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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Peter Pan

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril; a swordfight
Diversity Issues: Sexist comments about girls, insensitive comments about Indians
Date Released to Theaters: 1953
Date Released to DVD: February 4, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00A0MJ9ZA

Disney’s latest release is a beautiful Blu-Ray of one of its animated classics, the Disney version of the Victorian classic about the boy who would never grow up. Wendy, Michael, and John Darling, three London children, meet Peter Pan, a boy who can fly. He has been drawn to their warm, comfortable home, and to Wendy’s stories. He sprinkles them with fairy dust and they fly off past the “second star to the right,” where he lives in a magical place called Neverland. There they rescue an Indian princess, and fight pirates led by Captain Hook, before returning home to wave goodbye as Peter returns to Neverland without them.

The animation in this movie is as lively as its energetic hero. The scenes set in Victorian London are beautiful, and the shift in perspective as the children round Big Ben and fly off to Neverland is sublimely vertiginous.

Most children see Peter as that wonderful ideal, a child with the power to do whatever he pleases for as long as he pleases. The story does have moments that are whimsical but also very odd — the nanny is a dog, the crocodile that ate Captain Hook’s hand keeps following him for another taste, Peter loses his shadow, the Lost Boys have no parents, and unlike Peter, no special powers, fairy guardian, or unquenchable brio. Some children find this engaging, but a few find it troublesome, or worry about what happened to Peter’s parents and whether he will be all right without them. They may also be sad that the story ends with Peter bringing the Darling children home and then going back to Neverland without them.

Parents should know that the “What Makes the Red Man Red” song is embarrassingly racist and sexist. There is also a sexist overlay to the entire story, with Peter rapturously adored by all the females and at best indifferent in return. A best-selling pop psychology book of some years ago played off of this notion, theorizing that some men suffer from “The Peter Pan Syndrome” (fear of commitment), dividing women into two categories, mother-figure “Wendys” and playmate “Tinkerbells.” Tinkerbell, who is, of course, a fairy, is the only female in the story who is capable of much action other than nurturing, and she is petty and spiteful (though ultimately loyal). When he first meets Wendy, Peter says “Girls talk too much,” which one boy who watched with me thought was rapturously funny.

Families who watch this movie should talk about these questions: Have you ever thought that you didn’t want to grow up? Have you ever thought that you’d like to be a grown up right now? What would you do? Would you like to visit Neverland?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the many other versions of this popular story. Interestingly, this animated version was the first to feature a real boy (instead of a woman) in the title role. The Mary Martin version for television that parents of today’s kids may remember from their own childhoods is available on video, with Cyril Ritchard impeccable as Mr. Darling/Captain Hook, and a terrific score that includes “I’m Flying” and “Tender Shepherd.” A remake with Cathy Rigby as a very athletic Peter is also very good. Don’t waste your time on Steven Spielberg’s 1991 sequel, “Hook,” with Robin Williams as a grown- up Peter Pan who must go back to rescue his children from Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook with the help of Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell. The stars, the production design, and some spectacular special effects cannot make up for the incoherent joylessness of the script and genuinely disturbing moments like the death of one of the lost boys.

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Singin’ in the Rain

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1952
Date Released to DVD: July 16, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0087YYHZU

The 60th anniversary of one of the best-loved movies of all time is being celebrated with gorgeous new DVD and Blu-Ray releases.

Silent movie star Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) is paired on screen with Lina Lamont (Jean Hagan), who would like to be paired with him offscreen as well. But Lina’s personality is as grating as her squeaky, nasal voice. She is mean, selfish, arrogant, and stupid. Chased by fans following the opening of their latest movie, Don jumps into the car of Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds), who tells him she is a serious actress, and not at all interested in the movies. But later, at a party celebrating the new movie, Kathy appears again, jumping out of a cake. Don teases her about her “art” and she throws a pie at him, getting Lina right in the face by mistake. Lina, furious, has Kathy fired.

At the party, the guests are treated to an exhibition of the latest technology, “talking pictures.” Everyone present dismisses it as a novelty. But when “The Jazz Singer” becomes a hit, everyone in Hollywood begins to make talkies. Production is halted on the latest Lockwood/Lamont movie, “The Dueling Cavalier,” while the stars are coached in vocal technique (with a delightful song mocking the exercises, “Moses Supposes”). But the movie is a disaster. Test audiences jeer and laugh.

Meanwhile, Don and Kathy have fallen in love. After an all-night session, Don, Kathy, and Don’s best friend, Cosmo (Donald O’Connor), come up with an idea. They can make it into a musical, “The Dancing Cavalier,” dubbing Kathy’s voice for Lina’s. Don resists at first, because it is unfair to Kathy. But they persuade him that it will just be this one time, and he goes along.

