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Onward * Easily One of Our Favorite Pixar Films. Touching Story, Fun, Exciting, Adventurous!

Thursday, March 5th, 2020

Set in a suburban fantasy world, two teenage elf brothers embark on a quest to discover if there is still magic out there. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Calista B. comments, “As of now, this film is easily one of my favorite Pixar films. I adore the touching story and especially the world building. Overall, Onward is an amazing film.” Zoe C. adds, “Onward is fun, exiting, adventurous, and an emotional roller coaster. Pixar delivers another wonderful film that is very appealing to new generations and easy to relate, despite characters from another world.” Jolleen M. contributes, “I loved every bit of this movie so much that I cannot pick one part as my favorite. The film induces such a wide range of emotions. Tears of joy, as well as sympathy were shed, because of all the beautiful moments. Ian and Barley have a sweet relationship from the beginning, but the way that their relationship as brothers develops is wonderful to watch.” Will C. says, “The animators have created a beautiful imaginative world with lots of clever details that will make you want to watch again and again. The voice acting is top notch, with Tom Holland and Chris Pratt showing a range of emotions and humor as Ian and Barley. Octavia Spencer as Manticore brings her character to life with frantic energy.” And Katherine S. wraps it up with, “The messages of this movie are that family is the most important thing and sometimes what you’re looking for has been with you the whole time. This film does have some magical scenes that kids should not imitate. It also reminds us to always pay your parking tickets.” See their full reviews below.

Onward
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

As of now, this film is easily one of my favorite Pixar films. I adore the touching story and especially the world building. Overall, Onward is an amazing film. Onward takes in a world much like our own, except it’s populated with fantasy creatures. We follow two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot as they discover magic still exists and thus go on a quest to revive their father for one day.

So, first the animation. I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory. Since it is Pixar, the animation is absolutely outstanding. But, I specifically want to discuss the world in which Onward takes place. There are so many creative and diverse character designs and representations of mythological creatures (which I appreciate as a mythology fan). The world building is probably some of the best I’ve ever seen. I have contemplated the idea of a suburban fantasy, so I’m really happy seeing that idea brought to life. There’s a lot of really funny gags surrounding this idea, such as an historically accurate “Dungeons and Dragons” and unicorns becoming the equivalent of raccoons. You can tell the artists really enjoyed designing the settings.

However, the world is not the only enjoyable aspect of this film. The characters are especially fun. The two brothers, Ian and Barley, have amazing chemistry. This is probably thanks to their voices actors – Tom Holland playing Ian and Chris Pratt playing Barley. They already have a connection from the Marvel movies, so their relationship feels real. But Ian and Barley aren’t the only great characters in this movie. I would say my personal favorite character is The Manticore, played by Octavia Spencer. The Manticore is probably the funniest character and I really like her friendship with the brothers’ mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

Speaking of which, Onward is really funny. There’s a specific scene involving The Manticore that caused me to laugh probably the hardest I’ve ever laughed at a Pixar movie. There are also a lot of gags involving the fact that the world is populated with fantasy creatures.

And as expected from a Pixar film, it’s pretty emotional. And, given the context of the plot, I feel this might be one of Pixar’s most heart wrenching films. When you think about it, who wouldn’t want to bring someone back, even for one day?

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18. It comes out on March 6, 2020 so look for it.  

Onward
By Zoe C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

Onward is fun, exiting, adventurous, and an emotional roller coaster. Pixar delivers another wonderful film that is very appealing to new generations and easy to relate, despite characters from another world.

Onward is a computer animated, urban fantasy film directed by Dan Scanlon, who also co-wrote the script with Jason Headley and Keith Bunin. The story follows brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt), two teenage elf’s who embark on an extraordinary quest. Their goal is to try and see if there is magic left in the world, in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were younger. This is a story about bonding between father and son, and between two brothers.

(Zoe’s interview with Carlos Felipe Leon, shading art director, in Spanish)

Tom Holland, as Ian, the younger of the two brothers delivers a very subtle, but engaging interpretation that makes the audience immediately connect with his loner behavior. Chris Pratt, as Barley, the eldest brother, is vibrant, optimistic and his personality is almost opposite to his younger brother. Octavia Spencer plays Manticore, a fearless creature who can fly and sends people on quests). I absolutely love Octavia’s performance and Manticore is my favorite character. I’ve always loved Octavia as an actress, so I was really exited that she voices this character. Another great voice is Laurel, the brother’s mother, by super fun and charismatic Julia Louise-Dreyfus.

