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It's Magic, Charlie Brown (1981)
A magic show can only mean disaster for poor Charlie Brown and his friends, especially when Snoopy is the magician. This charming special is an exceptionally good one in the long line of Peanuts specials, containing the basic ingredients that make up the Peanuts strips- humor, simplicity, and innocence.
Snoopy puts on a magic show for the neighborhood kids, and when he makes Charlie Brown disappear (for real!) he can't figure out how to get him back. But rest assured, Snoopy always finds a way in the end, doesn't he? This show gives us some surprising twists to the ordinary world of Peanuts, including a glimpse (for the first and only time, as far as I know) inside Snoopy's doghouse, Charlie Brown's victory at kicking the football (maybe), and a rare moment of Lucy getting (in my opinion) her well-deserved comeuppance when Snoopy performs a feat of levitation on her and leaves her in a very interesting situation.
Great fun is always had with Charlie Brown and the gang. This is definitely one to add to the collection.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
There are certain movies that are extremely bizarre, break every movie-making rule possible, and get away with it. Little Shop of Horrors is one of those movies.
Based on the hit off-Broadway musical, which was based on the schlocky Roger Corman movie of the same name (but if it's so schlocky, why do we all love to watch those movies?), Little Shop of Horrors is a movie that could have gone wrong in a million different ways, but in the right hands, it is a thoroughly entertaining experience. Directed by master Muppeteer and brilliant comedy director Frank Oz, the be-bop music, talking plant, romance, humor, and creepiness all work together in unison, something that would not seem likely on paper.
The story is somewhat of a fairy tale, albeit a twisted one, about a down and out guy (Rick Moranis) and a down and out girl (Ellen Greene) who wish for a happy life beyond Skid Row, but are forced to live a miserable existence in a ramshackle flower shop. But the discovery of a very unusual plant brings unexpected business, unexpected fame and fortune, and one very unexpected problem, because this plant seems to have a very particular appetite. . . .
Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene (who incidentally originated her role in the off-Broadway play) make for charming and thoroughly sympathetic leads (I never knew Rick Moranis could sing!). And Steve Martin is hilarious in the minor but certainly unforgettable role of the sadistic dentist. But Mr. Martin is only one of several comedic cameos in the film, including Christopher Guest who gives a hilarious performance as the flower shop's first customer, Bill Murray as the masochist patient, and a few other surprises.
Alan Menken, who is probably best known for his work with Disney on Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, etc., and Howard Ashman present yet another dazzling musical score that sticks in your mind well after the movie is done. And a big round of applause must go to the plant itself. Remembering that this was made in the days before CGI, you will be floored by this live animatronic creature. But really, this is a movie that cannot be explained. You just have to experience it yourself!
An enjoyable adventure!
This second American Girl movie is every bit as charming as last year's Samantha: An American Girl Holiday. If you are interested in sitting down with your family and watching a handsomely made movie without having to worry about when the next bad word and inappropriate joke is going to come up (two things that plague much of the modern family fare), then this movie is just for you.
We are taken back to 1775 Virginia, when the Revolutionary War is on the brink, and tension between Patriots and Loyalists is mounting. As it is with all the American Girl stories, these historic events are seen through the eyes of a young girl, Felicity, who is tired of having to be proper and longs to be independent. She falls in love with a wild horse owned by a cruel farmer, befriends Loyalist Elizabeth Cole, and most importantly, learns what it means to have courage in a changing world.
As with Samantha, much of the movie is taken straight from the original American Girl stories, which is sure to delight young fans of Felicity and the American Girl Collection. But the stunning scenery, and lavish, authentic costumes, not to mention all the historical references, make it thoroughly entertaining for the grown-ups in the audience, as well.
The young stars of this movie are so good, they almost upstage the adults, although everybody does a nice job of combining sweetness with believability. Shailene Woodley does a fantastic job as Felicity, and Katie Henney gives Elizabeth Cole a nice British accent (Miss Henney is our tour guide through the American Girl Place on the Samantha DVD Special Features). And has anyone ever heard of Geza Kovacs? He makes quite a scene in the relatively minor role of the cruel Jiggy Nye.
Great family fun, and a truly enjoyable adventure!
Courage Mountain (1990)
A Worthwhile Adventure
Courage Mountain is one of many well-made movies that have fallen into the black oblivion of cinema history. A sequel to Heidi, the beloved classic that makes many people think of Shirley Temple, it tells the story of a teenage Heidi who is sent to boarding school in Italy, during World War One. But circumstances force Heidi and her new school friends to embark on a dangerous journey through the warring countryside, bound for the mountain that will take them safely to Heidi's homeland of Switzerland.
