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Strange World * Highlights The Dynamics Of A Modern Family; Filled With Diverse Characters And Strong Messages

Friday, December 2nd, 2022

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ original action-packed adventure Strange World introduces a legendary family of explorers, the Clades, as they attempt to navigate an uncharted, treacherous land alongside a motley crew that includes a mischievous blob, a three-legged dog and a slew of ravenous creatures. The voice cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal as Searcher Clade, a family man who finds himself out of his element on an unpredictable mission; Dennis Quaid as Searcher’s larger-than-life explorer father, Jaeger; Jaboukie Young-White as Searcher’s 16-year-old son, Ethan, who longs for adventure; Gabrielle Union as Meridian Clade, an accomplished pilot and Searcher’s partner in all things; and Lucy Liu as Callisto Mal, Avalonia’s fearless leader who spearheads the exploration into the strange world.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S., comments, “Strange World certainly is strange! This sci-fi adventure is full of surprises, highlights the dynamics of a modern family, and is filled with diverse characters and strong messages.” See her full review below.

Strange World
By Katherine S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Strange World certainly is strange! This sci-fi adventure is full of surprises, highlights the dynamics of a modern family, and is filled with diverse characters and strong messages.

Strange World follows the Clades – Jaeger and Searcher – legendary explorers of the city of Avalonia who could tackle any challenge and adventure. However, when Jaeger goes on a mission and doesn’t return, Searcher stops exploring the outside world and finds an energy source called ”pando” that greatly affects Avalonia. But when pando suddenly starts dying, Searcher must go on an important mission to fix the problem and explore the untraveled and “strange” lands.

My favorite part about this movie is the production quality. The world building of the “strange world” is so detailed – it’s phenomenal. The new and weird creatures that they discover look like they could be straight out of Dr. Seuss or Avatar, and they fit right in. All of the places they discover are so exotic. This movie also intentionally focuses on representing a diverse and inclusive set of characters and shows us what the world is actually like. 

My favorite voice performances are by Jake Gyllenhaal (Searcher), Gabrielle Union (Meridian) and Dennis Quaid (Jaeger). Jake Gyllenhaal is perfectly cast as Searcher, the protective and caring dad and husband. Gabrielle Union portrays her character, Meridian, as a wise and admirable role model. Dennis Quaid’s voice really fits the big and booming Jaeger Clade. 

Strange World © 2022 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

The first half of the storyline is strong. However, closer to the end, there is a big plot twist that younger kids may find confusing as it is a bit complex. 

The message of the movie is to remind parents not to put too many job and profession expectations on their kids and allow them to make their own choices. It also has environmental messages about respecting and caring for the Earth and its resources.

I give Strange World 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 8 to 12, plus adults. This movie releases in theaters on November 23, 2022.

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Disenchanted * A Magical Combination Of Part Musical, Part Fairy Tale And Part Adventure

Friday, December 2nd, 2022

It’s been fifteen years since Giselle and Robert wed, but Giselle has grown disillusioned with life in the city. They decide to move their growing family to the sleepy suburban community of Monroeville in search of a more fairy tale life – unfortunately, it isn’t the quick fix she hoped for. Suburbia has a whole new set of rules and a local queen bee, Malvina Monroe, who makes Giselle feel more out of place than ever. Frustrated that her happily ever after hasn’t been easy to find, she turns to the magic of Andalasia for help, accidentally transforming the entire town into a real-life fairy tale, placing her family’s future happiness in jeopardy. Now, Giselle is in a race against time to reverse the spell and determine what happily ever after truly means to her and her family.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Kyla C. comments, “Disenchanted is a magical combination of part musical, part fairy tale and part adventure. The acting, singing and animated segments make the film truly shine as a worthy sequel to Disney’s beloved Enchanted.”

Disenchanted
By Kyla C, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 13

Amy Adams as Giselle in Disney’s live-action DISENCHANTED, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Disenchanted is a magical combination of part musical, part fairy tale and part adventure. The acting, singing and animated segments make the film truly shine as a worthy sequel to Disney’s beloved Enchanted.

Disenchanted follows Giselle (Amy Adams) and her family as they move from New York City to suburban Monroeville to find a new “happily ever after.” However, they are met with many challenges, specifically Giselle’s daughter Morgan (Gabriella Baldacchino) has trouble fitting in at her new school. When Giselle makes a wish to try to solve all of their problems, it backfires, and they are left in a fairytale mess once again. Who knew that Malvina (Maya Rudolph) had the potential to be an evil queen? Will Andalasia disappear altogether? Or will Giselle find a way to save both worlds?

