Clifford’s Really Big Movie

Posted on April 17, 2004 at 9:53 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 23, 2004
Date Released to DVD: July 3, 2004
Copyright 2004 Warner Brothers

Clifford is not just a Big Red Dog; he’s a big, red phenomenon, hero of a series of books by Norman Bridwell, an animated PBS series, and even a live road show. Now he has moved (briefly) to the big screen with a low-key feature destined for a quick theatrical release on its way to video and DVD.

Clifford is a really, really big red dog, part of his appeal to toddlers, who live among giants and are thus drawn to huge, powerful but kind creatures who love children (like Barney). Children also like the way that Clifford explores the world around him, learning gentle lessons about getting along with others and solving problems like finding lost toys and not being afraid of a storm.

Clifford (voice of the late John Ritter in his last role) lives with Emily Elizabeth and her family on dogbone-shaped Birdwell Island. His best dog friends are T-Bone (voice of Kel Mitchell) and Cleo (voice of Cree Summer). When Clifford overhears Emily Elizabeth’s parents talk to a neighbor about how much he eats, Clifford thinks he is too much of a burden for the family and decides that he, T-Bone, and Cleo should join an animal act and compete for a prize of a lifetime supply of pet Tummy Yummies.

The animal act includes a trapeze artist ferret named Shackelford (voice of Wayne Brady) and a tightrope-walking cow named Dorothy (voice of Jenna Elfman). They are managed by Larry (voice of Judge Reinhold), who loves them very much but has not been able to make the act successful. Their only chance is to win that contest. But, Shackelford says, in order to do that, they need something big. Enter Clifford.

As soon as Clifford and his friends arrive, the act comes together and audiences love it. But Shackelford gets jealous of all the attention Clifford is getting. The daughter of George Wolfsbottom (voice of John Goodman), the wealthy man who owns the Tummy Yummies company, wants Clifford to be her pet. And Emily Elizabeth misses her beloved Clifford, and he misses her, too. Fortunately, everyone in this movie is kind and understanding and loyal, though it takes some longer to get there than others.

The limited animation style looks static on the big screen and the movie is too long for its age group even at 75 minutes. (Actually, I felt it was too long for my age group, too.) The children at the screening I attended fidgeted during the musical numbers and some seemed uncomfortable with even the mild tension in the story. The story itself is questionable, with Clifford and his friends leaving home without thinking about how upsetting that will be for their families. The song lyrics justifying it were downright unsettling at times; it cannot be wise to sing to children about how “You’ve got to be lost if you want to be found….It only gets better after it gets worst, happy ever after needs the scary part first.” It’s fine to let children know that problems can be solved, but this suggests that they cannot be happy unless they make sure something bad happens first.

Parents should know that there is some mild peril and some emotional tension. Some children may be upset when Clifford and his friends leave home or when the dogs lie about not having owners.

Families who see this movie should talk about how Clifford got the wrong idea by hearing only part of what Emily Elizabeth’s parents said about him. What should he have done instead of leaving? Make sure children know that it is never all right for anyone to leave home without talking to the family about what is wrong. Families should also talk about the lie the dogs tell about their dog tags, and about Dorothy’s saying that Shackleford is “not the most secure ferret in the world, but he means well.” Why does Mr. Wolfsbottom’s daughter want to have the biggest of everything? What does it mean to say that “okay does not dazzle?”

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the Clifford books and videos. They will also enjoy the books and video starring Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, especially the animated version, which has outstanding songs and voice talent. And they might like to try to make snickerdoodles, the cookies Dorothy and Cleo promise to make together.

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Fantasy Movies -- format

Mary Poppins

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:18 am

A+
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: G
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: The cause of votes for women is presented as unimportant, even daffy; subtext that parents should spend time with their children in
Date Released to Theaters: 1964
Date Released to DVD: December 09, 2013
Amazon.com ASIN: B00E9ZAT4Y

marypoppins5In honor of the upcoming “Saving Mr. Banks” and the 50th anniversary of the original film, Disney is releasing a superclifragilisticexplialidocious new edition of Mary Poppins.

Based on books by P.L. Travers (whose reluctance to allow a film to be made is the subject of “Saving Mr. Banks,” the film switches the 1930’s-era setting to the more picturesque London of 1910, where the Banks family has a loving, if rather chaotic, household. A nanny has just stormed out, fed up with the “incorrigible” children, Jane and Michael. Mr. Banks (David Tomlinson) writes an ad for a new nanny and the children compose their own, which he tears up and throws into the fireplace. The pieces fly up the chimney, where they reassemble for Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews), who is sitting on a cloud. The next day, a great wind blows away all of the nannies waiting to be interviewed, as Mary floats down.

