"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

"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

"Despicable Me" Review

despicable-me

Planet 51

– for Rude humor and mild action.
Director: Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud
Starring: voices of Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand
Theatrical Release Date: July 9, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Official Site

Plot Summary

Shrek 4In a happy suburban neighborhood surrounded by white picket fences with flowering rose bushes, sits a black house with a dead lawn. Unbeknownst to the neighbors, hidden beneath this home is a vast secret hideout. Surrounded by a small army of minions, we discover Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), planning the biggest heist in the history of the world. He is going to steal the moon (Yes, the moon!) in Universal’s new 3-D CGI feature, “Despicable Me.” (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

It’s intriguing how deceiving movie trailers (previews) can be. So far this year, three of the less impressive trailers – for How To Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3, and Despicable Me – have turned out to represent some of the best animated movies to come along in awhile (and some of the best movies this year, period). The most recent, the awkwardly titled Despicable Me (I’d love to hear a little child try to pronounce this one) didn’t look super promising from its hit-and-miss advertisements. However, the truth is quite the opposite as Despicable Me easily joins the aforementioned titles as some of the most fun you’ll have at the movie theater with the family this year.

Despicable Me takes a devious, dark-souled character with aspirations for being the world’s greatest villain named Gru, and teams him with three quirky orphan girls who he meets one day while they’re out trying to sell cookies to raise money for their orphanage. When Gru gets the inspiration to use them to help his dastardly plans of stealing the moon, he finds parenthood an unlikely kink in his ingenious plan. This was one theme that the trailers didn’t divulge in great detail, but it’s quite a huge plot element — the potential greatest villain in the world suddenly finds himself a father — and it stirs up emotions within him he never knew he had. The film then touches on his own childhood a little bit, giving the audience some insight into why Gru may be up to his no-good trickery. But with most of his “evil” ways, we see that he really isn’t all that good at being bad, and this becomes an important lesson in the story that redeems the potentially dark thematics that the title and premise might suggest.

And that lighter tone can be attributed greatly to the ensemble of little yellow overall-suited minions that accompany Gru in his quest. The minions can probably most closely be compared to the three-eyed little green aliens from Toy Story, but are given a lot more character and personality individually. They do, however, cause a lot of mischief, some that might be imitated by children — like poking each other, punching each other in the arm hard, or, in the worst case, photocopying their butts and giggling at the print-out. Still, everything from their look to their voices make all of their scenes highlights of the film. But to Steve Carell’s credit, the comedian does an absolutely fantastic job voicing the lead, Gru. Carell gives the pseudo-super-villain a quirky and believable European accent that makes the character sinister and lovable sometimes simultaneously. Carell puts his usual spunk into the performance and even though it seldom sounds like him, fans of his will still be able to locate the actor’s voice beneath the guise of the accent. Julie Andrews does a nice job as Gru’s mom, while crude comedian Russell Brand (he just starred in the R-rated Get Him To The Greek) is sufficient as Dr. Nefario. Miranda Cosgrove heads up the oldest of the three orphan girls, while little Elsie Fisher voices the smallest orphan, Agnes, who’s positively adorable every time she shows up or says something. Between Agnes, the minions, and Carell as Gru, these ingredients alone help make this a strong and fun film.


Really, the only downside to Despicable Me, in any form, is in the chief villain Vector. He’s supposed to be a big, goofy nerd, but he’s usually more irritating than funny (The “Oh yeaaaah!” that he says in the trailer isn’t funny then, and it isn’t funny by the fourth or fifth time he says it in the movie). Perhaps this is mostly due to Jason Segel (who is most known for crude comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or I Love You Man) and his vocal performance of the character, as he plays up the nerdy angle, but Vector isn’t one of those villains you love to hate; you’re likely to just hate him.

Ultimately, Despicable Me is very much a pro-family film that injects a lot of heart – unexpectedly, even – into an outrageously silly and therefore fun movie. Also, there’s a cute little moment where we see the girls praying one night before going to bed at the orphanage. It wasn’t overtly spiritual, but it’s the kind of thing you don’t see in many family movies these days, so it was fun and cute to see.

Despite the dismal title, heart and fun abound in Illumination Entertainment’s freshman release, Despicable Me. It’s fun, it’s silly, and it just might tug at your heartstrings.

– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/11/10)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: We see a bunch of minions giggling around a Xerox machine. We then see one of the minions has his overalls around his waist as he’s sitting on the copier’s scanner and the minions keep saying “butt” and giggling. We then see color copies of the minion’s butt cheeks as they giggle about it.

. Vulgarity/Language: None. (Just a couple uses of “oh poop!”

. Alcohol/Drugs: While the news is talking about the world’s greatest attractions needing to be guarded, we see a hick guarding a gigantic can of beer with a shotgun.

. Blood/Gore: None. We do see a closet with huge spikes close on one of the little children with red blood-like liquid pouring out of the bottom of the box, but it turns out that one of the spikes pierced her juicebox (so that was juice, not blood) and she’s totally fine.

. Violence: Lasers and missiles and even a shark attack Gru when he tries to get into Vector’s hideout; A character kidnaps the children, one nearly falls from a great height; Gru’s dog is kind of vicious and seems to threaten to attack people, but we only see it bite Gru’s arm once (played for laughs); Gru uses his freeze ray on customers in a coffee shop; Gru crashes his car into other cars to make a space for his huge vehicle; Lots of dangerous, sharp, lethal weapons are spread across Gru’s house; A closet with huge spikes close on one of the little children with red blood-like liquid pouring out of the bottom of the box, but it turns out that one of the spikes pierced her juicebox (so that was juice, not blood) and she’s totally fine; Vector has a gun that shoots live piranha and one attacks him; and other assorted cartoon, comedic violence

Toy Story 3

toystory3

Planet 51

– for not containing material to warrant a higher rating.
Director: Lee Unkrich
Starring: voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Michael Keaton
Theatrical Release Date: June 18, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Official Site

Plot Summary

Shrek 4Toy Story 3 welcomes Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), Buzz (voice of Tim Allen) and the whole gang back to the big screen as Andy prepares to depart for college and his loyal toys find themselves in… day care! These untamed tots with their sticky little fingers do not play nice, so it’s all for one and one for all as plans for the great escape get underway. (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

It’s kind of amazing to ponder the fact that the very first Pixar animated film, as well as the very first Toy Story film, landed fifteen years ago in 1995. The year debuted a new series and film studio that would capture the hearts of children and film fans for a decade and a half. The success of the endearing tale about toys that come to life when humans aren’t watching them spawned the arguably even better sequel in 1999, and the legacy of the Toy Story characters and franchise was made greater. Since then, a third chapter in the toys’ story was attempted at least once before by Disney – actually without Pixar’s team, even! – but thankfully, the original animation studio wouldn’t let the film be made by just anybody and eleven years after the last sequel, we finally are given the long awaited Toy Story 3.

It’s no secret that anticipation is high for a second sequel. Any child who loved either of the first two is eleven years older and the franchise will hold special nostalgia for them. In addition to those already in love with the characters, Toy Story 3 is armed and ready to win over an entirely new generation of Buzz and Woody fans – even to some children of the fans of the original film! But like any memorable trilogy in film history, Pixar takes Toy Story out with a rousing, climactic, and amazingly emotional finish. With each film, the set pieces and action, and even humor have been boosted, and Toy Story 3 wraps it all up in a nice little bow. Whether or not this really is the toys’ last ride remains to be seen, but Pixar doesn’t seem to be nearly as cash hungry as DreamWorks to just sloppily force out one Toy Story movie after another – as DW has done with Shrek – so they might actually do well to let this be it.

When Toy Story 3 begins, time has passed about as much for the characters as it has for the fans of the films. While the toys themselves don’t look as though they’ve shown a ton of aging or wear, we’ve found that Andy has graduated high school and is about to leave for college, his mom has aged accordingly, and even the family dog is old and having trouble getting around. Anyone who’s followed the Story may start to feel the growing pains of passing time as much as these characters do. The toys haven’t been played with in years and when they find themselves in a daycare surrounded by children, [most] of the toys have some renewed hope. But as can be expected, things are not all that they seem to be at Sunnyside Daycare, and Andy’s toys find themselves to be prisoners in their new home. Toy Story 3 is primarily about family, friendship, and growing older, and the plot ends up becoming much like an escape or prison break adventure. It’s also the most thematically heavy of the trilogy, which is not only its strength but possibly its only weakness. Some of the film’s events border on going too overboard with where the toys find themselves, which also leads to some moments that are so unbelievably emotional, you’re likely to be baffled as to how in the world we can care so stinkin’ much for fictional inanimate plastic figurines (and we DO!). But because Toy Story 3 possesses ample amounts of heart and sentiment, it won’t be a Story that fans of the franchise will soon forget.

