Luck

Posted on August 4, 2022 at 5:52 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy peril and slapstick
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 29, 2022

Copyright 2022 AppleTV+
Writer Carolyn See likes to say that what’s bad for you is good for you. That’s not necessarily because what is difficult or painful is often a good lesson in humility, resilience, or a path to a better outcome than you could have imagined, all of which is true, but because bad is where the good stories are. “Luck” is a vibrant animated Alice in Wonderland-style story about an 18-year old named Sam who follows a black cat to the lands of good and bad luck and learns neither is really what she thought.

Sam (sweet-voiced Eva Noblezada) has aged out of the orphanage where she has been her whole life. She feels unlucky in big ways — never having found a “forever family” and in small ways, toast falls jelly-side down, lose your keys down the grate annoyances. “You can come back Friday for visiting hours,” a not-unsympathetic staff member tells her. Sam is very close to a little girl named Hazel (Adelynn Spoon) and wants a forever family for her even more than she wants one for herself. Hazel has a box full of good luck charms, everything but a space left for a lucky penny.

“Will you be checking in on me weekly?” Sam asks as the social worker drops her at her new apartment. “Someone from the agency will check in with you next month. Otherwise you are on your own.”

Oversleeping, stuck bathroom door, and the toast falling jelly side down and a flat tire on her bicycle notwithstanding, Sam makes it to her new job on time. “Take that, universe!” Her first day on the job involves a lot of chaos but her kind-hearted boss, Marv, assigns her to shopping cart patrol. “You’ll have better luck tomorrow.”

Sam is determined too get some good luck for Hazel. So when the black cat she shares her panini with leaves a special penny behind, she grabs it. And it is lucky! The toast lands right side up and the first two socks she takes out of the drawer match! But she loses the penny. When she sees the cat again and learns that he can talk, she follows him through a portal down to the Land of Luck.

The story gets overly complicated and at times is more video game than story, but Sam’s endearing optimism and kindness and the beautifully imagined different environments and appealing characters keep it from getting bogged down.

Parents should know that this film concerns children without parents. There is some mild fantasy peril.

Family discussion: Is there a time you have felt lucky? Or unlucky? Why are people better at seeing their bad luck than their good luck? Was there a time when something you thought was bad luck turned out to be good for you?

if you like this, try: the Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers” and “Alice in Wonderland”

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The Sea Beast

Posted on July 7, 2022 at 4:24 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Scenes in pub, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and action, references to sad deaths and injuries
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 8, 2022

Copyright Netflix 2022
The Sea Beast” is a rollicking yarn, stunningly designed and dynamically animated, with superbly cinematic editing, pacing, and framing, appealing characters, and a thoughtful conclusion. Watch it on the biggest screen you have.

It takes place in a fantasy world somewhere between “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Moby Dick.” The King and Queen have placed a bounty on sea monsters, enormous creatures that seem to be part whale, part octopus, part shark, and all scary. The kingdom’s most admired heroes are the hunters who kill the beasts and bring back proof to present to the royals.

Their adventures are legends. They and their fans believe that “Every hunter dies a great death because every hunter lives a great life!” A feisty young girl named Maisie Bramble (Zaris-Angel Hator) regales the other children at the orphanage by reading them exciting stories from old books (with engraving-style images evoking the classic era of illustration). She is determined to follow in the tradition of her parents, who died heroically on a ship called The Monarch. It is called The Inevitable, led by Captain Crow (Jared Harris), with his fearless second-in-command, Jacob (Karl Urban)

When Crow presents their latest trophy to the King and Queen, they are told their services are no longer required. The Navy will be taking over hunting duties. But Jacob persuades the King and Queen to give them one last chance. If they cannot kill the most feared beast of all, the Red Bluster, their ship will be decommissioned and they will no longer be able to pursue the sea beast, the central focus of their identity.

Maisie stows away on the Inevitable. She is not welcome. Jacob says, “The monsters I can handle. But that one will be the death of me.” Characters who are initially antagonistic will learn to understand and appreciate each other.

I liked “The Sea Beast” a lot and was never less than enthralled by the world it created. The animation and design are stunning, though there are a few disconnects in style. The ultra-reality of the water the ships are sailing on is so tactile you almost reach for a towel. The intricacy of the literally hundreds of ropes in the boat riggings are almost unfathomably complicated as they swing independently and get pulled, yanked, and unraveled. The kingdom and castle are brilliantly designed, both real and enchanting, with nautical touches emphasizing the connection to the water. The sense of space is exceptional, especially in the very dynamic action scenes. Jacob and the other hunters climb the masts as the boat is rocked by the waves and the monsters and every bit of it feels completely real. The movement of the human characters is not always as authentic and there is a character Maisie befriends who could be from a different, more stylized world.

“The Sea Beast,” like “Encanto” and “Frozen 2,” admirably grapples with themes of generational trauma and the stories we tell ourselves. When Jacob reads the book that has meant everything to Maisie, he is surprised to find the narrative inconsistent with his own experiences, amped up and one-sided and with characters saying “yar” much more often than happened in real life. It’s an ambitious film that almost completely lives up to its ambitions.

