My Little Pony: A New Generation

Posted on September 23, 2021 at 5:50 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Very mild peril and tension
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 24, 2021

Copyright 2021 Hasbro
“My Little Pony: A New Generation” follows in the tradition of previous media from the world of MLP: candy colors, poppy music, gentle humor, warm-hearted lessons about friendship, and basically a way to sell merchandise. We know where we are when it begins by reminding us that it is produced by Hasbro, a toy company.

The MLP toys could have been designed by algorithm to appeal to children. Like Pokemon, Paw Patrol, and boy bands, they are all about reassuring messages of friendship and teamwork. They have an assortment of cheery colors, and personalities — well, attributes — allowing a child to pick a favorite and collect them all. They have lots of hair to play with and style plus magical powers and problem-solving skill to spark fantasy play. I remember the bride MLP that lived with a child in our house for a while, white, with glittery hair, a hair brush, a veil, a big diamond ring that fit on her hoof, and no sign of (or need of) a groom, either stable groom or bridegroom. The MLP handlers know what kids like. Improbably, the “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” series was popular with college students for a while and somehow there were groups of adult male fans who called themselves “Bronies” and attend BronyCons. There is a documentary about them called “A Brony Tale.”

I prefer the flat, 2D-style animation to this movie’s 3D CGI modeling and some young fans may feel the same, but other than that it fits the algorithm nicely, with top talent providing the voices, catchy songs, and a sweet message of, no surprise, friendship.

In this iteration, the MLP have lost their magic and their friendship. The world has divided and the three groups — ponies, unicorns, and Pegasi have been taught to fear and consider themselves superior to each other, except for Sunny (Vanessa Hudgens) a brave little pony whose father taught her that all the different little horse creatures should be friends. When a unicorn named Izzy (Kimiko Glenn) comes to the area where the ponies live, everypony runs away. “Are we playing hide and seek?” she asks joyfully. But they are just scared, except for Sunny. Soon the pony and the unicorn team up to bring friendship and magic back to their world. It is cheerful and colorful and sweet as candy, with just a little bit of excitement and just enough problems to be solved with courage and teamwork.

Okay? We good? Anything else you’d like to know? Let me unpack some of the semiotics of this story for you. It is as much a sign of the unprecedented high sensitivities of our times as it is the content of the film, but the characters and messages of the film are likely to raise some parental eyebrows and perhaps some hackles as well. The pony children are all told lies in school about the unicorns and the Pegasi. The unicorns are told that the earth ponies are lazy, smell bad, and not very bight. Ponies are taught in school that the unicorns can read minds and fry ponies with laser beams from their horns. One of the parents is a war profiteer whose motto is “To be scared is to be prepared.” She dismisses calls for friendship and cooperation as “hugs and cupcakes.” Terrifying the ponies is good for her business. Another parent is a tyrannical ruler who lies to her people, telling them that she and her daughters have retained the magical powers the rest have lost. When she is found out she is derided as “phony pony full of baloney.” A law enforcement officer abuses his power. The only kind and loving adult is dead (subtly and off-screen, but absent and missed). Also, because this is 2021, one of the characters is a social media influencer, another is a hipster, and there is some hip-hop.

So, there’s a lot going on here for an animated movie about magical horse creatures. I am not sure whether this film is a reflection of the divisiveness of our times or a response to it. I do know that either way, despite the touchy times, no adults should feel criticized or diminished. Instead, they should recognize that the only message here is the real magic of trust, understanding, cooperation, and generosity.

Parents should know that this film includes some mild peril and references to bigotry, and subtle references to the loss of a parent. The adult characters are ineffectual, tyrannical or scaremongering.

Family discussion: When have you been a good friend? When have you learned that what you thought or feared turned out not to be true? How should the characters respond to the queen’s lie? How sneaky are you?

If you like this, try: the other “My Little Pony” movies and the television series — and the episode of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” where special guest Bill Clinton aces an MLP quiz.

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Coming to Fox January 31, 2016: Grease Live!

Posted on January 26, 2016 at 8:00 am

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6utokZTAwxs

It looks like a lot of fun — but caution, parents, there is some material in the show (based on the original play as well as the film) that may not be appropriate for younger children, including references to a possible teen pregnancy, concerns about promiscuity, and (spoiler alert) a “happy” ending that has a “good girl” acting like a “bad girl” to keep a boy.

The stars include “High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens, “Dance With the Stars'” Julianne Hough, and “Akeelah and the Bee’s” Keke Palmer — plus, Jeannie from the “Ellen” show.

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Based on a play Musical Remake Television

Gimme Shelter

Posted on January 23, 2014 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving mistreatment, some drug content, violence, and language, all concerning teens
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Abuse including attack by a parent
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: January 24, 2014
Date Released to DVD: April 28, 2014
Amazon.com ASIN: B00HW3EJQE

vanessa hudgens gimme shelterVanessa Hudgens gives a touching and sensitive performance in this fact-based story of a pregnant, homeless teenager. Both Hudgens and writer/director Ron Krauss moved into a shelter so that they could do justice to the stories of these young women.  That dedication and integrity lifts this above the Afterschool Special formula for an affecting drama that shows us the resilience and courage of girls who have to learn very quickly to be the loving parents they never had.