The animation in this movie is very detailed and sometimes photo realistic. Pixar has developed digital animation over the years to a fine art, and truly this film displays that. You can see so many details in the characters’ facial expressions. If you look very closely you can see that the elves all have freckles! There is also a lot of emotion in this movie and the animation displays it so well.

I’m pretty sure everyone who watches this movie will cry at one point. I sure did. One of the fascinating aspects of Onward is how these fantasy creatures interact with each other and go through a journey of redemption and self discovery.

Onward is entertaining all the way, but some jokes don’t work out and, at some point, it’s a little hard to feel fully invested in one of the characters that appears only from his waist to his feet.

The message of this film is – believe. The magic in the film is a metaphor for our own ability of make things happen and letting out the light within ourselves.

I give Onward 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 4 to 13. Make sure to check out Onward in theaters on March 6, 2020.

Onward
By Jolleen M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

Onward has an amazing plot with lots of humor. The whole theater was laughing so much throughout, but there were also so many other emotions. Watching the film was an amazing rollercoaster and I learned a lot from it.

The film takes place in a fantasy world where many different species of creatures live. It follows the journey of two elves who are brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt). Ian is a shy, cautious person, while his older brother Barley is fearless and obsessed with quests and adventure. After Ian turns 16, their mother reveals a gift that their late father left for them. Their father died before Ian was born and Barley only has four memories of him. The gift includes a magical staff and a spell that will bring back their father for a day, so that he can see what his boys grew up to be. Ian manages to start the spell, but he is only able to resurrect the lower half of his father’s body before the crystal in the staff breaks. To be able to meet his father is everything to Ian, so along with Barley they go to find another crystal and bring the rest of their father back. 

Tom Holland and Chris Pratt have worked with each other before on other films, so they have a close relationship. You can see this when they voice Ian and Barley. It makes the film more enjoyable to watch, because they have such good chemistry. The animation is full of vibrant colors and magic. The creatures are all unique and have distinct personalities. The entire film is unique and filled with creative ideas, which pleasantly surprises the audience.

I loved every bit of this movie so much that I cannot pick one part as my favorite. The film induces such a wide range of emotions. Tears of joy, as well as sympathy were shed, because of all the beautiful moments. Ian and Barley have a sweet relationship from the beginning, but the way that their relationship as brothers develops is wonderful to watch.

There are so many lessons and messages that you could take away, but the most prominent one is about being grateful for what you have. Ian was always so focused on the fact that he was never able to meet his father that he looked past the things that he did have. Fortunately, he is able to realize that he’s had his brother Barley all his life, before it is too late.

Onward is such a well made and creative movie that kept me intrigued the entire time. I give it 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18, plus adults. It comes out in theaters March 6, 2020 so be sure to go and watch it!

Onward
By Will C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 10

Onward is Disney/Pixar’s new action-packed animated movie with lots of magical laughs! There’s hilarious physical humor, exciting chases and fights, but it’s also a very moving film. You really feel the main characters’ sense of loss at not growing up with their father.

Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) are teenage elf brothers who live in a suburban mushroom house in a land that was formerly full of magic. They use a spell to bring their dad back to life, but only get his bottom half! They have 24 hours to complete a quest to finish the spell and see him one more time. All they need to finish the spell is the Phoenix gem, but finding it proves a lot more complicated than they first think. While they are working to bring him back, they have to bring their dad’s legs and feet along with them for the ride.

The animators have created a beautiful imaginative world with lots of clever details that will make you want to watch again and again. The voice acting is top notch, with Tom Holland and Chris Pratt showing a range of emotions and humor as Ian and Barley. Octavia Spencer as Manticore brings her character to life with frantic energy. The introduction of her character is hilarious! She’s a former magical adventurer turned family restaurant owner. I really like the part when Barley shrinks down to a tiny size due to Ian messing up a spell. I also like when Ian turns their boat into a cheese puff so they can eat their own transportation! I love Officer Colt and his catchphrase where he asks everyone if they are “working hard or hardly working.”

There are a lot of positive messages in this film about family and loyalty. Another message is that you can go searching for things you’ve never had in life, but you might find they were right with you all along. Parents of younger kids might want to watch out for some of the risky actions the brothers take, like when Ian walks off a cliff, trusting in his magic to keep him safe.

