Ferdinand

Posted on December 14, 2017 at 9:22 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor, action and some thematic elements
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style peril and violence including slaughterhouse and bullfights.
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 15, 2017
Date Released to DVD: March 12, 2018
Copyright BlueSky 2017

I warn you — a “however” is coming, maybe more than one.

There’s a lot to like in “Ferdinand,” an affectionate version of the book by Munro Leaf about Ferdinand, the bull who did not want to fight; he just wanted to smell the flowers. WWE star John Cena provides a warm, inviting voice for the title character, and Kate McKinnon steals the show as his “calming goat.” The artwork is imaginative and colorful. However, the slight story of the book has been expanded to fill out a feature, and some of the choices are worse than just padding; they are misguided, distracting, even disturbing, especially for the youngest viewers.

Leaf’s original story and the lovely Oscar-winning 1938 Disney animated short are beautifully simple. While most bulls are ferocious and proud to fight matadors, Ferdinand is a gentle soul who just wants to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers. The men who are looking for the fiercest bull of all arrive just as Ferdinand reacts to being stung by a bee. Mistakenly believing that he is a powerfully furious animal, they bring him to the bullring, where he refuses to fight.

The Disney film is eight minutes long and tells the entire story. This version, from Blue Sky, gives us a meandering tale about Ferdinand, bred in a facility that supplies bulls for bullfighters. As a young calf, he is bullied by the others, especially the alpha bull, Valiente, who suffers from what me might term bovine toxic masculinity.

Ferdinand adores his kind-hearted father (Jeremy Sisto), asking him, “Can I be a champ without fighting?” “I wish the world worked that way for you,” his father says before he leaves for the ring. He never returns home.

Ferdinand runs away and finds a perfect home, a flower farm.  He is adopted by Nina, who is so devoted to him that she has him cuddle on the sofa next to her and sleep in her bed, even after he grows to the size of an SUV.

After an adventure that includes a cleverly-constructed scene in yes, a china shop, Ferdinand ends up back at the ranch, where Lupe (McKinnon), his calming goat, declares that she will be his coach for outsmarting the matador.   Ferdinand learns that the only options for the bulls are the ring or the slaughterhouse. He must rescue two of the bulls who taunted him before they are turned into hamburger, and then find a way to survive the bullring.

McKinnon has the same lighting-fast fluidity of mood and character that made Robin Williams an ideal choice to provide the voice for the genie in “Aladdin.”  She is in constant conversation with her many selves, and it is hilarious.  However.  The palpable padding of the storyline would not be a serious problem except for the misjudgment about the presentation of the fatal options available to the bulls.  It is impossible, even for a child, to watch the rescue from the slaughterhouse without recognizing what all of those scary-awful machines are designed to do.  Parents who do not want to answer some tough questions about dinner — or reconcile themselves to a vegetarian menu — should stick with the Disney version.

Parents should know that this movie has peril and violence, including low-key depictions of a slaughterhouse and a bullfight, as well as some schoolyard language and potty humor.

Family discussion: Why were the other bulls mean to Ferdinand? Why were the horses mean? Why did Ferdinand want to rescue bulls who were mean to him?

If you like this, try: the book and the Disney animated version of this story and the “How to Train Your Dragon” series

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Animation Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Remake

Leap!

Posted on August 24, 2017 at 5:25 pm

C
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some impolite humor, and action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Mild peril and comic violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 25, 2017
Date Released to DVD: November 21, 2017

Copyright 2017 The Weinstein Company
“Leap!” would be amiable if a bit dull, a mediocre-grade filler if not for a crucial misjudgment about the main character’s choices and consequences and a storyline that depends on two key characters having completely unfounded total changes of personality.

The premise is a generic “kid with a dream” story about a boy and girl who run away from an orphanage to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer and his dream of becoming an inventor (and his other dream of becoming her boyfriend) in Paris of the late 19th century, as both the Eiffel Tower is being built. The spirited Felice (Elle Fanning) and awkward Victor (Nat Wolff) are best friends who are the closest thing to family in the orphanage run by stern Mother Superior (Kate McKinnon), and grumpy Luteau (Mel Brooks), a cross between a janitor and a truant officer.

