"VeggieTales: Veggies in Space – The Fennel Frontier" Review


VeggieTales: Veggies in Space - The Fennel Frontier

VeggieTales: Veggies in Space – The Fennel Frontier

Running Time: 45 minutes
DVD Release Date: March 11, 2014 (Amazon.com)

VeggieTales: Veggies in Space - The Fennel Frontier
Plot Summary
A Lesson in The Power of Sharing! Join Captain Cuke (Larry the Cucumber) and his loyal first officer, Mr. Spork (Bob the Tomato), as they embark on an out of this world adventure to bravely travel where no Veggie has ever been. The entire USS Applepies crew takes on Luntar the Looter, a power stealing space pirate, but they’re in for a big surprise when they find out what’s motivating him!
(from VeggieTales.com)

Film Review
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I’m a sucker for a really good spoof. Spoofing popular stories and franchises isn’t something foreign for the VeggieTales team. Even since the first episodes of the series, Star Trek was spoofed when Bob and Larry enlisted Junior’s help to save the U.S.S. Applepies in an attempt to teach him a lesson in friendship. The vessel’s faitful crew finally makes a return to teach a lesson in sharing, something parents of any young child will be chomping at the bit to present to their children.

As a father of a 3-year-old little boy myself, sharing is a concept and theme I have yet to fully get through to him. He’s starting to make some progress, thankfully, but he still is quick to declare “mine!” when I just want to look at or touch a toy of his. We encourage him to “share” his belongings (and food) like we share with him, but he is still often reluctant. Veggies In Space: The Fennel Frontier finds the U.S.S. Applepies to be completely foreign to the idea of sharing, and the selfish crewmembers eventually get a pretty hard lesson in what it means to share with each other.

The story makes rapid-fire jokes and references to famous and popular sci-fi pop culture that parents will mostly catch and appreciate. Movies and franchises like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Apollo 13, Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, E.T., Back To The Future and even 2001: A Space Odyssey are all given direct nods or have lines borrowed from throughout Veggies In Space. It’s clever, funny, and deliciously shameless. The wooden bridge cutting through the Captain’s bridge on the Applepies and a floating audio-recording log acting as the Captain’s Log are just a few of the witty and silly spoofs that litter this episode. It’s always entertaining and fun and it helps keep things light as the lesson in sharing develops.

One of the funniest moments, and surprising given the release dateof this in conjunction with a film so recent, is the opening shot of the episode being a direct goof on the Academy Award-winning 2013 film, Gravity. From the lonesome, lost shot of Larry “floating in space” (against a wall of glow-in-the-dark stars), to the sound suddenly cutting out just like that film’s score frequently utilized — it’s just wonderfully executed. And it sets the tone for what’s about to unfold beautifully.

The episode is also pretty action-packed for a VeggieTales episode — with giant, Veggie-manned (can you say “manned” when involving vegetables?) robot suits (think Avatar) briefly fighting to fiery popcorn meteor showers and some space-tacular explosions, it’s one of the more action filled episodes in the Veggie catalog. However, it’s never directly perilously violent, so I wouldn’t worry too much for the little ones. It’s probably just a little more action-packed than the recent Incredible Vegetables episode.

Fun, silly, fast-paced and witty, Veggies In Space is everything a parent and child could ask for in a VeggieTales episode. It’s an original tale driven by great and easily recognizable references–both in dialog and visual form. Everything from the rolling pin nacels of the Applepies to a well-placed use of “It’s a Trap!” and “Houston, we have a problem” is darn good fun and entertainment with a message for all ages to cling to.
John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/8/14)

Best-Selling VeggieTales Christmas Shows Available in a Special DVD Collection for the Very First Time




Six Fan-Favorite Titles Feature Lessons In Giving, Love, Hope and Forgiveness

SOURCE: Hoganson Media

FRANKLIN, TN (September 5, 2012) — Light the fire, make the cocoa and get ready for a VeggieTales Christmas marathon! Big Idea Entertainment, a leading studio and producer of children’s and family programming, characters and brands, announced today they will release all of their VeggieTales® Christmas titles as part of a DVD box set, VeggieTales: The Ultimate Christmas Collection, on September 29 and October 2, 2012 in Christian and general market stores respectively.


For the first time ever, the VeggieTales holiday classics will be packaged together in VeggieTales: The Ultimate Christmas Collection, providing close to four hours of entertainment for families! DVD titles included in this special collection are The Toy That Saved Christmas, The Star of Christmas, Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving, It’s a Meaningful Life, The Little Drummer Boy and VeggieTales: Sing-along Christmas Songs. As a bonus, VeggieTales: 25 Favorite Christmas Songs! CD will also be part of the three-disc box set.


“We are delighted to bring the entire collection of top-selling VeggieTales Christmas favorites together for the first time in a special collector’s pack,” said Greg Fritz, SVP Sales & Marketing of Big Idea Entertainment. “We think VeggieTales: The Ultimate Christmas Collection will help families celebrate the season and get into the holiday spirit as they watch shows that teach lessons on the true meaning of Christmas, joyful giving, being content, and how to love and forgive.”


VeggieTales: The Ultimate Christmas Collection will be supported by national print, online and radio advertising, as well as through social media promotions on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and YouTube.


About VeggieTales: The Ultimate Christmas Collection

This set contains VeggieTales’ entire Christmas collection. Now your family can enjoy classic holiday shows The Toy That Saved Christmas—a lesson in giving; The Star of Christmas—a lesson in how to love; Saint Nicholas—a story in joyful giving; It’s a Meaningful Life—a lesson in being content; and The Little Drummer Boy—a story about hope, love and forgiveness. Also included in the collection is the VeggieTales: Christmas Sing-along Songs DVD and 25 Favorite Christmas Songs! CD.


Not Rated-Three Hours and 45 Minutes-Color-5.1 Surround Sound-English & Spanish Subtitles Close-Captioned

Full Screen & Widescreen Versions

DVD UPC Codes CBA: 820413126599 $19.99 and GM: $19.99 037117043835


About Big Idea Entertainment

Big Idea Entertainment is celebrating 20 years as a leading studio and producer of children’s and family programming, characters and brands. Big Idea’s best-selling series VeggieTales® is a one of the most recognized brands in the US with moms of pre-schoolers*.  Since 1993, VeggieTales® has sold 60+ million videos, 13 million books and more than 7 million CDs.  VeggieTales® and Big Idea’s property, 3-2-1 Penguins!®, enjoyed four seasons as top-rated series on NBC Saturday mornings, Telemundo and ION TV.  The studio’s two theatrical releases, Lionsgate’s Jonah-A VeggieTales Movie® (2002), and Universal Pictures’ The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything®-A VeggieTales Movie® (2008), are distinguished among the most successful faith-based films of all time. Big Idea also maintains an extensive presence in publishing, licensing and live entertainment arenas. For more information on Big Idea, visit: www.VeggieTales.com.

*Spring 2012 Q-Score

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"VeggieTales: The Penniless Princess" Review

VeggieTales: The Penniless Princess

Company: Big Idea Entertainment
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Running Time: 50 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

VeggieTalesSweet Sara Crewe has everything a little could want – a loving family, lots of friends and a closet full of frilly dresses! But when life takes a turn and Sara goes from riches to rags, will she realize that her true worth lies not in what she has, but what she has in her heart? Find out in this inspiring new story from VeggieTales that reminds kids who they are in God’s eyes. (from VeggieTales.com)

Film Review

The most recent DVD release from Big Idea entitled, The Penniless Princess has definitely left me thinking about the important value of being content in life at all times, and has successfully illustrated the crucial importance of loving others because of how God is always faithful in His love for us no matter what the circumstances may be. Taking place in a familiar setting that fondly made me think of Mary Poppins, the scenery becomes a significant character in the newest VeggieTales story for little girls. This adds to the unique development of another fresh DVD from Big Idea, introducing a new adorable veggie character named Sara. A small asparagus, similar to the well-know and familiar Junior character (and another minor character named Ermingard), the character of Sara is illustrated as a delightful young daughter who is forced to embrace the difficult challenge of remembering that she is a child of God and deeply loved by her father in Heaven, even when events in her life test her ability to believe the promise that God is still there for her no matter what happens.

