Hello, Dolly!

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand) is a matchmaker in turn of the century Yonkers, outside of New York. She is hired by Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) to find him a wife. He also hires her to take his niece Ermengarde (Joyce Ames) to New York City, to encourage her to forget about marrying her artist beau, Ambrose (long-legged Tommy Tune). Instead, Dolly makes matches for his two clerks (Michael Crawford and Danny Lockin), advises them on how to get promotions from Horace, and helps Ermengarde get permission to marry Ambrose. Finally, after a series of intricate maneuvers, Dolly makes a match for herself, with Horace.

Discussion: This is one of the last of the big-time, old-fashioned musicals, with lavish production values and a dozen hummable tunes. The very slight story is bolstered by terrific singing and dancing — staged by two masters of the genre: Gene Kelly, who directed, and Michael Kidd, who choreographed. The elaborate sets, costumes, and musical numbers make this movie a treat for the eyes and ears.

Dolly is almost a magical figure, with business cards for every purpose. When she tells Ermengarde and Ambrose they can earn the money they need by winning the dance contest at Harmonia Gardens, she produces one that says “Artists Taught to Dance.” With all the confidence it takes to transform the lives of everyone around her, she still hesitates when it comes to herself. She still mourns her late husband Ephraim, but she wants more out of life “Before the Parade Passes By.” Yet when Horace finally proposes, she waits for a sign of Ephraim’s approval. What she gets is a sign that Horace has the qualities she is looking for, that, as she suspected all along, his gruff exterior conceals a warm heart and a wish to help others.

Questions for Kids:

· Why doesn’t Dolly just tell Horace the truth about what she thinks is right for him and for Ermengarde?

· How does she help the people in the movie to think differently about themselves, and how does that help them change?

· What does Dolly mean when she sings “Before the Parade Passes By”?

· When the young couples sing “We’ve Got Elegance,” do they really think they are fancy?

· What would you do if you were Barnaby and Cornelius at the Harmonia Gardens?

· What is the difference between Dolly’s view of money and Horace’s view?

Connections: Michael Crawford went on from male ingenue parts (“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”) to star in the title role of “Phantom of the Opera.” This story, originally a German play, has been produced in a number of forms, including “The Matchmaker,” a non- musical play written by Thornton Wilder (of “Our Town”), filmed with Shirley Booth, and most recently redone by avant-garde playwright Tom Stoppard from the perspective of the two clerks as “On the Razzle.”

Activities: Take the kids to a parade, preferably one where they can march along. They might also enjoy making some hats inspired by the spectacular creations in the movie.

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For the Whole Family Musical Romance

A Hard Day’s Night

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

One of the greatest musicals of all time has a gorgeous new Criterion edition in honor of its 50th anniversary.

The documentary style of this movie masks its tight construction, clever script, and sublime anarchy second only to the Marx brothers. A surrealistic day in the life of the most overwhelmingly popular rock group of all time, it portrays the Beatles sympathetically — like the heroine of “It Happened One Night,” they are constantly told what to do and smothered by all they have. Part of the humor is that it is not the members of the Beatles but Paul’s “clean” grandfather who causes most of the trouble. Musical numbers include “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Should Have Known Better” as well as the title song, inspired by Ringo’s warped syntax after a long recording session.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiW003U4iA8

The deluxe anniversary edition includes lots of extras:

  • New 4K digital film restoration, approved by director Richard Lester, with two audio options—a monaural soundtrack and a new 5.1 surround soundtrack made by Apple Records—presented in uncompressed monaural and DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary featuring various members of the film’s cast and crew
  • In Their Own Voices, a new piece combining interviews with the Beatles from 1964 with behind-the-scenes footage and photos
  • You Can’t Do That: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night,” a 1994 documentary program by producer Walter Shenson
  • Things They Said Today, a 2002 documentary about the film featuring Lester, music producer George Martin, writer Alun Owen, cinematographer Gilbert Taylor, and others
  • New piece about Lester’s early work, featuring a new audio interview with the director
  • The Running Jumping and Standing Still Film (1959), Lester’s Oscar-nominated short featuring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan
  • Anatomy of a Style, a new piece on Lester’s approach to editing
  • New interview with Mark Lewisohn, author of Tune In: The Beatles: All These Years—Volume One
  • Deleted scene
  • Trailers
  • One Blu-ray and two DVDs, with all content available in both formats
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Howard Hampton

 

Families who see this movie should talk about the nature of fads and the problems created by success.