With the help of mechanical wings invented by Victor, they finally make it to Paris, where Victor becomes an apprentice to an engineer and Felice lies her way into the prestigious ballet school, using the acceptance letter of a snooty rich girl named Camille (real-life dancer and Sia muse Maddie Ziegler). She actually does not know anything about ballet, but a mysterious cleaning lady with a limp with the name of one of ballet’s most famous roles, Odette (singer Carly Rae Jepsen) agrees, Mr. Miyagi-style, to give her some lessons. Jump up to ring a bell tied to a tree branch and land in a puddle without making a splash. And yes, wax on and wax off — but with her feet.

We know where this is going. Strong voice talent and some imaginative visuals, especially in the dance scenes, cannot make up for tedious detours (a handsome and charming young male dancer who makes Victor jealous, a dragon lady meanie a la Cruella de Vil, a visit to the in-progress Statue of Liberty with a recitation of the Emma Lazarus poem that we have all just been reminded was not added until later), and, as noted, plot developments that depend on two characters having complete changes of personality for no reason. Most troubling is that Felice makes repeated serious mistakes, breaking promises and telling lies, with almost no consequences, giving a sourness to the storyline. It’s one thing to imagine that a young girl could learn several years of ballet training in a few days; it’s another to show her hurting the people around her, and then have her easily forgiven without any effort to make amends.

Parents should know that there is some reckless and irresponsible behavior with only minor consequences; they will want to discuss Felice’s choices and their impact on the people around her. There is also some potty humor.

Family discussion: Why did Felice break her promise to Odette? How did helping Felice change Odette’s ideas about herself?

If you like this, try: “An American Girl: Isabelle Dances into the Spotlight” and “A Ballerina’s Tale”

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Animation DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Stories About Kids

Office Christmas Party

Posted on December 8, 2016 at 5:33 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity
Profanity: Very strong, crude, explicit, and graphic language throughout
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drugs (played for comedy)
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril and violence with some injuries
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: December 9, 2016
Copyright 2016 Paramount
Copyright 2016 Paramount

Not since “Snakes on a Plane” has there been a movie whose title so clearly explains exactly what the premise is and what the audience should expect. Indeed, star T.J. Miller (“Deadpool,” “Silicon Valley”) has said in interviews that he took the role based on the title alone (and his past relationship with the directors), without ever reading the script. And, honestly, it does not matter to its intended audience. They just want to see comic, outrageous, chaos, and that is just what this movie delivers, with an all-star cast of top comic talent. Each gets a chance to show off, and, as slob comedies go, this one has a winningly sweet heart.

Clay (Miller) runs the Chicago office of his late father’s software business. Well, “runs” is perhaps not quite the correct term. He more or less presides over it, in a benign but bro-ish way. The actual grown-up supervision is performed by Josh (Jason Bateman), a very responsible guy, but subdued following his divorce. And the actual productivity falls to Tracey (Olivia Munn), a coding genius.

Clay’s sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is the tough, smart, no-nonsense boss of the whole enterprise and she intended to shut down Clay’s all-nonsense, money-losing branch. She cancels the Christmas party and tells Clay everyone will be laid off unless he can land a $14 million new client, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance). Other characters in the office include Clay’s assistant Allison (“SNL’s” Vanessa Bayer), a single mom and sort of office mom, too, fussy HR head Mary (“SNL’s” Kate McKinnon), office complainer Jeremy (Rob Corddry), new hire Fred (Randall Park), and a manager named Nate (Karan Soni) whose staff is convinced he is lying about having a hot model girlfriend and has challenged him to bring her to the party.

You can guess where it goes from here, and you know whether that is your idea of fun or whether you’d prefer to stay home and re-watch “A Christmas Story” or whatever cinematic eggnog is on the Hallmark Channel. “Gets out of hand” does not begin to convey the extent of the very bad choices made by all involved, with intentional and unintentional abuse of substances, and — an update to the traditional photocopying of body parts — using a 3D printer for a full-size model. There’s a chase, some bad romance, some better romance, and a trip to the hospital. Jillian Bell, as always, is a highlight, essentially repeating her “22 Jump Street” role. This time, instead of a drug dealer, she’s a pimp.

Perhaps the best that can be said is that it is more fun than any actual office Christmas party.

Parents should know that this film is a very raunchy comedy with explicit sexual references, situations, and male and female nudity and kinkiness, crude language, drinking and drunkenness, drugs, and comic peril and violence with some injuries.