I give this movie 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for kids ages 5 to 17, and adults will like it too. You can see Onward in theaters everywhere starting March 6, 2020.

Onward
By Katherine S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

I love Onward! It is a whimsical story filled with colorful and eccentric characters. Pixar nailed the animation, and the cast of voices is pure perfection.

Onward takes place in a magical world, that isn’t quite so magical anymore. Brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) are complete opposites in every way. Brave Barley is never is afraid to take a risk, especially when it involves magic. Ian, on the other hand, is quirky, and lacks confidence. Their mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), is an important character as she is the glue keeping their family together.

The movie is inspired by the director, Dan Scanlon’s own childhood. I love the setting of this movie. It takes place in a modern town, where everyone lives in mushroom-shaped houses. Unicorns, once a majestic creature, are now more like raccoons than anything else. Adorable mini dragons are kept as pets. The voice-over actors are wonderful. Mel Rodriguez, who voices Officer Bronco, has the funniest laugh. Octavia Spencer, who voices The Manticore, acts as wild as a Manticore should. Tom Holland (Ian) perfectly portrays an awkward kid. My favorite character is Barley, because he is a classic rock loving boy. 

The messages of this movie are that family is the most important thing and sometimes what you’re looking for has been with you the whole time. This film does have some magical scenes that kids should not imitate. It also reminds us to always pay your parking tickets.

I give Onward 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18. People with siblings will especially like it as will adults. Onward opens in theaters March 6, 2020.

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Wendy * A Soulful Fantasy Drama Combining Drama With Adventure

Friday, February 28th, 2020

Lost on a mysterious island where aging and time have come unglued, Wendy must fight to save her family, her freedom, and the joyous spirit of youth from the deadly peril of growing up. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Zoe C. comments, “Wendy is the new re-imagined version of the Peter Pan story and a very thoughtful and meaningful film. It is beautifully shot, and it reminds us of the power of imagination. Wendy is a very introspective story that combines adventure with drama but is not a colorful vibrant tale—instead it is filled with some sadness and a little gloom.” Katherine S. adds, “This soulful fantasy drama drew me in from the very beginning and never let up.  It is so visually stimulating, with a lot of different camera angles and incredible stunts. The location is both beautiful and exotic. It’s the perfect setting.” See their full reviews  below.

Wendy
By Zoe C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

Wendy is the new re-imagined version of the Peter Pan story and a very thoughtful and meaningful film. It is beautifully shot, and it reminds us of the power of imagination. Wendy is a very introspective story that combines adventure with drama but is not a colorful vibrant tale—instead it is filled with some sadness and a little gloom.

Devin France and Yashua Mack in the film WENDY. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Director Benh Zeitlin co-wrote this film with his sister Eliza, a story where a little girl, Wendy, assumes the role of a mother figure to her brothers.  The story explores adulthood and the challenges of a new self-acquired freedom.

Trains pass everyday just next to Wendy’s house and everything shakes. Her life seems very methodical; she helps her mom at the dinner business that operates in the lower level of her house. On the top level, she plays and uses her imagination reading books and daydreaming about adventures. One day, when she is little, a kid disappears on top of a train in front of her pretty blue eyes. Years later, she decides to disappear on a train, too, followed by her brothers, curious to see what happens at the end of the journey. She meets Peter Pan and arrives in a remote volcano island. She also meets the kid that disappeared years ago, but he hasn’t aged. She discovers the secrets behind staying forever as a kid as she learns the importance of growing and enjoying every stage of life.

(From L-R): Devin France, Gavin Naquin, Gage Naquin, Romyri Ross and Yashua Mack in the film WENDY. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The film was shot on location, in places that represented a real challenge to the crew. Zeitlin is a passionate filmmaker who challenged himself filming in 16mm, a format that is artistic but represents more efforts, technically speaking. The format definitively adds texture and works perfectly for the story.

The young actors were excellent; they totally conveyed a wide range of emotions.

Wendy is about lots of things; definitively a coming-of-age film where Wendy deals with the fact of growing up and assuming responsibilities and being afraid of that. But it is also about family, respect for nature and grown-ups and older people. And this is probably my only issue with this film – at times, it feels that it has too many moments of symbolism which makes it hard to follow the main purpose.

The message of the film is we should always remember the good things about being a child, keep a free spirit and use our imagination. But aging brings wisdom and we can’t change the course of life.

I give Wendy 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for kids age 10 to 18. Some images could be a little intense for young kids and this movie will not be very easy to understand for kids under 10. Wendy opens February 28, 2020.