Parents should know that this movie has extended peril and action-style fantasy violence with characters injured and references to sad deaths. Characters drink alcohol.

Family discussion: How do you know whether to believe what you read or hear? Do you agree with the code? How did the characters decide who to trust? What do we learn from the name of the ship?

If you like this, try: “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “How to Train Your Dragon”

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Lightyear

Posted on June 16, 2022 at 5:54 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended sci-fi peril and cartoon-style violence, sad death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: June 17, 2022
Date Released to DVD: September 12, 2022

Copyright Disney 2022
Watch carefully in Lightyear for a moment just for those kids born in in the 80s who were the first digital natives. A cartridge inserted into a computer deck is not working correctly, and Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans taking over from Tim Allen) has to fix it. What does he do? Say it with me, people in their 30s: He blows on the exposed tape side and re-inserts it. Now, that may not have worked in real life, but thankfully, it works for Buzz.

This kind of detail is what we expect from Pixar, along with superbly crafted films that make us laugh, gasp, and cry. We’re reminded at the beginning of “Lightyear” that in 1995 Andy was given a Buzz Lightyear toy from his favorite movie. And then we’re told that this, what we ae about to see, is that movie. It doesn’t need to overdo the 90s references, but once in a while, like the blowing on the cartridge, we get a reminder that the lovable nerds at Pixar know us all too well.

This is not the toy Buzz Lightyear who has some existential confusion and thinks he is the actual character. This is the actual character, a lantern-jawed space ranger, the All-American boy next door type, brave, loyal, extremely good at his job, and stubbornly independent. His closest friend is fellow Ranger Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba). But he does not work well with others, especially rookies.

Buzz and Alisha are on a long-term space journey. They stop to investigate an uncharted planet and, as anyone who has ever clocked a red shit on “Star Trek” knows, it turns out to be much more treacherous than they expected (though, thankfully, to have breathable air). As they are on their way back to “the turnip,” which is what they call their rocket due to its shape, the rocket is so badly damaged they are stuck. All of the 1200 passengers who have been in suspended animation will have to be awakened to find that they are marooned, with no way to return to the mission or go home.

Buzz is determined to save the day. He undertakes a very dangerous test flight. For him, it is four minutes. But, due to the difference between time on a planet and time in space, he returns to find that four years have passed for Alicia and everyone else. Things have changed. The space travelers have built a community. Alicia is engaged to a scientist. People have adapted. Buzz feels responsible for getting them stuck and he is determined to keep trying until he gets the necessary mix of elements to give the rocket the fuel it needs. But each test run means another four years. He comes back and Alecia and her wife are expecting a child. He comes back again and the child is four years old. His life is passing in minutes and his friend’s is passing in years, in decades.

Other than Alicia, Buzz’s only companion is a robot cat. Think a combination of R2D2, C-3Po, and Captain Marvel’s Flerken. Ultimately he will find a group of people who do not have the training, discipline, or skills Buzz has always relied on in his missions. All of the difficulty he has had in relying on others is multiplied just as it has become necessary to trust them.

The reveal near the end did not work as well for me, but I especially liked the way it deals with two issues we don’t often see in movies for children, how to move on after making a mistake, learning to see the best in people, and learning to rely on others. As always with Pixar, the movie is filled with endearing characters and witty and telling details, brilliantly designed settings, sublime silliness, and exciting action scenes and yes, you will cry. It is easy to understand why this was Andy’s favorite movie.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi peril and violence with scary robots and sci-fi weapons. There is a very sad death. A devoted gay couple is portrayed in an admirably matter-of-fact, low-key manner with grace and dignity.

Family discussion: Why was it hard for Buzz to accept help? What is the best way to make up for mistakes?

If you like this, try: The “Toy Story” movies, “Galaxy Quest,” and the old Flash Gordon serials.

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The Bad Guys

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated.PG for action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon action-style law enforcement peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 22, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal
“The Bad Guys,” based on the popular series of graphic novels by Aaron Blabey, is an adorable animated film about guys who are not as bad as they think. They are seen as the scariest animals on earth, but even when they are committing crimes, they do not realize that they have good qualities, too. They are loyal friends, for example, and honest some of the time. We first see Wolf (Sam Rockwell) and Snake (Mark Maron) in a diner, where Wolf not only celebrates Snake’s birthday but even when there’s no one to pay for the meal, they make sure to pay for it anyway.

And then they rob the bank across the street. Okay, they’re bad. That could be, though, because they are just behaving the way people expect. Wolves, sharks, snakes, tarantulas, and piranhas have bad reputations. So they’re just living up or rather down to what the humans around them expect.

Adults watching with their children may notice the resemblance to some very adults-only movies, the first scene a tip of the cinematic chapeau to “Pulp Fiction,” not just the diner setting but the rhythm of the dialogue and the editing. Like the “Sesame Street” versions of adult content, it is there to entertain the grown-ups, but it is also there because even toned-down, it is fun to watch.