Family discussion: Would you want to work for Josh or Clay? Why was Carol jealous of Clay?

If you like this, try: “Old School” and “The Night Before”

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Comedy Movies -- format

Ghostbusters

Posted on July 14, 2016 at 5:20 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended fantasy/paranormal violence with some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: July 15, 2016
Date Released to DVD: October 10, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B01I2FFGW6

Copyright Columbia 2016
Copyright Columbia 2016
I’m willing to believe them. I mean, sure, the original is a classic, mostly thanks to Bill Murray, Sigourney Weaver, and a new approach to action/paranormal comedy. But the reboot has the Mount Rushmore of movie comedy with SNL writer/cast members Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Kristen Wiig, plus America’s sweetheart Melissa McCarthy. That’s some serious comedy power there, and some serious dimples, too. It pays tribute to the original, opening with the Ray Parker, Jr. song and featuring cameos from original cast members Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson, Potts, and Weaver, and a couple of the original ghosts, too.

But it is very much its own take on the story, with a fresh script from director Paul Feig and Katie Dippold (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Heat”). There are tweaks on the original’s headquarters and car. And it has updated references — you know that if a New Yorker saw a ghost today, she’d whip out a selfie stick and Instagram it, and they pause for a burn on Reddit haters).

Like the original, it begins with scientists losing their jobs in academia because of their insistence on exploring the paranormal. Wiig plays Erin, a physicist who misses her chance at tenure when it is revealed that she once co-authored a book called Ghosts from Our Past — Both Literally and Figuratively. It was out of print, but the other author, her estranged friend Abby (McCarthy), has made it available on Amazon. Erin visits Abby’s lab and meets Jillian Holtzmann (McKinnon), a mad scientist type who literally plays with fire. When they are all fired, they start a company to investigate the paranormal and are soon joined by Patty (Jones), a subway worker who does not know much about science but has an extensive knowledge of New York city history. And they hire a receptionist named Kevin (“Thor’s” Chris Hemsworth) and get to work trying to capture a ghost so they can prove they are right.

Meanwhile, a nerdy guy is building a machine to unleash and intensify all of the spirits in the city, and so the women go from studying the ghosts to, yes, busting them, with a major confrontation in the midst of a metal concert with a group called “The Slimers” onstage and Ozzy Osbourne watching in the wings. The mayor (Andy Garcia) and his aide (Cecily Strong) thank the team privately but denounce them as frauds publicly to keep the city from panicking.

The final confrontation goes on a bit too long, which is probably why there is an obvious cut of what would have been a dance number (glimpsed in the credits and I hope added in full to the DVD extras). But the action scenes are strong and the comedy is first-rate, at its best achieving a deliriously loopy silliness that is refreshing in an era where gross-out, oh-no-they-didn’t jokes are considered wit.

Each of the four main characters is clearly having a blast showing what she does best, creating distinctive characters with very different styles but always working the chemistry between them with dialog that often feels improvised by actors trying to make each other laugh. It is refreshing to see a movie with four female leads who are professional, super-smart, and totally badass, kicking the butts of all the ghosts and demons and the Bechdel test as well. Their happily ever after is saving Manhattan not getting some guy to put a ring on it.

Newcomer-to the big screen McKinnon tears it up as a Doc Brown type with a wicked smile, a steampunk vibe, and a Faraday cage, swinging into a Glinda the Good Witch song and handing out weapons from a motion-activated proton glove to a Swiss army knife. “She’s doing a marvelous impression of a deflating balloon,” she says as one of her colleagues is being shot through the air. Jones, also in her first feature film lead role, is outstanding as Patty, who knows who she is and what she wants. McCarthy is adorable as always and has a lot of fun with a particular demon. And Hemsworth is flat-out hilarious as the incompetent Kevin. It’s funny, smart, and sweet and in every way as good or better than the original. Fanboys, have at it.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for glimpses of the excised dance scene and some other treats, and following the credits, a brief extra scene with some important information.

Parents should know that this film includes extended fantasy/horror peril and violence. Characters are killed (one off-screen, one suicide by electrocution), and there are some gruesome images and mild crude humor.

Family discussion: What’s your favorite ghost story? Which was the scariest ghost in the movie?

If you like this, try: the original “Ghostbusters,” “Monster House,” and “ParaNorman”

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Action/Adventure Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Remake Scene After the Credits
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