Borrowing from the Biblical tale of Job, the story shows Sara’s current situation as an innocent child who seems to have everything in life that could possibly make her happy. She is very thankful to have her loving father, played by Larry the Cucumber, sending her to a French finishing school in London. The wishes of her father to enable Sara to pursue an education while he has to fulfill his responsibility as a soldier at war, seems to be the driving motivation behind why Sara has to relocate to this new environment. The song that Sara shares with her father during this time of transitioning to a new home (where she will live with other students learning how to be educated young ladies) is the perfect introduction to one of the main themes that will be seen throughout the story of Sara’s experience at the school. With a new and charming song, Larry tries to illustrate to Sara how she is a true princess, because she is a daughter of Christ, who is the king of Heaven. The duet between father and daughter also discusses the commandment of loving others even when it does not seem like it is the popular thing to do. Sara will soon find out that it is very difficult to be the unfortunate center of attention when others try to ridicule her. Thankfully, she displays kindness to all of the girls who she meets at the school, with a very loving and selfless demeanor. Sara is even successful at being patient with one girl in particular, Lavinia, when Sara is embarrassed by her in front of the entire classroom. It is a scene too many young children today can most likely relate to, when the struggle to be accepted by your peers is often such an emotional rollercoaster that every child faces in a new environment. Sara must realize how important it is for her to show love to others even when they are not nice to her. This part of the story is such a wonderful example of how these lovable little veggies continue to successfully bring home powerful messages to children of all ages in a simple language with catchy songs that are memorable and easy to understand.

The characters that appeared throughout this enchanting story of Sara’s life as a “Penniless Princess” varied from some of the more familiar VeggieTales faces, along with developing a few more unique veggies who have only had very minor roles in prior veggies DVDs. I was so excited to see one of my favorite supporting veggies, non other than Madame Blueberry, playing the role of the assistant to the head mistress of the finishing school for young little ladies. Her main responsibility was established as helping to teach the students French. The scene when Sara revealed to the head mistress that she already had an exquisite development of the French language, along with the distinct accent, began the conflict that would lead to Sara’s confrontation with the head mistress. This was perhaps the fuel for the fire that started making Sara an envied student from the perspective of one of the other girls, Lavinia. Fortunately, the conflict between Lavinia and Sara allowed for Sara to show her love for others, even when these other individuals may seem undeserving of such love and understanding. Other important personality traits, such as patience, mercy, and forgiveness, were shown very clearly to viewers, when Sara chose to treat Lavinia the way God would want her to be treated.

Many young viewers may be able to relate to the choices Sara was faced with in this story. Having to decide how we are going to act towards others who need our love and patience more than anything, even if they are unkind or may try to put us down in front of others, is not an easy task. Sara’s encouragement from the Bible story of Joseph, which she shares with her fellow student, Ermingard, actually incorporates a discussion about making these important decisions. Sara explained how Joseph chose to treat his brothers with kindness and forgiveness, even though they were guilty of badly mistreating him. I am so thankful, that Big Idea continues to hold true to its devotion to teach its viewers how the Bible can apply to the challenging situations that the characters are experiencing in the story. It was a heartfelt moment for sure to see how Sara tried to illustrate the Biblical lesson to her friend, “Ermie,” while the girls were sharing some time together up in the attic of the school house.

The most controversial character to mention that fulfilled the role of the villain in the story was the head mistress of the school, seen as a tall scallion, who I could recognize from some other minor roles in earlier veggies DVDs. Her name, “Miss Minchin,” was comically delivered with such a scary tone when she first introduced herself to Sara’s father, and then was immediately followed by the shrieking sound of a horse in the background of the scene. This would become a pattern that continued consistently throughout the rest of the episode, whenever the head mistress’s name was mentioned. Although I truly found this to be humorous and innocent, parents may want to proceed with caution when showing the DVD to younger viewers. Speaking from experience that I had with my son, who was around 20 months old when we first watched the DVD together, the ominous deliverance of the villain in the story was so successful, that it actually caused my son to be very afraid of the character whenever she appeared on screen. I came to the realization that the frightening nature of how Miss Minchin’s personality was so serious and rather stern towards other characters in the story, unfortunately made it rather difficult for my son to enjoy most of the rest of the DVD. However, for children who are a bit older and able to grasp the wider meaning from the story and who can relate to the challenges of dealing with unkind individuals, I think that the somewhat scary character of Miss Minchin could also appear comical to this school-age population of viewers. She is clearly not meant to be evil or purposefully determined to mistreat Sara in the story. Instead, she appears to be an individual who has become hardened by her years of duty as such a prominent individual responsible for shaping the lives of young little ladies in London.

The Penniless Princess DVD really did a wonderful job with the bonus features, from the standpoint of continuing to develop and discuss many of the themes and values highlighted throughout Sara’s story. My favorite feature shows five different points to remember when learning more about becoming a true princess. All of the selections work in Bible verses to support the rationale behind how Sara chose to act towards others, as she tried her very best to love others no matter what. In addition to the five points that are sure to provide excellent avenues for discussion among young viewers with their parents, I also thought that the “Tour of London” from the perspective of the French peas was a priceless addition to this DVD. Once again reminding me of the beloved story of Mary Poppins, Jean Claude and Philippe try to take the viewers through key moments of the story when they can further explain some of the cultural significance behind the development of Sara’s experiences in London. This also includes a segment about the teddy bear, Mortimer, which Sara’s father gives to her as his last gift before he goes off to war. These adorable features from the French peas allow them to take the stage more prominently, since they only have minor roles in the actual DVD. Even Bob the tomato, although normally a leading role in many veggies DVDs, also is only seen briefly as a minor character in the story. Not to be a spoiler, but it might be worth mentioning the possibility that some viewers might come away from the story thinking, “was Bob really only the baker in the story?” Fortunately, I think viewers of all ages will thoroughly enjoy this new installment from Big Idea, when they are given the chance to see just how effectively some of the other new VeggieTales characters are able to eloquently deliver the very special message about the importance of loving others at all times.

– Review date: 8/18/12; Written by Amy DiBiase

"VeggieTales Live" Concert Review


VeggieTales Live


VeggieTales Live!: God Made You Special
3/10/12, at Branch Creek Community Church in Harleysville, PA

Parents young and old know quite well how hard it is to find good childrens entertainment. To make matters more difficult, good Christian childrens entertainment just makes it even more difficult. However, ever since the inception of VeggieTales, parents have had unique, funny, and wholesome entertainment for the kids that is altogether inspirational and enjoyable for kids of all ages. Over the past few years, the Big Idea team has taken the show on the road and the latest “VeggieTales Live!” show, titled “God Made You Special,” was our first experience catching this show on tour.

The reason we’ve yet to see this tour has a lot to do with the fact that we haven’t been parents until now. Our seventeen-month old son, Will, is not only old enough to enjoy entertainment like this, but he’s quite the VeggieTales fanatic. Ever since he was just a couple months old, there’s been something about these animated vegetables that could snap him out of a frantic crying session and calm his little nerves (and therefore calming ours). However, lugging a little one to a live concert is no easy task. We arrived at the March 10th afternoon performance of VeggieTales Live! just as it was beginning, causing us to miss the first few minutes, unfortunately. There were two performances on this particular Saturday at Branch Creek Community Church in Harleysville, PA. We attended the 2pm show, while the 7pm show had already been sold out. I ran inside to get our tickets and could hear the show starting with the VeggieTales theme song (Which our son loves, so I’m disappointed we missed it), and left to help my wife get him changed and out of the car. I returned at one point and could hear “Dance of the Cucumber,” before leaving again and returning finally with our son to the tune of the “Belly Button Song.” He had been a bit upset over not getting a long enough nap, but his eyes lit up like Christmas morning upon seeing the expansive Veggies merch table and then hearing the “Belly Button Song” in the distance as we approached the church sanctuary.

