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Family, Movie Reviews

Babes in Toyland

Family /Musical 1961 / 105 minutes Rating: 7/10 Babes in Toyland stars all your children's nursery rhyme favorites. There's Little Jack Horner, Simple Simon and the pieman, Jack and Jill, Little Bo Peep and her sheep, and of course, Mother Goose herself. That might make this the perfect way to introduce your little ones to the musical genre. Our story begins with preparations for a wedding. Tom (as in, "Tom, Tom, the Piper's son") and Mary (quite contrary) are going to get married and the whole village is so excited they just have to dance and sing! There has to be a villain, of course, and the black-hatted, black-caped, black-elevator-shoe-clad Barnaby Barnacle is such an over-the-top meanie that only the youngest of children might be scared by him. He knows something Mary doesn't – that when Mary is married, she's going to inherit a large sum, so Barnaby wants to marry Mary, instead of Tom! To that end, he hires two henchmen – the very large Gonzorgo, and the entirely silent Roderigo – to, first, kidnap Tom and throw him into the sea, and then steal Mary's sheep so that, impoverished and alone, she'll be forced to marry Barnaby. Crooks that they are, the two henchmen instead sell Tom to the gypsies so as to get paid twice. And that sets the scene for Tom's eventual return. But there are still sheep to recover, and that leads to an almost "second chapter" for the film where Tom and Mary head into the ominous "Forest of no Return" to search for the sheep. There they find "the Toyman" who is a Santa-like figure, making toys for girls and boys. Further hijinks ensue, with Barnaby still trying to marry Mary, but this time using all sorts of toys and gadgets from the Toyman's workshop to try to put an end to Tom. When he gets his hands on a shrinking ray he thinks he can finally cut Tom down to size. It turns out, though, that even pipsqueak Tom, with the help of a toy army, is more than a match for Barnaby! Cautions Not much to note here: the talking trees in the Forest of No-Return were the only truly scary characters for my sensitive 7-year-old, and it helped to assure her that they turn out to be not so bad after all. Also, Tom briefly plays the part of a gypsy fortune-teller, and that might have been problematic if it wasn't all just a prank on Barnaby. Conclusion The acting is over-the-top and the characters are all from nursery rhymes so the target audience is clearly children. But there's so much color and energy and action that older kids and parents will enjoy it too. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Sign of Zorro

Family / Drama 1958 / 90 minutes Rating: 8/10 Is Zorro a Spanish version of Robin Hood? The Spanish California of the 1800s stands in for medieval Sherwood Forest, but both men are outlaws who rescue the oppressed, and both frustrate the local tyrannical authorities even as they remain loyal subjects to their king. There's also a dose of Scarlett Pimpernel, with the young Don Diego disguising himself as a fool, an academic with his nose buried so deeps in his books, that no one would ever suspect him of being the brave and brilliant Zorro. As the story begins, Diego has been away in Spain for three years, studying at university. Now he's on his way home, summoned by his father because a new Commandant is making life miserable for poor and wealthy alike. It's on the long sea-voyage back that Diego decides to play the part of absent-minded egghead. He commits to the charade, staying in character even when meeting his own father, who is disappointed to find that the son he'd summoned is no man of action, but a foppish fool! Only Diego's loyal manservant Bernardo knows different. There is a lot going on in this film and it's all great fun. We have a mute pretending to be deaf, a hero pretending to be a fool, a villain impersonating the hero, and a tyrannical commandant who might be despicable, but he isn't stupid. And Diego, while playing his eggheaded academic part, has to figure out how to survive a swordfight without giving away that he does actually know which is the pointy end! Cautions I'll note that while there is violence – a whole lot of sword fighting! – no blood is shown and no one dies. The other caution concerns a couple of Spanish dancing scenes, where one dancer swishes around her dress such that we can see a few flashes of her underwear. However, any immodesty here is comparable to what would be shown by a grandmotherly bathing suit. More off-putting is the dance itself. It is not graceful or beautiful, but almost violent, with the dancer whipping her long dress back and forth so aggressively she could put out an eye! The men at the local pub are clearly meant to find this alluring, but I am mystified as to why. Conclusion This is one the whole family could enjoy. It is black and white, which might make some younger viewers skeptical, but if you can get them to commit to watching for 15 minutes, it's sure to grab and keep their attention. I can't imagine too many kids – at least those who have watched TV at all – finding this too scary. Zorro could be fodder for some good family discussions about what it means to live in submission to the proper authorities. When Diego defies the local corrupt Commandant, is he doing so in defiance of authority, or in submission to a greater authority? However, it isn't simply the educational possibilities that make this a great film; The Sign of Zorro is a classic worthy of the label, with enough action, twists, and turns, for two films!  ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Secret World of Arrietty

