Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Mike Elliott, Director and Visionary, Shares His Trade Secrets

May 28th, 2020

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Mike Elliott, the director of American Pie: Girls Rule. In our discussion, we discussed the challenges of continuing one of cinema’s most famous comedy series and how this film differs from his experience as both a director and a producer.

American Pie: Girls Rule is the ninth installment in the franchise. After nine films, the series has garnered a reputation and an expectation from its fans. So, Mike Elliott had to approach this film from two fronts. First, he had to keep in mind the “formula” that the American Pie series follows – a raunchy, but explorative and innocent story. Second, he had to find a way to separate this film from its many predecessors. To do so, American Pie: Girls Rule switches perspective and looks at the comedy of relationships from the female perspective instead of the male.

While American Pie is historically meant for older audiences, Mike Elliott has worked on films for much younger audiences, including being a producer of the kid’s film, Woody Woodpecker. While they may have different audiences, both have a similar style of physical comedy with a “pay off and set up of jokes,” Mike Elliott explained. Additionally, Mike tries to put a moral in every film, no matter who is its final audience.

Getting the comedy from script to screen is not an easy process and involves collaboration between the director and actors. While the director can ensure each comedic element is set up for the jokes, it is up to the actor to have the perfect body language and reactions to compliment that humor. “That’s the kind of thing you can’t teach anyone,” Mike explained.

Yet, the director’s focus goes from there. Mike listed three main areas of focus for film directors. First, they must know the story in intimate detail, from the large plot elements to scene-by-scene character developmental beats. Second, they must have a planning mindset where they keep in mind everything they need to do every day and throughout the production.

Lastly, the director must be a leader. A film set is comprised of producers, set designers, makeup and hair stylists, actors, special effects creators, cinematographers and more. It requires a strong and trustworthy leader to combine these many, often contrasting, elements into an entertaining and meaningful movie.

For more of my interviews exploring leaders in the entertainment business, make sure to check out my interviews with Glenn Ross, CEO Universal 1440 Entertainment; Scott Ross, VFX Specialist; Glenn Entis, former CEO Dreamworks Interactive; Maureen Fan, CEO Baobab Studios; Gary Gutierez, SFX Specialist; Cynthia Hsiung, Award-Winning Director/producer; and Steve Michelson, Award-winning Documentarian. And here’s a link to my playlist of over 300 interviews and reviews on the KIDS FIRST!  YouTube Channel.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
Author’s Page – Amazon
World According to G

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Steve Michelson – From One Pass to Sustainable Tomorrows, Innovator Supreme!

May 23rd, 2020

We have the pleasure today to visit with Steve Michelson about “Making Media That Matters.” Steve Michelson is the Executive Producer for The Fund for Sustainable Tomorrows, a 501©3 non-profit specializing in supporting engagement campaigns around cause-related documentaries involving health, social justice, sustainability and the environment. 

Two current projects that he is leading are the film Phil’s Camino and the mission to change the standard of care around cancer treatment.  The Fund is also managing the engagement around the release of the film 16Bars about the reentry of returning citizens to society from our prison system. Steve’s on line course, in association with Ringling College in Sarasota Florida, for the next generation of documentarians will launch this year as Making Media That Matters.

Michelson has functioned as Executive Producer on many award-winning films including: In Our Own Hands – How Patients are Reinventing MedicineThe Third HarmonyScarred Lands and Wounded LivesNature’s Orchestra, Walking in Two Worlds, River of RenewalPower PathsBurning the FutureCrude ImpactOil on Ice and more.

From 2006-2019 Michelson was the Executive Producer at the Video Project, specializing in educational and institutional distribution of documentary films. His production studio operates out of his Ranch in Half Moon Bay, CA. called Lobitos Creek Ranch. It has been redesigned recently to accommodate retreats for organizations and groups that come to strategize on some of the challenging problems society faces.  

