The Boss Baby: Family Business

Posted on July 1, 2021 at 5:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG (Rude Humor|Mild Language|Some Action)
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Potion
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon-style action, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 2, 2021
Date Released to DVD: September 13, 2021

Copyright 2021 Universal
2017’s “Boss Baby” was a happy surprise. It took the classic theme of sibling rivalry to a hilarious extreme, revealing that the family’s new baby, Theodore (“Ted”), is literally a boss. He arrives complete with suit, tie, Rolex, briefcase, a job at Baby Corp, and the ultra-adult voice of Alec Baldwin. The older brother, Tim, is initially jealous and hostile, but ultimately joins forces with him to complete his mission.

In this sequel (following the interactive Netflix film, “Boss Baby: Back in Business”), Ted (Baldwin again) and Tim (James Marsden) are grown up. Tim is very happy as a devoted and imaginative stay-at-home Dad to Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt), the brightest student at a fancy private school) and her baby sister Tina (Amy Sederis), but he misses Ted, who is now a very successful executive who works all the time and instead of spending time with the family just sends “inappropriately lavish gifts,” including a horse named Precious. Tabitha seems to be following in her uncle’s footsteps, telling her dad she is too old for bedtime stories and goodnight kisses.

It turns out that it is Tina who is really following in her uncle’s first tentative toddler footsteps. She is a boss baby in a pantsuit, and on behalf of BabyCorp, she is there to bring her father and uncle back together and, while they are sorting things out, to save the world.

In the first film, Baby Corp had to save the world from a villain who was trying to make puppies cuter than babies. This time it is Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum), the founder and principal of Tabitha’s school who is plotting a baby takeover by zombie-fying the adults, starting with the parents of his students when they are all together at the school recital. Ted and Tim drink a potion that will return them to babyhood (Ted) and childhood (Tim) so they can infiltrate the school and stop Armstrong’s evil plot.

Like the first film, this one has a delightful mix of understated humor (wait until you see the holiday pageant song about climate change), wild fantasy, cheeky needle-drop songs and pop culture references (from “Rocky Horror’s” “Time Warp” to Flock of Seagulls, “Norma Rae,” and a “comfort plant”). Plus some of the best-constructed action scenes in animated films, exciting, fun, and funny, and then exciting again. And there are some great moments with my favorite character, Wizzie the Wizard toy, magnificently voiced by James McGrath in tones usually heard only in Shakespeare’s plays or “Lord of the Rings” or supervillains. It’s fast, fun, and funny, but it is the heartfelt sense of joy in family, however different we may be, that keeps me hoping for another sequel.

Parents should know that this film has extended cartoon-style peril and action including chases, ninjas with swords and throwing stars, and vertiginous climbs. Characters use some schoolyard language and there is potty humor. A theme of the movie is sibling rivalry and family estrangement.

Family discussion: Is Tina a different kind of boss than Ted? Why are Ted and Tim so different? Why didn’t Armstrong like grown-ups? What name would you choose for your secret identity? What do you think is more important than money?

If you like this, try: the other “Boss Baby” movies and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

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Halloween Movies for Families!

Posted on October 25, 2020 at 8:00 am

Happy Halloween!

Halloween gives kids a thrilling opportunity to act out their dreams and pretend to be characters with great power. But it can also be scary and even overwhelming for the littlest trick-or-treaters. An introduction to the holiday with videos from trusted friends can help make them feel comfortable and excited about even the spookier aspects of the holiday. Movies for families to share are especially important this year, as there won’t be much trick-or-treating or many Halloween parties.

Kids ages 3-5 will enjoy Barney’s Halloween Party, with a visit to the pumpkin farm, some ideas for Halloween party games and for making Halloween decorations at home, and some safety tips for trick-or-treating at night. They will also get a kick out of Richard Scarry’s The First Halloween Ever, which is Scarry, but not at all scary!

Curious George: A Halloween Boo Fest has the beloved little monkey investigating the Legend of “No Noggin.” Disney characters celebrate Halloween in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – Mickey’s Treat.

Witches in Stitches is about witches who find it very funny when they turn their sister into a jack o’lantern. And speaking of jack o’lanterns, Spookley the Square Pumpkin is sort of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer of pumpkins. The round pumpkins make fun of him for being different until a big storm comes and his unusual shape turns out to have some benefits.

Kids from 7-11 will enjoy the new Halloween treat from Netflix, A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting. It has gorgeously imagined settings, a great cast, and an exciting story that hits the exact sweet spot between funny-scary and scary-funny. Which means it is exciting, fun, and, I hope, soon to be followed by Chapter 2.

Don’t forget the classic It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the silly fun of What’s New Scooby-Doo: Halloween Boos and Clues. Try The Worst Witch movie and series, about a young witch in training who keeps getting everything wrong. School-age kids will also enjoy The Halloween Tree, an animated version of a story by science fiction author Ray Bradbury about four kids who are trying to save the life of their friend. Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock on the original “Star Trek”) provides the voice of the mysterious resident of a haunted house, who explains the origins of Halloween and challenges them to think about how they can help their sick friend. The loyalty and courage of the kids is very touching.