Animated / Family 2012 / 94 minutes RATING: 8/10 This is a Japanese animated adaptation of the much loved English book series, The Borrowers. Arrietty is one of the Borrowers – the tiny people, just inches high, who live in our houses, in between the walls, under the floorboards, and in the ceilings. Now that she's 14, she's old enough to accompany her father on his "borrowing" expeditions. It's vital that these little people are never discovered, so even as they are creative sorts, turning leaves into umbrellas, sewing needles into swords, and clothespins into hairclips, they can't make their own goods. To create factories or farms would risk being discovered by the big people, the "beans." That possibility so scares the Borrowers that if a human ever sees them, then they will leave that house, never to return. But on Arrietty's first expedition, to get a single sugar cube, a young boy in the house discovers her. Shawn is a nice boy, newly arrived to the house because he is sick and needs care that his parents can't seem to provide. While he would never hurt Arrietty, or share the secret of her existence with others, the same isn't true of the housekeeper when she also discovers the tiny people, and hires an exterminator to help track them down. CAUTION The only caution relates to the "borrowing" that goes on. What do we call it when someone borrows without asking, and with no intention of ever giving it back? Stealing. In defense of these fictional thieves, they can't ask for permission because then they will be discovered, and they can't make these goods on their own for the same reason. Also, what they take is so negligible as to never be noticed. Still, this "borrowing" is a point parents should raise. In the Curious George TV shows it's noted that George is a monkey so he sometimes does things that we shouldn't. That seems a good warning about the Borrowers too. CONCLUSION While The Secret World of Arrietty was originally done in Japanese, Disney was so entranced by the film they took charge of the English release and did a wonderful job with the dubbing. It is a gorgeous film that many a parent will absolutely love too, especially if they read the Borrowers books in their childhood. And the slower pacing is perfect for any children who find other films too frantic or scary. Yes, there are some tense moments, but there is a lot of beauty and calm in-between as we explore the world as it looks through a set of tiny eyes. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Space Buddies

Children's film 2009 / 84 minutes RATING: 7/10 If the sequel is never as good as the original, then what kind of expectation should we have for this, the eighth in the Air Bud film series? They should be low...if you're an adult. But my 6-year-old was laughing out loud! In this adventure five puppies end up stowed away on an incredibly advanced spaceship – so sophisticated even a dog could fly it – but which is short on fuel. To get back home they have to refuel at a Russian space station where they befriend a Russian dog, Sputnik, and have to contend with a crazy cosmonaut. The pups are the offspring of Air Bud, the dog that started it all back in 1997 when he showed some surprising skills on the basketball court. In the four Air Bud films that followed the star was incredibly clever, tackling a different sport each time, but he was still a pet, not a person. However, the old dog learned a new trick in the Air Buddies spin offs – now everybody and their dog can talk. If you read any other reviews you'll find the critics groaning at the pups' stock personalities: the only girl, Rosebud, likes pink, Budderball never stops eating, Mudbud always gets dirty, B-dawg is a rapper, and Buddha is a peacenik. But the critics aren't six-years-old. Sure these are cardboard cutouts, but that simplicity makes them easy to tell apart, and easy to understand for the preschool-aged target audience. Cautions The only notable concern would be a handful of dog fart jokes, one of which you can see in the trailer below. Conclusion This is not a film mom and dad are going to love but they likely won't mind it either. And if you have kids aged 5-8 who find most movies frightening, what might make this a treat is that it has some tension – there is a bad guy – but it isn't too scary. And then five cute puppy stars only add to the fun! I've taken a peek at the other Buddies films, and this strikes me as the very best of the batch. That's why, even though our youngest really enjoyed it, I've concluded this one is enough for us. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Winnie the Pooh

