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The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales * Have You Ever Wondered If The Cast Members At The “Happiest Place On Earth” Are Happy Themselves?

Friday, September 23rd, 2022

Abigail Disney looks at America’s dysfunctional and unequal economy and asks why the American Dream has worked for the wealthy, yet is a nightmare for people born with less. Using her family’s story, Disney explores how this systemic injustice took hold and imagines a way toward a more equitable future.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Tiana S. comments, “Have you ever wondered if the cast members and staff at the “happiest place on Earth” are actually happy themselves? Well, The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales is … eye-opening, and shocking, and exposes the wealth inequality among employees at Disneyland and other companies in the United States.

The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales
By Tiana S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Have you ever wondered if the cast members and staff at the “happiest place on Earth” are actually happy themselves? Well, The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales is the documentary you need to watch! It’s eye-opening, and shocking, and exposes the wealth inequality among employees at Disneyland and other companies in the United States.

The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales follows philanthropist and co-director, Dr. Abigail Disney, the great-niece of Walt Disney and the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, as she embarks on a journey to bring awareness to pay gaps between the rich and poor workers at companies such as Disney. The story starts in 2018 when Dr. Disney is contacted by Disneyland employees for help because they are struggling to afford food, housing, and even cover medical expenses.

This documentary uses videos of protests, court proceedings, cast member interviews, and experiences to tell the stories of how employees that help create the magic at Disneyland don’t have fair and equal pay and how that needs to change. My favorite part of this documentary is seeing how all the workers featured were willing to share their stories, rally, protest, and even host food drives for workers to help make a difference. While most would be scared to make a film like this, I love the bravery it took for Dr. Disney to speak up and make these issues public, especially since the fight is against the company that bears her name and family legacy. It’s a documentary that is sure to stun its audience.

The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales highlights how companies must have fair and equal pay for all employees. It’s not right for people to work hard to make CEOs and others rich at a company and still have to be on food stamps and homeless. While there isn’t anything for parents to look out for, I wouldn’t recommend showing it to young viewers to avoid ruining the magic of Disney for them.

While the topics covered in The American Dream and Other Fairy Tales are very serious, somehow Dr. Disney and co-director Kathleen Hughes courageously deliver this bold film in a very easy-to-understand and entertaining format. I give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. This inspiring documentary will debut first in Orlando, Florida, starting on September 16, 2022. It will be available in additional markets and video-on-demand on September 23.

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Railway Children * An Epic Combination Of Emotion And Action That Pulls You In And Then Slams You With Grief

Friday, September 23rd, 2022

Inspired by one of the most beloved British family films of all time, Railway Children is an enchanting, moving, and heart-warming adventure for a new generation. 1944 — As life in Britain’s cities becomes increasingly perilous, three evacuee children — Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby) Watts — are sent by their mother from Salford to the Yorkshire village of Oakworth. There to meet them on the train station platform are Bobbie Waterbury (Jenny Agutter, reprising her iconic role in the original film), her daughter, Annie (Sheridan Smith), and grandson Thomas (Austin Haynes), and with their help the evacuees are soon settling into their new life in the countryside. When the children discover injured American soldier Abe (KJ Aikens), hiding out in the railyard at Oakworth Station, they are thrust into a dangerous quest to assist their new friend who, like them, is a long way from home.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Kyla C. comments, “Railway Children is an epic combination of emotion and action. It pulls you in and keeps you watching and then slams you with grief. All of the actors who play the five leading kids, Lily, Pattie, Ted, Thomas (Austin Haynes) and Abe, are fantastic at conveying the sadness to the audience.” See her full review and interviews below.

Railway Children
By Kyla C, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 13

A heart-wrenching and adventurous new film set partway through World War II, Railway Children is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. The excellent acting highlights the emotional plot twists in the well-written script, and the time period is clearly depicted through costumes and props. Grab some popcorn, grab some tissues and get watching!

Railway Children follows three kids, Lily (Beau Gadsdon), Pattie (Eden Hamilton) and Ted (Zac Cudby) who are sent away to the countryside in England for safety during the war. There, although missing their mom immensely, they live happily with a temporary family. One day, while playing hide and seek in a train station, they discover a person living in one of the abandoned train carts. At first, they believe it is a German spy, but they later come to learn a lot about the boy, Abe (KJ Aikens), and his story. However, when Lily receives news that Abe could be more than he’s let on, they have to decide whether to help him illegally or turn him in.

