The Pixar Story: tonight at 10 on STARZ

Posted on April 22, 2008 at 8:00 am

The most successful movie studio in Hollywood history is Pixar, which created the first computer-animated feature film, Toy Story. Every one of their films has not only made money, but every one has made over $100 million. What is even more stunning is that every one of them has been based on original material. Unlike the Disney animated classics, they never relied on familiar stories and characters with a pre-sold audience. But every one of their movies has provided audiences with stories filled with heart and insight and characters that immediately felt like old friends. Like Disney, which now owns the Pixar studio, it pioneered stunning technology in animation and filled its movies with extraordinary images but always remembered that the most important part of the movie is its story.
For the first time, a documentary goes behind the scenes at Pixar, featuring exclusive interviews with John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs (of Apple), George Lucas (“Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, current Disney CEO Bob Iger, Brad Bird of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and voice talents Tom Hanks, and Tim Allen (Toy Story) and Billy Crystal (Monsters, Inc.). Made by Leslie Iwerks, the Oscar-nominated granddaughter of animation pioneer Ub Iwerks, Pixar’s history is placed in the context of animation as an art form.

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The Miracle Worker

Posted on April 14, 2008 at 8:00 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Some violence, characters injured
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 23, 1962

Today is the 142nd anniversary of the birth of one of the most extraordinary teachers in American history, Annie Sullivan, who gave a little blind and deaf girl the power of language. William Gibson, who wrote two plays about the teacher and her student, says that when people refer to “The Miracle Worker” as “the play about Helen Keller,” he replies, “If it was about her, it would be called ‘The Miracle Workee.'” Sullivan, herself visually impaired, was first in her class at the Perkins School for the Blind. When she went to work for the Keller family she was just 21 years old. And Keller, who was blind and deaf due to an illness when she was 19 months old. When Sullivan arrived, Keller was almost completely wild, without any ability to communicate or any understanding that communication beyond grabbing and hitting was possible.

Every family should watch the extraordinary film about what happened next, and read more about Keller, who, with Sullivan’s help, graduated from Radcliffe magna cum laude and became an author and a world figure.

Ann Bancroft and Patty Duke won Oscars for their performances as Sullivan and Keller, repeating their Broadway roles and Duke later played Sullivan in a made-for-television adaptation. In this scene, after months of teaching Keller to fingerspell words, Sullivan is finally able to show her that language will give her the ability to communicate, with a new world of relationships, feelings, and learning. No teacher ever bestowed a greater gift.

Monday After the Miracle is Gibson’s sequel to the play, and Keller’s own book is called The Story of My Life. There is a photobiography of Sullivan called Helen’s Eyes.

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PBS Kids and PBS Kids Go movies available for download

Posted on March 27, 2008 at 8:00 am

caillou.gifEpisodes of Boohbah, Caillou, Cyberchase, and Liberty’s Kids are now available for free download from public library patrons’ home computers. The award-winning series are designed to enhance child development with age-appropriate, diverse content focusing on social-emotional development, math skills and other life lessons through engagement and interactivity. These programs and many other programs and movies can be accessed through MyLibraryDV, a 24/7 video download service offered at no cost to library card holders at libraries nationwide. Check with your local library to see if they have signed up for this service.

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Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families

Interview with Hugh Welchman of “Peter and the Wolf”

Posted on March 23, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Peter and the Wolf,” this year’s Oscar-winner for best short animated film will be shown on PBS this Wednesday from 8-9 Eastern Time. It is a brilliantly imaginative film and well worth setting aside some family time to watch it together.
“Peter and the Wolf” was originally written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936 as a way to introduce children to the instruments of the orchestra. A brief narration tells the story of the little boy who goes into the forest with his pet duck and cat. They meet up with a little bird and have an encounter with a scary wolf. Each character in the story is represented by a different instrument.
Bird: flute
Duck: oboe
Cat: clarinet
Grandfather: bassoon
Wolf: French horns
Hunters: percussion
Peter: strings
There have been many film versions of the story. Perhaps the most famous is a Disney animated cartoon made in 1946. This latest version, produced by Hugh Welchman of Breakthru Films, dispenses with the narration, which only takes up three minutes of the half-hour-long musical composition, but creates a complex and involving story with a contemporary setting that remains very true to the themes of the original. I spoke to Welchman about the challenges of creating Peter’s world for the painstaking stop-motion animation to create the film.
How big was the set?
ProkofieffPeterWolffilm.jpg“We were working at a one in five ratio. That’s the normal scale for stop-motion animation. The set was truly enormous. The forest had 1700 trees, each 6 feet high. The set was 80 feet long; it was like going into Wonderland. We also did all the close-ups at 1 in 3 . The grandfather puppet was 3 1/2 feet high. With that size, you get so much more detail. The grandfather’s hands were incredibly detailed which gave it a real different quality and makes it much more real.
The set was built in Poland and they worked amazingly quickly to build it. That was one of the fastest part of the process; making the models took much, much longer. We wanted it set in modern Russia and so we went there to take photographs. On a playground somewhere they found Peter. And they were arrested by the KGB for taking photographs of a power station! The Russian police didn’t really know what to do with these two women. They thought they were eco-terrorists. So, they wiped their photos.
But the Russians are very knowledgeable about film, especially animation.
Yes, they’ve got a heritage with stop-motion.

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Trevor Romain’s DVDs about Kid Problems

Posted on March 23, 2008 at 8:00 am

B+

Trevor Romain knows how to talk to kids about the problems they think no one understands. His DVDs are a great way to begin conversations at home, in school, in Scout troops, religious groups, or in other community gatherings. They are just right for that stage in life when children first begin to want to look beyond their parents for answers to questions that trouble them and they speak to kids in a frank but matter-of-fact tone that is very reassuring. Most important, they provide very concrete, practical suggestions for coping with some of the most complex troubles of childhood and early adolescence, from homework to bullies to divorce and loss.

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