Basically, the “plot” of this VeggieTales Live! show is that there appears to have been a robbery at the Silly Song Factory and reporter Missy Montgomery of Bumblyburg Channel 7 News is investigating in hopes to find the “Silly Song Bandit.” In the process, with the help of her friend Quiggly–and our favorite vegetables–they continue recovering the audience’s favorite Silly Songs, and playing them in the process. The show opened with the VeggieTales theme song and continued with “The Water Buffalo Song,” “Dance of the Cucumber” and “The Belly Button Song.” After we sat down, there seemed to be a performance of one of the Princess & The PopStar songs (I didn’t know it very well, but it sounded familiar), sung by one of the girls on stage, and then they began one of our favorite Veggie Silly Songs, “Monkey.” Right afterward, the lights grew dim and the vibe grew ominous as the scene in between the songs turned to a setup for “God Is Bigger Than The Boogie Man.” Our son, Will, seemed to get a little scared by the way the characters were acting, but Jr. Asparagus’s song was familiar to him and eased his mood. From there, though, the show never got scary or creepy again, and it was smooth sailing.

“Endangered Love” was next, with Larry The Cucumber coming out on stage to sing the song, while some dancers performed around him. They then claimed to have located a song from the 80s and Jr. asked the audience to pitch in and sing along for the next one, a cover of the classic “Shout!”. At this point, once the song concluded, there was a brief message from Missy about World Vision and she announced a twenty minute intermission. To be honest, as important as what World Vision is, it seemed really strange to do a promo for the organization in the middle of a childrens show. The parents are the only ones who can actually pay to sponsor a child, so all the children can do to help is encourage their parents to sponsor a child for them. However, most of the children in the audience were very, very young, and to have them sit through a brief message about sponsoring a poor child, followed by a unusually long twenty-minute intermission, seemed to be a bit much. However, the intermission wasn’t a complete loss for young VeggieTales fans. If anyone remained in the sanctuary during that time, they were treated to a series of videos on the screens that made up the stage backdrop. First was the original “Yodeling Veterinarian” Silly Song video, followed by some trivia (mostly about World Vision) and then the video for “Larry Learns To Listen,” followed by more trivia, then “Song of the Cebu,” more trivia, and lastly, “I Love My Lips.” It was great to have the VeggieTales music continue during the long break, especially for those not wanting to brave the crowd in the lobby and just remain in their seats.

When the show finally resumed, Missy had Pa Grape appear via video chat to help Larry and Mr. Lunt perform “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” theme (unfortunately, the costume for Pa Grape was not on this tour; it was just Larry, Bob, Jr., Mr. Lunt and Jerry Gourd). Another favorite, the goofy tune “Pants,” was next, as the dancers all donned crazy-patterned slacks to dance around in. One of the dancers even started doing flips and break-dancing on the stage. It was pretty impressive. “Pizza Angel” followed, featuring Larry The Cucumber and a series of dancers wearing pizza-printed skirts, and then Larry, Bob and Junior came out to do a cover of “Walking on Sunshine.” The story took us to the next highlight, the fan favorite “The Hairbrush Song,” which was presented in a dance remix form and featured the use of a huge hairbrush prop on stage. For this song, some of the singers and dancers hopped off the stage to interact with the kids standing up front. Soon after, the real Silly Song Bandit was revealed! (I won’t spoil that here) “I Am A Promise” closed the show before an encore of the “Broadway” version of the VeggieTales theme song served as the perfect send-off (and it earned a smile from our little guy). Some of the dancers dressed up as vegetables to accompany everyone on stage for the big finale (with bubbles spewing out from bubblemaker machines on stage!).

With the intermission included, the show lasted about an hour and a half and went by super fast, although the VeggieTales Live! crew did a great job packing plenty of music and fun into that time. The song selection was good and a nice diverse mix of silly songs, regular songs, and cover songs. Personally, I could have done without the lengthy intermission or the seemingly out of place World Vision plug (There just has to be a better way to present it. Perhaps as literature to the parents when they arrive?), but overall it’s an experience that any fan of the show must have. Also, if you’re a parent looking for some fun activity to share with your family, this is it. It’s lighthearted and it’s spiritual without being over-the-top, and just a great deal of fun for everyone!

John DiBiase, 3/22/12



VeggieTales Live!: God Made You Special

click on an image for a bigger size
**vertical images cropped for thumbnails**

VeggieTales Live**: (March 10, 2012 photos by JFH, Approved by Big Idea Entertainment)


VeggieTales Live: Official Promotional Images Provided By Big Idea Entertainment

VeggieTales' "Princess and the Pop Star" Review

VeggieTales: Twas The Night Before Easter  

Company: Big Idea Entertainment
Release Date: August 13, 2011
Running Time: 49 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

Easter 1Princess Poppyseed’s life on her family’s farm is far from the glamorous but lonely world of her favorite pop singer Vanna Banana. On a chance meeting at a playground, Vanna and Princess cross paths and realize that they look almost exactly alike—which leads to the crazy secret plan where they decide to switch lives! As each girl realizes that the life they longed for doesn’t fulfill all of their dreams, they learn that the life God gave them is the one for which they were uniquely and lovingly designed.

Film Review

Taking familiar stories and giving them a fresh and fun new spin is something the Big Idea Entertainment folks have been doing for years now with VeggieTales. The latest story to be given a modern twist is The Prince and the Pauper, but this time, it’s Princess and the Pop Star: A Story of Trading Places. For this tale, a young carrot named Princess who lives on a farm with her family is tired of her lifestyle and dreams to be just like pop star phenomenon Vanna Banana (get it?). Little does Princess know, Vanna actually wishes she had a life just like the family from the classic television show Little Peas on the Prarie. When the two happen to find each other on the playground one day, they decide to switch places. In the process, they discover that the life they wished they had instead of their own isn’t necessarily best for them.

While the main characters of Princess and the Pop Star are girls, don’t jump to assume this story is for the little ladies only. The idea of coveting someone else’s lifestyle isn’t foreign to most people; whether it’s a job, location, or possession, most of us have found ourselves looking on the outside of another’s life and wishing to be them. Big Idea deserves kudos for putting such an important topic into a children-friendly message, which also can reach adults simultaneously. Of course, God’s will and call on our lives comes into play as well, as Princess’s mother encourages Vanna – while she’s posing as Princess – to be who God made her to be. It’s quite a clever and heartwarming spin on the story and lesson.

As a VeggieTales episode, however, it doesn’t always feel like you’re watching VeggieTales. The young, female carrots take center stage, as well as other new characters who surround them, having Larry, Lunt, and the rest of the gang taking a backseat. In fact, except for the opening and closing, Bob the Tomato isn’t in the video much at all. This alone makes it feel less like your usual VeggieTales story. Larry The Cucumber does get some good moments as Princess’s father at least, but he’s not the center of this tale. Madame Blueberry makes a great appearance as Vanna’s manager and there’s a fantastic “silly song” where Archibald takes the reigns on “The History of Fashion” to present the song “Astonishing Wigs.” It allows for a fantastic inside joke as Larry shows up at the end to offer a little rebuke to the usually serious asparagus for singing a song as silly as some of Larry’s own (to which Archibald has always given Larry a hard time about). It’s this kind of fun and humor (including a subtle “Stuffmart” reference during the “Pop Star” story) that remind you that the same geniuses that launched this show are still making quality lesson-filled entertainment.

For anyone who has seen the grass as greener elsewhere than the blades under their own feet, Princess and the Pop Star is a cute and relevant story for their lives. While its core story doesn’t leave as much room for fun, boisterous and comical song numbers, kids should dig the pop tunes that Vanna and Princess sing in their stead. And although I did miss seeing some of the staple characters in this episode’s spotlight, it’s still a great entry into the VeggieTales library that teaches us to be thankful for what God has done in our lives and where – and who – He has called us to be.

