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Family, Movie Reviews

Odd Squad: The movie

Children's / Family 65 minutes / 2016 Rating: 7/10 Odd Squad is an organization founded to correct the "strange, the weird, and most especially the odd" wherever they might occur around the world. The organization itself is odd in that it is run entirely by children. While there's an educational vibe, with basic math and logic used to solve most problems, this is all about the fun, and not just for the kids. In a nod to James Bond, there are agents, cartoonish villains, gadgets galore, the science types who invent them, and a leader known only by her letter, "Miss O." But, thankfully, there isn't any of Bond's violence and sex. Odd Squad, the TV show, has been in production for 8 years, which has resulted in child actors aging out of their roles. So since 2014, there have been three "seasons," each with its own set of agents. Odd Squad: The Movie involves the first and second sets teaming up for the first time (which was very exciting for our girls). So who do they have to battle? Well, it turns out, nobody. A new rival adult-based agency, the Weird Team, is also dealing with all things weird and odd, and fixing things so quickly that Odd Squad doesn't have any cases to solve. So the film begins with Odd Squad disbanding. How's that for an unexpected twist! However, Weird Team may not be quite as effective as they first seemed. Their fixes are coming unfixed... or maybe they were never really fixed in the first place! Whatever the case may be, it's clear the world still needs Odd Squad. Cautions There aren't any notable cautions for the film, so the only quibbles would be about the TV show that spawned it. In the 20 or so episodes we've watched so far (out of more than 100) one dealt with the number 13 and bad luck. The story was actually about addition – they were finding all sorts of ways that basketball players' uniforms could add up to 13 – and the bad luck was of a goofy sort. Still, we hit the pause button so we could discuss the idea of luck with our kids. In a couple of other episodes, there was passing mention made about the organization being around for millions of years, which presumes the evolutionary time scale. But, so far, that's really it. Conclusion The film is goofy and creative, and especially fun because it had the two teams working together. While the target audience is in the 6-10 age range, it'll be a great one for a family movie night. You can watch the movie trailer below, and to get a feel for Odd Squad you can watch a full episode from the show by clicking here). ...

Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Runner from Ravenshead

Children's film 81 minutes / 2010 Rating: 7/10 Both the charm and the kitsch of this film come from the producers' decision to fill all the roles with children. They aren't playing children, mind you. Nope, these pipsqueaks are playing full-size adventurers and the result is both bizarre and delightful! We jump right into the action, with our hero Henry taking on a whole tribe of savages. He engineers a one-man rescue of a tot tied to a pole but, just as he's about to give the savages another licking, we discover it's all Henry's daydream. In real life Henry is no adventurer; he's just a janitor cleaning the floors at the City of Refuge Guide Service. Here's where the film takes a leap from daydream to allegory. The Guide Service sends out guides to help escapees from the terrible Ravenshead Prison find their way to the City of Refuge. The guides also help escapees get away from the wardens who are trying to track them down and return them to prison. As near as I can figure, the Guide Service represents Christians who point people to Jesus (our refuge). Ravenshead Prison is sin, and the wardens represent temptation that wants to pull us back to sin. Parents may have to pause the movie on occasion to explain things to the young target audience, but if they don't really understand the allegory, it doesn't matter. This is also just a chase film, complete with derring-do, rocket cars, explosions, hijinks, and fight scenes. And all of it done on a pint-sized scale. Now, our hero Henry desperately wants to be a guide but his boss isn't sure about him. It's only because guides are in short supply that Henry finally gets his chance to head out and help an escaped prisoner by the name of Sam. Sam is as headstrong as Henry is inexperienced, and this odd couple pairing ensures there's lots of drama and loads of action as they try desperately to stay one step ahead of the wardens. Caution The only caution concerns escapee Sam. When she's first brought to Ravenshead her tears are flowing, and I suspect this little actress might be too believable for some young viewers. Parents will have to remind their soft-hearted kidlets that this is just a movie and not real. Conclusion I had low expectations; I mean, with an all-kid cast, how could I not? But the cute factor is enormous, and enough to keep parents smiling throughout. For its pre-school and elementary-aged target audience, to see kids their age fighting bad guys, doing stunts, and escaping on a zip-line in a rocket-powered crate is going to be fantastic fun. What's more, you can watch it for free! It's free with commercials on YouTube, while North American readers can view it without commercials on RedeemTV, though you will need to sign up for an account. If you like this one, you'll also enjoy a sequel of sorts, done with kids actors too and by the same production company, called The Defense of New Haven. To get a sneak peak, check out the trailer below. ...

Animated, Articles, Movie Reviews

Batman as a cucumber? The best of Veggietales...

