The Boss Baby: Family Business

Posted on July 1, 2021 at 5:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG (Rude Humor|Mild Language|Some Action)
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Potion
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon-style action, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 2, 2021
Date Released to DVD: September 13, 2021

Copyright 2021 Universal
2017’s “Boss Baby” was a happy surprise. It took the classic theme of sibling rivalry to a hilarious extreme, revealing that the family’s new baby, Theodore (“Ted”), is literally a boss. He arrives complete with suit, tie, Rolex, briefcase, a job at Baby Corp, and the ultra-adult voice of Alec Baldwin. The older brother, Tim, is initially jealous and hostile, but ultimately joins forces with him to complete his mission.

In this sequel (following the interactive Netflix film, “Boss Baby: Back in Business”), Ted (Baldwin again) and Tim (James Marsden) are grown up. Tim is very happy as a devoted and imaginative stay-at-home Dad to Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), the brightest student at a fancy private school) and her baby sister Tina (Amy Sederis), but he misses Ted, who is now a very successful executive who works all the time and instead of spending time with the family just sends “inappropriately lavish gifts,” including a horse named Precious. Tabitha seems to be following in her uncle’s footsteps, telling her dad she is too old for bedtime stories and goodnight kisses.

It turns out that it is Tina who is really following in her uncle’s first tentative toddler footsteps. She is a boss baby in a pantsuit, and on behalf of BabyCorp, she is there to bring her father and uncle back together and, while they are sorting things out, to save the world.

In the first film, Baby Corp had to save the world from a villain who was trying to make puppies cuter than babies. This time it is Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), the founder and principal of Tabitha’s school who is plotting a baby takeover by zombie-fying the adults, starting with the parents of his students when they are all together at the school recital. Ted and Tim drink a potion that will return them to babyhood (Ted) and childhood (Tim) so they can infiltrate the school and stop Armstrong’s evil plot.

Like the first film, this one has a delightful mix of understated humor (wait until you see the holiday pageant song about climate change), wild fantasy, cheeky needle-drop songs and pop culture references (from “Rocky Horror’s” “Time Warp” to Flock of Seagulls, “Norma Rae,” and a “comfort plant”). Plus some of the best-constructed action scenes in animated films, exciting, fun, and funny, and then exciting again. And there are some great moments with my favorite character, Wizzie the Wizard toy, magnificently voiced by James McGrath in tones usually heard only in Shakespeare’s plays or “Lord of the Rings” or supervillains. It’s fast, fun, and funny, but it is the heartfelt sense of joy in family, however different we may be, that keeps me hoping for another sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended cartoon-style peril and action including chases, ninjas with swords and throwing stars, and vertiginous climbs. Characters use some schoolyard language and there is potty humor. A theme of the movie is sibling rivalry and family estrangement.

Family discussion: Is Tina a different kind of boss than Ted? Why are Ted and Tim so different? Why didn’t Armstrong like grown-ups? What name would you choose for your secret identity? What do you think is more important than money?

If you like this, try: the other “Boss Baby” movies and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

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Luca

Posted on June 16, 2021 at 1:55 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and violence
Diversity Issues: Disability issues, diversity a theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: June 18, 2021

Copyright Disney Pixar 2021
I’ll get to the details in a moment, the story, the characters, the music, the themes, and of course the inevitable Pixar movie question — Will it make you cry? But first, maybe because of the whole cooped up inside the house for more than a year thing, I have to tell you about the sunlight on the water in “Luca,” Pixar’s film set on the coast of Italy. As Carlos Saldanha did with Brazil in “Rio,” director Enrico Casarosa brings us his deep love for the place he grew up, and every moment brims with tender affection for the Mediterranean setting. This movie may not make you cry but for sure it will make you sigh in appreciation. And it has a spit take for the ages.

