Aladdin

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: 1992
Date Released to DVD: October 5, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00WR534TK

One of the best of the contemporary Disney releases, this classic tale of the magic lamp benefits tremendously from the energy and humor of Robin Williams as the genie. Only the Disney animators could find a way to keep up with Williams’ pop culture torrent of a brain, and the big blue genie is a marvel of rapid-fire images and associations, deliciously irreverent, a nice surprise in a Disney film.  This 2015 Diamond edition

Aladdin, a “street rat,” meets the beautiful Princess Jasmine, when she sneaks out to wander through the city. Jasmine refuses all of the men who want to marry her to get the throne and wants to find out more about the world outside the castle walls. Evil Jafar, the trusted advisor to the Caliph, sends Aladdin to get the magic lamp. The genie appears and offers Aladdin three wishes. Aladdin promises he will use the third wish to free the genie, and then wishes to be a prince, so he can court Jasmine.

But Jafar, too, wants Jasmine, and the kingdom she will inherit. Aladdin has to find a way to free the King from Jafar’s control using his own powers. And he has to find a way to feel comfortable enough about himself to allow Jasmine to know who he really is.

The songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are tuneful, sparkling, and exceptionally clever, one of Disney’s all-time best scores. After Ashman’s death, lyrics for three songs were written by Tim Rice of “The Lion King” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” including those for the Oscar-winning song, “A Whole New World.”

Families who see this movie should discuss these questions: Why didn’t Aladdin want to tell Jasmine the truth? Why did Jasmine’s father trust Jafar? If you had three wishes, what would they be?

Disney issued two made-for-video sequels, “The Return of Jafar” and “Aladdin and the King of Thieves” (only the second one featuring Williams), both very entertaining. Parents may have concerns about some aspects of the story in the second. Aladdin behaves in an honorable and accountable fashion, there is a fairly happy resolution of the relationship between Aladdin and his father, Kaseem, and Kaseem acknowledges that the relationship with his son is “the ultimate treasure.” However, Kaseem’s original desertion of Aladdin and his mother and his failure to care for Aladdin after his mother’s death are never really justified or apologized for; nor does he ever address or repent for his his lifelong career as a thief. Kaseem seems unconcerned when the outlaws insist that Aladdin pass the test for becoming one of them, a fight to the death, and almost casually approves. He leaves the outlaws to drown when their ship sinks. And at the end, he rides off with Iago the parrot (again voiced by the wickedly funny Gilbert Gottfried), apparently to return to a life of crime. Parents should be prepared for questions, and may want to initiate discussion of how Aladdin might feel about his father and why he has decided to make different choices in his own life.

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Animation Based on a book Classic DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy For all ages For the Whole Family Musical Romance

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some scary moments and mild language
Profanity: Some mild language ("bloody")
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, minor injuries, tense scenes, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse cast, strong female characters, all major characters white
Date Released to Theaters: 2001
Date Released to DVD: July 11, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B000W74EQC

Prepare for the final movie in the Harry Potter series by watching the first one again:

I loved it. And I can’t wait to see it again.

Based of course on the international sensation, the book by J. K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is filled with visual splendor, valiant heroes, spectacular special effects, and irresistible characters. It is only fair to say that it is truly magical.

Fanatical fans of the books (in other words, just about everyone who has read them) should take a deep breath and prepare themselves to be thrilled. But first they have to remember that no movie could possibly fit in all of the endlessly inventive details author J.K. Rowling includes or match the imagination of readers who have their own ideas about what Harry’s famous lightning-bolt scar looks like or how Professor McGonagall turns into a cat. Move all of that over into a safe storage part of your brain and settle back with those who are brand new to the story to enjoy the way that screenwriter Steven Kloves, production designer Stuart Craig, and director Chris Columbus have brought their vision of the story to the screen. Even these days, when a six year old can tell the difference between stop-motion and computer graphics, there are movies like this one to remind us of our sense of wonder and show us how purely entertaining a movie can be.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), of course, is the orphan who lives with the odious Dursleys, his aunt, uncle, and cousin. They make him sleep in a closet under the stairs and never show him any attention or affection. On his 11th birthday, he receives a mysterious letter, but his uncle destroys it before he can read it. Letters keep coming, and the Dursleys take Harry to a remote lighthouse to keep him from getting them. Finally one is delivered to the lighthouse in the very large person of Hagrid, a huge, bearded man with a weakness for scary-looking creatures. It turns out that the letters were coming from Hogwarts, a boarding school for young witches and wizards, and Harry is expected for the fall term.

