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April 22, 2017

Review: Disneynature's Born in China

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Disneynature’s newest film, “Born in China,” features the breathtaking cinematography that the studio division is known for, but, sadly, the story itself feels forced. I had high hopes for the movie after seeing all the ads with the adorable panda bears, but it just isn’t as engaging as other Disneynature movies.

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“Born in China” follows the lives of three families of animals -- the majestic panda, the savvy golden snub-nosed monkey and the elusive snow leopard -- that live in China’s vast terrain. Director Lu Chuan and narrator John Krasinski take the audience on a journey that allows us a front-row seat to watch each species grapple with raising its young in a challenging environment. In between each story, we also learn a little about tribes of antelope and red-crowned cranes.

What sets Disneynature films apart from other wildlife documentaries is the filmmakers’ ability to expose the animals’ individual personalities while imposing an engaging storyline on their behaviors. This is possible because the filmmakers spend years in the wild, studying, following and documenting particular groups of animals. In this case, they condense what they have learned into a story that is told within the framework of the changing seasons.

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We are drawn into the snow leopard’s world with the introduction of Dawa, a powerful female who is protecting two young cubs in the craggy cliffs of Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. But over the course of the year, we see how her job as protector has its ups and downs, especially because she lives a solitary life without adult companions. In the end, the circle of life – defined as “love, hardship, hope” – plays out.

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Swinging from trees and crashing down from them is Tao Tao, a rebellious golden snub-nosed monkey. He and some other adolescents in the tribe have become outcasts from their families and are dubbed The Lost Boys. Tao Tao shows us the pure joys of being a monkey but also the very real danger from a Goshawk that can swoop in at any time and carry off the babies.

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In the bamboo forest, we find what we have been promised – a lumbering, roly-poly panda bear, Ya Ya, and her cub, Mei Mei. We learn that for Ya Ya, this fleeting maternal period in her life is one she cherishes because it’s one of the few times she will have companionship. But as Mei Mei grows, she seeks her freedom, ultimately gaining it once she can climb a bamboo tree by herself. In between, we see some of the most darling images that are sure to melt anyone’s heart.

“Born in China” is the ninth movie from Disneynature. And while it is far from a disappointment, it is a little dry. Having seen many of the Disneynature films, my family and I have come to especially enjoy the productions that are able to successfully combine the amazing photography with a humorous storyline. “Born in China” has its moments, but it just couldn’t compare to “Monkey Kingdom,” which was narrated by Tina Fey. As my children said, “Born in China” feels more like an educational film than an entertaining one. (You can read more about the producer’s perspective in AllEars.Net blogger Jeanine Yamanaka’s blog here.)

“Born in China” is rated G, and there is little that would make it inappropriate for families. There are scenes that show animals’ deaths, and while they may tug at your heartstrings, they are not gory. “Born in China” is a short film at just 76 minutes.

For everyone who sees “Born in China” during opening week (April 21-April 27, 2017), Disneynature will contribute $.20 per ticket to World Wildlife Fund through the Disney Conservation Fund, with a minimum guaranteed donation of $100,000.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “Born in China” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.


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May 28, 2016

What parents need to know about Disney's 'Alice Through The Looking Glass'

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Tim Burton’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the film adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s sequel to the beloved story “Alice in Wonderland,” will not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Critics largely have panned the Walt Disney Pictures movie before opening weekend, citing everything from the plodding plot to the lackluster performances by the star-studded cast. And what they’re saying isn’t just high-brow hyperbole. Many moviegoers will find the film slow-going and wish time was speeding forward rather than backward while they’re in the theater.

Still, Alice fans of all ages – perhaps some too young for this version -- will be drawn to see "Through The Looking Glass." Here are some things for parents to keep in mind:

** “Alice Through The Looking Glass” is rated PG for good reason. There are dark story lines and several scenes that not only hint at death but also show characters saying what seem to be their final goodbyes. My almost-12-year-old daughter was not overly upset by these images, but she did want to talk with me about them after our screening because they stayed with her. These visuals would be a lot to handle for children a few years younger.

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** At the core of this story is the issue of the Mad Hatter’s feelings about his relationship with his father and the fact that he never had the chance at resolution. In fact – spoiler alert -- that’s why Alice (played by Mia Wasikowska) jumps back through the mirror. Hatter (played by Johnny Depp) is certain his family is alive when everyone else has presumed them dead, and Alice wants to restore Hatter’s happiness by finding them. If family relationships are a sensitive issue for kids, this might not be the movie to see. Others, like my daughter, could be fascinated by the back story to “Alice in Wonderland.”

** On the other hand, “Through The Looking Glass” embraces the message that being different is OK and being true to yourself is important. Those are always good things for tweens and teens to hear during the years of self-doubt. If you can survive childhood as someone as different as the Mad Hatter and come out on the other side with a collection of dedicated, caring friends and a job you love, then surely anyone can.