The VeggieTales phenomenon began back in 1993 with the release of their first video, Where’s God When I’m Scared? which, like all that would follow, starred Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. While it was childish fare, there was a nod to parents in how this duo was patterned after the classic comedic pairings of Laurel & Hardy and Abbot & Costello. Bob was the easily exasperated straight man to Larry’s energetic innocent goof. Together they'd introduce each video by reading questions from children. The questions range from asking how to handle peer pressure, to wondering if it’s important to share toys with little brothers. They'd be answered with stories acted out by a host of other Veggies, including Junior Asparagus, Jean-Claude the French Pea, Pa Grape and Laura Carrot. Afterward Bob and Larry return to discuss what kids have learned, and then look up a relevant Bible verse on the computer Qwerty. That first video was followed by 47 more, and two television series, two feature films, innumerable books, a handful of CDs, and, of course, plush toys. And today, nearly 30 years later, the series is still going strong. But while VeggieTales at their very best, are downright brilliant, there is a danger in being silly while teaching Scriptural lessons – sometimes the goofiness extends to how they handle Scripture. So the quality of the videos runs the gamut from brilliant to bad, with the best being spoofs of cultural icons (Batman, Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes...) and the worst being their careless Bible story retellings. With the near 50 videos out there, I haven't watched them all, so here's just a selection of the best, followed by a few examples of how their biblical stories fall short. The best Larry-Boy and the Fib from Outer Space 30 minutes / 1997 Rating: 8/10 This is our first glimpse of Larry the Cucumber’s alter ego, Larry-Boy, a super-hero with suction cup ears. This Batman spoof is complete with his own Larry-mobile, Larry-cave, and butler named Alfred. In this first adventure, a tiny alien named Fibrilious Minimus (“You can call me Fib for short”) encourages Junior Asparagus to lie to get out of trouble. But one lie quickly leads to another and before he knows it Junior finds that his little friend Fib is now 20 stories tall. Can Larry-Boy stop the Fib from outer space? Actually, no. Bumblyburg’s resident superhero is completely confounded by the giant Fib. In the end only Junior can stop the Fib, by finally confessing to all his lies. In his further adventures, Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed (1999), Larry-Boy and the Bad Apple (2006), and VeggieTales: The League of Incredible Vegatables (2012) our spandex-clad cucumber consistently shows himself to be a rather ineffective super-hero. It's only with the help of his friends, that good does eventually prevail. In addition to the previous four videos, Larry-Boy also has his own 4-episode, 2-d animation series called Larryboy: the Cartoon Adventures. It's an old-school "flat" animation look, as opposed to VeggieTales' typical computer-animated, 3-d look, but it's every bit as fun. Because this is a Batman spoof, there are villains to fight, and consequently more action, and more tension than normal. So in our house, these weren't really appreciated by the pre-school crew, but that changed as they got a bit older. Madame Blueberry 37 minutes / 1998 Rating: 8/10 Madame Blueberry is a story about a very blue berry who thinks she needs more stuff to be happy. She already has quite a lot, but some of her friends have more than she does and that makes her very blue. Fortunately for Madame Blueberry a new Stuff-Mart has just been built next door and the store’s salesmen are quite eager to help her shop. Their sales pitch is far from subtle, “Happiness waits at the Stuff-Mart – all you need is more…stuff!” but it convinces Madame Blueberry. On the way to the store though, she notices a poor family celebrating their little girl’s birthday. They have hardly anything and yet they’re happy and thankful to God. But how could that be? When Madame Blueberry encounters a little boy happy to own a single red ball she finally realizes being greedy never makes you happy, but that “a thankful heart is a happy heart!" I can't find a trailer for this one, but here's a clip... Lord of the Beans 51 minutes / 2005 Rating: 8/10 This is for parents who've seen Lord of the Rings, and for kids who are too young to see it. On his 122nd birthday, Billboy Baggypants decides to leave everything behind, including his magic bean, which can give its owner anything they want. Billboy is leaving because, despite the bean's power, he is still unsatisfied. So off he goes, bequeathing the bean to his nephew Toto, who goes on a quest to find out how he should use it. Toto is accompanied by Ear-a-corn the ranger, Randalph the Wizard, Leg-o-lamb the elf, and Grumpy the dwarf who will protect him from the fearful "sporks." If you haven't seen the Lord of the Rings, or you have, and nothing in preceding paragraph strikes you as amusing, then this isn't for you. But it is a spot-on spoof, with the lesson this time being that we should find out how to use the gifts God gives us. Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler 52 minutes / 2006 Rating: 7/10 There are two stories in thi sone, the first a spoof on Don Quixote and the second, longer one a fun take on Sherlock Holmes. Holmes (Larry) relies heavily on the insights of his friend, Dr. Watson (Bob), but doesn't share any of the credit for the crimes they solve. So when one of the United Kingdom's greatest treasures is stolen – the Golden Ruler – Dr. Watson decides to let Holmes solve this one on his own...and that doesn't go so well for him. The Golden Ruler is a play off the Golden Rule, with Dr. Watson simply wanting Holmes to treat him as Holmes would want to be treated himself. It's another brilliant spoof that mom and dad will enjoy too. MacLarry & The Stinky Cheese Battle 45 minutes / 2013 Rating: 8/10 What if Rome was right next to Scotland? And what if the leaders of these two nations were former friends caught up in an epic pranking battle with one another? That's the premise, with Larry playing the son of the Barber-barian leader Chug Norious (think Chuck Norris) who just doesn't fit in. While everyone else likes pranking, he likes inventing. The lesson here is to appreciate other's gifts, even when they are so very different from your own. Veggies in Space: The Fennel Frontier 48 minutes / 2014 Rating: 8/10 This whole episode is a series of Star Trek and Star Wars reference (along with some quick 2001, Doctor Who, Planet of the Apes, and even Back to the Future references) that the kids won't really notice, but mom and dad may enjoy spotting. There are the silly/clever jokes for the parents that they'll only get, like an actual wooden bridge acting as the captain's bridge, and a crew member using a floating piece of wood to record his diary...aka his log. Such dad humor abounds! Larry and Bob are basically Kirk and Spock, and the lesson they need to learn is sharing. That's a lesson that many a kid can benefit from, so parents can appreciate the leap off this episode offers to have some good discussions on the topic. There's more action than normal, with giant robot fights, but nothing too scary. One language concern: a character's use of the phrase "holy guacamole." Tomato Sawyer & Huckleberry Larry's Big River Rescue 49 minutes / 2008 Rating: 7/10 This time Bob and Larry offer their own take on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Fin. It's another good spoof, though the moral of the story – to help others – is more than a bit heavy-handed this time. How so? Bob and Larry play America settlers who need to stay on their plot of land for 5 years to be able to claim it and as our story begins they have just a few days to go. Then an escapee prisoner, Big Jim, arrives – he's been framed for a crime he never committed and he needs their help to find his mama. And that would mean leave their land claim. Thus Bob and Larry (or rather Tom and Huck) face the dilemma of helping Big Jim or keeping the land they've been working 5 years for. But Christians don't have to casually abandon everything they are doing and working towards to help someone in need; they can work through their options and possibilities. So why, for example, couldn't they bring Jim back to their land claim and help him find his mama after they secure their land? It's not unChristian to try for a win/win situation. That said, it is just a cartoon. The "biblical" bunch Some years back Reformed commentator Gary Demar wrote a booklet called Meaty Tales: Should Talking Vegetables Be Used to Teach the Bible? His answer was an emphatic no, with his criticism focused specifically on the VeggieTale biblical adaptations. He argued these accounts were "trivializing and truncating the Bible’s message." “Talking vegetables teaching a lesson about lying by using a giant fib from outer space? That’s cute. And a dancing cucumber serenading little tikes with songs about his hairbrush and his water buffalo? How charming. But making the story of King David and Bathsheba into King George and the Ducky . . . is everyone else ok with that?” The Bible stories began with an adaptation of Daniel in the Lions' Den in their very first video, Where’s God When I’m Scared? And as Demar puts it, we could see from the start that "The VeggieTellers are way too liberal in the use of their literary license." Sometimes that "liberality" is hard to understand: the Veggie version has Daniel (played by Larry Cucumber) interpreting Darius' dream when the Bible tells us it was Nebuchadnezzar. Why this change? Other times the alteration might be understandable, though no less problematic. The Veggie version has jealous wisemen (played by green onions)  plot Daniel's doom via a song and dance number – they trick Darius into signing a decree that forbids bowing to anyone other than the king. Daniel breaks this new law by praying to God, and is thrown into the lions’ den. Afterwards, when he emerges unscathed, the wise men run away. In reality, these wise men were thrown into the den, and “before they reached the floor of the den the lions overpowered them and crushed their bones” (Dan 6:24). Not only are the wise men punished in this horrible fashion, even their wives and children were consumed by the lions. In a cartoon intended for kids it might seem sensible to make this G-rated substitution for