Wendy
By Katherine S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

This soulful fantasy drama drew me in from the very beginning and never let up.  It is so visually stimulating, with a lot of different camera angles and incredible stunts. The location is both beautiful and exotic. It’s the perfect setting.

Devin France in the film WENDY. Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Wendy is a very different adaptation of the classic Peter Pan story. It follows a young girl named Wendy and her adventure to a mysterious island with her brothers.  Once on the island, they discover the wonders of nature, freedom and the surprising struggles of life. Wendy fights to keep her family together, while trying to stay young.

Benh Zeitlin co-wrote the screenplay with his sister, Eliza Zeitlin, and also directs the film. The awesome thing about this twosome is that they didn’t just, one day, think of this idea for a movie, but had the idea their whole lives. Benh also co-composed much of the dynamic music for the movie along with Dan Romer. 

Devin France and Writer/Director Benh Zeitlin on the set of WENDY. Photo by Jess Pinkham. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

Wendy was filmed on location in the Caribbean, using 16mm film versus a reliance on green screens for background settings. It features real nature! This movie has a wonderful cast of nonprofessional kids, such as Yashua Mack, who plays a very believable Peter. Gage and Gavin Naquin, as Wendy’s brothers Douglas and James, have a visible bond with each other as brothers as well as in real life. My favorite character is Wendy (Devin France), because she is so brave, very curious, and has a kind spirit.  

The  messages of this film are that it is okay to grow up, but never loose joy, hope, wonder and freedom and to confront, not escape, life’s difficulties. This movie has some mild profanity, some gory images and some very risky adventures, but the last is on purpose because they wanted these kids to be free to do fun and dangerous things.

I give this movie 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18. Adults will also like this movie. Wendy opens in theaters on February 28, 2020.

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The Call of the Wild * An Amazing Film, Based on Jack London’s Book, Some Disturbing Images

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Buck is a big-hearted dog whose blissful domestic life gets turned upside down when he is suddenly uprooted from his California home and transplanted to the exotic wilds of the Alaskan Yukon in the 1890s. As the newest rookie on a mail-delivery dog sled team, Buck experiences the adventure of a lifetime as he ultimately finds his true place in the world. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ruby A. comments, “My feelings about this movie are quite mixed. On one side, the use of CGI helps to portray the strong emotions of the dogs. On the other hand, there are many scenes containing brutal animal abuse that many audiences will find disturbing and unsettling.” Jolleen M. adds, “The Call of the Wild has such wonderful sets, cinematography and CGI. Although the film is pleasing to watch, the plotline itself is predictable and redundant. There are so many films out there about a man’s best friend and there is nothing in The Call of the Wild that sets it apart from them.” Damon F. wraps it up with, “The Call of the Wild is an amazing film based on a book with the same name by Jack London that follows the story of a massive, clumsy dog named Buck, who gets taken away from his master, is forced into slavery and struggles trying to discover his true destiny.” See their full reviews below.

The Call of the Wild
By Ruby A., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

My feelings about The Call of the Wild are quite mixed.  Mainly because of how effective the CGI is in portraying the strong emotions of the dogs—that is fine except when the dogs are abused, and that could be disturbing and unsettling for some audiences. However, overall the storyline of the movie is incredibly well-structured and detailed.

The Call of the Wild is about Buck, a fearless, strong dog who has been through so much in his life. After being shut out on the porch of his California home, Buck’s name is called and he finds himself in the hands of a dog seller, who locks him inside of a box for transport. A while later, he is recruited to pull a dogsled that delivers mail in Alaska. After a journey full of twists and turns, Buck discovers a whole new world with someone he loves and trusts by his side. 

Some of the lead characters include John Thornton (Harrison Ford) Perrault (Omar Sy) and, of course, Buck. What really stands out is the CGI that is essential to express the emotions of the animals. It is really effective—the dogs look almost human! With such emotion in their eyes, and their actions, there is barely anything that humans can’t relate to. (Except for the furriness!) The difference the CGI makes is in the emotional impact and how it helps the audience feel attached to the characters, and love for them, too. It improves the quality and aesthetic of the film, which makes the viewing experience vivid.

The Call of the Wild strongly conveys a message of how perseverance can make anyone a stronger, more intelligent person who can take on more difficult challenges than ever before. The film is successful in signifying this empowering lesson through symbolism and emotion. Audiences should beware of some aggressive behavior toward animals, and between other characters. Several weapons are used, such as a whip, a bat, and guns. Minimal amounts of blood are shown. There really isn’t any bad language, however.

