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Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Sparky Chronicles: The Map

Family / Children's 28 min / 2003 Rating: 7/10 When their beloved Sparky is dognapped by the infamous international criminal known only as "The Clip," three college-age friends – Ethan, Jeffrey, and Christina – vow to find their pooch, no matter how long it takes. We join up with the search three years in – that's 21 doggy years! – and despite a Volkswagon van full of advanced tracking technology they still seem no closer to finding their four-legged buddy. Sparky Chronicles is a Christian spy spoof, with sting operations, tranquilizer darts, explosions, and one chase scene after another. These aren't high-speed chases, mind you – and at one point the villain gets away by walking at a brisk trot – but that's the point. The pounding music, the quick cuts between the determined pursuers and their frantic prey, and then the shots of the speedometer needle slowly edging past 35: as spoofs go, they're pretty much nailing it. So what makes this tweenish tale a Christian one? Well, during their long fruitless search the three friends come to realize it would be really helpful if they had some sort of guide to help them know which way to go. And when they happen upon a map that The Clip has left behind, Christina makes mention of how the Bible is the same sort of thing for life: a guide that tells us what's right and true. That's the lesson being taught, but unlike what happens in many a Christian production, this is an almost subtle presentation. Sure, they explicitly spell it out, but they don't beat kids over the head with it. I'd recommend this for tweens, but younger kids might enjoy it too. And while this isn't going to be mom and dad's favorite, it'll be more interesting for them than some other children's fare. The only real downside is that while things are set up for a sequel, there isn't one. You can watch it for free below, with some commercial interruptions. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates

Family 90 min / 1962 Rating: 8/10 When Hans’ father is hurt repairing a dike, young Hans drops out of school to take care of his family. But the Netherlands in the 1860’s were a hard place to find work and try as he might Hans can’t find enough work to pay for both his family’s food and the medicine his father needs. He is fast though, and when he hears that the prize for the annual 26-mile skating race is 300 guilders, both he and his sister Gretel enter in the hopes of winning the money his family and father so desperately need. Like the book that it is based on, this is a non-Dutch look at the Netherlands, and that comes out most noticeably in the accents, which are Scandinavian rather than Dutch. (The book’s American author Mary Mapes Dodge did her research, but mistakenly gave her characters German-sounding names rather than Dutch). But overall, this is a great family film, showing how we should love our neighbors in need. It’s also a wonderful sports movie without the typical sports movie ending. But be sure you get the 1962 film, as there is also a shorter, black and white, 1958 version that it is often confused with....

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 over all. The film's copyright has expired which has allow 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 service. ...

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

Lost and Found

Animated / Family 24 minutes / 2013 Rating: 8/10 This short film made my girls cry and that's okay. It is a classic boy meets penguin tale, a tale of loneliness felt, and friendship found, and a beautiful tale throughout. This is what made my girls cry – the beauty of it – and that gave mom and dad an opportunity to explain to these two little misses that crying is not always linked to sadness, and that beauty can indeed by tear-inducing and then it is something, strangely enough, to be enjoyed. This lesson wasn't entirely lost on them and also not entirely understood but it was a good first exposure to this curious truth. The story itself is simple. Lost penguin arrives on boy's doorstep. Boy briefly tries to get others to help penguin, but then decides to do it himself. He builds boat and rows to the Antarctic, where he then drops off the penguin and heads back home, only to realize that the penguin wasn't lost after all, but had shown up at his house because he was lonely. Boy returns to the Antarctic, penguin hops in boat, and the two head together for what looks like the beginning of a wonderful friendship. The only caution would be that a storm scene may be a bit scary for the under 6 set. Our whole family loved it. I would recommend it for anyone 6 to 106. You can stream it – rent or buy – from Amazon (or ask your public library to pick up a DVD copy). ...

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Two Martin Luther animated shorts

If you're looking for some longer Martin Luther-related films, check out our "Martin at the movies" post on three films that are all currently available for free online. But for something shorter, here are two kid-friendly Martin Luther shorts. The Story of Martin Luther (5 minutes) The very clever Playmobil animation is also available in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian. And if you want to see how this film was made you can with this 5-minutes behind the scenes peek. Martin Luther - The Animated Movie (11 minutes) If you have any friends in or from France, Quebec, or Sweden, this is also available in French and Swedish....

