Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Archive for April, 2020

Gary Gutierrez, Animator, Title Designer, SFX Supervisor And So Much More!

Friday, April 17th, 2020

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Gary Gutierrez, an exceptionally talented animator, title designer, SFX supervisor and more. From his start as an animator on Sesame Street, to his work as the SFX supervisor on The Right Stuff, Gary has watched the industry rapidly transform from cell animation and optical printers to CGI and digital compositing.

Originally, films used glass matte paintings to create environments impossible to do in real life. For example, the original 1933 King Kong used many layers of etched glass to give the effect of a massive gorilla in a lush forest. The film then used a technique called “rear projection” to put the actors’ performances inside it. Since then, techniques have changed with films such as Back to the Future, using a combination of robotic camera movements, blue screens and miniature models to create a futuristic society. While matte paintings still exist to this day, matte painters use computer software such as Adobe Photoshop or Foundry Nuke, far from the layered glass planes filmmakers used nearly a century ago. 

Despite this revolution in techniques, Gary states that the principles haven’t changed. No matter the method, compositional rules and understanding how light works still play a major role in creating realistic effects that fit a scene. For that reason, Gary suggests learning how to draw instead of only learning how to use modern computer software. 

Skilled drawers still have great importance in the modern film industry. Animation takes so long to do, that virtually every animated film will “storyboard” before beginning. Storyboarding involves rough sketches of every frame of the film, allowing animators to easily replicate the design of characters, worlds and framing of every shot in the film. Live-action films use storyboards as well, especially when planning complicated and expensive scenes. For example, Gary did the storyboard for Black Stallion, a live-action film. In a certain scene, the filmmakers had to use a horse, a child actor, a camera on a helicopter and a large racetrack. A storyboard allows every person on the production team to know what to do and keeps the entire production organized. Even outside storyboarding, drawing gives creators the ability to clarify precisely their vision of what a shot should look like. 

While the medium of cinema will keep transforming, thanks to the rapid evolution of technology, Gary’s career and wisdom demonstrate just how important it shall always be to maintain learning the elements that make cinema – lights, camera and action. Thanks Gary for your remarkable contribution to filmmaking.

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

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Michael McCormick * Puppeteer Known for Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Return of the Jedi

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

We recently sat down with Master Puppeteer Michael McCormick to learn more about his work on Jim Henson’s films and more.

Michael McCormick has broad experience with design and fabrication in FX makeup, creatures, puppets and special props. Since 1960, he has been a professional sculptor and puppeteer and a member of both SAG and IATSE.

McCormick was performing his Punch and Judy puppet show on the Santa Fe Plaza in 1980 when Roger Miller (country music legend) stopped to chat. “He told me, ‘You ever shown your stuff to Jim Henson?’ ” McCormick said. “I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You want to?’ The New Mexico native packed his puppets and flew to London. “Jim Henson hired me, because I loved my own work,” he said. Henson hired him to work on a new project called The Dark Crystal. Though it wasn’t a huge hit at the time, it has become one of the biggest hits of children’s cinema from the 1980s. McCormick was the head of the unit that created the puppets that were the bad guys, the evil Skeksis. From there, he went on to work on classics such as Labyrinth, created puppets for Return of the Jed and did special effects for other TV shows and movies. “But it was “Return of the Jedi” that stands out, he said. He created Salacious Crumb, Jabba The Hutt’s jester, for the film.

Though he retired in Ireland – or tried to – he returned to the States, taught at New Mexico State University and gives an occasional lecture. McCormick has always been a studio artist and shows his work in the United States and Europe. McCormick credits his parents for his love of the absurd and puppetry. His father came to Los Alamos in the 1940s to work on the Manhattan Project, and he encouraged McCormick to experiment and build things.

Interview by Benjamin P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic


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I Still Believe * A Sincere and True Love Story With Subtle Messages

Monday, April 13th, 2020

The true-life story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp and his journey of love and loss that looks to prove there is always hope. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Arjun N. comments, “The message of this film is to always keep the faith and stay close to those you love. They make us for who we are, and unfortunately, tragic things can happen. It’s best that we stay close and not waste any day with them.” See his full review below.

I Still Believe
By Arjun N., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 18

I Still Believe is a sincere and true love story, held down by clichéd dialogue and plot development. The subtle messages and radiant leads stick their landing without feeling preachy. Adults and kids will admire this faith-based tale, perhaps in a matinee and a box of tissues.

This story brings the true-life story of Christian music star Jeremy Camp (KJ Apa) and his remarkable journey with his wife Melissa (Britt Robertson). Their faith in God is tested when Melissa is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Still, Jeremy believes there is always hope and a faith worth sharing through his music and memories.

The two leads share great chemistry allowing for a believable relationship. KJ Apa, as Jeremy Camp, steps into the shoes of the Christian music singer, through his original music and devotion towards his wife Melissa. Speaking of which, Britt Robertson, as Melissa, is the best performance nailing the emotional gravitas of the real-life counterpart’s plight. She fares much better in emotional scenes, and while KJ has great screen presence, he could improve his emotional chops. Both characters absolutely deliver a heart-warming dynamic that makes the ending all the more tragic, but also reminiscing. Nathan Dean, as Jean-Luc, adds a love-triangle dynamic that feels more at home in a CW show than a dramatic real-life story. Still, his character is charismatic and relatable in his struggles. Gary Sinise, as Tom, is Jeremy’s father, adding more heart to Jeremy’s unwavering love and choices.