Hudgens plays Agnes, who insists on being called “Apple,” for reasons we do not learn until the end of the story.  We first see her hacking off her hair, whispering reassurance to herself as she gets in a cab to run away from her shrieking, strung-out mother (a feral Rosario Dawson).  She is going to find her wealthy father (Brendan Fraser), who has never seen her before.  She briefly stays with him, but it is clear that she does not fit in with his elegant wife and pampered children.  They do not trust her and she is not ready to trust anyone.  When they find out that she is pregnant, they pressure her to have an abortion.  She runs away again.

In a hospital, recovering from an accident, she meets a kind priest (James Earl Jones), who brings her to a shelter based on Several Sources, established by Kathy DiFiore, who, as she explains in one scene, was once homeless herself and as soon as she was able to take care of herself devoted her life to taking care of young women in need of support.  DiFiore is played by the always-outstanding Ann Dowd (“Compliance,” “Garden State”), with enormous compassion and strength.  Apple has a lot to overcome, including the fury of her mother, who wants her back so she can get the welfare money Apple and her baby will receive, but most of all, she has to learn how to be a part of a family, how to trust others, and how to trust herself.  Somewhere inside her, all along, there is the hope of a different life, almost overshadowed by the fear that she does not deserve it.  Hudgens shows us Apple’s ferocity, her vulnerability, all the ways she has been beaten down and all of the strength she has to keep coming back.  The result is a story that is touching and inspiring, with photos in the closing credits to show us that happy endings are not just for fairy tales.

Parents should know that this movie’s themes include homelessness, drug abuse, child abuse, teen pregnancy, abandonment, and homelessness.  There are portrayals of a brutal attack by a parent, a car crash, and tense and angry confrontations.

Family discussion:  Why did Agnes decide to be called Apple?  What did the girls learn from reading their files?  What did she find in the shelter that she could not find anywhere else?

If you like this, try: “Riding in Cars with Boys,” “Juno,” and “Homeless to Harvard”

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Based on a true story DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Stories about Teens

Interview: Vanessa Hudgens on Playing a Pregnant, Homeless Teenager in “Gimme Shelter”

Posted on January 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

BUS TO COPS:  VANESSA HUDGENS "APPLE" IN BUS 3.tifVanessa Hudgens gives a performance of extraordinary courage and sensitivity in “Gimme Shelter,” based on the true story of a teenage girl who is pregnant and homeless. Her name is Agnes, but she insists on being called Apple.  Both Hudgens and writer-director Ron Krauss moved into a shelter run by Kathy DiFiore, played by the magnificent Ann Dowd in the film, to immerse themselves in the lives and experiences of these girls.

Hudgens, Krauss, and DiFiore were in Washington to present the film, and the next day Hudgens met with a small group of journalists to talk about the experience of preparing for and making the movie and why it was important to her.  When she first read the script, she was immediately drawn to “what a strong character she was, the fact that she was a real survivor who took her future into her own hands.  I just love strong women.  I always love the idea of transformation, like Sharon Stone in ‘Monster.’  It’s amazing to watch an actor and not see the actor, just the character.  I love that aspect of acting and I knew it was going to require that.”  She talked about working with Rosario Dawson, who plays her angry, manipulative, drug-addicted mother. “Everything was really present and in the moment, discovering as we went.  Of course the fighting scenes we blocked out so no one was hurt.  But she just understood the role, we already had a good relationship as people, so we just did our thing.”  She talked about getting to know the girls in the shelter.  “The fact that I was there and wanted to tell their story, to make it a glimpse into their lives and not an over-dramatization.  They saw my passion for the project.  They knew I was really invested in it and this was not something I was going to take light-heartedly.  I stayed in the shelter for a couple of weeks.  I was doing the chores with them, I didn’t put myself on a different level.  The one I got closest to was Darlisha, the one who had the real experience with her mother that we see Apple go through in the film.  I was surprised by how uncensored Darlisha was, how open.”

IMG_8850She told us what she looks for in a role.  “I’m very selective about the things that I do.  I first listen to my intuition, my gut.  I love being able to be a chameleon and trip people out by being a different person.  I look for a character with depth, something real, something I have not done before, situations I have never personally been in, the further away from me, the more of a challenge, the cooler.”  As she created the character, “In every moment, I tried to find something that was Apple, not Vanessa, playing with the lip rings, the way I spoke, touching myself, making every moment a bit more harsh and ugly, more raw, more real.”  She appreciated “an instinct connection” with Krauss, “a magical dance connection.  We just kind of got each other.  I put him in his place and he put me in my place.  He could do it with just a look.  Because we had both lived in the world of the shelter, that became normal for us.  There were times when I wanted to punch him!  But his sheer dedication and motivation — I could never have done this without him.”  The timing of the film and the character felt right for where she was.  “I feel the movie came to me when I was at a point of transition myself, stepping into the world more, trying to figure myself out…I pushed myself harder than I ever had.  It was a big touchstone for me.  Afterward, I looked into the mirror and saw Apple.  I didn’t see Vanessa anymore.  I didn’t feel comfortable in my skin.  It was kind of a disaster.  That was the lowest part for me, just finding myself again.  But then I got myself back on my feet and continued to work.  Now that it is relevant in my life again, the journey is still continuing.  I see signs everywhere I go.  It is such a God-driven film.  It has taken on a life so much bigger than the movie, connecting with women and bringing healing.  It’s transcended into such a beautiful thing.  It’s a gift.”