what would otherwise be an R-rated event. But that the real events would be unsuitable for a children's cartoon isn't a reason to recast reality in a "nicer" light – it's a reason not to make a cartoon about that reality. This isn't the only time VeggieTales has felt free to insert a “nicer” endings to a biblical tale. In Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen Haman plots against the Jews but instead of trying to kill them he attempts to banish them to the "Island of Perpetual Tickling." Are nicer endings really such a problem? Well, just consider how many Christians would be shocked to read an Old Testament passage in which God demands the slaughter of women and children. In a quest to embrace the God of love many Christians prefer to forget that He also demands justice and in fact can be wrathful as well. By inserting these “nicer” ending VeggieTales actually hide the true character of God from children. And since children are likely to view these videos repeatedly, and read the corresponding Bible passages infrequently, that is real damage being done. Even when the Veggie version is fairly faithful – as happens in Dave and the Giant Pickle – it's still going to be comical – here we have a cute David, played by Junior Asparagus. How often is cute and comical going to be a good match for the tone of the biblical text? King George and the Ducky is, as Demar noted, based on King David’s sordid fling with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11&12). To pull off the G-rated version, the object of the King's covetous lust, Bathsheba, is replaced with a rubber ducky. Yup, you read that right, a rubber ducky. The king already has several hundred rubber duckies, but he wants Thomas’s rubber ducky so he sends Thomas off to the “Great Pie War.” Demar comments: "Putting aside the issue of whether it’s appropriate to turn Bible characters into vegetables, the VeggieTales rendition of the inspired Bible stories are inaccurate and hopelessly trivial. If my Bible memory serves me, Uzziah was killed when David sent him to the front lines of the war, and Bathsheba lost her baby that was conceived through her adulterous affair with David. To tell the stories in any other way is unbiblical. Children can understand the basics of unfaithfulness and murder without resorting to the use of bathtub toys." Perhaps the worst of the Veggie versions is Josh and the Big Wall, a "lesson in obedience." If you read Joshua 4-6 you’ll see this is one of the few stretches where Israel obeyed God without question. However, the Veggie version pretends the Israelites are questioning God at every opportunity. The VeggieTellers could have chosen almost any other point in Israel’s history to highlight Israel's rebellion, but instead the exception, when Israel is on its best behavior. And since there is no rebellion at this point, the writers simply make it up. They also contradict Scripture when Bob the Tomato comments that, “God never said it was going to be easy – no, the people of Jericho hit them with everything they had.” Actually, God did say it was going to be easy. All they had to do was walk around the city for seven successive days and God would knock the walls down for them – there was no need for a siege; God had given the city into their hands. In this whole story the scriptwriters don't just play fast and loose with Scripture; they shamelessly turn it on its head. Based on the producers' mishandling of other biblical tales, and the impossibility of cracking wise while still giving God's Word its reverent due, I'd suggest giving their other bible stories a miss too. They include: Noah's Ark Jonah: A VeggieTale Movie Abe and the Amazing Promise – about Abraham and Sarah The Ballad of Little Joe – about Joseph and his multi-colored coat Babysitter in Denile – about baby Moses left in the Nile Moe and the Big Exit – about Moses and the Exodus Gideon – Tuba Warrior Other lowlights Beauty and Beast has always been a creepy story, what with the father willing to leave his daughter behind to save his own skin. The Veggie version, Beauty and the Beet, improves on the original by improving the dad – this time he doesn't leave his daughter behind, but instead acts as the manager of their family band, the Veggietones. But then the story gets creepy in an entirely different way. The main song the Veggietones sing, "Show You Love," is all about ignoring friends and family's advice and dating the boy they think is no good, and attributing this foolish stubbornness to a directive from God. How did anyone think this was a good song to pitch to preteens? Overall cautions I'll mention one overall caution for the series: no one takes God's name in vain, but the Veggies do, with some regularity, say "Gee." This is not Jesus' name, but it is close enough that, like "Geez" we don't want our children saying it. And because it is close, I just wonder why Christian writers can't steer clear. Conclusion While the writers too often jump straight from reverence to irreverence, they've also crafted a collection of videos that are wonderfully and unabashedly brilliant. It's when they steer clear of Bible stories, and make use of material that doesn't demand the same reverence, that their comic genius is genius indeed....

