Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

A Man Called Otto * You Semi-Hate Otto For His Persnickety Personality, Yet As You Learn About His Tragic Life, You Change Your Mind

January 13th, 2023

Based on the # 1 New York Times bestseller A Man Called Ove, A Man Called Otto tells the story of Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks), a grump who no longer sees purpose in his life following the loss of his wife. Otto is ready to end it all, but his plans are interrupted when a lively young family moves in next door, and he meets his match in quick-witted Marisol. She challenges him to see life differently, leading to an unlikely friendship that turns his world around. A heartwarming and funny story about love, loss, and life, A Man Called Otto shows that family can sometimes be found in the most unexpected places.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Miguel C. comments, “Tom Hanks excels in his portrayal of Otto. This film really addresses equality and how much things have changed. There is a LGBTQ+ character in it and Mack Bayda portrays him very well.” Julie S. adds, “The character, Otto, is played so well by Tom Hanks that you semi-hate him for his persnickety personality, yet as the story evolves and we learn about the tragic events of his past, the “what and why” become clear.” See their full reviews below.

A Man Called Otto 
By Miguel C., KIDS FIRST!Film Critic, age 13

I didn’t love A Man Called Otto as much as I thought I would. It has a lot of funny parts even though it is a really sad movie. The funny parts are where they include different Latinx things and different things we say and do. As a Latinx myself, I had a good laugh, but my eyes did water up.  

First we meet Otto (Tom Hanks), who is a grumpy old man that loves to follow the rules and fights with everyone. Everything is annoying to him and he really doesn’t like people. He’d much rather be alone; he tries to do something many times and, along the way, he meets many people. We see a lot of flashbacks with Otto and his late wife.  

This move is sad and, the way they use dark colors to really make the mood, makes it sadder. Tom Hanks excels in his portrayal of Otto. This film really addresses equality and how much things have changed. There is a LGBTQ+ character in it and Mack Bayda portrays him very well. The costumes are really cool thanks to Mariana Treviño. Not only that, but she brings a Latin feel to the film like in all the different Latino food that is featured.  

The film’s message is that just because someone else’s life ends, yours doesn’t have to. There are so many beautiful and wonderful people on this earth. The one thing parents should be aware of is that there is some self- harm and suicide.  

I give A Man Called Otto 2.5 out of 5 stars and recommended it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. It comes out in theaters January 13, 2023 

A Man Called Otto
By Julie S., KIDS FIRST!

I thoroughly enjoyed A Man Called Otto. Tom Hank’s portrayal of an aging man whose love of his life was taken way too young haunts his character Otto, but thanks to the persistent love of his new neighbors he emerges from his shell as he finds a new extended family.

The storyline follows Otto, a grumpy old man who thinks of himself as the quintessential rule enforces in his neighborhood and elsewhere. The film is filled with flashbacks which reveal the backstory of Otto’s life and how he came to become the grumpy old dude he is.

The character, Otto, is played so well by Tom Hanks that you semi-hate him for his persnickety personality, yet as the story evolves and we learn about the tragic events of his past, the “what and why” become clear. When new neighbors move in across the street, the wife (Mariana Trevino) is persistent in not letting Otto escape her kindness, whether it means bringing him wonderful Mexican food, which Otto begrudgingly loves, or inviting him to spend time with her children. The tragedy of Otto’s love story, which began and ended with his lively and beautiful wife, it is, no less, still a love story. It makes you ache for poor Otto who truly found his soul mate and lost her way too soon. He is bent on taking his own life, but constantly drawn away by his neighbors Marisol and her hubby.

Directed by Marc Forster, the film is beautifully produced with eloquent shots of the landscape of suburban Pennsylvania and sets that show middle class America in its simplest form. My favorite scene is a toss-up between the one with Otto and his neighbor buddy, during friendlier times when they compete for who has the coolest car and when he teaches Marisol how to drive; the speech he gives her about how she is not an idiot is awe-inspiring and afterwards, she loses all fear and drives like a warrior.

What I love most about this film is character. So many mass market films, particularly comic based ones, lack depth of character and this one delivers it in Otto, but also in Marisol and Anita, even Malcolm and Jimmy. Everyone evolves here and becomes more substantial than they are at first glance. Be forewarned that there are suicide attempts shown and some profanity.

I give A Man Called Otto 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. It’s rare to find a film with such substance. We laughed and cried, then did it again and again. By Julie S, KIDS FIRST!

