Sing 2

Posted on December 22, 2021 at 11:00 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude material, mild peril/violence
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and threats of violence
Diversity Issues: Some humor about a disabled character
Date Released to Theaters: December 22, 2021
Date Released to DVD: March 28, 2022

Copyright 2021 Illumination
This sequel wisely jettisons the less interesting plot lines from the original, the backstories of the animals with dreams of singing before cheering audiences, in favor of what worked best the first time, the performances themselves. “Sing 2” is all about putting on a show, and it begins with a smashing version of Prince’s “Let’s go Crazy.” There’s a lot happening, but take a moment to notice the costumes worn by the performers. They were created by high fashion house Rodarte.

Koala impressario Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) has a bigger dream than ever. He wants to take his performers to the entertainment capital of the world, Redshore City, with its enormous and ultra-glamorous theater, the Crystal Tower. It is run by Mr. Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), a tough-talking wolf who only agrees to let them put on their show if they can promise to deliver the lion rock star-turned recluse Clay Calloway (Bono). Moon promises that he will, though he has no idea where Calloway is or how to persuade him to return to performing. There’s a bigger problem. He has the performers, including porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson), pig and mother of innumerable piglets Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton), and shy elephant Meena (Tori Kelly). But despite what they promised Mr. Crystal, they do not have a show, only a concept from Gunter (Nick Kroll) of a space opera titled “Out of this World.” They don’t have enough information to tell the crew what kind of sets to build except that it is set on four different planets and there is a spaceship.

All of which sets up various shenanigans as the little group tries to keep Mr. Crystal from finding out what is going on as they track down Clay Calloway and get the show ready. There are some additional complicating factors. Crystal’s spoiled daughter Porsha wants to be in the show even though her acting is terrible (she can sing, though; she is voiced by pop star Halsey), and her daddy thinks she should have whatever she wants. Johnny cannot learn the complicated moves from the choreographer. Meena’s new co-star is an arrogant Yak (Eric André), who intimidates her. The ice cream guy, though, has her bashful heart fluttering.

All of this is done with heart and humor that will delight young audiences while the parents will get a kick out of the eclectic mix of songs, from Grammy-winning favorites to esoteric Indies and even a little Prokofiev. The audition scene is like a lightning round of Name That Tune. Bono’s rumble makes a great vocal contribution as Clay, and the poignance of his grief gives the story greater heft. There’s even a new U2 song on the soundtrack to underscore in both senses of the word) the way that music can heal and connect. It adds to the ebullience of the film, and like all great music, inspires calls for an encore.

Parents should know that there is some cartoon-style peril and threats of violence and some mild humor about a character’s disability, in addition to some schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Which character is your favorite? What musical show would you like to create? What is Porsha good at?

If you like this, try: the first “Sing” and the Trolls movies.

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Twelve Great Christmas Movies for Families that Aren’t A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, or A Christmas Story

Posted on December 7, 2021 at 7:41 pm

I love the classic Christmas movies and watch as many as I can every year.  But there are many great Christmas films that don’t get mentioned as often and I like to remind families that these are worth making time for as well.

1.  The Nativity Story  This sincere and respectful story is a good way to remember that Christmas is about more than presents and parties.  “Whale Rider’s” Keisha Castle-Hughes has a shy but dignified and resolute air and she glows believably as the very young woman who is selected as the mother of Jesus. And “Star Wars” heart-throb Oliver Isaac effectively conveys tenderness, doubt, courage, and transcendence as Joseph.

2. A Christmas Memory Truman Capote’s bittersweet memory of his childhood Christmas making fruitcakes with his elderly cousin, the only relative who cared about him is beautifully filmed with the magnificent Geraldine Page and Capote himself reading the narration.

3. Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas The California Raisins guys put together this Christmas special, with the highlight the funniest-ever performance of “Carol of the Bells.”

4. Come to the Stable Loretta Young and Celeste Holm are French nuns trying to raise money to build a hospital.  Their faith and goodness transforms those they meet.

5. Little Women “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” is the first line of this classic novel based on the loving if sometimes tumultuous family of author Louisa May Alcott.  The movie opens with an important Christmas lesson about the joy of giving. All three feature film versions are great family films.

6. Klaus A Christmas traditions origin story begins with a spoiled son of a wealthy family sent away to learn responsibility by delivering letters in a bitterly divided town. It is a beautifully animated Netflix film with voice talent that includes Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones.

7. This Christmas I love this movie about a family with five adult children who return home to celebrate Christmas with their mother and youngest brother.  The outstanding cast includes Regina King, Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, and Chris Brown.  Be sure to watch through the credits to see a great dance number.

8. Desk Set Before Google, companies had human beings to track down information. Katherine Hepburn plays the head of the all-female research department for a television network and Spencer Tracy is the engineer who is installing the company’s first computer, which takes up a whole wall and uses punch cards and vacuum tubes. Sparks fly — and not just in the equipment.