Luca, voiced by Jacob Tremblay of “Room” and “Wonder,” lives under the sea off the coast of a fishing village called Portorosso. This is not the underwater place of Nemo or Ariel, but its own very distinctive and fully-imagined world. Luca is not a merman or a fish, exactly. He is a young sea monster, the son of loving parents Daniela (Maya Rudolph) and Lorenzo (Jim Gaffigan). He is responsible and well-behaved, herding a school of fish. But like Ariel, he is curious about the world outside the water and wants to learn more about what his family calls “land monster town.” His mother cautions him that it is dangerous. But he meets Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer of “Shazam”), who shows him that sea monsters turn human when they are out of the water and introduces him to some of the wonders of the human world: sunlight, gravity, music, gelato, and…Vespas. Alberto’s dream is to have a Vespa and explore the world.

The — I’m just going to call them boys — try to build a Vespa on their own. But when they meet a spirited human girl named Giulia (Emma Berman) who tells them about a three-part race with a Vespa as the prize, they join forces. This being Italy, the three parts are: swimming, biking, and eating pasta.

But the five-time previous champion, a bully named Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) will do whatever it takes to win again. A single drop of water turns the boys back into their sea monster form, so when the sky starts leaking, I mean when it rains….well, it’s a challenge. Luca’s parents have taken human form to find him, tossing water on every boy they see.

The voice talent is exceptional, with Tremblay, Grazer, and Berman creating distinctive, endearing characters. A brief betrayal is shocking and dismaying because we are invested in their friendship. The film manages to weave in a number of themes with subtlety and insight as the character navigate their differences, as parents learn to love and let go and friends discover that you can stay friends even if you take different directions. Now excuse me while I put on some Puccini and cook pasta for dinner.

NOTE: Watch the credits for some sketches that continue the story and an extra scene with a character voiced by Sasha Baron Cohen.

Parents should know that this film includes peril and some violence. A disabled character is presented as strong, confident, and capable. A character has divorced parents and divides her time between their homes and another child is abandoned by his parents. Differences and acceptance are a theme of he movie. And while underwater Luca is a protective guardian of fish, somehow on land he has no problem helping Giulia’s father catch a boatful so he can sell them.

Family discussion: When should you say, “Silencio, Bruno!” and when should you listen to “Bruno?” Who in your life is an underdog? What do you do when friends want different things? Why did Alberto tell Luca to leave?

If you like this, try: “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory”

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Cruella

Posted on May 26, 2021 at 5:13 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking, character gets drunk in response to stress
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy-style peril and violence, murder and references to murder and attempted murders, child feels responsible for death of parent, characters are thieves and con artists
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 29, 2021

Copyright Disney 2021
“Cruella” has the same problem as “Maleficent.” Origin stories of iconic villains have to make the characters relatable enough to hold our interest but also damaged enough to lead them toward the most despicable cruelty. So it never decides whether Cruella is some sort of Jekyll and Hyde character or a “Bad Seed” struggle between nature and nurture.

“Cruella” has some pleasures, particularly the performances of the two Emmas, Stone and Thompson, as the title character and her own ultra-wicked nemesis. But it never resolves that problem, and it sits uneasily in the PG-13 space, too dark for children who are fans of the original animated film with Betty Lou Gerson as the husky-voiced Cruella or its live-action remake with Glenn Close. And it is too cartoony for most of the audience old enough to see it.

Our anti-heroine begins life as Estella, also the name of the Dickens character who is raised to be cruel by Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. But this Estella is raised by a loving, understanding single mother (Emily Beecham as Catherine), who recognizes that Estella is a bit different, and not just because of her striking hair: jet black on one half of her head and snow white on the other. The kids at school bully her, except for Anita, who becomes her friend. But Estella can’t stay out of trouble. She seems to like trouble. She gets kicked out of school, and her mother decides they should move to London. They stop on the way there so Catherine can ask an old acquaintance for some money. But she is killed in a fall, and Estella believes it is her fault. She is left with no one to care for her.