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** This movie is bold and beautiful in all its fantasy costumes and special effects. Fashionistas will enjoy the visual feast, and others will be entertained wondering throughout the movie how filmmakers made Iracebeth’s head so big. The makeup is quite colorful, and Hatter’s contouring is something to aspire to (not really).

** Remember that “Alice Through The Looking Glass” is an adaptation of the literary classic “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There,” and it takes liberties with the original story. Some moviegoers enjoy a new spin on an old favorite, while other audience members prefer films that remain faithful to the text. It will be up to you to decide if this version is worth your time.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed “Alice Through The Looking Glass” at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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June 6, 2015

'Insider Access to Disney-Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’' coming to theaters nationwide June 16

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Disney-Pixar fans, especially those who cannot wait to see the new animated film “Inside Out” when it opens on June 19, can attend an early screening that also takes viewers behind the scenes in Pixar Animation Studios and offers a slew of other visual and take-home goodies.

Fathom Events, the company that may be best known for producing concert movies, is presenting “Insider Access to Disney-Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ “ on June 16 at 600 theaters throughout the United States. The one-night event begins at 6 p.m. CT and 7 p.m. ET/MT/PT/AK/HI and will include 15 minutes of exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from Pixar Animation Studios, the new “LAVA” short and a screening of the full-length feature “Inside Out” in 2D. In addition, there will be a question-and-answer session with director Pete Docter, producer Jonas Rivera and the voice of Joy, Amy Poehler, via satellite from their Australian tour, which will be live in ET /CT zones and tape-delayed everywhere else. Audience members can tweet their questions ahead of time using #InsideOutAllAccess.

Event attendees also will receive a limited edition “Inside Out” commemorative poster and lanyard that includes a special code for access to digital extras on DisneyMovieRewards.com. (Membership to Disney Movie Rewards is free and is required to access the bonus content.)

“Insider Access to Disney-Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ “ is being shown in Central Florida at AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Dine-in Theatres Downtown Disney, AMC Universal Cineplex 20, Cineplex Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes and Regal Winter Park Village. Admission prices are set by individual theaters, and the majority of Orlando-area locations are charging $25 general admission for all ages. However, the two theme-park theaters -- AMC Dine-in Theatres Downtown Disney and AMC Universal Cineplex 20 – have tickets that are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and $18 for children ages 2 to 12. Tickets for “Insider Access to Disney-Pixar’s ‘Inside Out’ ” are now available at FathomEvents.com and at participating theater box offices.

This special event is expected to last two hours and 30 minutes.

The movie's official description states, "Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it's no exception for Riley, who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions - Joy (Amy Poehler), Fear (Bill Hader), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith). The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley's mind, where they help advise her through her everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to her new life in San Francisco, turmoil ensues in Headquarters. Although Joy, Riley's main and most important emotion, tries to keep things positive, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school."

Critics who have attended early screenings of “Inside Out” have praised Pixar’s latest effort. You can see some of their comments in my previous blog.



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March 14, 2015

Movie review: Disney's Cinderella and Frozen Fever

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Warning: Limited spoilers ahead

Disney's live-action version of the fairytale classic "Cinderella" finally opens this weekend after much publicity and cross-promotion by the media giant. And it's a charming retelling of the well-known story -- one that keeps viewers' attention, for the most part, and leaves us satisfied with the ending.

Obviously, the biggest hurdle that Director Kenneth Branagh had to overcome was finding a way to present the tale in a way that would entice viewers to go to the theater when they already know how the story unfolds. One modern method of engaging an audience is to create prequels or characters' backstories. We saw this technique last year with Disney's "Maleficent." In this case, we learn about the relationships between Cinderella (played by Lily James), her mother (Hayley Atwell) and her father (Ben Chaplin). The strong bonds among the family members explain Cinderella's later decisions that we see play out, often to her detriment.

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James is perfectly cast as Ella, who later comes to be known as "Cinder-Ella" after sleeping by the dying fire. She is charming, graceful, beautiful and totally believable as Cinderella. We forget that James also is Lady Rose MacClare on "Downton Abbey." One of the stepsisters, Drisella, is played by a fellow "Downton Abbey" castmate, Sophie McShera. And they are not the only accomplished actors in the film. Cate Blanchett is convincing as the stepmother, Helena Bonham Carter comes to life as the Fairy Godmother, and Richard Madden is Prince Charming,

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"Cinderella" is quite a visual feast, as well. The costumes in this movie are so rich and exquisitely detailed, and not just in the grand ballroom scene where attendees are dressed in their finest. In addition, special effects allow viewers to actually see the slow transformation of the pumpkin and mice into the carriage and horses -- and the bumpy ride back to their original forms after the clock strikes midnight. Plus, various and multiple camera angles make viewers actually feel like they dancing at the ball with Cinderella and Prince Charming.