Railway Children is an epic combination of emotion and action. It pulls you in and keeps you watching and then slams you with grief. All of the actors who play the five leading kids, Lily, Pattie, Ted, Thomas (Austin Haynes) and Abe, are fantastic at conveying the sadness to the audience. Beau Gadson as Lily stands out as being a strong and emotional actress. In addition, the costumes, props and accents help express the settings and develop the characters. One example is the school uniform. Although they are all basically the same, each character has a spark in their outfit that matches their personality. This could be the hairstyle, headpiece, belt, scarf or shoes. The kids’ costumes look absolutely adorable on screen, especially on the little siblings.

The message of Railway Children is that you can always make a stand and fight for what’s right. Lily is a strong-willed older sister who is determined to help Abe no matter the cost. Teamwork is also encouraged in this film. What seemed like life or death disputes at school quickly dissolve when another kid is in need of their help. There is some minor inappropriate language and violence.

I give Railway Children 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 18 plus adults. You can watch Railway Children in theaters only on September 23, 2022.

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Heathers: The Musical * A Front Row Seat To Witness The Witty And Creative Production That Continues To Revolutionize Theater And Lives

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

Welcome to Westerberg High, where Veronica Sawyer is just another one of the nobodies dreaming of a better day. But when she’s unexpectedly taken under the wings of the three beautiful and impossibly cruel Heathers, her dreams of popularity finally start to come true. Until JD shows up — the mysterious teen rebel who teaches her that everyone fears being a nobody, but its murder being a somebody…

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Heather S., comments, “Bring Broadway to the small screen with Heathers: The Musical! Sit in the front row and witness the musical that took the world by storm. The witty and creative production continues to revolutionize theater and lives.” See her full review and interview with director Andy Finkman below.  

Heathers: The Musical
By Heather S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

Bring Broadway to the small screen with Heathers: The Musical! Sit in the front row and witness the musical that took the world by storm. The witty and creative production continues to revolutionize theater and lives. 

Heathers: The Musical is a musical theater adaptation of the 1988 film Heathers. When Veronica (Ailsa Davidson) wants to fit in with the cool crew at her new school, the most popular girls, the Heathers, (Madison Firth, Vanka Panka, Teleri Hughes) take her under their wing. As Veronica realizes that being popular isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, she tries to escape the clique she’s become a part of, and soon finds that it’ll be much more difficult than she thought. 

Heathers: The Musical brings the off-Broadway production to audience’s homes. The recording of the musical makes it easy for theater fans of all ages to re-watch their favorite play. The film really captures the magic of the theater and hits every mark. The live audience reaction adds to the feeling that viewers are in an opera house, watching the production live. The acting is colorful and easily defines the characters’ personalities. Veronica dangles in the morally gray character. She’s awkward and funny, but will cross the line between innocence and murder.

Meanwhile J.D. (Simon Gordon) is someone who may not be the best boyfriend, but he’s a character we can’t help but love. All of the actors’ performances are outstanding; they emphasize character development, belt out high notes and dance to difficult choreography. It’s clear that every actor is a triple threat and enjoys performing for live audiences. The standout performance is Ailsa Davidson, as Veronica. She is a star and captures every scene she is in. Each musical number is fantastic and gives insight to each character and their life. The most recognizable song is “Candy Store.” This performance upholds its reputation and proves why it is the most famous song of the soundtrack.

The message of the film is a reminder to be yourself. Veronica craved to be popular and, once she thought she had good friends and changes her entire personality, she realizes that what she really wants is to be herself. This film is inappropriate for younger audiences due to crude language, partial nudity, heavy sexual innuendo, murder and suicide.

I give Heathers: The Musical 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. It is available now on Roku Channel. 

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The Woman King * Scintillating Portrayal Of Powerful Women Protectors During One Of The Most Heart-Rending Times: The Era Of The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Thursday, September 15th, 2022

The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (Oscar®-winner Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life. Some things are worth fighting for….

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Eshaan M. comments, “The Woman King is a scintillating portrayal of powerful women protectors driving change in one of world history’s most pivotal and often heart-rending times: the era of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Yet even through the beautifully-filmed and well-choreographed battle scenes, moments of love triumph and make this film worth watching.” Zoe C. adds, “Female power at its finest! The Woman King is a vibrant celebration of the fierce determination and courage of women. This action film combines a powerful story, vibrant characters, humor and melodrama and—believe it or not—it’s inspired by true events.” See their full reviews below.

