The Little Mermaid

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some scary scenes, characters in peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 1989
Date Released to DVD: September 30, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B0036TGT2A

little mermaid diamondAfter some lackluster years, Disney came back into the top rank of animated features with this superbly entertaining musical, based loosely on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen (but with a happier ending).

Ariel was the first in a series of refreshingly plucky Disney heroines. Instead of dreaming about the day her prince will come, or waiting for a fairy godmother or a Prince’s kiss, Ariel is a spirited and curious mermaid who is willing to take action in order to meet Prince Eric, the man of her dreams, though she is gullible and impetuous in agreeing to the terms demanded by the seawitch in exchange for making it possible for her to go on land.

She goes to the seawitch (Pat Carroll, first rate as Ursula the octopus) to ask her to turn her tail into legs. But Ursula has two conditions. Ariel has to give up her voice. And if Eric does not kiss her within three days, Ariel will become Ursula’s slave forever. She agrees, and has to find a way to persuade Eric to fall in love with her without using her voice, despite Ursula’s crafty plans to prevent it.

NOTE: In addition to the “normal” scariness of the sea witch, some children may find the casual bloodthirstiness of the French chef upsetting, especially in the musical number in which he tries to turn Sebastian into crabmeat.

The wonderful voice characterizations in this film include Buddy Hackett (“The Music Man”) as Scuttle the scavanging seagull and Samuel E. Wright as Sebastian, the calypso-singing crab. The first-class musical score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (who worked together on the off-Broadway hit, “Little Shop of Horrors”) ranks with the best of Broadway and won Oscars for Best Score and Best Song (“Under the Sea”). Some viewers criticize the movie for providing yet another wasp-waisted Disney heroine whose whole world revolves around a man. But Ariel is adventuresome, rebellious, and brave. It is true that she makes the mistake of giving up her voice to the sea witch (a very strong female character, to say the least), which provides a good opportunity for family discussion.

A straight to video sequel about Ariel’s daughter called The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea is exceptionally good, with first-class animation and a lot of heart and humor.

Related Tags:

 

Animation Based on a book Classic DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical Romance Talking animals

Chariots of Fire

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for adult situations and language
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Tense moments of competition
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 1981
Date Released to DVD: July 9, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B00284AVN

In honor of the 2012 Olympics in London, this 1981 classic and winner of the Oscar for Best Picture has been reissued.

This is the true story of two athletes who raced in the 1924 Olympics, one a privileged Jewish student at Cambridge (Ben Cross as Harold Abrahams), the other a missionary from Scotland (Ian Charleson as Eric Liddell). Wonderfully evocative of the time and place, with superb performances, the movie shows us the source of the runners’ determination, for one a need to prove his worth to himself and the society that discriminates against him, for the other, a way of connecting to God.

The movie begins with the memorial service for Harold Abrahams, and then goes back to his first day at Cambridge, just after World War I. A speaker reminds the entering class that they must achieve for themselves and for those who were lost in the war. Abrahams is a bit arrogant, but finds friends and impresses the whole university by being the first to meet a long-term challenge and race all the way around the quad within the twelve strokes of the clock at noon.

Liddell is deeply committed to missionary work. But when his sister asks him to give up running so that he can go with her, he explains that “I believe God made me for a purpose. He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

Abrahams is devastated when he loses to Liddell, saying he won’t race unless he can win. But his girlfriend reminds him that he can’t win unless he races. Both Abrahams and Liddell make the Olympic team. There is a crisis when Liddell’s event is scheduled for a Sunday, because he will not run on the Sabbath. But Lord Lindsay (Nigel Havers) graciously allows Liddell his place in a different event, “just for the pleasure of seeing you run,” and both Liddell and Abrahams win.

Both of the athletes must make difficult choices with a great deal of opposition. One uses a coach (who isn’t even English), in defiance of tradition and expectations. The other resists the urging of his sister, the person he loves most, who wants him to quit racing and defies the Prince of Wales, who wants him to race on the Sabbath.

One of the themes of the movie is the problems that the Jewish athlete has dealing with the prejudice of society. The other athlete has to confront the conflict between the dictates of his religion and the requirements of the sport (including the entreaties of the heir to the throne) when he is asked to compete on the Sabbath.