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And yet, "Cinderella" (and most things related to the Disney Princesses) could have a narrower audience than some other Disney films. Naturally, many little girls will consider this a must-see movie, while boys who are not toddlers might not be as charmed. As for my own children, my 10-year-old daughter loved the movie while my 12-year-old son found the second half to drag once he got past the new background material at the beginning.

As much as my daughter enjoyed the movie, she did point out that it was unusual for a Disney movie to depict three deaths - Ella's mother and father and later the prince's father, the king. She found that unnecessary to the story-telling, but my son noted that in addition to the obvious plot reasons why the characters must die, the deaths also served as a way for Ella and Prince Charming to bond.

Overall, "Cinderella" is an entertaining movie with a good message that is woven throughout the story: "Have courage and be kind." That certainly is a lesson we all can take to heart.

Frozen Fever

If "Cinderella" doesn't draw the male audience members, the "Frozen" animated short that is attached to the beginning of the film just might. "Frozen Fever" is the highly anticipated seven-minute feature that advances the story of the mega-popular "Frozen" characters. It's delightful, and quite possibly, alone worth the price of a movie ticket.

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When the short opens, it's Anna's birthday and Elsa is determined to make it the best celebration ever because she wasn't around for her other birthdays. However, Elsa catches a cold, which jeopardizes everything she had planned.

"Frozen Fever" is chock full of merchandising opportunities - from new dresses on the sisters to a new, adorable character that is introduced. Some products already are available on DisneyStore.com and at Epcot for the Flower and Garden Festival, and I'm sure there are many more to come. Plus, The Walt Disney Company announced this week that a full-length sequel to "Frozen" is in the works.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed "Cinderella" and "Frozen Fever" at a media screening before their official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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July 19, 2014

Review of Planes: Fire and Rescue

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"Planes: Fire and Rescue," which opens in theaters this weekend, helps resuscitate the "Cars"-inspired franchise of animated movies that started last year with "Planes."

The biggest difference is that the sequel has an original story line. Unlike "Planes," the movie does not position its lead character, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook), to again rehash the popular racing saga of Lightning McQueen. When my family saw that movie last year, most of us agreed it felt tired and predictable -- obviously, with good reason.

That's not to say that "Fire and Rescue" isn't predictable, especially for older children and adults. It's easy to see the Disney formula at work, with the lead character facing a dilemma, then a life-threatening challenge, and finally a triumphant resolution. But this time, the journey keeps our interest a little better because we don't know how it all will play out.

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In "Fire and Rescue," Dusty returns to the screen as a world racing champion, but he soon learns that his well-worn gear box is a liability for future competitions and he must find a new way to use his superior flight skills. Coincidentally, at the same time, his home airport is in need of another rescue vehicle. Without a new emergency plane on staff, the airport will be forced to close. To get certified, Dusty must train with an elite fleet of fire and rescue vehicles that are protecting national park forests from raging wildfires.

In creating this movie, Disney artists observed real aerial firefighting aircraft and smokejumpers. In fact, this version of Dusty Crophopper is based on a real-life pilot and his plane, which are stationed in the Payette National Forest in Idaho. Pilot Jesse Weaver and his Air Tractor AT-802F "Fire Boss" use 500 to 800 gallons of water or fire retardant to snuff out fires.

"The Fire Boss aircraft are the ones getting the toughest jobs, because we can do them successfully and safely. We often work in steep mountainous terrain. I'll be called to do all sorts of things, because my floats create drag that helps me go slow downhill, without building up too much speed," Weaver said in a press release.

"I definitely work closely with the guys on the ground. I'll lay down a line of fire retardant and they will support that line with their hand crews, [fire] engines or whatever they have on scene."

And seeing the true-to-life depictions of those serious and life-threatening situations keeps this movie interesting. It's not the typical setting for an animated movie, and viewing the West Coast forests from the sky is exciting, especially in 3D. Those who are familiar with the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World will chuckle when they see Fusa Lodge, which looks remarkably similar to the real-life hotel here in Orlando. Even the entry to the Piston Peak National Park looks like the entrance to the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

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Still, the target audience for "Planes: Fire and Rescue" is young children. As such, the bathroom humor, easy jokes and bad puns hit their mark. The kids who were in the theater at our screening were laughing out loud. Parents joined them when the background of gruff veteran fire-and-rescue helicopter Blade Ranger (voiced by Ed Harris) is revealed. Apparently, he was one of the co-stars of "CHoPs." Cue the music and references to '70s hit television show "CHiPs."

Although "Fire and Rescue" is an improvement over the original movie, I still think both animated shows are more suited to a direct-to-DVD release. But if parents and caregivers are willing to lower their expectations from the high bar recently set by the Disney big-screen hit, "Frozen," they may find "Fire and Rescue" to be a good break from the summer heat.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed "Planes: Fire and Rescue" at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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April 3, 2014

Disney movie review: "The Pirate Fairy"

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SPOILER ALERT!

Everyone familiar with the Disney film classic "Peter Pan" knows that fairies and pirates have a history with one another. Now a new Disney movie release adds a little back story to the swashbuckling adventures of both Captain Hook and the easily piqued pixie Tink.