I give The Call of the Wild 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for ages 13 to 18, plus adults. You can find The Call of the Wild in theaters on February 21, 2020.

The Call of the Wild
By Jolleen M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 15

The Call of the Wild has such wonderful sets, cinematography and CGI. Although the film is pleasing to watch, the plotline itself is predictable and redundant. There are so many films out there about a man’s best friend and there is nothing in The Call of the Wild that sets it apart from them.

Based on the novel by Jack London, the storyline follows a dog named Buck who is stolen from his home on a ranch. He is sold to become a sled dog to deliver mail. Buck has many encounters with a man named John Thornton who eventually becomes Buck’s owner. They become very close and John takes him on a trip to the other side of the mountain in honor of his late son, because it is a trip that he would have loved. Unfortunately, another man named Hal, whose judgment is clouded by greed, believes that John is taking this trip because he knows where the gold is. Hal follows him with ill intentions. Because of this whole journey Buck, in the end, finds where he belongs.

Harrison Ford, who plays John Thornton, embodies his role and shows the audience the bond that Thornton develops with Buck. It’s almost as if he sees Buck as his own son. The dog that plays Buck is named Buckley. He was a stray dog in Kansas and director Chris Sanders and his wife adopted him because he was the same breed as the dog in the novel. Buckley went from being on the streets to starring in a movie where he gives an amazing performance.

The story is set in Alaska where the scenery is quite beautiful. They capture the majesty of the frozen mountains and even the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights. The CGI for the dogs is photorealistic. It is super cute how they show the dogs’ emotions by their facial expressions.

My favorite parts of this film are the various shots of the scenery. It really looks so beautiful in both the daytime and nighttime shots. I loved seeing it and it makes me want to visit those places.

The message of this film is about realizing that life is a journey and will be full of challenges, but through these challenges you will find your place. If Buck wasn’t kidnapped from his home on the ranch he never would have truly been happy. Without the challenges that he faced, he would have never gotten his freedom in the wild. Everything happened for a reason, from being tortured to meeting John Thornton.

I give this film 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18. Even adults might enjoy this film. The Call of the Wild comes out in theaters on February 21, 2020, so check it out!

The Call of the Wild
Damon F., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

The Call of the Wild is an amazing film based on a book with the same name by Jack London that follows the story of a massive, clumsy dog named Buck, who gets taken away from his master, is forced into slavery and struggles trying to discover his true destiny.

When the movie begins, Buck is taken away from his home and must adapt to his new environment in the wilderness. I really like the way the movie shows him changing to fit in. They use a giant, black, shadow of a wolf with glowing, yellow eyes. Every time Buck needs to make an important decision, the wolf is there leading him to the best path.

The animation and CGI in this movie are great; all the dogs look incredibly realistic. There is a dog fight between Buck and another dog that is very intense and the dogs act just like normal dogs act when fighting each other. The cinematography, with the visual effects, is really outstanding. Each different landscape has thousands of small details that showcase the amazing power of Mother Nature, which is exactly what the movie wants to show to us.

My favorite character is Buck the dog; he is playful, kind, funny and all-around relatable character. Buck is the main character in the movie, even though he doesn’t talk. My favorite scene is when John Thornton, Buck’s final owner, is trying to drink his bottle of whiskey and Buck keeps knocking his glass out of his hand. Eventually, Buck steals the bottle and buries it in the yard. This scene was hilarious and it made me think that Buck was saying, “no drinking.”

There are two different messages that this movie offers. One is, “you don’t need to hurt people to be a leader; be kind and you will get your best team.” The second is, “Mother Nature is powerful, don’t try to take too much from it, only take what you need so the world can stay as beautiful as it is today.”

I rate this movie 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to18 because some jokes most kids won’t understand. This film comes out in theaters February 21, 2020. Look for it.