With Kathy’s voice and some musical numbers, the movie is a success. Lina insists that Kathy continue to dub all her movies, and, when the audience insists on hearing her sing, Lina forces Kathy to stand back stage so she can perform. But Don, Cosmo, and the beleagered studio head reveal the secret, and Don introduces Kathy to the audience as the real star of the movie.

Discussion: This is often considered the finest musical of all time. Certainly it has it all, classic musical numbers and a witty script, unusually sharp and satiric for a musical comedy, especially one making fun of the industry that produced it. Asked to name the top ten moments in the history of movies, most people would include the title number from this movie, in which Gene Kelly splashes and sings the rain with what Roger Ebert called “saturated ecstasy.” When he swings the umbrella around and around and dances on and off the curb, his “glorious feeling” is contagious. Only in a movie containing that sequence would Donald O’Connor’s sensational “Make ‘Em Laugh” number be mentioned second. It is a wildly funny pastiche of every possible slapstick gag, done with energy and skill so meticulous that it appears it is entirely spontaneous.

Screenwriters Betty Comden and Adoph Green, asked to use some of the classic songs by Arthur Freed (later producer of most of the great MGM musicals) and Nacio Herb Brown, decided to set the movie in the era in which they first appeared, the early talkies. This gave them a chance to use some of the Hollywood folklore of that era, when careers like John Gilbert’s were destroyed overnight, as audiences found out that their voices didn’t match their faces. One especially funny scene has the technicians trying to find a way to record Lina’s dialogue. When they put the microphone on her dress, all you hear is the sound of her pearls as she rubs them. When they put it lower down, you hear her heartbeat. When they put it near her, her voice fades in and out as she tosses her head. Note that the cameras are put inside huge boxes — that is authentic, as the cameras of that era were so loud that they had to be encased to prevent their own whirring from being recorded.

Don and Cosmo are consummate adaptors. As we see in flashback, they have already switched from vaudeville to movies, and then Cosmo from performer to accompanist (to musical director) and Don from stunt man to leading man. Lina resists change and tries to bully her way out of it, but Don, Cosmo, and Kathy all demonstrate resilience and openness to new ideas, and a willingness to be creative in solving problems.

Questions for Kids:

· Why does Kathy at first lie about liking the movies?

· Why does Don lie about his background? How is that different from the way that Lina behaves?

· Have there been any new inventions that you have seen that have changed people’s jobs a lot?

· What inventions do you use that your parents didn’t have when they were children? Your grandparents?

Connections: The transition from silent movies to talkies was also lampooned in the first play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, “Once in a Lifetime.” A silent star who has become deranged is the centerpiece of “Sunset Boulevard.” When told “You used to be big in pictures,” she says, “I’m still big — it’s the pictures that got small.” She also says, memorably, that in her day stars didn’t need to talk: “We had faces then!”

Activities: Children might like to see some of the early silent movies to get an idea of what Hollywood was like in the days depicted in this movie. The films of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd are still wonderful, and kids will enjoy learning that a story can be told without words.

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Aladdin

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril
Diversity Issues: Class issues
Date Released to Theaters: 1992
Date Released to DVD: October 5, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B00WR534TK

One of the best of the contemporary Disney releases, this classic tale of the magic lamp benefits tremendously from the energy and humor of Robin Williams as the genie. Only the Disney animators could find a way to keep up with Williams’ pop culture torrent of a brain, and the big blue genie is a marvel of rapid-fire images and associations, deliciously irreverent, a nice surprise in a Disney film.  This 2015 Diamond edition

Aladdin, a “street rat,” meets the beautiful Princess Jasmine, when she sneaks out to wander through the city. Jasmine refuses all of the men who want to marry her to get the throne and wants to find out more about the world outside the castle walls. Evil Jafar, the trusted advisor to the Caliph, sends Aladdin to get the magic lamp. The genie appears and offers Aladdin three wishes. Aladdin promises he will use the third wish to free the genie, and then wishes to be a prince, so he can court Jasmine.

But Jafar, too, wants Jasmine, and the kingdom she will inherit. Aladdin has to find a way to free the King from Jafar’s control using his own powers. And he has to find a way to feel comfortable enough about himself to allow Jasmine to know who he really is.

The songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman are tuneful, sparkling, and exceptionally clever, one of Disney’s all-time best scores. After Ashman’s death, lyrics for three songs were written by Tim Rice of “The Lion King” and “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” including those for the Oscar-winning song, “A Whole New World.”

Families who see this movie should discuss these questions: Why didn’t Aladdin want to tell Jasmine the truth? Why did Jasmine’s father trust Jafar? If you had three wishes, what would they be?

