Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

As a young child, Kubo was under the protection of his mother from evil spirits. She gave her life to save him and he was left to fend for himself. He ran for his life but found himself stranded in a frozen tundra. Meeting up with a monkey and a beetle warrior, he began his search for ancient relics. While searching for the relics, they were attacked by enormous creatures and magical beasts. The magical relics make up an armor, which serves as the only protection against the havoc created by the evil gods.

Epic Love: While Kubo proved to be a great hero himself, it was the love and support of his parents that supported his ability to do so. As a young child, his parents guarded him against the evil gods, with his father giving his life while his mother was left drained of her strength. Kubo’s ability to support his mother in the cave helped him build the strength to go on the great journey. Monkey and Beetle had a deep connection with Kubo, which supported his ability to press on and challenge the gods.

Dealing with Loss: Not since Disney’s Up has an animated film tackled loss the way this one did. Rather than a couple going through life together but parting before reaching the end, a young boy has to grow up in a world where he loses both parents at a young age. His father fell out of the picture before they even got to truly know each other, while his mother struggled to protect her son from evil. While they seemingly left him too early, their spirits lived on and supported his rise as a hero.

Amazing Animation: While digital technology certainly helped to fill in the environments, animatronics and stop-motion animation brought the story to life. It takes dedication to create a film with stop-motion in an age where computer technology can animate at a quicker speed. It gave the film a grittiness that exemplified the raw emotion of its characters and the imagination of the production team.

Final Verdict: Kubo and the Two Strings was an animated feature that was missed by a number of movie-goers even though it was fantastic. The creative and imaginative story was different than most and deserves another look if you missed it the first time around.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5


At a young age, Owen seemed like a healthy, growing boy. Suddenly, at the age of 3, something dramatic changed. Owen became listless and seemed to lose his ability to speak. After getting tested, it was discovered that he had autism. While the doctors believed there was a chance his vocal abilities would never develop, his parents maintained hope. While watching The Little Mermaid, he spoke something that could have been gibberish but could have been an attempt to speak up. While it produced another spark of hope, it was not until his brother’s 9th birthday that Owen finally spoke up. The journey ahead was not going to be easy, but Owen’s family believed they could give him the great life he deserved.

The Power of Disney: While there were many factors that led to his growth and ability to overcome his disability, the animated films of Disney provided a context to connect with the world around him. Starting with the recitation of dialogue from the films, Owen used the themes and lessons from the films to express his feelings and communicate with his family. When he felt sad, Bambi’s mother or Mufasa and the canyon let him express his sadness to his parents. Iago was the sidekick he needed when he felt alone and bullied at school. Disney continues to be a bridge he uses to survive and find his happiness.

Affluence & Managing the Challenge: One of the criticisms that could be brought up about this story was the fact that the Suskinds had the means to be able to provide support for Owen’s therapy and schooling. He was even able to get an assisted-living apartment without a full-time job. The reality is that autism is a challenge for any family regardless of their means. They did not have control over the bullying at school or his heart being broken by his girlfriend. Unable to fully comprehend these challenges, it was still a major struggle to overcome those obstacles.

Life Through Storytelling: While the film’s title makes mention of the animated elements of the story, the actual story itself was crafted from Owen’s writing. For him, the sidekicks of Disney films provided motivation to show bravery, care, and compassion. His story focused on a young boy being chased by doubt and disconnect. The filmmakers took his story and animated his thoughts. Just like the greater film, it helped to exemplify the struggles of feeling lost and out of place, but it also promoted inner strength to fight for a connection to everything he cared about.

Final Thoughts: I truly loved this film. It was emotionally strong and promoted an image of autism many have never experienced. The strength of the family and of Owen individually was truly a sight to see. Watching him give the speech at the conference and experience love, loss, and recovery was truly inspiring. I believe this is a must-see film.

Dan’s Rating: 5.0/5

Max and his owner have the best relationship. She fell in love with him from the moment she found him on the street. When she leaves the apartment, he waits all day for her to return. While they seem to be the perfect pair, she chooses one day to bring home another dog from the pound. Max and Duke have quite the rough start, as they both try to assert their dominance and fight for their master’s attention and love. While at the park, Duke sees a perfect opportunity to take out the competition, but his efforts leave them both lost in the big city and at the mercy of a gang go strays. Only Gidget and Max’s other friends can come to his rescue and return him home.

What Our Pets Really Do: The start of the film was more about the life of a pet when their owner is away. While Max was focused on his owner’s return, many of the pets indulged in human activities. Chloe preferred to skip her cat food for whatever she could find in the fridge. Leonard would immediately switch his classical music to heavy metal. Gidget remained focused on her unrequited love and would watch soap operas to feed her romantic nature. Buddy would give himself a massage using the mixer in the kitchen. All of these activities would go unnoticed by their owners, including the large gatherings in Leonard’s apartment.

The Underbelly and the Strays: Two significant groups of strays were highlighted in this film. The first were the alley cats living off of the scraps and trash of the humans. They lived above the surface, unlike their counterparts, but remained feral and hostile toward domestics. The strays of the sewers were a hodgepodge group of animals neglected by owners or saved from captivity. They had a grudge against the humans and were plotting to enact their revenge through the leadership of deranged bunny named Snowball.

