Up to date information about children’s entertainment – film, TV, DVD and more…. from founder and president of KIDS FIRST! Ranny Levy

Archive for the 'Feature Film Reviews' Category

Tangled – A New Twist on the Story of Rapunzel

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Tangled.jpgWalt Disney’s new animated feature Tangled takes the story of Rapunzel and gives her a proper make-over.  When Princess Rapulzel (Mandy Moore) is born with a head full of magical golden hair, an evil old  woman, Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), steals the baby and locks her safely away in a hidden tower.  For 18 years, she raises the girl as her own, using the powers of Rapunzel’s magic hair as her personal fountain-of-youth.  Enter the handsome rogue, Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi).  Fresh from stealing the crown jewels, he’s chased into the woods where he stumbles upon the fabled Tower and encounters the stir-crazy and persuasive Rapunzel and her impossibly long locks.  What follows is an adventure-filled trek where the unlikely couple must evade the law, the bad guys and Mother Gothel if they are going to discover romance, redemption and truth.

Tangled covers comfortable territory for Walt Disney Animation –  A beautiful, long-lost princess; a handsome young thief redeemed by love; a conniving, self-centered Mother figure; a family reunion and wedding…stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  But while the formula may leave you with that deja-vu feeling, the movie leaves you thoroughly entertained.  Complete with catchy tunes by the immensely talented Alan Menken, a laugh-out-loud funny script by Dan Fogelman (Cars; Bolt), and engaging performances by the vocal cast, there is a lot to enjoy here.  Particularly fun are the animal characters – a horse who thinks he’s a dog and a chameleon side-kick with a wicked tongue – and the gang of baddies turned goodies dubbed the Pub Thugs who, down deep, are just sensitive, frustrated artists.

The film is rated PG for sequences of cartoon violence – Rapunzel’s weapon of choice is a cast-iron frying pan which she uses with authority to protect herself.   Very young children might find Mother Gothel to be a slightly frightening character, especially when she meets her demise.  Otherwise, the film is suitable for all ages.  (My husband who generally dislikes musicals and my twin 7th graders – boys – all loved it, if that’s any indication!)  Reviewed for KIDS FIRST! by Cyndi Menegaz 
Tangled will be released in Disney 3D Digital on November 24.

Nanny McPhee Returns: Charm, Excitement, and Relevance (by Hayley Watkins)

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

If you’ve seen any trailers for the new movie Nanny McPhee Returns, you know it has something to do with unruly children, a magical nanny, and swimming piglets. But it really has much more to it.

The film is set up by depicting three misbehaved farm children who are being raised by their mother, Isabel Green, while their father is away fighting in World War II. The children are dirty and always fighting, but Mrs. Green hardly has any time to discipline them because she is working, keeping up the farm, and trying to avoid her husband’s sleazy brother who wants her consent to sell their home. The story begins with the Green family preparing for their mother’s niece and nephew to come stay with them from London. They are trying to clean up the house and the farm to accommodate these refined children.

Of course, nothing seems to go right. The owner at the shop Isabel works at, Mrs. Docherty, is losing her memory and misplacing all the goods, the cousins come a day early and are terribly rude, and Uncle Phil’s ulterior motive for trying to sell the farm is to pay off his gambling debts. Just in time, Nanny McPhee shows up to save the day.

The casting is near perfect; with Emma Thompson being her lovely, but firm, self as Nanny McPhee, Maggie Gyllenhall is wonderful as the exasperated Mrs. Green; and Maggie Smith delightful as the slightly kooky Mrs. Docherty. The children actors are all quite capable, with Rosie Taylor-Ritson playing up the comedy best, as cousin Celia. Rhys Ifans is a bit over the top as Uncle Phil, but it works in a movie with so much magic anyway. The film also includes fine cameos by Ralph Fiennes and Ewan McGregor.

It seems as if the filmmakers have discovered CG (character generation) animation since the first Nanny McPhee, and have slightly overused it. Some are done very well, like the synchronized swimming pigs for instance (Thompson’s own favorite scene in the film). At other times though, it is a bit exhausting. The movie is also extremely touching, in the way that Mrs. Green loves her children so much, she will do anything to provide for them, including sacrificing time with her brood to work and keep the farm going until their father has returned.

The film also touches on some darker themes that children today can relate to, like growing up during wartime, foreclosure, gambling, loss of a parent, divorce, and dementia. But every bad thing is counteracted by something good, and all the children learn how to solve problems themselves, which is quite empowering for the younger audience members.

All in all, it is quite a charming movie, with enough poop jokes to make the kids laugh (and maybe the adults) and stay interested. You shouldn’t worry about that though, it might be hard to drag them out of the theater when it’s over!
Review contributed by Hayley Watkins, a high school sophomore, who had the opportunity to meet and interview Emma Thompson during her New York publicity tour.