Disney's Tinker Bell movie franchise is back this week with its fifth installment, "The Pirate Fairy," a direct-to-DVD release. My elementary-school-age children have been following the series since it first started in 2008, so they were excited about Tuesday's launch. And apparently, they were not the only ones: When I visited our local Target store at 10 a.m., the sales clerk already was restocking the shelf after the first round of buyers had emptied it.

With engaging stories, vivid animation and memorable songs, it's easy to see why the franchise is so popular with kids and families.

"The Pirate Fairy" introduces viewers to a new fairy, Zarina, a Dust Keeper who cannot resist the temptation to experiment with the fairy's all-important pixie dust. She is especially interested in the blue dust, which is the key ingredient in producing the massive quantities of pixie dust needed to allow all the fairies to fly. Fairy Gary, the pixie dust manager, cannot allow her tampering and puts a stop to her shenanigans, which leads Zarina to run away from Pixie Hollow.

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She doesn't give up, though, and returns a year later to steal the blue dust. Tinker Bell, Rosetta, Vidia, Fawn, Silvermist and Iridessa pursue Zarina to Skull Rock, where they are surprised to find out she is the captain of the pirates. At this point, the story begins to encompass more elements of "Peter Pan," and we learn some of the back story of the series that introduced us to Tinker Bell. For example, it's revealed that James, the cabin boy who is Zarina's confidant, will become the infamous Captain Hook. They must possess the pixie dust to make their pirate ship fly around the world as they plunder whatever they can steal.

Of course, the good and evil sides clash, leading to some harrowing battles and even some humorous moments. As a Dust Keeper, Zarina is able to aim different shades of pixie dust at the band of fairies, which changes their talents. Rosetta, the garden fairy, suddenly becomes an animal fairy. Tick-Tock, the baby crocodile, recognizes this and showers her with his affection, which leaves viewers laughing.

Directed by Peggy Holmes, "The Pirate Fairy" stars the voices of Tom Hiddleston as Captain (James) Hook and Christina Hendricks as Zarina, and brings back Mae Whitman, Megan Hilty, Lucy Liu, Raven-Symoné, and Anjelica Huston. The high-profile cast has been the subject of much anticipation since it was announced at D23 last summer. Hiddleston is a Disney film veteran who has starred as Marvel's Loki in the "Thor" movies and most recently played The Great Escapo in "Muppets Most Wanted." Hendricks is best known for her portrayal of Joan Harris on television's hit drama, "Mad Men."

The soundtrack for "The Pirate Fairy," which also went on sale digitally on April 1, also boasts the work of a well-known artist. Grammy-nominated Natasha Bedingfield performs an original song called "Who I Am," and the album will feature her previously released track, "Weightless," as well. Composer Joel McNeely created the original score for this movie, as he did the previous four films.

"The Pirate Fairy" moves the Tinker Bell franchise forward, giving families a fun and age-appropriate movie in the process. And, though the movie features plenty of antagonism between Zarina and the other fairies, this movie - like others in the franchise - also offers some entertaining lessons about how to overcome conflict and achieve reconciliation. It's a perfect animated adventure that sails toward that fabled second star to the right as long as we're willing to see it through the eyes of youngsters who know well the feeling of never wanting to grow up.



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June 25, 2013

Review: Disney-Pixar's 'Monsters University' earns passing grade

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"Monsters University," the prequel to the 2001 Disney-Pixar film "Monsters, Inc.", finally hit theaters this weekend. It seemed a long time coming because the promotion of this movie has been ongoing and seemingly omnipresent, especially for Orlando residents who frequent Walt Disney World. Perhaps that's why I had such high expectations for the movie. "Monsters University" is a fun family movie with a clever premise, detailed imagery and beloved characters. What it lacks, though, is the wit and drama of previous Pixar films -- and even last year's "Wreck-It Ralph" from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

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"Monsters University" tells the story of how Michael Wazowski ("Mike") and James P. Sullivan ("Sulley") met, as the title infers, when they were college students studying to become professional scarers. The pair have a not-so-friendly rivalry in their classes and social lives, but a series of events forces them to compete on the same team in order to have a chance of attaining their college degrees. Along the way, Mike (voiced by Billy Crystal) and Sulley (voiced by John Goodman) both learn lessons about teamwork, friendship and loyalty.

To be sure, Mike and Sulley appeal to a wide audience in this film. The large number of children in the theater where I saw the movie were engaged with the story, judging by their outspoken comments. And adults who have attended a university on a traditional campus will relate to the film plot's many typical college activities, such as getting a student ID, meeting a dorm roommate and pledging a Greek fraternity or sorority.

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Also, in "Monsters University," the animation -- clearly a key element on which Pixar Animation Studios has built its reputation -- is on par with other Pixar movies, such as the "Toy Story" franchise. The population of monsters is richly detailed and moves fluidly through the story. My family saw the film in 3D, and although those effects were well-executed, too, they were not integral to enjoying the movie.

