Contest: Win a DVD of “Jonah: The Musical”

Posted on November 11, 2017 at 6:00 am

Win a copy of “Jonah: The Musical” on DVD!  This is the adventure of a man who ends up in the belly of a giant fish and has to find his way home, with some lessons about forgiveness, grace, and mercy.

Send me an email at with Jonah in the subject line and tell me your favorite body of water. Don’t forget your address! (U.S. addresses only). I’ll pick a winner at random on November 18, 2017. Good luck!


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Based on a book Contests and Giveaways For the Whole Family

Smurfs: The Lost Village

Posted on April 6, 2017 at 5:21 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild action and rude humor
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril/violence, no one injured
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 7, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 10, 2017

Copyright Sony 2017
Copyright Sony 2017
The Smurfs are back where they belong, in a fully-animated feature film that wisely gives up on the idea of trying to put them into the real live action world and even more wisely gives up on the brash and unfunny storylines that relied much too heavily on substituting “smurf” for various words. Better than that, “Smurfs: The Lost Village”creates a truly enchanted and enchanting world for the Smurfs, a candy-colored pastoral setting that is just right for the little blue creatures. And best of all, for the first time this is a Smurf story that engages with the ultimate existential dilemma of the Smurfs: why are all the male Smurfs given names that reflect their most salient attributes (Hefty, Clumsy, Brainy, Nosy, Painter, Table Eater, Therapist) while the lone female Smurf is only defined by her gender and called Smurfette? Does her lack of a more descriptive name mean that there is nothing special about her? And why aren’t there any other female Smurfs, anyway?

These questions will all be answered in a delightfully satisfying and beautifully designed film that will be enjoyed by long-time fans and newcomers. Those steeped in Smurfology know that Smurfette’s gender is not the most important difference that sets her apart from the other Smurfs in her village.

Smurfette (with the sweet, spunky voice of Demi Lovato) was not born a Smurf (if, indeed Smurfs are born). She was created out of clay by the Smurfs’ nemesis, the evil wizard Gargamel (delightfully voiced by Rainn Wilson), who wanted her to infiltrate the Smurfs so she could spy on them and create mistrust and jealousy. But she was turned into a real Smurf by the Smurf’s wise and benign leader, Papa Smurf (Mandy Patinkin). As this story begins, she is living happily in the Smurf community, though wistful at not having a (literally) defining characteristic. If her name does not tell her who she is, how will she and the boy Smurfs know?

As in most Smurf stories, the bad buy here is Gargamel, who as usual has an evil plan that involves capturing the Smurfs and extracting their magic to create a potion that will give him unlimited power. Smurfette discovers that there is another Smurf community, so she, Hefty (Joe Manganiello), Brainy (Danny Pudi), and Clumsy (Jack McBrayer) go on a journey to find it. The adventures along the way and the fun of getting acquainted with the Amazonian warriors of the lost village (including Julia Roberts as their leader) are whimsically imagined and a lot of fun, with bright, lively music and a sweet message of finding your own way and being a part of a community.

Parents should know that this film has some mild fantasy peril and violence, with no one badly injured. There is some mild language and brief potty humor.

Family discussion: If you were a Smurf, what would your name be? Which Smurf is your favorite and why?

If you like this, try: the Smurf cartoons and books and “Trolls”

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Easter DVD Prize Pack! Veggie Tales, Ice Age, and Peppa Pig!

Posted on March 21, 2017 at 7:00 am

I am thrilled to announce a spectacular new contest! Just in time for Easter I have a fabulous Fox Family Home Entertainment prize package including:

Here Comes Peter Cottontail DVD
Ice Age: The Great Egg-scapade DVD
Peppa Pig: Around the World DVD
Veggie Tales: ‘Twas the Night Before Easter DVD
Veggie Tales: A Very Veggie Easter Collection DVD
Veggie Tales: An Easter Carol DVD
Veggie Tales: Easter Double Feature: An Easter Carol/Abe and the Amazing Promise DVD
Veggie Tales: Easter Double Feature: Twas the Night Before Easter/God Made You Special DVD
Veggie Tales: Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen DVD
Veggie Tales: Noah’s Ark DVD

To enter, send me an email at with Easter in the subject line and tell me your favorite Easter memory. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only) I will pick a winner at random on March 30, 2017. Good luck and happy Easter!

Reminder: My policy on conflicts of interest

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Beauty and the Beast

Posted on March 16, 2017 at 5:55 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fairy tale peril and violence, wolves, mob, guns
Diversity Issues: Very subtle suggestion that a character might be gay, tolerance a metaphorical theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: March 17, 2017

Copyright Disney 2017
Copyright Disney 2017
Disney’s live action remake of one of its most beloved animated fairy tales is every bit as enchanting as we could hope, gently updating and expanding the story to give the characters more depth and appeal and filling it with movie magic.

In a prologue, we see that the Beast was once a handsome but vain and selfish prince who cared only about beauty. An enchantress cursed him to become a beast, the courtiers all turned into furniture, serving pieces, and accessories. If the Beast cannot find a way to love and be loved before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, they will never return to human form. The Beast has given up. He is angry, hurt, and terrified that he is unlovable, as Stevens shows us with just his voice, posture, and piercing blue eyes.

Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, plays Belle, introduced in the opening musical number as a bit of an outsider in her small “provincial” French village. She loves to read, but seems to have read everything on the one shelf of books in the town. Belle is not concerned with her looks, and Watson is encouragingly messy, with locks of hair falling around her face and sturdy boots instead of the animated version’s flats. We can see that she truly loves to learn and has an independent, adventurous spirit.

