Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes

Posted on May 9, 2024 at 11:37 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence/action
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended and intense peril and violence, beating, sling-shots, taser-like spears, explosion, flood, marauders, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 10, 2024
Copyright 20th Century 2024K

Know going in that this is the kind of movie where the humans are mute, cognitively impaired, and yet the main human character wears tailored pants and a woven shirt that look like they came from the mall. This should not be a surprise as it is also the kind of movie there the title is, at best, paradoxical, as a planet is bigger than a kingdom and in any even the kingdom in this story is only a small part of the planet. So shouldn’t it be “Kingdom ON the Planet of the Apes?” Of all the suspension of disbelief required for the film, the idea that complex machinery would operate as intended after hundreds of years — well, that idea procured intended laughs in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” and unintended laughs in “Battlefield Earth.”

Know, too, that, for anyone who is trying to keep track of the “how does ‘Tokyo Drift’ fit into the chronology”-type questions about the original series of films, the television show, and the Tim Burton-and-after movies, this one takes place a long time after the death of legendary character Cesar, who sacrificed himself, and, possibly, before the Charlton Heston original. Maybe.

Noa (Owen Teague) is a young, male ape who lives in a gentle clan with his parents and two best friends. We first see them preparing for a coming-of-age ritual. Each of them must find an eagle’s egg (but always leaving one in the nest), and bring it back safely. The clan is centered around their trained eagles, and Noa’s stern father is their leader. Noa struggles to get his father’s approval. We see that they have some signs of what we think of as human civilization, in addition to the rituals. They have built some simple structures as homes, they ride horses, they obey the rules of the clan, and they have adornments and some tools and simple weapons, like slingshots. Also, as mentioned above, that most human of attributes, daddy issues.

A marauding group of apes arrive, with more powerful weapons, including spears with taser-like points. They destroy the compound, kill Noa’s father, and capture everyone else, except for Noa, who manages to escape, vowing to find his clan and get revenge. He meets up with Raca (the deep, kind voice of Peter Macon), a follower of the lessons of Cesar. And they meet up with a human woman they call Nova (Freya Allan) — cue the jokes about how humans are slow-witted and smell bad.

They try to drop Nova off with a group of humans (note: none wearing pants and a shirt), but the same marauding apes arrive to capture the humans like cowboys capture mustangs or, in “The Time Machine,” the Morlocks capture the Eloi. It turns out Nova has some secrets.

She and Noa are themselves captured by the apes, they find themselves in the kingdom of Proximus (Kevin Durand), a tyrant who, like the male humans of our time, is obsessed with Ancient Rome. They live on what was once a human stronghold, and Proximus is determined to break into the vault, to get access to whatever it was the humans were so intent on protecting.

I suspect we may hear some people claim that this film is intended as a metaphor to illuminate some of the most divisive topics of our era — colonialism, immigration, xenophobia, the way we tell our history. That gives this film too much credit, but the way both Raca and Proximus claim to be the true heirs of Cesar’s authority, with very different interpretations of his message, should resonate with viewers.

We are mostly there for the special effects and action scenes, though, and those are vivid and effective. The settings are stunning and the motion capture and CGI are next-level, giving the ape characters real weight and their expressions, well, expressive. As one of the most enduring series in history moves, potentially, toward the time of the very first film, the questions remain: whether humans and apes can find a way to co-exist, whether technology can advance without causing great harm and existential threats, and whether humans or apes can ever find a way to overcome fear and greed to work together for the common good.

Parents should know that this movie includes extended peril and violence. Characters are injured and killed and there are some graphic and disturbing images. Characters use brief strong language (a human teaches it to the apes, of course).

Family discussion: Why did the clans have such different cultures?