One of the prime delights in this movie is the splendid scenery, with sweeping views of the Alps from all sorts of different angles. As for the movie itself, it has a compelling enough plot, and one certainly appealing to the family audience- courageous children fighting against all odds to find freedom during troubling times. The characters are interesting and somewhat Dickensian, though at times you feel like we move to the next scene before we've had a chance to really get to know any of them. Fortunately, most of the cast is excellent, especially 15-year-old Juliette Caton, who plays Heidi, and the other four girls (who are these wonderful actresses, and why didn't we see them again after this movie?). Leslie Caron (remember An American in Paris?) is nice as the warm-hearted headmistress, and Jan Rubes is the perfect Grandfather. And three cheers for another marvelous but relatively unknown actor, Yorgo Voyagis (perhaps most widely seen as Jospeh in the epic miniseries Jesus of Nazareth), who plays the villainous factory owner to wicked perfection.
The only actor who is completely out of place is the actor who gets his name at the front of the credits, Charlie Sheen. Perhaps it's the fact that he doesn't even try to hide his American accent, or perhaps it's because he is playing an 18-year-old when he is actually in his mid-twenties (at the time). Or perhaps it is an attempt to have a "star" so that the movie will be easier to promote (a device that never works).
Surprisingly enough, Mr. Sheen is not in the movie very much. And everything else is really a worthwhile adventure for the entire family, without any pesky off-color jokes and bad language (a rarity in family movies these days). And be sure to listen to the music. It's just as majestic as the mountains.
Terrific family entertainment!
Obviously, the target audience for a movie like this is young girls who love the American Girls Collection. But within that, it is a thoroughly enjoyable treat, made specifically for kids but not at all the sort of movie that will drive grown-ups crazy.
The story is sweet and simple, but heartwarming, about a rich little girl named Samantha growing up in 1904. The script takes the various adventures from the Samantha books in the American Girls Collection, from Samantha's friendship with servant girl Nellie to the wedding of Uncle Gard and Aunt Cornelia to Samantha's speaking contest at her school in New York City, and blends them together in a very satisfying way- sure to please any girl who has the doll or has read the books! And perhaps what makes this "kid's movie" more appealing to the entire family is the inclusion of the historic happenings of 1904 America, when the motor car was an exciting new invention and the Suffrage movement had begun. This is, of course, the basis of the American Girls Collection and it's a wonderful way to bone up on your history and be entertained at the same time (hey, I didn't know that's when showers were invented!).
AnnaSophia Robb, who plays the title role, is quite a familiar face to family audiences, having starred as Opal in Because of Winn-Dixie and as the infamous gum-chewing, girl-turned-blueberry Violet Beauregarde in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. AnnaSophia is a very talented young actress, and she plays the role of Samantha with a nice combination of sweetness and spunk (and she's cute without being cutesy, which is always a relief for the grown-ups). In fact, most of the cast is stellar, and Jordan Bridges (son of Beau Bridges) plays fun-loving Uncle Gard with a blend of charm and realism. Surprisingly enough, Mia Farrow, who plays Samantha's proper Grandmary and is undoubtedly the most famous performer in the lineup, is a trifle stilted and seems to be upstaged by the rest of the troop.
The fact that there are only two or three males in the entire show indicates that this is not really a boy's movie (I'm a grown-up boy, so I have permission to watch these kinds of movies and not be embarrassed anymore). Still, this is terrific family entertainment, for girls who love the American Girls, and for anyone who loves to walk away from a movie feeling good!
Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)
Quality family entertainment- What a surprise!
There are very few family movies these days that don't succumb to immature, off-color jokes, dumb characters walking around doing dumb things, and other terribly silly things that make the viewers say, "These filmmakers don't even know what a kid is, do they?" Because of Winn-Dixie is a simple story with extremely high production values, made by people who still care about quality entertainment. What could have been a cookie-cutter Hollywood "family" film ends up being a wonderfully satisfying movie for kids and adults alike.
Again, the story is a simple one, about a lonely girl who finds a friendly dog and together they bring happiness to a lonely town. But everything is filmed with care, and this time-worn plot suddenly becomes something new and moving. Much of this is accomplished in the first rate acting. AnnaSophia Robb is a highly talented young actress, able to play a variety of different roles, from Samantha to Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Jeff Daniels is always perfect, playing the sympathetic but depressed preacher father with considerable realism. And singer Dave Matthews is an incredibly natural actor. He should do it more often. The photography is quite beautiful at times (I never knew a small town could look so stunning).
