Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Archive for March, 2011

It’s ‘Chuggers to the Rescue’ on April 5

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Chuggington_Rescue_2.jpgChuggington’s appealing train-yard toddlers … er, trainees, are ready to ride into your home on Anchor Bay Entertainment’s DVD Chuggington: Chuggers to the Rescue, released April 5. In each of the six 10-minute episodes starring the young locomotives, Brewster, Wilson and Koko eagerly rush into a new escapade in their pleasingly pastel world much like any human child would do.

Which is a big part of why the TV series connects with its 2- to 5-year-old audience. And the simplified sets add to the sense of playfulness. But there’s a serious lesson within each adventure as the three trainees test where the limits are and learn what the consequences may be for not listening to the older-and-wiser trains.

In the first episode, trains not only talk but they fly. Not with wings, of course — grounding the fantasy with a little reality, the trains achieve this feat by being outfitted with jet packs. But it’s no joy ride. In “Jet Pack Wilson,” the threesome take training from Action Chugger, a Superman-like hero who makes girls swoon but keeps a level head and concentrates on the rescue at hand. Training isn’t the fun and games that Wilson, Koko and Brewster had anticipated, as they push and pull heavy loads up steep hills to build stamina. Even the practice rescue of a kitten from a tree seems a little silly to Wilson, who points out the practice “kitten” is a teddy bear. But Action Chugger stays serious, pointing out, “I can’t put [real] small creatures in danger while you learn.”

Always the hot-headed one, Wilson finds some jet packs in the train yard and takes off with them in spite of Koko’s and Brewster’s warnings that he’s not ready yet. He can’t handle himself in the air, and, after Action Chugger saves him, Wilson admits, “It looked easy in the movies.” Action Chugger drives home the point: “Real life isn’t like the movies.”

In “Wilson and the Wild Wind,” it isn’t just himself whom Wilson puts in danger. Dunbar, another mentor for their training, has created a weather simulator and can call up wind storms, rain storms, even thunder and lightning so the trainees can learn how to handle such weather. The simulator responds only to Dunbar’s voice, so Wilson practices copying it — and sets off gale-force winds that blow the train yard topsy turvy. But at least Wilson remembered one lesson, that they should couple-up in a headwind so they’ll be heavier. Hooking together their couplings, Brewster, Koko and Wilson chug back to the weather simulator to try to turn it off. “I didn’t think about what could happen,” Wilson admits to Dunbar. 

In spite of the main characters being metal machines, there’s a sense of warmth among the characters. And whatever the challenge, the fear factor stays in the mild range, just enough for young viewers to understand that something bad could happen without being so alarming as to send them hiding under the bed.

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All ‘Tangled’ Up in Raves

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Tangled_boxart.jpgTangled, Disney’s update of the Rapunzel fairy tale, garnered rave reviews from our KIDS FIRST! film critics (visit www.kidsfirst.org/filmfestival/Tangled.htm for their full reviews, written and video.) Due out on DVD March 29, Tangled earned five out of five stars from Makai Weber Colvin (9 years old), who sums it up, “If you like a classic story, great songs and one BIG adventure, this is the DVD for you. Fun, fun, fun for the whole family!” Raven Devanney (13 years old), recommending it to all ages – “even teens” – says, “The colorful animation is great as well and adds brilliance to a familiar story.” Ny’Asia Bell (8 years old) points out especially that it is “full of lots of action and great special effects.”

Rapunzel, who has been locked away in a tower for years, captures the kingdom’s most-wanted bandit, Flynn Rider, when he tries to hide out in her tower. Seeing an opportunity to escape her tower prison, the beautiful and feisty teen tressed with 70 feet of magical, golden hair strikes a deal with the charming thief, and the unlikely duo set off on an action-packed escapade, complete with a super-cop horse, an overprotective chameleon and a gruff gang of pub thugs. Spiced with humor and heart, the story is only one part of what Raven Devanney liked about the film.

Go On and Get ‘Tangled’!
A review by Raven Devanney

The story we all grew up with is back and better than ever. The lovable tale of Rapunzel is here with an all-new comical and musical twist, and things are about to get Tangled! I really enjoyed this film. The music is excellent and extremely funny. The voice of Mandy Moore as Rapunzel is fantastic. She is really talented. She is totally perfect for Rapunzel’s bubbly voice and character, while empowering viewers to follow their hearts. Plus, she can really sing. Her voice is super clear, and I really loved hearing her beautiful singing.

Zachary Levi, the voice of the kingdom’s most wanted bandit, Flynn Rider, is amazing! Just listening to him talk makes me laugh. He does an excellent job.