Animated, Movie Reviews

Adventures in Odyssey: The Knight Travellers

Animated / Children's 17 x 27 min episodes / 1991-2003 Rating: 7/10 Back in 1987, Focus on the Family started a radio drama series for Christian families called "Adventures in Odyssey," and it is still running today, more than 900 episodes later. It also spawned 17 animated episodes, the first of which is The Knight Travellers. It's clear from the start of the first episode that viewers are expected to have some familiarity with the radio original, as main characters John Avery Whittaker ("Whit" for short) and Eugene Meltsner aren't really introduced. For those that don't know, Whit is a lovable grandfatherly figure and an inventor and Eugene is his geeky, cheerful, and probably early twenties, assistant. In this first episode, some bad guys have stolen his "Imagination Station" invention which Whit designed to allow people to travel back in time, at least in their imaginations, to find out what life was like back then. However, the bad guys have turned it into a "Manipulation Station" so they can use it to control people's minds and get rich. As regularly happens, Whit gets some pint-sized help, this time from 10-year-old Dylan Taylor and his dog Sherman (who aren't from the radio dramas). Cautions If you are familiar with the radio show, then it won't surprise you that these videos can have some tension to them. In this episode, Dylan has to contend with a crocodile, a giant boa constrictor, and a smooth-talking, and iron-mace-swinging, evil knight. In the next episode, Dylan and the new neighbor girl have an ongoing argument that continues on through the episode and ends in a hospital trip. In Episode 3, Dylan's disobedience leads to a runaway mower destroying some prize flower gardens. Everything turns out alright in the end, and, of course, lessons are learned. But the sibling arguments, the menacing villains, and the narrow escapes, will be too much for some sensitive viewers. This series is meant to teach lessons, and there are a couple morals to the initial story. The first – that true treasures are not found in toy catalogs or toy stores but come from God – is true enough. But the second moral is problematic. Whit tells the main bad guy that: "Our hope lies in something you can never control or conquer. Our _______" If you would have filled in that blank with "Our God" then you understand why Whit's answer – "Our faith" – is misdirected. Without God to preserve us, our faith would be conquerable. It is Jesus who is unconquerable. That's a point worth raising with your kids. Also problematic, is the third episode, where Dylan is initially irresponsible, so the lesson here is responsibility. What goes unaddressed is how Dylan, in an attempt to make up for past mistakes, risks and almost loses his life to save some bird eggs. This is presented as brave, but in treating his life as of no more importance than that of a bird's, Dylan is actually being irresponsible. These instances underscore how, even though this is a Christian show, there is a real need for parental guidance and discussion – they can't be treated as "hit play, and walk away." Conclusion I've watched the first half dozen episodes, and the animation and writing is comparable to Hanna-Barbera productions like The Flintstones or The Jetsons. While this is too childish for teens, parents who remember Adventures in Odyssey from their youth will enjoy this for the nostalgia, and their younger kids - those who can handle some tension - will too. I'd rate all of the episodes we've seen a 7 out of 10. There were two "seasons" to the animation series, and while it doesn't seem too important to watch them in order, The Knight Travellers does introduce us to Dylan so it is probably the best place to start. The episodes all seem to be 27 minutes, so in total there's about seven hours worth of viewing. Original Series (1991-1998) 1 – The Knight Travellers (1991) 2 – A Flight to the Finish (1991) 3 – A Fine Feathered Frenzy (1992) 4 – Shadow of a Doubt (1993) 5 – Star Quest (1993) 6 – Once Upon an Avalanche (1994) 7 – Electric Christmas 8 – Go West, Young Man 9 – Someone to Watch Over Me 10 – In Harm's Way 11 – A Twist in Time 12 – A Stranger Among Us 13 – Baby Daze Series 2 (2000-2003) 1 – The Last Days of Eugene Meltsner 2 – Escape from the Forbidden Matrix 3 – The Caves of Qumran 4 – Race to Freedom You can see The Knight Travellers trailer below. You can find the show on DVD or as a download at Apple TV and Christianbooks.com. And it is also streaming on Amazon.com. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Jack and the Beanstalk

Children's 1952 / 83 minutes Rating: 7/10 Bud Abbott and Lou Costello star in their own version of this classic tale. The story begins with the desperate-for-work pair signing up for a night's work as last-minute babysitters. We get to the fairy-tale part when Costello asks the boy they are sitting to read him a story. Then, when we shift from the real world to the fairy tale, the film switches over from a sepia-toned black and white to full color, like happens in The Wizard of Oz. And also like Oz, the people populating this fairyland look awfully familiar. While the story continues on in the usual way, there are some wrinkles, including Jack (Costello) getting a buddy to come along for the adventure – Abbott is the village butcher who wants to retrieve his stolen cow. A princess and prince are two more addition, both of them kidnapped by the giant and held for ransom. This is the romantic angle, the two of them starting as strangers, unable to see each other in their adjoining cells, but falling in love as they talk and sing to one another through the bars. When we meet the villain of the piece, parents might be surprised to see that he's only 7 or 8 feet tall – big, sure, but are we calling that a giant? But that only shows this is intended for children, more than families. Sure, mom and dad can come along for the ride, and they'll like lots of bits of it too, but this is meant for the undiscerning younger viewer who isn't going to find fault with a short giant, a singing harp whose lips don't move, or duels done with bending rubber swords. They'll laugh the first, second, and third time that Jack trips or gets bonked on the head, even as mom and dad will get their main enjoyment vicariously, watching their kids. I should mention one joke that parents will have to explain. At one point Costello inadvertently mixes some gunpowder into the chicken feed, and while I won't give away what happens, kids who have never seen a powder horn will have to be clued into what just happened if they are going to get the joke. Cautions A minor caution would be that the boy they are babysitting is uppity...but mom and dad can point that out. The main caution is with the physical humor. The fights with the giant are all played to comic effect, and I think today's kids will get that. The only scene I found off-putting was in the black and white conclusion, where Abbott slaps Costello for sleeping on the job. Costello seems to feel no ill effects, but I mention it only because it happened in the "real" world and isn't the kind of thing you'd see in today's children's films – this is the slap in slapstick, and it just struck me as mean, not funny. Conclusion This is a good film for the kids, but in need of some parental guidance because of the slapstick. For the parents, it is a little slow, and a little too silly, but still enjoyable overall. The film's copyright has expired which has allowed all sorts of publishers to put out their own tweaked versions. That means you kind find copies that are entirely black and white, and the different versions vary in length from 78 to 83 minutes. So be sure you find a good one. You can watch Jack and the Beanstalk in low resolution for free down below, but better quality versions are widely available on all sorts of streaming services. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Defense of New Haven

