"Rio" Blu-Ray Review

Rio  

– 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.

Rio
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
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-Main-Feature-Image
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.

thefoxandthehound
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

thefoxandthehound
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:
None.

. Alcohol/Drugs:
None.

. 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

"Gnomeo & Juliet" Blu-Ray Review

gnomeo
Tangled  

Company: Touchstone Pictures
Release Date: May 24, 2011
Running Time: 84 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

gnomeoandjulietThe greatest love story ever told, starring…garden gnomes? In the upcoming “Gnomeo & Juliet,” Shakespeare’s revered tale gets a comical, off-the-wall makeover. Directed by Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2”) and showcasing both classic and original songs by Elton John, the film features the voices of James McAvoy and Emily Blunt as Gnomeo and Juliet, who have as many obstacles to overcome as their quasi namesakes when they are caught up in a feud between neighbors. But with plastic pink flamingos and thrilling lawnmower races in the mix, can this young couple find lasting happiness? (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

When Touchstone Pictures released Gnomeo and Juliet to theaters earlier this year, the film flew a bit under the radar, so it’s kind of surprising to see the home entertainment release get stamped with Disney’s name on it (Disney is the parent company of the Touchstone imprint). However, after viewing Gnomeo and Juliet, it’s obvious why the movie isn’t an official Disney release. Adapting William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet for children isn’t an easy task, and Gnomeo and Juliet does its best to do so in a family friendly way, but director Kelly Asbury (the guy who brought us the excellent Shrek 2 alongside a couple other directors) somehow manages to get an animated film of PG-rated quality under a misleading G rating.

gnomeoandjuliet
Gnomeo and Juliet will probably connect with a young audience best, but Asbury is definitely hoping to win over some parents with the edgy tone of the film. Some of the comedy is pretty risque at times (well, for a G-rated film at least) and I even picked up one usage of the word “d*mn” when I had the Blu-Ray’s subtitles turned on (typically you shouldn’t find a single profane word under the “G” banner). It’s also just a bit more than bizarre to have an animated film that has its cast of characters entirely consisting of… garden gnomes. It’s something you can get past as you watch the film — and something that grows funnier when you realize how fragile the ceramic characters are — but the approach is very Toy Story meets Over The Hedge, with less effective results. You start to feel like you’ve seen this idea before and it was done better. The other problem is that the script just isn’t quite smart or sharp enough to strongly pull it off. Maybe that has to do with being limited to contemporizing a Shakespearean work, but in the end, the movie isn’t really all that funny and isn’t all that memorable.

In all fairness, Gnomeo and Juliet is a cute film. The thing it has going for it most is some really fantastic animation. It’s not the absolute best I’ve seen, but it’s very good and several moments (especially when water is involved) really impressed me. Also, the voice acting is good. Emily Blunt and James McAvoy are charming as the title characters, while Michael Caine does what he does best in his role and Jason Statham is appropriately menacing as the evil Tybalt. However, my personal favorite is Disney Afternoon cartoon alumnus Jim Cummings (who voices Tigger and Winnie The Pooh these days) who channels his Don Karnage voice from TaleSpin for the lovable pink flamingo Featherstone. Finally, Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men) has a great cameo as a statue of William Shakepeare who warns Gnomeo that his love affair with Juilet won’t end well. But since this is a children’s film, you can bet that things will get a happy ending despite its source material.

gnomeoandjulietAside from the aforementioned “d*mn” that I caught in the subtitles, there is no other profane language, aside from the occasional subtle innuendo (like saying someone’s “tulips look limp” or Nanette asking Juliet if Gnomeo’s hat is “big and pointy”). In addition to that, there’s this creepy little male gnome in a onepiece almost-thong bikini and a romantic montage shows Nanette the frog laying on a bed of roses with petals covering her chest and crotch (although her character doesn’t wear clothes anyway, since she’s a frog) like the iconic scene in American Beauty. In another scene, a gnome pops out of a washing machine with a large human woman’s bra on his head, and he then uses it like a rope to climb a chair. All of this might sound minor or even silly to mention, but it felt inappropriate and out of place for a G-rated film for “All Ages.” Lastly, there is some violence where a character dies by being shattered (after all, they’re ceramic garden gnomes) and another one is briefly believed to be dead. To alleviate the intensity of a character actually dying in the film, we do see the shattered victim all put back together as assembled broken pieces during the celebratory dance sequence at the end (because, of course, every “good” kids movie needs a dance number at the end……. right?).

Again, in all fairness, Gnomeo and Juliet is hardly a train wreck and is still watchable, but the fact remains that there have been better and more clever animated films released in the past year. And with Pixar’s latest venture, Cars 2 and DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 2 both upon us this summer, it would be best to just save your money to take the kids to see either of those than purchase a copy of Gnomeo and Juliet. It may be worth a rental on a rainy afternoon, but you can skip adding this one to your collection — unless, of course, you happen to be a sucker for garden gnomes.

– Review date: 5/22/11; Written by John DiBiase

 

Blu-Ray Special Features Review

gnomeoandjuliet
As I said before, Gnomeo and Juliet looks fantastic in HD on Blu-Ray. The Blu-Ray release comes with a DVD as well, and there are a few extras on the disc for those interested in going a little further with their Gnomeo and Juliet experience. The discs are light on the extras, but let’s take a gander at what one could expect from the Blu-ray disc…

Elton Builds A Garden (5:47) – This short behind-the-scenes featurette talks about how “Rocket Pictures” is actually a company that is co-owned by musician Elton John and how he became involved with the movie after the film company decided to work on it. They also talk about the song “Love Builds A Garden,” which is featured in the most heart-moving moment in the film where the flamingo tells of how the couple who had placed him in their garden had stopped loving each other and separated, and how the song was created for this film. It’s also interesting to learn about how Elton enlisted the help of composer James Newton Howard and how Howard integrated a lot of Elton’s classic songs into the theatrical score.

Frog Talk With Ashley Jensen (1:46) is a very brief video dedicated to Ashley Jensen being chosen as the voice of Nanette. It’s so brief, in fact, that I’m not really sure why they even bothered to include it.

The Fawn of Darkness (1:29) is dedicated to Ozzy Osbourne’s portrayal of the lawn fawn in the movie. It’s interesting to see Ozzy involved in anything for children, really, but he does a good job as Fawn and it’s funny to hear him talk candidly about how easy the job was.

Alternate Endings with Filmmaker Introductions – These are just two different animated storyboard sequences, both very brief, that show a little bit differently how the dance number at the end could go. The one in the finished film is definitely better and I’m not sure it was even necessary to include these on the BD release.