Families who enjoy this movie together will also enjoy the Beatles in “Help!” and “Yellow Submarine,” but skip the movie “Magical Mystery Tour” and just listen to the music instead. Kids 12 and up might enjoy “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” about teens overcome by Beatlemania or “That Thing You Do,” written and directed by Tom Hanks, the story of a 1960s Erie, Pennsylvania, rock group that has an unexpected hit song.

 

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Classic Comedy For the Whole Family Musical

Lady and the Tramp

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 1955
Date Released to DVD: February 6, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0061QD82E

Perfectly timed for Valentine’s Day, Disney’s romantic animated classic “Lady and the Tramp” is out this week for the first time in a Diamond DBD/Blu-Ray combo.

Lady is the pampered cocker spaniel of a couple she knows as “Jim Dear” and “Darling.” Her best friends are Jock (a Scottie) and Trusty (a basset hound who has no sense of smell). They ignore a stray named Tramp. When Darling has a baby, Lady is apprehensive, but Jim Dear and Darling assure her that she is still important to them. The couple has to go away, though, and Aunt Sarah arrives, with her nasty Siamese cats, to care for the baby. The cats make a mess of the living room and Lady gets the blame. Aunt Sarah puts Lady in a muzzle, and Lady, hurt and humiliated, runs away.

She meets Tramp, who finds a way to get the muzzle off with the help of an obliging beaver (Stan Freberg). Then Tramp takes Lady out on the town, ending with a romantic spaghetti dinner at Tony’s restaurant. The next morning, on her way home, she is captured by the dogcatcher. At the pound, she hears from Peg (Peggy Lee) that Tramp is a rogue with many lady friends, and she is disillusioned.

Aunt Sarah gets Lady and takes her home, banishing her to the doghouse. But with Tramp’s help Lady gets inside to save the baby from a rat. The crib is knocked over, and Aunt Sarah blames Tramp. She calls the dogcatcher to take him away. Just in time, Jim Dear and Darling return, and understand what has happened. With the help of Jock and Trusty, they get Tramp back. Trusty is hurt, but not badly, and he and Jock go to visit on Christmas to see Lady and Tramp and meet their new puppies.

This is one of Disney’s best animated films, with an appealing story and memorable music by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke. Kids with new (or expected) siblings may like to talk about Lady’s concerns about the new baby. The way the story is told from the dogs’ perspective may be of interest to younger kids, who are just learning that not everyone sees the same things exactly the same way. And many kids will identify with Lady’s sense of frustration when the adored Siamese cats frame her for destroying the living room.

Parents should know that there are some tense moments and mild peril.

Family Discussion:  Why does Lady think her owners’ names are “Jim Dear” and “Darling?”  Why was Lady worried about what would happen when the baby came?  How did Lady feel when Aunt Sarah blamed her for what the cats did? Why didn’t Lady like Tramp at first? What made her change her mind?

Activities: Make up a story about what might happen with the puppies after the movie ends. And have a spaghetti dinner!

If you like this, try: other Disney animated classics like “Pinocchio” and “101 Dalmatians”

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Animation Based on a book Classic DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For the Whole Family For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Musical Romance Talking animals

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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Quest For Camelot

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

A young girl named Kayley dreams of being a knight like her father, who was killed defending King Arthur from the brutal Ruber. When Ruber steals Excalibur from Camelot, Kayley goes into the forbidden forest to find it. There she meets Garrett, a squire befriended by her late father, who left Camelot after he became blind. Joined by a two-headed dragon, they find the sword and fight Ruber to return Excalibur to Arthur.

This is the first attempt by Warner Brothers, home of Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck, to get into Disney territory with a full-length animated musical drama, and it is a step in the right direction, even if it does not match Disney or even non-Disney features like “Anastasia.” questforcamelot.jpg
The movie’s greatest strength is the first-class talent providing the voices: Cary Elwes as Garrett, Jane Seymour and Gabriel Byrne as Kayley’s parents, Don Rickles and Monty Python’s Eric Idle as the dragon, and (all too briefly) Sir John Gielgud as Merlin. The animation has some good moments, especially a sleepy ogre. The heroine and hero are spirited if a bit too generic. But with the exception of the dragon’s cute duet, the songs add little and slow down the story. Themes worth discussing include the importance of cooperation, loyalty, and the strengths of those considered disabled.

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Action/Adventure Animation Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical Talking animals
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