Read Helen Jonsen (Working Mother)’s interview with Emma Thompson. http://www.workingmother.com/BestCompanies/celebrity-moms/2010/08/actress-emma-thompson-working-mom


Flipped – A New Rob Reiner Movie Coming Soon

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Lauren Boxer, our 12-year-old film critic shared this about the movie, Flipped which is being released August 6 in select markets.

“Flipped is a movie showing how when you like a guy (or girl) make sure you see them as the whole self. A quote I loved from the movie is “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” I do not know exactly what it means but it touched my heart. Rob Reiner (Director) really showed the viewers what Flipped means – showing the same situation from both the girl’s side and the boy’s side. I would recommend it to everyone that has ever had a crush.  Hold on tight because Flipped is coming soon to theaters.”

Based on the novel “Flipped” by Wendelin Van Draanen.

Ramona and Beezus Releases July 23

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010


Ramona and Beezus is a strong adaptation of the classic Beverly Cleary novels, that updates the already engaging characters and setting without weakening them. This cute family comedy deals well with today’s middle class crises, ranging from the real estate crash to corporate downsizing.  We get inside Ramona Quimby’s head almost immediately with fanciful special effects that bring her imagination right out onto the screen. Most of all it, it is a lovely portrait of two sisters overcoming their differences and coming together – demonstrating along the way that sisterhood isn’t just powerful – it’s also fun.  Ramona Quimby rides again in this sparkly funny family comedy!

Reviewed by Doug Zwick, KIDS FIRST! Board member; Discussion guides are available through Walden Media here.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Reviewed by Cyndi Menegaz

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

The Walt Disney Company’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice reunites the National Treasure team (producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Jon Turteltaub and star Nicholas Cage) in an energy-filled supernatural adventure complete with cool magic,  fast cars and romance.   The story is loosely based on the beloved animated short of the same name seen in Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia, which in turn was inspired by the 1797 German poem by Johann Goethe.  In the 2010 film version, we learn that Merlin the Magician had three apprentices:  Horvath (Albert Molina), who betrays Merlin and sides with the evil Morgana;  Victoria, who becomes trapped with Morgana in a vessel; and Balthazar (Nicholas Cage) who must locate the only sorcerer capable of destroying Morgana forever.  So begins Balthazar’s centuries long quest which ends with his discovery of Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel.)  

At 20 years old, Dave is a socially awkward but brilliant physics student at NYU with a crush on Becky (Teresa Palmer), a girl far out of his league.  How could he possibly be the descendant of the fabled Merlin, charged with saving the world from the clutches of evil?  Balthazar soon has him on a crash course in the ways of magic – a cool blend of modern science and age-old sorcery – but Dave is a reluctant protégé and high jinx ensue.  Self-confidence is the one thing Balthazar can’t teach Dave, and it’s the one thing he’ll need to fulfill his destiny (and get the girl!) 

Much of this story feels like we’ve seen it before – it’s certainly formulaic and crosses much traveled cinematic terrain.  However, the characters and their relationships are engaging and their quest is just a whole lot of fun.  Laughs are gratefully abundant and the special effects are worthy of the genre. 

The film is geared for families, but due to creepy and possibly frightening depictions of supernatural beings and events, it’s most appropriate for children aged 10 and up.   

The Karate Kid: For Kids of All Ages

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Karate Kid 2

The best part of The Karate Kid, according to KIDS FIRST! jurors, Margie and Joseph Sarrao (9), was all the Kung Fu, especially when Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) fought with a broken leg.  Indeed, there is a lot of Kung Fu action in this movie, a fact that is sure to please kids of all ages.  It is, however, also a story of friendship, redemption, getting up when you are knocked down, learning to live in a foreign culture, and good sporstmanship.  Oh, yeah, it is also a story about bullying – a concept many American kids understand.

In Karate Kid, Dre befriends Meiying (Wanwan Han), a girl at his school, but unwittingly dishonors her family.  Viewers will think it’s funny to watch Sponge Bob in Chinese, but Dre is learning to navigate in a culture very different from ours – from eating different foods to watching “Sponge Bob” in Chinese, to the Chinese idea of honor.

Good sportsmanship and bullying are also central themes in this movie.  Dre makes an enemy of the school bully.   At one point, they beat Dre up 5 against 1!  They are definitely not good sports. They are willing to do anything to win, even cheat.  But Dre doesn’t handle this situation well, either.  He doesn’t tell any adults about the bullying.  Both his mom (Taraji P. Henson) and his school’s headmistress would help him if they knew.  This is a good lesson for real life.

As a “child of the 80’s,” when the first Karate Kid was made, I was hesitant to watch this remake.  But I really enjoyed it!  It is very well made. Will Smith definitely “pulled out all the stops.”  Jaden Smith is a very emotive young actor.  The plot is exciting.  The scenery is amazing!   And… there are lots of things for parents to discuss with their kids after the movie (or watch it just for fun!)

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