Over the Moon

Posted on October 22, 2020 at 5:11 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild action and thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy peril, sad death of a parent, themes of dealing with grief
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 23, 2020

Copyright 2020 Netflix
“Over the Moon” is a gorgeous, candy-colored fantasy adventure based on a Chinese myth, with an appealing heroine and some sensitive and child-accessible insights about grief and loss.

Fei Fei (sweet-voiced Cathy Ang) lives happily with her adored parents, who run a food cart specializing in mooncakes, a delicacy enjoyed each year at the Mid-Autumn Festival, inspired by the myths of Chang’e, the goddess of the moon. Fei Fei’s father (John Cho as Ba Ba) wants to explain her about the science of the moon but she would rather hear her mother’s stories of Chang’e, who consumed the elixir of immortality and mourns the loss of her mortal beloved, the archer Houyi.

But Fei Fei’s mother becomes ill, and dies (offscreen). Fei Fei and her father share their grief and take care of each other. Four years later, Ba Ba wants Fei Fei to meet a woman he is seeing, Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh), who has an energetic young son, Chin (Robert G. Chiu). Fei Fei is devastated. She feels that she cannot manage any more change and that bringing another woman into their home would be disloyal to her mother. And she decides that if she could just go to the moon and prove to Ba Ba that the legend of Chang’e’s enduring love is real, he will understand that he should, like Chang’e, be devoted forever to his lost love.

Fortunately, Fei Fei has become a STEM-science and engineering student. And so, she builds a rocket ship. Actually, she builds several model rocket ships which all fail. And then she figures out a way to use something that is going on in her town to power the ship enough to take her and her pet rabbit to the moon in search of Chang’e.

But Chin stows away with his pet frog, throwing off the navigation. Things look dire until two glowing magical lions rescue them and take them to the moon, where they do meet Chang’e, who will not help them until they bring her the “gift’ she needs to reunite with Houyi.

Long-time Disney artist (and son of the “Family Circus” comic panel Bil Keane) Glen Keane brings his experience on films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” and “Tangled” to his first film as a director, and we can see the Disney influence in the strong, big-eyed female leads and the Broadway musical-style “I Want” and other character-revealing songs. Chang’e is voiced by “Hamilton” star Phillipa Soo.

There may be a touch of Studio Ghibli inspiration as well, especially when the characters are floating in zero gravity amid a army (that is the collective noun) of giant frogs. The candy colors of the glowing space creatures are like jelly-beans illuminated by LED lights. A highlight of the visuals was the brief hand-drawn images of the Chang’e story.And the faces of the characters are exceptionally expressive, which grounds the story.

Gorgeous images and chases scenes, including one involving giant chickens on motorcycles, make this a visual treat. The Chang’e character is so imperious that it is not easy to appreciate her learning to be better, but a rare storyline for children about grief, and especially about how good feelings and new people in our lives are not disrespectful to those we have lost, gives the film warmth and depth.

Parents should know that this film includes sad (offscreen) deaths including the loss of a parent. There is some mild fantasy-style peril.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Fei Fei want her father to get married again? Why did she change her mind about Chin? What version of Chang’e’s story do you like?

If you like this, try: “Coco” and “Inside Out”

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Trailer: The Three Wise Men — Coming for Christmas

Posted on October 22, 2020 at 2:00 pm

This Christmas, an animated family film about the three wise men will be widely available for the first time. With narration from the late Andy Griffith, this film (originally titled “The Very First Noel”) is directed by Yarrow Cheney (“The Secret Life of Pets,” “The Grinch”).  The story is told through rhymed narration alongside a soundtrack of holiday carols performed by The Brothers Cazimero from Hawaii. The digital release features a new original song by Jonas Myrin, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter.

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“Making the film was such a personal experience for so many of us,” said the Cheneys. “And now fourteen years later it’s thrilling to know our three wise men are about to reach Bethlehem and a new audience. We hope it will bring joy to the world!”

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Animation Holidays Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Jungle Beat

Posted on June 25, 2020 at 5:15 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: June 26, 2020
Copyright Timeless Films 2020

“Jungle Beat” is welcome as a rare G-rated animated feature, even if it confirms the stereotype of “for all audience” films as a bit babyish and slow. Young children may enjoy the colorful jungle animal characters and sweet storyline about hugs and affirmations but anyone over age nine may find that it is overlong and a bit dull. It’s better suited to its original form as a TV series.

