The Boss Baby

Posted on March 30, 2017 at 5:50 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: "Formula" that keeps babies from growing up
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon-style action peril and violence, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 31, 2017
Date Released to DVD: July 25, 2017
Copyright Dreamworks 2017

Yes, sure, babies are adorable and it is wonderful fun to nibble their toes and kiss the backs of their necks. But let’s be honest. They are also tiny tyrants. Who decides when it is time to eat and sleep? It is not the adults in the household. And who is no longer the top priority in the home anymore? The older child! (Let me state for the record that my two younger sisters are lovely people and I couldn’t be luckier to have them as siblings, but those first few months are tough.)

“The Boss Baby,” inspired by the Marla Frazee book, takes these ideas hilariously to the extreme with a baby who is literally the boss.  He arrives complete with suit, tie, Rolex, briefcase, and the ultra-adult voice of Alec Baldwin. This is deeply disturbing for Tim (Miles Bakshi, grandson of animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi), whose previously blissful life of undiluted devotion from his mom (Lisa Kudrow) and dad (Jimmy Kimmel) is destroyed by this demanding creature and it seems that only Tim really understands what a monster he is.

Somehow, Mom and Dad, a sweet couple who both work for a pet food company, can only see the baby’s cute little face and have no idea that the baby is really a spy, even though “if things weren’t to his immediate satisfaction, he had a fit.”  They are so numb from sleep deprivation and so captivated by what looks to them like an infant that they never suspect there is anything unusual going on.  But Tim overhears the Boss Baby talking to his office — and then the Boss Baby blandly tosses some money his way and asks for some sushi: “I’d kill for a spicy tuna roll.”

Once Tim learns that the baby will return to his office after his mission is complete, he and the baby join forces to take on the real villain of the story — I will not spoil his very funny nefarious plan.

Director Tom McGrath says that this film is a tribute and apology to his older brother, because like all younger siblings, he was for a time the “boss baby.”  He gives the story a pleasantly retro look, setting, and soundtrack, evocative of old-school cartoons and an era before everyone was mesmerized by devices. It is surprisingly funny and even more surprisingly sweet. Tim is a great kid, brave, smart, and wonderfully imaginative, and it is nice to see a movie for children that is about something other than following your dreams or learning to be confident. It’s about visceral feelings everyone will recognize — worrying that there is not enough love to go around, jealousy, competitiveness. And it is also about feelings we should recognize but too often overlook: the importance of imagination and the pleasures of being a kid.

NOTE: Stay all the way through the credits for an extra scene!

Parents should know that there is cartoon-style peril and violence along with some potty humor and schoolyard language.  The theme of the movie centers on issues of sibling rivalry.

Family discussion:  Why wasn’t the Boss Baby sent to earth as a regular baby? What are the best and worst parts of having a sibling?

If you like this, try: the “Madagascar” films, from the same director

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Animation Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Scene After the Credits Stories About Kids

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Posted on March 14, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Everyone on screen seems to be having a blast, but this story of rival magicians in Las Vegas is not as much fun for the audience.  It wants to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but there’s really nothing there.

Steve Carell plays Burt Wonderstone, who fell in love with doing magic tricks when he was a bullied kid.  His only friend was Anton (Steve Buscemi) who also loved magic, and they developed an act together that led to a very successful run at a Las Vegas hotel owned by Doug Munny (James Gandolfini, nicely showing the thuggishness under the veneer of geniality).   They were headliners.  They had their own theater.  And they had a series of beautiful assistants.  All were given the same blonde wig and all were called Nicole.  The most recent Nicole is Jane (Olivia Wilde).

But the act has gotten stale.  Burt has 70’s hair and is so slick with spray tan it may require slight of hand to keep from sliding out of his clothes.  As for the act, Burt is just phoning it in, waiting for his next empty sexual encounter.  He seems more excited by having the biggest bed in Vegas than by what goes on in it.  And audiences are excited by a new street performer named Steve Gray (Jim Carrey) known as “The Brain Rapist.”  What he does is not magic.  He does a series of dangerous stunts, most of which involves some form of mortification of the flesh.  That card an audience member selected from the deck?  He will slice his cheek open to pull it out, covered in blood but still bearing the name scrawled on it with a Sharpie.  He doesn’t just walk across hot coals; he spends the night on them, barbecuing himself.  “They’re calling him the future of magic,” Munny says.

Burt ends up alone and broke, with no place to live and “in need of rabbit food and birdseed.”  Finding the magic again will require him to break through the years of numbness and self-involvement.

