"Gnomeo & Juliet" Blu-Ray Review


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.

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

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:

. 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


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.

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

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:

. 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

Wanted: Rapunzel

A slideshow featuring the concept sketches and drawings for Mother Gothel:

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


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


Activity Pages!
Download Printable Activities!

Clips from the bonus material & fun facts!


Hair Trouble (Bonus):

Alternate Opening (Bonus- Deleted Scene):

Naming Pascal (Bonus):

Fun Fact #1:

Fun Fact #2:

The Princess & The Frog

Planet 51

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

Plot Summary

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

Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

Blu-Ray Special Features Review

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

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

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

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

– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 3/21/10)

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

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

. Vulgarity/Language: None.

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

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

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

Alice In Wonderland

Alice In Wonderland

– for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor.
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover
Theatrical Release Date: March 5, 2010
Running Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Official Site

Plot Summary

Planet 51From Walt Disney Pictures and visionary director Tim Burton comes an epic 3D fantasy adventure “Alice in Wonderland,” a magical and imaginative twist on some of the most beloved stories of all time. Johnny Depp stars as the Mad Hatter and Mia Wasikowska as 19-year-old Alice, who returns to the whimsical world she first encountered as a young girl, reuniting with her childhood friends: the White Rabbit, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, and of course, the Mad Hatter. Alice embarks on a fantastical journey to find her true destiny and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror. (from MovieWeb.com)

Film Review

For as long as I can remember, director Tim Burton has been making fantastical films with a dark signature feel in a way that few other directors can deliver. Burton’s latest big screen venture reunites him with actor Johnny Depp for a fourth time in their careers, in the form of a live action sequel to the classic story, Alice In Wonderland. Maintaining the same title, the story revolves around a 20-year-old Alice who returns to Wonderland at both a crucial point in her life as well as the magical place’s.

We’ve seen Johnny Depp portray colorful characters in the past as Jack Sparrow and Burton’s reimagination of Willy Wonka, so having Depp perform as the mentally adrift Mad Hatter shouldn’t be too tall of an order. And within the first few moments Depp is seen as the looney hero, it’s confirmed that the actor is an inspired choice for the role. Depp performs the Hatter with believability, charm, and a whimsical charisma that may even best his previous stint as Wonka. The cast that surrounds the enchanting actor is just as strong. Crispin “George McFly” Glover returns to the big screen as Stayne, the creepy righthand man of The Red Queen, who is marvelously portrayed as a bigheaded menace by the always reliable Helen Bonham Carter. Anne Hathaway seems to tap into her childhood Princess fantasies for The White Queen, serving as an adequate foe for Carter (who is never outshined by Hathaway). A strong array of voice actors round out the rest of the cast, including wonderful performances from Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat, Michael Sheen as White Rabbit, and Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar.

Burton has a knack for telling imaginative stories and so he makes a great fit as director for Alice In Wonderland. But as with most of his films, his take on Alice In Wonderland is mostly very, very dark and rather twisted. While it’s probably closer to the likes of Annie when compared to the brutally dark and macabre Corpse Bride, Burton’s Alice is almost not kid friendly. I do remember seeing films of this nature as a kid and liking them – although being a bit terrified of certain aspects – however Alice In Wonderland is not suitable for the younger audience. There’s a decent amount of violence and some creepy creatures, including menacing giant vulture-like birds, a huge dog-like beast, and the dragon-like Jabberwocky which probably gives the film its most intense moments. There’s a little bit of blood when Alice gets scraped on the arm by a beast, and we see dismembered fingers get pulled out of a jar and dumped into a potion brew. A character also slices off a monster’s tongue, and we see an eyeball get plucked from another creature’s face by way of a small sword. Finally, we see a monster’s head get sliced off and
roll down a large flight of stairs (yeah, it’s as gross as that might sound).

One gripe I had with Burton’s Alice In Wonderland is that, in order for the filmmaker to create
the Wonderland he wanted, much of it is entirely computer generated. Many similar fantasy films that I grew up on – The Neverending Story, for example – seemed to go to great lengths to ground the setting in a tangible way. With most CGI-heavy films, a certain element of realism is always lost, and I feel that Burton’s Wonderland suffers some from this. Whether he wanted it to be as dreamlike as Alice believes it to be or not, there seemed too many times when the effects seemed to rob some scenes of maybe further potency. This may largely be due, however, to the 3D element that some theaters will have. Because it makes a lot of the characters and scenery pop out, it makes it a bit more obvious that the real-life actors aren’t actually part of the fantastical world that the movie places them in. It makes me wonder how the film would look in 2D instead, without the effect. The film does play up some of the 3D aspects as well, giving the audience a short scene where we follow a giant bird swooping through the sky, and of course, things do tend to fly towards the screen at us. It wasn’t the worst 3D out there, but it’s not a film that really needed this effect at all.

Overall, I thought Burton did a great job bringing a lot of life and character to the story. He spends a great deal of time developing the characters which helps draw the audience in and make things more relatable. The fairly unknown Mia Wasikowska does a great job as Alice, sort of coming across as a younger Gwenyth Paltrow in the process. Mia was a great choice for the lead and she helped carry the story along nicely.

Although I can’t recommend this Alice In Wonderland story to all ages, it is indeed an entertaining and enjoyable fantasy that older children and fans of the original should enjoy. It’s a well-directed, well-played, and imaginative film that certainly isn’t for everyone, but is likely to especially appease the most devoted Burton fans.

– Review date: 3/4/10; Written by John DiBiase

Parental Guide: Quick Summary of Content

. Sex/Nudity: Alice stumbles upon her brother-in-law briefly making out with another woman at a party

. Vulgarity/Language: None

. Alcohol/Drugs: The Caterpillar is usually seen smoking a hookah pipe which makes lots of smoke surround him and those around him

. Blood/Gore: We see three bloody scratches on Alice’s arm, which later are seen again and look more severe; We see a mouse stick a monster’s eye with a small sword and pluck the eye from the creature’s head. We later see the eyeball by itself; We see a jar of severed fingers and The White Queen takes two of them out of the jar (we see the severed part of the finger, too) and put them into a potion; We see a sword slice off a monster’s tongue; A monster’s head is cut off and we see the decapitated head fall off and flop down a long flight of stairs before landing on the ground below. We later see a closeup of the monster’s head again.

. Violence: The Red Queen uses the phrase “Off with their head!” a lot, and while we don’t actually see any beheadings, we do see and hear her send several characters to be executed; A large beast chases Alice; The Red Queen plays a kind of golf with a live flamingo as a club and a tied up porcupine as a ball; We see a flashback where the Jabborwocky and Stayne torch The White Queen’s place and steal her crown; Two small characters are snatched up by a giant bird and carried off to The Red Queen; We see a large battle between the people of the Red and White Queen while someone battles the Jabborwocky; A monster’s head and tongue are cut off; A mouse stabs Alice in the foot with a tiny sword to help her realize she’s not dreaming; A crazed rabbit throws stuff