A group of jungle animals are surprised to find that all of a sudden they can not only talk but speak fluent English (in the series it’s just pointing and grunting). A new arrival, a purple alien from another planet named Fneep (Ed Kear), has a communications device that gives anyone nearby the power of speech. The animals are very excited and happy, especially the monkey named Munki (David Menkin) and the elephant named Trunk (Ina Marie Smith), Rocky the hippo Rocky (also David Menkin) and Humph the hedgehog (David Guerrasio). They are happy to have Fneep as a friend and offer to help him get back to his spaceship, which has crashed in another part of the jungle.

What they don’t know is why Fneep has come to earth. The people (for want of a better word) of his planet have only one goal, conquering as many planets as possible. This is Fneep’s first time, and if he does not conquer earth, it will be a humiliating defeat. Humiliation is one of what are apparently only two emotions on Fneep’s planet. The other is triumph. There is a funny scene when Freep tries to press the help button on the crashed spaceship letting us know that on Freep’s planet, failure is literally not an option.

The character design is just fair but the animation has some vigor and a strong sense of three-dimensional spaces that keep the action scenes lively. It takes a while to get there but the sweet message of friendship and kindness is delivered sweetly and it is all too rare to see a story where being nice is triumph of its own.

Parents should know that this movie has some mild peril and hurtful parental disapproval.

Family discussion: What does friendship feel like to you? Why didn’t Fneep’s planet know about kindness and friendship? Would you like to explore other planets?

If you like this, try: “Planet 51” and “Monsters vs. Aliens”

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Movies for the Homebound IX: Animation

Posted on May 17, 2020 at 12:17 pm

Every family is familiar with the Disney and Pixar classics, which are ideal for families who are looking for something to watch at home. Here are some outstanding animated films from other studios to add to your viewing list.

The Thief and the Cobbler There’s a bit of controversy about this wonderful movie due to creative clashes, which you can learn more about in the behind-the-scenes documentary and “recobbled” version. But the theatrical release, with voice talent by Jonathan Winters, Matthew Broderick, Vincent Price and Jennifer Beals is a visually dazzling fairy tale that is genuinely enchanting.

Copyright 2016 Focus
Kubo and the Two Strings I am the biggest fan of LAIKA Studios and their exquisite stop-motion films, and it is hard to pick a favorite. “Coraline,” “Paranorman,” “The Box Trolls,” and “The Missing Link” are all beautifully designed with wonderful stories that don’t shrink back from exploring the dark and scary. “Kubo and the Two Strings” is about the son of a depressed mother who sets off with Monkey (Charlize Theron) to find the three pieces of Hanzo’s armor that he will need to fight the evil sisters and their father, who wants Kubo’s eye. Along the way they meet a samurai who has been cursed and turned into a giant beetle (Matthew McConaughey). And they meet and fight three different monsters, a giant skeleton, an underwater garden of eyes, and an enormous, floating, reticulated moon serpent, each giving Kubo a chance to discover his courage and power.mThis is a gorgeous, epic adventure with grandeur, scope, and spectacular settings, every bit of it wonderfully imaginative.

Kung Fu Panda: Jack Black provides the voice for Po, a panda with an unlikely ambition — he wants to be a kung fu master. But he is rejected by the teacher, Shifu (Dustin Hoffman), and the Furious Five; Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen). Po is not a natural. He says dejectedly, “I probably sucked more than anyone in the history of kung fu…more than anyone in the history of sucking.” He admits to Shifu that he only stayed “because I thought if anyone could change me, make me not me, it was you.” But Po will learn that the source of his strength is what no one can teach him — his sincerity and humility. Po will find within himself the strength, focus, and resolve to face Tai Lung. Followed by two sequels.

Surf’s Up: This story about a penguin (think very cold weather) who wants to surf (think very warm weather) is beguiling, thanks to vibrant visuals, superb voice talent, wit without ironic air quotes or snark, a sweet storyline, and a brisk running time. Like the sport it salutes and the island where it takes place, the movie has a laid-back vibe, taking its story, its humor, and itself lightly.

Spirited Away: Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki makes wildly imaginative, almost dreamlike films. Do not try to find a linear narrative, just enjoy the magic. A girl named Chihiro is on her way to move to a new city with her parents when they take a detour to what seems to be an abandoned amusement park. However, the park is filled with magical creatures and her parents are turned into pigs. Chihiro must grow up quickly in this exotic world not only to save her parents, but to survive. Other Studio Ghibli films to try: “Ponyo,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “Princess Mononoke”

Wallace & Gromit Nick Parks’ stop-motion films are delightfully — and literally — hands-on. You can see fingerprints on the charming characters, the dim human Wallace and his ever-patient dog Gromit. All of their adventures are delightful in a slyly low-key manner, but I suggest starting with the first. Wallace is a fan of cheese, so why not go to the moon to find some?