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Playing With Fire * Great Family Friendly Movie With Message About the Importance of Family

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020

When straight-laced fire superintendent Jake Carson and his elite team of firefighters come to the rescue of three siblings, they quickly realize that no amount of training could prepare them for their most challenging job yet — babysitting. As their lives, jobs and depot get turned upside down, the three men soon learn that children — much like fires — are wild and unpredictable. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Tiana S. comments, “Playing With Fire is a super-duper good movie. I like it because it shows the difference between only caring for yourself and caring for others. I also love how it shows all the crazy things that kids can get into at a fire station, when left alone.” Eva W. adds, “Playing With Fire is one of the greatest family movies I have ever seen!  It is a family-friendly, feel-good movie with an important message – family is the most important thing to help you keep going.” Ethan P. adds, “I like this movie because it is very entertaining and super funny.  John Cena makes the audience laugh and it is weird to see him with a head full of hair.” Leando R. wraps it up with, “The message of this movie is that family and friends are important. When someone needs some help, they try to help them like a family. The firefighters have to treat the siblings like they are their kids and teach them what to do and not do. All of them have to stay together for a little while and they start to grow on each other.” See their full reviews below.

Playing With Fire
By Tiana Sirmans, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 9

Finley Rose Slater in PLAYING WITH FIRE from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory.

Playing With Fire is a super-duper good movie. I like it because it shows the difference between only caring for yourself and caring for others. I also love how it shows all the crazy things that kids can get into at a fire station, when left alone. Originally, I didn’t understand the title, Playing with Fire, because, even though the firefighters rescue people from fires, they don’t “play with fires” at all in the movie. When I thought about the phrase “playing with fire” and what it means, it made more sense. 

Playing with Fire is about a team of specially trained firefighters, called smokejumpers led by Superintendent Jake “Supe” Carson (John Cena), who saves three kids from a burning log cabin using a helicopter. Since he and his crew are unable to safely deliver the kids to their parents due to stormy weather, they take the kids back to the fire station until their parents return. In addition to taking care of the kids, Jake is also trying to get a promotion. He tries to find time to apply for this promotion while the kids are “playing with fire” or getting into all types of trouble at the fire station.

L-R: Judy Greer, John Cena, John Leguizamo, Finley Rose Slater, and Christian Convery in PLAYING WITH FIRE from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory.

The protagonist is Superintendent Jake “Supe” Carson. The movie takes place at the smokejumpers’ base in Redding, CA. My favorite part is when the young boy Will (Christian Convery) accidentally spills cleaning powder in the room where Jake’s truck is stored and he tries cleaning it up with water from a hose. The room is filled with all these bubbles and he is flying around the room with the water hose. One weird part is when “Supe” first drops from the helicopter to save the kids; he doesn’t have on the typical safety equipment that firefighters wear to help them breathe. He and the kids have an entire conversation in the middle of a burning log cabin and everyone is breathing fine in the smoke-filled room.

The message in the movie is that everyone has a soft side and it’s okay to show it. It’s okay to let your guard down and let people into your world. You never know what you could be missing out on in life if you don’t. Some things adults should look out for are characters accidentally drinking lighter fluid and scenes where John Cena is shown shirtless or in the shower.

Playing with Fire is fired up with plenty of fun and laughs so I give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18. Adults may not enjoy the film as much, especially since most of the funniest scenes are in the trailer. Playing with Fire releases digitally on January 21 and on DVD/Blu-ray February 4, 2020. Look for it. It’s a fun family movie.

Playing With Fire
By Eva W., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 10

Playing With Fire is one of the greatest family movies I have ever seen!  It is a family-friendly, feel-good movie with an important message – family is the most important thing to help you keep going. There is a lot of comedy in this movie that makes the audience laugh out loud.

L-R: Tyler Mane, Christian Convery, Keegan-Michael Key, Brianna Hildebrand, John Leguizamo, Finley Rose Slater (back to camera), and John Cena in PLAYING WITH FIRE from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory.

The story line is both adventurous and exciting.  There is lots of action, but it is not violent. The characters are super funny and the acting is phenomenal! If I had to recommend any film to watch with friends and family, it would be this one. Some parts are sad, but there is also plenty of action and comedy to keep the audience engaged.

Playing With Fire is about four smokejumpers, which is an elite team of fire fighters. Jack and his friends are specially trained to jump into dangerous wildfires, so they can rescue people and fight fires. Their lives are perfect, until they find three kids trapped in a fire and this special group of men is forced to hang onto them until they can find their parents. Until then, they have to fight fires and take care of the kids. What could go wrong?

John Cena and Christian Convery in PLAYING WITH FIRE from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory.