The colorful animation is great as well and adds brilliance to a familiar story. I wasn’t sure how I would like this movie, especially because of the fact that it is a musical, but I was so surprised how much I fell in love with it. RavenDevanney.JPGMy favorite character is Maximus, Flynn Rider’s bloodhound of a horse. I like this character because of his hilarious facial expressions and outstanding personality. My absolute favorite scene that sticks with me is the montage right after Rapunzel leaves the tower with Flynn, because she is totally battling with herself.

This movie is most definitely for all ages, even teens. So if you want a good laugh, and awesome animation, then this movie is perfect for you.

So go on and get Tangled!!!

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‘The Little Engine That Could’ Can Come to Your Home on DVD

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

LittleEngineThatCould.jpgA popular book for little kids, The Little Engine That Could features a scrappy little engine determined to get her load of toys over a steep mountain to all the good little boys and girls waiting on the other side. Cheering herself on with an “I think I can,” she succeeds.

Universal’s film The Little Engine That Could (scheduled for DVD release March 22) is for kids a tad older, and steps back to tell the story of where the little engine came from and expand the adventure with more challenges for children to relate to.

We’re introduced to Dreamland, focusing in on talking trains happily and busily chugging around a train yard. A small shunter engine shares with an obviously older engine that she, too, would like to be a dreamhauler that makes special deliveries to children in the real world. Rusty responds to Little Engine with prophetic words: “If you think you can, you will; if you think you can’t, you won’t. Either way, you’re right.”

Cut to the “real world”: In a schoolyard, two bullies nab another boy’s prized possession — a silver pocket watch that had been his grandfather’s. Ashamed to go home without the watch, he heads over to the nearby park instead and discovers a train he is sure has never been there before. Mysterious it is, but it offers shelter from the snowy winter, so he climbs into one of the freight cars. The movement causes Rusty, up front, to awaken from his nap; he realizes he’s been discovered where he shouldn’t be, and tries unsuccessfully to shake off his unwanted passenger as he rushes back to Dreamland.

A real boy in Dreamland puts “a hole in the dream/reality continuum,” according to the tower in charge of the train yard, explaining why the tunnel between the two worlds has collapsed and then organizing work shifts for the dreamhaulers to re-open the tunnel so they can get the boy back to his real world. Little Engine thinks it would be faster to use the tracks she’s heard about that go over the mountain, but most of the other trains think those tracks exist only in old stories.

Adding a dangerous time element to the emergency is a trainload of toys worried about getting to their intended children before the children forget they wished for the toys. “Once we’re forgotten, we disappear,” they tell Little Engine. Many adventures ensue, including a run-in with the foreboding Nightmare Train, before we finally get to the well-known refrain, “I think I can, I think I can …”

The Little Engine That Could is a film with a moral. Several of them. And it foregoes subtlety to get them across (e.g., “You’re not annoying; you’re unique,” one toy reassures another). Sweet songs written for the film further spell out the lessons.

The Little Engine That Could mixes in some vocabulary-stretching dialog, with words like “grueling” and “naïve,” with enough context for elementary-school-aged kids to understand them. Younger kids, too, could keep up with the story, but the Nightmare Train sequences might be too intense for them.

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John Bell Talks About Filming ‘A Shine of Rainbows’

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

ShineOfRainbows.jpgA Shine of Rainbows star John Bell is following up his performance in the award-winning drama with roles in two upcoming films: Battleship, which has completed filming, and The Hobbit. With Fox releasing A Shine of Rainbows on DVD March 15, he young actor took time during The Hobbit filming to respond to KIDS FIRST! about his experiences.

KIDS FIRST!: In A Shine of Rainbows, you convey such loneliness in your character, especially in the early scenes. How did you get into the sense of your character, to be able to convey him as a believable person? What was the hardest part about playing Tomas?
John Bell: I am an only child and there are always times in life when you wish you had a brother or sister with you to share experiences. I took that feeling of loneliness and used that as my motivation for the underlying feeling of the character. The toughest part of playing Thomas was probably the fact that I was away from my Mum and Dad for a lot of the filming, and this also helped when I needed to convey loneliness and loss in my character.

KF: I’ve heard you talk about how the great experience you had working with Connie Nielsen, who plays your mother. What made that so special?
Bell: As I said previously, missing my Mum was a tough part of the filming schedule, and Connie became my second Mum on and off the set. She was able to know instinctively when I needed anything, from simple things like more water to drink to emotional support such as a cuddle or time away to get my head together.

KF: Were you at all intimidated by Aidan Quinn? Not only is he quite a well-known actor, but his interaction with you onscreen is quite unfriendly.
Bell: When I first met Aidan, he was wonderful to me — very open and friendly. When we came to film our scenes together, he would always take me aside and say to me, “Now remember, I am going to be really mean to you today when the cameras roll but always remember it’s only acting.” He was fabulous to work with and I learned so much from him.