Children's 2016 / 82 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is a wonderfully bizarre adventure: a steampunk Christian allegoric comedy adventure, with every character played by a child actor, even though the characters are adults. Our hero, Alec, is a one-armed man who gets recruited by a fully-bearded six-year-old to carry a secret message to the city's miniature-steamboat-driving defensive forces so that they'll be able to stop gasmask-wearing raiders. That is a sentence I never imagined writing, but this is a movie I would have never imagined seeing. And it is both as cheezy and as fantastic. The kids deliver their lines like you'd expect children to do, and you either have to be okay with that or you won't enjoy a moment of it. But for its preschool target audience, this won't be a hindrance. That audience will be entranced by the set: the city of New Haven is proportioned perfectly for its pint-sized inhabitants, complete with narrow cobblestone streets, treacherous back alleys, medieval-style buildings, and canals for the miniature steamboats. It is amazing! I can't really think of any cautions other than this isn't a movie for older kids, or at least the sort that roll their eyes. If an older brother or sister can enjoy things vicariously, then they'll find it a treat to watch their little siblings hoot and holler all the way through this one. And that'll be the fun for mom and dad too. You can check out the trailer below and watch the film for free at RedeemTV or on Youtube here. And if you enjoyed this, you may like the producer's earlier all-children film, The Runner from Ravenshead. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle

Animated / Children 81 Minutes / 2015 Rating: 7/10 We might wonder why it hadn't happened sooner. The third film begins with the unflappable man in the yellow hat finally getting tired of the trouble George keeps getting himself in. He wants everyone's favorite monkey to learn a new word: "caution." But when an opportunity comes up for George to head up into space on a rescue mission, caution goes out the window. Off he goes up, up, up into space, and then, when the space capsule has an equipment malfunction, down, down, down he falls, crash-landing in the jungles of Africa. While the man in the yellow hat thinks "jungles are no place for a monkey," George has a great time meeting all sorts of animals and making friends of them all. Those friendships will serve him well when George and his best friend join forces and have to make their way through the forest's most treacherous areas. CAUTIONS There is a brief scene in the museum where, in the background, we see a display touting the evolution of man. It's a line up with a model of a modern man on one side, a large monkey-like creature on the other, and a few caveman-like creatures in-between. My children didn't understand what it was all about, but George does bring it to notice by jumping into the line-up, falling in behind a large monkey creature. The whole thing lasts just a few seconds. Another more notable caution is a scene in which the man in the yellow hat takes the role of "dumb dad." This is a pretty common theme in film and on TV, with the kid (or, in this case, monkey) portrayed as wiser than his parents who just don't get it. But unlike some films, in which this disrespectful (and running right up against the fifth commandment) attitude is a key element in the whole movie, this is just one scene. I brought it to my kids' attention because this is a mild example of something they'll see again and again, which made for a good teaching moment. CONCLUSION This is quite a good film, but not a great one, striking me as being more like an extended episode of the TV series than a feature film. But if your family loves George then they are sure to love this too. It's a rollicking, silly, goofy adventure – very much the typical Curious George fare. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Wild Brothers: 8-episode DVD series (+ free vlog series)