– Review date: 8/14/11; Written by John DiBiase

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"Rio" Blu-Ray Review


– for not containing material to warrant a higher rating.
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Starring: voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, George Lopez
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

RioFrom the makers of the hit Ice Age series comes Rio, a comedy adventure about taking a walk on the wild side. Blu is a domesticated Macaw who never learned to fly, living a comfortable life with his owner and best friend Linda in the small town of Moose Lake, Minnesota. Blu and Linda think he’s the last of his kind, but when they learn about another Macaw who lives in Rio de Janeiro, they head to the faraway and exotic land to find Jewel, Blu’s female counterpart. Not long after they arrive, Blu and Jewel are kidnapped by a group of bungling animal smugglers. With the help of street smart Jewel, and a group of wise-cracking and smooth-talking city birds, Blu escapes. Now, with his new friends by his side, Blu will have to find the courage to learn to fly, thwart the kidnappers who are hot on their trail, and return to Linda, the best friend a bird ever had. (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

The Ice Age films put Blue Sky Studios on the map when it debuted in 2002. Now, three Ice Age movies later (with a fourth on the way), Blue Sky has produced another studio effort, a bird themed story titled Rio. My first impression, considering the movie’s title, was that it was named for the story’s title character, but Rio is actually named for the main locale of the story, Rio de Janeiro. Blu, a Macaw that accidentally was dumped in Minnesota and grew up for 15 years as a pet and friend to his owner, Linda, is forced to go to Rio when a bird enthusiast shows up in Linda’s shop one day bent on saving this blue Macaw’s species. As you can imagine, it gets a little crazy when this fish-out-of-water story finds Blu getting separated from Linda and trying to find his way back to her… all while discovering what it means to really live as wild birds do.

First off, the animation of Rio is the best to come out of Blue Sky yet. Some of the animation for the characters’ lips moving and such may be a little dicey at times, but overall, the colors are vibrant, the detail is sharp, and the characters are expressive. One minor complaint, however, is I found that some of the character design for the inhabitants of Rio were ridiculously similar. I actually had watched the film twice and I still found it difficult to tell a few of the stocky, chubby guys apart. I noticed that the model for that character was reused several times, even in the background at the beach, and it actually made the film seem a little lazy for doing that. Also, the fish-out-of-water story, while a faithful go-to plot for some excellent stories, almost feels tired in Rio. But some fun scenes and characters help mask what is otherwise a way overdone concept (and kids shouldn’t care).

Jesse Eisenberg voices the central blue bird, Blu. Eisenberg does a great job giving Blu a charming personality that is a good blend of naivety and nervousness, all the while being more than happy with how his life with Linda has been up until this point. If you wouldn’t know it was Eisenberg voicing Blu, you might think it was Michael Cera (Juno, Scott Pilgrim). Anne Hathaway is excellent and spunky as the little spitfire, Jewel, and proves to be a nice match for Blu. And Leslie Mann, who is probably most notable for appearing in her husband Judd Apatow’s films, provides just the right sweetness as Blu’s caretaker, Linda. Meanwhile, Jamie Foxx and Will.i.am are okay as the urban-talking Nico and Pedro (if not leaning more on the side of obnoxious), and George Lopez is solid as the toucan Rafael. 30 Rock‘s Tracy Morgan provides some great laughs as a bulldog named Luiz; he’s used sparingly in the film, which is probably good, but he also gets some of the best lines. Finally, the villainous Nigel is wonderfully voiced by Flight of the Concords‘ Jemaine Clement, who even provides a bizarre almost-rap song that offers one of the funniest moments in the film. All in all, the voice cast is pretty strong and I feel like it all could have been a little better with a stronger script.

RioThe content itself is very mild. There is some action sci-fi violence, but it’s primarily just the Martians shooting at The content is mild, which should be expected given its G rating. However, as with most films like this, most scenes involving the villain Nigel can be a little on the dark side, even though they still try to inject some humor into those moments. Also, the theme of Blu needing to mate with Jewel to save their species might not be a major issue for every parent, but some might not want to have to deal with the “birds and the bees” questions from their children. Some scenes are pretty direct about the topic (especially when Tulio is trying to get Blu and Jewel “in the mood” and turns on Lionel Ritchie’s “Naturally.” Tulio and Linda are watching the birds fighting on a monitor, but it looks like they may be coming on to each other, so Tulio suggests they give the birds some privacy), although it’s never handled in a vulgar way. In the end, the story actually has a really strong pro-family theme and parents should be pleased about that.

Rio is a decent entry into the world of animated entertainment, but it isn’t a great one. Something about it seems a bit too familiar and maybe even sophomoric, but the film is not without its merit. Blue Sky keeps dishing out fair animated entertainment, but they do still have a ways to go before they reach the caliber of Pixar or DreamWorks. Unfortunately, Rio isn’t quite enough to edge them much closer to that goal.

– Review date: 8/10/11; Written by John DiBiase


Blu-Ray Special Features Review

Rio comes in a nice Blu-Ray / DVD / Digital Copy combo pack and is the ideal choice for your home viewing purposes (although it is releasing in a 3D Blu-Ray combo pack soon, too, so if that’s your bag, you may want to hold out for that one). The vibrant colors and crisp animation look gorgeous in Blu-Ray, so it’s certainly the way to go when it comes to what format to watch it in.

Deleted Scene: Fruit Stand – The single deleted scene consists of story board animation but with the real actors’ voices. In it, Jewel and Rafael force Blu into trying some fruits he’d never had before. It turns out that he loves them and goes on a bit of a feeding frenzy.

Explore the World of Rio – This is an interactive map of Rio. It’s broken down into four parts: jungle, city, stadium and beach. In each one, we’re given a still photo of the selected area with small bullet points/icons spread out across the screen. For example, some are real facts about the city, with Tulio narrating, some are real videos of Carnival, as well as real photos of the party. Finally, each section features one spot where the director talks about the respective areas. These are probably the best features of this particular extra.

Saving the Species: One Voice at a Time (24:49) – When I watch an animated movie, I love to learn about who provided the voice for what character and when it comes time to watching these home entertainment releases, I love to hear the actual voice actors talk about their roles. “Saving The Species” may actually be the very best behind-the-scenes featurette on an animated movie I’ve seen to date. While it wraps up voice actors and production info into one thorough featurette, there is 25 minutes here of quality behind-the-scenes material. “Saving The Species” tackles every major character in the film and their voice actors, providing satisfying interviews with each of them, as well as footage of them recording their voices in the studio. We then hear from the animating and production crew and see step-by-step how the animation was created for the film, including how they recorded themselves as reference for acting out some of the scenes. It’s a fascinating and fun piece to watch and easily the best part of the extras.

The making of Hot Wings (8:02) – This featurette focuses on Will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, who voices a character in the movie too alongside Jamie Foxx, and how the two of them collaborated on some songs.

Boom-Boom Tish Tish: The Sounds of Rio (13:30) – This one goes even deeper into the music of the film, focusing on all of the Brazilian artists who were involved, including the legendary Sergio Mendes who served as Executive Music Producer on the film, and how everyone worked along with composer John Powell to unify it all. It then goes into the dancing of the film and how the crew learned Samba for animation purposes, and even shows us the film’s very first dance test animation footage. The featurette comes to a close as they reveal that a professional choreographer was brought in to help plan out many the dance moves we see in the finished film.

Carnival Dance-o-Rama – This is another interactive segment where the viewer can choose different characters from the movie and learn the dance moves they do in a step by step, follow-along process.

Welcome to Rio Music Video (1:37) – This takes the song from the end of the movie and sets it to clips from throughout the film.

Taio Cruz: Telling the World Music Video (1:54) – This music video takes the catchy pop love song from the film and shows the singer, Taio Cruz, in the studio with characters from the film animated around him. They also play clips from the film – sometimes with the voice audio – along with the song.