Amy Adams as Giselle in Disney’s live-action DISENCHANTED, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Jonathan Hession. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Featuring the entire original cast, Disenchanted is an excellent sequel. Although it includes all the same core pieces as Enchanted, it is more than a rewritten version. There’s more music, with plenty of songs spread throughout the entire film. These upbeat and intense songs grabbed my attention; the ballads help tell the story and the softer pieces bring out the character’s emotions.

The dancing and animation help bring out the best in each song. The songs are slightly repetitive; sometimes, one sounds very similar to another you heard just a few minutes ago. However, the singers are very talented. Specifically, Idina Menzel brings a lot to the table whenever she sings. The acting is also incredible. Amy Adams, Gabriella Baldacchino and Patrick Dempsey (as Giselle’s husband, Robert) create a relatable family dynamic. The switching back and forth, between animation and live-action, is so cool. It makes the distinction clear between Andalasia and Monroeville, which could otherwise be a very confusing transition.

(L-R): Amy Adams as Giselle and Maya Rudolph as Malvina Monroe in Disney’s live-action DISENCHANTED, exclusively on Disney+. Photo by Jonathan Hession. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The message of Disenchanted is that you should be careful what you wish for. It may seem like there are so many problems that need to be fixed, but sometimes people need to solve them for themselves. Giselle wants to help Morgan fit into her new home, but her wanting to do that is unclear and causes more problems than before.

Disenchanted also emphasizes the importance of family. Note that there is some very minor inappropriate language and some violence.

I give Disenchanted 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 12. You can watch Disenchanted on Disney+ now.

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The Fabelmans * Touching And Mesmerizing Film Recounting The Origins Of Director Steven Spielberg

Wednesday, November 30th, 2022

The Fabelmans is a 2022 American coming-of-age drama film directed by Steven Spielberg and written and produced by Tony Kushner and Spielberg. It is a semi-autobiographical story loosely based on Spielberg’s adolescence and first years as a director, told through an original story of the fictional Sammy Fabelman, a young aspiring filmmaker who explores how the power of films can help him see the truth about his dysfunctional family and those around him. The film features an ensemble cast that includes Gabriel LaBelle as Sammy, with Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Judd Hirsch in supporting roles. It is dedicated to the memories of Spielberg’s real-life parents Arnold Spielberg and Leah Adler.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Zoe C. comments, “The Fabelmans is a touching and mesmerizing film that celebrates the acclaimed director Steven Spielberg while recounting his origins as a filmmaker. The film is absolutely emotional; it’s mainly about family and deals with the vicissitudes of family interaction while paying homage to cinema.” See her full review below.

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The Fabelmans
By Zoë C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

The Fabelmans is a touching and mesmerizing film that celebrates the acclaimed director Steven Spielberg while recounting his origins as a filmmaker. The film is absolutely emotional; it’s mainly about family and deals with the vicissitudes of family interaction while paying homage to cinema.

As a kid, Sam Fabelman learns an important lesson from his father, one of the basic principles of filmmaking: retinal persistence. Like magic, films are a simple succession of still images which gives the illusion of movement. When Sammy attends his first movie projection the event turns into a life changing experience. The story follows his life while he discovers his passion for movie making supported by his family: his dad Burt (Paul Dano), his mother Mitzi (Michelle Williams), his 3 sisters, and his uncle Ben (Seth Rogen). His father is an electrical engineer, his mother a concept piano player and the fusion of technicality with art certainly shaped his craft. The family’s dynamic was beautiful yet cloudy at times; a source material turned in melodrama, perfect for great storytelling.

I love the humanity that The Fabelmans displays.  And I loved the way the film showed and captured Sam’s life overall, in the sense that it didn’t just feel like you were watching a story. As the audience I could really understand and feel the emotions Sam was feeling. The core of the storyline are the characters and the relationships between them. Despite the Fabelmans are not a perfect family, they stand out in their unity and the bond between them. The relationship between Sam and his mom, masterfully performed by Michelle Williams, is mesmerizing to watch. There’s complicity that it is put to the test, generating wonderful conflict. Williams scenes are like study material for an actor. But every cast member is great at its craft in this film. The camera moves fluidly from the family dinners, to the action scenes contained in Sam’s early films through the corners of the houses where the family moved and the places that hide the deepest family secrets. Janusz Kaminski’s photography resembles the era and has the perfect warmth, and the score of John Williams stays in our hearts. The Fabelmans deserves a nomination on each major category in the upcoming Academy Awards: Best Film, Best Original Script, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score and Williams and Dana most probably will nod Best Actress and Best supporting actor respectively.