Animated / Children / Family 63 min, 2011 Rating: 8/10 Our favorite silly little bear starts his newest adventure in bed, waking up only at the insistence of the narrator. Winnie-the-Pooh "has a Very Important Thing to Do" today, so he simply must get up! Just what that important thing is, the narrator does not specify, so Pooh decides his first priority is going to be to take care of his tummy. And that requires some "huny." When he discovers he is all out, this bear of very little brain comes up with a sensible enough plan - he goes in search of "friends out there with honey to spare." Once out of his little house Pooh proceeds to have a series of adventures. The first involves Tigger and a balloon, and the second, a fearsome beast (or as fearsome as a Pooh cartoon can be) named the Backson. The longest adventure of all is a search for Eeyore's tail... or for some substitute that could serve in that role. This is a gentle family-friendly gem. Disney has produced a score of Pooh films but this is the first since 1977's The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh to fully capture the charm of the books. Adventures remains the best of all the Pooh films, with this a very close second. Some reviewers were critical about its length, or rather, lack of length. Winnie the Pooh is listed as being an hour long, which is only about half as long as a regular feature film (and when you subtract the credits, it would be more accurate to say this is just over 50 minutes). It's a legitimate beef. I know I would feel a little put out if I spent ten bucks per head for my family and we were marching out of the theatre before I even finished my popcorn. But on DVD this length is more palatable, especially when its intended audience, and their limited attention spans, are considered. There are only two cautions to note. The first concerns language. After the film ends, and ten minutes of credits run, there is one final, very short scene in which the word "gosh" is used twice. I'm not a fan of this "substitute expletive" but this is not God's name, and thus is not taking his name in vain. The only other caution is about Pooh himself. In this rendition, Pooh is a little more self-absorbed and selfish than usual. As an example, when the group sets out to trap the Backson, Pooh is content to let his little friend Piglet do all the work while he supervises. Pooh's shallowness (including his obsession with honey) is the central "conflict" in the story, and one that parents should point out to their children - the "hero" of this little story is not being a good friend right here. Of course, Pooh does get his priorities figured out by the end of the film. When faced with the choice of finally getting some honey, or bringing Eeyore his missing tail, Pooh chooses friend over food. The story concludes with Christopher Robin congratulating Pooh for the "Very Important Thing" he did today: "Instead of thinking of your tummy you thought of your friend." ...

Family, Movie Reviews

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Family / Classic 127 minutes / 1954 RATING 7/10 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is a childhood favorite that I've been looking forward to sharing with my own kids. However, it's been so long since I'd watched it, I wasn't sure it would live up to expectations. I am happy to say it did! The year is 1868, and it is a time of both sail and steam on the high seas. When rumors of a gigantic sea creature stop ships from venturing out onto the Pacific, the US government asks if oceans expert Professor Pierre M. Aronnax and his assistant Conseil will join a Navy expedition. The goal is to either disprove the creature's existence or, if they find it is real, kill it. To that end, harpooner Ned Land (Kirk Douglas) is also invited along for the expedition. However, Ned's harpoons are no use against the creature's hide because it is not flesh and bone but is, instead, made of iron and steel! What's been destroying the ships turns out to be a submarine. When the sub destroys the Navy's ship, only these three – the professor, Conseil, and Ned – survive. They end up being taken on board. So who created this sub, and why is it being used to destroy ships all over the Pacific Ocean? I won't give it away but as you might imagine, the submarine's Captain turns out to be more than a little disturbed. CAUTIONS While there are some fantastic action scenes in the film – including a prolonged fight with a giant squid – even my timid 6-year-old managed to make it through them...though we did turn down the sound at that point, to help her out. So the only caution I’ll share is in regards to the good guys’ morality – the three shipwreck survivors don’t agree on much, including what they think about the psychotic captain holding them captive. For any kid used to films where the good guys wear white, and where right and wrong are very easy to distinguish, this will be something quite different. Mom and dad should hit the pause button now and again to discuss how everyone is acting, and how that lines up with how God might want them to act. CONCLUSION Our whole family enjoyed this. It has action, but also some calm and wonderful underwater scenes where we get a peek at what it would be like to live always under the seas. I'd recommend it for ages 5 to 95, but I'll add that this being an older film, the pacing is a little more patient than modern fare and, for an audience new to the classics, that might take some getting used to Still, it a classic for a reason – this definitely stands the test of time! ...