Hagrid takes Harry to buy his school supplies in Diagon Alley, a small corner of London that like so much of the magic world exists near but apart from the world of the muggles (humans). We are thus treated to one of the most imaginative and engaging settings ever committed to film, mixing the London of Dickens and Peter Pan with sheer, bewitching fantasy. A winding street that looks like it is hundreds of years old holds a bank run by gnomes, a store where the wand picks the wizard, and a pub filled with an assortment of curious characters.

Then it’s off to the train station, where the Hogwarts Express leaves from Track 9 ¾. On the train, Harry meets his future best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) and gets to try delicacies like chocolate frogs (they really hop) and Bertie Bott’s Everyflavor Beans (and they do mean EVERY FLAVOR).

And then things really get exciting, with classes in potions and “defense against the dark arts,” a sport called Quidditch (a sort of flying soccer/basketball), a mysterious trap door guarded by a three-headed dog named Fluffy, a baby dragon named Norbert, some information about Harry’s family and history, and some important lessons in loyalty and courage.

The settings manage to be sensationally imaginative and yet at the same time so clearly believable and lived-in and just plain right that you’ll think you could find them yourself, if you could get to Track 9 ¾. The adult actors are simply and completely perfect. Richard Harris turns in his all-time best performance as headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Maggie Smith (whose on-screen teaching roles extend from “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” to “Sister Act”) brings just the right tone of dry asperity to Professor McGonagall, and Robbie Coltrane is a giant with a heart to match as Hagrid (for me, the most astounding special effect of all was the understated way the movie made him look as though he was 10 feet tall). Alan Rickman provides shivers as potions master Professor Snape, and the brief glimpse of Julie Walters (an Oscar nominee for last year’s “Billy Elliott”) as Ron’s mother made me wish for much more. The kids are all just fine, though mostly just called upon to look either astonished or resolute.

A terrific book is now a terrific movie. Every family should enjoy them both.

Parents should know that the movie is very intense and has some scary moments, including children in peril. Children are hurt, but not seriously. There are some tense moments and some gross moments. A ghost character shows how he got the name “Nearly Headless Nick.” There are characters of many races, but all major characters are white. Female characters are strong and capable.

Families who see this movie should talk about what made the books so popular with children all over the world. Why did Dumbledore leave Harry with the Dursleys? Why did Harry decide not to be friends with Draco? Harry showed both good and bad judgment – when? How can you tell? What do you think are some of the other flavors in Everyflavor Beans?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

DVD notes — this is one of the most splendid DVDs ever issued, with an entire second disk of marvelous extras including deleted scenes, a tour of Hogwarts, and CD-ROM treats.

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Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy School Series/Sequel

Ever After

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Drew Barrymore plays Danielle, according to her great-great-great grand- daughter the real inspiration for the story of Cinderella. Just as in the classic fairy tale, Danielle lives with her mean step-mother and step- sisters, after the death of her beloved father. They force her to do all the work. She meets the prince, goes to the ball wearing glass slippers, and runs away before midnight. But there are some big differences. No pumpkin coach, no fairy godmother, and no bibbity-bobbity-boo. This heroine is not meekly obedient. She stays on because she wants to take care of her home and the people who work there, because it makes her feel close to her father, and because she still hopes that somehow she will find approval from the only mother she has ever known.