Belle adores her father (Kevin Kline as Maurice), an artist turned repairman, and she is an inventor herself, creating a washing machine that can do the laundry while she reads. Gaston (a terrific Luke Evans, clearly enjoying the way Gaston enjoys being Gaston) is an arrogant soldier who wants to marry Belle because she is beautiful and because she is the only girl in town who does not think he is dreamy. “She hasn’t made a fool of herself just to gain my favor.” Like the prince who turned into a beast, Gaston judges people only on how they look and how they respond to him.

Away from home, Maurice is chased by wolves and ends up seeking shelter at the Beast’s mysterious enchanted castle where the candelabra and teacup can talk. As he leaves, he picks a rose for Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) furiously captures him. Belle tries to rescue her father but ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

But in this “tale as old as time,” we know that Belle and Beast will begin as “barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly,” and it is genuinely touching to see how it unfolds. With additional songs from original composer Alan Menken (with lyrics from Tim Rice, along with some lyrics written by the late Howard Ashman for the original film that were not used), some backstory about both Belle and the Prince, and a more thoughtful portrayal of the development of their relationship. I was especially glad to see that their shared love of books played an important part in their connection.

The storyline is unexpectedly resonant with contemporary challenges, with the greatest threat from an angry mob suspicious of anything unfamiliar and easily spurred to violence. We get to see a bit more of the enchantress behind the curse as well.

The two moments fans of the original film will count on are the “Beauty and the Beast” waltz in the ballroom (now sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts) and the musical extravaganza “Be Our Guest” (now sung by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere), and both are gorgeously, joyously stunning, but the moments that stay with us are the sensitive performances and the tenderness of the relationships.

Parents should know that this film includes cartoon/fantasy peril and violence, wolves, a monster, a curse, some scary images, and a subtle reference to a gay crush.

Family discussion: What did the Beast learn from his enchantment? Why is Gaston so selfish? What do Belle and the Beast discover that they have in common?

If you like this, try: the animated original and the live action “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella”

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The LEGO Batman Movie

Posted on February 6, 2017 at 5:26 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor and some action
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Action-style comic-book peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 10, 2017
Date Released to DVD: June 13, 2017
Copyright Warner Brothers 2017
Copyright Warner Brothers 2017

“The LEGO Batman” movie is not just sure to be one of the funniest movies of the year, with laugh lines that come so fast it is impossible to catch your breath before the next one. It is also the most astute mash-up of love letter and take down of a popular culture icon since the brilliant “Galaxy Quest.”

“The LEGO Movie” was an unexpected blockbuster, sweet and very funny, surprisingly ambitious in scope. This spin-off is more focused, its basic structure very much in the tradition of the DC Comics character as created by Bob Kane and Bob Finger and as interpreted through the Adam West television series of the 1960’s, the Dark Knight comics and movies, and the Tim Burton movies, all of which get quick, understated, very clever nods so deeply enmeshed in the history and culture of Bruce Wayne/Batman and his world as to satisfy the heart of the most devoted fanboy. There’s even a plane from McGuffin Airlines.

The movie opens on a black screen. In case we don’t understand why, LEGO Batman explains that “all important movies begin with a black screen” and edgy music and logos. Just in case that isn’t pretentious enough, there’s also a quote on the screen…from that great philosopher Michael Jackson.

The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) has a great big bomb and is getting ready to blow up Gotham. This is very serious as it turns out Gotham is held up only by, well, pretty much a table. Batman comes in to take the bomb and save the day — also to break the Joker’s heart because he won’t acknowledge that the Joker is the most special and important of all of the villains. Pro tip: when you confiscate the Joker’s big “unnecessarily complicated” bomb, disable it before you stow it in the Batcave museum.

Gotham saved, Batman goes home to a lonely lobster thermidor dinner and a solo screening in his home theater, where he has a collection of mostly-cheesy romantic comedies. When he’s not responding to the Bat Signal and saving the day, he roams around Wayne Manor gazing pensively at old family pictures (note that on that last shot of his parents outside the theater, the nearby street sign says “Crime Alley”). But of course it would not be a Batman movie without some fancy society gala, so he dons his tux and goes to Commissioner Gordon’s retirement party. Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) is taking over and to Batman’s dismay she tells the crowd that she plans to stop relying on Batman for all of Gotham’s crime-fighting needs. (After all, even with all his skill, Gotham is still constantly being attacked by deranged and very colorful bad guys.) She wants to involve more people in law enforcement. Batman is not at all happy about this. Furthermore, he is so distracted he sort of accidentally agrees to adopt an enthusiastic orphan with big anime-style eyes (Michael Cera as Dick Grayson).

Joker has come to a similar conclusion and he decides to team up, too — with the inhabitants of Superman’s Phantom Zone, including just about every literary bad guy anyone 12 and under might know, from Harry Potter’s Voldemort to King Kong and Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West.

The jokes come very fast, usually understated and references to pop culture, which adds to the feeling of being in on something. And the visuals are delightful, perfectly evoking the adorable clunkiness of the LEGO universe. The flames are made of plastic and the guns go “pew pew pew” instead of “bang bang bang.” But the cleverest idea of all was understanding that the very same qualities that make Batman, especially in his Dark Knight persona, so compelling work even better if he acts petulant and childish instead of a brooding and mysterious. The playground-style taunts are funny because they are real and relatable, no matter how old you are.

Parents should know that this movie has cartoon-style action and peril, with no one hurt, some schoolyard language and potty humor.

Family discussion: Why is it hard for Batman to rely on other people? Why does he like to watch romantic comedies? How does he feel when he sees all the other Justice League superheroes at the Fortress of Solitude? Why does the Joker care how Batman feels about him?

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

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