It’s fun to follow Woody, Buzz and their friends on the adventures they experience throughout this trilogy, and it’s surreal to see them all together for a much different outing. Because the plot focuses a great deal on the prospect of them being discarded and trying to break out from the Daycare, there are quite a few dark, heavy, and even creepy scenes. The two creepiest characters include a worn out one-droopy-eyed baby doll that only coos like an infant (which is a little reminiscent of the doll head from the first film) and a cymbal monkey that screams and is only shown in dimly lit settings. While these moments aren’t quite as ominous or unsettling as some found in other animated films, they’re still likely to give some kids the willies, while other children still may even just have a hard time seeing their favorite toys go through some pretty intense stuff. The aforementioned overtly emotional, potentially over-the-top intense sequence is also so harrowing, it’s almost shocking that the studio let the story go there (i.e. taking our little toys to such dark and dangerous situations). There were a few moments I half-expected to have turned out to be imagined by a child or be a dream sequence because of how unexpected and fantastical they become. At the same time, it’s impressive to realize how Pixar can even make their audience care this much!


The potentially objectionable content of Toy Story 3 is limited to some brief, slightly borderline rude humor (mainly the flirtatious behavior between Ken and Barbie, or Ken’s awkward flamboyance), and a great deal of action, toy-related kinds of violence. But several scenes do threaten the very existence of Andy’s toys and include dark, menacingly lit villains which take the film to some pretty intense levels at times. It’s enough to want to consider when it comes to bringing the littler ones.

If you’re wondering whether to see this in 2D or 3D, we did see this in 3D and I found that, while it looks pretty and offered a neat effect at times, it was completely unneeded for the film and its plot. In fact, I got so used to the effect it brought to the look of the movie that it was very easy to even forget it was supposed to be 3D at all. Thankfully, Pixar did NOT gratuitously take advantage of the 3D technology to just feed the gimmick, so it probably won’t make a huge difference whether this is viewed in 2D or 3D.

When all is said and done, Pixar Animation Studios is still batting a thousand, delivering yet another solid feature film to the big screen. It may take another couple viewings to make the call whether it bests its predecessors, but for now, Toy Story 3 is a very funny, welcomed addition to a beloved franchise that will be as difficult to see conclude here as it is for Andy to choose the future of his famed childhood toys.

– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/18/10)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: None. There is some playful flirting between Ken and Barbie, but nothing explicitly offensive or crude. Bookworm thinks he’s talking to Ken dressed up completely as an astronaut. When who he thinks is Ken turns around and walks away, Bookworm spots that the person is wearing pink high heels (it’s Barbie in the suit), and just rolls his eyes (thinking Ken is just weird or even gay)

. Vulgarity/Language: None.

. Alcohol/Drugs: None.

. Blood/Gore: None.

. Violence: Lots of G-rated action violence. Some toys knock down, restrain, tie up, and beat up other toys. Some toys threaten to dispose of other toys. One toy tries to let some toys in peril possibly go to their deaths instead of save them, and other assorted violence. Children violently play with their toys (SPOILERS: We see some toys narrowly escape a garbage truck garbage compactor. Later we see some toys narrowly escape being shredded. Then later again, we see them narrowly escape being incinerated)

Shrek Forever After

shrek4

Planet 51

– for mild action, some rude humor and brief language.
Director: Mike Mitchell
Starring: voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas
Theatrical Release Date: May 21, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Official Site

