger.” And imagine the thrill of this observation to someone whose creations have not been noticed: “You are an artist.”

“The Tiger Rising” is based on the best-selling book by Kate DiCamillo, who has called it her most autobiographical book, inspired by her childhood in Florida. In it, a boy who tries to keep his feelings inside meets a girl who pushes a lot of angry feelings out so that she does not have to admit how scared and sad she is.

The boy who discovers a caged tiger in the woods is Rob Horton (Christian Convery), who lives in a run-down motel with his father, following the devastating loss of his mother. Flashbacks show how close they were and how much she supported his gifts as an artist. He is bullied at school and the only person he has to talk to is the motel maid, Willie May (Queen Latifah, who also was a producer on the film).

Rob has developed an itchy, stress-related skin condition and the principal has sent him home until it clears up. As he goes for a walk in the wooded area across from the motel, a raindrop falls on his cheek, reminding him that when he cried at his mother’s funeral he father was harsh: “There’s no point in crying. It ain’t going to bring her back.” Rob Sr. (“True Blood’s” Sam Trammel) is struggling, working as a handyman in exchange for their room at the motel, still grieving himself and ashamed of not doing a better jog of caring for his son. And he is dealing with his own bully, the motel’s owner, Beauchamp (Dennis Quaid). So Rob and his father barely speak to each other.

There is a new girl in Rob’s class at school. Her name is Sistine, “like the chapel.” And she is played by the terrific Madalen Mills of “Jingle Jangle,” perfect for the lively, outspoken Sistine, who has no problem verbally or physically confronting bullies or telling other people what to do. She insists that she will only be in Florida for a few weeks because her father will be coming to get her. Like Rob, she has found herself alone with the parent she was less close to, and her bluster is not as effective at hiding her fear and sadness as she wants it to be.

The tiger belongs to Beauchamp, and he hires Rob to feed it, warning him not to tell anyone. But Rob brings Sistine to see it, and she is immediately determined to set it free. Rob is not so sure.

Writer/director Ray Giarratana has a background in special effects on films like “The Life Aquatic” and “John Wick 3,” and the effects here are exceptionally well done, from the tiger, magnificent in fur and muscle and movement to the subtle animation of Rob’s drawing. It lends a touch of magic that both softens some of the harsher material and helps keep us inside the children’s point of view. Thought their eyes we see that sad and scary things happen. But being honest and finding a way to help each other is what keeps us going.

Parents should know that this movie includes a very sad death of one parent and a description of another parent leaving after and affair. There are adult and child bullies with some schoolyard and rude language. Characters fight and an animal is killed with a gun.

Family discussion: What would you do about the tiger? Why does Sistine call Willie May a prophetess?

If you like this, try: “Hoot,” “The Water Man,” and “A Dolphin Tale”

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Movies to Honor the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King

Posted on January 17, 2022 at 12:00 pm

Copyright 2014 Paramount Pictures
As we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, every family should take time to talk about this great American leader and hero of the Civil Rights Movement. There are outstanding films and other resources for all ages.

“MLK/FBI” has newly released material about the government’s surveillance of Dr. King, including informants and wiretaps.

I highly recommend the magnificent movie Boycott, starring Jeffrey Wright as Dr. King. And every family should study the history of the Montgomery bus boycott that changed the world.

It is humbling to remember that the boycotters never demanded complete desegregation of the public transit; that seemed too unrealistic a goal. This website has video interviews with the people who were there. This newspaper article describes Dr. King’s meeting with the bus line officials. And excellent teaching materials about the Montgomery bus boycott are available, including the modest and deeply moving reminder to the boycotters once segregation had been ruled unconstitutional that they should “demonstrate calm dignity,” “pray for guidance,” and refrain from boasting or bragging.

Families should also read They Walked To Freedom 1955-1956: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Paul Winfield has the lead in King, a brilliant and meticulously researched NBC miniseries co-starring Cecily Tyson that covers Dr. King’s entire career.

The brilliant film Selma tells the story of the fight for voting rights.

The Long Walk Home, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, makes clear that the boycott was a reminder to black and white women of their rights and opportunities — and risk of change.

Citizen King is a PBS documentary with archival footage of Dr. King and his colleagues. Martin Luther King Jr. – I Have a Dream has his famous speech in full, still one of the most powerful moments in the history of oratory and one of the most meaningful moments in the history of freedom.

For children, Our Friend, Martin and Martin’s Big Words are a good introduction to Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement.

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Drama

Belle (2022)

Posted on January 13, 2022 at 5:12 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic content, language, brief suggestive material, violence
Profanity: Rude language, bullies
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death of parents, child abuse, peril, scary monster
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 14, 2022

Copyright GKIDS 2021
“Belle” is a spectacularly beautiful animated film from Japan (opening theatrically in both Japanese and English versions) with dazzling images out of a classic fairy tale but a storyline that could not be more contemporary.

The film begins with a commercial for “the ultimate online community” called silly U, with more than five billion participants. It is an online “sandbox”-style game where participants has an avatar based on their own biometric data. They have endless freedom to create the world as they want it to be. It sells itself both as “another reality” where, unlike this reality, you can have a second chance and start a new life and as a place where you can be yourself in a way that the trivialities of real life like the way you look do not allow.