Documentary, Family, Movie Reviews

A Lego brickumentary

Documentary 93 minutes / 2015 Rating: 7/10 If you have kids who are too young to watch anything with tension then that limits your viewing options. Yes, there are lots of shows they can watch, but very few that mommy or daddy will want to sit through too (I can feel my brain cells dying whenever Daniel the Tiger is turned on). But here's something different: a documentary the whole family can enjoy. The basic building blocks of the Lego story are simple. The Denmark-based company has been making these little bricks for 65+ years. They got off to a rocky start, with the first three factories getting burned down, and in the late 1990s lost their way as they started producing sets that had more and more specialized pieces and less and less actual building involved. The buying public didn't like this new direction, and sales took a plunge. But this shocked the company straight, and they returned to what made them great: selling a simple toy whose infinite combinations sparked the imagination. The film itself is a hagiography of sorts, looking at the company with the wide-open eyes of a fan. This is sure to get your kids building, but the target audience for the film is as much adults and children. In fact, the majority of the builders we're introduced to are adults, including both the "master builders" who work for the company, and the legions of AFOLs – Adult Fans Of Lego – who craft their own creations and show them off online and at Lego conventions. These creations are astonishing, including a full-size X-wing fighter (from Star Wars) and reproductions of classic artworks like the Mona Lisa and Michelangelo's David. CAUTIONS The only cautions for this G-rated film I can come up with is that there are about 10 to 20 seconds of evolutionary nonsense, accompanied by a depiction of primordial life emerging from the sea and turning into man (primordial Lego life turning into a Lego man). There is also a short 5 second clip Lego mini-figure recreation of the shower murder scene from the Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho. That sounds worse than it is - in both cases my kids didn't even catch what was going on. I'll also add that while there is a role for adults to play Lego with their kids, the obsession shown by the the AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego) was disconcerting. Hobbies can be fun, but God calls Christians to balance, and any hobby that takes over your life is not a healthy one. Instead of encouraging our young men to hold on to their childhood we should be preparing them to put off childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). So Mom or Dad might want to raise the issues of balance and maturity after watching this. CONCLUSION A Lego Brickumentary is a fun film for the whole family. I liked it because I could watch something entertaining and kind of educational without worry about my children being traumatized. Our kids liked it because it was inspiring and the host, a Lego mini-figure, is charming and often funny. So far we've watched it twice, and I could see us watching it again, so if you can get it for a good price, this might be a documentary worth owning. Otherwise, it makes for a great streaming rental, or might well be at your local library. ...

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

The Gruffalo

Animated / Family 27 min / 2009 Rating: 8/10 How can a mouse meet up with a hungry fox, snake, and owl, and live to tell the tale? It helps that he has a monstrously big friend who is just about to meet him. And a fox, or a snake, or an owl, wouldn't dare eat a small mouse who has such a big friend! But...what if they found out what the mouse knows: "There's no such things as a Gruffalo"? Or is there? This short film, based on the book of the same name, is a clever tale about a mouse who thinks his way out of trouble. It is beautifully rendered, visually and musically, with the only concern being that everyone wants to turn this little mouse into a little morsel. So in our household the pause button had to be used a few times to calm some anxious viewers. For those under eight, especially if they don't watch much TV, there is a little bit of tension here. In fact, kids under three might find it just too scary. But it does all work out in the end, and reassuring any little ones of that might help them make it through. So, two thumbs up for this short, fun, and clever story. Who could ask for more? There is a sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, about the title character heading off to search for the "big bad mouse" that so terrified his father. But it loses the charm of the original because now it is a father who lies to his child, rather than, as in the original, a mouse lying to predators. While we can justify lying to predators it is quite another thing for a parent to lie to their child. Also, the moody music, and the uncertainty about who we should be cheering for (the Gruffalo child, all on his lonesome searching through the woods, or the mouse that he is, basically, hunting?) make this one a good bit scarier than the original. That's why our family is going to give it a miss. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Boxcar Children