Deleted and Alternate Scenes with Filmmaker Introductions (42:25) – There are eight alternate and deleted sequences that are included here in animated storyboard form. Each have introductions from the filmmakers and include scratch voice recordings and some film score mixed in. The alternate opening is actually a pretty amusing option for how they were planning to open the film originally. It features these odd occurences of the Reds damaging stuff in the Blues’ yard and vice versa, emphasizing the extent of the feud between the two rivalries. “Featherstone’s Game” is a silly scene where Featherstone tries to get Gnomeo to play a game that he makes up consisting of pieces from a smattering of different real games (like Twister, Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Trouble, etc). It was best left out. Another alternate introduction to Featherstone shows him as a complete hippie… and is a mess of an idea. The next scene shows the actual moment where Tybalt destroys the blue gnomes’ prize flower. There’s an extended alternate scene of what takes place after Tybalt gets smashed that runs over nine minutes. It’s over the top – paying homage to CSI where a murder investigation is launched upon the finding of Tybalt’s remains. It makes Gnomeo’s exhile pretty dark and dramatic. The next scene is an elaborate “Wedding Ruse” scene where Juliet plans a fake wedding (and I’m not sure it makes sense). The next scene has the flamingo interrogating a penguin garbage can about Gnomeo (and it features Jim Cummings doing the voice here). It’s silly, but a cute scene. Lastly, there’s a scene where a couple weathervanes help Gnomeo find his way home.

Crocodile Rock Music Video (1:32) is a minute and a half-long music video featuring Nelly Furtado and Elton John doing the film version of “Crocodile Rock” set to scenes from the movie and shots of Nelly and Elton singing in the studio. I’m not really sure why it’s so short…

Overall, the bonus features don’t do a whole lot to build on the film. Little insight is given into the making of the movie and interviews with the main cast are sorely (and clearly) missing. The kids might dig this one, but you can definitely do better in childrens’ entertainment.

John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/22/11)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: A gnome narrator makes reference to “loins;” A character calls another “illiterate,” but he thinks it means “illegitimate” and responds “my parents were married!”; Nanette tells Juliet that she has “junk in the trunk;” We hear an adult human woman singing the following lyrics to herself: “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me? Don’t you wish your girlfriend was a freak like me?”; A male gnome wears a tiny thong-like bikini that shows part of his butt in the back; Benny crawls into a washing machine and ends up inside a large human woman’s bra. We see it again after he gets out of it; During a romantic montage, we see Nanette the frog laying on a bed of roses with roses covering her chest and crotch (although her character doesn’t wear clothes anyway, since she’s a frog) like the iconic scene in American Beauty; Gnomeo and Juliet try to kiss several times and finally do twice at the end of the film; Juliet tells a gnome his “tulips look limp;” When Juliet tells Nanette she met a gnome, Nanette asks if his hat is “big and pointy.”

. Vulgarity/Language:
1 “d*mn”

. Alcohol/Drugs:
None.

. Blood/Gore:
In two instances, we see some shattered pieces of ceramic which are either the remains of a gnome or believed to be.

. Violence:
During a lawn mower race, Tybalt menacingly tries to run Gnomeo off the road; In another scene, Tybalt flies into a wall and presumably dies; We see a truck nearly hit Gnomeo and then see some shattered ceramic on the street. We later see that it’s a broken pot and not Gnomeo; A huge lawnmower plows through a yard making a large mess of things and then demolishes a tower where two gnomes are, presumably killing them, but we later see that they are OK.

Special Gnomeo & Juliet Extras!

Bonus Clip- Alternate Ending Dance Routine

Film Clip- Terrifirminator

Film Clip- Damage

Film Clip- Featherstone

"Tangled" Blu-Ray Review

tangled
Tangled  

Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Running Time: 100 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

TangledWhen the kingdom’s most wanted—and most charming—bandit Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi) is taken hostage by Rapunzel (voice of Mandy Moore), a feisty teen with 70 feet of golden hair who’s looking for her ticket out of the tower where she’s been locked away for years, the unlikely duo sets off on a hilarious, hair-raising escapade filled with adventure, heart, humor and hair—lots of hair… (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

Fairytale princess movies have been something Disney has been creating for over half a century and the company has built their name around such family, kid-friendly films as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. In 2010, Disney brought a new kind of princess to the big screen — Rapunzel. Traditionally, this sheltered little blonde lady isn’t a princess, but an updated, Disney-ized version of the classic fairytale molds the character to fit into the Disney world (no pun intended there). And while most of those princess stories (which, incidentally are named for the title character) have featured heroic male figures, Rapunzel’s Disney venture, Tangled, is almost as much about the leading lady’s rescuer as it is about her.

Unlike the aforementioned hand-drawn classics, Tangled is a fully CG-animated film. However, it carries with it a look and feel that is faithful to the classic Disney style, all while offering the gorgeous visuals and animation techniques that can only be delivered through the means of a computer. After watching Tangled, I feel it’s safe to state that this is probably the best-looking non-Pixar animated Disney film to date. From the hair on Rapunzel’s and Flynn Rider’s heads to the jaw-dropping realism of rushing water during an action sequence, this is an incredibly animated film, and one Disney can truly be proud of. My first impressions of Tangled were almost entirely negative after seeing less than thrilling trailers for the film. I thought the animation looked great, but it was really difficult to get a fix on what the tone of a film like this was going to be. The ads seemed marketed towards teenage girls (despite the fact that the film was renamed from Rapunzel to Tangled as to not alienate the male audience!), and it made this movie watcher much less interested in the film. After viewing it, as someone who especially enjoys movies on the big screen, I feel somewhat cheated by the underwhelming previews. Tangled is a gem.

Tangled
The film opens with narration from the male hero of the film, Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi, known for the title character in the TV show Chuck), with a sarcastic and random wit about him that probably was last heard in a Disney film in 2000’s The Emperor’s New Groove (also still probably my favorite non-Pixar Disney animated film). That film was entirely random and off-the-wall, feeling more like a Looney Tunes adventure than something Disney would be involved with. Unfortunately, it tanked at the box office and it is an often-forgotten Disney film, so it’s surprising to see some similar touches from that film applied to Tangled. However (and that’s a big “however), what Tangled is that Emperor’s wasn’t… is a true fairytale. There was no damsel in distress or a dashing young hero in Emperor’s New Groove; the film centered on a self-absorbed emperor boy who was turned into a llama and sets out on a quest to get changed back. As A.D.D. as the humor in that film may have seemed, it was about a person learning to grow up and consider others rather than himself, instead of a girl setting out to make her dreams come true. And the latter is really what Tangled is all about.

