Yup, it's time for another edition of The Quick and Dirties. This is the feature where I do really short reviews on multiple movies. I like to make a theme of these. This time around, we're taking a look at some films aimed at the little ones. Let's get to it.
(2015)We meet Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) on the day she is born. At the same time we meet her first emotion, Joy (Amy Poehler). A few moments later we meet the rest of her feelings. There’s Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader). As Riley grows and develops we hang with these guys inside her head. The big crisis comes shortly after Riley and her family move from Michigan to San Francisco. She’s having trouble adjusting and decides to run away from home, throwing all of her emotions out of wack. Joy and Sadness find themselves a long way from headquarters and embark on a wild trek to get back there before Riley does something she’ll really regret. It sounds complicated, but it is really crystal clear as you watch. It’s also something most movies can’t claim to be these days: original. It takes what could be a simple, straight-forward story, adds layers, raises stakes, and delivers a heartfelt, often overlooked message. It builds a tremendous world between the ears of a chile. It’s built upon the backs of things most, if not, all of us experienced growing up (or are still experiencing, depending on our age). These things are supported with visual inventiveness. To go along with that we get an entire roster full of great voice-over work. A phenomenal effort, to be sure, but one that falls just a bit shy of Pixar’s loftiest heights. The reason is the many attempts at humor are rather hit and miss. That’s a small knock on an otherwise excellent effort. Besides, not quite being one of Pixar’s very best still puts it far ahead of most other animated flicks.
The Peanuts Movie
(2015)There’s a new girl in school, The Little Red Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi). Not surprisingly, Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) immediately falls head-over-heels for her. He sets out to do anything he or anyone else can think of in an effort to impress her. Meanwhile, Snoopy (Bill Melendez) finds himself locked in yet another battle with his arch-nemesis, The Red Baron. The filmmakers put themselves in a difficult situation just by choosing to tackle this property. The nostalgia factor is off the charts for both parents and grandparents that might watch it. Conversely, many of the kids who watch will have never seen any Charlie Brown. Even if they have, it’s not likely to be among their favorites as they’re coming up in an era of much more frenetic kiddie fare saturated with overly zany adventures and fart jokes. Director Steve Martino and company definitely went for the nostalgia factor and made a film that fits perfectly into The Peanuts canon. Almost all of the franchise’s familiar tenets are present just the way us old fogeys remember them. The drawback is that while we’re busy giddily reminiscing when Snoopy types “It was a dark and stormy night,” youngsters might be bored. This is a much calmer production than they’re used to. If they’re not bored this still isn’t likely to be one of their favorites. It hums along very smoothly, but lacks a wow factor and feels overly safe. It’s a perfectly fine film that I enjoyed, but it didn’t leave me clamoring for a sequel.
Hotel for Dogs
(2009)Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Astin) are a sister and brother who've bounced around from one foster home to another and now live with Carl and Lois Scudder (Kevin Dillon and Lisa Kudrow, respectively) who are despicable human beings who want to be rock stars. When Friday, the stray dog the kids pal around with, is put into the pound, they rescue him and in looking for a safe home for him, discover an abandoned hotel where other strays have taken refuge. With the help of a few friends they begin to care for these dogs and bring other strays in as well. Now, add in their social worker, Bernie (Don Cheadle) and his wife Carol (Robinne Lee), who are incredibly nice people but have no kids. Oh, don't forget the "e-e-evil" dog catchers. Next take out a pen and paper and write down how you think it would play out if it were made by Nickelodeon, which it is. You'll probably end up with pretty much the same movie that actually plays out before our eyes. Pre-teens will love it. You'll either think it's cute or check your watch numerous times waiting for it to end while wondering how much money it took for Don Cheadle to agree to this and thanking the superior being of your preference that these dogs don't talk.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
(2015)As is often the case, Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) is trying desperately to steal the secret formula for Krabby Patties. However, it seems someone has beaten him to the punch. We follow the gang on their underwater exploits while also following those of the pirate known as Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) above the water. The stuff with SpongeBob (Tom Kelly) and company is okay, playing like an episode of the TV series that goes on entirely too long. The parts with the pirate are mostly tedious, generic during its very best moments. It adds up to a movie for which there seems to be no real reason for its existence. I take that back, there does seem to be one reason: to make the good folks at Nickelodeon at least a little richer. It really does feel like it's here to wring a few more dollars out of the franchise rather than to tell a good SpongeBob story.
The Game Plan
(2007)Joe King (The Rock) is a superstar quarterback who suddenly finds out he has an 8 year-old daughter when she shows up at his door one day. He must then re-arrange his life to care for her while trying to maintain his high-profile lifestyle and chase the championship ring that has thus far eluded him. The Rock has a natural charm and willingness to poke fun at himself that serves him well unlike the unrelenting brutishness that hampered fellow action-star Vin Diesel in The Pacifier. He seems more at ease and therefore more believable in a kiddie-flick than Diesel. As expected, I got all the pratfalls and cuteness I expected. Nothing exceptional happens but it still elicits some laughs. The interaction between The Rock and Roselyn Sanchez is just adult enough to keep the kiddies giggling and the grown-ups paying attention. Being an assembly-line Disney comedy means even a movie with a slightly more mature plot than normal for the Mickey Mouse crew still maintains a paint-by-numbers feel. That means you pretty much sit there and say 'Oh, this is the part where he asserts his authority', or 'this is the part she breaks, ruins or spills something', or 'this is the part he realizes how great it is to be a dad.' Yes, you can spot them all a mile away. Also in typical Disney fashion, the adults are stupid with the exception of the love-interest who wants to help, Sanchez, and the wise friend who gives sage advice. In this instance, the latter is played by Morris Chestnut. You know exactly what you're getting when you go into this one. So use your prior experience of live-action Disney kids movies and whether or not you have children to decide if you want to see this or not.
(2010)The moment he and his family move into a new neighborhood, Bryce (Callan McAuliffe) meets Juli (Madeline Carroll) who lives across the street and comes on way too strong. She remains socially awkward while he becomes one of the cool kids. Bryce is the boy of her dreams, but he despises her. We chronicle the relationship of these tweens for a number of years, but focus mostly on their eighth grade year. The film does a wonderful job showing the constantly changing dynamics between adolescents and the social hierarchy they form without militarizing it the way so many others do. This helps it exist in what appears to be reality rather than a fictionalized heightened sense of it. The verisimilitude is aided by the fact we get to know the families of both kids pretty well. This includes their private views of one another. We see the difference between perception and reality from both sides of the fence. Along with that comes lots of insight into the circumstances of each youngster’s father and why they feel the way they do about one another. The result is a thickly layered and emotional film that manages to avoid being convoluted. Key to this is the absolutely brilliant story-telling device in play. Bryce and Juli act as co-narrators, taking turns telling the tale from their own point of view. I’m generally against narration as it is often used to tell the audience things rather than showing them. Showing is almost always a more powerful way to go. However, the telling is done to perfection, here. This is a wonderful little movie for whom I have my youngest daughter to thank. I never heard of it before she brought it to my attention and insisted that I watch it with her. I’m glad she did.