The cast in this film is amazing!  The casting director, Rich Delia, not only picked some big names to be in this film, but also found some talented newcomers. The whole cast portrays their characters really well and they are hilarious too! Superintendent Jack Carson, head of the smokejumpers, is played by John Cena, a well-known actor and WWE wrestler. Keegan-Michel Key, a famous comedian, plays Lieutenant Mark, a friend of the Superintendent and another smokejumper.  Jack’s soft-hearted friend, Rodrigo, is played by John Leguizamo. Brianna Hildebrand plays Brynn, the oldest of the three kids. This film also has a dog named Masher, that is Jack’s fierce firehouse dog. Masher is very well trained and his interaction with the kids is hilarious.  Andy Fickman directs the film.

I give Playing With Fire 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 7 to 18, as well as adults. Playing With Fire is available digitally on January 21 and on DVD/Blu-ray February 4, 2020.

Playing With Fire
Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

I like this movie because it is very entertaining and super funny.  Playing With Fire is a 96 minutes filled with shenanigans.  John Cena makes the audience laugh and it is weird to see him with a head full of hair.

This movie is about four smokejumpers played by John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, Tyler Mane and John Leguizamo, who save three kids from a cabin on fire.  The three children are siblings and two of them, Will and Zoe, are under the age of 10. Their older sister Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand, X-Men) is taking care of them.  The smokejumpers bring the kids to their depot until their parents can come to get them.  The kids constantly mess with all the equipment at the fire depot, which distracts the smokejumpers from doing their jobs.

The storyline includes comedy and sometimes sad moments.  The visuals are perfect. The fire scenes look real. The child actors are great at portraying their characters.  My favorite scene is when Will is feeding peanut butter to the smokejumpers’ dog and he accidentally spreads it on the firefighter truck.  Will drops the industrial soap and takes the firefighter hose to clean the mess and the truck makes lots of foam.

John Cena and Keegan-Michael Key in PLAYING WITH FIRE from Paramount Pictures. Photo Credit: Doane Gregory.

The moral of this film is that family fulfills your life, in addition to working hard to accomplish your professional goals.  Jake’s (John Cena) priority is his career.  He works hard to achieve and accomplish his title in the firefighter department and forgets to have fun or remember that there are people around him that love him.

I give this 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to ages 5 to 18 and adults can enjoy it too!  Playing with Fire releases digitally on January 21 and on DVD/Blu-ray February 4, 2020.

Playing with Fire
By Leandro Ramirez, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

Playing With Fire is a funny and a fantastic Nickelodeon movie. It has so many funny moments and cool stunts. There are some scenes that are very emotional. It is very fun and upbeat. It is an enjoyable movie for the whole family to watch.

The storyline is about fire superintendent Jake Carson (John Cena) and his elite team of firefighters, coming to the rescue of three siblings and realizing that no amount of training could prepare them for their most challenging job yet – babysitting. The three siblings, Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand), Will (Christian Convery) and Zoe (Finley Rose Slater) cause trouble all over the fire depot and are uncontrollable, much like fires. There are lots of hilarious moments that everyone will laugh at, and sad moments where you might cry.

The cast of Playing With Fire, especially John Cena, Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo and Brianna Hildebrand, elevates the film and makes it amazing. They all put their own little twist on their character and it is really cool how they perform all of their stunts. The cinematography and special effects are fantastic as well. The director, Andy Fickman, should be commended for outstanding direction as well as the screenwriter, Dan Ewen, who wrote a funny script.

The message of this movie is that family and friends are important. When someone needs some help, they try to help them like a family. The firefighters have to treat the siblings like they are their kids and teach them what to do and not do. All of them have to stay together for a little while and they start to grow on each other.

I recommend this movie for ages 6 to 12, as well as adults. Younger audiences will find it more fun and exciting than teens will. I give this movie 4 out of 5 star rating. Playing With Fire came out in November in theaters and now it is available digitally on January 21 and on DVD/Blu-ray February 4, 2020.

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Troop Zero * Terrific Combination of Comedy, Drama and Diversity with a Great Cast

Saturday, January 25th, 2020

In rural 1977 Georgia, a misfit girl dreams of life in outer space. When a competition offers her a chance to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, she recruits a makeshift troop of Birdie Scouts, forging friendships that last a lifetime. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Ethan P. comments, “I like this movie because it is a combination of comedy, drama, diversity and great casting, especially the children actors… My favorite part is when Christmas starts recruiting kids to belong to her troop.” Abigail Zoe L. adds, “I recently saw the inspiring new Amazon Prime movie, Troop Zero, and love it. It’s a warm-hearted coming-of-age story with a beautiful, positive message and a fun adventure throughout. The movie guides us through the story of a quirky girl, Christmas Flint played by the talented McKennaGrace and her rag tag group of Birdies known as Troop Zero.” See their full reviews below.