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But the story here barely earns a passing grade. Though heart-warming, it is not as fast-paced or as humorous as films such as "Wreck-It Ralph," or even the original, "Monsters, Inc." The story line of this film just doesn't feel as compelling as Ralph saving Penelope or Mike and Sulley protecting Boo from the monster world, so it's more difficult to be emotionally invested in the outcome. Also, the jokes in the film aren't that funny. Today's parents -- and possibly other adults who enjoy animated movies -- have come to expect today's animated humor to be presented in layers, with some jokes appealing to kids and others aimed at the older viewers. That really doesn't happen in "Monsters University," which seems to draw its laughs by relying on some of the same themes we already saw in "Monsters Inc." From the human-child scream simulator to the Child Detection Agency squad to Mike's joy at seeing a badly shot photo of himself on his student ID, the punch lines come across as unoriginal and, unlike most Pixar productions, unsurprising.

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Overall, Director Dan Scanlon does give it the old college try with "Monsters University," but the product is not the A-plus work we've come to expect from Pixar. Still, families likely will enjoy this summer movie because it is fun to learn the back story of Mike and Sulley and to be transported to their world. And viewers who stay in their seats until the last credit rolls will be rewarded with "extra credit" (a final scene in the movie).

But if this film were a college class assignment, the letter grade might only be a C or B- at most. And if Monstropolis were relying on kids' laughter to energize the monster's world, it probably would be better served in showing a rerun of the original than a less-energized prequel.

May 14, 2013

Review: Iron Man 3

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Marvel's "Iron Man 3," the likely conclusion to the popular film trilogy, hit theaters this month, and it's clear why it's already an early summer blockbuster. The characters are easy to relate to, the lead actors possess star power, and the special effects are mesmerizing. Still, parents of children younger than 13 should consider whether "Iron Man 3" is appropriate for younger kids.

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In this installment, Robert Downey Jr., of course, returns as industrialist Tony Stark (who, as most everyone knows, transforms into Iron Man thanks to the mechanized creations developed in his lab). In this latest film, Stark must use his suits to battle a terrorist called the Mandarin. In the process, he struggles with an identity crises of sorts, wondering who he is without his superhero talents when his artificial intelligence sidekick J.A.R.V.I.S. powers down and Stark must soldier on to protect the country and his loved ones. The storyline of saving the U.S. president is far less believable, though, than the parallel tale of Stark's personal journey.

In his role as Stark, Downey Jr. delivers another polished performance. He IS Iron Man; there is no room to wonder if another actor could play the superhero better. Downey is at his best with his snappy comments and cocky attitude. He makes the audience want to be Iron Man, too -- or at least Iron Man's best friend or girlfriend. But in this film, we also get a glimpse of Stark's vulnerability as he questions his choices when he can't rely on his Iron Man suits to save those around him, and that's when he shines like the Silver Centurion armor.

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Pepper Potts, Stark's girlfriend (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), has a bigger presence in "Iron Man 3" than in previous films. For the first time, she gets inside an Iron Man suit on the big screen, and when she does, watch out! Potts offers a strong female role model for young girls, as a smart and powerful woman who solves her own problems. Everyone needs a helping hand sometime, though, and she knows when to accept to Stark's aid.

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Don Cheadle expertly reprises his role as Col. James Rhodes. Cheadle, too, has become closely associated with his character, who suits up as War Machine. In the movie, though, he is renamed Iron Patriot in an effort to appeal to the American public. This leads to several funny incidents in "Iron Man 3."

In addition to the acting performances, the appeal of "Iron Man 3" is its special effects. Director Shane Black gives audiences explosions, alien appearances and CGI in spades. Perhaps the most amazing effect, though, is when the pieces of each Iron Man suit zoom to Stark and assemble around him. Those scenes are quite believable and even offer a few laughs at times.

"Iron Man 3" comes to a satisfying, if predictable, conclusion. It has been assumed that this is the final film in the series, especially because Downey Jr. has fulfilled his contract for his role as Stark. Black manages to leave the door open, though, with a small note in the credits that states, "Tony Stark will return." Perhaps in "The Avengers 2"?

"Iron Man 3" is rated PG-13 with good reason. There is profanity sprinkled through some scenes and suggestions of sex, as well as strong plot devices involving global terrorism, post-traumatic stress disorders and drug use. As a parent, though, I would be more concerned about the amount of violence young children will see with all the guns, explosions and hand-to-hand combat. Added to all this, there are very graphic scenes when the bad guys burn from the inside out because of an experimental regenerative process utilized by Mandarin. It really is the stuff of nightmares. If your young child loves Iron Man but isn't ready for imagery and themes like this, you might be better off sticking to the Stan Lee comic books for now.

Of course, there's also the Disneyland attraction, Iron Man Tech presented by Stark Industries, where guests can be fitted virtually with the Iron Man suits and see them on display for a limited time.