Appreciation: One of the most significant themes of the story was the sense of appreciation. Max loved his relationship with Katie, but he never knew how good he had it until he met Duke. While the two continued to argue throughout much of the film, their conflict allowed Max to recognize that there was a greater world out there and other animals that deserved attention. Gidget was ready to give everything she had for Max, but he hardly ever even noticed her. As max goes on his adventure, he began to realize that there was much to appreciate about his life and the opportunity to share that happiness with others.

Final Verdict: This was one of Dreamwork’s better films. The pacing was a little off at times and much of the bookends of the movie were used as promotion material in the previews, but the comedy was definitely there and the characters were quite memorable. This was a great film and would be appropriate for kids of all ages.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Having been abandoned as a child, Mowgli was found by a panther named Bagheera and left to be raised by the wolves. Old enough to learn the ways of the wolves, Mowgli struggled to stay with the pack, but he also attracted the attention of the tiger, Shere Khan. With the jungle tiger seeking to kill the human child, Mowgli decides to leave the wolves and go off on his own path. An attack from Shere Khan splits Mowgli off away from Bagheera, leaving Mowgli to fend for himself. The dangers of the jungle are all around him, as he has to face off against the dangers of snakes, monkeys, and bears.

Impressive Performance from Young Talent: Neel Sethi stars as Mowgli in this adaptation of the original story. Considering that he is the only human character featured and with dialogue, it is impressive to watch his performance. There are a small group of humans seen midway through the film, but they are in the distance and appear more as shadows in contrast to the bonfire they surround. Neel’s performance was essentially created amongst a bunch of puppets and people in costumes to eventually get converted into CGI. This is likely the start to an impressive young career.

Not Your Child’s Jungle Book Story: In comparison to the Disney cartoon, this film takes a significantly more serious tone. Shere Khan was on the hunt for Mowgli to capture and kill the only human in the jungle and to enact revenge for Mowgli’s father scarring Khan’s face. The Water Truce provided safety from predator-prey relationships, but the fear of Khan’s brutality allowed him to still pursue her vengeance regardless of who he manipulated or harmed. King Louie also was not quite the fun-loving, singing king of the monkeys. Not getting his way meant danger for Mowgli and his friends.

Balance Tone w/ Music: While the film took a more serious tone, Disney was able to find a way to infuse a couple of the musical interludes to lighten the mood. Ball was certainly an option to toss in Bear Necessities. Since he was voiced by Bill Murray, there was a comical tone to his character clear from the introduction. While floating down the river, it was the perfect time to break into song. For King Louie, Christopher Walken’s voice was a bit odd for the giant orangutan, and his version of the song was less flowing than the original. Instead, his version had a more sinister tone. Scarlett Johannson also provided her own rendition of Trust in Me.

Final Verdict: This is not a Disney films for little kids. The darker tone and mildly violent themes make this a story for a slightly more mature audience. Still, the characters are very memorable and the storytelling is on-point.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

mns_scarlet1sht_rgb_0126_1_0Back at the beginning, the Minions always looked for a master to serve. Whether it was a caveman, dinosaur, or evil dictator, they were incomplete without a leader. After being on their own for a period of time, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob set out to try to find that perfect new person to serve. After a long hike and an eventful hitchhiking trip, the Minions find themselves at Villain Con. A series of events leads them to following back super villain Scarlett Overkill back to London and into a plot to steal the Queen’s crown. While the rest of the Minions wait to hear the good news, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob try their best not to disappoint their new master.

Review: After the previous success of the Despicable Me films, it was only a matter of time before this story was told. Unfortunately, there was a bit too much of it told in the previews to make the actual film enjoyable to watch. The cast was definitely filled with some serious stars. Sandra Bullock played Scarlett Overkill and was assisted by Jon Hamm as Herb. The combo seemed to work well for the story but also felt somewhat familiar with the characters from the first Despicable Me film. The more interesting combination was actually Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as the Nelsons. While a little extra creepy, there seemed to be more to their development than the main villains. Pierre Coffin supplied the voice of the Minions.

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Back to the original point, the preview truly did ruin the excitement of the film. The entire opening set of scenes to display the progression of the Minions’ movement from one leader to another was fully on display in the preview. There was not a single leader left out, and the abominable snowman and his yetis were ruined as well. There was not much more to the plot than the Minions finding Scarlett and stealing the crown. While there was a little more to the story, the buildup just seemed incomplete. There are mixed feelings about having a large portion of the dialogue sounding like gibberish, but the truth is that the laziness of the script and the familiarity of the plot led to the staleness of this spinoff.