Animated / Children's 2013 / 81 minutes Rating: 7/10 The Boxcar Children is the first title in a popular and still expanding children's series of books. And just like the book, the film is about four children - three brothers and one sister - who have lost their parents, and have been told they will have to live with their grandfather. But Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny don't know their grandfather at all, and imagine that, because he never came to visit, he must be a cruel man. So they run away. The first part of the story is about how they get by, day to day, all on their own. It's when they find an old, long abandoned, railway boxcar that things start looking up for them. Then the older brother can go into town to do odd jobs, and the other three can start setting up the boxcar as a real home for them. This is a children's story so, of course, it has a happy ending. And I don't think I give away too much to say it involves their cruel grandfather not being cruel at all. CAUTIONS The only cautions would concern language: in one instance a character says "holy mollie" and in another someone utters "oh my gosh" but that is the extent of it. CONCLUSION While there are a few moments of tension – especially early on when they are being chased by a couple who wants to put the children to work in their bakery – this is a pretty gentle movie. The plot is also simple, and I say that not as a criticism, but only to note this is more of a children's film than something the whole family will enjoy. Mom and dad won't mind too much, but I don't expect teens will enjoy sitting through it. But if you children who have been reading the Boxcar Children series, then this will be a treat. The first book in the series, The Boxcar Children, was published in 1924, but the series really started gaining in popularity in 1942, when it was reissued. The author, Gertrude Chandler Warner, went on to write a total of 19 stories about the four siblings (and I've been told that these 19 are much better than the more than 100+ that have followed). There's no Christian content in the book or the film but as you might expect from a story written almost 100 years ago, there's nothing all that objectionable either. So it is a good safe film that kids will love, and parents won't mind. And now there is a sequel, The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island, which we review here. ...

Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Antboy

Family / Superhero 2013 / 77 minutes RATING: 7/10 Pelle is a 12-year-old boy who goes entirely unnoticed at his school...except when he ruins a couple of bullies' fun with a well-thrown apple. Then their attention turns to him, and he has to dash down street after street before ducking into the yard of old Mrs. Gæmelkrå. The bullies are too scared to follow, but why? Well, it turns out some mysterious stuff has been going on at the Gæmelkrå house, involving some interesting insect experimentation. When one of those experiments – a tiny Hercules ant – bites Pelle he takes a Peter Parker-like turn and gains the proportionate strength of an ant. But before Pelle can become the hero Antboy, he needs a little help from a friend or two. Wilhelm, a comic-book fanatic, is the first to spot Pelle's new abilities and offers to help as both costumer and coach. It's once they settle on an outfit that Antboy is then born! Of course, you can't have a superhero movie without a supervillain, and it's the scariness of Antboy's nemesis, the adult "Flea," rather than any of the comic book type violence, that would make this film too much for young children. Common to superhero movies, there is also a damsel in distress. Pelle's 6th Grade crush, Amanda, gets kidnapped by the Flea and has to wait patiently for rescue. While I like the courage of Pelle – guys have to learn to be brave – as a dad of daughters, I'm not so wild about how Amanda is so very superficial and helpless (she's no Proverbs 31 sort!). Her twin Ida (they don't look alike but are in the same grade) is a very different type of girl, and while not the ideal role model either, she is a significant upgrade, working with Antboy at one point, to rescue Amanda. CAUTIONS One caution would concern a brief instance of potty humor: the ant-powered Pelle makes use of a school urinal only to discover that, like the ant, he can now secrete acid. There is no immodesty but we do see a stream of acidic pee, which does a number on the urinal. He later uses this "power" to break open a lock on a door. There is also one instance of the use of "damn" (by the bad guy). CONCLUSION This is a movie about a quiet boy who sees his superpowers as a chance to be popular but realizes that friendship is quite a different and better thing. Antboy was filmed in Danish, but its English dubbing is such that kids might not even notice (even as parents most certainly will). It owns its cheesiness, making it silly fun for families that can deal with the peril and tension.  Overall I would recommend it for 10, or maybe even 11 and up. There are two sequels, but neither measures up to the original. You can watch the trailer below, and watch the film itself for free here. ...