9. Die Hard Bruce Willis plays a cop visiting his estranged wife at her office Christmas party when the building is taken over by bad guys led by Alan Rickman in this action-movie classic. And yes, it is a Christmas movie!

10. The Man Who Invented Christmas Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens who has just a few weeks to write a book in the midst of family conflict and financial pressures. It is a lot of fun to see the way he draws inspiration — and insight — from the people and problems he encounters and the end result is the ultimate classic, A Christmas Carol.

11. Home Alone This comedy smash hit stars Macauley Culkin as a little boy who is accidentally left home when his family goes away for the holidays and has to take care of himself and guard the house from a couple of inept thieves.  The slapstick is a bit over the top but the message of Christmas is surprisingly touching.

12. Annie The story of the plucky orphan from the comic pages became one of the biggest Broadway musicals of all time and one of its highlights is Christmas with Daddy Warbucks.

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Encanto

Posted on November 23, 2021 at 5:27 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements and mild peril
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and family conflict
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 24, 2021
Date Released to DVD: February 7, 2022

Copyright Disney 2021
We all feel that way at times. It seems like everyone has something special except for us. “Encanto,” the new animated film from Disney captures that imposter phenomenon with a story set in Columbia about a girl who is the only one in her family with no magical powers. It is colorful and exciting and funny and warm-hearted and, something harder to find, it is also wise.

As we learn in one of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s bright, energetic songs early in the film, Mirabel (sweetly voiced by Stephanie Beatriz) loves her family and is very proud that her mother has healing powers and her aunt has superstrength. Other family members can understand animals, predict the future, or shape-shift. Mirabel’s sister’s superpower just seems to be perfection.

The Madrigal family has a rich, storied history. When her grandparents were young, they fled their home. Her grandfather was killed by the people they were trying to escape. But her grandmother, clutching her baby, was blessed with the powers to help her community survive. A generation later, the family is the center of that now-settled community, living in a home with its own magical powers and personality. That house, communicating with flipping floor tiles and steps that slip into slides and creating dazzling new rooms to recognize each family member’s powers, is one of the movie’s highlights.

The family has a ceremony when each member receives his or her magical powers. But for some reason, Mirabel’s never arrived. She even wears glasses (the first Disney lead character to do so) to show just how ordinary and relatable she is.

Unexpectedly, the magic the family has counted on and taken pride in — and taken for granted — seems to begin to be dissolving. And that is when the girl who does not think she is special begins to understand that she, and only she, has the qualities the family needs to keep them together.

That means adventure. It also means learning some lessons about how even the most loving, high-performing, and functional families have to deal with secrets and sometimes painful and scary truths. This insight is gently but thoughtfully explored, understanding that sometimes it is especially difficult to be honest with happy families for fear of letting the others down. But when family policy is “We don’t talk about Bruno,” it is time for someone to ask why. And when we do not leave room for family members to be less than perfect, it is time to tell them it is okay if they make mistakes and in fact if they don’t, it’s a good idea to tell them to make some. Families will enjoy “Encanto” but what may be more meaningful are the conversations we have afterward.

NOTE: Before the film there is an animated short called “Far from the Tree,” a gorgeously animated story about animal mothers and the curious babies they try to keep safe.

Parents should know that this movie includes some fantasy peril and some difficult family struggles.

Family discussion: Which magical power would you like to have? Why did one family member hide? How do you honor a miracle?

If you like this, try: “Brave,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” and “Moana”

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Clifford the Big Red Dog

Posted on November 9, 2021 at 5:00 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic element, mild action, impolite humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild fantasy peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 10, 2021

Copyright Paramount 2021
The title Clifford the Big Red Dog tells it all: this is a movie about a little girl who fills a red dog with so much love he becomes giant-sized overnight. He causes a lot of chaos. A bad guy tries to steal him. That’s the story.

It began with a 1963 book by Norman Bridwell, a very simple story designed for pre- and beginning readers, about a girl named Emily Elizabeth and her gigantic red dog. He isn’t perfect. He did not win a prize at the dog show. But she loves him the way he is. This led to 79 more books, with Clifford doing everything from going to the hospital and learning about opposites, numbers, school, and friendship to celebrating Hanukkah, Mother’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. Clifford also appeared on television in animated series, voiced originally by the late John Ritter, and in video games.