If you like this, try: the other movies in the series and the original films with Roddy McDowell, Kim Hunter, and Charlton Heston

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Kung Fu Panda 4

Kung Fu Panda 4

Posted on March 7, 2024 at 6:33 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for martial arts action/mild violence, scary images and some mild rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action-style peril and martial arts fight scenes
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 8, 2024
Date Released to DVD: April 25, 2024

Skidoosh! Jack Black returns as Po in the fourth chapter of the saga about the big-hearted panda who has become a kung fu master with the title of Dragon Warrior, and earned the gratitude of his community and the respect of his colleagues, the Furious Five. If you don’t know who they are, don’t worry; they are briefly seen and not heard (very expensive voice talent) in this film.

But there’s plenty of top-level voice talent anyway, with Dustin Hoffman returning as the red panda Master Shifu, Viola Davis as The Chameleon, Black’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” co-star Awkwafina as a fox named Zhen. Also returning are Po’s two dads, his adoptive father, the excitable Mr. Ping (James Hong) and the cuddly and fearful Li (Bryan Cranston), now close friends.

A brief prologue shows the return of the first villain Po defeated, Tai Lung (Ian McShane), apparently escaped from the spirit world determined “to take what is mine, which is everything that is yours.”

Po is happy as the movie begins. He is respected and beloved in his community and welcomes customers to Mr. Ping’s expanded restaurant. He signs autographs and poses for pictures (created with a paintbrush). He has accepted the staff of wisdom from Master Shifu without really thinking about what it means — that it is time for him to ascend to the next level, “passing on wisdom and inspiring hope,” and select a successor Dragon Warrior. Po is proud of achieving that title and reluctant to let it go. When he meditates on a new Dragon Warrior, his mind quickly moves from “inner peace” to “dinner, please.”

Tai Lung has not returned. That was an even more dangerous villain, The Chameleon, a shapeshifter with powerful magic. Po meets Zhen, a thief and a liar who grew up on the streets of Juniper City. She promises to bring him to The Chameleon. But can she be trusted?

This fourth chapter meets or exceeds the vibrance and heart of the first three films. The animation is superb, with outstandingly imagined settings, camera angles, styles, and action scenes. The gentle exploration of the conflicting feelings about growing up is sensitive and insightful. Awkwafina is, as always, funny and endearing in her portrayal of a character who is seeing what it means to be trustworthy and kind for the first time. The Chameleon, marvelously designed, with voice by Davis, is an excellent villain, imperious, steely, and ruthless. And there are a number of funny supporting characters, including Oscar winner Ke Huy Quan as the leader of the underground lair of thieves, and a trio of deceptively cute but secretly bloodthirsty little creatures. The balance between action and humor is just right, with a very funny bulls in a china shop moment and a precariously balanced tavern. And Po is, as always, an appealing hero, always on the side of helping others but still with more to learn.

Parents should know that this film includes extended action- and cartoon-style scenes of martial arts peril and violence, some schoolyard language (“screwed up,” etc.), and references to orphanhood and neglect. Some families may be sensitive to the portrayal of an adopted character who is equally devoted to his biological and adoptive father.

Family discussion:

If you like this, try: the other “Kung Fu Panda” movies and “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” with Black and Awkwafina

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Wish

Wish

Posted on November 21, 2023 at 5:40 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements and mild action
Profanity: NOne
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy-style peril and some violence
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 22, 2023

Copyright Disney 2023
The animators at Disney, now celebrating their 100th anniversary, have had a lot of time to think about wishing. From Disney’s first feature film, “Snow White,” which had a heroine warbling about the day her prince would come to their second feature film, with the greatest wishing song of all time, the one we still hear every time a Disney movie begins with a view of Cinderella’s castle and “When You Wish Upon a Star,” to all of the princesses singing their wishes — “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” “A Part of His World,” “Once Upon a Dream,” Belle singing she wants more than “this provincial life,” Moana singing about “How Far I’ll Go,” no one’s movies do better at giving us characters with wishes we want to see come true. So there’s no better way to pay tribute to Disney history than “Wish,” a movie about wishes, with loving references to many of their most beloved classics.