Plot Summary

Shrek 4After challenging an evil dragon, rescuing a beautiful princess and saving your in-laws’ kingdom, what’s an ogre to do? Well, if you’re Shrek, you suddenly wind up a domesticated family man. Instead of scaring villagers away like he used to, a reluctant Shrek now agrees to autograph pitch forks. What’s happened to this ogre’s roar? Longing for the days when he felt like a “real ogre,” Shrek is duped into signing a pact with the smooth-talking dealmaker, Rumpelstiltskin. Shrek suddenly finds himself in a twisted, alternate version of Far Far Away, where ogres are hunted, Rumpelstiltskin is king and Shrek and Fiona have never met. Now, it’s up to Shrek to undo all he’s done in the hopes of saving his friends, restoring his world and reclaiming his one True Love. (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

It’s no secret that since the success of Shrek 2 in 2004, the series has gone down hill. Because of the first sequel’s smash hit status, the studio had talked about the possibility of eight – count ‘em – eight more Shrek films. While that sounded excessive, it was understood that if each film could deliver like the first two did, the series would be a welcomed franchise. However, when Shrek The Third was served in 2007, the film not only seemed to fall unwanted upon Shrek-ed out moviegoers, but the film itself was widely viewed as a disappointment, and the series came to a screeching halt. The talk of multiple sequels quieted, while plans for the fourth had already been underway. By the time buzz began to build for the fourth installment, promotion for the film began to center on the idea that this movie would indeed be Shrek’s final chapter. What had begun as a beloved series has somehow become sort of an exhausted trend.

To properly prepare for watching Shrek Forever After, I rewatched the previous films in one evening. The story has a good progression and maturation of the character of Shrek, but the best of the bunch is still easily the first sequel, Shrek 2. That film took what people loved about the first film, shook it up and made it even more fantastical. It introduced Antonio Banderas’ beloved Puss In Boots as well as Fiona’s parents – voiced by Julie Andrews and John Cleese (how awesome is that?!). Shrek The Third was the beginning of the end. It didn’t feel very much like the previous films, and it sort of approached the story from the misguided mind set that “bigger is better.” And sadly, that is not the case. Yet, while they tried to throw the kitchen sink into the third film, the Shrek series had begun to lose its gusto. Shrek himself was becoming domesticated, losing the elements of his character that made people fall in love with him in the first place. Plus, part of what made the Shrek films so much fun was the dynamic between Shrek and Donkey (wonderfully voiced by Eddie Murphy). With Shrek The Third and Shrek Forever After, that dynamic is horribly missing or diminished and the films suffer because of it. The other major problem is the change in directors in the later two sequels. The first two films were co-directed by Andrew Adamson, while the latest two were handed over to completely different teams. The end result certainly shows it.

Shrek Forever After picks up less than a year after where Shrek The Third left off. Shrek is starting to feel suffocated by his domesticated lifestyle and is tired of the monotony of parenthood and his star status in the kingdom. He merely wishes to live life as an ogre again. This is where Rumpelstiltskin comes in. The series throws out the reality that Rumpelstiltskin appeared as a scrawny, entirely different character in Shrek The Third, and expects no one to notice this and accept the fact that this little weasel has been lurking in the background of the story since the events of the first Shrek. It’s not a major continuity error, but it’s really one of the only significant continuity errors in the four-film series. Upon making a deal with the devil (so to speak), Shrek follows in the footsteps of George Bailey for a sort of It’s A Wonderful Life meets Back To The Future 2 – experiencing what life would have been like if the events of the first film never even happened, and he experiences an alternate reality. Of course, in this tale, it’s no angel trying to make him realize how much worth is in his life, instead we have a villain that threaten’s Shrek’s very existence.

The movie has a completely different feel out of the gate. For one, it’s much, much darker – even darker than the third film. Also, as we watch Shrek struggle a domesticated life as a husband and father, it no longer feels like a Shrek film. And when his world is turned upside down, not even the alternate Far Far Away feels like a Shrek film. In an attempt to be fresh and new, somehow Fiona became some sort of barbarian ogre outlaw while a large race of more-hideous-than-the-next-guy horde of ogres that for some reason exist just because Shrek didn’t save the princess and don’t exist if he did? While the idea of Donkey never knowing Shrek or Puss somehow becoming Fiona’s pet and therefore being fat and lazy (a fat, orange, lazy cat… Garfield, anyone?) sounds rather humorous on paper, in the context of the Shrek series, I would think fans would want to see their favorite characters in action one more time as themselves and not as almost entirely different characters. The premise has its moments, but ultimately, it’s pretty humorless and all-around disappointing. I found myself waiting for the story to become more fun or exciting, but I felt like I had seen most of this movie already in the trailer. The trailer offered almost all of the film’s funniest moments, and I didn’t find the trailer all that funny to begin with. In the first movie, Shrek is a grumpy ogre who has to deal with circumstances beyond his control. He has an unlikely partnership with a talkative Donkey and entertainment ensues. In Shrek Forever After, Shrek is a ultimately a sad, lovable big guy going through some sort of mid-life crisis, forced to try to find a way to get his life back to the way it was before he met Rumple. These just don’t feel like the same characters.