In this live-action feature, Clifford does not speak. And we learn a lot more about Emily Elizabeth, played by the very appealing Darby Camp. She lives with her loving but overstressed single mom, Maggie (Sienna Guillory). Emily Elizabeth is having some problems in school, because some mean girls make fun of her for being a scholarship student. When Maggie has to go out of town on a business trip, she reluctantly has her brother Casey (Jack Whitehall) move out of the van he has been sleeping in and into her apartment to take care of Emily Elizabeth. Casey is well-meaning but immature and about halfway between haphazard and criminal neglect. (Question to ponder: Why doesn’t Whitehall use his actual British accent since he is playing the brother of an English woman who does have an accent and it requires a useless explanation for why he has an American accent.)

At a pet fair, they meet a mysterious and possibly magical guy named Bridwell (a tribute to the author the books), played by John Cleese with a twinkle in his eye. Among the exotic animals is an adorable tiny little red puppy. “How big is he going to get?” “It depends on how much you love him,” Bridwell tells her. It’s a lot of love because the next morning he is the size of a one-story house. Oh, and there is a strictly-enforced no pets policy in the building, enforced by the super (David Alan Grier).

There are no surprises in the movie and it may drag for anyone over 8, but it is nicely diverse, with a sense of community and a strong supporting cast that includes “SNL’s” Kenan Thompson as an obliging veterinarian and Tony Hale as the tech CEO who is willing to do anything to find the source of Clifford’s growth. It is not necessary to make her one supportive classmate have a crush on her instead of just being a friend. But it is nice to see that friend’s father and some of the other adults so helpful and kind. It’s by no means a classic but kids will enjoy the comic mayhem and happy ending and parents will enjoy their enjoyment.

Parents should know that there is some mild fantasy peril and mayhem, some bullying, and some potty humor.

Family discussion: Why are the girls at school so mean to Emily Elizabeth? What makes them change? Would you like to have Clifford as a pet? How would you take care of him?

If you like this, try: the books and the animated feature film, “Clifford’s Really Big Movie

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The Babysitters Club

Posted on July 9, 2020 at 9:11 am

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Various health-related issues including diabetes and stroke
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 7, 2020

Copyright Netflix 2020
You will not see a show for any age this year that is better than this latest version of “The Babysitters Club,” Netflix’s gently updated series inspired by the Ann M. Martin. Delightfully natural performances from an outstanding group of newcomers, backed by adults like Marc Evan Jackson (“The Good Place’s” Shawn) and Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless”), deal with problems from the universal (growing up, learning to make the most of strengths and adapt to or overcome weaknesses) including crushes and puberty) to family upheavals like divorce, remarriage, illness, and loss to resolving differences with friends, family and adults, all handled with sensitivity and maturity. If that maturity is in some cases aspirational (many adults struggle to do as well), it never seems so far out of reach that it is unobtainable. The good humor and loyalty the girls show each other in resolving their conflicts is genuinely heartwarming and instructive for all ages.

The series cleverly maintains some of the books’ beloved traditions, including the landline in the colorful bedroom of one of the girls, Claudia Kishi (adorable Momona Tamada, rocking a high-fashion look that would be a challenge for a less confident performer of any age). And no one girl controls the narrative. We see the stories from different perspectives in each chapter, narratively illuminating and a good way to spark some conversations about empathy and points of view.

7th grader Kristy (Sophie Grace) comes up with the idea for the Babysitters Club, a one-stop or one-call service that provides sitters for local families after her mother (Silverstone) complains about how hard it is to find someone. The first girls to join are her shy best friend Mary Ann (Malia Baker), who lives with her very strict father, a widower (Jackson), a new girl just arrived from New York named Stacy (Shay Rudolph), who is great at math and who is concealing her Type 1 diabetes, and Claudia, a gifted artist who struggles with schoolwork and with her demanding parents and chilly sister but is very close to her grandmother (Takayo Fischer), who loves her the way she is. Later on they are joined by another new girl, the warm-hearted, justice-seeking Dawn (Xochitl Gomez), who arrives with her newly divorced mother.

Various clashes occur about the business, both internally and externally, when some older girls start their own babysitting service to compete. And various clashes occur with parents (and sadness over parents who are not there). But the girls are always committed to finding a way through, even if that sometimes takes a little while. And it is a pleasure to see each of them learn to speak up, especially Mary Ann, who discovers that her father is more vulnerable than she thought, that she can find her voice if it is on behalf of someone else, and that theater gives her an opportunity to be her best. There are also some nifty lessons about running a business, including what to do when your success leads to competition.

It is truly a delight to see these characters brought to life with such care and understanding and I cannot wait for the next season.

Parents should know that this series addresses in an age-appropriate way issues of puberty, trans children, sexual orientation, illness and disability, parental abandonment, death of a parent, bullying, blended families, and class/economic issues.

Family discussion: Can you think of a time when you were upset about something other than what it seemed you were upset about? Who was right, Dawn or Meanie? How did the girls learn to talk about their conflicts? Which one is most like you?

If you like this, try: the 1995 movie and the books, now published as graphic novels

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