Disney issued two made-for-video sequels, “The Return of Jafar” and “Aladdin and the King of Thieves” (only the second one featuring Williams), both very entertaining. Parents may have concerns about some aspects of the story in the second. Aladdin behaves in an honorable and accountable fashion, there is a fairly happy resolution of the relationship between Aladdin and his father, Kaseem, and Kaseem acknowledges that the relationship with his son is “the ultimate treasure.” However, Kaseem’s original desertion of Aladdin and his mother and his failure to care for Aladdin after his mother’s death are never really justified or apologized for; nor does he ever address or repent for his his lifelong career as a thief. Kaseem seems unconcerned when the outlaws insist that Aladdin pass the test for becoming one of them, a fight to the death, and almost casually approves. He leaves the outlaws to drown when their ship sinks. And at the end, he rides off with Iago the parrot (again voiced by the wickedly funny Gilbert Gottfried), apparently to return to a life of crime. Parents should be prepared for questions, and may want to initiate discussion of how Aladdin might feel about his father and why he has decided to make different choices in his own life.

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All the President’s Men

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: PG
Profanity: Some very strong language for a PG including the f-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and smoking
Violence/ Scariness: Some tense moments
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1976
Date Released to DVD: June 11, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B000CEXEWA

This week is the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in and a good time to look at the Oscar-winning movie about the two reporters who would not give up on the story of the Watergate break-in, this is as gripping as any detective novel. Bob Woodward (Robert Redford), a junior reporter for the Washington Post, is sent to cover a small-time break-in to the office of the Democratic National Committee (located in the Watergate office building). He works with Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman), another reporter, to find, after tediously painstaking research, that it is just part of a complex pattern of corruption in President Nixon’s re-election campaign.

Producer/star Redford was so intent on authenticity he even flew actual garbage from the Washington Post wastepaper baskets out to the set. The movie does a good job of showing how much of the work of the reporters was dull persistence, and it also does a good job of showing us what went in to the decisions of editor Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards in an Oscar – winning performance) and (off-screen) publisher Katharine Graham about what they needed in terms of proof in order to be able to publish the story.

There is an interesting range of moral choices and calibrations. The famous “Deep Throat” (Hal Holbrook), unidentified until 2006, is someone from the inside who will not allow himself to be identified or even quoted, but is willing to confirm what the reporters are able to find elsewhere.

Others involved in the scandal, both in the corruption itself and in its cover-up, must decide what to do and how much to disclose. “Deep Throat” will not tell them anything new, but will confirm what they find out and give them some overall direction, most memorably, “follow the money.” One key development is the decision made by someone identified only as “the bookkeeper” (Jane Alexander) to talk to Bernstein. The participants must also deal with the consequences of their choices. Donald Segretti (Robert Walden) manages to evoke sympathy when what began as juvenile pranks leave him in disgrace. Woodward and Bernstein also make mistakes and must deal with the consequences.

As the movie ends, in 1972, Nixon is re-elected, and it seems to the reporters that their work has had no impact at all. Kids who view this film may need some context in order to understand it, and will want to know what else happened before Nixon resigned in August of 1974.

Families who see this movie should discuss these questions: Why were Woodward and Bernstein the only reporters interested in the story? Why did they insist on two sources before they would publish anything? What were Donald Segretti’s “dirty tricks?” How was he different from Sloan? From the bookkeeper? From Deep Throat? One of the people portrayed in the movie later testified before the Watergate Committee that he had “lost his moral compass.” What does that mean? How does something like that happen? How has technology changed the way that reporters do research and prepare their stories?

Families who enjoy this movie might like to see “The Final Days,” a made- for-television sequel, based on Woodward and Bernstein’s follow-up book. For more on this era, see Nixon with Anthony Hopkins, and Nixon’s famous “Checkers” speech and resignation statement. An odd little movie called Nasty Habits is an allegory of Watergate, set in a convent, with Glenda Jackson as a Nixonian nun. And a very funny satire, Dick (for older audiences) sees these events through the premise that it was all uncovered by a couple of high school girls.

If audiences want to know more, they should know that the book this movie was based on is not much fun to read and has more reporting than analysis. Older kids who want to know more can read Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon by Theodore White, To Set the Record Straight: The Break-In, the Tapes, the Conspirators, the Pardon, by Judge Sirica, or the books by John Dean and H. R. Haldeman. In 2006, the identity of “Deep Throat” was revealed and Woodward told the story in The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat.  President Nixon’s series of television interviews with David Frost inspired the Oscar-nominated film Frost/Nixon,  and the interviews are also available on DVD.

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