“The Bad Guys” has the fun of another genre kids do not often see, the heist film, with all kinds of problem-solving, setbacks, and teamwork. In addition to Wolf, the cool, Danny Ocean planner-type, and Snake, an escape artist, the gang also includes, of course, a tech whiz, Awkwafina as Tarantula, and eight legs come in very handy working on keyboards. Shark (Craig Robinson) is the master of disguise. And Piranha (Anthony Ramos) is the muscle. (The movie characters wisely have more diversity than the books.) The voice talent is superb. Not all actors can do voice work. It makes sense; they’re used to being able to rely on their faces and bodies to express emotion. But Sam Rockwell gives one of his all-time best performances as Wolf, perfectly matching the cool sophistication of the character and his moments of doubt and vulnerability. The animation is outstanding, stylish and dynamic when it needs to be, touches of anime, especially with the police officer voiced by Alex Borstein, and a bit of a hand-drawn feel to prevent CGI over-perfection.

There are some fun surprises and twists along the way and of course some lessons on the satisfactions of being a good guy. But not too good; we want to leave room for some sequels.

Parents should know that while it is all done with humor, this is a movie about characters who commit crimes, mostly theft. There are some chases and some cartoon-style peril and a mind-control machine, but no one gets hurt. The movie also includes some rude humor and schoolyard language.

Family discussion: What makes someone bad or good? Why is it hard for the bad guys to consider others’ rights and feelings? Which is your favorite bad guy character and why?

If you like this, try: the book and its sequels and “Zootopia”

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The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild

Posted on January 27, 2022 at 5:53 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action and mild language
Profanity: Schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended carton-style peril, fire, no one badly hurt
Diversity Issues: Disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: January 28, 2022

Copyright 2021 Disney
At this point, it almost seems as though the Ice Age movies are going to go on longer than the Ice Age itself. This latest chapter, like the recent 4th episode of “Hotel Transylvania: Transformania,” is straight-to-streaming with some sound-alikes replacing the original top-talent voices, but continues in the spirit of silly humor combined with warm tributes to the importance of family.

Since many in the intended audience or even their teen-age babysitters were not yet born when the first “Ice Age” movie was released in 2002, this sixth in the series (not counting video games, television specials, and short films) begins with a recap in cave-painting style, letting us know how the various characters met and decided, even though some of them were natural predators and prey, they would become a family and protect each other. That includes Manny the gloomy mammoth (Sean Kenin replacing Ray Romano), Sid the silly, sibilant sloth (Jake Green replacing John Leguizamo), Diego the grumpy saber-tooth tiger (Jake Green replacing Denis Leary), and Ellie the warm-hearted mammoth (Dominique Jennings replacing Queen Latifah). But those characters are all at the edges of this story, which focuses on Ellie’s two “brothers,” the goofy possums Crash (Vincent Tong) and Eddie (Aaron Harris), and the swashbuckling weasel with an eye-patch, Buck Wild (returning Simon Pegg).

Ellie has cared for Crash and Eddie since the death of their mother, who took Ellie in when she was alone and frightened. But they are chafing under her efforts to keep them safe and want to go off on their own. “She’s smothering us with reasonable advice!” they complain as they dream of a cool bachelor pad where they can do whatever they want. This fantasy setting includes a bling-y necklace and a hot tub. So they go off on their own and end up in the Lost World, where giant spiders and enormous carnivorous plants live with dinosaurs and mammals. They are rescued by Buck Wild, who first appeared in 2009’s “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.” His Edenic garden-like area, with all of the animals living together in peace, is being attacked by a monomaniacal dinosaur named Orson (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who has returned from being banished and wants revenge. He was bullied when he was young for being small and having a big head, but he is proud of his large brain and believes it will help him take over so that he can be the boss.

Buck wants Crash and Eddie to leave because he cannot keep them from getting into trouble while he is fighting Orson. “What they lack in intelligence,” he says, “they make up for in fumbling ineptitude.” And Buck is not sure about accepting help from an estranged friend named Zee (Justina Machado), a skunk-like creature with a Batman-style utility belt. Meanwhile, Diego, Manny, Ellie, and Sid are out looking for Crash and Eddie to bring them home.

As with the other films in the series, this chapter entertainingly combines goofy humor for both kids and adults with some heart-warming lessons about standing up for what is right, working together, taking responsibility, and the families we choose. The younger audience members will enjoy outsmarting Crash and Eddie and adults will enjoy the cultural references. Yes, a character claims to “love the smell of stinky gas in the morning,” just like Robert Duvall loved the smell of napalm . Characters work out their differences, sometimes by “using feeling words,” sometimes by apologizing, and characters discover courage and strength they never realized. Some even come to understand that even families who love each other sometimes have to let go, but they can always come home.

Parents should know that this movie has references to loss of family members and a disabled character who is very capable. There is extended cartoon-style peril with fire and an authoritarian bully.

Family discussion: When should you plan and when should you improvise? What made Buck and Zee stop being friends and how did they get to be friends again? Why didn’t Zee want to tell anyone her real name? Why does Orson want to be the boss?

If you like this, try: the other “Ice Age” movies

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