Rio de Jam-eiro Jukebox (8:34) – This allows you to choose all of the songs from the movie and either watch them separately or one after another via a “Play All” option.

Postcards from Rio – This is another interactive portion that allows you to watch some scenes from the movie and then snap your own custom still frame from the movie and make your own postcards out of it. Apparently it’s just for fun, though, since you can’t really actually send them to anyone… even if just via email.

The Real Rio (9:31) – Tucked away at the end, oddly enough, is a featurette finally dedicated to the REAL Rio de Janiero. Director Carlos Saldanha was born and raised in Rio, so it really shows how much this movie was a labor of love. The actors share about how beautiful Rio looks in the movie, but have never actually seen it, while Carlos talks about having flown some of his production crew out to the real location to inspire them. We then see Carlos dressing up for Carnival and taking part in the parade for the first time in his life!

Including the Theatrical Trailer rounds out the goodies on the Rio Blu-Ray and, I have to say, this was one impressive set of extras. If you’re a fan of the film, I advise against missing this one!

John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/10/11)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: We see a lot of women in bikinis around Rio; A man rips off his clothes to reveal a golden tank top and short gold shorts (apparently as just part of the festivities of Carnival, but it looks rather feminine); There is lots of talk about getting Blu and Jewel to mate to save their species. In one instance, Blu thinks he and Jewel are getting ready to do so, so he puckers up to kiss her. She realizes what he’s thinking and slaps him. They then fall to a grass patch and begin fighting. Linda and Tulio are watching on a monitor and Tulio thinks they’re getting ready to mate, so they leave the room to give them “privacy;” Tulio and Linda wear skimpy bird-themed costumes. Linda’s is a bikini-style costume that shows some cleavage

. Vulgarity/Language: None.

. Alcohol/Drugs: There is wine on a dinner table.

. Blood/Gore: A man who’s been clawed by Jewel has some slightly bloody scrapes and scratches all over his face

. Violence: We see a guy with cuts all over his face, which apparently came from handling Jewel; Slyvio throws a pencil at a wall, killing a fly (we see the pair of dismembered fly wings float away from the pencil); A bird chloroforms a man. Later, the man holds up the chloroform-covered handkerchief and passes out again (a police officer also sniffs it and passes out); Jewel bites a man’s finger and flies away but is caught by Nigel who grabs her throat and holds her down; Blu scares a cat purposefully, which then scratches Blu’ss pursuers who get in the way of the cat; Nigel gets fried by electric wires; A baby toucan rips feathers out of Blu; Nigel throws a monkey into the air and lets him fall, threatening to let him die, but catches him at the last possible moment; The little monkeys and a large amound of birds have a big brawl; Nigel squeezes a little bird’s face so its eyeballs bulge between Nigel’s toes, and then throws him at a monkey; Luiz pushes Blu and Jewel, who are chained together, into a table saw to cut the chain. Blu slips and narrowly misses getting sliced himself, while the blade actually slices through and cuts off Luiz’ helmet; Nigel and Jewel fight and he drags him off; Nigel tackles and chokes Blu and hits Jewel who slams against the wall. A cage then falls onto her wing, damaging it; Blu clips a fire extinguisher to Nigel who gets pulled through a window and into a plane propeller. We see feathers fly and hear him scream. While we’re to assume he died, during the credits we see another scenes which shows Nigel is alive but extremely disheveled, with chunks of his feathers missing

"Mars Needs Moms" Blu-Ray Review

Mars Needs Moms  

– for sci-fi action and peril.
Director: Simon Wells
Starring: voices of Seth Green, Elisabeth Harnois, Dan Fogler, Mindy Sterling, Joan Cusack
Release Date: August 9, 2011
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

Mars Needs MomsNine-year-old Milo (Seth Green) finds out just how much he needs his mom (Joan Cusack) when she’s nabbed by Martians who plan to steal her mom-ness for their own young. Produced by the team behind “Disney’s A Christmas Carol” and “The Polar Express,” “Mars Needs Moms” showcases Milo’s quest to save his mom—a wild adventure in Disney Digital 3D™ and IMAX® 3D that involves stowing away on a spaceship, navigating an elaborate, multi-level planet and taking on the alien nation and their leader (Mindy Sterling). With the help of a tech-savvy, underground earthman named Gribble (Dan Fogler) and a rebel Martian girl called Ki (Elisabeth Harnois), Milo just might find his way back to his mom—in more ways than one.
(from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

From the director of films like The Prince of Egypt and the 2002 remake of The Time Machines comes the film adaptation of the 2007 childrens book, Mars Needs Moms, written by Berkeley Breathed. While that book was very expressively illustrated – with a distinct catroony style – director Simon Wells, in partnership with Disney, have opted for a more realistic looking approach to both the aliens and the humans. Since I haven’t read the book myself, I can’t say how faithful the film is to it, but the movie ends up being more of a mixed bag than it probably could have been.

Mars Needs Moms
Mars Needs Moms was filmed using the same technology that was used to make the 2009 animated adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Real actors wore motion capture suits and dots on their faces, along with helmets with cameras mounted on them to record the actors’ performances. In this case, we have comedian Seth Green, who is an adult but plays a 9-year-old boy named Milo in the movie (who looks remarkably like him), while Joan Cusack embodies his mother and Dan Fogler plays the only other human on Mars, Gribble. All of the voice performances are excellent and the motion capture technology does well to animate the actors’ performances well, however, the animation used to make the characters look real seems uneven. At times, the animation is spot-on, especially in Gribble’s case, but other times, the faces look too rubbery or fake while the human body movements are much too slow and synthetic. Also, the Martians are pretty creepy looking. As you watch the movie, you adjust to Ki, the female Martian who has the kindest spirit of the Martians, but it’s the evil and manipulative “Supervisor” who is pretty dang creepy. It doesn’t help that they make her look like a walking villainous prune either. I remember seeing the previews for the movie and feeling like the animation was stuck between abstract and realism, but not quite surrealism, and therefore it seemed more eerie looking than anything. You do get used to the style somewhat while watching it, thought. I guess you can pretty much expect the look to be The Polar Express set in space.

Another weird vibe the film gives off is that Gribble talks like he’s stuck in the 80s while Ki is almost fully a jive-talking hippie (she learns english from a 70s show the planet tapped into). With Ki spouting frequent slang she learned from the television, and Gribble’s 80s references, it really reminded me of the alien Wak from the 1985 film Explorers. So with the bizarre animation feel and that retro feel, the movie was a bit of a throwback to the 80s sci-fi films for kids. For the most part, this story is pretty accessible for families and young ones, but there are a few intense emotional moments, and some death or near-death experiences, that may be a bit heavy for some. Weaved throughout this story, however, is a very strong pro-family theme. Basically, the Martians need good mothers to help program “nanny bots” to take care of their own young. And since Milo’s mom is such a great mother, she becomes the next abduction and Milo finds himself inside a spaceship when he goes to rescue her. By film’s end, Milo has a renewed love and appreciation for his mom, and it’s likely that you will too for yours.

Mars Needs MomsThe content itself is very mild. There is some action sci-fi violence, but it’s primarily just the Martians shooting at Milo and Gribble, without it every causing any harm. There is a scene where we see a wall with the outline of a Martian on it, made up of the soot from them being blasted by a firing squad; a character nearly meets their end there. In another scene, a couple characters nearly suffocate to death in space, but thankfully are rescued before it happens. However, in this sequence, it’s pretty intense emotionally. Otherwise, just the dark and occasionally creepy nature of the film is the only other possible concern. It’s not as light and colorful or bubbly as your typical animated film, but it does have its thematical merits.

All in all, whether it was the animation style chosen or the overall bizarre nature of the film, there was something a little lacking about Mars Needs Moms. Still, I found myself drawn in before the film’s end and children especially may feel that way too. It’s not the best animated film of the year, but I suppose you could still do worse. Fans of space stories, aliens, and action adventure films will probably really enjoy Mars Needs Moms.

