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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Return to Oz

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

June 21, 1985

Forty-six years after MGM’s beloved Technicolor musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, Walt Disney Pictures produced their own journey through the world of L. Frank Baum. Though titled and framed like a sequel, writer/director Walter Murch and co-writer Dennis Gill (WALK THE LINE) treated it more as a literary adaptation, basing it mostly on book #3, Ozma of Oz, combined with some characters from #2, The Marvelous Land of Oz. In an article by Alan Jones in the July, 1985 issue of Cinefantastique (my most quoted source in this review series, you may have noticed), executive producer Gary Kurtz (THE DARK CRYSTAL) says they “pondered at great length” whether to even use the iconic ruby slippers, since in the books they were silver.

Like its predecessor, the not-really-sequel is full of whimsical characters and underpinned with fairy tale menace, but in most other ways it’s wildly different. The colors are subdued rather than vivid, the settings are grounded rather than stagey, it stars 10-year-old newcomer Fairuza Balk as Dorothy rather than a teen like Judy Garland, and she doesn’t sing, because it’s not a musical. While WIZARD’s costumes, jokes and dance numbers come out of the vaudeville tradition, RETURN creates its world and characters with the rapidly evolving cinematic puppetry, animation and visual FX technology of the Lucas/Spielberg era. Murch told Cinefantastique, “At first I was worried about using state-of-the-art animatronics, but so many of the OZ personnel are graduates of The Muppets, STAR WARS, and THE DARK CRYSTAL that I realized it would be pointless to worry.”

The result is a classic entry in the unique-to-the-‘80s subgenre of dark, imaginative, FX-heavy fantasy for children, preceded by THE DARK CRYSTAL and THE NEVERENDING STORY and followed by LABYRINTH. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Goonies

Monday, June 8th, 2020

June 7, 1985

I have long held a stance on THE GOONIES that was highly controversial: I found it annoying. I don’t think I’m alone on that anymore, but it used to get me into trouble because of how many people of a particular age group hold that movie as a sacred relic of childhood.

For most of my writing career I’ve had a policy of being ambiguous about my age, because I wanted to seem like a crusty old man, regardless of how little that seemed to fit with the particular things I was knowledgeable about. As I get closer to being authentically old and crusty I’m starting to be more lax about that, so at last the truth can be told: I am exactly the right age to have grown up loving this movie. In fact, I did grow up loving this movie. And I’ll even go you one further: I saw it twice in one day. My mom took me and my friends to see it on my birthday, and since there wasn’t room in the car for my siblings, she brought them to see it later in the day, and I went that time too.

But when I saw it again as an adult I learned something disappointing: those fucking goonies never fucking shut up! This despite one character putting their hand over another character’s mouth to shut them up being a major motif. It’s a movie starring a group of pre-teen boys, and though they’re not quite as naturalistic as the kids in E.T. (which I think they were deliberately modeled after) they do have an accurate 12-year-old-boy energy, which means they’re constantly joking and giggling and bickering and yelling over each other and telling each other to be quiet. I was less patient with them than my mom must’ve been with my carload of friends, so for years after that viewing I would say that GOONIES feels like being tricked into chaperoning somebody else’s kids at Chuck E. Cheese. I didn’t remember that Martha Plimpton’s slightly older character actually sums up the movie well when she says something similar: “I feel like I’m babysitting except I’m not getting paid.”

Fast forward to today. The futuristic year of 2020. That figurative trip to Chuck E. Cheese was considerably longer ago than the double-screening birthday party had been at that time. Since then I’ve learned things. I’ve been through things. My tastes have changed. The world has turned more goonie. I was kind of excited to see it again and find out if I still hated it. I had no idea if I would. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Lion King (2019)

Wednesday, November 6th, 2019

I honestly wanted to see the LION KING quasi-live-action remake in the theater, but never managed to. Turns out it did okay without my money. But by waiting until now to review it I missed out on timely discussions of related issues about a pioneering studio turned monolithic corporation treating their legacy of hand drawn animation as just a shitty licensing library to be resold (and possibly replaced in the imagination of new generations) with more realistic imagery. I guess I addressed it in my review of the (actually) live action ALADDIN. Basically, I’m open to to enjoying these remakes on their own terms, but the whole idea of them is a bummer.