Maybe since I’ve gotten older and am now officially settling in to the parental role, I’ve become more sensitive to what is in entertainment for children, but I was rather surprised at just how violent Tangled really was. Sure the violence was seldom lethal, but the opening words of the movie feature Flynn stating “This is the story of how I died.” Those are pretty heavy words for a kids movie. And when Rider stumbles into Rapunzel’s tower and she sees the young man for the first time, she knocks him out with a cast iron frying pan. When he comes to, she nails him on the head again. After that, she tries to hide his lifeless, unconscious body in her closet so her mother won’t find him. First, she shoves him face-first under the furniture, then stuffs him into it (from which he falls out of) and then accidentally closes the door on his fingers (we see them sticking out from between the closed doors). Finally, when he falls back out later on, his face roughly slides across the floor (not to mention, he does several face-plants while falling over tied up). It’s all actually very amusing and quite humorously and brilliantly animated, but I was surprised how rough it seemed. After all, the first time little Jimmy whacks his parents with a cast iron frying pan because he saw it in a movie and it was funny, those parents probably won’t be laughing (if they’re left conscious to react at all). And I don’t mean to sound like a stick in the mud here, I’m only mentioning this for those who know this could be a problem for their impressionable children. I do remember seeing some emotionally rough animated films as a child (Bambi’s mother dying, Simba’s father dying… or Little Foot in the first Land Before Time losing his mom), but I don’t remember a lot of random comical violence. Other violence in Tangled includes all kinds of physical smacking and punching (even sort of playfully between Rider and a horse named Maximus) and – spoiler warning – we see a character draw blood via a scrape on their hand in one scene, a character stabbed with a knife with a little blood subtly shown in another scene, and a villain fall to their death. Granted, some of the Disney classics are very, very violent (even Beast in Beauty and the Beast was stabbed and bleeding before the evil Gaston fell to his death), but maybe there’s something about the more realistic-looking CGI animation that seems a bit more jarring than the hand-drawn animation?

TangledLike most Disney animated classics, music is a big part of Tangled. Mandy Moore, who voices Rapunzel, has been known for her singing career since a young age and she ends up singing several songs in the film. Donna Murphy, who voices the villainous Mother Gothel, also sings several numbers throughout the film. While singing made up a great deal of Disney films like Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin, it seems a little more subtle in Tangled, but still gives several of the singing scenes a Broadway performance feel (for better or for worse). At times, I felt it yank me out of the film and remind me this is a Disney picture, but in the end, the music was good enough and the lyrics amusing enough to mesh with the rest of the film. Although I’m not familiar with any of his other work, Levi is absolutely fantastic as Flynn and some of the dialog he gets to deliver is truly memorable. Moore only adds to the adorableness and innocence of Rapunzel and it isn’t difficult to love her character either. The movie does deal with quite a few different themes to consider. For most of the movie, Flynn is mostly an arrogant, self-centered thief who has made it through life on his looks and by stealing, but as you can expect, his character is redeemed by the film’s end (taking on much more endearing characteristics). Rapunzel battles with feelings of guilt and wanting to do the right thing when she disobeys her mother’s orders to never leave the tower (not realizing her “mother” is Mother Gothel, an evil woman who stole her from her parents because the magical power of Rapunzel’s hair keeps her young). Finally, the biggest theme of the film is making our life’s dreams come true, despite life’s other circumstances limiting what we can do. It’s an encouraging and hopeful theme that should be a good one to inspire children.

In the end, Tangled is an excellent addition to the Disney film catalog. It might be a little more suitable for older children – due to the violence (even if most of it is just comical) and the intensity of some of the perilous scenes (including Mother Gothel and her creepy, evil ways), but Tangled is a great family film that should be enjoyed for years and years to come.

– Review date: 3/28/11; Written by John DiBiase

 

Blu-Ray Special Features Review

Tangled
On Blu-Ray, Tangled is available in a four-disc Blu-Ray 3D, Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy combo as well as just a 2-disc Blu-Ray and DVD combo. This will be a review for the latter. I didn’t see Tangled in the theater or in 3D, but on Blu-Ray disc in HD, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The colors are vibrant, the details are so crisp and textured… it’s an absolutely stunning film visually.

The Blu-Ray disc includes a fair amount of bonus content to take the viewer beyond the feature film…

Deleted Scenes (12:36) – There are three deleted scenes: “The Jaunty Moose,” “Chemistry Develops” and “Vigor The Visionary.” Directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard introduce this segment and each subsequent deleted scene by explaining where they were intended to be in the film and that they’re totally unfinished, storyboarded sequences. The first scene is an alternate version of the pub scene where the characters inside the pub turn out to be showing their softer side via poetry reading. It’s not a better version of the scene, but it’s cute for those who enjoyed the film to check out. It’s unfortunate that all they have are animated rough sketches of it, though. The second storyboarded sequence, “Chemistry Develops,” follows the “Jaunty Moose” chronologically and shows a tender moment between Rider and Rapunzel. When it was cut from the finished film, they used the basic idea of this scene in other sequences, making this one irrelevant. I do think the final scenes used in the movie are stronger. Finally, “Vigor The Visionary” shows a character that was cut from the movie entirely: a fortune-telling monkey. It’s cute, but not missed from the overall film.

Original Storybook Openings – There are two different “Original Storybook Openings” that were intended to be traditional introductions for the film. The first (3:57), shows unfinished animation of colored sketches displayed as storybook pages as the tale of Rapunzel’s origin is told. Version 2 (4:02) is a different form of the storybook telling, morphing more quickly from the story pages to animated sequences. Both intros are neat to have included here, but the technique to introduce the story in the final film was much more fun and original. I’m afraid the way the storybook telling is shown here feels more like the parody that Shrek made fun of than something to take seriously.

50th Animated Feature Countdown (2:03) – In two minutes, we’re given a montage of all fifty animated Disney feature films counting from the first film very quickly to the most recent, Tangled. It’s cool, but extremely brief with just hints of moments from each one… never identifying any of them for those unfamiliar with some of the titles.

Extended Songs – For those who enjoyed the music in Tangled, we’re given extended and unfinished versions of the scenes that featured the songs in the film. “When Will My Life Begin” (3:35) is introduced by the directors and shows unfinished CGI renderings of parts from the song montage that were cut from the film. It was intended to be the original introduction for Rapunzel, but was inevitably trimmed for the film. What’s odd, though, is there are finished versions of the animation used in the final film, but instead of reusing it here, we just see the unfinished CGI versions of it. The second extend song, “Mother Knows Best” (4:17) was trimmed for the film’s pacing. The animation is pretty rough (even including some black and white animation), and is also mixed with totally finished animation, but it overall looks better than the first extended song. This is a great addition, although it makes Mother Gothel even creepier (is that possible?), but the trimming was a wise choice.

Untangled: The Making of a Fairy Tale (12:28) – Here is the only behind-the-scenes featurette that is hosted by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi (who voice Rapunzel and Flynn Rider, respectively). It starts with the actors talking about how Tangled was the 50th animated Disney film and they offer some trivia on the matter, even going as far as showing another quick countdown of all 50 movies. This segment mixes trivia about Tangled and other big Disney films with behind-the-scenes facts about the making of the latest Disney animated feature. Moore and Levi play it off like they’re hosting a TV special based around the film and Disney’s animated film history, and are clearly having fun in the process. There’s even a montage of CG hair animation bloopers. Before the featurette wraps, we see quick shots of all the main actors recording their parts in the studio. Unfortunately, there are no cast interviews or even much talk about the development of the film. While this is a cute segment, it’s more geared towards kids and rather unfulfilling for film fans.