The content of Shrek Forever After is the most mild of all the Shrek films. Because Shrek is now a big green warm fuzzy teddy bear, most of his attitude and sass is gone. The only language in the film – a “h*ll” and a use of the “a” word – are both uttered by Donkey, with both either coming out very quick or a bit obscured by Donkey’s delivery. There is a little bit of crude humor, but most of it is especially mild compared to the previous films. We see what looks like a feminine male witch who makes eyes towards Fiona’s father (who is repulsed by this), while a male ogre named Cookie acts pretty flamboyant. A few minor comments are also made – like, for example, Donkey starts picking up a scent and saying it smells “delicious” and Shrek, thinking Donkey is talking about Fiona, scolds him for talking about his wife that way (really, Donkey is smelling and describing food). The film has some violence – mostly nonlethal action violence and the throwing of knives and axes, but nothing outrageously violent.

All in all, Shrek Forever After successfully wraps up the series in a neat little bow, but does it in a pretty bizarre and lackluster way. This hardly feels like the same Shrek we fell in love with nearly a decade ago. While some can say Shrek matured over the course of the series, the fact remains that the ingredients that made the franchise start out so strongly died with the conclusion of the second film. Switching directors halfway through the four films certainly took its toll on the third and fourth chapters (and an inexperienced writer for this one doesn’t help either). Shrek Forever After was helmed, curiously, by Mike Mitchell, whose credits include the atrocious Surviving Christmas and the adult-themed Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Whatever made the studio pick Mitchell to finish off a beloved family series is beyond me. Diehard Shrek fans may just be content enough getting one more outing with some of their favorite characters, but considering how many changes have taken place and how much little time we get with the actual characters we love here, even they are likely to be disappointed. Shrek Forever After is entertaining enough, but for anyone wishing for the enchantment from the first two films will be sorely disappointed. The series probably should have ended six years ago. If a fifth film somehow finds its way into production, let’s all hope DreamWorks goes back to the drawing board and returns the series to what worked in the first place.

– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/21/10)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: We see a feminine looking male witch make eyes at the King who responds in disgust; Shrek tries to get Donkey to follow Fiona’s scent. Donkey refuses, but when he describes a smell he DOES pick up, Shrek thinks it’s Fiona, but Donkey really is smelling food. When Donkey says he smells something “delicious,” Shrek irritatedly fires back, “Hey! That’s my wife you’re talking about!”; Fiona’s outfit shows some cleavage throughout the duration of the film; Puss asks Donkey to lick his back for him. Donkey refuses untile Puss gives him the big-eyed cute look and then he agrees. They’re interrupted before Donkey could do it though; We see Shrek in just a towel or shorts several times; Several of the male ogres have bare chests

. Vulgarity/Language: 1 “h*ll,” 1 “a” word.

. Alcohol/Drugs: We see Shrek drinking eyeball martinis several times; Shrek and Rumple drink martinis together; We see ogres drinking in a bar, etc

. Blood/Gore: We see eyeballs in Shrek’s martinis and in a bowl. Donkey also makes them stick out of his nose.

. Violence: Some action violence. We see ogres training and throwing knives and axes; Fiona and Shrek get into a training brawl together, even punching each other in the face a few times; A bunch of witches attack Shrek with apple and pumpkin smoke bombs and iron skulls attached to chains and drag him through the air; We see some characters chained up; Shrek runs around scaring people and enjoying it; a dragon attacks some people and threatens to eat them; and other comedic violence

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