Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Archive for December, 2010

Happy New Year, 2011. And Best Regards, 2010.

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Tangled_500x300.jpgTime to lay 2010 to rest and welcome in the new year. But what great memories will remain from 2010! KIDS FIRST! debuted an innovative program that fosters cinematic literacy while continuing to encourage shared movie experiences and bonding between parents and children with the KIDS FIRST! Film Critics’ Search. And we recorded the amazing participation milestone of 11 million votes from all of you to help choose the winners … No, it was more than 11 million votes! Thank you for making the contest such a success, and we can now look forward to hearing from the talented kids who’ll be reviewing and reporting their perspectives on Hollywood’s entertainment offerings.

Hollywood’s entertainment offerings from 2010 included a possibly record-breaking number of animation features, a genre that’s a particular favorite of mine. From box-office blockbusters like Toy Story 3 to more niche releases like Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, animation continues to charm audiences with its unique renderings of imagination. We even got to enjoy another fairy tale brought to life in Disney’s signature style with Tangled (pictured) and a surprise piece of quality storytelling with How to Train Your Dragon. Shrek and Despicable MeFurry Vengeance (one of a hybrid style that combines live action with its animation) and Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole … the genre is not only alive and well but providing high-quality entertainment for all ages.

But the shows are more entertaining and enjoyable when shared; humor is exponentially funnier when someone else’s laugh is added to yours. May the new year bring you many more happy times and shared memories.

And for all of you planning to enter our 2011 KIDS FIRST! Film Critics Search competition, take note as we will be offering Film Critics Boot camp in five cities this summer: L.A., N.Y., Denver/Boulder, Santa Fe and Fort Worth. Details coming soon. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter at http://www.kidsfirst.org/ so you won’t miss out on the updates — plus, it’s a great way to be informed of all the other cool stuff that KF is involved in.

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‘Miracle’ is on TV – it must be Christmas

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

MiracleOn34thStreet.jpgI recently re-watched the original Miracle on 34th Street. I first discovered this film one late night when I was a teenager, babysitting for a couple in the neighborhood. That was long before home entertainment systems, so every year I would look forward to the winter holiday season with my eye fixed on the TV programming schedule. To this day, the 1947 film has never disappointed me, reinforcing all those romantic feelings of wonder and hope and belief — and love — that seem to be expressed more openly during this season than any other time of year.

Strange to imagine that, when it was released (in MAY of 1947), the studios tried to hide the Christmas aspect in their promotions and play it up simply as a feel-good movie. But then, it is a feel-good movie.

Another now-classic Christmas fare was likewise not a Christmas release originally. A Christmas Story was first released before Thanksgiving in 1983, but public outcry over it not running weeks later for Christmas resulted in limited screenings until after New Year’s. Although more slice-of-life than fantasy, it also establishes a wonderful sense of innocence — perhaps because it is an adult looking back on his childhood, but is it a coincidence that it, like Miracle on 34th Street, is set in the 1940s (the decade that gave us another Christmas icon — It’s a Wonderful Life)? (Parents note, however, that A Christmas Story’s through-line is a boy’s yearning for a BB gun.)

KIDS FIRST! names Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life on our “Top 100” list of films.
Christmas is not a holiday I celebrate, but I revel in the spirit of this season and enjoy the movies built around the “Christmas spirit.”  These are plentiful, and every year brings new ones to warm our hearts. Only time will tell whether some of these movies that are made for this season will become as indelibly tied to it as the ones named above that weren’t.

Here’s to miracles. Happy Holidays.

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Greetings of the season to you.

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

SeasonsGreetings_RannyLevy_200x268.jpgThis is THAT time of year – when we try extra hard to get together with distant family and keep in touch with good friends, but often get blindsided by all the planning and shopping and get-it-to-the-post-office-in-time. To those of you who have it all in hand, I salute you. To those who are more like me, well, let’s take a deep breath together and remind ourselves why we’re making ourselves crazy: We want to make this an extra-special time.

One of the easier activities we can do is watch a show together. When we’re too tired for an active interactive (from Chutes & Ladders to Monopoly to Twister to Hide & Seek), we can share the laughs, tears and wonder of a well-presented feature film. We at KIDS FIRST! hope our age recommendations will help you choose the best programming for your family.