Drama, Family, Movie Reviews

The man who shot Liberty Valance

Western 1962 / 123 minutes RATING: 8/10 What does it mean to be a man? In this classic Western, Hollywood offers up two answers. Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) is a successful horse rancher living just outside the town of Shinbone who prides himself on not needing anyone and not fearing anyone. He solves his own problems, and figures that everyone else should do the same. Self-reliant - that, in his mind, is what makes a man a real man. Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) is a lawyer, newly arrived to Shinbone who starts a school for both children and adults when he discovers that most can't read. He wants to bring law and order to town, but via the law book, and not the gun barrel, and that makes him naive. But he's also principled and caring, and that, in his mind, is what makes a man a man. To put both these models of manhood to the test, we have Liberty Valance, a bully and a killer. He and his gang do whatever they want, and none of the town folk dare stop him. Doniphon could stop him... but that would be solving other people's problems for them. Ransom wants to stop him... but he'll need more than just his law books. Cautions This is an all-time classic that everyone will enjoy...if they have the patience for it. It starts off slow, and the pacing throughout is far more relaxed than anything a modern viewer is used to. If it were made today, they would cut at least a half hour. But, if you go in understanding that, then this will be a grand film. It's the nature of Western to have some violence in them, but in this one a lot of it occurs offscreen, though just barely so, as when Ransom is whipped. Onscreen we see a manic Liberty striking furiously, but Ransom is just below the frame, so we don't see the blows land. A couple of people are shot, but without any real gore. The only language concerns would be one use of "damn" Conclusion If your children regularly watch TV then the pace of this film will be too slow to keep their interest. But otherwise this would be a classic worth sharing with the family including children maybe 10 years old and up. It's good fodder for a discussion about the difference between Hollywood's ideal man, and the type of man God calls us to be in passages like Ephesians 5:21-33. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The absent-minded professor

Family 1961 / 96 minutes RATING: 8/10 The classic begins with a bang – a lab accident blows up Ned Brainard's garage and leaves the professor knocked out cold. The good news? This explosive experiment has produced a wondrous new substance - a rubbery material that when rolled up in a ball and dropped gains height with each bounce. It's almost like this rubber can fly so, of course, the professor names it flubber. And what's the first thing he does with flubber? Why, use it to create the world's first flying Model T of course! The bad news? While he was out cold the professor missed his wedding...for the third time! Betsy Carlisle is his long-suffering fiancee. While she loves her Neddy, this is it – she doesn't want to hear any more excuses. "I say, three strikes and you're out!" To make the situation that much more difficult for Ned, he has a rival for Betsy's attention. Professor Shelby Ashton is egotistical and even more self-absorbed than Ned but he has one thing going for him – he knows how to shows up on time. To get Betsy's attention Ned puts his flubber to use and this is where the fun really begins. When the college's basketball team is losing badly, Ned secretly irons flubber on to all of the players' shoes. When the second half starts the Medfield team is now able to jump, not just over the other team, but right over the gym rafters! While this stunt doesn't impress Betsy, Ned and his flying Model T do catch the attention of all three branches of the US military and a particularly unscrupulous businessman. Car chases and hijinks soon follow. Cautions As children do sometimes do as they see, the biggest concern might be language. One of the villains – businessman Alonzo Hawk – calls people "idiots," "stupid," or "tells them to shut-up." There is some violence – a shoot-out in which no one gets hit, and two thugs unsuccessfully trying to get Professor Brainard – but this is of the comic sort and even our six-year-old knew everything was going to be okay (but our four-year-old had to be reassured). Oh, and at one point Hawk gambles on a basketball game. It may be worth pointing out to younger viewers that the "hero" of this story, Professor Brainard, is not a good example at the beginning – he's prioritized science over his bride-to-be! Thankfully, by film's end he's learned the error of his ways. Conclusion This classic spawned a sequel and two remakes but they never improved on the original. A flying car, a villain who can leap buildings in a single bound, a damsel who's in distress because her bumbling knight has left her at the altar again – this is fun that everyone will enjoy. ...

News

Leaving Frozen out in the cold?