Steve Michelson, co-founder of OnePass, former Executive Producer at Video Project and more.

Michelson was co-founder and president of One Pass, San Francisco’s largest production and post-production studio from 1975-85, before starting his own company in 1986. He is a recipient of the Gilbert Award for outstanding contribution to Northern California’s film community. He has served four terms as a Governor with the National Academy for Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS). Steve is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he attended The Annenberg School of Communications and the Wharton School of Business.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
Author’s Page – Amazon
World According to G

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Scoob! * Great Family Movie with Terrific Characters and an Amazing Mystery

May 18th, 2020

Scooby-Doo is the hero of his own story in “SCOOB!,” the first full-length, theatrical animated Scooby-Doo adventure, which reveals how he and his best friend Shaggy became two of the world’s most beloved crime busters. The story takes us back to where it all began, when a young Scooby and Shaggy first meet, and team up with Velma, Daphne, and Fred to launch Mystery Incorporated. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. comments, “Zoinks, this movie is terrific! The storyline is creative and entertaining and there is wonderful character development that is unique to this movie versus the cartoon episodes we all grew up with.”  Tiana S. adds, “  SCOOB! is a hilarious, action-packed and adventurous animated movie based on the original Scooby Doo cartoon. This movie is a cool, updated version and includes cell phones and references to some of the current stores, such as IKEA and Wal-Mart.” Cadence G. wraps it up with, “I like SCOOB! because it has an amazing mystery and the characters are really cute. It’s cool that they have their own opinions about pretty much everything, yet are still good friends. This film is full of action and also has some touching scenes that that will make you feel emotional.” See their full reviews below.

Scoob!
By Katherine S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Grab your Scooby Snacks and get ready for a Scoob-tasic adventure. Zoinks, this movie is terrific! The storyline is creative and entertaining and there is wonderful character development that is unique to this movie versus the cartoon episodes we all grew up with.  

Scoob! is about the never-before-heard origin of the Mystery Inc. gang and how Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby Doo (Frank Welker) met. After a montage of solving mysteries, we see the gang wanting to expand and we get to follow them on their biggest mystery yet. Only their friendship can save them. 

I LOVE The Scooby Doo Franchise! And Scoob! is no exception. I remember watching the show and wondering how the Mystery Inc. gang got together. And now, in Scoob! we finally learn the answer. The animation is super vivid and creative. Everywhere you look, there is an “Easter Egg.” For example, the names of streets and stores are names of people associated with Hanna-Barbera.  The cast includes children of some of the adult actors. The characters’ voices are cast to perfection.

Frank Welker has a fantastic snack-loving dog voice and has been the voice of Scooby Doo for nearly 20 years. Will Forte has a hilarious hippy voice; Amanda Seyfried (Daphne) has a magnificent, kind and caring tone in her voice; and Gina Rodriguez (Velma) has an excellent voice portraying wit, intelligence and quite a bit of sarcasm.  My favorite character is (SURPRISE) Scooby, because he is such a sweet dog and, as Frank Welker says, “When he talks, I’m not even sure I am listening to a dog talking like a human, or a human talking like a dog.” I agree.  But a close second is the villain of the movie (no spoiler here) because his name, his voice and his appearance are just perfect for a bad guy. 

The key message of this movie is about the power of friendship. This movie has mild bad language and some magic scenes that may be scary for a younger audience.

Jinkies, I give Scoob! 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 6 to 18. Adults will love this as well. Scoob! is available online May 15, 2020. #SCOOBMOVIENIGHT

SCOOB! 
By Tiana S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 9

SCOOB! is a hilarious, action-packed and adventurous animated movie based on the original Scooby Doo cartoon. This movie is a cool, updated version and includes cell phones and references to some of the current stores, such as IKEA and Wal-Mart. There are so many funny scenes in this movie that the whole family will love.