My favorite scenes are Sam experimenting and reproducing the train crash he watched in his first movie experience and Mitzi watching herself in his son family movie. My favorite quote: “Guilt is a waste of an emotion” which I consider profoundly meaningful of what this movie is telling its audience. The message of the film is to be able to find balance in adversity. Families are not perfect, but true bond should prevail.

The Fabelmans is PG 13 due to mature thematic elements and brief violence and drug use.

I give The Fabelmans 5 out of 5 starts and recommended for audiences 12 to 18 and adults. The Fabelmans opens in theaters November 23, 2022.

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Blue’s Big City Adventures * Big Dreams, Superb Dance Numbers, Multi-Talented Guests Appearances & More

Saturday, November 19th, 2022

Blue’s Big City Adventure follows Josh (Josh Dela Cruz), who gets the opportunity of a lifetime to audition for Rainbow Puppy’s (Brianna Bryan) Broadway musical, and Blue (Traci Paige Johnson) as they skidoo to New York City where they meet new friends and discover the magic of music, dance and following one’s dreams. The entire “Blue’s Clues” crew is reunited for this special movie event, with the beloved animated friends and all three hosts–Josh, Steve (Steve Burns) and Joe (Donovan Patton)–together for the first time in the Big Apple.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Tiana S., comments, “The Blue’s Clues & You cast takes a bite out of the “Big Apple” to follow their dreams in their new hit movie musical, Blue’s Big City Adventures! This film has something for the entire family — from big dreams, superb dance numbers, multi-talented guests appearances — all while still managing to fit in Blue’s clues to help along the way.” See her full review and interviews by her, Mars and Jet on and off the Blue Carpet!

Blue’s Big City Adventures
By Tiana S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

The Blue’s Clues & You cast takes a bite out of the “Big Apple” to follow their dreams in their new hit movie musical, Blue’s Big City Adventures! This film has something for the entire family — from big dreams, superb dance numbers, multi-talented guests appearances — all while still managing to fit in Blue’s clues to help along the way. While watching this magical film, you feel the joy and entertainment you always get from the Blue’s Clues franchise!

Blue’s Big City Adventures follows Blue’s Clues & You host, Josh, (Joshua Dela Cruz), as he heads to New York for a dream audition for Rainbow Puppy, (Brianna Bryan), who is following her own dream of creating her first Broadway musical. As Josh and Blue (Traci Paige Johnson) start on the adventure of a lifetime to the big city, Josh realizes he left his handy-dandy notebook with the audition information and now has to uncover clues to help him get to the audition before three o’clock.

I love how well this film highlights all the incredible things that make New York, New York. From the busyness, its famous pretzels, Times Square jumbotrons, street performances, taxis and even, being known as the place where dreams are made true. This film is the perfect tour guide to New York. There are sensational cameos such as B.D. Wong, who helps Rainbow Puppy cast for her musical. The camera angles and the music are special features and contribute to keeping the storyline interesting and flowing, especially for younger viewers. Fun Fact: Joshua Dela Cruz’s real-life story is very similar to his character Josh’s in this film, in that he moved from Dubai to America to fulfill his dreams of being on Broadway the way Josh travels from Storybook World to New York to be on Broadway.

Of course, keeping with the Blue’s Clues’ theme of teaching life’s lessons, Blue’s Clues Big City Adventures, is packed with different messages. The biggest takeaway is how you should never give up on your dreams, otherwise, how will you know if you can make them a reality? Josh faces different obstacles while trying to pursue his “big break,” including being nervous and losing his handy-dandy notebook, but he stays focus on his goal and ready to show what he can do.

I give Blue’s Big City Adventures 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 18, plus adults who will love it too. This is truly the perfect movie for a family. Blue’s Big City Adventures is available on  Paramount+ beginning November 18, 2022

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A Christmas Story Christmas * The Long-Awaited Sequel To A Christmas Story Is Full Of New And Old Faces And Plenty Of Hilarious Scenes

Thursday, November 17th, 2022

A Christmas Story Christmas follows the now-adult Ralphie as he returns to the house on Cleveland Street to give his kids a magical Christmas like the one he had as a child, reconnecting with childhood friends, and reconciling the passing of his Old Man. Peter Billingsley returns to the role that has made kids of all ages anticipate Christmas morning like no other.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Katherine S. comments, “A Christmas Story Christmas is the highly anticipated and long-awaited follow-up to the classic Christmas movie, A Christmas Story. It’s full of new and old faces and, of course, plenty of hilarious scenes. This movie certainly gets you ready for the holiday season.” See her full review below.

