Trolls: World Tour

Posted on April 10, 2020 at 11:02 am

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 10, 2020
Date Released to DVD: July 7, 2020
Copyright 2020 DreamWorks

Remember on “Sesame Street” when they ask, which one of these four things is not like the other? “One of these doesn’t belong.” But there are a lot of ways to look at what is same and what is different, as “Trolls: World Tour” explores in a surprisingly subtle and nuanced theme in the midst of so much…well, just so much.

This sequel to the popular original film based on the little fuzzy-haired so-ugly-they’re-cute 1960’s fad dolls begins where the last one left off. Formerly cynical Branch (Justin Timberlake) has now learned to be happy, or happy-ish, and the eternally cheery Poppy (Anna Kendrick) is now Queen. Everything is glitters and rainbows and especially music music music, with a dizzying array of song snippets millennial parents will recognize. The snippets contribute to a a hyper, ADD quality that at times makes viewers feel shaken by the shoulders to make sure we notice we are being ENTERTAINED.

But happily-ever-after endings must be undone if there is to be a sequel and so Poppy learns that the pop-music trolls are not the only trolls and, even more surprising, pop music is not the only music. There’s even a map showing all of the different troll music communities, covering country, reggae, classical, hip-hop, funk, EDM, rock and more. (But it’s an old map — there’s no disco anymore. Even a movie about how harmony means accepting and enjoying every kind of music, disco is still over.)

Once all trolls were together, guided by a lyre with magical strings. But then they broke up into separate divisions, each with one string to produce the music. Queen Barb of Rock (a delicious Rachel Bloom of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), daughter of King Thrash (a very funny Ozzie Osborne), declares a world tour which ever-optimistic Poppy thinks is about bringing everyone together in a peaceful manner, but Barb wants to grab all of the strings and make rock the one music for all of Troll-dom. Will this be the day the music dies? Or will Poppy find a way to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony? Will there be guest appearances from music giants along the way? What do you think? Kelly Clarkson, George Clinton, and Mary J. Blige all show up, along with many more song snippets and a lot of candy-colored action.

Also in the mix is Sam Rockwell, Kendrick’s “Mr. Right” co-star (not for kids, but a great movie if you like dark humor about world-class assassins). Here he plays a suspiciously helpful troll centaur from country music land.

And somewhere in there are some genuinely thoughtful themes. Like “Frozen II,” this movie touches gently but candidly on the idea that history is written by the victors. What we’ve been told about the past should be questioned, especially if we are portrayed as the heroes. And the idea of same and different, what kinds of differences we should appreciate and support in each other and what kinds we should not, is raised with sophistication and yet still in an accessible manner.

As everyone knows, this movie was scheduled to be a big holiday weekend family movie theatrical release. Instead, in the age of COVID-19, it is the first major studio film being sent straight to streaming, both a gift to homebound families and something of an experiment in unprecedented times. It may seem a bit frantic after weeks of sequester, but it is a bright, tuneful, sweet story with a message of hope that seems especially welcome in the spring of 2020.

Parents should know that this film has some mild peril and brief potty humor. A male troll “gives birth” to a baby (pops out of his head, like Zeus and Minerva)

Family discussion: Which is your favorite kind of music and why? How are Poppy and Barb alike? Can you find three things that are the same about you and your family members and three things that are different?

If you like this, try: “Trolls,” “Happy Feet,” and the “All Hail King Julien” series

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Wonder Wheel

Posted on November 30, 2017 at 5:36 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some sexuality, language and smoking
Profanity: Strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Smoking, drinking, references to alcoholism
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and off-screen violence, references to mob killings
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 1, 2017
Date Released to DVD: March 3, 2018

Copyright Amazon 2017
Writer/director Woody Allen continues to explore questions of fate, chance, and choice he has addressed with much more art and understanding before in “Wonder Wheel,” a dreary, dull story set in 1950’s Coney Island. Unlike the character who talks about responsibility, Allen tries to duck his own failures by having his stand-in narrator tell us that the story is filled with metaphor and symbolism. That stand-in is Justin Timberlake as a lifeguard named Mickey who wants to write big, dramatic plays like Eugene O’Neill, and he addresses us directly in an unsuccessful attempt to make the story appear more meaningful.

Mickey, who is going to school on the GI bill after his service in the navy during WWII, is having an affair with a married older woman, Ginny (Kate Winslet). She is a waitress at a clam joint on the boardwalk, but she tells him she is a former actress who is just playing the part of a waitress. Her husband, Humpty (a blustery Jim Belushi) runs the carousel. She has a young son from her first marriage who lies, steals, and sets fires everywhere. And Humpty has a daughter named Carolina (Juno Temple), estranged since she married a mobster five years earlier, who shows up because she is on the run. She has left her husband and shared some information with law enforcement, and now goons want to kill her.