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

Pollyanna

Family 2003 / 99 minutes Rating: 8/10 Aside from a change of setting, this is a faithful adaption of the source book. Yes, moving it from Vermont to England will leave viewers a little surprised, especially if they've grown up watching the 1960s Disney version. But accents aside, this is the more authentic version and if you loved the book, you'll love this film. For those who don't already know, Pollyanna is a poor but cheerful girl who, after becoming orphaned, is sent to live with her very rich, and very strait-laced aunt Polly. The two have very different ways of viewing the world, with the joyful Pollyanna seeing nothing but wonder, despite the losses she's faced, and aunt Polly seeing nothing but the problems, despite the riches that surround her. So whose worldview is going to win out? Is Pollyanna going to stop giving out hugs, or is her aunt Polly going to get over her reluctance to be touched? Something has to give! One reason parents will appreciate this story is because of Pollyanna's "glad game." This is something her father taught her – he explained that even when things aren't going our way, there is always something to be glad about. He first taught her the game one Christmas when Pollyanna was hoping for a doll, but the only gift sent to her poor family was a pair of tiny crutches. So what is there to be happy about crutches? It took some thinking, but eventually father and daughter came up with something: they could be glad because at least “we didn’t need to use them!” As Pollyanna gets to know the people in her new community, both young and old, she teaches her game to them, and in doing so, transforms her community - they too, start to see the silver lining to each dark cloud. And in doing so, they are actually better seeing the world as it actually is. Yes, troubles exist, however blessings still abound! But what about aunt Polly? What is she going to think about the game? CAUTIONS It's worth noting that the "glad game" can be taken to extremes. For example, in the book, when an older man breaks a leg, Pollyanna notes he could be glad that he broke just the one leg. Well, okay. But, as the Preacher said, there is a time for everything, and that includes mourning. So maybe it is fine for the man to just simply be sad for a time at the pain and suffering that's happened to him. That said, I don't think many of us are in danger of overdoing our gladness. How often, really, do we count our blessings one by one? So couldn't we all do with a good dose of this Pollyanna-ish thinking? The only other caution concerns one shocking/sad moment that will cause young viewers distress – near the end of the film Pollyanna gets seriously injured. It all happens in a flash, so nothing gory is shown, but our girls needed to be reassured that Pollyanna would recover. CONCLUSION Young ladies are going to love this one, and I think young lads may even be up for it, with a little encouraging. And if mom and dad can get past the British accents, they, too, are sure to love this well-acted, authentic adaption of a timeless classic. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Beyond the Mask

Christian / Action / Drama / Family 103 minutes / 2015 RATING 8/10 William Reynolds is a 18th century assassin and the righthand man to the head of the East India Trading company. When the young assassin wants to leave his dark life behind, his employer (played by veteran actor John Rhys-Davies) tries to have this loose end tied up, planting a bomb under Reynolds' carriage. Reynolds only manages to survive thanks to the warning of a passing vicar who ends up paying for his kindness by getting blown up himself. On the run from his employer, and in search of a new life, Reynolds adopts the vicar's identity only to meet Charlotte, a young woman who knows a lot more about God then this hastily minted "vicar" does. There is so much to love about this film, and this romance is a big part of it. It has the typical movie-plot instant attraction yes, but none of the usual bodice-ripping. As impressed as Charlotte might be by Reynolds' charm, she wants to know his heart – she finds it strange that this man of God so often speaks of God as "if He were a distant acquaintance." So despite her heart saying yes, she will not pledge herself to him until she seeks advice from an older wiser head. So, one more thing to love: Beyond the Mask has the fun of the two principals exchanging flirtatious banter, yet with none of that falling-into-bed-with-a-near-stranger nonsense. Of course, with their affair of the heart taking place just 20 minutes in, we know that the happy ending can't come yet. Reynolds' old life forces its way into the new and he has to flee to the American Colonies, leaving his lady-love behind. There he decides he will make repayment for his former evils by doing heroic goods – he dons a disguise and a mask to fight the East India Company in its new endeavors in the Americas. Lots of daring-do and explosions follow. Cautions There is no sexual content at all, and while God's name is called upon, it seems to be put to appropriate use (being either directed to Him, or part of a discussion about Him). The notable concern is violence. Parents considering this as a family night film need to understand that while there is no gory violence, there are men murdered, others blown up, and a very large number put down quickly by a punch or two from our reforming yet not fully reformed William Reynolds. Conclusion This is a wonderful film, with solid acting, an intriguing (if on occasion confusing) script, good special effects, authentic period costumes and sets, and a pleasant number of explosions. It is a family film (though because of the violence, for older children only) with a solid Christian moral. I don't want to praise it too highly, because this also isn't a movie that will go down as an all-time classic. But it is one of the best Christian films you'll see, and a cut above most any family film out there. Check out the trailer below. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Overcomer