Somehow, she has a mended copy of the qualifications written by the children that Mr. Banks tore up and threw into the fireplace.  To the children’s astonishment, she slides up the banister.Out of her magically capacious carpetbag she takes out a tape measure to determine the measure of the children (“stubborn and suspicious” and “prone to giggling and not tidying up”) and her own (“practically perfect in every way”).  She directs them to clean up the nursery, and shows them how to make it into a game (“A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down”). Once it is clean, they go out for a walk, and they meet Mary Poppins’ friend Bert (Dick Van Dyke) drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk. They hop into the picture and have a lovely time, or, rather, a “Jolly Holiday” in a mixture of live-action and animation that has Bert dancing with carousel horses and penguins.

Mary-Poppins-RooftopMary takes the children ato see her Uncle Arthur (Ed Wynn), who floats up to the ceiling when he laughs, and they find this delightfully buoyant condition is catching. Later, Mr. Banks takes the children to the bank where he works, and Michael embarasses him by refusing to deposit his tuppence because he wants to use it to buy crumbs to feed the birds. There is a misunderstanding, and this starts a run on the bank, with everyone taking out their money. Mr. Banks is fired.

Mr. Banks realizes that he has been too rigid and demanding. He invites the children to fly a kite with him. Mrs. Banks realizes that in working for the vote for women, she had neglected the children. Her work done, Mary Poppins says goodbye, and floats away.

This sumptuous production deserved its many awards (including Oscars for Andrews and for “Chim Chimeree” as best song) and its enormous box office. It is fresh and imaginative, and the performances are outstanding. (Watch the credits carefully to see that Van Dyke also plays the rubber-limbed Mr. Dawes.) The “jolly holiday” sequence, featuring the live-action characters interacting with animated ones, is superb, especially Van Dyke’s dance with the penguin waiters.

The resolution may grate a bit for today’s families with two working parents, but the real lesson is that parents should take time to enjoy their children, not that they should forego all other interests and responsibilities to spend all of their time with them.

Family discussion:  If you were writing a job notice for a nanny, what would it include?  Which of the children’s adventures did you most enjoy and why?

If you like this, try: books by P.L. Travers and the documentary about this film’s Oscar-winning song-writers, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story. And go fly a kite!

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Classic Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Fantasy For the Whole Family Musical Stories About Kids

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

All About Eve

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Margo Channing (Bette Davis), a Broadway diva beginning to show her age, meets the young fan who stands outside the theater after every performance (Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington). Taken by her devotion, humility, and hard luck story, Margo gives Eve a job as a gofer/secretary. At first, she is delighted, but later comes to realize that Eve is ruthless and will stop at nothing to steal Margo’s career — not to mention her fiancé (Gary Merrill as director Bill Simpson). Eve manipulates Margo’s friends and colleagues, becomes her understudy, and finally, after scheming to keep her away from the theater, goes on in her place, after arranging for critics to be at her performance. She takes the starring role in a new production that would have been Margo’s, and wins an award for it. But by then, Margo and her friends are back together, Eve is tied to a critic who is as ambitiously manipulative as she is, and as the movie ends, she too meets a devoted young fan who could be another Eve.

This movie, with one of the most literate scripts ever written (by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who also directed) is not just the finest backstage drama ever filmed, but also a compelling parable of ambition and loyalty. Bette Davis is brilliant as Margo, bringing both the ferocity and the vulnerability of Margo to life. No one can forget her at the beginning of her party: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” She is the first to notice that Eve is not what she seems, but her friends assume it is just petty jealousy, and it only makes them want to protect Eve. That is just what Eve needs to get them to do what she wants, and it almost results in the break-up not only of Margo and Bill, but also of their best friends, playwright Lloyd Richards and his wife Karen. Ultimately, the loyalty of all four friends keeps them together. And ultimately, Eve is reigned in by someone who is her equal, acidic columnist Addison De Witt (a silky George Saunders).

This is a good movie to use to discuss how to determine what actions are appropriate to realize ambition. Compare it to movies like “Rudy” also about the achievement of a dream. It is not the dream that differs here as much as how it is achieved. Eve lies and has no compunctions about creating misery for others, while Rudy is scrupulous about meeting every requirement and doing everything with honor and integrity. Indeed, that is part of his dream; without that, it would not mean anything. “National Velvet” is another example. Velvet bends some rules (mostly by competing in a race in which girls are not allowed to ride), and relies on faith a good deal, but has enormous integrity in defining her dream and in her treatment of others.

“All About Eve” won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Screenplay, Best Direction, and Best Costume Design. There have been many other fine movies that offer a glimpse of life backstage. A very serious one is The Country Girl with Grace Kelly married to alcoholic former star Bing Crosby but falling in love with director William Holden. Some of the more light- hearted backstage movies include, “Mother Wore Tights,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “Footlight Serenade,” “Royal Wedding,” “Footlight Parade,” “Kiss Me Kate” and “The Barkleys of Broadway.”

Joseph L. Mankiewicz and his brother Herman (co-author of “Citizen Kane”) were responsible for many of the finest scripts ever produced. And that is Marilyn Monroe in one of her earliest appearances, as “Miss Caswell.”

It might be fun for kids to talk about the theater, and how it differs from movies. Take them to a local production, or get a book of plays for children from the library and help them produce one.

Related Tags:

 

Classic Reviews

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
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