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Actors Interview

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Posted on February 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild adventure action and brief mild language
Profanity: Some brief schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Action-style peril, minor injuries, some large insects, scary animals with big teeth, and some gross and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, mild sexist humor
Date Released to Theaters: February 10, 2012
Date Released to DVD: June 4, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B007R6D74G

Like its predecessor, Journey to the Center of the Earth, this is a well-paced and highly entertaining family film made with good humor, panache, and imagination.  Josh Hutcherson returns as Sean Anderson, a teenager whose last expedition was in search of his father.  Refreshingly, it does not take itself seriously.  Even more refreshingly, it takes the idea of adventure seriously, with a welcome reminder that the actual thrill of exploring beats even the most entertaining movie or game.

Sean receives an encrypted radio signal and suspects it may be from his grandfather, Alexander, an explorer.  Sean’s stepfather Hank (Duane “The Rock” Johnson) is a Navy veteran who once one a prize for code-breaking.   Sean does not want to have anything to do with Hank, but cannot resist letting him help solve the code.  When it appears to be coming from Sean’s grandfather, with a clue that leads them to more clues in classic stories of island adventure by Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Jonathan Swift, Sean is determined to find it.  Hank persuades Sean’s mother (Kristen Davis), to let them try because it is the first real opportunity he has had to get close to his stepson.

They fly to Palau, where the only person crazy and desperate enough to try to take them to an uncharted and possibly imaginary island in the middle of the most dangerous storms on the ocean is Gabato (Luis Guzman, providing awkward comic relief).  Sean and Hank get into Gabato’s rattletrap of a plane with Gabato’s beautiful daughter Kailani (“High School Musical’s” Vanessa Hudgens) as a navigator.  Like the Millennium Falcon being sucked into the Death Star by the tractor beam, Gabato’s plane is pulled onto the island by the swirl of the storm for a crash landing that shatters it to shards.

Sean is thrilled to find his grandfather (a game and very dapper Michael Caine) and the group is enchanted by the lush beauty of the tropical island and by its big/small reversals.  Animals that are big in the rest of the world are small, and animals that are small are big.  So the elephants are the size of border collies and the lizards are the size of dinosaurs.  Alexander has created a “Swiss Family Robinson”-style treehouse and has discovered the ruins of an ancient city.  But when Hank discovers that the island is sinking and will be submerged in a few days, they have to find a way to get back home.  They set off for the coast. Alexander at first is hostile to Hank but, like Sean, learns to appreciate him after he shows how skillful and dependable he is — and after he pulls out a uke and sings a very respectable and funny version of “Wonderful World.”

Director Brad Peyton keeps the characters and the plot moving briskly and manages to bring in some nice moments as Alexander, Hank, and Gabato demonstrate different styles of fatherhood.  Kailani reminds Sean that it may be bad when parents embarrass you but it is worse when they don’t even try to provide support and guidance.  The humor is silly, but reassuring, not condescending to the young audience.  It balances the scenes of peril as the group tries to find an escape.  However, Gabato is so over-the-top he is likely to grate on anyone over age 10.  It palpably conveys the fun of exploration and discovery and the pleasures of being part of a team.  The production design by Bill Boes is spectacular, especially Alexander’s wittily imagined house, the ancient city, and the 140-year-old submarine that starts up like Woody Allen’s VW Bug in “Sleeper” after a unique jump start.  It perfectly matches the fantasy-adventure-comedy tone of the story, where you can hold a a baby elephant in your arms and fly on the back of a giant bee.  “Are you ready for an adventure?” characters ask more than once.  This movie will have you ready to say, “Yes.”

As an added treat, there’s an “What’s Opera, Doc”-ish 3D Daffy Duck cartoon before the film, with audio from the original Daffy and Elmer voice talent, Mel Blanc.

Parents should know that this film has characters in peril, minor injuries, some icky and scary-looking animals with big teeth, some jump-out-at-you surprises, some potty and briefly crude humor, and brief schoolyard language.

Family discussion:  How many different styles of parenting were portrayed in this movie?  Which do you think is best?  What adventure would you like to go on?

If you like this, try: “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and books by Jules Verne

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3D Action/Adventure Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Family Issues Fantasy Series/Sequel
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