Yellow Submarine: The Beatles have to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies in this gorgeous musical adventure with some of the world’s best music (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Eleonor Rigby,” “Nowhere Man,” “All You Need is Love,” “When I’m 64”) and some of the world’s most glorious animation.

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Animation For Your Netflix Queue Lists Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families

Scoob!

Posted on May 15, 2020 at 3:15 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, language and rude/suggestive humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language, brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style peril and action, some scary monsters, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters and issues of diversity
Date Released to Theaters: May 15, 2020

Copyright Warner Brothers 2020
Oh, jinkies, here they are again. You might think that the Scooby-Doo clan has exhausted every possible storyline for the members of Mystery, Inc. or, to put it another way, you might think that they have exhausted every possible variable on the theme of figuring out that what looks like some sort of paranormal phenomenon turns out to be some ordinary (but evil) person who would have gotten away with it except for those meddling kids.

If so, you’re pretty much right. But the gang’s first feature-length animated film sticks to the formula but winks at it a little bit, too. And those who have wondered how the gang first got together will get a chance to see them as kids on the fateful Halloween night when they met and solved their first mystery. You’ll even get to find out Shaggy’s real name.

We first see a lonely young Shaggy, maybe about 10 or 11 years old, walking to the beach and listening to songs about loneliness and a podcast from Ira Glass (as himself) about the importance of friends. The best Shaggy can manage is to start a conversation with two mounds of sand on the beach.

Hiding in one of the mounds with some gyro meat he stole is a puppy who can talk. Soon they are sharing an exotic sandwich that includes gummy bears and tater tots, Shaggy has named him after a packet of Scooby snacks, and they are the best of friends. They go trick or treating together as Shaggy’s favorite superhero, Blue Falcon and his sidekick Dyno-Mutt. When bullies steal his candy and throw it into the local spooky house, three kids come to the rescue: Fred (dressed as a knight), Daphne (Wonder Woman), and brainy Velma as Supreme Court (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg). The kids retrieve the candy and solve the mystery of the creepy house. “We’ll go into the haunted house this one time, but we’re not going to make a habit of it,” Shaggy inaccurately predicts. In just a few moment, they’ve solved the mystery and unmasked the culprit, who says, come on, say it with me, “I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.” Cue the theme song.

And cut to present day, when the Mystery Inc. crew (Zac Efron as Fred, Will Forte as Shaggy, Amanda Seyfried as Daphne, and Gina Rodriguez as Velma) is seeking some investment funds to fix up the van and expand their operations. Simon Cowell (as himself) says he can see the value of Fred (muscle), Daphne (people person), and Velma (brains), but like many observers, he notes that Shaggy and Scooby don’t do much but eat sandwiches and get scared. And so, Shaggy and Scooby go off on their own adventure, which includes a new partnership with Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), Dyno-Mutt (a delightfully dry Ken Jeong), and his pilot (the charming Kiersey Clemons of “Hearts Beat Loud” and the live action “Lady and the Tramp”). But this is the son of Blue Falcon, not quite the man his father was. Then there’s Dick Dastedly (Jason Isaacs, Lucious Malfoy in the Harry Potter films), who has all of the essentials for a supervillain, cool technology, an evil guy mustache, and a British accent. He’s after Shaggy and Scooby. Can the rest of the Mystery Inc. crew save them in time?

The CGI animation style is a departure from the traditional Scooby-Do Saturday morning aesthetic. But it is colorful, just the right mix of adventure and comedy, it benefits from top-notch voice talent (Tracy Morgan is a very funny caveman) and it is even witty at times, with some meta-commentary along with the usual silly wisecracks. A character describes Shaggy’s use of “like” all the time as “some middle-aged man’s idea pf how a teenage hippie talks.” There are the classic elements the fans will want like an abandoned amusement park and some un-masking, but also some new ideas, like the struggles of Blue Falcon 2.0 to be the hero his dad was. It is traditional enough to please the fans but contemporary enough to address (I’m not kidding) toxic masculinity and of course some nice reminders about the importance of friendship. And of the fun of movies for the whole family.

Parents should know that this film includes extended action-style peril and violence with some scary monsters. Characters use schoolyard language and make some threats and the movie has some potty and body part humor.

Family discussion: Why did Scooby leave when Shaggy asked him to stay? What kind of hero blames other people for his problems? Was there a time when you were scared or made a mistake but then learned to be braver or do better?

If you like this, try: The many, many other Scooby-Doo stories, especially “Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island” and “Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School”

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