– Review date: 8/6/11; Written by John DiBiase


Blu-Ray Special Features Review

Mars Needs Moms
Mars Needs Moms is available on DVD, a Blu-Ray & DVD combo, and a whopping 3D Blu-Ray, regular Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy combo pack. This review is for the Blu-Ray & DVD combo pack. The animation and picture look great in high definition. The colors and detail are perfect for Blu viewing.

Life On Mars – Just like with last year’s Blu-Ray release of A Christmas Carol, this Blu-Ray disc includes the whole film shown as picture-in-picture with the motion capture live action footage and the film’s feature-length animation. Not everyone’s going to want to check it out, but the end credits of the movie give you a taste of what it looked like and it’s fun to see how the actors acted out their roles with little to no real props to work with. When you watch the full movie in this mode, you’ll actually hear all of Milo’s dialog presented in Seth Green’s adult voice. In the finished film, his voice has been altered to sound like that of a little boy, but not in this particular viewing mode. It’s a little weird, but neat to hear the original recording unchanged.

Deleted Scenes (28:31) – There are six deleted scenes and an extended opening. As director Simon Wells specifies in an introduction, they had decided to shorten the opening as not to give the film a more dark introduction by showing a Martian infant handler rejecting a baby. The footage in the opening is very rough, but at least not just shown in storyboard form.

The first of the deleted scenes is an extended sequence where Milo’s mom tricks him into digging a trench for a row of flowers after he used her flower bed for an area to play in. It’s a cute scene between the two of them, but I agree it made sense to cut it (and Seth Green had Milo saying “suck” in an inappropriate way for a Disney film like this one, so it was a wise edit). The second scene is an extended version of Milo meeting Gribble. It has more dialog (including Gribble saying “dumb *ss” and “lame *ss?!”). The third sequence is a brief one as Gribble and Milo go across a bridge from one part of Gribble’s place to the other. As Wells explains, it was just cut for time. Next is an alternate version of when Milo convinces Gribble to help him save his mom. It’s darker and much more confrontational. The final film’s version is much, much better. The next sequence is a montage of moments from Gribble’s flashback of him growing up on Mars. It was never fully animated, so it’s mostly just Dan Fogler acting in the motion capture studio with next to nothing to serve as props around him. It wasn’t needed, but it’s impressive to watch Fogler’s performance. The last deleted scene is a really long sequence where Ki, Gribble and Milo infiltrate a monorail to get to the Martian prison cell. It’s decent action, but wasn’t needed for the movie.

Martian 101 – This short featurette focuses on the alien language the Martians speak in the film and how the filmmakers created it especially for this movie. It’s neat to see how much thought went into it and even the continuity they stuck to to make sure it was consistent throughout.

Fun With Seth is a short video that shows Seth Green goofing off on set in his motion capture suit. It’s obvious everyone had a blast while making this movie and this video shows it.

While there aren’t a ton of extras on the release of Mars Needs Moms, what’s included is pretty good. I especially enjoy checking out the on-set footage of the actors acting out their animated roles for the motion capture. Fans of the film will especially get a kick out of that feature.

John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/7/11)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: We see a lot of bare Martian babies’ bottoms

. Vulgarity/Language: None.

. Alcohol/Drugs: None.

. Blood/Gore: None.

. Violence: We hear the Milo’s family cat puking behind a potted plant after he fed it broccoli; While not really violent, we see Milo wearing a zombie t-shirt and talking about getting to see a zombie movie; Milo twists Gribble’s nipples through his shirt; Martians shoot at Milo and pursue him; On Milo’s eye-piece camera, Martians grab Gribble and shoot his camera; We see the burned outline on a wall from previously executed Martians. The aliens drag Gribble over to the firing squad. Milo kicks some Martians; Martians shoot at Gribble and Milo; Martians shoot at them again and Gribble’s head, which is covered in a puff of dirt, catches on fire (but it just burns away the dirt and he’s otherwise okay); In a flashback, we see a sharp rod filtering electricity descend toward a mom’s head while she’s asleep and fastened to a table. We then see a blast from a distance, and she’s gone (presumably killed); Ki stabs two guards with a syringe that knocks them out; Male Martians tackle the female Martians; Supervisor aims her gun at Milo and misses, but he trips, breaking his helmet; We see a person start to suffocate but is saved. We then see another person start to suffocate to death; Ki kicks gun out of Supervisor’s hands and it explodes

"The Fox and the Hound" Blu-Ray Review

The Fox and The Hound / The Fox and The Hound 2  

– for not containing material to warrant a higher rating.
Company: Disney
Release Date: August 9, 2011
Running Time: 1 hour, 23 minutes / The Fox and The Hound 2: 1 hour, 9 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

thefoxandthehoundThe Fox and the Hound
When Tod, an orphaned fox cub meets Copper, a coonhound puppy, they make a pledge to be lifelong friends, not realizing that Copper is being groomed to hunt wild animals, including foxes. Copper spends the winter with his owner, Slade, and an older dog, Chief, tracking animals at a remote cabin. When they return, a lonely Tod eagerly greets his old playmate but is stunned when a reluctant Copper joins Slade and Chief to chase Tod through the forest. During the pursuit, Tod escapes but Chief is seriously injured. Seeking revenge, Copper hunts down Tod only to find himself confronting an even bigger enemy, which he and Tod must face together.

The Fox and the Hound 2
In The Fox and the Hound 2, music takes centerstage as Tod contemplates joining up with “The Singin’ Strays,” a group of harmonizing dogs appearing at the local county fair but dreaming of hitting the big time at the Grand OleOpry. While Tod does his best to fit in with his new friends, Copper finds himself relegated to “roadie,” a position he begins to resent. With the encouragement of Dixie, the “diva” of “The Singin” Strays,” Copper manages to sabotage an important audition. The next day, their differences forgotten, Copper and Tod team up and, using Copper’s superior tracking skills, they locate the Grand Ole Opry talent scout who signs “The Singin’ Strays” (minus Tod, who chooses his friendship with Copper over fame) on the spot.

Film Review

Being a child of the 80s myself, I grew up watching all kinds of Disney films. I recall not only watching The Fox and The Hound numerous times, but I believe I even had a book and cassette tape based on the film that I probably listened to even more than watching the film. It’s also probably been some twenty years or so since I saw the 1981 film, so I was excited to recently revisit the movie. Sadly, I found The Fox and The Hound to not quite be the movie I remembered it to be.

As a kid, knowing what actor voiced what role was never important to know. As an adult, I was shocked to find that Corey Feldman was the voice of young Tod, while Mickey Rooney voiced the adult version of the little fox and Kurt Russell voiced the grown-up hound dog, Copper. The film opens with the classic Disney story element — the single parent of the main character dies. During the opening credits, we see a female fox run through the forest, deposit her baby fox safely by a fence, then run over a hill out of sight, only to be followed by the sound of a gun shot. Mrs. Fox was dead. This was a frequent Disney plot element, from Bambi to The Lion King, the parents almost always get offed pretty quickly. It definitely quickly colors the story with a sense of sadness as you realize our main character is now an orphan… and so our story begins.

The pacing of The Fox and The Hound is shockingly slow in comparison to what you’ll see in modern day animated films (which can also be seen in the 2006 sequel). This isn’t a problem, however, and only adds to the classic feel of the story, but kids expecting constant activity on the screen will likely get bored fast (perhaps that’s why I don’t remember the whole story?). The other thing is that this film is taken relatively seriously. Copper is owned by a farmer named Amos who wants to raise his dog to hunt. A widow adopts Tod into her home to care for him and keep her company. Sadly, the realism that a fox and a hound aren’t naturally lifelong friends does come into play as a big part of this story. The warm, fuzzy feeling you get from seeing the two young pups play together doesn’t last very long before the farmer takes Copper away for a season to teach him how to hunt, so that when he returns, he’s a bit conflicted when it comes to whether or not Tod is his friend or game. To add to the tension, the farmer literally chases after Tod and shoots at him with a shotgun any time he sees him. The guy’s pretty menacing and unfriendly, and it makes the movie a bit dark at times, especially without there being much humor to lighten it up.