Untangled Teasers (9:12) – There are nine “Tangled Teasers” that are mostly one-minute mock commercials for the film. The first is a fake cologne commercial for “Smolder,” based on Flynn’s flirtatious look. Next is a mock infommercial for frying pans while the next one is a news report parody following a “white bronco” chase (like OJ from the nineties… get it?) involving Flynn and Maximus. In addition to those, there’s a PSA on “grounding,” a brief commercial that puts Rapunzel’s tower up for rent, a mock medical ad for the healing power of “Rapunzhair,” and three different 2D animated “early adventures” of Flynn’s (that weren’t seen in the film and are supposed to be pre-film adventures of Flynn as a thief). They’re pretty clever and amusing and definitely worth a watch.

Unfortunately, that is where the bonus goodies end. There are some previews for other Disney releases, but no feature commentary and not even a theatrical trailer for Tangled. With how well-received the movie was in theaters, I expected a bit more to be included here. Still, if you enjoyed the movie or haven’t seen it yet and are a fan of classic Disney fairytales, Tangled is a great buy on Blu-Ray disc and a worthy addition to the Disney movie collection.

John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/28/11)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: Mother Gothel often shows a little cleavage in the dresses she wears; We see a little old man in a diaper acting like cupid in several scenes. In the film’s final shot before the credits, he comes drifting by with dressed like cupid and blows a kiss to the audience before wiggling his eyebrows seductively (played for laughs); Rapunzel and Flynn briefly kiss passionately

. Vulgarity/Language:
None.

. Alcohol/Drugs:
We see lots of rough looking men in a pub, with some drinking. One of them, a little old man, is visibly drunk.

. Blood/Gore:
We briefly see a bloody cut across Flynn’s palm after he was clawing at a rock wall; We briefly see part of a white shirt soaked with blood after a person was stabbed (and later see light shooting from that spot on their body)

. Violence:
LOTS of comedic violence including, but not limited to, Rapunzel hitting Flynn over the head with a frying pan several times; Flynn fights off several soldiers and even the horse Maximus (who is fencing with a sword in his mouth) while using a frying pan; A bridge of sorts collapses and a dam breaks, flooding a little valley, washing away some people and trapping Rapunzel and Flynn in a small cave (who think, momentarily, that they’re going to drown); Flynn and Maximus punch and elbow each other; some burly men in a bar threaten to hurt and beat up Flynn (they grab him and start to pull on his arms and legs and punch him); Rapunzel often uses her hair as a sort of whip to pull on things or people, tie them up, etc; We see a man who was tied to a ship, apparently after being knocked out; A woman beats up two men, knocking them out (off screen); Some characters knock out, drag away, etc, several soldiers; A villain falls from a great height to their death; A villain stabs a character with a knife; A person cuts hair off another person using a broken shard of glass; A woman frighteningly threatens Rapunzel; Gothel knocks over a mirror, shattering it; and other assorted cartoon violence

LOTS of Tangled Extras!

Wanted: Flynn Rider
http://www.totaleclips.com/player/Splash.aspx?custid=907&clipid=e88649&playerid=69&affiliateid=-1&bitrateid=378&formatid=10

Wanted: Rapunzel
http://www.totaleclips.com/player/Splash.aspx?custid=907&clipid=e88647&playerid=69&affiliateid=-1&bitrateid=378&formatid=10

A slideshow featuring the concept sketches and drawings for Mother Gothel:
http://cdn.zenfolio.net/zf/code/slideshow/embedded.swf

A slideshow featuring still images of Rapunzel & Flynn, Disney’s newest royal couple!

http://cdn.zenfolio.net/zf/code/slideshow/embedded.swf

A slideshow featuring still images of lovable sidekicks Maximus & Pascal:

http://cdn.zenfolio.net/zf/code/slideshow/embedded.swf

Activity Pages!
Download Printable Activities!

Clips from the bonus material & fun facts!

Trailer:
http://www.totaleclips.com/player/Splash.aspx?custid=907&playerid=69&bitrateid=314&formatid=10&clipid=e85677&affiliateid=-1

Hair Trouble (Bonus):
http://www.totaleclips.com/player/Splash.aspx?custid=907&playerid=69&bitrateid=314&formatid=10&clipid=e87466&affiliateid=-1

Alternate Opening (Bonus- Deleted Scene):
http://www.totaleclips.com/player/Splash.aspx?custid=907&playerid=69&bitrateid=314&formatid=10&clipid=e87468&affiliateid=-1

Naming Pascal (Bonus):
http://www.totaleclips.com/player/Splash.aspx?custid=907&playerid=69&bitrateid=314&formatid=10&clipid=e87464&affiliateid=-1

Fun Fact #1:
http://www.totaleclips.com/player/Splash.aspx?custid=907&playerid=69&bitrateid=310&formatid=10&clipid=e87457&affiliateid=-1

Fun Fact #2:
http://www.totaleclips.com/player/Splash.aspx?custid=907&playerid=69&bitrateid=310&formatid=10&clipid=e87460&affiliateid=-1

Fantastic Mr. Fox

Main-Feature-Image

Fantastic Mr. Fox

– for action, smoking and slang humor.
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: voices of George Clooney, Bill Murray, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman
Theatrical Release Date: November 25, 2009
DVD Release Date: March 23, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

Fantastic Mr. Fox“Fantastic Mr. Fox” is visionary director Wes Anderson’s first animated film, utilizing classic handmade stop motion techniques to tell the story of the best selling children’s book by Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach). (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

It’s a surprise, to me at least, for an indie film director to decide to leave a string of oddball, R-rated films and chase after adapting a 1970 childrens book into a stop-motion animated PG-rated film. But that’s exactly what Wes Anderson, best known for his films Rushmore, The Life Acquatic, and The Royal Tenenbaums, has done. From the opening credits of Fantastic Mr. Fox, it’s no question that you’re watching a Wes Anderson film, and the director treats this picture like any other one of his films – with the dramatic closeups, unsual camera angles or
framing, and odd character behavior. Fantastic Mr. Fox is as off-beat as any other one of Anderson’s films, but it’s quite easily his best.

All of Anderson’s films (four of which I’ve seen – all in an edited, more sterile form by my own preference – for better or worse) have an approach that is undeniably an acquired taste. There’s a quirky humor style that Anderson embraces and embellishes that is welcomed by many indie film buffs but not so easily digestible by the pop film culture audience. I must fall into the latter category as the only film I’ve enjoyed by Anderson’s was the wacky Life Acquatic (again, in edited form), which still felt a bit too off-beat for my usual tastes. Fantastic Mr. Fox fares best of all of his work, possibly due to the source material, coupled with the fact it’s presented in a uniquely done stop-motion animation style. The end result is as entertaining to watch as it is to take in. Each character – from the animals to the humans – are interesting in design and character traits, and it’s these kinds of details that work to the film’s benefit.