There are a skit’s worth of good moments, mostly about Burt’s arrogance and cluelessness.  When Jane makes dinner for him in her apartment, he offers to clean up, but thinks that means putting the dishes outside her front door.  And Carell has a funny cry.  Carrey captures the faux mysticism of “endurance artists” like David Blaine, but there’s no pay-off in seeing him suffer.  Wilde is underused in the usual endlessly-patient-until-the-time-to-grow-up speech, especially frustrating given the film’s superficial claim to countering the marginalization of female characters.  Even Alan Arkin cannot make interesting the old-time magician who first inspired the young Burt to learn to make things disappear.  What this movie is missing is — magic.

Parents should know that this film includes sexual references and non-explicit situations, crude humor, drinking and drunkenness, scenes in a bar, a bully, comic drug use including drugs surreptitiously given to adults and children, strong language (many s-words, one f-word), and comic but dangerous stunts with graphic injuries.

Family discussion: What went wrong with the act and how did that relate to what went wrong with their friendship? What made Burt change his mind? To audiences really enjoy acts involving physical danger and mutilation? Which trick did you like the best and why?

If you like this, try: a terrific documentary about young magicians called “Make Believe”

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Not specified

Monster House

Posted on October 25, 2010 at 7:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language.
Profanity: Some crude schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: References to stealing medication to drug the monster
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and graphic peril, some characters injured or killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2006
Date Released to DVD: October 30, 2016
Amazon.com ASIN: B000IFRT2Y

My DVD pick this week is one of my favorites for Halloween. “Honey, I’m home” takes on a cheerfully creepy new meaning in “Monster House,” a fresh, fun, and deliciously scary animated film produced by Robert Zemeckis (“Back to the Future”) and Steven Spielberg (“Jurassic Park,” “Jaws”) and it is a great choice for a Halloween treat.
Every neighborhood has that house. You know, the one the little kids tiptoe past and the one where the bigger kids dare each other to touch the front door. In D.J’s neighborhood, it’s the house across the street, owned by mean Mr. Nebbercracker (voice of Steve Buscemi). He yells at any kids who come near the house or anyone who touches his lawn.

It’s just before Halloween, Mr. Nebbercracker is taken to the hospital, and D.J. (voice of Mitchel Musso) has been left with Zee (voice of Maggie Gyllenhaal), a teenage babysitter who pretends to be sweet and responsible in front of grown-ups, but who, once she knows D.J.’s parents have left, tells him to stay out of her way so she can hang out with her slacker boyfriend Bones (voice of Jason Lee).

D.J.’s best friend Chowder (voice of Sam Lerner) comes over, and they begin to observe the increasingly scary things happening at the Nebbercracker house. When Jenny (voice of Spencer Locke) comes to their neighborhood selling cookies and starts up the front walk to Mr. Nebbercracker’s house, D.J. and Chowder try to stop her. (She crisply informs them that if they are mentally challenged she is certified to teach them baseball.) But she discovers that the house is as dangerous as they say, and they decide to investigate.

This follows in the grand tradition of adventure stories with middle-school-aged heroes (and heroines), the big, scary world of the story standing in as a metaphor for the big, scary world of adolescence and adulthood. Jenny, D.J., and Chowder get no help from parents or the babysitter, not even from the police (voices of Kevin James and Nick Cannon). They have to learn to rely on skills they did not know they had. They show themselves and each other that they have the wisdom, curiosity, determination, loyalty, and courage to take on whatever lies beyond home, family, and all that is familiar.

The clever and involving script, the fluid and realistic movement of the characters (using the same rotoscope-style techniques developed for The Polar Express), and the unaffected and appealing voice talents of the young actors keep us on the side of the young adventurers. The house itself is imaginatively anthropomorphic. And the mystery is solved with a satisfying resolution that is sad and even a little scary but less spooky and more reassuring than the usual thriller.

Parents should know that this movie is intense, especially in its 3-D format, and may be overwhelming for young kids or those who are easily scared. Even though most of the frightening stuff is in the “boo!” or fun-scary category, it still may be overpowering for some audience members, even though by the end of the story almost everyone comes out of it as well as possible. There are some graphic images and some jump-out-at-you shocks. A character steals medication to sedate the monster. The resolution of the mystery may be reassuring to many in the audience but may be disturbing to others. Spoiler alert: the source of the house’s destructive power comes from an overweight woman whose cruel treatment led to madness and death. Parents should also know there is brief crude humor and potty jokes that should appeal to kids and a sweet kiss.
Families who see this movie should talk about how bullying and teasing can have profoundly damaging consequences. They should also talk about things that they once found scary and then discovered not to be so scary after all.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy scary comedies like “The Cat and the Canary” and “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.” More mature fans of scary movies will enjoy “Poltergeist.” Classic movies that beautifully evoke a child’s point of view on creepy neighborhood houses include “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Older audience members might appreciate the way producer Zemeckis made the same house look both inviting and terrifying in the otherwise unimpressive thriller “What Lies Beneath.”

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