Archive for the 'kid stuff' Category

Today, try to be more like…

…a Goonie. Happy 40th, Sean Astin!

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Kiddie cinema!

Please read this London Times article immediately, because it is the greatest damn thing I have heard about in a good long while. How can it not be when it begins with this sentence: “In a noisy primary school classroom in East London, 15 very small film buffs are arguing about whether The Red Shoes is better than Duck Soup.” Ah! Don’t you want to know more?!

…okay, so you read it? Isn’t it fantastic? I’ve said many times, including right on this here blog while discussing a screening of City Lights, that kids could really love 1920s and 30s slapstick movies because they have the same kind of humor as Bugs Bunny and friends. Kids in the 2000s watching Monsieur Hulot films? C’est merveilleux, oh que j’adore M. Hulot, il est si drôle! And The Red Shoes? It’s based on a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson! It’s gorgeous to look at like a Technicolor cartoon! How crazy awesome that someone thought not just to show it to a group of kids, but to really get them talking about it. (Although I do hope that Grease was reserved for the slightly older kids—I wouldn’t want to be the parent who has to explain to a seven-year-old the Rizzo pregnancy scare subplot.) And to also get professionals to come talk to the students? Including my beloved Alan Rickman? I’m bursting with the loveliness of it all. I credit much of my own love of all kinds of movies to being exposed to a lot of stuff from the 1930s and 40s as a kid (Fred and Ginger movies were certainly just as common in my house as Disney cartoons), so hearing about this program seriously made my day.

This article proves that movies for kids needn’t be of the boy-meets-talking-dog sorts of genres that talk down to them. Some makers of so-called kids’ movies, such as Pixar, get this and make films that feel timeless and appropriate for all ages. Many other studios making kid-friendly stuff don’t seem to get how smart kids really are. But I’m thinking that maybe the folks over at DreamWorks Animation are starting to seriously catch on….and with that, I’ll segue with only slight awkwardness into a review of their latest film, Kung Fu Panda.

This isn’t a perfect movie the way I consider Finding Nemo or Ratatouille to be, but it is a huge step in that direction for the studio that made such hideousness as Shark Tale and can’t move on from the mediocre-but-lucrative Shrek franchise. Visually, it’s vibrant and fun and at times quite beautiful. The opening sequence—a dream of our main character, Po—features bright, angular hand-drawn animation, serving as both a respectful nod to what came before CGI and as a great contrast that made me appreciate even more just how nice the computer animation looks here. The characters are about fifty times more likable than in other DreamWorks cartoons, and while the simple story doesn’t visit any new territory, the filmmakers realize this and take advantage of it rather than trying to mask it.

Yes, you probably know just from the title exactly how things will play out in this underdog tale. Po the fat, clumsy panda dreams of being a kung fu master instead of running his dad’s noodle shop. Circumstances arise that help him reach his dream, however unlikely it may seem. A word about the dad: Po seems to be the only panda in town and he’s being raised by what appears to be a stork. This is never explained, though a funny moment comes when we almost think Dad’s big confession is coming. I love that this was not explained. Please, show me the kid who couldn’t fill in the logical story that Po was an orphan adopted by a family who couldn’t have kids and didn’t care that their son was different than them. Seriously, the explanation is unnecessary, and that’s the sort of detail I’m referring to when I say that this movie doesn’t talk down to its kid audience.

All that time that’s not spent giving us exposition is filled up with wicked action scenes and glorious training montages instead—Lord, I love a good training montage. The movie showcases some of the best animated fighting I’ve seen, and the big set-piece scenes are enthralling, particularly the villain Tai Lung (voiced by Ian McShane, aka Al Swearengen!) escaping from his one-man, thousand-guard prison using only a feather. Please note though, if it bothers you when cartoon characters do things like jump upward from a falling object, this may not be the movie for you.

Now for the downside. Though I liked the characters, most are underserved. Po and his master, Shifu, fare alright, but every member of the “Furious Five” seems either one-dimensional (Tigress is determined! Crane doesn’t like to be bothered! Mantis is easy-going!) or non-dimensional (Viper and Monkey are so pointless they didn’t even have enough lines for me to notice they were being voiced by Lucy Liu and Jackie Chan. Come on, if you’re gonna pay Jackie Chan, get your money’s worth). Out of the five, Tigress does most of the real fighting we see, which I felt was a bit of a cop-out. I wanted to really see how a crane or viper or mantis does kung fu without all the requisite body parts, or at least get a sequence of the monkey kicking someone’s ass with his tail, but it never came.