Directors Andrew and Jon Erwin return after directing the Christian film I Can Only Imagine. The Erwins have a good grasp on not being preachy and instead, focus on the human relationships that bind. However, this film’s first half panders with one instance of egregious product placement, unbecoming of its more mature second half. It feels tonally inconsistent in spite of KJ and Britt’s natural chemistry. There’s a scene involving a broken jar of pickles where the film becomes thoughtfully complacent about its conflicts. This is where the film began to click, and it ends up being moving and lyrically heartwarming.

The message of this film is to always keep the faith and stay close to those you love. They make us for who we are, and unfortunately, tragic things can happen. It’s best that we stay close and not waste any day with them.

I give this film 3.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18 due to strong thematic material. The movie is available now on Amazon Prime and elsewhere. Be sure to check it out.

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Mary Flynn * Super Star at NCircle Entertainment, 30 Year Veteran of Entertainment Industry

Friday, April 10th, 2020

We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Flynn, Vice President of Sales, Content and Acquisitions for NCircle Entertainment, who brings over 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry.  “When I started working in the video industry, remote controls were connected by wires to the video players.  Many things have changed since then and being in the industry since it started has been very exciting and rewarding.” 

Mary started her career as a sales person calling on video stores.  The industry has grown from videos to streaming and Mary has been at the forefront of this entertainment evolution. Over the years, Mary was very fortunate to have many opportunities to do different things; sales manager, VP of sales, general manager, just to name a few. 

Before NCircle Entertainment, Flynn was the senior director of business development for Alliance Entertainment, Vice President of Sales for Allumination Filmworks and Vice President of Sales for Apix Entertainment.

In her spare time, Mary enjoys traveling, biking, cooking with her godchildren and adventures with her Dachshund/Papillon dog Wolverine, named by her godson and affectionately called Wolfie.

Founded in 2006, NCircle Entertainment is one of the largest independent distributors of quality children and family entertainment content. NCircle is committed to providing quality children’s entertainment that builds a solid foundation of early learning skills upon which future educational success can be built. NCircle’s award winning brands engage your child in the learning process, using the interdisciplinary STEM approach, teaching reading readiness, science concepts, problem solving tactics, social skills and environmental awareness, while entertaining them with song, dance and laughter. NCircle’s library includes many of the most loved and best-selling children’s brands including The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That!, Sonic Boom, Gigantosaurus, Llama Llama, The Octonauts, The Floogals, Gumby and many more. 

Interviewed by Nathalia Marie J., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic

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Floogals: Investigation Station * Funny, Original, Always Teaching Kids Ways to Explore

Thursday, April 9th, 2020

Join the Floogals on a mission of discovery as they explore Earth and the funny “hoomans” who live there! KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ethan P. comments, “I like Floogals Investigation Station because it is very funny, original and creative… I like that it is not just animation, as some parts are real life graphics.  I also like that it is always teaching kids to explore and experiment in every episode.” See his full review below.

Floogals Investigation Station
By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

I like Floogals Investigation Station because it is very funny, original and creative.  It captured my attention the whole time.  I like that it is not just animation, as some parts are real life graphics.  I also like that it is always teaching kids to explore and experiment in every episode.

This DVD is about three purple lookalike aliens called Floogals – Captain Fleeker, First Officer Flo and Junior Boomer.  The Floogals learn new things and report back to their boss to inform him what they have learned on Earth.  This DVD contains six episodes about experimentation, discovery and observation.  Each episode has about 11 minutes of adventure and funny situations.  One of the funniest things of this show is that the aliens call the humans “hoomans.” 

My favorite episode is “Project Popcorn.”  This episode is about the Floogals discovering a food called popcorn.  When a human accidentally lets go of the popcorn, it falls and the dog eats it, so they think it is dog food.  Later they start to realize what popcorn is.  Another one of my favorite episodes is “Project Sleep” which is about how a “hooman” girl invites her friends over for a sleepover.  The Floogals spy on the girls to see what a sleepover is all about.  The Floogals slowly learn about and process the word “sleepover,”  The Floogals do not realize that the whole time they are actually part of the sleepover.  The graphics are real live backgrounds and the Floogals are little animated aliens.  The animation is neat and very colorful.  The voiceover talent suits each character.  I like Junior Boomer’s character the most, because he is clumsy, funny, and always curious about learning new things.


The moral of this show is: don’t ever let someone stop you from doing what you desire.  Don’t allow anyone to discourage you from doing what you are capable of doing.  For example, Junior Boomer investigates this thing call “popcorn” and Captain Fleeker tries to stop him, but Junior Boomer still investigates.


I give Floogals Investigation Station 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it ages 6 to 18, plus adults.  By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic. For more reviews by youth, visit kidsfirst dot org.

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