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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. 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 5, 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 This time we head 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. Other 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....