Drama /Family 2019 / 119 minutes RATING: 7/10 This was going to be John Harrison's year. The high school basketball coach had all his best players returning, ready to make a legitimate run at the championship. But then the local steel manufacturing plant closed and took their 6,000 employees, and most of his players, out of town. So what's a basketball coach to do when he has no team? How about switching to a new sport? But when the school principal convinces John Harrison to give coaching cross country a try, his new team turns out to be just one student, Hannah,...and she has asthma. That setup allows for a generous dollop of humor in this drama, but the best part of this film is more serious. Producers, the Kendrick Brothers, are known for packing messages into their movies, and they do so once again, making this film/sermon about finding our identity, not in our job, spouse, political party allegiance, or what ethnic group we're part of, but in Who we belong to. That's a message the Church needs to hear. Because this is a message movie, it is easy to criticize – one secular reviewer rated it as just one star because it was too "churchy." However, for Overcomer's intended audience, being edified even as we're entertained is no reason to knock a film. What makes bad Christian films bad is not that they have a sermon inserted in there somewhere. The truth is, every film, Christian or secular, has a message, and the quality of the message is often what sets the great ones apart from the good ones (think Chariots of Fire, Lord of the Rings, Casablanca). What makes bad Christian films bad is that they deliver their message poorly, with bad acting, bad writing, bad production values, or some combination thereof. In contrast, the Kendrick Brothers been upping their game from film to film. And Overcomer is them at their very best. CAUTIONS Though there are no concerns about sex, language, or violence, there are still a couple cautions to share. The first is that there are some Arminian flavorings to the film, coming out most overtly when school principal Olivia Brooks tells Hannah that Jesus offers salvation, but "He doesn't force it on you." That, surely, is news to Paul, whom Jesus turned right around on that road to Damascus, and without his permission. I heard an Arminian friend once liken Jesus to "a gentleman" in that he would never force Himself on us. But God, in His Word, reveals Himself, not as a gentleman, but as a parent, and as every parent knows, when our children head off in the wrong direction, we do force our will on theirs. That's what loving parents do. However, this flavoring is a minor matter. More substantial is when Coach Harrison discovers that Hannah's dead father is actually someone he knows...and isn't dead at all. Hannah's grandmother, who is raising her, told Hannah her father was dead because he was into drugs, and because he had indirectly caused Hannah's mother's death by getting her involved in drugs too. So grandma, to keep Hannah away from a father who had caused them such pain, told her this lie. Coach Harrison ends up going behind the grandmother's back to introduce Hannah to her now Christian father. It all works out for the good, but that a teacher would work actively against a guardian's wishes should have been treated as a bigger issue than the film made it. It is a complicated situation, with an absent father's interests conflicting with the desires of the established guardian grandmother. But it seems, at the least, Coach Harrison needed to go to the grandmother and tried to convince her, rather than going behind her back. While that's a big issue, it's an easy enough one for parents to correct by hitting the pause button and discussing. CONCLUSION What makes the film worth watching is the overall identity message. Even here there are nits to pick, as the Arminian flavoring to the film manages to even make having Jesus as first in our life somehow about us, as much as it is about Him. That said, this is still an effective reminder of how often we can put other things – our career, our family, our hobbies, our interests – ahead of our God. If your family liked Facing the Giants, or Courageous, or any of their previous films, you'll certainly enjoy the Kendrick Brothers' latest effort too. ...

