Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Archive for November, 2010

Christmas Giving Permeates New Disney Blu-ray/DVD Release “The Search for Santa Paws”

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

SantaPaws_200x262.jpgThe title of Disney’s heartwarming children’s Christmas movie “The Search for Santa Paws” is a bit of a misnomer. There are several threads of “search” stories woven together, however, and this being a Disney creation the viewer can comfortably expect that everyone will get what they want — or deserve — in the end.

The film opens as a musical production, starting with the elves gaily singing through their tasks in Santa’s North Pole workshop and culminating with Santa (Richard Riehle) and his Missus (Patrika Darbo) sharing a loving waltz around his birthday cake. Young children may not notice the plasticity of the smiles at this point, but for those who want more warmth, be patient — expressions and dialog become more natural as the characters evolve.

“Paws” (who is not yet “Santa Paws”) is first introduced as a stuffed-toy dog gifted to Santa from an old friend who has just passed away. A little magic from the “Christmas crystal” in a beautiful ice cave brings him to life (voiced by Mitchel Musso), and a necklace pendant of crystal keeps him — and Santa — immortal when they leave the North Pole for New York City, which is suffering from a dire drop in Christmas spirit.

Santa and Paws are separated after an accident that leaves Santa without his memory. Happenstance connects Santa to the heirs of his old friend — a couple who are two of those sadly in need of Christmas spirit — who have been bequeathed the friend’s toy store if they can run it to a profit through one Christmas season. Amnesiac Santa — who thinks his name is “Bud” because people on the street have called him that — surprises himself and the toy store proprietors with his ability to get along with all the children who visit the store.

A Central Park bum (Chris Coppola) takes advantage of Santa’s accident to steal what look to him to be valuable objects — Santa’s crystal pendant and a travel bag that turns out to have his iconic red suit. Gus makes use of the suit to take over a donation stand, thinking to make personal use of the money. He thinks he’s only searching for a way to make a buck, but he ends up finding something more meaningful.

Intercut with these stories is one that follows a little orphan, Quinn (a charming Kaitlyn  Maher), sent to a foster home run by the thoroughly disagreeable Ms. Stout (Wendi McLendon-Covey), who goes to extremes to keep any spark of joy out of her charges’ lives. An early scene shows her snatching a doll — forbidden contraband her home — from one little girl and throwing it in the incinerator. Quickly over with, the incident serves to set up the drama of a later key situation. Quinn, of course, is looking for more love than Ms. Stout’s home provides.

Paws and Quinn cross paths, and she sneaks the pup into the foster home. Another musical number ensues when Paws throws out some Christmas Crystal magic and transforms the girls’ stark bedroom into a well-furnished one replete with Christmas ornaments and the girls’ dingy dresses into party frocks. Ms. Stout discovers him, snatches his magic crystal, and sends him and one of the luckless girls to the cellar.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Santa has realized something bad must have happened to Santa and Paws, and two of Santa’s helpers arrive in the city to save them. Through them, all the threads come together and tie off as everyone gains in Christmas spirit through actions of giving to others — which is the ultimate treasure found in “The Search for Santa Paws.”

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Blu-ray Pluses for Families

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Avatar_ExtendedDVD.JPGTo Blu-ray or not to Blu-ray, that is the question — with apologies to the Bard for debasing Hamlet’s famous musing. But the question is more than academic for families considering where to spend their home entertainment money. Blu-ray represents yet another investment in the never-ending line of technology advancements. Is it worth changing over your home entertainment system yet again?

While Avatar director James Cameron praises the quality of Blu-ray over standard DVD (“On Blu-ray, you can see the one-to-one relationship of what the actors did to how it was translated in the movie,” Cameron told attendees at the Digital Entertainment Group conference held in Los Angeles on Nov. 2, discussing the Blu-ray release of Avatar, which has become the No. 1 Blu-ray title of all time worldwide), parents of young children may be swayed more by a practical consideration: Blu-ray discs are less susceptible to damage from scratches and fingerprints than standard DVDs, thanks to the special hard-coating developed for them.

The more commonly touted advantage is, of course, the Blu-ray disc’s greater data-storage capacity — more than five times that of traditional DVDs. It is this greater capacity that enables Blu-ray discs to offer playback (and recording and rewriting) in high definition. Standard DVDs cannot store the amount of data needed to produce the sharp images and vivid colors of the increasingly popular HD, whereas a dual-layer Blu-ray disc can hold more than nine hours of HD video on its 50 gigabytes of storage. Of standard-definition video, the same disc could hold about 23 hours. Compared to a standard dual-layer DVD’s 8.5GB, Blu-ray discs’ storage capacity allows room for additional content and all those special features with which studios like to entice an at-home audience. High-def audio is also possible on Blu-ray.

Admittedly, the selection of movie titles currently available on Blu-ray is considerably less than DVD. Retail giant Amazon.com carries 150,000 titles on DVD but only 4,000 on Blu-ray, according to the company’s VP of movies and video, Bill Carr, speaking at the DEG conference. Yet DEG president Ron Sanders, who is also president of Warner Home Video, told the conference that, to date, standard DVD sales declined 14 percent while Blu-ray sales grew by 86 percent. Major movie studios Disney, Fox, Warner, Paramount, Sony, Lionsgate and MGM have released titles on Blu-ray, and, going forward, many studios have announced plans to release films on Blu-ray concurrent with standard DVDs. Many, in fact, release both together as a combo pack — with an additional digital copy that can be downloaded on other electronic devices — offering options for viewing almost anywhere.