For show biz, as elsewhere, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Hollywood stands to benefit from whatever controversy it can generate. Disney is one company learning this lesson well. Before Disney released Finding Dory in 2016, it was rumored there would be a small cinematic homage to same-sex relationships. The rumor created buzz around the film. After the film came out, discussion continued over whether or not a two-second shot involving two women and a baby carriage counted as Disney’s first foray into the new world order. In 2017, more rumors emerged over Disney’s next Star Wars installment. Some believed The Last Jedi would include a homosexual romance. Christians and other social conservatives bemoaned this possibility but, in the end, all for nothing. Disney created a conversation, but didn’t deliver on this one. When Frozen hit screens back in 2013, some wondered whether the main character Elsa was an in-the-closet lesbian. The discussion certainly didn’t hurt the movie’s bottom line – it grossed more than any other animated film in history, well over $1 billion US. Disney is planning the release of a sequel in 2019 and already there’s speculation over whether Elsa will come out of the closet and have an openly homosexual relationship. There are online campaigns for and against but, as usual, Disney is playing its cards close to the chest. See the pattern? It should make Christians cynical and distrusting of Disney and other Hollywood giants. They manipulate our concerns to create more hype – and make more money. Even if Frozen 2 doesn’t have a lesbian Elsa, they made you (and me!) talk about it. They got us aware and interested and that’s going to translate into dollars at the box office. The bottom line is the bottom line. Disney is not a business dedicated to upholding biblical marriage and family values – they’re pragmatic movie barons out for your money. Could it be time to vote not only with our feet, but also with our mouths and keyboards, and leave Frozen and Disney out in the cold? Dr. Wes Bredenhof is the pastor of Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania, and blogs at Yinkahdinay....

Family, Movie Reviews

Swiss Family Robinson

Drama/Adventure 126 min/1960 RATING: 8/10 Based on the classic 1812 Johann Wyss book, Swiss Family Robinson tells the tale of a family of five that gets shipwrecked on a tropical island after being pursued by pirates. Life on a tropical island can be fun, with ostrich and elephant races, but work is involved too. The family has to struggle together to build a treehouse that will keep them safe from the island's tiger. But what will keep them safe from the pirates, who are still looking for them? The big concern in this film would be violence. While most of it is softened (a tiger, rather than maul its victims, sends them flying high into the air) there are intense scenes near the end of the film, as the pirates attack, that would scare young children. There is also a snake attack that may have parents rolling their eyes (the actors seem to be grabbing the boa constrictor, rather than the constrictor grabbing them) but it had my daughters' eyes bugging out. We played some of these scenes with the volume down low, so the dramatic music wouldn't have the same effect. That seemed enough to make the scenes palatable for even our four-year-old. This is a good old-fashioned classic with lots of gallantry on display – it's a great film to teach boys to look out for girls. It's also a good one to get your kids appreciating older films. Some of the acting is a little wooden, but as a family film that's fine – this was never going to win an Oscar, but there is a reason it's still being watched 50 years later. All in all a great film. The trailer below, at 5 minutes long, will give you a good feel for what the film is like though it might give a bit too much away. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Condorman

Action/Adventure 90 min/ 1981 RATING: 7/10 When comic book creator Woody Wilkins gets the chance to help out the CIA he jumps at it. But he gets a little too into the role, telling his Russian contact – his beautiful Russian contact – that he is a long-time secret agent with the code name "Condorman." He so impresses the Russian agent that when she later decides to defect she tells the CIA she'll only go if they send their "top agent" Condorman to come pick her up. Woody is willing to help again...but with a few conditions. He'll go, so long as the CIA agrees to give him a few special tools he's dreamed up, that come straight out of his superhero comics! The only cautions are of a minor sort. The beautiful Russian agent wears a rather clingy dress on the DVD cover but that is more risqué than anything in the film. In one scene she changes clothes behind a dressing screen and is shown naked from the shoulders up. There are a lot of fistfights, car chases, and explosions, all of the comic variety, with no blood seen. Younger children, particularly those under 6, may find it too much. This is an action-adventure, romantic comedy, Cold War, spy, superhero parody. If you take it seriously this is dreadful…so don’t. As a parody it is hokey, cheesy, goofy, slapstick fun. ...