The step-mother, played by Anjelica Houston in her most evil “The Witches” mode, is not going to give it to her. She tells Danielle that she sees her as a pebble in her shoe. All she cares about is making sure that the prince chooses her elder daughter, Marguerite (Megan Dodd), as his bride. She is willing to lie, cheat, and steal to make it happen.

Meanwhile, the Prince (Dougray Scott) is not quite Charming. He appears arrogant, but is really just lonely and aimless. His parents want him to marry the princess of Spain, to cement a strategic alliance, but he wants to fall in love. He meets Danielle when she is in disguise as a courtier, to rescue a family servant sold by her step-mother to pay her debts, and he is very taken by Danielle’s passion and intellect.

The stepmother finds out about their relationship, and does her best to thwart it. When the prince finds out that Danielle is not really of noble birth, he is furious, at first. But it all ends happily ever after, even without a fairy godmother (though with a little help from Leonardo da Vinci).

Sumptuously filmed at medieval castles and chateaux, with gorgeous costumes, this is is a pleasure for the eye as well as the spirit. Danielle is a very modern heroine, smart, brave, honest, and able to save her prince as well as herself, if necessary. The script is clever (though wildly anachronistic in places), and while the accents come and go (and why do French characters speak with English accents, anyway?), the performances are excellent, with particularly engaging turns by Melanie Lynskey as the sympathetic younger step-sister and Judy Parfitt as the queen. It is one of the most delightful family movies of the year, maybe of all time.

Parents should note that some profanity in the theatrical release has been removed to secure a PG rating for the video, but there is still one expletive. There is some action violence, and a sad onscreen death. The plot may be a challenge to younger children, especially those expecting the story they know, so it is a good idea to prepare them, which can lead to a good discussion of different versions and points of view. Older children will enjoy Ella, Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, a different modern retelling of the Cinderella story. And everyone should see the more traditional versions, especially the wonderful Disney cartoon and the Rogers and Hammerstein musical starring Lesley Anne Warren in the original and Brandy and Whitney Houston in the remake.

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Drama Fantasy For the Whole Family Romance

Fantasia 2000

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Almost sixty years ago, the original “Fantasia” was released and hard as it may be to believe it now, the response was unenthusiastic. Today, images like Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the little black Pegasus getting some extra help learning how to fly and the dances of the mushrooms and the ballerina hippos are a part of our culture. Walt Disney hoped that “Fantasia” would be released each year with new episodes, but the lacklustre box office and the distractions of other ventures meant that the idea of adding new material was shelved. Still, the animation studio hoped for another chance, and one of the pleasures of this movie is the chance to see some of the proposals for new episodes submitted by animators over the years.

Disney called the original “a grand mixture of comedy, fantasy, ballet, drama, impressionism, color, sound, and epic fury,” and that well describes the very worthy successor. As the first theatrical release designed exclusively for IMAX screens, it fills the eyes of the audience with splendor. Now on video and DVD, it is still a delight, even better in one respect because you can see the entire screen and catch some of the details that are lost in the vast expanse of the IMAX experience.

The audience is reassured from the beginning that this is not going to be some strange or boring culture lesson. Glimpses and sound clips from the original float into view, and then suddenly we are in the midst of the most famous opening notes of classical music, the da da da DUM of Beethoven’s Fifth, accompanied by an abstract battle between groups of triangles. Then Steve Martin comes on to make a joke, and we’re off to the next episode, whales in moonlight, to Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” The light on the water, the stillness, the dignity and grace of the whales in the water and then as they float up into the sky are magnificent.

Other segments include a rollicking Al Hirschfeld-inspired look at 1930s New York, to the music of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a very romantic “Steadfast Tin Soldier” set to Dimitri Shostakovich’s second piano concerto, and a mystical tale about death and rebirth in the forest, to Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” From the original, we get Mickey as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with glowing colors and dazzling detail. And Donald finally gets his chance, as Sir Edward Elgar’s famous “Pomp and Circumstance” accompanies not a procession of graduates to their diplomas but a procession of animals to Noah’s ark. Celebrities like Angela Lansbury, Quincy Jones, and James Earl Jones provide smooth transitions.