In SCOOB!, the entire Mystery Inc. team from Scooby Doo returns to solve more mysteries. We learn how Shaggy, Scooby, Velma, Daphne and Fred originally met one Halloween night. The team then goes on several adventures while trying to solve mysteries. Their biggest mission is when Velma, Daphne and Fred find out that Shaggy and Scooby are missing, and they go on a quest to find their lost friends. They need to stop the villain, Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs), from capturing Scooby and using him to open up the gates so he can steal the treasure of the underworld.

The lead characters are Shaggy (Will Forte), Scooby (Frank Welker), Velma (Gina Rodriguez), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried) and Fred (Zac Efron). It was interesting to learn what role each of them had in the group. For example, Velma is the “brains” of the team. The costumes are amazing and spot on to the originals. Scooby even gets an upgrade and gets to wear a great superhero costume in the movie. There is a lot of great music from different eras and it takes place in Venice, California. It is really clever that the movie starts with Dr. Dre and Tupac’s song, “California Love.” The special effects are realistic and make you feel as if you are in the movie. One of the coolest parts of the movie is when other Hanna Barbara characters such as, Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg), Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemmons) show up to help save Shaggy and Scooby. A great surprise is when American Idol’s, Simon Cowell (Simon Cowell) appears in the movie. I love how current events are used in the movie, especially the joke they include about how Simon is responsible for giving the world Kelly Clarkson.

The message in SCOOB! is all about friendship. The cast uses the phrase “friendship saves the day” throughout the film. Anytime the Mystery Inc. team needs to solve a case, they do it together. This movie is PG and, even though there isn’t a lot for parents to look out for, there are two scenes that could be mistaken for inappropriate language.

SCOOB! is PAW-tastic and a film you definitely want to see. You may even find yourself dancing while watching it. I rate it 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for kids 5 to 18. Adults will love it too. This movie is available on video on demand now, so grab your Scooby Snacks and order it today!

SCOOB!
By Cadence G., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

I like SCOOB! because it has an amazing mystery and the characters are really cute. It’s cool that they have their own opinions about pretty much everything, yet are still good friends. This film is full of action and also has some touching scenes that that will make you feel emotional.

This animated film is about a gang that meets on Halloween when they are young and they solve their first mystery. Then they start solving mysteries all the time. When they grow up, they try to find an investor to support their mystery-solving business. Simon Cowell (Simon Cowell) meets the crew in a diner and says he won’t give them any money if Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) are part of the business, since he believes a group is only as strong as its weakest link. Shaggy and Scooby go off bowling on their, but wind up getting chased by evil robots. They get transported to Blue Falcon’s (Mark Wahlberg) ship and meet Dynomutt (Ken Jeong) and Dee Dee Sykes (Kiersey Clemons). The group gets chased by the robots who are controlled by Dick Dastardly (Jason Isaacs)—a bad guy that wants to take Scooby and open the gate to the underworld. You’ll have to watch to see if Dick successfully opens the gate.

All the characters are so funny; each one has its own little personality. Fred (Zac Efron) isn’t the smartest guy, but he’s the cutest. Velma (Gina Rodriguez), on the other hand, is probably the smartest person ever. The group relies on each other to solve problems. To me, that’s pretty cool. My favorite part is when Shaggy and Scooby sing “Shallow” to Simon Cowell. It is so funny because they are definitely not good singers. But I love it because “Shallow” is my favorite song.

The message of the film is to trust your friends. Even when they mess up, you should have their back. It kind of reminds me that sometimes I mess up and I want my friends to support me still.

I give SCOOB! 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 6 to 12. I also think adults will like this film—especially if they used to watch the animated shows when they were kids. SCOOB! is available now online, so go look for it!

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A remarkable woman! Halle Stanford, President, TV, The Jim Henson Company

May 17th, 2020

What a wonderful role model for our young entertainment reporters! This week Katherine S. and Tiana S. spoke with Halle Stanford, a ten-time Emmy®-nominated television producer, who leads the Company’s development and production of all television, home entertainment, and digital media in animated and live-action formats establishing the company’s creative culture across all territories.