The Woman King
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

The Woman King is a scintillating portrayal of powerful women protectors driving change in one of world history’s most pivotal and often heart-rending times: the era of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Yet even through the beautifully-filmed and well-choreographed battle scenes, moments of love triumph and make this film worth watching.

Set in the 19th century in the West African kingdom of Dahomey, The Woman King follows the all-female group of warriors, the Agojie, and their general, Nanisca (Viola Davis) as they fight, not just against the rival Oyo and Mahi tribes, but foreigners who wish to destroy their way of life and take their people. Along the way, Nanisca must grapple with her past… and Nawi (Thuso Mbedo), a young girl among the ranks of the Agojie who turns out to shape Nanisca’s future.

BTS – (l to r) Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu and director, Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood outdoes herself. Beyond being a film that does its bit to rectify historical exclusion of African narratives in Hollywood, The Woman King is a superb crowd-pleaser, with familiar thematic beats of moralism, love, and community and a fresh-enough take on the “historical war film.” The sets transport viewers to pre-colonial Benin, and the cinematography, especially the use of light (inside the palace barracks) and color (the earthy tones of Dahomey’s villages), further enhances the viewing experience. The background score by Lebo M. and Terence Blanchard draws on traditional West African music. It’s simply goosebump-inducing to watch the Agojie charge into battle accompanied by soulful singing and the djembe and marimba.

Good Lord  — can Viola Davis do no wrong? The highly-proclaimed actress is perfect for the role of the ruthless, defensive, protective leader; the emotional depth Davis taps into is frankly impressive. She hits all the notes — trauma survivor, bereaved mother, sister in arms — impeccably. Davis’ character’s more conservative, regimented, typically “top brass” attributes are beautifully offset by Thuso Mbedo’s portrayal of Nawi, the newest recruit who seems to challenge every rule so carefully enforced by Nanisca (and isn’t afraid to confront Nanisca as an “arrogant old woman”). Nawi and Nanisca’s relationship flowers in a way that will make viewers say “aww” and though the two tussle every so frequently, the duo becomes the most lovable part of the film — a tough contest. A close second favorite is Izogie (Lashana Lynch), a more experienced member of the Agojie, who is equal parts hilarious, profound, and sweet. My favorite line of Izogie’s is essentially, “We all have a lot to cry about; it is better to laugh.”

Viola Davis and Lashana Lynch with young recruits in THE WOMAN KING.

The Woman King promotes liberty, staying true to yourself, standing up for what is right, keeping your head held high (but your arrogance in check), obeying authority while also making wise decisions for yourself, and protecting those you love. Nanisca fights against King Ghezo’s (John Boyega) vision to sell their prisoners of war to the Europeans for guns and other “valuable” goods, acting as a strong voice against racism and the commodification of humans.

I give The Woman King 5 stars out of 5 and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. The Woman King releases in theaters on September 16, 2022.

The Woman King
By Zoe C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Viola Davis, Shelia Atim and Lashana Lynch star in THE WOMAN KING

Female power at its finest! The Woman King is a vibrant celebration of the fierce determination and courage of women. This action film combines a powerful story, vibrant characters, humor and melodrama and—believe it or not—it’s inspired by true events.

In the early 1800s, an all-female military regiment battled against slave trading and protected the African kingdom of Dahomey. They were called the Agojie, and they served their king. Although they were the king’s wives, they were confined to stay celibate. Leading the group of brave warriors is General Nanisca, gracefully played by Viola Davis. A young girl, Nawi (Thusi Mbedu), decides to be part of the army and through her journey we discover how the Agojies operate. She develops an intriguing relationship with Nanisca who trains the next generation of fighters and reminds us of a mother figure to all the brave army. When the kingdom of Dahoney faces the imminent threat to their freedom of European colonialism, they must fight for their lives.

Viola Davis and Thuso Mbedu star in THE WOMAN KING

In a movie industry crowded with latex-wearing super heroes, the down-to-earth tone and naturalistic cinematography encourages us to stay connected with the story. The score immerses us in an epic adventure while the audience vibrates with the sounds of the orchestra. The performances in this movie were absolutely captivating and energetic. The ensemble of actresses embodies diversity and personalities, some being more charismatic and stronger; others more vulnerable and funny.  Viola Davis is the perfect actress to portray Nanisca and her mannerisms bring all the gravitas required to play this role. Thusi Mbedu plays Nawi with fragility and forcefulness, and Lashana Lynch in her role of Izogie refreshes the screen with subtle humor and flawless charisma. The script by Dana Stevens is based on a story by actress Maria Bello; together, Stevens and Bello remarkably find the most fascinating facts in the true events and deliver a powerful storyline with fictional poetic license. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood delivers an entertaining film, if somewhat overwhelming, with some crowd pleasing elements that may push the film as a big commercial success.