Still, when a film so off-beat and against the norm (but typical for this director) becomes so heavily lauded by the majority of film critics, you kind of go into viewing such a film with high expectations. And while my expectations may have been a bit unattainable, it’s still easy enough for me to grasp Fantastic Mr. Fox as a whole, stack it up against the widespread praise given towards the movie, and wonder what is SO extraodinarily different (or better?) than most other animated films? Sure, there isn’t a single other animated film like this out there, but if you know Anderson’s work, this one follows suit perfectly. While his other live action films have always been adult-oriented in nature, this orientation even carries over a bit into Anderson’s first all-animation PG-film. For example, instead of there being lots of profanity as might usually be found in some of Anderson’s work, the director makes up for it with substitute profanity. Oddly enough, where a character might usually use any number of profanities – including the “f” word – the characters in Fantastic Mr. Fox quite regularly, and simply, substitute the word “cuss” in place of it. They
might say, for example, “What the cuss was I thinking?” instead of something much more profane. Even though it’s not the actual word, you often get the idea what they would normally say there, and so it feels a bit harsh or out of place for such a film. Also, at first it seemed like a clever idea, but by the film’s end, so many characters do this, and so often, that it feels over-used and a bit tired. But the very fact that Anderson even chooses to go this route with the dialog kind of cements the realization that Fantastic Mr. Fox isn’t really a kids film.

Sure, Fantastic Mr. Fox involves a central family of characters who are personified foxes who wear clothes, and, yes, other characters include badgers, rabbits, possums, and the like, but the plot involves stealing, drinking, smoking, and ruthless farmers trying to kill and wipe out the food pilfering animals. Fantastic Mr. Fox is about as edgy as you might expect a Wes Anderson animated film to be, and with there even being some pretty creepy-to-frightening scenes for young ones, it’s just not really a suitable family film. And that’s not even mentioning the slower pace of
the film that is likely to lull the younger ones to sleep in their seats (or make them too antsy to sit through its just-under 90-minute running time). So the question is raised: just who is this animated PG film targeted to? Sadly, the opening weekend holiday box office take of just $10 million relates that this may be the very problem with it.


But all this isn’t to say that Fantastic Mr. Fox is a bad film. By this point in the review, I’m sure you’re wondering why on earth I gave the film rather positive marks. Truth is, Anderson has put together a fine looking and rather fun heist film. Casting George Clooney in the role of Mr. Fox is quite inspired, considering Fox feels like a sort of scheming Cary Grant character and Clooney clearly has emulated Grant’s style more than once before (see Leatherheads especially). And with Clooney having previously played the role of heist mastermind Danny Ocean in Ocean’s 11 and its two sequels, Mr. Fox doesn’t stray too far from George’s comfort zone. The film brings up some interesting themes in the story that include children feeling like they can’t measure up to their peers and parents needing to encourage their children and not hold such high expectations for them. Team that with some silly, out of left field humor and indie-style directing and you have one bizarre
animated film. Fans of Anderson’s work are likely to enjoy this one the most, while those who kind of like to play it safe and usually only enjoy the blockbuster popcorn entertainment may want to skip this one.

Aside from the “cuss” substitute profanity, there are some violent scenes that include an animal getting its tail shot off (we see the dismembered tail a few times, as well as the animal’s bandaged up wound), an animal scratches another animal’s face during a serious argument, and there are other instances that involve a rabid dog, sinister-looking farmers shooting relentlessly at their animal victims (with intent to kill, of course), and a creepy rat (appropriately voiced by the equally creepy Willem Dafoe) who wields a switch blade and threatens our heroes a few times.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is certainly one of the more unique animated films to be released this year. Indie film director Wes Anderson transfers his quirky adult filmmaking style into stop-motion form and it actually works for the most part. While this style will indeed limit the film’s audience, it’s rather evident that Anderson was only concerned with making a film for his fans and older viewers alike than making a film for a wider audience. With that in mind, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a fun little film, but not one for the young ones, and not your usual family fair.

– Review date: 12/3/09; Written by John DiBiase

Blu-Ray Special Features Review

One might look at a stop-motion film like Fantastic Mr. Fox and feel like this isn’t exactly a must-see in High Definition. But to make such an assumption would be an unfortunate mistake. One of the most notable things while watching Fantastic Mr. Fox is the intense attention to detail. I can recall sitting in the theater and marveling at all must have gone into the claymation feature Chicken Run, back in 2000, but even that pales a bit in comparison to the incredible detail in Fantastic Mr. Fox. This is a film for artists and fans of independent films indeed. Director Wes Anderson has never before made such an accessible film for movie goers of all ages, and he does a pretty good job in his attempt to bring the Roald Dahl classic book to the big screen. The only concerns, as I mentioned in our theatrical review from December, is the violence in the film as well as the frequent use of the word “cuss” in places where the usual strong profanity would be used. The entire execution of the film is more adult than for children, which may make some wonder just who this animated film is intended for. However, upon watching it again on home video – and in high definition – the film does contain strong themes about family and emphasizing our individual talents and strengths. On top of that, it’s just a wonderful film visually, and to see the tiniest details in the art in such clarity really does the film justice.

The Blu-Ray features take the viewers well beyond the film which, in all honesty, lives up to the description of “fantastic.” Making Mr. Fox Fantastic (44:48) is a six-part featurette that takes the viewer into how the incredible stop motion world of Mr. Fox was created. We see a lot of behind the scenes glimpses into the making of the puppets, the actual filming process, how each piece of set dressing and each prop was hand made and tailored to the world of Mr. Fox. We even get a chance to hear author Roald Dahl’s wife Felicity talk about Roald’s story and Wes Anderson’s treatment of it. The “From Script To Screen” chapter gives us a look at the original book and the illustrations that accompanied it, which all were used as inspiration for the final product. One of the most surprising aspects to the making of the film is the insight into the fact that Anderson filmed voice actors George Clooney, as well as Bill Murray and a few others, acting out some of their scenes in person – on location on a farm or in an office – to capture their voices for the film in the process. It was neat to see such candid b-roll footage included. The only thing that really seemed to be missing from this extensive featurette was actual interview footage with Clooney, Meryl Streep, and other voice actors in the film. We do, however, get some screen time with Jason Schwartzman, who voiced the littlest Fox, Ash, and Bill Murray who voiced Mr. Fox’s lawyer, Badger. All in all, this was a great inside look into the making of the film and it helped build appreciation for all the animators’ efforts. At just a few seconds under forty five minutes in total, the comprehensive featurette never feels overlong or boring, and goes by rather quickly.

A Beginner’s Guide To Whack-Bat (1:12) – For the film, a brand new game was thought-up, titled “Whack-Bat.” It’s incorporated into one of the quirkier moments of the film and even after seeing the film a couple times, the purpose and execution still seems rather confusing (although, admittedly, I think it’s intended to). The title “A Beginner’s Guide To Whack-Bat” sounds like it might actually delve deeper into how the game is played and maybe even the origin of the game, but unfortunately it’s simply a one-minute video that attempts to better describe how it’s played, using footage from the movie in a sort of an old instructional video presentation. But not much can be learned from this disappointingly brief video.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: The World Of Roald Dahl (3:00) – The last featurette (besides the theatrical trailer) focuses on late author Roald Dahl. His wife is briefly shown again talking about how Roald wanted to write the story in the country side, and hear Wes Anderson reiterate (as said in “Making Mr. Fox Fantastic”) that he felt Roald put a lot of himself into the character of Mr. Fox, so he wanted to incorporate as much of that into the film as possible. It’s interesting, but I’m not sure why it wasn’t part of the “Making Mr. Fox Fantastic” segment, or limited to just three minutes.