A Christmas Story Christmas
By Katherine S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

A Christmas Story Christmas is the highly anticipated and long-awaited follow-up to the classic Christmas movie, A Christmas Story. It’s full of new and old faces and, of course, plenty of hilarious scenes. This movie certainly gets you ready for the holiday season.

Peter Billingsley returns as Ralphie in A Christmas Story Christmas. He’s back and all grown up, and tries to give his kids a magical Christmas, just like the ones he had when he was younger. But with an unexpected loss, he must do it by himself. Can he live up to his dad’s standards and give his kids the perfect Christmas?

As the title suggests, this movie is the sequel to A Christmas Story, nearly 40 years in the making! It isn’t necessary to watch the original movie to make sense of this one; however, there are references to the original movie that may be a bit confusing for those who haven’t viewed it. Also, A Christmas Story is one of my favorite Christmas movies and is a joy to watch, so I do recommend it before watching this one if possible. One of my favorite parts of this movie is the fact that most of the original cast members play their same characters. Flick (Scott Schwartz), Schwartz (R.D. Robb), Randy (Ian Petrella), and even Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) all make an appearance. It is surreal (in a good way) to see what these former childhood actors now look like all grown up. I’ve never searched for their current appearances, so they are all a pleasant surprise. I also love how the sequel stays true to the original movie with all the sets, transitions and personalities of the characters. The narration is even similar to the first movie. Peter Billingsley, on top of just acting in this movie, also co-wrote and produced it. Kudos to him for all the work he did to bring us this movie. Speaking of some of the actors, my favorite performances are from Peter Billingsley (Ralphie), Julie Hagerty (Ralphie’s mom) and Erinn Hayes (Sandy).

Peter Billingsley keeps all his mannerisms and quirks from Ralphie even in his adult years, which makes this movie feel familiar and comedic. Julie Hagerty replaces Melinda Dillon as Ralphie’s mom, and she fills her shoes so well. Erinn Hayes plays the newly introduced character Sandy and fits right in.  She makes me feel as if she has been there forever because of the amusing interactions she has with other characters. The actors have so much chemistry, no doubt due to the fact that most of them have known each other for so long.

The primary message of A Christmas Story Christmas is that sometimes, it’s the thought (and effort) that counts. This movie also deals with the loss of loved ones. There is some mild profanity and consumption of alcohol.

I give A Christmas Story Christmas 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 18, plus adults. Fans of original movie will enjoy this movie as well as those who are unfamiliar with the original. It comes on HBO Max November 17, 2022.

A Christmas Story Christmas
By Allison B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

A Christmas Story is a must-watch and part of many families’ holiday traditions. Holiday memes, ads, cards and messages are riddled with the film’s iconic quotes and scenes (remember the LEG LAMP?). For diehard fans of this Christmas classic comes the long awaited sequel, full of the adventure and comedy like what made the first movie so memorable. Can Ralphie Parker honor his dad, create holiday magic and achieve his dream of becoming a writer – all before Christmas day? A Christmas Story Christmas is a hilarious and touching continuation of the life of the character we know and love which will pull at your heartstrings this festive season.

A Christmas Story Christmas follows a grown-up Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) as he tries to navigate the adult struggles of Christmas after his father passes. Ralphie and his family –  his wife (Erinn Hayes), daughter (Julianna Layne) and son (River Drosche) head to Indiana from Chicago to console Ralphie’s mother (Julie Hagerty) and spread some holiday cheer. What Ralphie doesn’t know is that filling his late father’s shoes is no small task. Frantically shopping for presents and buying the biggest tree imaginable, Ralphie tries to create the best Christmas for his family, all while trying to meet his Christmas writing deadline. Yuletide joy and Christmas spirit are ever present throughout this exciting film.

The true magic in this movie is in how sentimental and relatable it is for families who have lost a loved one, but still have the audience cackling with laughter. I don’t think I have ever heard so many giggles in one theater. Layne, as Ralphie’s young daughter, contributes many funny moments, displaying expert comedic timing, being sarcastic, adorable and relevant all at once – a huge feat for such a young actress. Another hilarious element of this film is the relationship between Ralphie’s mother and his wife. These two actresses perfectly capture the beauty and awkwardness of in-laws. Their petty remarks had the audience rolling on the floor laughing. A Christmas Story Christmas is definitely a feel-good classic in the making.

The key message of this film is that when people show up for each other, there can be magic. Ralphie is only one hero of this story. Each Parker family member comes through in times of need, and that is what makes their Christmas so memorable and full of light. Without the support of family, such happiness and prosperity is far less likely.

I give A Christmas Story Christmas 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 18 to 18, plus adults. You can see A Christmas Story Christmas on HBO Max beginning November 17, 2022.

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