February 2, 2013

Don't miss seeing Oscar-nominated Disney animated short 'Paperman' online

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Just in time for Valentine's Day -- and the Oscars -- a touching Disney animated short is available online.

"Paperman," which was widely seen in theaters with screenings of Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph" in November, has been released on YouTube. The six-minute short is set in the 1940s and follows a couple after their chance meeting on a train platform. When the man spots the woman in an office high-rise across from his own, he determines that the best way to get her attention is by sending paper airplanes across the street to her. As you can imagine, this appears to be a hopeless mission.

Directed by John Kahrs, "Paperman" is a black-and-white cartoon that seamlessly mixes hand-drawn and computer-generated animation. "Wired" explains how Kahrs developed this combination: "[He] told 'Cartoon Brew' that the origin of 'Paperman' 'really came out of working so much with Glen [Keane] on 'Tangled.' After looking at the work of Keane - a classic Disney animator who worked on 'The Little Mermaid,' 'Beauty and The Beast' and 'Aladdin,' among many other projects - Kahrs found himself with a new appreciation for traditional animation and drawing techniques. 'I thought, Why do we have to leave these drawings behind? Why can't we bring them back up to the front of the image again? Is there a way that CG can kinda carry along the hand drawn line in a way that we haven't done before?' "

In addition, the use of a single color, red, incorporated in one image is effective in conveying the romantic longing that is such a universal emotion.

In fact, the simplicity of this Walt Disney Animation Studios film is appealing to all ages. My elementary-school-age children were engaged with the story, as were many of the other kids in the theater waiting to see "Wreck-It Ralph" -- and it is a wordless film. For those not interested in the romantic angle, the mystery of the paper airplanes and the tornado they create certainly is entertaining. When the cartoon reached its satisfying ending, our theater erupted in applause from the young and the young-at-heart.

How could you not smile after viewing this film?

Paperman is nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Animated Short Film. It is competing against "Fresh Guacamole," "Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare," "Head Over Heel" and "Adam and Dog."

Three other Disney films have been nominated for Best Animated Feature Film: "Brave," "Frankenweenie" and "Wreck-It Ralph." They are up against "ParaNorman" and "The Pirates! Band of Misfits." And Disney's new franchise -- "Marvel's The Avengers" - competes in the Best Visual Effects category against "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," "Life of Pi," "Prometheus" and "Snow White and the Huntsman."

The Oscars will be awarded on Feb. 24.

RELATED LINK:
Walt Disney and Pixar Studios

November 3, 2012

Get in the game with Disney's 'Wreck-It Ralph'

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Expect to be immersed in another world from your childhood when you see Walt Disney Animation Studios' newest animated film, "Wreck-It Ralph." Much like the clever and funny "Toy Story" series, "Wreck-It Ralph" allows audiences a look at what goes on with our playthings when the kids aren't around. Yet this time it's a view behind the screens of video games to expose what happens after the kids leave the arcade.

The story is about Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly), the bad guy in the Fix-It Felix, Jr. game. As his name indicates, Ralph's job is to destroy things that the other residents of Niceville, especially hero Fix-It Felix Jr. (voiced by Jack McBrayer), have built. After 30 years of being an outcast, Ralph is fed up and decides to try to prove he, too, can be one of the good guys so that he will be accepted by the other game characters.

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Ralph's quest takes him to other game worlds in the arcade, and the journey is one of rich detail -- both in the animation and the writing. Game graphics cleverly morph from the eight-bit displays of the '80s to the detailed scenes of today's first-person point-of-view sets. The vibrant colors really make the animation pop, and Director Rich Moore, perhaps best known for "The Simpsons," uses the 3D effects well without overwhelming the audience.

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Adults will get a kick out of appearances from characters in games of their youth -- from Q*bert and Sonic the Hedgehog to various Pac-Man gobblers and their ghost enemies. At one point, Ralph is even eating the bonus-point cherries from Pac-Man as he travels through the electrical cords of the arcade to other stand-alone video games.

Children can enjoy the movie for the surface story, which in itself is entertaining. But parents can appreciate some of the jokes that might go over the kids' heads -- especially in the make-believe land of Sugar Rush where police officers are shaped like donuts and King Candy's Oreo guards have a chant that will have "The Wizard of Oz" fans laughing in recognition.

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Ralph's search for hero status starts at Hero's Duty, a military-style game, where he meets Sergeant Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch) and attempts to earn a medal. There is no mistaking Lynch with her over-the-top comments and crazy analogies that her "Glee" character made famous. Ralph finds out that not all games are created equal when she barks at the soldiers, "The kitten whiskers and tickle fights stop now."