Debbie Reynolds plays a witch who takes her grandchildren on a Halloween adventure in the Disney Channel classic in Halloweentown.  Recent favorites include The House with a Clock in Its Walls and Goosebumps.

Older children will appreciate The Witches, based on the popular book by Roald Dahl and Hocus Pocus, with children battling three witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. And of course there is the deliciously ghoulish double feature Addams Family and Addams Family Values based on the cartoons by Charles Addams. Episodes of the classic old television show are online and are still better than the new animated film.   Beetlejuice is a classic — with a nice 20th anniversary re-release DVD, and soon to be a Broadway musical.

LAIKA’s ParaNorman and Monster House should become a  Halloween tradition. Frankenweenie,  Igor, and the Hotel Transylvania series are also a lot of fun.

The Nightmare Before Christmas has gorgeous music from Danny Elfman and stunningly imaginative visuals from Tim Burton in a story about a Halloween character who wonders what it would be like to be part of a happy holiday like Christmas. And don’t forget old classics like The Cat and the Canary (a classic of horror/comedy) and the omnibus ghost story films Dead of Night and The House that Dripped Blood.

Looking for a romantic comedy for Halloween? Try Jimmy Stewart, Kim Novak, and Jack Lemmon in “Bell Book and Candle.”

Or Frederic March and Veronica Lake in “I Married a Witch.”

 

Happy Halloween!

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The War With Grandpa

Posted on October 8, 2020 at 3:15 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for PG some thematic elements, rude humor, language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon-style comic peril and mayhem, some injuries, mourning, funeral scene
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: October 9, 2020
Copyright 101 Studios 2020

Sigh.

Robert Kimmel’s 1984 book, The War With Grandpa, is a lot of fun and also thoughtful about family, resolving conflicts, and war. The movie has tons of star power but it is just dumb slapstick, with escalating cartoon-style mayhem. It’s been on the shelf since it was originally scheduled for release in 2017 and even by pandemic shut-in standards it is barely watchable.

Which is not to say that some children won’t be amused by it because, see above re slapstick and mayhem. For the rest of us, it’s just sad and exhausting seeing Robert De Niro, yes that Robert De Niro, dropping his pants and flashing his son-in-law, plus sticking his hands down the pants of a dead body at a funeral. Then there’s Uma Thurman doing a spit-take and running around in a Christmas elf costume, plus a lot of predictable jokes about old people (they don’t understand technology! Hilarious!), married people (Dad feels diminished by his job, his father-in-law, and sometimes his wife), teenagers (they like to make out!), middle schoolers (puberty humor! bullies!), and little kids (precocious witticisms!).

The story is in the title. De Niro plays Grandpa, still mourning his late wife and not doing so well living at home since he can no longer drive. After he gets frustrated at the grocery store because they’ve switched to all self-checkout and, say it with me, old people don’t understand technology, he gets into a fight with the security guard. And so his daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) says he has to move in with her and her family, including her architect husband Arthur (Rob Riggle), teenage daughter who is always running off to “study” with her boyfriend (Laura Marano), middle school son Peter (Oakes Fegley of “Pete’s Dragon”), and youngest daughter Jenny (Poppy Gagnon).

Pete gets moved to the attic so Grandpa can have his room, and Pete is not happy. And so he slips a note under his old bedroom’s door signed “Secret Warrior.” It is not much of a secret, though, since he says he wants his room back. It is a declaration of war. At first, Grandpa doesn’t take it too seriously. After all, Pete is just a kid and he does feel back about taking the room. But then there is one prank too many and someone who knows what a real war is (“It’s not like a video game”) is in. But first, some rules of engagement. No collateral damage (no one else in the family can be affected, like that’s possible) and no tattling.

Each party is advised by friends. Pete has his pals from school and Grandpa has his buddies Jerry (Christopher Walken) and Danny (Cheech Marin), and later a pretty store clerk (Jane Seymour). But none of it really makes any sense and some elements are unnecessarily sour. If Arthur is an architect, can’t he figure out a better way to use the space than sticking Pete in a rat and bat-infested attic? In fact, Arthur serves no role whatsoever in the story except to try to prove that he deserves some respect, which would be nice if he actually earned some. How can this family afford a crazily over-the-top Christmas-themed birthday party for a child including artificial snow? Even if it made sense for Grandpa to agree to a war, why would he let Pete pick the battleground for the supposed winner-take-all? It never gets past the idea that there is just something uncomfortable about a kid picking on his sad grandfather this mean-spirited and selfish way, while insisting that he loves him and expecting us to like him.

That’s a lot more thought than this movie deserves. Even the A-list cast can’t win the war with a dumbed-down script, awkwardly staged stunts, and lackluster direction.

Parents should know that this movie includes comic peril and mayhem with a lot of pratfalls and injuries but no one seriously hurt. There is also some potty humor, along with references to puberty, a school bully, crotch hits, teen making out sessions, some schoolyard language, and implied nudity.

Family discussion: Why did Pete declare war? Why did Ed agree? Were those the right rules of engagement? What would you advise that family?