Despite its faults, Kung Fu Panda is by far the best CGI film to come out of its production studio, and for that I really applaud DreamWorks. This movie has heart where its other films only have snarkiness, and it’s the only movie I’ve ever seen from them that I would want to see again.

In conclusion, cartoons are awesome, and so are robots.

So, I spent a chunk of time yesterday devouring Entertainment Weekly’s Summer Movie Preview issue, and some comments in there about Wall-E made me shake my head (sidenote: summer movie season starts THIS FRIDAY?? It’s already time for Iron Man?!?! Seattle weather, please get warmer now so that I can stop having this disconnect in my brain!). Anyway, seems some people are fretting over whether the lack of traditional dialogue will keep kids from getting into Wall-E the way they have with other Pixar films. This seems like the silliest worry ever to me. Since when do cartoons need dialogue to succeed? Tom and Jerry, anyone? Aren’t those really late cartoons of theirs, when they tried to make them start talking all of a sudden, way less effective than the early ones? And don’t those robots in Wall-E have some sort of beep-beep language anyway, R2D2 style? And isn’t R2D2 universally and unconditionally loved by all functioning members of society? I thought so.

And now, because I can, I present one of the greatest dialogue-free bits of animation ever, the immortal Skeleton Dance:

I actually think that this single cartoon could be responsible for the fact that I love Halloween so much. As a kid I was not that into the whole trick-or-treating thing, since I could always have candy whenever I wanted it, just as I could and did dress up in ridiculous outfits on any whim. Looking back, I see that the biggest reason I looked forward to Halloween so feverishly was because I knew that the Disney Channel would play the Skeleton Dance over and over during the month of October. Ah, those pre-internet days when we were at the mercy of network programmers!

Muppetlicious

I recently came across the following video, unfortunately too late to post for St. Patrick’s Day:

After sharing this gloriousness with Becca, she and I had an interesting conversation about why it is so funny. Conveniently for me, since Becca has recently started her own blog that is dedicated to the discussion, dissection, and celebration of humor, she did the work of translating our thoughts into a blog-worthy piece. I am left with the fun part: finding more videos to honor the greatness of our fair Muppet trio.

First, more musical stylings from the one and only Beaker:

Keep chasing that dream, buddy!

Now, the Swedish Chef teaches us to make a donut:

Yum!

And finally, a moment with Animal:

“BAD PUN!” Too funny!

The greatness of the Muppets cannot be understated, and I’m excited over the recent news that Jason Segel is writing a script for another theatrical Muppet movie. I thought the last one, Muppets From Space, was hilarious and very underrated. Here’s hoping this next effort restores the gang to their deserved level of glory.

Nostalgia!

hes-a-tramp.jpgLast night, a passing comment made by Ashley referencing the Lady and the Tramp song “He’s a Tramp” abruptly drove our conversation into a delightfully nerdy debate over what each of us would rank as our top ten Disney songs of all time. Being the huge fan of lists that I am, I’d like to share mine here and see if anyone else will do the same. The rules (yes, there were strict rules):

–All songs must be from Disney’s traditional, theatrically released animated films (nothing from Mary Poppins, etc.)

–All songs must be sung by the characters in the film (we agreed that the saddest elimination due to this rule was the cute little background tune “April Showers” from Bambi)

–Any versions existing outside of the actual film should not exert any influence over a choice (so sorry, fans of Elton John or Celine Dion and Luther Vandross)

So here’s the ten I came up with, put into chronological order with a little help from Wikipedia:

1. “In a World of my Own” from Alice in Wonderland.

2. “He’s a Tramp” from Lady and the Tramp. I’ve always wanted to do this at karaoke but have never seen it available.

3. “Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty. This suggestion caused mild controversy because the music in the film is taken from the ballet, but I say pish posh to that, I love this song. And I love Prince Phillip.

4. “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book.

5. “Everybody Wants to Be a Cat” from The Aristocats.

6. “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid. Ursula is the second-best Disney villain of all time, behind Maleficent.

7. “Kiss the Girl” from The Little Mermaid. I almost wanted to put “Under the Sea” as well! Damn the music in that movie is good.

8. “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast.

9. “Prince Ali” from Aladdin. Bust this one out randomly and watch everyone around start doing Genie imitations, guaranteed.

10. “Out There” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Seriously awesome song from what I think is a highly underrated movie. I have this on my computer and I listen to it all the time.

Alright, I know a lot of you reading this are just as nerdy for Disney as I am. Confess!

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Other projects:


Downton Gabby: podcasting about Downton Abbey from a funny, foul-mouthed, feminist perspective

Quick Lit: reading one short story a day in 2015

Grand Dames: collecting sundry achievements of admirable women

The MacGuffin: archive of my days as a film critic

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