As a home video release, Fantastic Mr. Fox lives up to its name in the presentation and look. The Blu-Ray comes complete with a DVD copy as well as a Digital copy, making this 3-Disc release the best buy for fans of the film. For those concerned about the implied language and violence, I suggest renting it and screening it before sharing it with the young ones. Otherwise, Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the better animated films you’ll find around – and one that adults should enjoy maybe even more than younger audiences.

– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 4/8/10)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: The rat taunts Mr. Fox by commenting that Fox’s wife was a “town tart” (or something like that), implying that she may have been promiscuous in her younger, pre-married days. Mr. Fox defends her by saying something to the effect that most people were like that when they were younger.

. Vulgarity/Language: Many, many uses of the word “cuss” directly as a substitute for various profanities and strong profanities (for example, “What the cuss are you doing?”)

. Alcohol/Drugs: The rat smokes, as do some of the farmers; We see and hear a lot about alcoholic cider; We see a dinner table with wine glasses and a kind of red wine in it; During a toast, after opening a bottle of champagne, Mr. Fox comments on maybe already having too much to drink.

. Blood/Gore: We see a scratch on a character’s face after another has scratched them during an argument; We see that an animal’s tail has been shot off, and we see the dismembered tail with a tiny bit of blood on the end. We soon see what looks like the victim’s backside (fully clothed), while someone bandages up the wound (which looks like maybe the blood is soaking through?); We see a dog shred the dismembered tail and then see the tail again a few times with with clumps of fur missing from it.

. Violence: Animals are shot at; an animal has its tail shot off; a rabid dog chases some animals and people; A rat weilds a knife and threatens to use it on people; an animal is kidnapped; an angry man trashes a trailer; a group of men fire on some animals and shred some boxes they’re hiding behind; some animals throw flaming pine cones into a town square and set the buildings and surrounding items on fire; two animals fight, one gets electrocuted and we watch it die; and other comedic cartoon violence

The Princess & The Frog

princess-and-the-frog

Planet 51

– for not containing material to warrant a higher rating.
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring: voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Jim Cummings
Theatrical Release Date: November 25, 2009
DVD Release Date: March 16, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

Princess and the FrogWalt Disney Animation Studios presents the musical “The Princess and the Frog,” an animated comedy set in the great city of New Orleans. From the creators of “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” comes a modern twist on a classic tale, featuring a beautiful girl named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again, and a fateful kiss that leads them both on a hilarious adventure through the mystical bayous of Louisiana. (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

Last year, Disney returned to hand-drawn animation, after a 5-year hiatus, with The Princess and the Frog. From the first animation cel, it’s obvious that this project was a labor of love from Disney animators who first got into the business due to a love for 2D animation. With the success of Pixar’s computer animated projects and its successors, CGI animation has, sadly, made hand-drawn work a thing of the past. But Disney hopes to bring it back, starting first with The Princess and the Frog.

The Princess and the Frog, from the get-go, has the look and feel of classic Disney animation, but with a bit of a supersized feel. While it’s touted as a return to hand-drawn animation, it’s obvious that some effects are still rendered with a computer, but the characters and the heart still remain hand-crafted. And in the end, we have a modernized classic… Disney style! Set in New Orleans in the USA instead of a far away distant land, our heroine, Tiana, is an American working girl hoping to make a name for her family and unite the people in her city by owning her own restaurant someday. However, when a prince from Maldonia shows up in New Orleans, Tiana’s friend Charlotte hopes to snag his hand in marriage. But local Shadow Man, Dr. Facilier, entices the broke prince and his assistant to agree to accept the villain’s help in turn for riches and prosperity. What results is prince Naveen becoming a frog, while his assistant becomes the prince, giving Facilier prime opportunity to have a puppet rise to power in New Orleans. The story is filled with humor and fairytale elements, but the grounding in reality – a New Orleans setting – makes its villain’s background in Voodoo a little unnerving. All the “magical” elements in The Princess and the Frog are because of Shadow Man’s
Voodoo dabblings with “the other side,” and quite a few truly creepy scenes are born out of this.

And really, the only significant problem with The Princess and the Frog lies in the “Louisiana Voodoo” elements. While the black magic of the Shadow Man paints the Voodoo practices in a negative light, a sort of “fairy godmother” found through a 197 year old Voodoo practicing woman named Mama Odie is more like the white witch of the story (she even wears white, while Facilier wears black). And while the story doesn’t come out and tell kids to practice “good” Voodoo, it’s a little weird to be watching a fairytale that brings a real pagan belief system into its story. Perhaps I’m just more sensitive to this kind of thing as an adult Christian rather than just a child watching a cartoon story, but both my wife and I were a little unsettled by this plot point that we were not aware of going into watching the movie. And throughout the story, we see Voodoo dolls (and one is almost used, apparently to kill an innocent character), a shrunken head, and African tribal Voodoo masks, as well as evil shadow spirits. It all adds up to some intense imagery, the most creepiest being impish, fang-drawn shadows that are likely to scare the socks off of the younger audiences. On the other hand, none of the film’s heroes practice Voodoo or act like they intend to at some point – other than having a sort of Wizard Of Oz hope that Mama Odie could help them out of their troubles in the same way that The Wizard would be able to help out Dorothy and the gang.


Aside from the Louisiana Voodoo plot point, the actual story of The Princess and the Frog is a creative and fun one. The voice talents across the board are fantastic, while the mix of CGI elements and hand-drawn characters is a real wonder to behold. I didn’t catch the film in the theaters, but instead saw it first on blu-ray, and it certainly looks gorgeous in this medium. The colors are vibrant and the animation is crisp. The directors – who also brought us Aladdin and The Little Mermaid – know how to put together an all-star animation team, and you don’t have to watch the behind-the-scenes special features to be able to tell that those working on the film love what they do and believe in this art form. In fact, you can almost get the feeling just by watching the movie that the filmmakers are setting out to prove that there is still a desire and market for hand-drawn works. And The Princess and the Frog successfully proves it through its execution. The film also brings back the Disney musical format and the songs chosen are rather fun. This story isn’t specifically for kids OR girls and the songs help bring a sort of Americana nostalgia to the film too. From ragtime to jazz to even gospel, there’s an array of musical flavors incorporated into this story. I couldn’t help but think of the sadly-banned 1946 Disney film Song of the South that I saw as a kid while watching this one. However, while that movie was banned due to racial stereotypes (which I don’t believe were ill-intended), this film safely avoids any of those stereotypes and, in fact, does a great job uniting the different cultures.

Overall, I was impressed with the quality and end result of The Princess and the Frog. It’s a great Disney fairytale, although parents might want to screen it first to check out the Louisiana Voodoo content for themselves. Also, the shadow spirits make for multiple frightening and eerie scenes, so don’t let the G rating lure you into a false sense of security (it probably should have at least been PG for “thematic elements” or “scary images”). There are plenty of intense moments to take into consideration here. Otherwise, the rest of the story is a fun fairytale that encourages its audience to dream and pursue those dreams to fruition. Hopefully this marks an unending return to hand-drawn animation from the Disney Studio!