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The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables * Charming Book Showing Children The Benefits Of Healthy Eating

January 12th, 2023

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables is health and lifestyle expert Devin Alexander’s first book for children. Geared towards toddlers and preschoolers, the delightfully illustrated book entices little ones to open their eyes (and their mouths) to the heroic possibilities of a myriad of delicious vegetables, setting them up to be healthy humans and also help set parents up for peace in the kitchen!

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Nyara A. comments, “The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables is an educational and charming children’s book that instructs children about vegetables and their benefits while also making healthy eating relatable and fun. I love how each vegetable is used to introduce a new concept related to health.” Eshaan M. adds, “The illustrations by Michele Pederson add character and vibrancy to the storytelling by Alexander, and they gave me a shot of nostalgia…” Gavin S. adds, “The structure of the book is awesome. t held my attention from start to end with all the interesting facts. It’s an awesome way to encourage kids to eat healthy foods. The book, which gives vegetables different names to call them, explains how different vegetables benefit your body and mind.” Sydney S. wraps it up with, “The message of this book is that vegetables can really make positive changes in your body, and give you your own “superpowers!” See their full written and videotaped reviews below.

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables 
By Nyara A., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables is an educational and charming children’s book that instructs children about vegetables and their benefits while also making healthy eating relatable and fun. I love how each vegetable is used to introduce a new concept related to health. My favorite illustration is a cute carrot checking a kid’s vision on an eye chart!

There are two pages dedicated to each vegetable – one a drawing, and one a description with a related cartoon. All 12 of the vegetables are uniquely associated with a different activity or action like tennis, swimming, and healing. 

The illustrations are engaging and cater to kids who are learning to read and children who enjoy colorful images. The images are a great way to get kids interested in vegetables they might normally avoid. The language in the book is simple, but there are a few words that preschoolers may not understand, yet allows them to learn new vocabulary such as “fate,” “sluggish,” and “bask.”

As we all know, children’s books with rhymes are just that much better, and the rhyming phrases in each stanza are fun and memorable. Each page has a different kid featured that your child may relate to. As a tennis lover, I would have enjoyed the beet playing tennis when I was younger. Children love naming inanimate objects, so the alliterative names for each of the vegetables are fun and catchy. 

This book caters to children who are just learning to read and pronounce words as well as children who will enjoy a fun bedtime story. If parents want a cute and educational book to read to their kids (or if you kids refuse to eat vegetables) this is great! 

I give The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 2 to 5. It is available wherever books are sold.

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables
By Eshaan M., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables is an engaging and colorful book that teaches toddlers and preschoolers that eating healthy can be fun!

Health and lifestyle expert Devin Alexander’s first book for children, The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables, assigns each major vegetable a different persona. For example, Cayenne Carrot has such good vision that she hardly needs a flashlight at night. The rhyming style of writing is perfect for young audiences!

The illustrations by Michele Pederson add character and vibrancy to the storytelling by Alexander, and they gave me a shot of nostalgia — as I read The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables, I remembered all the fun picture books I used to love! Alexander is a New York Times bestselling author, and part of that stems from her knowledge of her audience. Although this is her first book for children, she hits the mark perfectly.  It is such a smart idea to make vegetables into little characters and give them superpowers, so toddlers and preschoolers will be interested!

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables obviously promotes eating healthy, but also asks “why” before doing so, and helps us understand how each vegetable we eat can help us.

I give The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 8.The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables releases January 24, 2023.

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables
By Gavin S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 10

The most appealing thing about the book The Land Of Secret Superpower is the hook, and how it makes me want to read more. I particularly enjoyed the part when they list the powers each vegetable gives you.

The book The Land Of Secret Superpowers is about the benefits of eating healthy. It starts with a group of kids who are friends with vegetables. The story is told by a narrator outside of the story who talks about the vegetables, and the things they do for you.

The structure of the book is awesome. t held my attention from start to end with all the interesting facts. It’s an awesome way to encourage kids to eat healthy foods. The book, which gives vegetables different names to call them, explains how different vegetables benefit your body and mind. For example, Scarlet Sweet Potato gives kids more endurance which means lots more time to play outside. Beets make you jump high which is good for sports. Avocados make you move fast, which is good for things like track.

Mushrooms can help improve your mood; so if you’re sad, eat some. Spinach makes you super strong, so you can lift heavy stuff. All these great benefits you can get from eating vegetables are great, and there are even more benefits from lots of other vegetables, so make sure you eat your vegetables and eat healthy. The facts throughout the book are pretty accurate; all the “superpowers” they can give you are true. The vocabulary is good for the target age group. One special feature is the amount of color and all the various types. The book is laid out well for preschoolers and is easy to read.