The movie is rated G, but the experience may be overwhelming for some children. A three year old sitting near me in the theater was in tears throughout the first segment, though she enjoyed some of the others. Parents should also know that magicians Penn and Teller do a trick that may scare some kids, though they immediately show that everything is all right.

Families should talk about the way that music makes pictures in our heads, and experiment by asking children to draw pictures as they listen to music. Ask children why the people in “Rhapsody in Blue” are sad, and how they find what they were dreaming of. They may be especially interested in the rich little girl who is dragged around to all kinds of lessons by her nanny, but who dreams of spending time with her busy parents. Talk to them about the spirit of spring in “The Firebird Suite,” who learns that she cannot prevent death, but can help the forest to renew itself. Ask them about “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” (which has a Disney-ized happy ending). Why did the solider first like the ballerina? Why did he think she would not like him? Why was the Jack in the Box so jealous? Show children some of the drawings of legendary artist Al Hirschfeld, who hid the name of his daughter “Nina” in his pictures. Kids who are interested in the adaptation of his work for “Rhapsody in Blue” will enjoy the award-winning documentary about him, “The Line King.”

Families should watch the original, and compare them — one has a segment on the coming of fall and one on the coming of spring, both have music by Stravinsky, both have a non-representational segment, both have a processional number, and both have a funny animal segment — this one “answers the age-old question, ‘What would happen if you gave a flamingo a yo-yo?'” And see if kids can figure out the closest approximation in the new version of the original’s little black Pegasus. All of this may require a repeat viewing, but hardly anyone will object — and it will give you time to search for the Ninas in “Rhapsody in Blue!”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy three new Disney releases on video — originally produced as “Fantasia” follow-ups with modern music. “Melody Time,” “Make Mine Music,” and “Fun and Fancy Free” feature some of Disney’s classic animation, with outstanding segments like “Peter and the Wolf,” “Casey at the Bat,” and “Mickey and the Beanstalk.”

DVD note: The DVD version has some exceptionally entertaining extras, including commentary by Hirschfeld on his segment and a hilarious commentary by Mickey about his experiences making “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” — he is reassuring that no brooms were harmed in the making of the movie!

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Animation Fantasy For all ages For the Whole Family Musical Remake Talking animals

Mission to Mars

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Director Brian DePalma is known for movies that have two qualities — striking visual flair and frustrating narrative incoherence. If you are the kind of person who talks about the plot on the way home, this is not your kind of movie. But if you would enjoy seeing an old-time “Flash Gordon”-style movie with 21st Century special effects and computer graphics, you just might want to see it twice.

The movie takes place in 2020. Don Cheadle plays an astronaut who leads a team to Mars to investigate the possiblity of colonization. But on an expedition a huge tunnel-like dust storm kills the rest of the team, and communication with the space station is cut off. Four of his colleages, played by Tim Robbins, Jerry O’Connell, Gary Sinese, and Connie Nielson, go on a rescue mission.

Trust me, that’s really all you want to know about the plot, which makes “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” seem like rocket science. It even makes “The Day the Earth Stood Still” look like rocket science. But the pictures are pretty.

Parents should know that characters are in peril and there are a number of tense moments and several deaths, one graphic. Creationists will also be upset by the way the plot develops.

Families who watch the movie will want to talk about the choices made by the characters, including one who commits suicide to save the lives of others, and about the prospects of space exploration and colonization. And it is worth pointing out to kids who watch today that they are the same age as the characters in the movie, who would have been children back in the year 2000. Point out the brief home movie footage showing two of the characters circa 2000, around 11 years old, and already dreaming of going to Mars, and ask kids what their dreams are, and help them think about what they will need in order to get there.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy “2001,” and might even get a kick out of the first big-budget outer space film, “Forbidden Planet,” with Leslie Nielson long before “Naked Gun.”

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Action/Adventure Fantasy Science-Fiction
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