Viola Davis stars in THE WOMAN KING.

The Woman King shows women can serve their own passions like loyalty to their own country and principles and not focus on pleasing men. The message of the film is we can decide our own destiny, and that some things are worth fighting for.  There are some strong violent scenes and brief nudity. 

I give The Woman King 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 and up. The Woman King opens September 16, 2022 in theaters.

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Pinocchio * Best Film Of The Year! Beloved Pinocchio Graces Screens In This Beautiful Live Action + CGI Retelling From Disney

Friday, September 9th, 2022

A live action and CGI retelling of the beloved tale of a wooden puppet who embarks on a thrilling adventure to become a real boy. Other characters include Geppetto, the woodcarver who builds and treats Pinocchio as if he were his real son; Jiminy Cricket, who serves as Pinocchio’s guide as well as his “conscience”; the Blue Fairy; “Honest” John; Sofia the Seagull and The Coachman.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Tiana S. comments, “Our favorite wooden puppet, Pinocchio, is headed your way more real than ever in Disney’s upcoming musical adventure of the same name! Fans will get to enjoy a breathtaking new version of the song “Wish Upon a Star,” live-action adventures, and real-life CGI elements with this new adaptation of Pinocchio’s story.” Heather S. adds, “The best film of the year arrives! The beloved tale Pinocchio graces screens once more in this beautiful live action plus CGI retelling from Disney. Audiences will fall in love with this story all over again.”  Nathalia J. wraps it up with, “The upcoming musical fantasy film Pinocchio, by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, is engaging and fulfilling. This nearly two-hour long film brings viewers back to the original 1940 film, with a bit of a twist on the backstory and characters alongside Pinocchio. The film offers a legendary cast, which includes Tom Hanks (Geppetto), Keegan-Michael Key (The Fox), Luke Evans (The Coachman), and more.” See their full reviews below.  

Pinocchio
By Tiana S, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

Our favorite wooden puppet, Pinocchio, is headed your way more real than ever in Disney’s upcoming musical adventure of the same name! Fans will get to enjoy a breathtaking new version of the song “Wish Upon a Star,” live-action adventures, and real-life CGI elements with this new adaptation of Pinocchio’s story. We even get to learn how he gets his name. Pinocchio is perfect for the entire family to enjoy.

Narrated by Jiminy Cricket, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the film follows elderly woodcarver Geppetto (Tom Hanks) as he creates a kind-hearted puppet named Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) from white pine to become the son he never had. One night, Geppetto wishes upon a star for his creation to come to life. The Blue Fairy (Cynthia Erivo) later appears in a stunning illuminated blue fairy dress to make his wish come true. Pinocchio must now prove he is brave, truthful and unselfish, so he can become a real boy, which sends him on an adventure full of mischief.

Academy Award® winner Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks have created another stellar film together. Pinocchio is the star, but his “conscience,” Jiminy Cricket, also plays a key role in protecting him and guiding him to make the right decisions. He has his hands full as Pinocchio’s journey leads him to join a puppet show, get swallowed by a whale, and narrowly avoid being turned into a donkey. Tom Hanks gives a phenomenal performance as Geppetto and shows his acting mastery as the sole actor onscreen, with all the other characters appearing in CGI. He is almost unrecognizable as Geppetto. One of my favorite parts is when all of Geppetto’s clocks go off at the same time and each one has a connection to a Disney character or film. It was fun guessing the different films. The film stays true to the vibrant period-specific costumes that the characters wear. The music numbers and performances are engaging and fun.

Blue Fairy delivers the message of Pinocchio herself when she tells Pinocchio that, regardless of what you are made of; it’s what in your heart that counts. Pinocchio’s mission is based on him wanting to become a real boy to make his father proud of him, but learns that what is your heart and what you do with your life matters most.

I give Pinocchio 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 18, plus adults. Pinocchio’s journey to becoming a real boy debuts on Disney+ September 8, 2022, as a Disney Day exclusive release. 

Pinocchio 
By Heather S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

The best film of the year arrives! The beloved tale Pinocchio graces screens once more in this beautiful live action plus CGI retelling from Disney. Audiences will fall in love with this story all over again.

Pinocchio follows Geppetto (Tom Hanks), who builds a puppet in loving memory of his son who has passed away. He names the puppet Pinocchio, and wishes on the Blue Star to transform the puppet into a real boy. When the wish is granted, and Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) comes to life, he learns what it means to be “a real boy.” 

