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Animated, Movie Reviews

Curious George: Royal Monkey

Animated / Children's 2019 / 86 minutes RATING: 7/10 In this homage to The Prince and the Pauper, our monkey friend George accidentally switches places with his simian look-alike Philippe, the kingdom of Simiana's "royal monkey." While the two could be twins, they couldn't act more different: George is all fun-loving and childish irresponsibility, and Philippe is reliable and downright somber. This is the fourth Curious George feature film (though there is no number, the events take place right after Curious George 3) but it's second only to the original in charm. The one criticism I'd have is pacing. It is a bit slower than some of the other films, so even as my kids absolutely loved it, I would have enjoyed seeing George get himself into a few more tight spots. However, even a relatively calm George is a very fun George, making this one that the whole family, young and old, will be sure to enjoy. As they often explain in the also charming TV series, George is a monkey so sometimes he does things we shouldn't. That's a good way of letting kids know they better not do what George does, but our youngest will still sometimes get quite stressed at George's antics because she understands that, well, if she were in George's shoes, what he's doing would be quite naughty! So I appreciated how in this film the writers managed to so arranged things that the trouble George gets into isn't his fault (at least for the most part). While watching TV, George spots a commercial for a new theme park called "Castleland" where every guest is "treated like royalty" and the man in the yellow hat tells George that if he's good, he'll arrange for a visit. So when, after the monkey mix-up, George ends up with the Simiana royal family, he isn't surprised that people start treating him like royalty. And he isn't at all naughty going off with this other family, because he thinks this is the visit that the man in the yellow hat had arranged. If you know the Prince and the Pauper then you might be thrown just a bit by the one-sidedness of the lessons learned here. George teaches the royal family to be less uptight, and the man in the yellow hat teaches Phillipe to be less uptight too. Was there a lesson for George to learn? If there was, our monkey friend missed it. Oh well. I guess that just means there'll have to be a Curious George 5. I'm looking forward to it. For a preview of the film's first ten minutes, check out the video below. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island

Animated / Children 82 minutes / 2018 RATING: 6 out of 10 My kids loved this - we rented it for two nights, and they asked to watch it twice. So why give it just a 6 rating? Because what makes it attractive to gentle, easily scared, children is also what makes it a below average film: there is no conflict. Summer vacation has arrived, and Grandfather Alden wants to take his four grandchildren to an island their family owns. He leaves them there, and with the exception of a couple minutes when the children are trapped in a cave just as the tide comes in, this is an entirely calm film. Grandfather Alden leaves them on the island alone, but the only other "danger" they have to deal with is a leaky roof. This is a sequel to the slightly better 2013 film The Boxcar Children. Both movies are based on the beloved 150+ book series originated by Gertrude Chandler Warner way back in 1924. According to the bonus features on this DVD, Warner set out to make a story for Grade 1 and 2 students that would use the 100 most important words for them to learn. I found that rather telling – it makes the books out to be more about learning vocabulary than presenting kids with a rip-roaring adventure. And if that was her intent, she has succeeded. CAUTIONS The only caution I can think to include is that the movies make no mention of God (Heaven comes up once, but not God) and on such a beautiful island, where it would be hard not to break into song and shout His praises, this is a glaring absence (kids might not notice God's absence, but mom and dad can bring it up). In the series a brief reference to evolution pops up in every second or third book, and that, along with God's absence in the books and films, makes me suspect that author Gertrude Warner was probably not a Christian. CONCLUSION So far I'm not exactly singing the praises of the book series, or this, the latest film based on them. So why recommend the movie at all? Because younger kids, particularly those who are familiar with the Boxcar Children already, will absolutely love it. My critique of the book and this movie is not that there is anything wrong with them; it's only that there is nothing remarkable about them. The acting is okay, the animation is middling, and the story, from a parental perspective, is on the boring side. But on the other hand, there are no language, violence, sexuality, or other concerns. And young children, up to maybe 8 or 9 years old, will enjoy the familiar characters and the cozy comfy safety of this no-conflict story. It is a nice safe film for your family movie night. Kids should learn to endure story tension – their own life's story will not be free of it – but when they are young a small dose of fluff every now and again won't hurt.  Jon Dykstra blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com....