Minions could have been a more significant player during a summer of other sequels, reboots, and spinoffs. Instead, it felt like nothing new was added to the Despicable Me universe.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5

cinderella-2015-poster-691x1024Coming from a loving household, Ella grew up believing in magic and the power of kindness. After losing her mother, she and her father struggled for a bit, but were able to continue with life. After checking with her about finding love once again, Ella happily accepts a new stepmother into her life. While rough around the edges, Ella maintains her strength and kindness. Her father leaves on a business trip, but word eventually comes back that he fell ill and passed. With her stepmother worried about the finances, she releases all of the help and reduces Ella to a servant girl. Flustered by all of the evil of her stepmother and stepsisters throw her way, she jumps on a horse and rides off into the forest. Running into a member of the royal party, she is infatuated, but she rides off without giving her name. After the king and prince announce that their ball will be open to all women of the kingdom, Ella get excited about the prospect of finding her new friend again.

Review: Taking another stab at this classic fairytale, Disney tossed up Kenneth Branagh to direct this new version. Led by the lovely Lily James (Ella), she exuded grace, honor, and strength through her performance. Although it seemed unreasonable for her to stay so kind in the face of such hate, it was an adaptation of a child’s fairytale. Cate Blanchett (Stepmother) certainly played up the evil card. Her performance was unyielding. The overall acting seemed to be a push and pull between kindness and strength versus dishonesty, selfishness, and evil.

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In this new adaptation, there was a focus on the time before Ella’s life was overtaken by her stepmother and stepsisters. Although a bit rushed, her parents were introduced and both fell ill within the first third of the film. Her mother’s illness seemed a little overly sudden and too quick in transition from seemingly perfect health to deathbed, while her father’s death happened with him separated from his daughter. It also seemed a little implausible that her father would have fallen in love with such a horrid woman. Regardless, the rest of the film moved at a much slower pace, taking its time with building up the fanfare of the ball, introducing the passing of the king, and starting the search for the girl with the glass slippers. The animation for the diary godmother’s transformations for Ella’s trip to the ball and as the magic wore off was entertaining.

This may have been one of the best recent adaptations of a fairytale in the past several year.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

maleficent-posterAs a young girl, a fairy named Maleficent was a member of the mystical society of the Moors. Though their society lived in peace, there was a growing threat from the human kingdom. One of the humans wandered into the Moors and befriended Maleficent. Over the years, there relationship grew and they shared a love that remained in secret from the human kingdom. Years later, their relationship is diminished, with both lovers reverting back to their own worlds. King Henry finally decides to attack the Moors and take over the land, but he fails to prepare for the power of Maleficent and her army. On his death bed, he convinces the best men of the kingdom to kill the evil fairy, to which Stefan takes the task. While he fails to kill her, he tranquilizes her and steals her wings. Getting her vengeance, Maleficent travels to the human kingdom on the christening of the Princess Aurora and places an enchantment of eternal sleep on the child upon her 16th birthday. With a distraught and obsessive king left to fret over Aurora’s fate, Maleficent watches from a close distance to monitor the misery she has created.

Starring: Angelina Jolie (Maleficent), Elle Fanning (Aurora), Sharito Copley (Stefan), Lesley Manville (Flittle), Imelda Staunton (Knotgrass), Juno Temple (Thistletwit), Sam Riley (Diaval), Brenton Thwaites (Prince Phillip), Kenneth Cranham (King Henry), Hannah New (Princess Leila), Isobelle Molloy (Young Maleficent), Michael Higgins (Young Stefan)

This was a film made to feature Jolie. She worked to practice her voice for Maleficent with her children prior to performing the role. She provided a certain level of creepiness to the wicked fairy, which played in contrast to the performance of the younger Molloy’s more sweet and innocent persona. Fanning was mostly one-dimensional, though her character was meant to always be happy and cheerful. When the story took a dark turn, she provided a glimpse of sadness and emotional range. Copley certainly displayed obsession extremely well but was a little over the top at times.

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Unlike the original release of the character through the animated Sleeping Beauty, Robert Stromberg’s re-imagination placed Maleficent at the center of the story and not as the villain she was originally portrayed to be. Maleficent grew up an innocent creature. She lived in harmony with the other fairies and mystical beings. Stefan’s appearance started the change, in that it dropped her guard while Stefan still craved the success and status of the human kingdom. Though King Henry’s attack failed, it did open the door for Stefan to strike an unaware Maleficent and steal her wings. Crippling her from flight, she refocused her energy and magic into darkness and took vengeance on Stefan through his daughter. While she intended to cause harm and turmoil, she never expected to fall in love with the young Aurora…much less want to save her from the enchantment.

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The story was not always balanced, as certain periods transitioned a little unevenly, but the most compelling part of the story was the relationship that developed between Maleficent and Aurora. While the original story does not have them with such a significant connection, this film allowed the young girl to misinterpret Maleficent’s involvement in her life as if she was a fairy godmother. While she was half right, Aurora was unaware that Maleficent originally was trying to prolong Aurora’s life to the point that the enchantment would take place. Eventually, Maleficent actually feels guilty about the spell and tried to cancel it (to no effect). The struggle was in significant contrast to Stefan’s obsession and was more compelling in nearly every way.

While the film was not perfect, it was very entertaining. The story is much darker than the PG rating would suggestion and may not be good for kids under 10. This was an interesting re-imagination of the classic story and should not be missed.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5