Drama, Family, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

FREE FILM: The Amazing Adventure

Drama / Black & White / Family 62 minutes / 1936 RATING: 7/10 Ernest Bliss (Cary Grant) is a young man who has inherited a lot of money from his father. That's allowed him to have a very nice house, to buy whatever he wants, and to never worry about working. Yet he's nervous, can't eat, and can't sleep. When he goes to the specialist and the doctor diagnoses him with "self-indulgence" Bliss is both offended and intrigued. What's the prescription then? The doctor tells Bliss to earn his own living for a year and dismisses him with a wave, knowing that this pampered socialite would never follow this advice. But Bliss ends up making him a bet: if Bliss does do it, then one year from now he'll expect a handshake and an apology from the doctor, and if Bliss loses, then he'll give £50,000 for the doctor's downtown charity clinic. That's the setup, and the general plotline is as you might expect. Bliss learns some lessons about just how it can be for a regular Joe, and it isn’t too long before he’s secretly using his connections and money to help the struggling people who have befriended him. CAUTIONS The only caution I would add is a mild one. At one point a conniving employer tries to so arrange things that he'll be alone with his newly hired secretary. But before he gets anywhere at all, Bliss intervenes. Nothing at all happens, and I mention it only to give a heads up to parents, in case their kids question why it was that Bliss thought the lady needed rescuing. CONCLUSION This is part The Prince and the Pauper and part Cinderella, and while it might be predictable (though there are a couple of twists) it's also delightful! This makes for very fun family fare, though, even as my whole family enjoyed it, we did have to stop it a few times to help our 6-year-old clue into what exactly was going on. So maybe the ideal ages are 8 to 108 If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch a version with closed captions here. But because the film's copyright wasn't renewed it is also freely available below (and it can even be chromecast to your TV). ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Lord of the Rings animated "trilogy"

Peter Jackson wasn't the first to put J.R.R. Tolkien's books on film. Two decades before the first of Jackson's live-action/CGI films hit theaters, three animated versions were crafted in the space of three years, and by two different animators. The first two are well worth checking out. The third is not. THE HOBBIT Animated 77 minutes / 1977 RATING: 7/10 The Hobbit was the first Tolkien book to be filmed, in 1977. Director Authur Rankin chose a particularly cartoonish style of drawing that made it clear from the start that this was intended as a children's film. But his work had some humor to it – just as the source material does – which makes it pleasant enough viewing for adults too. Our hero Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, creatures that look much like humans, though they are half as tall and have far hairier feet. Normally Hobbits like nothing better than to stay close to home, but when the wizard Gandalf brings 12 treasure-seeking Dwarves to his doorstep Bilbo signs up for the adventure. And with the help of a magic "ring of power" Bilbo finds, he helps his new friends fight Orcs, Elves, and even a dragon. At 77 minutes long, readers of the book may be disappointed as to just how much the film condenses the story. However, as children’s films go it is quite a nice one, and a good introduction to Middle Earth. That said, for a children's film there are some fairly scary bits, including attacks from Orcs, giant spiders and a "Gollum" so this isn't suitable for the very young. Parents will want to preview this to see how suitable it is for their children. I know I can't show this to my girls yet, but will when the youngest hits about nine or ten. THE LORD OF THE RINGS Animated 133 minutes / 1978 RATING: 7/10 A year after The Hobbit was released, another animator, Ralph Bakshi, decided to try his hand at The Lord of the Rings.  The story begins with an aging Biblo Baggins passing on his magic ring to his nephew Frodo. Shortly after the wizard Gandalf shows up to warn Frodo of the ring's danger. It turns out this ring is so powerful that whoever holds it could use it to rule the world. This is why the evil Sauron wants it, and why the good Gandalf knows that it must be destroyed – this all-encompassing power is too much of a temptation for even the best of men to contend against. It is up to Frodo, who as a little Hobbit is far less tempted by the pull of power, to take the ring deep into the enemy's lands to destroy it in the lava of the mountain where it was first forged. And on the journey he has the company of hobbits, men, an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard to help him. Animator Ralph Bakshi used a style of animation that involved filming scenes with real actors and then tracing over each frame of film to create a line-drawing picture of it. This "rotoscoping" allowed Bakshi to incorporate the endless possibilities of animation with the realism of live-action. The realism also meant that this is a scarier film than The Hobbit. The lurching Ringwraiths (see the picture) are freaky, and some of the combat scenes, especially at the very end, are quite bloody. Though this is animated, it is not for children. There is one major flaw with the film: it is only half of the story! The director planned it as the first part of a two-film treatment, but the second film was never made, so things wrap up abruptly. While it lacks a proper ending, the story it does tell is intriguing. THE RETURN OF THE KING Animated 97 minutes / 1979 RATING: 4/10 This is sometimes treated as a sequel to Ralph Bakshi's film, but it isn't. Arthur Rankin directed, and he returned to the cartoonish animation style of The Hobbit. And while the events in this story do, loosely, follow after the events of the Bakshi film, Rankin seems to have been envisioning this as a sequel to The Hobbit, so he begins with an overview of everything that took place between it and The Return of the King. Or, in other words, it begins with a quick summary of two 500-page books – as you might expect this overview doesn't do justice to the contents of these enormous tomes, and the continuity of the story is completely lost. If a viewer isn't already familiar with the books he'll have no idea what's going on. Things don't get any better once the overview is complete - there is no flow to the story. Huge plot elements are skipped over, and random snips of scenes are stitched to other scenes with stilted narration and cheesy ballads. In addition, Frodo Baggins twice calls on God to help him. Some might argue this could be an appropriate use of God's name, but in the context of a fantasy world in which God is never otherwise mentioned, this seems a misuse. In short, The Return of the King is a dreadful film that is not worth anyone's time....