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He ends up in cart-racing game Sugar Rush, where he makes his first friend, Vanellope von Schweetz (voiced by Sarah Silverman), a 9-year-old glitch in the game. She's another strong female figure, but this one needs Ralph's help. Ralph learns to navigate her world and their friendship, and they encounter a few speed bumps along the way. Falling Mentos at Diet Cola Hot Springs play a pivotal role in the clash of good and evil in Sugar Rush, and ultimately, the movie. In the end, Ralph gets his chance to shine, and audiences are in for a sweet treat.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest at a screening of "Wreck-It Ralph." This did not influence my review, and my opinions are my own.


October 23, 2012

'Secret of the Wings' allows Tinker Bell and Disney Fairies to sparkle in 3D

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My elementary-school-age children have happily anticipated and enjoyed each direct-to-DVD movie in the Tinker Bell series. Today, the fourth installment hits shelves, and we think it's the best yet.

Disney's "Secret of the Wings" is another computer-animated chapter in the back story of Tinker Bell, Disney's most famous fairy. It originally was to be called "Tinker Bell and the Mysterious Winter Woods," which follows the naming trend of the previous three Disney Fairy movies. But the title was changed, and the movie took longer to finalize this time around, leaving fairy fans to wait two years between movies. They had been accustomed to a new story every fall.

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It seems, though, that the wait was worth it. "Secret of the Wings" is a beautiful movie -- that is rich in story and imagery. It's the first in the franchise to be presented in 3D, and this format really enhances all the details of Pixie Hollow and the Winter Woods. Viewers will love seeing the movie up close and with better definition -- from the Snowy Owls flying by with baskets made by the fairies to the individual snowflakes that cascade down from above the trees.

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Viewers, especially the children in our theater audience, were amazed when they saw the process of how the animals receive their winter coats as they cross into the Winter Woods. Tinker Bell (voiced by Mae Whitman) evoked a laugh when she hesitantly tried to get in on the transformation, as well. The mischievous tinker fairy is determined to visit another season, but, unfortunately, her wings cannot tolerate the cold.

Her attempts to reach the Winter Woods unexpectedly reunite Tinker Bell with the sister she never knew she had. Tinker Bell and Periwinkle, a frost fairy, were born of the same laugh but separated as children. Once they meet, they want to get to know each other and be together, but the seasons are conspiring against them. Tinker Bell needs to remain where it's warm -- in Spring, Summer or Autumn -- and Periwinkle (voiced by Lucy Hale) must stay in Winter. If they fairies don't stay where they belong, their wings could be broken.

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Fairies who have debuted in the previous films appear here, too, including Silvermist, Fawn, Iridessa, Rosetta, Vidia, Terrence, Clank, Bobbie and Queen Clarion. We are introduced to winter fairies Lord Milori, Dewey, Gliss, Spike, Sled and Slush, who take us deep into the Winter Woods. It's fun to see the new fairies reveal their talents and work together with their warm-weather friends to help Tinker Bell and Periwinkle. Clank and Bobbie uphold their reputations as inventors with their amazing snowmaker, and Queen Clarion and Lord Milori may surprise you with their secret.

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The fairies' journey explores themes that are not unusual for a Disney movie: standing up for what you believe in, protecting family, the value of perseverance and a little bit of a G-rated love story. Together, though, the themes make "Secret of the Wings" compelling for children and Disney fans alike. My children were engrossed in the movie from start to finish.

The soundtrack for "Secret of the Wings" reads like a Who's Who of current and former Disney Channel stars, with tracks from Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Bella Thorne, Zendaya, Bridgit Mendler, Laura Marano and Tiffany Thorton. The theme song, "The Great Divide," is by The McClain Sisters.

Guests who are visiting the Magic Kingdom in the next few months can meet Periwinkle and Tinker Bell (in her winter costume) at Tinker Bell's Magical Nook. They will pose for photos in their new Winter Woods set and sign autographs. See photos and read about the new meet-and-greet in my blog post. I'm curious to see how the fourth Tinker Bell movie may influence the Pixie Hollow Fairy Garden at Epcot's Flower & Garden Festival because the pixie-size houses and fairy topiaries are some of my favorite parts of the annual event.

"Secret of the Wings" is available today on DVD, Blu-Ray and Blu-Ray 3D. Look for a preview of the next Tinker Bell movie, due out in Spring 2014.


DISCLAIMER: I was a guest at a screening of Disney's "Secret of the Wings." This did not influence my review, and my opinions are my own.


September 15, 2012

New 'Finding Nemo' film will find new fans with 3D

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When I heard that the Disney Pixar classic "Finding Nemo" was being converted to 3D format, I wondered if anyone would really return to the theater and pay to see this animated movie again almost a decade after its release. I got my answer at a recent screening, though, when I actually overheard children say they'd never seen the film.

I was shocked to hear this, given how my elementary-age children have practically grown up watching the movie, one of the first feature-length films they were exposed to at an early age. We've watched the movie countless times on DVD in the car and at home. Most of their friends have, too, and if you've seen it you probably understand why. It is, simply, a beautiful film to watch and a well-told and humorous story to take in, whether you are 5 or 45.