It’s all a far cry from The Fox and The Hound 2. In the sequel, Tod and Copper are still little, and they remain just pups for the duration of the film. Instead of their relationship being grounded in a sense of reality, that line is blurred considerably as the fox and the dog go off to a county fair where Copper meets a team of singing stray dogs. This allows for a wealth of singing numbers (while the original had about three, I think) and they never really specify whether or not the humans in the story hear these dogs howling a melody or belting out words and all. To make the sequel even more of a polar opposite from the original, it’s very light, very colorful, and very silly. There’s a lot of slapstick humor – especially involving the farmer and the widow. The farmer still chases after Tod, but now he falls into things, shoots his own hat, etc. It’s all pretty goofy. The story does focus on friendships, like the original, but it has little to nothing to do with the fact that a fox is friends with a hound. To have a story based around a bunch of country-song singing mutts at a fair only allows for a plot element where Copper gets too busy to chase crickets with Tod; that’s it. You could substitute nearly ANY character into these roles and it would accomplish the same thing. While the original feels like a genuine story, The Fox and The Hound 2 has the unmistakable feel that it is a straight-to-video sequel… and that’s exactly what it was.

thefoxandthehoundOn Blu-Ray disc, the picture is vibrant and colorful for both movies, although the sequel is much more visually interesting. The original looks more blatantly hand-drawn with rougher sketch strokes outlining the characters instead of “perfect” solid lines. The other downside to the clarity of high definition for a movie this old is that some scenes make the painted cells stand out from the painted backgrounds. It’s minor, and most casual viewers probably wouldn’t even notice, but I personally found it noticeable on more than one occasion. The twenty-five year lapse between the original and The Fox and The Hound 2 is jarringly obvious. The style of animation used for the sequel is much softer and more expressive, and many scenes blatantly incorporate computer animation into the 2D hand-drawn style. But kids more used to that style will probably enjoy the sequel better.

As someone who grew up with the 1981 The Fox and The Hound, I pretty much found myself hating The Fox and The Hound 2. The kids chosen to voice Tod and Copper did a great job, but the new dog characters introduced, including Reba McEntire and Patrick Swayze, don’t really fit into the world the first film created and while the actors do their best with the material given, they’re not very memorable. Kids might dig the country song numbers, but a lot of the characters frequently spout one southern metaphor after another (like “happier than a pig at Sunday potluck” or something like that) to the point where I was one metaphor away from tossing the remote across the room (OK, not literally, but it was way, way too much). When all was said and done, it’s a cute and harmless movie, but far from being any good. It made the original seem like a complete masterpiece.

I touched on the fact that there was some violence in both of the films. The more intense violence is in the first film — from Amos shooting at Tod with every intention of adding him to his pile of animal skins (which we briefly see in the back of his truck), to Widow Tweed shooting his engine, to an animal being hit by a train and falling a great distance (surviving it all, of course), to a hefty scuffle with a grizzly bear in the film’s climax — it may be much for younger viewers. It’s still pretty good story, just keep a box of Puffs handy.

In hindsight, The Fox and The Hound isn’t one of the better classic Disney animated films, but it’s still a unique story and a worthy addition to their repertoire of timeless stories. The sequel is about as dismissable as they can make them, but kids probably won’t care, while some may even prefer it. Adults, just don’t expect it to be the quality of Disney you remember from your childhood… cause it’s not.

– Review date: 8/4/11; Written by John DiBiase


Blu-Ray Special Features Review

Surprisingly enough, the features a bit thin on the Blu-Ray Disc release. Granted, they’ve included BOTH movies in high definition on one disc, but most Blu-Ray Discs can hold quite a bit of data.
There is one new feature on the Blu-Ray disc, while the DVD versions for both films have their own sets of features. This is kind of annoying if you just want to use the Blu-Ray disc. On the original film’s DVD, it includes “Passing The Baton: The Making of The Fox and The Hound” and “The Best Of Friends” Sing-Along Song. The sequel’s DVD features “The Making of the Music: Behind-The-Scenes Featurette” and “You Know I Will” Music Video Performed By Lucas Grabeel. There doesn’t seem to be any good reason why these couldn’t have been included on the Blu disc, however…

Unlikely friends – The one BD featurette is targeted at children and shows clips from the Disney animated film catalog (like Bolt and Up, for example) as they drive home the idea of mixed animal species that aren’t common. The segment then investigates real life unlikely friends like cats and dogs, cats and mice, and zebras with ostriches. Unfortunately, since this is for kids, the narrator is annoying as anything to listen to, and considering the lack of a real-deal featurette on this disc, it’s very disappointing.

John DiBiase, (reviewed: 8/4/11)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: None.

. Vulgarity/Language:

. Alcohol/Drugs:

. Blood/Gore: None.

. Violence:
[Original Film] – We see Tod’s mom being chased and then we hear gunshots when she disappears over a hill, inferring that she is shot and killed off screen; Chief chases Tod while farmer Amos shoots at him; Widow shoots Amos’ radiator, then empties the gun it into the sky; Tod sees animal skins lining a wall in Amos’ shed; Amos shoots some birds off screen; We see Amos’ car full of dead animals; Amos shoots at Tod and chases him with Chief. During the pursuit, Chief is hit by a train and falls from a bridge, but survives with just an injured leg; Amos shoots at Tod who triggers a lot of bear traps; Tod and Copper fight; While Tod and Vixey are trapped in a hole, Amos lights a fire on one end to try to chase them out or trap and kill them; Amos shoots a bear and we briefly see the wound; Amos gets caught in a bear trap, Copper fights a bear and gets tossed around; Tod attacks the bear and both fall down a waterfall.

[The Fox and The Hound 2] – Chief steps on Copper’s foot to make him howl; Amos then shoots a tree. Amos accidentally shoots his own hat; Widow hits Amos in face with a pie; Dixie closes bus doors on Cash’s lips, then it happens to Dixie; Angry, Dixie trashes her trailer; Tod hits a cat off a couch with a jar of peanut butter; Amos shoots at Tod; A stampede of cattle causes a whole lot of mayhem in the fair, destroying it. A ferris wheel ends up rolling off its base and into a theater building

"Soul Surfer" Blu-Ray Review

Soul Surfer  

– for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material.
Director: Sean McNamara
Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood, Kevin Sorbo
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

Soul SurferSoul Surfer is the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm in a shark attack and courageously overcame all odds to become a champion again, through her sheer determination and unwavering faith. In the wake of this life-changing event that took her arm and nearly her life, Bethany’s feisty determination and steadfast beliefs spur her toward an adventurous comeback that gives her the grit to turn her loss into a gift for others. (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

Hardship is nothing foreign to anyone. As Christians, it’s crucial to our lifestyle to learn to find strength and peace through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Bethany Hamilton, a thirteen-year-old lover of surfing – and our Lord and Savior – experienced the unthinkable when she had her arm bitten off suddenly by a shark while she was out surfing with friends in 2003. It was a miracle in and of itself when she survived the 20-minute return to shore and losing sixty percent of her blood from the injury. But Hamilton persevered; with her faith and the support of her family, she continued pursuing her dream of becoming a professional surfer. After putting her story in book form, director Sean McNamara got a hold of the story and knew it was a film he wanted to make. Soul Surfer is Bethany’s story presented in big-screen, Hollywood fashion.

Soul Surfer
In many ways, Soul Surfer feels like a “Christian film,” but more importantly, it feels like a “Christian film” done well. With most faith-based films, the heart may be in the right place, but the acting and script are usually pretty painful. For Soul Surfer, budding young actress, AnnaSophia Robb, who has been seen in such films as Race To Witch Mountain, Bridge to Terabithia, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, steps in for the difficult task of playing Hamilton for a dramatic role. When you see real-life footage of Bethany, you can tell the young teen was considerably more timid and shy than AnnaSophia plays her, but Robb’s probably one of the few actresses who can appropriately pull off such a demanding role as this one. She’s a wonderful actress and really makes you feel for what she’s going through. The film also uses a lot of real-life experiences and trials that the real Bethany had to face, and knowing that makes the story all the more impactful. The Blu-Ray release of the movie includes a lot of behind-the-scenes insights into the real Bethany, and it makes the story come to life in a deeper way.