Families who watch this movie should talk about these questions: Why was running so important to these men? Was it different for different athletes? Why does Harold Abrahams think of quitting when he loses to Liddell? Have you ever felt that way? What did you do? Why doesn’t Eric’s sister want him to race? Why does he race despite her objections? Why don’t the teachers at Harold Abraham’s school think it is appropriate to have a coach? Would anyone think that today?

This movie deservedly won the Oscars for best picture, screenplay, costume design, and music.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy a two-part made for television miniseries called “The First Olympics — Athens 1896,” about the American team entering the first modern Olympics in 1896. It features Louis Jourdan (of “Gigi”), David Caruso (of the original cast of television’s “NYPD Blue”) and David Ogden Stiers (of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”). While it does not have the resonance and meaning (or the production values) of “Chariots of Fire,” it is heartwarming, funny, exciting, and a lovely period piece. Not currently available on video, it usually shows up on television around the time of Olympic competitions. An extremely silly movie about the first modern Olympics is “It Happened in Athens,” with Jayne Mansfield and real-life Olympic athlete Bob Mathias.

“Miracle on Ice,” another made for television movie, is the true story of the 1980 U.S. hockey team, which astonished the world at the Olympics in Lake Placid. Yet another Olympic made for television movie, “The Golden Moment,” is the story of a romance between a Soviet gymnast and an American athlete. Its primary charm is the fact that it takes place at an Olympics in which, in real life, the U.S. never competed — that was the year the U.S. protested the Soviet invasion of Afganistan by boycotting the Moscow Olympics.

See also “Cool Runnings” about the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, “The Bob Mathias Story,” with the real-life decathalon champion playing himself, “The Jesse Owens Story,” with Dorian Harewood as the legendary athlete, and “Babe” with Susan Clark as Babe Deidrickson Zaharias.

On the silly side, try “Animalympics,” an animated spoof of the Olympics with some comical moments, and the very funny “Million Dollar Legs,” with W.C. Fields as the President of Klopstockia, a country entering the Olympics.

And of course Bud Greenspan’s documentaries about the Olympics are always worth watching, for the stories and the personalities as much as for the athletic achievements.

Related Tags:

 

Based on a true story Classic Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week For Your Netflix Queue Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Spiritual films Sports

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for language and mild thematic elements
Profanity: Brief but very strong language for a PG
Alcohol/ Drugs: E.T. gets tipsy
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, apparent death
Diversity Issues: All characters white
Date Released to Theaters: 1982
Date Released to DVD: October 8, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B003UESJLK

“E.T’s” 30th anniversary is being celebrated with a gorgeous new re-issue and I have one to give away.  To enter, send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with E.T in the subject line and tell me your favorite movie alien.  Don’t forget your address!  (US addresses only.)  I’ll pick one winner at random on October 14.  Good luck!

A young boy named Elliott (Henry Thomas) finds an extraterrestrial who has been left behind when his expedition of alien botanists had to depart quickly to avoid detection. He brings E.T. home, finding through their connection a way to begin to heal his sense of loss at his father’s absence.

E.T. loves Elliott, but begins to weaken in the Earth’s atmosphere and needs to go home. With the help of Elliott and the neighborhood children, he sends a message to his friends. But before they can come for him, he is captured by government scientists. E.T.’s connection with Elliott is so strong Elliott becomes very ill, too. But both recover, and the children return E.T. to the spaceship, after E.T. reminds Elliott that they will always be together in their hearts.

This is an outstanding family movie, with themes of loyalty, friendship, trust, and caring. One of the most purely magical scenes in the history of film is when Elliott’s bicycle lifts off up into the sky.

Parents should know that the movie has scenes of peril that may be too intense for younger children. An apparent death is also upsetting. There is brief very strong language for a PG movie. This film was justifiably criticized for its almost complete absence of non-white characters.

DVD extras: Making of documentary, cast reunion, archives, trailer, behind-the-scenes footage, etc. Families who see this movie should talk about the way that the adults and the kids see things differently, and have a hard time understanding each other’s perspective. One reason is that they don’t try to share their feelings with each other. Could Elliott have talked to his mother about E.T.?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and they should try some Reese’s Pieces! They might also want to check out the classic movie E.T. catches a glimpse of, “The Quiet Man.”

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Classic Contests and Giveaways Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Science-Fiction Stories About Kids

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some scary moments and mild language
Profanity: Some mild language ("bloody")
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, minor injuries, tense scenes, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse cast, strong female characters, all major characters white
Date Released to Theaters: 2001
Date Released to DVD: July 11, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B000W74EQC

Prepare for the final movie in the Harry Potter series by watching the first one again:

I loved it. And I can’t wait to see it again.