Troop Zero
By Ethan P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

I like this movie because it is a combination of comedy, drama, diversity and great casting, especially the children actors.  This film is an Amazon Prime original and has a duration of 1 hour and 37 minutes.

TROUPE ZERO featuring Allison Janney and Viola Davis courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Troop Zero timeline is the late 70’s and the storyline is about a young girl named Christmas (McKenna Grace) who’s obsessed with outer space, aliens and planets.  She finds out there is a competition that offers her to be recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, but in order to compete she needs to belong to a Girl’s Scout troop.  She recruits four challenging kids and asks her father’s (Jim Gaffigan) co-worker, Mrs. Rayleen (Viola Davis), to be her Troop Mom.  The five children go through tough and exciting experiences in order to earn their badges to enter the NASA’s competition.  During their journey, all five children create a strong bond and friendship.
 
My favorite part is when Christmas starts recruiting kids to belong to her troop.  Troop Zero has amazing actors such as Award Winner Viola Davis, Jim Gaffigan, Allison Janney and McKenna Grace from The Haunting of Hill House.  Charlie Shotwell, who portrays Joseph, Christmas’ best friend, pulls off an amazing performance as a feminine boy.  I am happy to see Johanna Colon (internet dancing sensation) play Smash, in this movie.  She’s great!  The scenery and costumes are typical 70s style, including the hairstyles.  The story line is bit slow in the beginning, but later it gets interesting.  You will experience laughter, sadness and tears of joy with this movie.

The moral of this film is to have a child’s heart when it comes to choosing your friends or recruiting a team.  Christmas does not discriminate against skin color, gender identity, religion or personalities when it comes to recruiting her troop and becomes friends with all four of them because she sees their hearts, not what society considers flaws.

I give this film 4 out of 5 stars because the beginning is rather slow.  I recommend it for ages 8 to 18.  Older adults might enjoy this movie as well.  Troop Zero is available on Amazon Prime beginning January 17, 2020.

Troop Zero
By Abigail Zoe L. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

I recently saw the inspiring new Amazon Prime movie, Troop Zero, and love it. It’s a warm-hearted coming-of-age story with a beautiful, positive message and a fun adventure throughout. The movie guides us through the story of a quirky girl, Christmas Flint played by the talented McKennaGrace and her rag tag group of Birdies known as Troop Zero.

TROUPE ZERO featuring Jim Gaffigan courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Christmas is passionate about science. She wants to connect to the universe and her late mom through a NASA competition. The winner will have their voice recorded and sent out to the universe for posterity on a Golden Record. This movie is a journey of self-discovery, not only for Christmas, but everyone that is a part of her adventure. Each person learns more about themselves as they work together.

  
One of my favorite scenes is at the end of the movie, when the cast comes together and performs at the jamboree competition. I won’t give away what happens but it is an emotional moment when they take a stand to be accepted for who they are. Another favorite scene is the baking fight scene. I bet it was so much fun for the actors to film, because it is absolutely hilarious and, at the same time, cathartic as a baking food fight between Troops Zero and Birdie. My question for you is: Who do you think won? LOL.

TROOP ZERO featuring Mckenna Grace courtesy of Amazon Studios.

The acting by McKenna Grace as Christmas Flint and Viola Davis as Miss Rayleen, is perfect. Each of them make the audience believe in the struggles they face during the movie. McKenna really embraces her character with the lopsided haircut and awkward, quirky moves. However, I particularly connected with her character’s father, Ramsey Flint (Gaffigan), because he so perfectly portrays the ideal father. He reminded me of my own father, who while not perfect, truly loves his daughter and wants her to be happy and achieve her dreams. Indeed, theirs is a father-daughter relationship very touching that I think families will connect with.

The moral of the story is to be yourself, listen to your heart and, if people try to knock you down, just keep on fighting the good fight for what you believe in. This is definitely a triumphant movie of self-acceptance and overcoming life challenges and one definitely to watch. This film would be especially enjoyable for those who love science. The transition of Troop Zero becoming Troop Hero is inspiring and uplifting. At the same time, the critic in me did find the film a little slow moving at times. All said, I think it is a wonderful movie and give it 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 18. It is airing on Amazon Prime beginning January 17, 2020.

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