Now let’s get to a more controversial topic: I have never thought the original LION KING was very good. I know it’s a beloved classic, one of the highest grossing animated movies of all time, etc. I watch it once every 5-10 years hoping to like it better this time, but I always strike out. I liked the dramatic stuff, like everything having to do with Mufasa’s death, but I always thought the musical numbers, in addition to not being really my jam, were more of a distraction than a story. And I was not really into the farting warthog. (read the rest of this shit…)

Aladdin (2019)

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

ALADDIN. The 1992 Disney animated classic about a “street rat” who’s a “diamond in the rough” and gets three wishes from a hyperactive genie and uses the opportunity to try to marry the princess he just met. See, they come from opposite worlds, but if you think about it, having to sneak out of your gigantic palace in disguise to go to the market while your dad tries to make you marry a prince you don’t know for political reasons is very much the same experience as being an orphan who knows how to make crushing poverty fun with petty theft and parkour. So I don’t see why there would be any awkwardness there. They’ll do great!

Now we have a live action version, and legitimate reason to be skeptical. I’m very proud of my review of SAVING MR. BANKS from just six years ago, which I turned into sort of a manifesto against kneejerk cynicism toward Disney and happy endings and what not. But these days the corporation probly gets less pushback than it honestly deserves – they buttered us up with Star Wars and Marvel movies and then created a disastrous monopoly by purchasing Fox. There are many small, terrible things I could complain about, but it’s in the big picture that it seems to me they’re really doing the opposite of what their founder was beloved for. It seems less about telling great stories and more about trying to own the most popular “properties.” Not only have they entirely abandoned the classic hand drawn animation that was once their entire business, but they’re recycling their own animated stories in live action and/or realistic computer animation that’s sometimes well done but generally lacks the heart and soul of the drawings Walt helped breathe life into.

That fucking sucks. On the other hand, I can recognize that most of these movies are pretty enjoyable on their own merits. So I try to be fair. (read the rest of this shit…)

Richie Rich

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Somehow I saw the movie RI¢HIE RI¢H when it was released in 1994. I never planned to watch it again, but I did while researching that ’90s comic book movie piece a while back, so what the hell? You guys seemed to like when I did a review of CASPER. Maybe it’s good to beef up the Harvey Comics portion of the archive.

Not particularly popular in its time, and based on concepts from a comic book started in the ’50s, it might not be entirely fair to look at this movie as representative of our attitudes in the ’90s. Still, it says something that Warner Brothers felt this was a story people would want to see, and that it should be presented in this specific way.

I looked up some of the other family movies of ’94, and they include THREE NINJAS KICK BACK, LITTLE BIG LEAGUE, ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD, THE SANTA CLAUSE and THE PAGEMASTER. I haven’t seen any of those and I don’t know how they open, but you can imagine throwing stars, baseballs, footballs, Christmas presents or books dancing around some of those titles when they appear on screen. For RICHIE RICH, the magic of sports or holiday fantasy or reading is replaced by, you know, extreme wealth. So a fantastical Alan Silvestri (BACK TO THE FUTURE, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT, SUPER MARIO BROS., AVENGERS: ENDGAME) score plays as a vault opens to reveal the shimmering title. (read the rest of this shit…)

Mary Poppins Returns

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

I’m usually an optimist, but I had no confidence at all in Rob Marshall directing a sequel to MARY POPPINS, despite the obviously well-cast Emily Blunt (THE WOLFMAN). I’m happy to report, though, that all involved did a great job and MARY POPPINS RETURNS is a warm and enjoyable revival of old school Walt Disney cornball musical family entertainment, for those who might be interested in such a thing.

I really didn’t know what I was talking about with Marshall, to be honest. I’ve never even seen his Academy Award winning CHICAGO. But I was so bored watching PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES that it completely put me off a series I had loved up until that point. I didn’t trust him taking a crack at this much more sacred Disney ground, especially with a script from the guy that did fuckin FINDING NEVERLAND. But in retrospect Marshall had pretty good qualifications for this one. I’ve subsequently learned of his love for MARY POPPINS as the first movie he remembers seeing, his seriousness about honoring the original tone and using material from the P.L. Travers books, that he had Marc Shaiman (MY GIANT) start recording the score beforehand so he could play it while filming, and that he got the cast to rehearse the song and dance numbers for months, something he took from his days as a dancer and choreographer for the stage. Having seen it, all of that makes sense. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Monster’s Christmas

Monday, December 17th, 2018

THE MONSTER’S CHRISTMAS is a holiday special that aired on New Zealand television in 1981. I’m going to be up front and admit that I don’t have a whole lot of insightful things to say about this one, but it’s so charmingly weird that I felt like I owed it to the world to write it up and share some screengrabs so more people can know it exists.