She makes it to London and meets up with a couple of Artful Dodger types, Horace and Jasper. They invite her to share their home in an abandoned building and soon they are picking pockets and, as they get older, coming up with more complicated ways to steal. But Estella dreams of being a fashion designer and when she turns 18 (now played by Stone) Jasper (Joel Fry) helps her get an entry-level job at the legendary Liberty of London, where the closest she gets to fashion is scrubbing the bathrooms. But some mishaps bring her to the attention of the country’s imperious fashion impresario, The Baroness (Emma Thompson). At first, Estella just wants to do a good job. But various developments and revelations bring out the fury and, it must be said, the megalomania and cruelty that does not necessarily make sense in the context of what we’ve seen so far but gets her where she needs to be for the original story. Cruella (as she now calls herself) goes from being somewhere between Little Orphan Annie and Oliver Twist to being, well, the meanest movie villain of all time.

And she has some pretty fabulous gowns along the way. The Disney design team never fails to bring their magic. And it was a very shrewd idea to set the film in the moment as the swinging London of the 60s is moving into the punk era of the 70s with a soundtrack that includes a bunch of bangers. The movie is not very good but much of it is fun to watch.

Thompson is clearly having a ball playing a character who could fit the description of the character she played in “Much Ado About Nothing,” “My Lady Disdain.” She is a kind of “Devil Wears Prada” boss known as The Baroness. (It’s not a coincidence that both films share writer Aline Brosh McKenna). The Baroness rules her fashion line with a ruthlessness that makes “Devil Wears Prada’s” Miranda Priestly look like Little Miss Muffet. (Gosh, I hope we don’t have to sit through any of their origin stories some day.) And Stone does her considerable best with a character who does not make much sense.

Many years ago, a poll of the most evil villains of all time put Cruella De Vil at the very top, ahead of Hannibal Lecter. It’s right there in her name! She wanted to murder 99 puppies to make a coat! (Dodie Smith, who wrote the charming book 101 Dalmatians, was inspired to create the character of Cruella by an actress friend who admired Smith’s Dalmatian puppies and jokingly suggested their fur would make an elegant coat.) Cruella was the most fun when that was all she was, a wealthy lady with a husky voice who wanted to make a coat out of puppy fur. What a shame that the original animated Cruella was a more vibrant character than anyone in this film.

Parents should know that this movie has some dark themes. A child sees the murder of her mother and blames herself. Orphans band together as thieves and never find homes. A character gets drunk to deal with stress. A character admits to murdering more than one person. The story includes toxic and cruel behavior.

Family discussion: If you were going to change your name, what name would you pick? Why do Jasper and Horace do what Estella tell them to? Why is Anita the only girl who is friendly to Estella?

If you like this, try: the original animated film and the book by Dodie Smith

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The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Posted on April 29, 2021 at 5:23 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and some language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon/action-style peril and violence, no one seriously hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: April 30, 2021

It’s refreshing to see a movie for families that is not only exciting and delightful but one that acknowledges a crucial truth we usually pretend to ignore. And that truth is: families are weird. All of them. Yes, even yours. And there’s more: family weirdness is awesome and wonderful and, it turns out, exactly what we need to defeat the robot apocalypse, as well as any other daunting but less drastic challenges like everyday life.

The Mitchell family is four people who love each other and drive each other crazy. The one telling us the story is Katie (Abbi Jacobson), a teenager getting ready to go to college at her dream school, where she will pursue her passion, filmmaking. She is very close to her dinosaur-loving little brother Aaron (voiced by very much not a little kid Michael Rianda, who also co-wrote and directed and provides some of the other voices). But her struggles with her dad, Rick (Danny McBride) go beyond the usual teenage separation because there seems to be no middle place between their interests. Hers is in making films, many featuring the family’s very goofy-looking wall-eyed dog Monchi, plus hand puppets and a lot of graffiti-like digital effects. His is in nature and more analog craftsmanship and fix-its. Katie’s mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph), tries to act as mediator between them, but the relationship is strained. Katie can’t wait to get to school, where she is sure she will be with people just like her.

And then Rick changes the plans without asking or even telling Katie. Instead of her flying across country to get to school in time for orientation, the family is going to drive her there. And family car trips are known stress-relievers, right? Yeah, I know, quite the contrary.