The message of the book is to encourage kids to make healthier food choices. Many kids do not eat healthy foods these days, and this book shows the benefits of healthier foods.

I give The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 2 to 5. It is available wherever books are sold.

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables
By Sydney S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 12

I really enjoyed the children’s book, The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables. It’s full of helpful, interesting information that can benefit your body and mind through your diet.

The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables is about the numerous foods, especially vegetables, that your body positively reacts to. Each vegetable targets a certain part of the body. For instance, tomatoes boost height, while spinach increases strength. Each kid incorporated has a story relating to a particular vegetable.

I love that this book incorporates rhyme and alliteration. This exposes children to new language styles that will be used in school and beyond. My favorite parts of the book are the drawings, which express how the kids in the book are having a blast with the help of vegetables.

Along with entertaining imagery, this book provides important information about healthy food choices. Ever wondered why you felt energized after eating a certain type of food? You probably ate mushrooms! The way the author, Devin Alexander, balances all these key points in this children’s book is very impressive and astonishing. Parents might benefit from reading this book too – less forcing your kid to eat vegetables. Devin Alexander is known for her culinary work; she is a celebrity chef and has been a New York Times bestselling cookbook author three times.

The message of this book is that vegetables can really make positive changes in your body, and give you your own “superpowers!” Knowing this, kids can be genuinely excited to eat a healthier diet. It’s a fantastic, unique way to encourage kids to eat things that they may not normally want to.

I give The Land of Secret Superpowers: Vegetables 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 2 to 8. It is available wherever books are sold online and in stores beginning January 24, 2023.

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I Wanna Dance With Somebody * Naomi Ackie’s Performance As Whitney Houston Is Breathtaking

January 7th, 2023

A joyous, emotional, heartbreaking celebration of the life and music of Whitney Houston, one of the greatest female R&B pop vocalists of all time, tracking her journey from obscurity to musical superstardom.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Kendall B. comments, “Naomi Ackie’s performance as Whitney Houston is breathtaking. You can tell she studied Houston very closely. Whitney’s relationship with her best friend, Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) is focused on very heavily in this film, and I loved it.” See her full review below.

I Wanna Dance With Somebody
By Kendall B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a new film about the life of Whitney Houston, one of the greatest voices of any generation. It portrays Houston in a new and exciting way that all audiences will love to see.

Naomi Ackie in TRISTAR pictures I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY

Raised by famous singer Cissy Houston (Tamara Tunie), Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie) had a powerful voice from the time she was little. After being discovered while singing in her mom’s place by record executive Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci), Whitney quickly became a huge singer all across America and around the world.

This movie follows her life from the beginning to the end and shows what happened behind the cameras, closely following her relationship with her husband, family, and friends.

Naomi Ackie in TRISTAR pictures I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY

Naomi Ackie’s performance as Whitney Houston is breathtaking. You can tell she studied Houston very closely. Whitney’s relationship with her best friend, Robyn Crawford (Nafessa Williams) is focused on very heavily in this film, and I loved it. There is lots of tension between the actors and it definitely makes the film better in so many ways.

Another relationship that is focused on in this film is Houston’s relationship with Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders). Ackie and Sanders both put lots of effort into their roles and it pays off. The film I Wanna Dance With Somebody does an astounding job when it comes to Whitney’s performances. It feels like you’re really there watching her perform. My favorite scene — and it’s really breathtaking to watch it.

Naomi Ackie in TRISTAR pictures I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY

The message of I Wanna Dance With Somebody is that fame can change a person’s life for good and for bad. Whitney Houston got lots of money and fame from her singing career, but it also messed with her in horrible ways. A few things for parents watching with children to be aware of is that there is lots of swearing in this movie and drugs are used towards the end of the film.

I give I Wanna Dance With Somebody 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. It releases in theaters December 23, 2022.

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Matilda Matilda the Musical * Filled With Nostalgia, Catchy Songs And Fantastic Choreography

January 6th, 2023

An adaptation of the Tony and Olivier award-winning musical. Matilda tells the story of an extraordinary girl who, armed with a sharp mind and a vivid imagination, dares to take a stand to change her story with miraculous results.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Maica N., comments, “Matilda the Musical is full of nostalgia and catchy songs, giving a new generation the chance to experience Matilda and her magic. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy being a little naughty sometimes?” See her full review below.

Matilda the Musical
Maica N., KIDS FIRST! Film Critics, Age 15

Matilda the Musical is full of nostalgia and catchy songs, giving a new generation the chance to experience Matilda and her magic. Besides, who doesn’t enjoy being a little naughty sometimes?