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

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! ...

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Jungle Beat - fun for the kids that will have the adults laughing too

Family / Animated 600+ min RATING: 10/10 I'm always on the hunt for films or shows my kids will enjoy that I'll enjoy too. There aren't many that fit that bill, but Jungle Beat sure does. This is comic genius at its best! The videos are all 5-minute stand-alone pieces featuring one jungle creature. Our favorite is probably the giraffe, or the turtle, but the bee, monkey and hedgehog are popular too. While the videos do have sound, they remind me of the very best silent film comedies from Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin, because they are entirely dialogue-free (after all, animals don't talk, right?) so all the humor is physical. Let me give you an idea of some of the scenarios: What's a poor turtle to do when it gets an itch, but its shell won't let it scratch? Maybe it should just slip off its shell? But like a pair of tight pants, his shell comes off easily, but doesn't go back on nearly so quickly. This leads to some hi-speed hijinks when the turtle has to surf on his shell to evade an eagle that wants to eat the now-exposed turtle. What's a poor firefly to do when it wants to catch some sleep, but its own light is keeping it awake? What's a poor giraffe to do when he accidentally head-butts the moon and knocks it to the ground, where it breaks to pieces? Each of the stories has a creative set-up, and all come with a happy ending. I don't know if Jungle Beat's creators are Christian, but I suspect so, because they've gone to great lengths to make sure this is family-friendly. I really can't say enough good things about this series. It is so very clever, and other than a few moments of peril, which might have our two-year-old a little nervous, it is entirely safe. And for the perfect finishing touch, they've even included coloring sheets at their website: www.junglebeat.tv. Two thumbs very enthusiastically up – I give this a 10 out of 10! So far there are three seasons, with each season made up of a dozen or so short videos. Each season's videos have been combined into full one-hour-long compilations which you can find below. And if that isn't enough, you can find two seasons of the Munki and Trunk series – focused on Jungle Beat's two most popular characters – just below. That's almost nine hours of animated fun! The only caution I will mention is that these do include commercials, and while YouTube generally keeps kids' show commercials tame, nowadays you just don't know what they'll show. So even with these very G-rated videos, parental supervision is a must in case of PG-rated commercials. Americans with Amazon Prime can skip the commercials by watching Jungle Beat Season 1+2 here and Monki and Trunk Season 1 here. Canadians with Amazon Prime can do the same by clicking here and here. I'll also add that these are a lot more fun in short 10 or 15-minute chunks than they are watching a whole hour's worth at a time. So gather round the family – you are in for a treat! JUNGLE BEAT SEASON ONE (65 minutes) SEASON TWO (66 minutes) SEASON THREE (60 minutes) SEASON FOUR (79 minutes) MUNKI AND TRUNK SEASON ONE (79 minutes) SEASON TWO (80 minutes) SEASON THREE (80 minutes) SEASON FOUR (81 minutes) THE EXPLORERS PART ONE (14 minutes) PART TWO (12 minutes) This review was first published on ReelConservative.com...

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