KF: You are in just about every scene. Did you have any tricks that helped you study and prepare for them? And you also had to stay in another accent — do you play around with other accents for fun?
Bell: No tricks, just hard work. Every night I would go over the following day’s scenes at the house I stayed in and get my head together with the lines and the emotional journey for each of the scenes. I had a fantastic dialect coach when I was on set who helped me every day with the accent, and working with Brendan showed me how much fun playing about with your voice can be. Since then, I am always fooling around with my voice, and when I audition now, I very rarely audition for parts that look for my own accent.

KF: Is there a part of Tomas that you think is like you?
Bell: Thomas’s character is a very sensitive one and has a real sense of right and wrong. I have always been the one who, if I feel something is wrong, will stand up and be counted. When Thomas grows in confidence throughout the film and challenges the other characters, I think this is the side of Thomas that is most like me.

KF: Splashing around in mud puddles — was that as much fun as it looked?
Bell: Although it looked like fun, it was actually really uncomfortable. I had little black canvas shoes on for some of those scenes, and after a few takes my feet were absolutely soaked and cold. Although the weather was very sunny, it was also very windy, and the cold air made jumping in puddles very cold indeed.

KF: People think of acting as all glamour, but sometimes you have to do some unpleasant things. How did you feel about holding the crab, in that scene where you first meet two other Corrie Island kids?
Bell: I am pretty OK about stuff like that. When I was much smaller, I used to love to go to bug shows and hold tarantulas and cockroaches and stuff like that.

KF: What was the hardest part for you of being in A Shine of Rainbows?
Bell: As this was my first movie being away from home, and [being] away from my Mum and Dad for long periods of time was the toughest. I had my Granny with me for most of the filming, which was great, but sometimes the only person you want is your Mum, and if she wasn’t there it was tough.

KF: What was the most fun for you about being in A Shine of Rainbows?
Bell: The whole experience was fantastic. To pick one particular thing is almost impossible. I met loads of fantastic people and made loads of friends, [and] working with the director Vic Sarin was a fantastic experience and we keep in touch regularly. There was also a fantastic mobile coffee seller who would follow the crew around in his van and park up wherever we were shooting, and he made the best hot chocolate I have ever had.

KF: For your upcoming films, Battleship and The Hobbit, how different are your characters from Tomás? What about them did you most enjoy playing (for Battleship) or are most looking forward to playing (The Hobbit)?
Bell: In Battleship, I played a boy called Angus. He is one of three friends and very confident and cheeky, so he is very different from the lonely orphan Thomas. I loved the fact I could be the smart-alec in the scenes and say things that Thomas’s character would never dream of saying. In The Hobbit, the character I am playing has a family and is very brave again, and, although it is not explored in The Hobbit movies, his character is destined to grow up and be a leader of men, so he is confident and strong and brave.

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Fantastical Adventure and Unexpected Friendship in ‘Barbie: A Fairy Secret’

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

BarbieAFairySecret_V2.jpgNBC Universal has put together a little girl’s dream adventure. Available March 15 on DVD, Barbie: A Fairy Secret begins with the titular star and heroine trying on fancy dresses and extravagant shoes in what is obviously an upscale boutique. And it’s quickly made clear the occasion for the dressing-up is an ultimate of glamour: a red carpet appearance for her movie premiere.

There seems to be nothing on the dress racks that’s quite right, but in the hands of Barbie’s two wardrobe designers, Carrie and Taylor, one appears as if by magic. Then, after Barbie’s rival shows up at the red carpet and uses her stiletto heels to put an enormous rip in Barbie’s trailing skirt, we see there really is magic when Carrie and Taylor and a little fairy dust make the rip disappear.

Fairy dust, shimmering wings, a fantastical, brightly hued fairy world complete with grand palace — and, of course, beautiful girls and handsome boys and even a duel for the hand of a princess.  The film is an hour and a quarter of feminine fantasy that flits from one adventure to another.

The characters, however, play out with recognizably human reactions and interactions. Barbie is straightforwardly sweet, but the jealous Raquelle interjects sarcasm that helps keep the film from being too saccharine. Ken, who is compelled to duel against a more warriorly proportioned rival, wants to back out but can’t bring himself to say he’s not “man enough” to face the battle. And Zane, the Latin Adonis with mellifluous accent, is caught for a quick second posturing to show off his physique. 

The story eventually deals with the petty jealousies typical of preteen and early teen-aged girls, laying out not just the misunderstandings that are both cause and effect but digging down a level to uncover the reason for them. Understanding leads to forgiveness, and friendship becomes possible. BarbieAFairySecret_V2.jpg

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