Matilda the Musical is the retelling of the classic 1996 film, Matilda. Matilda (Alisha Weir) is a young girl with a brilliant mind and a vivid imagination. After meeting a kindhearted and loving teacher named Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), Matilda finally gets to go to school and get relief from her neglectful parents. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however, as she soon finds herself fighting back against the merciless principal of the school, Miss Trunchbull (Emma Thompson.)

Matilda the Musical is a musical whose songs will stick in your head all day. The casting for this musical is perfect for the characters and the story, especially in the roles for Alisha Weir and Lashana Lynch. They are both able to convey the delicate and innocent personalities that are Matilda and Miss Honey. When they are on screen together, the only thing the audience thinks about is how they want everything to work out for them. Matilda and Miss Honey are the definition of lovable characters.

The process of Matilda developing telekinesis seems somewhat rushed, though — it is such an important factor to the original story, and it might feel random or as though it came out of nowhere for some. We don’t see Matilda building up her skills, so that is rather abrupt. The choreography, by Ellen Kane, is intricate and advanced.

One of the concluding songs, Revolting Children, led by Hortensia (Meesha Garbett) and Bruce (Charlie Hodson-Prior) has choreography that has already become a fan favorite. The moves—combined with the talented dancers—capture everyone’s attention. 

The message of Matilda the Musical is that if there is something in your life that you believe is detrimental, or not adding value, it’s okay to move on. Matilda the Musical shows the audience that you don’t have to feel bad for choosing something better for your life.

I give Matilda the Musical 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 18, plus adults. Matilda the Musical is available now on Netflix.

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Wishing You a Happy New Year

January 3rd, 2023

As we open the doors to a brand new, fresh-start in the new year, all of our KIDS FIRST! team send your our very best wishes for a remarkable and joyous new year. May it be filled with wonder and love. And, of course when you’re looking for that special film to see with your kids and family, remember that our team is here to help you make a suitable selection.

We are still just a few coins short of our end of year / start of year fund-raising goal, so if you are able to make a contribution to help us reach that goal, we would be very grateful. We look forward to sharing more reviews from our team of tween and teen reporters, plus interviews with the talent behind the screen. Check out Katherine S.’s review of Avatar: The Way of Water:

Or, perhaps you would enjoy Dominic D.’s review of the newly releases documentary, Wildcat. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Dominic D., comments, “Prepare to be inspired by a new documentary, Wildcat, directed and produced by Melissa Lesh and Trevor Beck Frost, leaves viewers in a whirlwind of emotions and can turn your heart from empty to full at the drop of a dime.” See his full review below.

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The astute 11-year-old Giana N. shares her comment about the new series, Sonic Prime: “Sonic Prime is an entertaining eight episode series with a lot of adventures, including traveling through different universes and meeting different versions of Sonic’s friends. If you are a Sonic the Hedgehog fan or are looking for an enjoyable show to watch, check this out.”

Hanadie K. adds, “Video game fanatics, does Netflix have a treat for you. If you value nostalgia in the form of binge spree TV series, sit back and prepare to catch some as Sonic rings in this new adventure-filled, action-packed, family-fun animated series.” Check out her interview with Devan Mack, the voice of Sonic and Logan McPherson, SVP of Creative Animated Productions at Wildbrain Studios.

With the 2022 NFL playoffs scheduled to begin on January 14–16, 2023 football is very much in the news, so you might enjoy Maica N.’s review of Fantasy Football.

We believe in these kids.
They are the Creatives Of Tomorrow.  

As we start the new year, we invite you to help us make an impact on the future of children’s entertainment by helping support these young people that we work with today. Contributions from individual donors like you help us meet our annual fundraising goals and provide critical funding that  supports all the back-end work at our office – our coaches and editors, our IT and promotion team, our podcast producer and weekly e-zine editor.

Now more than ever, we need your support to keep our film critics program alive and well. No gift is too small or large. Every dollar counts. You have the power to shape the entertainment industry and transform young people’s lives by supporting this program.

KIDS FIRST! is a project of the national 501(c)(3) Coalition for Quality Children’s Media. Your donation is tax deductible to the degree allowed by law.

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A contribution of any amount is meaningful. Here are some ideas of what different amounts sponsor:  

$ 20 Sponsors a youth filmmaker wanting to submit a film to our festival

$ 120 Sponsors one tween or teen at film critics Boot Camp

$ 2000 Sponsors a mini film critics boot camp at a local film festival

$ 5000 Supports a youth film critic for one year

For more details, visit out GoFundMe page. Thanks in advance for your help.

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