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For all the laughs found in this humorous movie, it does touch on big life themes to which most any parent can relate. I found myself saddened during the familiar opening scene in which Nemo's mother dies, and Marlin's search for his lost son Nemo is filled with emotion familiar to any distraught parent. It's tough to be indifferent to a movie that is so engaging, no matter how many times you've seen it.

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Parents certainly can relate to Marlin, the overprotective and borderline OCD father, and kids can identify with Nemo and his need to rebel. Of course, forgetful Dory and cool surfer dude Crush the sea turtle certainly have won places in our hearts as well. Seeing them come to life on the big screen was a treat, I'll admit, for me and my son. When "Finding Nemo" was released in 2003, he was only a year old and certainly didn't go to see this in the theater.

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But what of the 3D effects? I loved the depth that was added to the undersea shots. The colors are brilliant and the details stand out, such as the texture of Marlin and Nemo's sea anemone home. Plus, it really feels like Nemo is swimming among the viewers. Throughout the movie, the underwater shots are some of the best -- with lifelike bubbles, a more menacing Bruce the shark and images formed by the school of fish. My 10-year-old son's favorite 3D scene was the one where Marlin helps Dory through the cloud of dangerous jellyfish.

For the most part, "Finding Nemo 3D" doesn't resort to the stereotypical gimmicks of having objects in the movie jump out into the audience, which is what my son expected after his multiple trips through the MuppetVision 3D attraction at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's really the same movie you've come to love, only visually more compelling.

"Finding Nemo 3D" is preceded by a new, hilarious Toy Story Toon called "Partysaurus Rex." Meek Rex breaks out of his shell one night, makes friends with the bath toys and becomes the popular character at a nightclub he orchestrates. This third Toy Story Toon is really clever and will have audiences laughing out loud.

Here's a preview:

"Finding Nemo" will be released in Digital 3D™ for a limited theatrical engagement on Sept. 14, 2012, and will be released for the first time ever in high-definition Blu-ray™ and Blu-ray 3D™ on Dec. 4, 2012. Pre-Order now from Amazon:


DISCLAIMER: I was a guest at a screening of "Finding Nemo 3D." My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my review.

August 16, 2012

Families will identify with Disney's 'Odd Life of Timothy Green'

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SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses the plot of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green."

Disney's "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" is a sweet but predictable movie that is sure to tug at any parent's heartstrings. The movie follows the tried-and-true story arc of most Disney movies that even my almost-10-year-old son recognized, and the themes are not complicated. Still, the feel-good ending has the potential to leave most in the audience satisfied with the film's story.

Cindy and Jim Green (played by Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton) are a happily married couple who are desperate to have a child. They have exhausted all infertility treatments when they allow themselves one last night to dream about what their child would have been like. Then, the Greens literally and figuratively bury those dreams.

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And that's when 10-year-old Timothy (CJ Adams) unexpectedly enters their lives. Timothy is different from other kids, and he's not self-conscious or apologetic about it. His innocence and inability to lie charm most of the adults. When he meets his grandfather for the first time, the elderly man says, "Hello, young man." Timothy responds, "Hello, old boy."

But it's tough being the new kid in Stanleyville, where the main industry is the factory that produces pencils and everyone worries about the plant closing. Kids are cruel because he is not like them, and his parents walk a fine line, trying not to upset the town's leaders and bullies' parents. This feels like an all-too-familiar setup to explore the themes of acceptance and standing up for what you believe in.

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Timothy does find friendship in a kindred spirit, a girl who understands that being different makes them special. Joni (Odeya Rush) becomes Timothy's biggest champion, cheering for him when no one else does. The pair create their own magical outdoor world, where they both are most comfortable.

In the end, though, Timothy must return to his origins, despite the pleas of those who love him. This, of course, is the film plot device even my son saw coming: a sad event that so often precedes a happy ending like in so many Disney movies. Yet it's also the way for the movie to show that no one is ever fully prepared to be a parent, and by the time you think you know what you're doing, it's time to let your child go. In illustrating this, the film allows Timothy to leave the Greens ready to fight for the right to adopt a child.

Overall, my children and I enjoyed "The Odd Life of Timothy Green." My son better understood the plot nuances than my almost-8-year-old daughter, but she still was engrossed in the story. I think most children can relate to finding that one special friend who understands them, and parents certainly will appreciate what the Greens have to go through, making this a good choice for a family movie.

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Walt Disney Studios recently launched The Odd Life of Timothy Green Sock Drive, aimed at providing new socks for families in need across the U.S. People are asked to take new pairs of socks to any of the community drop-off locations nationwide listed on Facebook.com/OddLifeMovie between now and September 3. Hanes will match donations up to 10,000 pairs of socks, and the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions (AGRM) will distribute them.

DISCLAIMER: I was a guest at a screening of "The Odd Life of Timothy Green." My opinions are my own, and this did not influence my review.

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About Disney movie review

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to A Mom and The Magic in the Disney movie review category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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