It opens with a slasher-style P.O.V. into a window, but otherwise it’s only scary in an accidental sort of way. An unnamed little girl (Lucy McGrath, whose only other credit is NEARLY NO CHRISTMAS, a 1983 special from the same director) reads a picture book to her teddy bear. It’s “The Monster’s Christmas by Burton Silver,” which is not a real book, but that is the name of the screenwriter.

Then she hears a clatter so she goes to the living room where the Christmas tree is and spots a big rubber blob monster guy. Smoke billows from a hole in his head. He has one wiggling antenna and one eye. Rings of weird Koosh-ball-like tendrils pulsate around the eye as tears or something drip out.

“Hey, you’re not Father Christmas!” the girl says.

(read the rest of this shit…)

The Flintstones

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on

May 27, 1994

The Flintstones are an example of a pop culture phenomenon that’s long past its relevance, but it’s so simple and recognizable that it lingers like a ghost in the public memory. Or like a fossil! As the first prime time cartoon, it originally aired between 1960 and 1966, but more than half a century later – whether because of the spin-offs and TV movies, the vitamins and cereals, or just cultural omnipresence – almost any American could identify the show on sight.

That doesn’t mean they’ve given it much thought, though, because there’s not much to chew on here. I know I watched it for some period of my life, but couldn’t point to a favorite episode, or even a specific one. There are different stories, technically, but the joke doesn’t really go beyond “what if there was a Honeymooners type family sitcom, but with cave men?,” and with the gimmick that modern lifestyles and technology (cars, drive-in theaters, kitchen appliances) exist, crudely constructed out of rocks, bones, wood, animal skins, and talking, subservient prehistoric animals. The plots reflect the same middle class concerns as a normal show would – trying to keep your job to pay for the house, trying to make your wife not mad that you spend too much time out with your buddies – but mostly it’s that one anachronistic joke of “the modern stone age family.” It’s humor with one wink and a whole lot of taken-for-granted cartoonist ingenuity. (read the rest of this shit…)

Beauty and the Beast (Disney remake)

Monday, April 24th, 2017

Disney’s new live-action rendition of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a tale as old as time, a collection of songs as old as 1991, plus new ones created in 1993 for the Broadway musical. Unlike Jon Favreau’s excellent computer-animation-that-seems-like-live-action remake THE JUNGLE BOOK, which melded beloved elements of the 1967 animated classic with more serious drama from Rudyard Kipling’s book, this is a very faithful, at times scene-for-scene re-enactment of the 1991 best picture nominated hit. But that’s the idea: it’s the movie version of the stage version of the animated version of the traditional fairy tale. Director Bill Condon (CANDYMAN 2: FAREWELL TO THE FLESH) and adapters Stephen Chbosky (RENT) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (HERCULES with The Rock) seem to look at it much more as a restaging than a reinterpretation. (read the rest of this shit…)

Monster Trucks

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

MONSTER TRUCKS is literally about monster trucks. This is a movie about an oil company drilling through a pocket of water deep beneath the earth, accidentally releasing a huge, squid-like creature who crawls into a junkyard and hides inside the chassis of a teen’s crappy pickup truck. Soon the teen discovers that the creature can wrap its tentacles around the axels and spin them, basically acting as its engine. Also it eats oil and it can not only drive and steer the truck but jump and bounce and climb up walls and shit.

So this teen, Tripp (Lucas Till, aka Havok in X-MEN and TV’s new MacGyver), names the monster “Creech” and drives around in him like extreme E.T. But he has to hide him from a private security team led by cruel Burke (Holt McCallany, CREEPSHOW 2, TYSON, BULLET TO THE HEAD, BLACKHAT, JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK) and, like Free Willy or the T-800 or somebody, get him back home. He does it with the help of his squeaky-voiced biology tutor Meredith (I had no idea that was Jane Levy, star of EVIL DEAD and DON’T BREATHE) and a conscience-stricken scientist from the oil company (Thomas Lennon, HERBIE FULLY LOADED). (read the rest of this shit…)