The rest of the film’s acting is a little hit-and-miss. Singer-turned-actress Carrie Underwood makes her acting debut and is okay as the youth leader who helped encourage Bethany, but it’s evident that Underwood is not an experienced actor. I’d hate to say that she should just stick to her musical career, but when she’s paired up with a talented actress like Robb, it makes her shortcomings all the more noticeable. On the other hand, Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt are a nice addition as Bethany’s parents. It adds a lot of validity to the story to have some veteran actors handling the reigns of a really emotional story. At the same time, though, it makes it more obvious that we’re seeing popular Hollywood names playing real-life people than just accepting their characters as really being who they’re supposed to be. Still, in the end, I think it may be better to forfeit that in exchange for a few actors who can handle the dramatic material. Lastly, the actors playing Bethany’s brothers feel and look more like Abercrombie models than actors, making me wish the casting director hadn’t been more concerned in hiring guys who would be sex appeal for the young girls going to the see the film than hiring believable (and good) actors. The presence of solid actors and flawed ones give the movie a little bit of an uneven feel at times, which nearly causes severe damage to the overall outcome of the movie, but the story and the team of Robb, Quaid and Hunt really rescue the movie.

Soul SurferI found Soul Surfer to be just as encouraging and inspiring as Bethany’s real-life story. Robb really makes you believe she’s walking in Hamilton’s shoes. And hearing the Hamiltons’ real life faith in Jesus come out in the way they deal with everything makes it especially relatable to believers, but McNamara also tends to make sure Hamilton’s Christianity is more subtly presented than forcefully. I have to admit, though, it’s truly surreal seeing Robb, Hunt, and Quaid sitting in a beachfront church service with Underwood and a worship band leading everyone in singing “Blessed Be Your Name” (and with them all singing along). Even more surreal may be seeing Quaid by Robb’s bedside after the accident holding a Bible and reassuring the recovering Bethany that we “can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.” It’s a fantastic reminder when you see what Hamilton went through and overcame. And it’s overwhelmingly encouraging for our own personal walks through our own individual trials in life.

It’s refreshing to see a film like Soul Surfer which contains virtually no vulgar content. Some might be uncomfortable with the fact that every cast member is seen in either a small bikini or just swimming trunks at some point during the film, but given the beautiful Hawaii setting and the fact that this is how these people really live, it’s not done for anything more than just being true to these folks’ surfing lifestyle. The only thing to really consider is that the shark attack accident is very, very intense. While we don’t see anything graphic when she loses her arm, the aftermath is realistically bloody and the drama involving trying to save Bethany and get her back to shore is pretty harrowing. Also, for the rest of the film, we see Bethany without her arm with the wound in various stages of the healing process, so it’s certainly not a sight for the squeamish. It’s a truly emotional story and a heavy one at that. Still, the brutal setup makes you appreciate what Bethany had to go through and it makes her comeback from it all the more triumphant. Fans of surfing in general will also likely enjoy the surfing sport action scenes as well as the beautiful cinematography used to capture that. All of the actors did their own surfing, which alone is impressive, but it’s cool to know that the real Bethany Hamilton provided some of the surfing-double work for AnnaSophia (who otherwise did her own surfing too). A lot of work went into this film and it shows.

Soul Surfer isn’t a perfect film by any means, but it gets the job done well in bringing an inspiring true story to life in true cinematic fashion. Fans of surfing should enjoy the sports scenes while those interested in Bethany Hamilton’s story should like this movie as well. It’s pretty intense dramatically and emotionally at times, but it’s a grand reminder that God can turn any tragedy into something good… and He often does.

– Review date: 7/31/11; Written by John DiBiase


Blu-Ray Special Features Review

Soul Surfer
Soul Surfer is one of those movies that seems tailor made for high definition viewing (or vice versa). Being set in Hawaii with great scenery, vibrant colors and beautiful water-related footage, Soul Surfer has a pristine picture on Blu-Ray disc.

Sony releases the film in a nice Blu-Ray / DVD combo pack that is the ideal purchase for home viewing. Along with the feature film, several bonus features are also included.

Deleted Scenes – Where most collections of deleted scenes may serve as nice extras to give you a look at what was filmed and didn’t make it into the final movie or they just flesh out some characters or key moments, many times you’ll find a collection of deleted scenes that add absolutely nothing to your viewing experience. Sadly, the deleted scenes for Soul Surfer are the latter. Eight additional scenes are included here, but all of them are under a minute in length each. Most are just several-second snippets of dialog that really don’t add much of anything. It’s kind of a wonder why they put them on the disc at all.

The Making of Soul Surfer – This is a wonderful behind-the-scenes video that talks about how the film came to be, how Bethany requested AnnaSophia to play her, and how the cast prepared for the film. It’s also intriguing to hear director Sean McNamara talk about how he signed on to the project and what it was like to film in Hawaii, and see some on-set footage for select scenes (like the shark attack). It’s thorough and an excellent watch on the Blu-Ray disc.

Surfing for the Screen: Inside the Action – This focuses on the sports action portions of the movie involving surfing. McNamara stresses how the Hamilton family wanted to see surfing be portrayed right on film for a change. It’s neat to see how they filmed some of it (usually having three cameras from different angles going at once) and how the actors prepared for it.

Becoming Bethany – This features AnnaSophia talking about how she spent time with Bethany in preparation for the film and how she spent a month learning to surf to get ready for the part.

Heart of a Soul Surfer Documentary – This is an indie film about the real-life Bethany Hamilton, apparently created by friends of Bethany and features her family and friends talking about her, the challenge she went through, etc. It especially highlights her faith in Christ as a driving inspiration. One of the best aspects of this documentary is seeing loads of real-life candid footage of Bethany before and after the attack, portions of high profile appearances she has made over the years, and hearing from Bethany herself.

Bethany Hamilton On Professional Surfing – This is a short montage, produced by the company Ripcurl, of professionally-shot footage of the real Bethany Hamilton in action as she’s surfing.

All in all, Soul Surfer is an enjoyable and encouraging film that looks great in high definition. While it includes only a few extras, what appears here are worthwhile bonus features that only add to the viewing experience. You’re likely to appreciate what Soul Surfer is and sets out to do after watching these extras.

John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/31/11)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: Throughout the entire movie, we frequently see girls in small bikinis, showing cleavage, and guys in just swim trunks. All of the major cast are seen this way quite often; While Alana and Bethany shop for bathing suits for a Ripcurl photo shoot, Alana holds up a tiny bikini and asks Bethany what she thinks. Bethany remarks that it’s too small and that if Alana wipes out wearing that, people will see a lot more than just her sick moves. Alana then remarks that she still finds it “hot;” We briefly see Alana posing in a bikini at a Ripcurl photo shoot in what some might consider “sexy” poses.

. Vulgarity/Language: None.

. Alcohol/Drugs: None.

. Blood/Gore: We quickly see a shark poke out of the water and bite Bethany. We then see a cloud of blood in the water and quick little flashes of the bloody stump as she’s paddling away before someone ties a shirt around the wound. We then see the blood-soaked shirt over her shoulder. Later, we see blood-soaked bandages over the wound; When Bethany’s bandages are removed, we see the bloody, scabby stitches she had been given to close the wound. We then see the wound on the stump of her arm in various stages of healing

. Violence: A shark bites off Bethany’s left arm and we see her for the rest of the movie with no arm, just a stump (and in various stages of the healing process from the initial wound); A boy throws a rock through a car window to get into it so he can drive to get help for Bethany after the attack; We see a surgical knife pressed to Tom’s knee about to operate, but someone comes in to stop the surgery saying they need the room for someone else