If you like this, try: the book by Robert Kimmel Smith, “Spy Kids,” “How to Eat Fried Worms,” and the various versions of “Freaky Friday”

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Learn Code with Elsa and Anna!

Posted on December 4, 2014 at 8:00 am

Code.org is a non-profit dedicated to giving every student in every school the opportunity to learn computer programming. They have partnered with Disney to create tutorials hosted by “Frozen’s” heroines, Anna and Elsa. Disney is also very generously contributing $100,000 contribution to fund Code.org’s work to bring computer science education to afterschool programs around the United States. Disney Interactive offices nationwide will also host their own Hour of Code activities for neighborhood students.

Copyright code.org 2014
Copyright code.org 2014

In this one-hour activity, you will learn to write code to help Anna and Elsa create snowflakes and magical “ice craft,” while also learning logic, math and cultivating creative confidence. Then, you can share your creations online or with friends.

Try a preview now, at Code Studio!

Celebrities and technologists, including Polyvore CEO Jess Lee, app developer and model Lyndsey Scott, Microsoft engineer Paola Mejia, and model Karlie Kloss (a beginner who’s learning to code herself), will provide short video lectures to guide students. The girl-power theme of the tutorial is a continuation of our efforts to expand diversity in computer science and broaden female participation in the field, starting with younger students.

Give it a try! It is lots of fun, and who knows, maybe you will be on your way to creating the next “Frozen!”

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Interview: Jet Jurgensmeyer of “A Belle for Christmas”

Posted on November 4, 2014 at 7:00 am

Copyright Anchor Bay Entertainment 2014
Copyright Anchor Bay Entertainment 2014

A Belle for Christmas, available today on DVD, is a cute holiday story of a dog named Belle who comes to live with kids named Elliot and Phoebe and their widowed father (Dean Cain).  Kristy Swenson plays Dani, the crafty baker trying to win the father’s heart so she can quit her job, send his children away to school, and enjoy being supported.  But she is allergic to Belle.  If she is going to move into the house, she has to find a way to get rid of the dog.  I had a chance to talk to Jet Jurgensmeyer, the charming young actor who plays Elliot.  He might just be the politest actor I’ve ever interviewed.

I asked him to describe Elliot as if if was a friend.   “He loves his grandma, he loves hanging with his friend Malcolm, he has a crush on a girl on the other street and he is very outgoing and he loves his dad, you can kind of tell that. And if he needs to he can come with some kind of plans and pranks and stuff.”  He said the adults were as good as the children at remembering their lines.  “You know we had some fumbles in our lines ever so often. Everybody does but I don’t know I think a little bit of both. Maybe kids are better because they have got that fresh mind.”  He loved the two dogs that played Belle.  “She was the sweetest thing in the world, she was so cute and fluffy. Two dogs actually. I used both of them. I don’t think I’d ever seen a cream colored shepherd. And when I first saw both of them, I was like ‘Oh my gosh!’ They were like the snow, they were so cute and I guess from the first time when all the kids and the grownups met the dogs it was like, ‘Oh yes this is going to be awesome.'”

The dogs’ trainer helped make sure that Belle performed on cue.  “The part in the movie in the beginning where the dog comes out of the lady’s arms and comes over towards me and I pick her up — they actually put some dog treats, I can’t remember if it was on my boots or right next to my boot. So the dog would come over and start nibbling on that and I would pick her up.  She actually really did what she was told to do.”

In the film, Elliot and Phoebe can tell right away that Dani is not to be trusted.  I asked Jet how they figured it out.  “Kids can kind of like see that from like a mile away.  We could tell she didn’t care about us – she just cares about our dad. So basically when that happens they are just like…’Okay, this is war.'”

He enjoyed hanging out with the other kids in the cast between film set-ups.  “We hang, we tell jokes.  In the trailer all the kids had we had bunk   beds. Four kids so four bunk beds. So me and my friend Connor we got the top bunks then the girls were on the bottom ones but we every so often, we’d go on everybody else bed. Ee just laughed and had fun. Everybody on the set knew right away ‘This set is going to be really fun. That’s what this is.'”

When he’s not working or in school, Jet likes movies about basketball and soccer.  He enjoys the baseball classic “The Sandlot,” too. He likes books about sports as well, and recently read a book about Satchel Paige.  He really enjoys acting, but his favorite thing about making a movie is asking questions about pretty much everything.  “Why are you putting this right here?”  “What’s this lens going to do?”  He also enjoyed “hanging with Dean and Kristy” and being reunited with Connor Berry and Avary J. Anderson, who play his friends in the film, and have appeared with him before.  “Every time I would see Dean he would always do this trick. It’s that trick which where he is like ‘Oh is that something on your shirt?’ and then he would bang you on the nose and even till this day he will do it to me like three times when I see him. Every single time I will fall for it. I need to have a buzzer that says, ‘Don’t do it!’ but every time I’m like ‘urrrh!’  He’s hilarious.”

And Jet says the best advice he ever got about acting is “just don’t worry about it if you make mistakes.  Just have fun with it and go with the flow and if you feel something, go with it and do it.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cB3Dfho3wYI

 

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