Stanford is currently executive producing the Netflix series The Dark Crystal:  Age of Resistance as well as The Dinosaur Train Movie for Universal Entertainment and PBS KIDS®. Her recent children’s programming executive producer credits include: the Netflix Original Word Party; the groundbreaking marine biology series Splash and Bubbles for PBS KIDS®; the NBCUniversal Kids/CBC animated series Dot., based on Randi Zuckerberg’s popular book; and the NBCUniversal/Hulu Original preschool show Doozers, inspired by the wildly popular characters from the classic series Fraggle Rock.  Stanford’s award-winning credits also include the Emmy®-nominated Sid the Science Kid and Dinosaur Train, which currently air on PBS KIDS® in the U.S. and in multiple markets around the world, the live-action puppet series Me and My Monsters for the CBBC and Network Ten in Australia, the Lifetime live-action holiday special Jim Henson’s Turkey Hollow, as well as the Emmy®-nominated Sprout preschool series Pajanimals

Stanford joined The Jim Henson Company in 1993 and worked on beloved Muppet projects like Muppet Treasure Island, Muppets Tonight, and Bear in the Big Blue House, as well as the Sci-f cult classic Farscape. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degrees in Film and Theater from Wesleyan University, is a Cub Scout Leader, a proud mom to two sons (ages 8 and 21!) and is on an endless quest to enrich the lives of children around the globe. More at: https://g.co/kgs/7LwAmd


Interviewed by

Katherine S. and Tiana S.

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The Vast of Night * An Homage To The Twilight Zone That Is Just Not Eerie Enough

May 15th, 2020

In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young switchboard operator Fay and charismatic radio DJ Everett discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B. comments, “Aside from the pacing and poor editing, the mystery of the frequency is ultimately confusing and unsatisfying. And as an homage to The Twilight Zone, it’s not eerie or unique enough and honestly it feels like a gimmick. The fact that the story takes place in the 50s rarely comes up other than the old technology, which is a bit disappointing to me, since I really like the 50s aesthetic.” See her full review below.

The Vast of Night
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

The Vast of Night was somewhat disappointing. The film has an interesting set up but it feels underdeveloped and a waste of potential.

The story is a very clear parody of shows such as The Twilight Zone, to the point where the story is framed as if it was an episode of The Twilight Zone. The plot follows two high schoolers named Everett and Fay, who run a radio show together in the 1950s. One night, Fay hears a strange frequency through the radio and she investigates it with Everett.

To start off, I want to talk about my biggest problem with this movie, which is the pace. There are many scenes in this movie that go on for way too long and, as a result, completely kill the atmosphere and investment. The worst of these is the scene near the beginning in which Fay first hears the frequency. She calls a bunch of other people to ask them about it, and this takes around ten minutes. There is no justifiable reason that this scene needs to be so long. It barely establishes anything and, at most, reestablishes the same thing. It’s not entertaining and is incredibly boring. But what makes this scene even more tedious is that, for ten minutes, there is not a single cut. It’s the same frame and same shot of Fay, for the entire ten minutes. I’m usually not one to talk about cinematography and editing, but this combination is a recipe for boredom. However, props to Sierra McCormick, the actress who plays Fay, for being able to pull this scene off. I’m sure this scene was difficult to do. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save this major flaw. In actuality, this film is pretty short, but it feels like an eternity.

Aside from the pacing and poor editing, the mystery of the frequency is ultimately confusing and unsatisfying. And as an homage to The Twilight Zone, it’s not eerie or unique enough and honestly it feels like a gimmick. The fact that the story takes place in the 50s rarely comes up other than the old technology, which is a bit disappointing to me, since I really like the 50s aesthetic.

I give this film 2 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18. It comes out May 15, 2020 and on Prime Video May 29, 2020. Look for it.

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