Blu-Ray Special Features Review

There are quite a few goodies included on the blu-ray release of The Princess and the Frog. For starters, there are two versions released on blu-ray — one is a single disc version, while the other is a combo that also includes a regular DVD and a digital download copy of the film (the latter of which is clearly the better buy). The blu-ray disc offers the most extra goodies. Besides a brilliant picture for the feature film, the bonus featurettes dive into the making of the animated movie.

The most comprehensive featurette is “The Making Of A Princess,” which takes a look at Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation, the story of The Princess and the Frog, and some of the voice actors (especially Anika, who voices Tiana). The subsequent featurettes dive a little bit deeper into the villain, our newest princess, and the music behind the film. We’re treated to lots of insight into the progression of the hand-drawn animation as well as some of the history of animation at Disney (including old photos of the original “Nine Old Men” who were the very first Disney animators!). The only thing I thought was missing was a little bit more interaction with the voice actors. But I’m, admittedly, a stickler for that. I love to get to know more about who voiced what characters and to hear them talk about their roles. I was pleased to see a little bit of Disney voice actor Jim Cummings talk about his role as firefly Ray, since Cummings has voiced characters in some of my favorite Disney cartoons of the 80s and 90s, including TaleSpin and Darkwing Duck. Unfortunately, it was exceptionally brief, but I was happy to see him in the flesh for a change.

One of the most intriguing featurettes is “Bringing Life To Animation,” which places live action reference footage, involving real actors acting out scenes to give the animators something to work with, side by side with the finished footage from the movie. Two scenes (including a musical number) are featured and it’s just enough to be satisfying without losing the viewer’s interest. And if the behind-the-scenes insights weren’t enough for you, there’s a feature-long version of the movie that allows you to view The Princess and the Frog with a picture-in-picture look at the rough sketches and pencil work on top of the finished product. Of course, this does take away the ability to see part of the actual movie since the rough work is literally shown in the upper corner on top of the feature film, but those familiar enough with the movie already will especially enjoy this bonus nugget. And it’s the kind of thing animation buffs will love.

All in all, Disney does a great job bringing home their return to hand-drawn animation to fans of the film company. Blu-ray is still the ultimate home viewing experience and Disney’s home video release of The Princess and the Frog looks especially great in high definition.

– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/21/10)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: Charlotte shows some cleavage in her dress, as does Tiana a little bit. In one instance, Charlotte quickly pulls up the top of her dress (adjusting herself), showing a little extra cleavage; As frogs, Tiana and Naveen accidentally lock tongues while trying to catch a bug. They then get intertwined really badly and a firefly comes along and jokes that the two got a bit carried away

. Vulgarity/Language: None.

. Alcohol/Drugs: There are people drinking wine at a party. We see a guy in an octopus costume with each arm holding a glass of wine. He’s visibly drunk and when the alligator runs by, he thinks it’s because of his drinking and pours out the wine

. Blood/Gore: A small African mask talisman is briefly show cutting human Naveen’s finger and we see a drop of blood on his finger for a second. The amulet is then seen with outlines of red in it at different times throughout the film; Dr. Facilier briefly holds up a shrunken head; In Mama Odie’s place, we see a jar with eyeballs floating in it, along with another jar with a set of teeth (like dentures) floating in it; A hunter in the bayou is called “Two Fingers” because he only has two fingers on his right hand (the rest of his hand is wrapped up to make it less obvious or gross)

. Violence: Naveen is tied up, his finger is sliced, and then turned into a frog; We see shrunken heads and such at Dr. Facilier’s place; Three goofy hunters hit each other on the head with logs and fire their shotguns at each other, as well as our animal heroes. One accidentally shoots another in the crotch and we see his heart-shape designed underwear through his torn pants; After the three unintentionally beat each other up, we see one with huge lumps on his face; A man steps on a frog’s tongue; SPOILERS! We see a man dragged away by even spirits into a mask-like opening which, when it disappears, reveals a tomb for that person; A man steps on a bug which leads to its death (but it allows him to be with the one he loves)

Planet 51

planet51blu

Planet 51

 

– for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor.
Director: Jorge Blanco
Starring: voices of Dwayne Johnson, Justin Long, Jessica Biel, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott
Theatrical Release Date: November 20, 2009
DVD Release Date: March 9, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Buy It: Amazon.com
Official Site

Plot Summary

Planet 51Animated sci-fi tale set on “Planet 51,” whose inhabitants live in fear of an alien invasion. Their paranoia is realized when astronaut Capt. Charles “Chuck” Baker arrives from Earth. Befriended by a young resident, the astronaut has to avoid capture in order to recover his spaceship and return home. (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

For a good portion of 2009, moviegoers have been seeing teasers and trailers for a unique animated experience called Planet 51. The most popular teaser shows a fully-suited United States astronaut as he lands on a foreign planet and plants an American flag into the ground. When he looks around him, he sees that the entire alien planet is functioning like a human one, except that the inhabitants are green alien creatures. Most of the promos for the film don’t give too many details away, which leaves the actual viewing of Planet 51 to be mostly a surprise. The end result is an entertaining feature film for nearly all ages.

What’s really fun about Planet 51, which I didn’t know until I was actually in the theater watching the movie play out, is that the film is shot entirely from the perspective of the alien planet… which resides in a sort of 1950’s era. A present-day American astronaut then “invades” their planet and what unfolds is sort of a mix of The Day The Earth Stood Still and War Of The Worlds, only backwards. The young aliens of the planet are mostly obsessed with visitors from another planet – obviously human-like aliens that might come and invade their planet. The film’s central alien is a teenage boy named Lem, voiced by Justin Long (Galaxy Quest, Die Hard 4, those Mac Vs. PC commercials), who feels like everything is starting to go right in life… that is, until the “alien” shows up. All mayhem indeed breaks loose when U.S. astronaut Chuck Baker (voiced by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) arrives. And he’s quite the pompous and arrogant goof you might not entirely expect him to be. To assist Chuck is a miniature land rover that acts like a cross between a pet dog and WALL-E, who steals many of the scenes its in, despite frequently bringing to mind the Pixar film that features said titular robot.

The idea alone of turning Planet 51 itself into a human-like planet sounds like fun, but setting it in our 1950’s era really opens things up for a whole mess of opportunities and even pop culture references to come into play. Chuck is not only caught off guard by such an alien race, but the fact that they’re all stuck in the 50’s. From the classic style monster movies the aliens love to watch, to the town square (which seems to bear an uncannily inspired by Back To The Future) to the very idea of alien conspiracies and Area 51 paranoia of the 50’s. And when Chuck is thrust into the mix, he can’t help but make random and direct references to The Terminator or even Star Wars. There are all kinds of fun and clever little nods and references sprinkled throughout Planet 51, which is liable to entertain adults just as much as the younger audience it targets. But there’s an element to the approach of the film that, because it relies so heavily on reminding us of familiar alien and monster lore that Planet 51 feels at times more like it’s one big spoof or homage than its own standalone story. And it isn’t really the downfall of the film – since I do often enjoy cleverly placed cultural references – but there are moments where the film just feels a bit flat or underdone.