Reality / Documentary Each episode is 28-30 min / 2015-2016 Rating: 7/10 Everyone in our family enjoyed this DVD series, from our 2-year-old all the way up to mom and dad. At series start, the Wild family lives in the deep jungles of Papua, Indonesia, where dad is a missionary to the Wanu tribe. The four Wild brothers are the sort of boys who collect pets in their pockets, and who love to explore the jungle with a butterfly net in one hand and a slingshot in the other. In their first adventure, titled Welcome to our World, we get introduced to the family, and the boys introduce us to God’s creation. We go hunting with them, we’re introduced to their best friend, a native Indonesian child named Pu, and we get to watch their facial expressions as Pu introduces them to a local delicacy, raw echidna brain. A fun extra is the boys skinning a ten-foot python that even after it has been dead for an hour is still moving! The second in the series, called Jewels of the Jungle, follows the family as they go butterfly and moth-hunting. Our girls wanted to buy butterfly nets of their own after that one. Then in the third, Paradise Lost, the family is on vacation with another missionary couple, the Browns, and their three girls. My own girls love this series even though it is all about boys, but I think they appreciated how the girl-to-boy ratio was upped for this adventure. The two families head from the inland missions to on the coast of a beautiful island. From this home base they head out each day to explore reefs and bays and check out sea turtles, manta rays, and sea snakes and so many gorgeous fish. Some misadventures also occur, some painful, like mom getting stung by a jellyfish, and some hilarious, like the boys contending with a large snake (8-12 feet long) that decided to take up residence in their cabin roof. As they do in each episode, the boys bring a solid Christian perspective to their exploration: when they come across an old bone deposit – a burial grounds where skulls are haphazardly stacked by each other – they take the opportunity to talk about how despite the beauty of this world, it is still fallen, and waiting for restoration. There are five other episodes, and each is just as interesting as the next. The only disappointment is maybe in the way the series concludes. In the last two episodes they are make preparations to sail across the ocean in a giant canoe. It is fascinating, as they carve the boat out with local help, and point out parallels to what Noah had to do. But because this is real life, and because in real life sometimes plans get upended, the finale doesn't end on the triumphant note we might have wished for. Cautions There are no cautions to note. While it isn’t clear what denominational background the family is from, the Christian reflections the boys and their parents share with viewers are thoughtful and solid. In one episode a brief shot of some human skulls is seen, and an encounter with a snake in the extra features of one episode was just a tiny bit scary for my little ones. That said, my girls, at the time 2 though 6, enjoyed this immensely – that little bit of tension didn't scare them away! Conclusion The Wild Brothers are very adventurous boys, the sort who play with bugs, and even eat the odd one now and again...at least when they are properly cooked! And they are very godly boys too, very aware of how God makes Himself evident in the creation all around us. And while they are boys, this was exciting for me girls too – I don't know that they fully appreciate bugs yet, but this did move them in that direction. I'd recommend this as great viewing for families with young kids from 10 and under. Mom and dad will enjoy it too, but there might not be enough action for the teenagers. You can buy the series on DVD or via download at AnswersInGenesis.org and as DVDs at Amazon. The trailer below is for the first episode, Welcome to our World. Addendum: free vlog series The Wild Brothers also now have a free vlog series, called "Highlands to Island" that you can find here. While you should watch the first episode, my daughters and I found the later episodes, from maybe 8 onward (there are 30 so far) more interesting than the first few. The vlog isn't quite the DVD series, but until new DVDs come out, this sure is a nice way to reconnect with this wonderful missionary family. https://assets.answersingenesis.org/vid/prod/etc/trailer/30-9-507_wild-brothers-1-trailer.mp4...