This is a highly recommended movie for families who want to watch clean family entertainment that leaves you feeling good!
This movie is pure imagination all over again for Wonka fans and anyone else! First of all, yes, it is like the book, yes, it is different than the 1971 version, yes, there is no doubt Tim Burton directed this movie, and no, Johnny Depp didn't remind me of Michael Jackson (maybe because I wasn't obsessed with following Mr. Jackson's trial like everybody else).
This timeless children's classic is extremely faithful to Roald Dahl's quirky world, while appealing to a whole new generation of kids and families. And who better to create a quirky world than the master of quirkiness, Tim Burton. Much like Hitchcock's famous cameos, there are plenty of Burton-like images all throughout the film (including a brief image of Wonka holding a pair of scissors that reminds us of another Burton-Depp collaboration). The visuals are absolutely stunning, so stunning that you could almost watch the movie with the sound down and still be entertained.
The acting is all first rate. Johnny Depp's originality never ceases to amaze me. And Freddie Highmore is wonderful as usual (if you haven't seen his performance in Finding Neverland, see it). The nasty kids do a good job of mixing reality with their broad characters, and their equally nasty parents are the same. Once again, the classic book is appropriately brought into our modern life while sticking to the timeless quality of the story. Most notably are the Beauregarde's, hilariously brought to life by Missi Pyle and AnnaSophia Robb (quite the versatile little actress, for those who have seen Samantha and Because of Winn-Dixie). Here we have the pushy cheerleader mom who has created an obnoxious little clone of herself (know anyone like that?). And Mike Teavee is not only obsessed with television, but now, with video games (know any kids like that?). I cannot mention the entire cast, but everyone else did a terrific job, too.
Fans of the Gene Wilder version (and I am included in that list) will be pleasantly surprised (especially with the inclusion of such chapters as "The Other Children Go Home", a rather wickedly satisfying chapter, but I won't give anything away), and fans of the book (I am included in that list, too) will be pleased to see a movie that is as faithful to the book as you can get and have it still be a movie.
Peter Pan (2003)
A Magical Journey to Neverland!
This is a truly magical, truly entertaining version of J.M. Barrie's classic tale. Some of the reviews on this site will tell you this movie is a big disappointment, but don't be disappointed, because this is a lie of enormous proportions. Children and adults alike who are looking for clean, old-fashioned, swashbuckling fun should embrace this colorful and lavish production.
Peter Pan is Peter Pan, exactly as you would imagine him, Wendy is Wendy, Captain Hook is Captain Hook, and so on. The casting is perfect, the scenery is beautifully fanciful, and the scripting is very true to the original story. There is certainly a darker tone to this movie, unlike the classic Disney version, but a slight bit of tongue-and-cheek makes it enjoyable and not too heavy for the kids in the audience.
A magical experience for those who seek to escape to Neverland!
The greatest Christmas Carol of all!
A Christmas Carol has been done time and time again, but no other version can compare to this delightful musical that boasts marvelous acting, lavish sets, and splendid storytelling.
Albert Finney portrays a perfectly gnarled and twisted Scrooge (though he was, in fact, only in his early thirties when the film was made). The story is very true to Dickens' text, and the masterly musical numbers add a sense of merriment to the unshakable holiday spirit that the book so openly promotes.
Finney is accompanied by a fine supporting cast, including Kenneth More as the jolly Ghost of Christmas Present (his "I Like Life" song presents a rather thought-provoking philosophy), Dame Edith Evans as Christmas Past, and Sir Alec Guiness as the haunting, and slightly humorous, Jacob Marley.
Scrooge is the Christmas Carol to end all Christmas Carols, a charming musical adventure that warms your heart and makes you ponder the true meaning of Christmas. God bless us, everyone!
And Then There Were None (1945)
A Murderous Classic!
The Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, triumphs again with this murderously tricky whodunit brilliantly brought to the screen by French director Rene Clair.
Ten strangers are invited to a weekend getaway at a lonely mansion, only to find that their unknown host wants them all dead. One by one, the guests begin to die, ominously playing out the words to the famous Ten Little Indians nursery rhyme, which ends with the line "And then there were none."
Clair captures the mood of Agatha Christie's world of mystery perfectly, with thrills, chills, and humor all mixed together. The cast is excellent, including such screen favorites as Barry Fitzgerald and Walter Huston. And Richard Hadyn, who would later become known as Max in The Sound of Music, makes an appearance as the rather bungling butler.
A delightful and intriguing movie filled with murder and mystery at its best!