Meanwhile, at an Apple-like company run by Mark Bowman (Eric Andre) is introducing its latest line of gadgets, personal robot assistants who clean and bring you refreshments and do so many cool things that their predecessor, a SIRI or ALEXA-type voice assistant, gets tossed aside. Remember “Terminator?” And “Wargames?” and “I, Robot?” and lots of other movies where technology gets literally out of hand? Not to mention centuries of stories about hubris and what happens when humans go too far?

And that is how the Mitchells end up being the only ones who can save the world. If they can learn to work together and to try some skills outside their comfort zones.

The movie is fast and fun and funny and exciting. It does not take itself too seriously and it has a vivid, poppy energy with a hands-on look in contrast to the chilly perfection of some computer animated films. We get glimpses of Katie’s “sweded”-style films and I loved the way her aesthetic appeared in the large film we were watching as well, with some hand-lettered commentary and sticker/emoji-style effects. But most of all, it is a heartwarming tribute to families and to the unconquerable spirit that lurks within the weirdness.

Parents should know that this film has extended fantasy/cartoon-style peril but very little violence and no one gets seriously hurt. There is some schoolyard language and family stress.

Family discussion: How would your family fight the robot apocalypse? Can you try to make a movie like Katie or make something with your hands like Rick?

If you like this, try: “The LEGO Movie” and its sequel

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Mortal Kombat

Posted on April 22, 2021 at 7:00 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some crude references, language throughout, and strong bloody violence
Profanity: Very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Pervasive peril and violence, very gory and disturbing images, characters injured and killed including a child
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2021
Date Released to DVD: July 5, 2021
Copyright 2021 Warner Brothers

Mortal Kombat” is a movie based on a video game. So, let’s be real here. We’re not looking for or even expecting complex characters or surprising plot twists. We’re here for the martial arts carnage and a few middle-school-level wisecracks, and that we get.

Character development? I’ve seen more complex backstories on Cabbage Patch Dolls. All you need to know is there are good guys and bad guys and the stakes are the very future of the planet, which, it turns out, turns on, you got it, mortal combat, trial by combat — to the death. Oh, and don’t expect it to make a ton of sense, either. Just sit back and watch the fights.

It begins with a pre-credit sequence set in an edenic 17th century Japan, with a devoted farming couple, their gallant young son, and infant daughter. As the father (Hiroyuki Sanada as Hanzou) is out getting water, bad guys arrive, led by B-Han (Joe Taslim), whose awesome fighting skills are enhanced by his ability to manifest ice. He will later be known as Sub-Zero. He says he is there to avenge, but we do not get any details. Only the baby survives, and she is taken away by a glow-eyed guy who travels via lightning named Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano).

Skip ahead to present day, where Cole Young (Lewis Tan) is fighting for $200 a bout and not doing very well. He is devoted to his wife and daughter. And he has a mysterious dragon-shaped birthmark, which identifies him to those in the know as a champion. one of those designated to fight for the good guys. Not much time for narrative here. Or anywhere else in the movie. It’s battle, battle, training, battle all the way.

Which is a good thing, because the martial arts are great and, for those who are fans of the game, let me quote Wikipedia:

The basic Fatalities are finishing moves that allow the victorious characters to end a match in a special way by murdering their defeated, defenseless opponents in a gruesome manner.

The finishing moves/fatalities are suitably gruesome. Like guts falling out of ripped-open torsos and being sliced open by a buzzsaw like a side of beef. And gallons of spurting blood. As for the script, well, it has exactly what you’d expect, a lot of “the prophecy is upon us” and “winning Mortal Kombat cannot be left to chance,” portentousness, “if you fail to discover your inner power you will never defeat your opponent” pep talks, plus some middle-school-level “humor.”

So, fans of the game will enjoy the call-outs to their favorite characters and inside information and those who are not familiar to the game but like to see martial arts fights with lots of gore will be suitably entertained and even look forward to the sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended and very gory and graphic peril and violence, along with strong and crude language and references.

Family discussion: Which power do you think you could manifest? How do you fight people who do not follow the rules?

If you like this, try: The game and the “Mythic Quest” and “The Guild” television series.

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