Family, Movie Reviews

Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures

Buddy Davis is a musician, dinosaur sculptor, and children's entertainer. In his "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures" series, he's teamed up with the folks at Answers in Genesis to craft something that kids will really like. Below I review all 6, rating them, and providing the trailers for each. To market the series, Answers in Genesis has posted the first episode online where it can be watched for free. I provide the link down below. I Dig Dinosaurs! 26 min. / 2011 RATING 7/10 In this children's video Buddy invites along to go on a dinosaur bone dig to see how paleontologists find them and take them out of the ground, and then put them on display. Davis really knows his stuff. Dinosaurs have long been promotional tools for evolutionists, but Davis will have none of that. He approaches the topic of dinosaurs and their fossils from a thoroughly Christian, creationist perspective. In a number of instances, he contrasts the biblical position with the evolutionary one. So, for example, he explains that fossilization doesn't need to take millions of years – as he explains, they've even found fossilized teddy bears! And kids are also told about how elastic blood vessels have recently been found in dinosaur bones that shows they couldn't possibly be millions of years old. These animals aren't as old as they have been made out to be! Our host is enthusiastic and energetic and keeps things hopping without it getting frantic. While I enjoyed this, I'd recommend it more as a kid's video than family viewing. I mean, parents won't be bored, but they likely won't want to watch this as many times as their children! To generate interest for the series, Answers in Genesis has made this first episode, I Dig Dinosaurs!, free to watch online right here. And you can watch the trailer below. Swamp Man! 45 min / 2012 RATING: 7/10 Our family really enjoyed the first in the "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures" series so when another popped up at our local library we had to check it out. Once again Buddy is our guide as we go out and explore God's great outdoors from an explicitly Christian perspective. In Swamp Man! Buddy takes us to the Florida Everglades where he gets up close and personal with alligators, lizards, dolphins, turtles, manatees, and snakes – lots of snakes! This is fast-paced, cutting from one animal to the next every minute or two, and in between Buddy has us zooming around on an airboat, a mudboat, a motorboat and an ATV. So there's lots of action to keep kids' attention, and mom and dad are sure to learn something too. I think I enjoyed this one almost as much as my daughters – very good family viewing! Anyone with a snake phobia will want to give this one a miss – of all the animals we meet, these are by far the feature creature. That's why this isn't a video I'd show my pre-school kids right before they go to sleep. It's not all that scary, particularly mid-day...but alligators, bears, and snakes at bedtime don't seem a good combo. That aside, this is a great family treat - one that mom and dad and kids anywhere from 2 and up will enjoy. Extreme Caving 58 minutes / 2013 RATING: 7/10 While Buddy Davis and the Tennessee Caveman Robbie Black are the hosts of this episode, the real stars of the show are the Cumberland Caverns themselves. This is one of the longest cave systems in the world, running at least 30 miles. If you've ever wondered what it's like to hike and climb and descend through caves that are hundreds of feet below the ground, you're going to love this! Davis, and his professional camera crew, takes us through passages and caverns that vary in height from dozens of meters to tight squeezes that are just a matter of inches. We get to see flowers made of gypsum, popcorn made of calcite, and translucent "cave bacon." We go stoop-walking and belly-crawling, pit-crossing, butt-sliding and even scuba diving into parts of the caverns that people don't normally go. We go so deep down that for a while even our guide loses his bearings! While Davis is normally an energetic, even hyper, host – all in an effort at keeping kids' attention – the physical demands of this episode mellowed him out some. That might be why I liked this one a little bit more. It's still a show for children, but the more restrained Davis is a little easier for adults to enjoy in an adult way. There is still lots of fun for the kids though, with animated scene transitions, a fun song about a skunk, lots of peppy bouncy music, and a close look at a cute furry fruit bat. The whole "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures" series and is produced with an explicitly creationist worldview, and one example of where that's evident in this episode is when Davis explains how many caves may have been formed by the Flood. The only caution I can come up with is that at least a couple of the Scriptural references Davis shares are on the random side, not particularly relevant to what he is trying to relate them to. But this is only a minor quibble in this remarkable video. At about an hour-long, this might be a bit too long for many a kid – it could be good to watch it in two parts. What I most appreciated is that it is something the whole family can enjoy, with lots of fun for the kids, and lots of amazing sights to see for the adults. Shucks, this has me think of checking out the Cumberland Caverns for myself! You can see a 2-minute clip of the episode below. Alaska! 25 min / 2015 RATING: 6/10 We're heading way up north, to Alaska! Bears are the big focus, as Buddy teaches us about the different species, and even shows us the damage a bear can do to a cabin (fortunately it happened while they were away!). There is a bit of an evangelism focus in these videos, which comes out in this one when Buddy talks about his love of fishing and segues to what the Bible says about becoming "fishers of men." Alaska! is a short adventure, at just 25 minutes, and while my kids loved it, and my wife appreciated it too, I found this one a little lacking in content and slower-paced. If your family has liked the other Buddy Davis adventures this will be worth checking out too – Buddy is a charming man – but this might not be the best one to start with. You can watch a 3-minute review/trailer of Alaska! below. Ice Age 25 min. / 2017 RATING 7/10 This time Buddy Davis takes us to the snow and ice of some giant glaciers left over from the Ice Age. He takes us paddling amongst the icebergs that result when huge chunks of ice "calve" right off the glacier and fall into the lake below. Davis also introduces us to some of the creatures from the Ice Age, including bear-sized beavers, saber-toothed tigers, and mastodons, which I always thought was another word for "wooly mammoth" but it turns out the two are quite different from one another. As always, Davis has got songs and jokes interspersed throughout, which the kids really seem to enjoy. What I liked best was Davis' overview of creationist thought about the Ice Age. Evolutionists talk about ice ages – plural – but Davis explains that creationists believe there was just the one, happening not so long after the worldwide Flood. I popped this DVD into the player when a couple of my kids were sick and home from school, fully intending to leave them to it while I went off to get some work done. But there was more than enough here to grab my attention too, so I had to stick around. This ended up being my own favorite of Davis' amazing adventures, and the girls liked it too. Safari 30 min. / 2021 RATING 7/10 Buddy is on the hunt down in South Africa. We watched this in December, and what with Buddy Davis' beard now being completely white, when he made a list of animals he was hoping to see, I just knew he'd be checking it twice. The episode is built around a search for elephants – we're hunting for clues, including poop, trees getting uprooted, and bark eaten, to track down the "perps" – and along the way we get to see rhinos, giraffes, lions, monkeys, and more. Other nature documentaries have better footage of the animals themselves (Buddy is generally a telephoto lens away...though, at one point he does hold a lion's tail!) but you won't find a more charming guide. Some brief animations, a couple of songs, and a godly perspective throughout make this another fun for family viewing. More Buddy Davis adventures All of "Buddy Davis' Amazing Adventures" can be purchased as DVDs or as downloads at the Answers in Genesis store here. Davis also has another series, "The Creation Adventure Team," that features Davis and a robotic dinosaur assistant named Proto who tackle A Jurassic Ark Mystery and its sequel, Six Short Days, One Big Adventure. Both of these can be watched for free here and here though the episodes are broken up into ten-minute chunks....

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....