Bake something together to enjoy while watching; that can become a special holiday memory as well (my twin grandsons refer to the pumpkin bread they helped make in their first baking experience as “Grandma’s bread”). A few shakers of colored sprinkles and tubes of icing can release the budding artist in folks of all ages, whether or not you plan to leave out a plate of decorated cookies for Santa.

If your holiday comes up next week, a very Merry Christmas or Happy Kwanzaa to you and yours. And a belated Happy Chanukah to those who celebrated the beginning of this month. Happy Holidays to all.

Photo by Ranny Levy

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3-D TV: Are We There Yet?

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Avatar_536x300.jpg3-D! Wow! When a feature movie is released in this format, the 3-D aspect is hyped as much as any of the stars. It’s the latest big-deal thing.

Except that it isn’t. The first 3-D predated even the 20th Century. (For an interesting history, visit http://hollywoodinhidef.com/video-gallery/.) It has come and gone in various technologic processes from the major studios since the 1930s. It seems to have finally hit its stride, in no small measure thanks to James Cameron’s innovative use of the technique in Avatar – bring you into the scene rather than have the scene jump out at you. And now you can watch Avatar in 3-D at home!

But what can you watch besides Avatar? Titles are limited, as well as genres (animation and horror are the bulk of available movies, although sports fanatics may find more to their liking). That’s one consideration you may want to keep in mind if you’re thinking about plopping down multiple thousands of dollars on a 3-D TV for your home.

List cost usually includes two pair of the special shutter glasses you need to wear to experience the 3-D effects. If your family numbers more than two, you’ll need to pop for additional glasses (which could run $150 each) or try to establish a sign-up or turn-taking schedule (yeah, right). Borrowing from friends — or inviting friends to join you and bring their own glasses — may not work, as different manufacturers’ glasses are not necessarily mutually compatible.

Another aspect worth considering: That was a lot of years to get theaters across the board to invest in the specialized equipment to present the format. So, while television manufacturers now are developing their own products, there is no uniformity among them. Weigh the thrill and cachet of being one of the “first on your block” to own a 3-D TV with the chance you take that your selection may not, ultimately, become the accepted one (remember Beta video? A better-quality video, but VHS won that battle).

Avatar photo by WETA, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

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Christmas Tale ‘The Happy Elf’ Available on DVD

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

HappyElf.JPGIt’s hard to imagine there could be an excess of happiness at Santa’s workshop, but most of his elves are rather stressed with Christmas just two days away. Eubie, however, is one elf whose exuberant happiness knows no bounds — and his unrestrained expression of it gets on the nerves of the other elves.

Thus begins the story a wandering minstrel tells two children he finds fighting — throwing Christmas tree ornaments at each other! — on the sidewalk just before Christmas. The very ludicrousness of the premise sets it up for laughs from viewers old enough to recognize the contradictions.

All of Santa’s managers try to avoid having Eubie assigned to their division. He ends up in Naughty & Nice, checking the last-minute ratings of children that will determine whether Santa will leave them a gift. When he notices that almost all of the “naughty” notices are from the town of Blues Ville, he defies North Pole rules and sets out to try to help them. “It could be all these children need is a little cheering up,” he says prophetically.

Blues Ville, it turns out, is the antithesis of Eubie — everyone is glum. Situated in a narrow strip of land between two steep mountains, it receives sunlight for only a few minutes a day, and the darkness permeates its citizenry’s soul. Not quite all the citizenry, though; Eubie persuades another child to help him in his efforts to make them nicer by making them happier, and she takes him to a meeting of the town’s few happy people. “I’m so encouraged by our turnout,” the meeting presenter announces, and Eubie and his companion look around the room at the rows of otherwise empty chairs.

Interspersed with Eubie’s escapades in Blues Ville and antics at the North Pole are songs from Harry Connick Jr. Bringing Eubie to life is the voice of Rob Paulsen, whose performance added another Annie Award nomination to the three noms and three wins he’s earned in a career that also includes Daytime Emmys for animation and DVD Exclusive awards for songs. The award-winning cast also includes comedian Lewis Black. Friendship, perseverance and happiness (with tongue often firmly in cheek) are the attributes whose value The Happy Elf celebrates — all wrapped in the Christmas spirit on Anchor Bay Entertainment’s DVD re-release of the 45-minute animation from 2005.

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