All of this could be set up in a few brief scenes, but this is a movie where everything has to be said at least twice, just to drag it all out. Slate’s Sam Adams writes that Allen is trying to justify some of the highly-controversial choices of his personal life and attack his former partner (and mother of his current wife) in this film. It is equally possible to read it as a mea culpa, with Ginny’s confession that she destroyed her one chance at personal and professional happiness when she betrayed her first husband, belatedly realizing he was the love of her life, but just could not help herself. Is this fate? A recurring character flaw? Allen does not seem interested enough to follow through.

The production design gorgeously brings to life the look of 1950’s Coney Island, the beach, the boardwalk, and the rides. Ginny and Humpty literally live under the ferris wheel that gives the film its title, reminiscent of Alvy Singer’s family living under the roller coaster in “Annie Hall.” Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro gives a romantic glow to many of the scenes, perhaps making a link between Ginny’s red hair and the fires set by her son. The actors do their best to bring the characters to life, but with a repetitive, underwritten script and sour, dreary tone, it is as though instead of putting his characters in a story he tossed them like pennies in search of an I Ching fortune. In life, we can debate the role of destiny, fatal flaws, and choice. But a writer is in control of all three for his characters, and no amount of visual flair or acting talent can obscure the failure to make those choices meaningful.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and situations, adultery, strong language, drinking and alcoholism, references to domestic abuse and child abuse, smoking, and references to mob violence.

Family discussion: What symbols can you identify in this story? What does the ferris wheel mean? What about the fires?

If you like this, try: “Crimes and Misdemeanors”

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Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

Trolls

Posted on November 3, 2016 at 5:26 pm

Copyright 2016 Dreamworks
Copyright 2016 Dreamworks

“Trolls” is pure delight, lots of jokes, great music, and a surprisingly wise take on the elusive quest for happiness. Plus, it has that Justin Timberlake song that’s like pure sunshine.

It is tricky to make self-consciously adorable characters happy without being sugary, but it works because they understand the difference between happiness based on generosity, honesty, and courage and pleasure, based on sensation.

The characters are inspired by the so-ugly-they’re-cute troll dolls with the colorful poufs of hair invented by Danish sculptor Thomas Dam (DreamWorks has now bought the company, making the film something of an infomercial for the toys). The trolls all about sunshine, parties, singing, dancing, cupcakes, glitter, scrapbooks, and scrapbooks frosted with glitter. They have fitbit-style wrist bands reminding them every half hour that it is hugging time. The trolls are led by benevolent King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), who saved the trolls from the monstrous Bergens twenty years before, and his irrepressibly cheery daughter Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick).

The Bergens are as naturally unhappy as the trolls are happy. The only way the Bergens have ever found to feel happy is to eat the trolls. Once a year, they would raid the troll tree and gobble down as many as they could. King Peppy led them to a secret place where the Bergens could not find them, courageously risking his own life to make sure there was “no troll left behind.”

Poppy decides to have a party to celebrate 20 happy and peaceful years since the trolls escaped from the Bergens. Branch (Justin Timberlake), the one pessimistic troll, warns her that a loud celebration might attract the attention of the Bergens, but Poppy insists. Branch is right — the Bergen chef (Christine Baranski) has been searching for the trolls for 20 years, and the party fireworks lead her to their new home. She captures some of the trolls and Poppy, mindful of her father’s example, goes off to rescue them.  Branch, who had predicted the Bergen threat and spent all his time creating a shelter while the other trolls were hugging and singing, had planned to wait out the invasion alone. But Poppy invites the other trolls to hide out there, and Branch agrees to go with her.

And so there is a journey and (literally) colorful characters along the way and once in Bergen-land, where the rescue effort is complicated but ultimately aided by the trolls friendship with a Bergen scullery-maid with a crush on the young king. Her name is Bridget (Zooey Deschanel) and she agrees to help the trolls if they will help her get the attention of the king.  There’s a makeover that is half mice in “Cinderella” and half Cyrano de Bergerac. I worried that the film was buying into old-school notions that a girl has to be made over to attract and please a man, but the film is clear that Bridget that she may get a confidence boost from the makeover but she needs to be honest with her crush about who and what she is.  And it was very good to see the movie’s honest engagement with the idea of happiness.  Even with daunting and scary challenges, a positive attitude can inspire you and those around you. Even the saddest loss does not mean that you lose happiness forever.  And the greatest happiness comes from being close to those we love.  Hugs and music and dancing always help, too.

Parents should know that this film includes fantasy/action peril. Some trolls are eaten by the Bergens, with one especially sad loss of a character’s grandmother.

Family discussion: What do the trolls know about happiness that the Bergens don’t?  What is the difference between pleasure and happiness? What is the hardest part of trying to be happy?

If you like this, try: “Megamind” and “Despicable Me”

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