Blu-ray 3D is yet another advancement to home-viewing options. Amazon, anticipating viewer interest and/or curiosity, offers information on its site about this format.

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‘The Dog Who Saved Christmas’ Re-released for 2010 Holiday Season

Monday, November 1st, 2010

DogWhoSAvedXmas_200x290.jpgThe message at the heart of this slapstick tale of doggy derring-do from Anchor Bay is relevant any time of the year: Everyone deserves a second chance. Delivering it in a Christmas setting adds an extra zing because, as the mother in this story insists, “No one should be alone on Christmas.”

Shades of “Home Alone,” but here with a former K-9 police dog as hero, give the film its big pay-off and most of its humor. Unfortunately, it takes far too long to get there, straining for humor and character identification along the way. Part of the problem with the movie is its ambivalence about what age audience it’s going for.

At the start of the movie, we meet Zeus, a golden Labrador Retriever who looks well fed and well cared for. But appearances must be deceiving, because Zeus shares his thoughts with us about getting picked up and sent to an animal shelter so he can be assured of “three square meals on the inside.” (Zeus is not so much a talking character as one whose thoughts we are able to hear.) Such references are above the heads of the youngest viewers, but the tone of voice most characters use is the one that many adults affect when they try to make conversation with toddlers.

Zeus is adopted from the pound by George Bannister, who promised his wife, Belinda, that he would not buy a dog until the two of them had time to discuss it more. His sophistry (“I didn’t buy it; I got it for free”) raises a point about honesty parents may want to discuss with their kids after viewing the movie. Ostensibly, George wants a dog that can be a guard dog, as there’s been a robbery on their block; Belinda, however, suggests they get an alarm instead. What George really wants is a pet, because as a child he lost his dog. So when it becomes apparent that Zeus lacks a basic requisite — he can’t bark — George insists on giving him another chance.

The Bannister kids, Kara and Ben, are on their dad’s side, and we see them getting a DVD “Teach Your Dog to Bark.” Even though they profess to care about Zeus, we don’t see any real feeling to their words or actions.

The source of Zeus’ problem is explained in a short, confused flashback scene: On a police mission, he barked at the wrong time and blew a five-year investigation. Now, he knows he has to overcome this psychological block, and, predictably, it takes a robbery attempt on the Bannister’s house to get him past his hang-up.

Recurring gags are Zeus drinking out of the toilet and one of the robbers with a flatulence problem. The pair of robbers are, in many ways, more likeable than the family whose home they’re robbing. They are stupid and clumsy, easy foils for Zeus’ tricks, and their conversation and pratfalls — over-the-top though they are — provide the most honest humor in the movie.

A secondary story involves a hermit-like neighbor about whom Kara and Ben propagate a rumor that she poisons dogs. Zeus also plays a role in resolving her relationships in time for a merry Christmas.

Recommended for ages 9 to 12.

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‘Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! Wubbzy’s Christmas Adventure’ in Re-release for this Holiday Season

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Wubbzy_Xmas_200x281.jpgTaken in one 70-minute sitting or viewed in single installments, this collection of six Wubbzy adventures from Anchor Bay is silly enough to engage young viewers while never talking down to them. The underlying message throughout is that friends help each other, and the point is clearly made through actions and dialog that move each story along, rather than by any pedantic narration.

These adventures, as the DVD title states, all revolve around Christmas-time celebrations of Wubbzy, Widget, Walden and their other friends in Wuzzleburg. Credit Wubbzy’s creators with acknowledging there are other holidays celebrated around the same time of year, but there is one technical discrepancy: The Jewish menorah shown in one episode is the standard seven-branched one rather than the special nine-branched one used for Chanukah.

Snow ushers in the winter season, and in “Snow Day,” Wubbzy and friends respond to the first snowfall each in his and her own way: Wubbzy goes sledding, Widget invents a super snow shovel, and Walden builds a perfectly executed snow sculpture of a polar bear. When Wubbzy accidentally destroys Wally Polar Bear, he and Widget immediately set about to rebuild it — and we cheer for them as they send Walden off on a series of errands in hopes of finishing it before he discovers the disaster. Walden eventually does discover what’s going on, and matter-of-factly modifies his plan so the same thing won’t happen again. After all, accidents will happen.

In “O’Figgity Fig Tree,” Widget gets the job of decorating the big Christmas tree in Wuzzleburg’s town square. Wubbzy gets excited about trying to make it brighter, and they blow out the generator. When he steps up to apologize to all the disappointed townsfolk for causing the problem, they respond by contributing their own special decorations. With everyone’s help, and unflagging good cheer, they end up with the best Christmas tree ever.

“The Snow Shoo Shoo” is a mystery in which Wubbzy, Widget and Walden search for the missing creature with the help of a special gadget from Widget that goes Sherlock Holmes two better: It’s a magnifying lens AND a flashlight AND a ball-point pen. And adults can chuckle with the kids when Wubbzy, told to be on the lookout for anything unusual, sees his tail through the lens and comments that his tail is bigger than it used to be.

“Dash for Dolly” not only promotes the value of homemade gifts over off-the-shelf ones, it’s full of project examples and ideas an astute adult could do with his or her own kids. The focus is always on giving, not getting, and in “Great and Grumpy Holiday,” caring for one reaps benefits for all. Not all gifts have to be material things, either, as “The Super Special Gift” relates.

And what would a Christmas story be without Santa Claus? Jolly old St. Nick makes his special appearance in the DVD’s bonus episode, “The Super Special Gift.”

Recommended for ages 2 to 5.

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