Oscar-winner Ariana Dubose provides the voice of Asha, a 17-year-old girl who lives on an island in the Mediterranean Sea with her mother, Sakina (Natasha Rothwell), and grandfather, Sabino (Victor Garber). Like Disney animation, Sabino is reaching his centenary. Like most Disney heroines, she has cute sidekick, a goat named Valentino (Alan Tudyk).

Their island is governed by King Magnifico (Chris Pine). The people of the kingdom believe that he will grant the wishes they share with him when they turn 18. But as Asha finds when she becomes his assistant, he hoards the wishes, which appear in floating translucent spheres. When people turn their wishes over to him, they lose their memory of what it was they aspired to, and they become docile and easily governed.

Asha makes her own wish the old-fashioned way, on a star, just like Geppetto in “Pinocchio.” To her surprise, the star responds by flying down from the sky to help her out, starting with giving Valentino the ability to speak. Asha originally only wanted to make the wishes of her mother and grandfather come true. But she realizes that she has to give all of the wishes back to the people who wished them. In addition to the star and the goat, she gets some help from her seven friends, who adorably match up with the seven dwarfs from Disney’s first feature. One Is sleepy, one is grumpy, one is bashful…you get the rest. The “Doc” character is Asha’s best friend Dahlia, the King’s chef, voiced by Jennifer Kumiyama. To honor the actress, who uses a wheelchair, Dahlia uses a cane, welcome representation for audience members who use adaptive equipment and their families, and welcome normalization for those who may not yet have those people in their lives.

The character design here is understated by contemporary animation standards, perhaps another nod to the classical era. The backgrounds and settings are pure Disney magic, though, delicately colored, stunningly beautiful, and bursting with imagination. Asha’s home and Magnifico’s castle are fairy tale delights. The musical numbers are lovely and the one with dancing chickens is a highlight.

And the story is well designed, exciting and heartwarming. It has a gentle but skillful exploration of the meaning of wishes, how they help us imagine what is most significant to us and think about how to get there, and about the importance of finding our own way to make our dreams come true and support the dreams of those around us. Asha is an endearing heroine, unsure about herself but always sure about what is right. When key characters switch loyalties at meaningful moments, as the king becomes more ruthless, it underscores the importance of values as well as aspirations — just as we would hope as Disney starts on its next century as the gold standard in family movies.

NOTE: Stay ALL the way to the end of the credits for a sweet extra snippet.

Parents should know that this film has a mean, selfish villain who attacks people with sometimes-scary green lightning. There is a reference, as in most Disney films, to a parent who died.

Family discussion: What is your wish? What did the king mean by “safe” and was he right? How many references to other Disney movies did you catch?

If you like this, try: the other animated Disney classics like “Snow White,” “Pinocchio,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Frozen,” “Mulan,” and “Encanto” and the live-action fairy tale, “Stardust”

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Strays

Strays

Posted on August 17, 2023 at 11:28 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and drug use
Profanity: Constant very strong and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Hallucinogen, alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence, animal and human mauled
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 18, 2023

Copyright 2023 Universal
“Strays” is about 90 minutes long, but if you removed every f-word and reference to genitals and their various properties and functions it would be about ten minutes long, and most of the remainder would be the characters’ mushroom-inspired hallucinations resulting in the fatal mauling of a bunny.

Those characters are dogs, with the voices of Will Ferrell as the ever-cheerful Reggie, Jamie Foxx as the street -smart Bug, Randall Park as the shy Hunter, and Isla Fisher as the olfactory-gifted Maggie. If you think hearing dogs talk dirty is hilarious, then this is your movie, because that’s pretty much all there is.

Reggie is so devoted to his horrifically abusive owner Doug (Will Forte) that he insists that he is loved and cared for. Doug despises Reggie and kept the dog only as revenge on his girlfriend for leaving him. He spends all day looking at porn and smoking weed. When he is evicted, Doug keeps trying to get rid of Reggie by driving far away and throwing the dog out of the truck. But Reggie thinks it is a game and keeps finding his way back home. Finally, Doug drives far enough from home that Reggie is lost.