And that feeling is entirely not due to its visual quality. Although the film is done by first-time director Jorge Blanco and two co-directors, the animation itself is breathtaking. Planet 51 looks beautiful from start to finish. The only time things seemed slightly off is when Chuck – the human – would speak. Sometimes his words more clearly didn’t naturally match his lips, but overall, from the backgrounds to the fluid motion of the characters and surroundings, Planet 51‘s animation is first-rate. It’s certainly an impressive production.


The content of Planet 51 may be its most questionable aspect. More than just a couple times does the content venture into the suggestive arena, offering some jokes that are a bit off-color at best. From the opening scene where two teens are “parking” at a lookout point and share a kiss, to a carefully timed use of the phrase “What the… duck?!” and even a couple gags that involve butt plugs and suppositories, Planet 51 skates on thin ice when it comes to rude and crude humor. The majority of the most offensive gags are likely go over the kids’ heads, but still it felt strange to see some of the jokes that worked their way into the film. It gave it all a slightly more adult feel – especially partnered with older cultural references that children just wouldn’t understand – and it’s a good chance that such a feel is what dampened its quality a bit.

In the end, Planet 51 is a good animated family film, but not without its faults. Those looking for the random humor of Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs or the family charm of a Pixar film, will be disappointed that Planet 51 tries to be many different films in one and ultimately looses a bit of its own personality in the process. It’s still a worthwhile and fun piece of entertainment that encourages its audience (once again) to embrace those around you that are different than you… just don’t expect it to be anything more.

– Review date: 11/24/09; Written by John DiBiase

Blu-Ray Special Features Review

I remember sitting in the theater in November thinking this film would look amazing in Blu-Ray. Sure enough, it does and because of the intense detail in this film’s animation, it’s especially fun to watch at home.

The Blu-Ray isn’t exactly loaded with special features, but what they do have is done well. The deleted/extended scenes (2:50) are all brief moments cut from when Lem hides Chuck in his house. While all of it is pretty minor, it’s nice to at least see these bits in completely finished form. Most of the time, deleted scenes from animated films end up being just animated hand-drawn rough storyboards. Here, they’re finished in great detail. Because these bits are so brief, it would have been nice to have the option to watch them within the finished film. There’s also the Target 51 Game, which utilizes your player’s remote for directing your spaceship out of harm’s way. There are several gameplay modes once you start, the easiest being shooting alien ships out of your way, the hardest being a small pod needing to avoid and fire upon debri and alien ships coming at you. It’s not especially exciting, but kids might enjoy it.

The World of Planet 51 (2:54) – is merely a panning of the different backdrops and scenery from the film. It feels a bit thrown together / lifeless since there’s no narrative, but it does give fans of the film a chance to look a little closer at what’s going on behind the action: the detailed alien designs of the houses, the clever play on the 1951 stylizing, etc.

Life On Planet 51 (12:04) – This is the first real featurette. It opens with part of the trailer for the film, and then features Dwayne Johnson, the voice of Chuck, explaining the story. From there, the real meat of the featurette showcases the voice talent in the film, and gives a look at each central character and their performers. We then get a fun look into the animation process, storyboarding, and learn that this project has been seven years in the making!

Planetarium – The Voice Stars of Planet 51 (3:18) – This little featurette features a little more of Justin Long, Jessica Biel, and Dwayne talking about their individual characters, interwoven with actual footage from the movie. Oddly enough, some of the footage and interviews repeat slightly, but it’s still a fun bonus. It probably could have been made part of the “Life On…” featurette or expanded on more, but is still a nice little addition.

Planet 51 Music Video Montage (2:11) – This is kind of a pointless featurette, utilizing clips from the movie set to song clips.

Animation Progression Reels (15:53) – The final major bonus feature is a pretty cool look at the progression of animation for several scenes — from the drawn storyboards to two levels of groundwork animation, to the final film animation…. four full panels playing simultaneously on the sceen. Animation buffs will especially find this fascinating. It’s also really neat to see how the initial idea changed over time and the variations in details in the background, foreground, and characters.

All in all, Planet 51 makes a great Blu-Ray package. For Cloudy With a Chance Of Meatballs, Sony only allowed the digital download of the movie available for people with PS3 systems. Thankfully, the Planet 51 DVD/Blu-Ray/Digital Copy package fixes this by allowing it for iTunes as well as Windows Media Player. You can easily port this sucker to your iPod if you want to! And if you don’t have a blu-ray player just yet, a DVD combo like this one is a smart buy as you look to the future. Your family will be happy you have both versions if you ever make the hyperjump to HD.

– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/8/10)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: We see a couple parked on a lookout point and the girl comments to the boy that she has parked before. He says he’s not that kind of guy and he knew she was not that kind of girl and they share a passionate kiss before being interrupted; Skiff comments on the aliens doing experiments and probing, and hands Lem a cork and motions for him to stick it in his butt (referring to anal probes). He then hands Lem a different one and says that the one Lem’s holding was one he already tried out (which grosses out Lem); Chuck is naked except for a sheet around him and when he stands up, the sheet falls off. We don’t see his nudity, but Skiff and Lem do. We see Skiff looking at Chuck’s crotch and he remarks, “That’s a weird place for an antenna!”; A couple shares a passionate kiss; We see an alien woman with cleavage and another male alien looking at it, to which she gets annoyed and tries to divert his attention
from her body; Chuck tries to teach Lem how to dance and potentially sweep Neera off her feet. Chuck then dips Lem and demonstrates how he would go in to kiss her, but Skiff walks in just then, so it looks like Chuck might try to kiss (or eat) Lem. Skiff then frantically tells Lem to use the cork he gave him; Two commercial mascots (toothpaste and a toothbrush) compliment each other’s performances, and the toothbrush comments that he feels he does a better job as a suppository.

. Vulgarity/Language: 1 implied “a” word (Lem starts repeating “astronaut” but hangs on to the “*ss” sounding part really long, so Chuck jumps in and says “tronaut!”); Chuck stands on something and says, “What the-” and when he looks down and sees a rubber ducky, he quasi-finishes his exclamation with “…duck?!”

. Alcohol/Drugs: None

. Blood/Gore: We see two brains floating in jars that have been removed from two living alien bodies

. Violence: In a monster movie that the aliens are watching, a large alien attacks the planet and starts destroying things, including incinerating a few aliens; besides random comedic cartoon violence, we see a car get blown up, a soldier accidentally shoots another soldier in the leg, a group of soldiers are accidentally electrocuted; A building goes up in flames and starts to self-destruct; A little alien dog attacks a mailman who was teasing it; We see that two aliens had their brains removed (in an unseen seen) and we see their faces are all bandaged up. Later, during a scene in the credits, the two approach another man with a buzzsaw blade and tell the person they recommend getting the same surgery done; a singing, protesting hippy is pulled away by security and clubbed.