This movie captures viewers’ hearts and won’t let go. The CGI animation is a cross between realism and classic Disney style art. While Pinocchio is clearly made of wood, his face is sweet with bright and big blue eyes, and the way he moves and bounces along is the perfect combination of realistic and animated. Jiminy Cricket (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the cutest insect you’ll ever see— adorable and witty. Every character has brilliant expressions. Pinocchio is wide-eyed and curious, and the Fox (Keegan-Michael Key) is creepy and bares his teeth every chance he gets. The filmmakers examine these characters deeply and emphasize their traits and personalities in their body movements and expressions. The writing is as creative as it gets. Jiminy makes hilarious jokes and side remarks, and there’s some modern comedy. Having comedian Keegan-Michael Key tell a Chris Pine joke is a highlight of the film. Another fantastic detail is all the clocks in Geppetto’s shop. At the stroke of midnight, some familiar faces like Simba, Snow White, and Roger Rabbit appear. Keep your eyes open to spot all your favorite Disney characters.

Tom Hanks as Geppetto in PINOCCHIO, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Pinocchio has had several retellings since the iconic animated film in 1940. However, many studios don’t understand how to handle the story. Pinocchio will look too realistic, and it becomes very creepy and unsettling, or the theme of film won’t strike audiences as it should. Having the tale of Pinocchio back in the hands of Walt Disney Studios and Robert Zemeckis at the helm proves that, fittingly, Disney filmmakers best grasp the concept of what the story is all about.

The lesson Pinocchio learns is that it’s what’s in your heart that counts, not what you’re made of. Pinocchio always believed that to be considered a real boy, he would have to transform from puppet to real boy; and to do this, Pinocchio has to prove that he understands the emotions and has the conscience of a real boy. Pinocchio grasps the concept of what it means to love and have friends, and he realizes that’s enough for him. 

I give Pinocchio 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 12, plus adults. It begins streaming on Disney+ September 8, 2022.

Pinocchio
By Nathalia J., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 13

The upcoming musical fantasy film Pinocchio, by filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, is engaging and fulfilling. This nearly two-hour long film brings viewers back to the original 1940 film, with a bit of a twist on the backstory and characters alongside Pinocchio. The film offers a legendary cast, which includes Tom Hanks (Geppetto), Keegan-Michael Key (The Fox), Luke Evans (The Coachman), and more.

The storyline follows Pinocchio (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) as he embarks on a thrilling adventure to fulfill his one true dream of becoming a real boy. Tom Hanks as Geppetto, the woodcarver, builds and treats Pinocchio as if he were his real son. The turning point in this film arrives as Pinocchio and his “conscience,” Jiminy Cricket, both end up trapped in some sort of containment. After Jiminy Cricket is finally able to free himself, he immediately rushes to help Pinocchio. After being set free, they decide to make a run for it and get Pinocchio home. However, their plan quickly goes wrong and viewers will see in what way.

My favorite character is Jiminy Cricket (Jimmy Gordon-Levitt.) Jiminy, the long-time fan favorite, is not only Pinocchio’s “guide” and sidekick, but Pinocchio also views him as a best friend. Jiminy’s ultimate goal is to help Pinocchio become a real boy. However, with Jiminy’s dedication to Pinocchio known to those who don’t agree with Pinocchio’s wish, such as Mangiafuoco, Jiminy becomes a threat which doesn’t make his job to help Pinocchio any easier. Even though he is put in multiple difficult situations, Jiminy still manages to always find a way out with Pinocchio and proves his unmatched loyalty and resilience. 

 My favorite part of Pinocchio is the moment Pinocchio and Jiminy reunite with Pinocchio’s father. It is the exact moment I feel a gush of hope and eagerness that Pinocchio will finally get his chance at his dream. Shortly after, this hope is diminished by uncertainty after his father is severely injured. However, through the power of his singing and with a single teardrop, Pinocchio is able to bring his father back—for me, those 15 minutes were the most aching and nerve-racking moments of the entire film. Finally, Pinocchio and his father embark toward home. Although he doesn’t get exactly what he wants, Pinocchio gets his family back.

Pinocchio has many unexpected moments that will inspire different emotions. The message of this film is: You may not always get precisely what you wish for, but sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture and decide if what you want is what you truly need.

I give Pinocchio 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 12, plus adults. This film is set to be released on Disney + on September 8, 2022. Make sure to check it out!

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