Then he meets Bug, who tells him that life is much better as a stray. Bug introduces him to Hunter, a support dog in a hospice, and Maggie, whose owner prefers her newer, cuter dog. Reggie is so angry when he learns that Doug did not love him that he is determined to go back home and bite off Doug’s favorite body part, the one he spends so much time with in front of his laptop.

And so the four friends go on a journey, where they have various adventures and encounters. They even run into two of the stars of the vastly better dog movie, “A Dog’s Journey,” Dennis Quaid (as himself) and Josh Gad (as “narrator dog,” a joke which might be funny if it wasn’t so distasteful to see him trashing his earlier film).

The humor of hearing animals use four-letter words wears thin quickly, the gestures toward lessons about friendship and connection are less than half-hearted, more like 16th-hearted, and the resolution is worse than distasteful, with a superfluous mid-credit scene just to hammer in a “joke” about severe disfigurement. Overall, it lurches from gross to dull, not meriting the attention of humans or canines.

Parents should know that this movie is non-stop strong and crude language, sexual references, and potty humor.

Family discussion: Why was Hunter shy about sharing his feelings with Maggie? Why did he like the cone?

If you like this, try: “A Dog’s Journey,” “Homeward Bound,” and “Hotel for Dogs”

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The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

Posted on May 23, 2023 at 2:38 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Scary monster, characters in peril, tense situations
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 26, 2023

Copyright Disney 2023

Disney’s live-action remake of the classic animated film that was a turning point marking the revitalization of Disney’s legendary animation division invites us to once again, be part of the world of mermaid Ariel (pop duet singer Halle Bailey) and Prince Eric (Jonah Hauer-King). As in the original film, the couple at the center are both a bit bland, and therefore perhaps the better question is whether we want to be part of the world of sea witch Ursula (Melissa McCarthy) and Ariel’s sidekicks, Scuttle (Awkwafina), Flounder (Jacob Trembley), and Sebastian (Daveed Diggs), the classic songs with some additions from “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the visuals from cinematographer Dion Beebe, working with his “Chicago” collaborator, director Rob Marshall. The easy answer to that question is yes.

Again, it is a romanticized, happily-ever-after version of the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, the one so central to the Danish identity that it inspired the iconic statue in Copenhagen. In both of the Disney versions, Ariel is a rebellious teenager, the daughter of King Triton (Javier Bardem), who tells her than humans are evil and orders her to stay under water.

Eric, the adopted son of the widowed queen (a wonderfully regal Noma Dumezweni) is also ordered to stay away from the “other” world. Even before they meet, we see that he and Ariel have an adventurous spirit and core values of optimism, inclusion, and progressive views about the need to adapt to change in common.

Eric is my favorite Disney prince because, especially in the animated version, he is a little more off-beat than the usual stalwart, swashbuckling heroes. In his first scene, at sea, he shows us that he is not a snob and that he not only brings his dog on board, he risks his life to run through fire to save him. And then Ariel, who has been watching, saves both dog and prince from drowning. After a glimpse at the rescue, Ariel and Eric long to be together again, and that is when Ariel makes her fateful bargain with the sea witch.

Parts of this movie are truly enchanting, especially the underwater scenes. The opening moments on Prince Eric’s ship are thrillingly filmed and the “Under the Sea” number is a glorious Busby Berkeley underwater fantasia. A new number for Awkwafina from Lin-Manuel Miranda is a total banger. Some of the gentle updates to give Ariel more agency and the cast more diverse work well, and Colleen Atwood’s costumes are gorgeous. Other parts do not work as well. The ending is clumsy and drags on too long. The movie would be better with a 15 or 20 minutes shorter run time. But its best moments make us want to be part of Ariel’s world.

Parents should know that this film has some peril and scary moments including a fire on a sinking ship and a monstrous character.

Family discussion: Why do the Queen and King Triton fear going outside of their own communities? What will Eric and Ariel find? Which song is your favorite?

If you like this, try: the animated version, and the music of Chloe x Halle (note: some has mature language)

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