Suzu (Kaho Nakamura in the original Japanese cast, Kylie McNeill in the English language version) is a sad, shy, lonely teenager living in rural Japan. She is still mourning the death of her mother, who lost her life saving a drowning child as then-six-year-old Suzu watched in horror, and she feels abandoned. “Why was a stranger’s life more important than being with me?” she sill asks. Her father is remote and the only person she has to talk to is her tech-savvy friend, Ruka (Tina Tamashiro/Hunter Schafer). In these early scenes, her face is almost always obscured. We see her from the back or she puts her head down so her hair hides her face. When her classmates invite her to sing karaoke at a party she runs out of the room, sick to her stomach.

But the avatar she creates on U is another story. At first, she hesitantly types in her real name, but then erases it and creates a glamorous pop star with flowing pink hair named Bell. (Suzu keys it in with just four letters but the fans add an “e” at the end, inspired by the French word for “beautiful.”) Within days, she has millions of followers. She also has millions of critics. Ruka tries to reassure her: “Stardom is built on a mixed reception.” In real life, we see Suzu smile for the first time. Belle becomes a worldwide sensation, disconcerting the previous U world favorite.

And then, as millions are assembled for a virtual concert, it is disrupted by a dragon monster. The rest of the story is inspired in part by “Beauty and the Beast” as Suzu/Belle tries to find out who the beast really is and what he wants.

The screenplay takes a nuanced approach to the virtual world, wisely recognizing that it is just a projection of the real world, sometimes a distorted one, but one that can serve as training wheels, a Rorschach test, a beta test, or even a place to find answers not available anywhere else. Belle is Suzu, after all, and the more she performs as Belle, the more she discovers her own confidence. Finally, when she understands for the first time how her mother could take a risk to save another life, she learns that helping others is a way to find agency, connection, and purpose.

All of this takes place in a gorgeously imagined world so inviting and full of delight we almost wish for a U app on our phones. “Belle” is a touching story that is both timely and timeless.

Parents should know that there are sad parental deaths, domestic abuse issues, some harsh schoolyard insults, and some mild boy-girl interactions.

Family discussion:

If you like this, try: “Ready Player One” and another re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast, “Beastly”

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Behind the Scenes — Hotel Transylvania: Transformania

Posted on January 12, 2022 at 8:00 am

Copyright Sony 2021
The fourth “Hotel Transylvania” is my favorite of the series. There are some new voices, with Brian Hull taking over for Adam Sandler as Drac, Brad Abrell filling in for Kevin James as Frankenstein, and Keegan-Michael Key as The Mummy, replacing CeeLo Green.

The first three films were centered on the difficulty Drac, a vampire (Hull), had in accepting Johnny (Andy Samberg), the human who married his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez). In this movie, there’s a switch. Johnny wants to become a monster and gets Van Helsing (Jim Gaffigan) to turn a transforming ray on him. So, the human becomes a monster and, through a malfunction, the ray gets turned on the monsters — the Invisible Man (David Spade), Murray the Mummy (Key), Wayne the wolfman (Steve Buscemi), Frankenstein (Abrell) and his Bride, Eunice (Fran Drescher). They become human, so we get to see what the Invisible Man, the Wolfman, and the Mummy really look like and how they respond when they don’t have their special powers. But Mavis has to find a way to get Johnny back to his human self before it is too late.

In a virtual press event, the actors talked about becoming “monsterfricationized” (Samberg’s term) and the freedom of animation. “I loved the new design,” Samberg said, “Burning Man back-packer meets Godzilla, a dream come true for me.” Spade said his character is “a bit of a scene-stealer” and a “goofy ding-dong who hangs out with the monsters.” He said the animators originally wanted the surprise to be how handsome his character was, but he urged them to make him funny-looking. “It’s a cartoon! It should be funny.”

Key was surprised by what his always-wrapped character looked like under it all. “I expected him to be bigger, with one revolution of wraps.” His favorite thing was the way his character was “really working the jowls,” which gave him a different idea about the voice. He loved the concept of not having any limitations. The look of the characters is so exaggerated that you can do anything, like when you’re a kid and playing with other kids. You get to channel all that abandon and it’s only not frowned upon; it’s encouraged.”

Drescher and Gomez urged the audience not to worry about pressure to fit in. Gomez advised taking a break from social media and focusing on a small group of real friends. Drescher said “compassion should be your compass.”

“You pretty much know they want you to go huge and insane, and then they’re going to go further with the animation,” Samberg said, and the others agreed that they enjoyed never being asked to tone it down.

Gomez said “it’s been wonderful to grow with this character. She’s tough and she’s always worrying, and that matches my personality well. I know what it’s like to have differences between family members and it is nice that we’re touching on a real thing in such a crazy way.”

Drescher loves physical comedy and the way it is even bigger in animation. “You can so so much because it’s a make-believe world. You can contort the how far can we physically take these characters to do funny and surprising things.”

Samberg said he did not expect the first movie to inspire three sequels, but he is delighted. “They’re so infused with joy and positivity. Everyone grew up loving this classic monsters and it’s a new spin on it. That’s why it endured.”

Key appreciates the combination of imagination, humor, and character. “An adult can be laughing at a hard joke in this film, but the way all the relationships play out, it’s well-observed and very relatable.”

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