Based of course on the international sensation, the book by J. K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is filled with visual splendor, valiant heroes, spectacular special effects, and irresistible characters. It is only fair to say that it is truly magical.

Fanatical fans of the books (in other words, just about everyone who has read them) should take a deep breath and prepare themselves to be thrilled. But first they have to remember that no movie could possibly fit in all of the endlessly inventive details author J.K. Rowling includes or match the imagination of readers who have their own ideas about what Harry’s famous lightning-bolt scar looks like or how Professor McGonagall turns into a cat. Move all of that over into a safe storage part of your brain and settle back with those who are brand new to the story to enjoy the way that screenwriter Steven Kloves, production designer Stuart Craig, and director Chris Columbus have brought their vision of the story to the screen. Even these days, when a six year old can tell the difference between stop-motion and computer graphics, there are movies like this one to remind us of our sense of wonder and show us how purely entertaining a movie can be.

Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), of course, is the orphan who lives with the odious Dursleys, his aunt, uncle, and cousin. They make him sleep in a closet under the stairs and never show him any attention or affection. On his 11th birthday, he receives a mysterious letter, but his uncle destroys it before he can read it. Letters keep coming, and the Dursleys take Harry to a remote lighthouse to keep him from getting them. Finally one is delivered to the lighthouse in the very large person of Hagrid, a huge, bearded man with a weakness for scary-looking creatures. It turns out that the letters were coming from Hogwarts, a boarding school for young witches and wizards, and Harry is expected for the fall term.

Hagrid takes Harry to buy his school supplies in Diagon Alley, a small corner of London that like so much of the magic world exists near but apart from the world of the muggles (humans). We are thus treated to one of the most imaginative and engaging settings ever committed to film, mixing the London of Dickens and Peter Pan with sheer, bewitching fantasy. A winding street that looks like it is hundreds of years old holds a bank run by gnomes, a store where the wand picks the wizard, and a pub filled with an assortment of curious characters.

Then it’s off to the train station, where the Hogwarts Express leaves from Track 9 ¾. On the train, Harry meets his future best friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) and gets to try delicacies like chocolate frogs (they really hop) and Bertie Bott’s Everyflavor Beans (and they do mean EVERY FLAVOR).

And then things really get exciting, with classes in potions and “defense against the dark arts,” a sport called Quidditch (a sort of flying soccer/basketball), a mysterious trap door guarded by a three-headed dog named Fluffy, a baby dragon named Norbert, some information about Harry’s family and history, and some important lessons in loyalty and courage.

The settings manage to be sensationally imaginative and yet at the same time so clearly believable and lived-in and just plain right that you’ll think you could find them yourself, if you could get to Track 9 ¾. The adult actors are simply and completely perfect. Richard Harris turns in his all-time best performance as headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Maggie Smith (whose on-screen teaching roles extend from “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” to “Sister Act”) brings just the right tone of dry asperity to Professor McGonagall, and Robbie Coltrane is a giant with a heart to match as Hagrid (for me, the most astounding special effect of all was the understated way the movie made him look as though he was 10 feet tall). Alan Rickman provides shivers as potions master Professor Snape, and the brief glimpse of Julie Walters (an Oscar nominee for last year’s “Billy Elliott”) as Ron’s mother made me wish for much more. The kids are all just fine, though mostly just called upon to look either astonished or resolute.

A terrific book is now a terrific movie. Every family should enjoy them both.

Parents should know that the movie is very intense and has some scary moments, including children in peril. Children are hurt, but not seriously. There are some tense moments and some gross moments. A ghost character shows how he got the name “Nearly Headless Nick.” There are characters of many races, but all major characters are white. Female characters are strong and capable.

Families who see this movie should talk about what made the books so popular with children all over the world. Why did Dumbledore leave Harry with the Dursleys? Why did Harry decide not to be friends with Draco? Harry showed both good and bad judgment – when? How can you tell? What do you think are some of the other flavors in Everyflavor Beans?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

DVD notes — this is one of the most splendid DVDs ever issued, with an entire second disk of marvelous extras including deleted scenes, a tour of Hogwarts, and CD-ROM treats.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy School Series/Sequel
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2022, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik