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{Review} Disney’s Frozen Warms The Heart

FrozenMovieReviewIf your Thanksgiving plans include taking the family to see a movie, Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen (PG), should be one of your choices on your list.  My family was invited to a complimentary early screening and found it to be delightful.

Loosely based on the Hans Christian Anderson, The Snow Queen, it tells the tale of the two princesses of Arendelle, Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) and Anna (voice of Kristen Bell). Elsa is endowed with magical powers that allow her to create snow and ice with the flick of a wrist, which can be quite fun when you are a little girl. Her unendowed little sister, unfortunately, is accidentally struck by this magic and injured, thus causing Elsa to withdraw and become a recluse so as not to risk injuring her sister or anyone else again. As part of the cure, Anna does not remember the incident and doesn’t understand why her sister is avoiding her.

Flash forward several years to when the sisters come of age, and there is a big ball. No one is aware of Elsa’s big secret — until she becomes upset and accidentally sets off winter in her town of Arendelle. The townspeople fear her, proclaim her a witch and she runs off. Anna, who though clumsy and naive at times is no insipid princess, bravely takes after her sister despite the frigid conditions. Along the way she encounters a rugged ice harvester named Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) with his faithful reindeer Sven, and a magical snowman (created by Elsa when they were children) named Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) as well as a variety of other characters I won’t mention for fear of spoiling some vital plot points.

What would a Disney movie review be without discussing the merits of the princesses themselves? Elsa, burdened with her magic, never gets to fall into the mold of falling in love with a prince. She leads a lonely life. But she has a wonderfully cathartic song, “Let It Go” that will surely become a top song this year. Anna, makes many mistakes, but also shows remarkable self-reliance for a young woman who has been sheltered all her life. Ultimately she is a princess who does the rescuing, not the other way around.

To be honest, I’m not a “musicals” kind of person, so I’m not the right person to evaluate the songs and music in the movie. There were quite a few songs in this movie. “Let It Go” was really the only one that captured me, but with music from Tony® winner Robert Lopez (“The Book of Mormon,” “Avenue Q”) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (“In Transit”), there are surely other songs that will end up being popular on the radio or iTunes.

What I do know is 3D. The animation, which we saw in 3D, is beautiful and I highly recommend watching it in the 3D version. The snow and individual snow flakes are stunning. The sheen of the ice is impressive. Additionally, there is a Mickey Mouse short before the movie that you will enjoy more if you see it in 3D.

There are a few scary scenes (a snow monster, chase scenes, wolves, fighting) and a few mildly coarse jokes (a lot of references to butts), but overall, I was comfortable with my 7- and 9-year-old kids being there and I’m fairly conservative about what my children watch.  This trailer will give you a pretty good idea of the kind of stuff you will see.


Frozen opens in theaters today.

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the movie you can:

Also, enjoy this snowflake cutting template with your kids (PDF format) from Disney. Frozen Snowflake Activity

 The PR Company for Walt Disney Animation Studios provided my family with four tickets to the advanced screening to the movie, but as always, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

{Review} Disney’s Planes in 3D Takes Off with Young Viewers

Disney Planes imageAs soon as the commercials came for Disney’s Planes came out, the comparisons to Cars were inevitable. After all, with a similar logo, the same simple moniker, and Disney’s penchant for squeezing out the formula of one successful movie enterprise to launch another one; who could blame us?

Disclosure: The PR company gave my family tickets to the sneak preview so that I may review the movie in time for opening day (today.) Opinions are my own.

While there are indeed many similarities (a world inhabited entirely of vehicles, a big race, an unscrupulous reigning champion); there are also enough differences in Planes to make this a delightful, standalone movie. The plot of this action-packed 3D adventure centers around Dusty, a cropduster plane who dreams of being an air racer. He comes from a small town and has a loyal set of friends — including a crusty war veteran plane — who prepare him for the qualifying races for a worldwide race.

It is in this global race that he faces his biggest challenges — in addition to the physical challenges of the international course — treachery, sabotage, snubbery and sometimes, self-doubt. JavaGirl very excitedly shared with us at the end of the movie that she really liked the movie’s message: That it is important to be yourself and to keep working hard to reach your goal. That a seven-year-old got that much out of the movie is terrific. As JavaDad and I deconstructed the movie on the way home, we noted that one of the key differences between Planes and Cars is that in Planes, the main character, Dusty, was always humble, vs. in Cars, where Lightning McQueen had to go through a humbling experience. There are two romantic interests in the movie, but unlike Cars, romance is not a major focus for the main character. Due to the international race, there are characters from all parts of the world as well as scenes set throughout the world, which makes for nice variety.

JavaBoy especially found the chase/race scenes exciting and cited these as his favorite part of the movie. Note that there are a couple of portions of the movie that are so vivid they may upset younger viewers. Because the planes are personified, there are many references to plane crashes as planes getting “killed.”

Watching the movie in 3D definitely enhances the experience as this is a movie about flying and many times you get a very first-person sense of the almost acrobatic flying done throughout the race (over mountains, between tight spots, banking turns). JavaDad, who has previously avoided 3D movies because he doesn’t like how the glasses feel over his prescription glasses, actually enjoyed the experience and wanted me to note that though he is prone to motion sickness, did not during this movie.

While the kids certainly loved the movie, JavaDad and I also walked away feeling like it was time well spent. (I am not always a fan of kids’ movies.) Overall, I would recommend this movie for a family night, and especially if you were a Cars fan. If you have an aviation enthusiast in the family, they may get a real kick out of it.

Dane Cook voices Dusty, and a whole host of celebrities bring the magic to the other characters — Julia Louis-Dreyfus, John Cleese, Teri Hatcher, Brad Garrett, Colin Cowherd and more.

Before you decide whether to buy tickets – check out some trailers. Already saw the movie and want to do some Planes-related activities? Here are recipes, oragami ideas and more on Flewtube!

Disney’s Planes takes off in theaters in 3D today, August 9, 2013, and will be presented in Disney Digital 3D™ in select theaters. For more information, check out Disney.com/Planes, like them on Facebook: facebook.com/DisneyPlanes and follow them on Twitter: twitter.com/DisneyPictures.

{Review} The Lone Ranger: Quirky, Inconsistent, but Fun

Image courtesy of Disney Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Image courtesy of Disney Jerry Bruckheimer Films

The Lone Ranger (Rated PG-13) opens today, but I was invited to a complimentary sneak preview last week for review purposes. My kids, having seen the commercials, wisely opted out, thinking it would be too scary (they were right), so it became a date night for JavaDad and I.

The Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ version of The Lone Ranger is produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Gore Verbinski, the same team behind the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, which will give you some hints as to the flavor of this movie, especially with Johnny Depp playing Tonto.

The movie is a retelling of the classic tale of how the Lone Ranger came to be, as seen through Tonto’s eyes. One might even go so far as to call it a reinterpretation. Audience members who have knowledge of the original TV show or comic books will be in on some of the jokes, but after that, it is best to leave any preconceived notions about the story and the characters behind and just enjoy the ride.

Johnny Depp does what Johnny Depp does in terms of character development. He is pure over the top. His makeup can be distracting, but as we learn later in the movie, it is symbolic, and in the credits, I learned it was inspired by the Kirby Sattler painting “I Am Crow.”  You will either love or hate Depp. I usually am not a Depp fan, but I decided to just “go with it” and actually enjoyed him in this role.

Armie Hammer has a long distance to go from the dedicated lawman John Reid to the Lone Ranger. He overcomes an awkward script and remains a likeable hero throughout.

As long as you set aside memories of previous Lone Ranger shows, this movie can be quite enjoyable. It is quirky and humorous. However, it is long and yet suffers from continuity issues that are either due to script issues, editing, or both. There are sudden leaps that have the audience wondering, “Wait, did I miss something?” Yet some scenes seem unnecessarily long in order to hit us on the head with some symbolism or milk all the jokes possible.

Is this a movie for kids? Not for MY kids, that is for sure. Take that PG-13 rating seriously. In addition to the expected fight scenes, there are several gory references to cannibalism, there is a scene in a whorehouse (I would not want to have to explain what “professional ladies” means to my kids), and there are many discussions about wiping out tribes of Indians. The cinematography is beautiful in every scene, which makes everything incredibly vivid and therefore could be that much more frightening to children. There are a lot of action scenes that include guns, arrows and hand-to-hand combat, as well as some train accidents and explosions.

A quick mention to collectors of antique glass like myself — keep an eye open for scenes inside the dining cars — you are in for a treat!

Overall I would say that The Lone Ranger suffers from some issues, but if you are game for a quirky movie that will make you laugh, it is worth seeing.

I’m including some trailers to help you decide for yourself.

 

Review: Monsters University 3D Delivers Depth and Entertainment

MU_FBProfile_180x180_12 MU_FBProfile_180x180_2Disney’s Monsters University has certainly been going through the hype machine. Could a movie possibly live up to so much build-up? Wednesday night my daughter (7) and I attended a complimentary sneak preview of Monsters University 3D (rated G) in Tysons Corner and found that indeed, it could.

Let me start with the 3D aspect of the movie. I often avoid 3D movies because I hate wearing the glasses and usually find the 3D to be gimmicky. The glasses were lightweight and easily fit over my own prescription glasses and I quickly forgot I was wearing them. The use of 3D was seamlessly integrated throughout the movie (yes, of course there were times when it was used to make something jump out at us), so it felt organic rather than gratuitous.

I’m not an expert movie reviewer, but having worked for a 3D graphics chip manufacturer, I  know some of the things to look for in 3D animation, and I’ll point out that water, lighting, and making anything round are some of the toughest things to do. One scene I found particularly striking is when you see a lake in the background when Mike and Sully are talking. The water on the lake looks as realistic as if it had been shot on film. There are several times throughout the movie when the geek in me was stunned by just how amazing the animation was — look for things like how well the light reflects off Mike’s round head and the individual hairs of Sully’s fur as he moves. Beware, however, that it is for this very reason that some of the scarier moments in the movie may be more intense for your children than similar scenes were in the original Monsters Inc. JavaGirl has watched the original movie several times, but had to cover her eyes during the “scaring” scenes and later told me it’s because the kids looked “so real” that she was worried for them.

As for the story, this movie is a prequel. It tells the story of Mike and Sully before they became scarers. Who knew one had to get a degree in scaring? We get further insight into what drew these two into their career choice to begin with and how they became a team. Hint: They didn’t start out that way. We finally find out why Randall is so nasty to the duo. The story covers many themes including overcoming adversity, being kind, why cheating doesn’t pay, working hard to reach one’s goals, and teamwork. The plot flows well and introduces new characters, some loveable, some quite fearsome. Central to the story is the Scare Games, which pits members of different fraternities and sororities against each other in various scenarios they may face as future scarers.

As long as you are sensitive to your child’s fear-level, I would recommend this as a family movie. JavaGirl was able to close her eyes for the parts she didn’t like and still enjoy the movie. (You can preview trailers and see images of characters at this site.) As an adult, I felt entertained, not impatiently tapping my foot until it ended like I have in other movies for kids. If you have the choice between regular and 3D, I would opt for 3D. After watching the movie, your family may enjoy visiting Disney’s Monsters University web site.

One additional note, there was a 3D animated short before the movie called The Blue Umbrella that was absolutely delightful, and again, a wonderful use of 3D animation. Be sure to make it on time to see it!

Monsters University opens in U.S. theaters June 21, 2013 and will be shown in Disney Digital 3D (TM) in select theaters.

Images of Sully and Mike provided by Disney’s Monsters University web site.

Nintendo Wii U Extends Social Experience, Family Fun #WiiU

Nintendo Wii U GamePad and Wii Motion remotes

Despite JavaDad’s protests, I began lobbying for a family gaming system four years ago when JavaBoy entered Kindergarten. I could see that video games would eventually be one of the factors in our kids’ social lives as to who wanted to play at whose house. By having a gaming system in place, I wanted us to become familiar enough with the games to know what our kids would be playing elsewhere, and of course I hoped we would become what used to be called “the Kool-Aid house,” a place where the neighborhood kids wanted to come play.

After much thought and consideration, we bought a Nintendo Wii console.. It seemed the most family-friendly of the choices, had what was then considered an innovative interactive form of controller, and it was a system I truly saw us playing with together. And I was right — my husband’s 40th birthday was a Wii Party!

Back then, I had no affiliation with Nintendo. Today,  I am a Nintendo Social Media Ambassador, which simply means their PR company sends me products from time to time to try out and while they hope I’ll talk about it, I’m not required to. If you are a long-time reader, you know my opinions are always my own.

Which is how I happened to have about 30 friends* and two very nice (and yes, I’ll say it, quite adorable) representatives from Nintendo’s PR team in my house last week, trying out the Wii U. It sounded fun. It was also great motivation for getting the whole family to pitch in and straighten up the house. Win-win, right?

Why would I worry, right? (Yes, this is the “give me your tiger/crazy face” shot.)

Shortly before the party, I became slightly panicky at the thought of 30 people in my house playing a game with five remotes. Especially since about half of those people were under the age of 10.  So in addition to the Wii U set-up that Nintendo provided, I managed to bring in another one and set up a “kids room” in one room and an “adults room” in the other.  Just wanted to bring that up so you didn’t get the crazy idea I normally keep a Wii U in my formal living room. Or a large gaggle of children.

This is merely half-a-gaggle of children.

In a nutshell, everything I liked about my original Wii — family-friendly, interactive, promotes movement rather than being a couch potato while playing — still exists in the Wii U.  However, enhanced features such as TVii, streaming video and Wii U Chat, both reduces the remote control clutter and extends the entertainment functionality of our family room.

What’s Different

Playing with the Wii U GamePad in Nintendo Land's Mario Chase.

My friend S. is very focused on the Wii U GamePad during a round of Nintendo Land’s Mario Chase!

The GamePad is the most obvious change between the original Wii and the Wii U, but more than just a fancy new remote, it radically alters the way games are played. In addition to allowing you to have a fifth player in many games, it is a touch screen with a camera, and allows you to participate in the game in a different way from the other 1-4 players holding regular remotes. For example, you may be the only one who can see the entire layout of a course — in Mario Chase (Nintendo Land), the player with the GamePad is Mario and runs a maze to escape the Toads. Only Mario can see the entire maze and everyone’s position. The perspectives of the Toads are divided onto the TV screen. There is an option that allows the Toads to watch live video of the face of the person holding the GamePad either for fun or to see if that gives away any clues as to Mario’s location (i.e. shifting eyes).

On the TV screen you can see the perspective of the remote-holders in Mario Chase.

Outside of gameplay, the GamePad can become an interactive TV remote with Nintendo TVii;  provide access to video on demand services such as Amazon Instant video, Hulu Plus and Netflix (service subscription required); and bring YouTube and the rest of the Internet to your TV.

Wii U Chat allows you to video chat via the camera and microphone on the GamePad with another Wii U user. My kids enjoyed interacting with their cousins this way (the video can appear on both the GamePad and the TV) not only because of the video chat, but the added feature of being able to “scribble” on each other with the stylus. You must be approved “friends” in order to chat, and like most Nintendo products, there are ways to lock this down, so I feel pretty confident about giving my own kids access to this. They can’t add a friend without my intervention.

We haven’t explored everything in the Miiverse, but again, we have been able to keep the parental controls pretty tight, so we are comfortable with this interactive/social portion of the Wii U.

The Wii U console typically does not come with remotes other than the GamePad. If you had a previous Wii, although your old remotes will work, if you hadn’t already upgraded to the Wii Motion or Motion Plus remotes, I highly recommend doing so as some of the new games take advantage of the vibrations and other features of the Motion remotes.

Your regular Wii games will still work on this console, but the Wii U games will take advantage of the added dimension of the GamePad. It is difficult (for me, at least) to explain how much this allows the game developers to enhance the creativity and interactivity of a game — you really need to play it to grasp it.

The Games We Played

Nintendo Land appeals to me because it has a variety of games that use different types of skills. At the opening you walk into a virtual theme park with attractions based on different Nintendo worlds. My favorite is Luigi’s Ghost Mansion where the person holding the GamePad is the Ghost and can see all the other players in a haunted house and tries to scare them to death. Meanwhile, they have flashlights and try to shine it on the ghost. They work as a team, knowing the ghost is nearby if their (Wii Motion) remote vibrates, and try to zero in on its location. There are so many games on this disc, we haven’t played every level of every game — but it is a quick way to entertain any group of people (no matter what age or skill level).

Luigi’s Haunted Mansion in Nintendo Land is my favorite game. I am partial to playing the role of the ghost!

In Super Mario Bros. U, the whole gang is here, including your Mii characters! With new worlds and new power-ups, the changes aren’t merely in the scenery the GamePad player can help by adding bricks to block the bad guys or help the team get a lift.

I love how K. goes from "game face"...

I love how K. goes from “game face”…

... to laughter in a split second!

… to laughter in a split second!

SiNG Party was clearly the hit of the evening with the adults, but the kids loved it too. Unlike traditional karaoke where all eyes are on the singer, this party game has prompts for the dancers (that’s the rest of the crowd!) so everyone can get in on the fun. One or two special Wii U microphones can be plugged into the console.

The Results

Pure hilarity!

Can you guess which song we we were singing and dancing to here?

My friend J. wowed the crowd by crooning a classic Monkees song.

Oh sure, the kids are dancing, but notice who is REALLY into it. Yep… the adults!

I didn’t personally get much time to play during the party as I was running around taking photos and cheering like a maniac and making sure, for example, that children didn’t get chocolate cake on the white sofas. I had no worries that the kids would enjoy themselves — they figured things out quickly, mobbed the screen and yelled out instructions to each other. But the adults! Oh my! I loved watching them transform from cautious, polite parents (“Oh no, it’s okay, you can take the GamePad first…”) to singing and dancing rock stars. The laughter as they teamed up for games reminded me we are all kids at heart. Which is why I’m going to make a point to invite families over (not just kids) to play more often.

Resources

The Wii U game console is available in different configurations and bundles ranging from about $299 – $350 from a variety of big box stores/retailers/e-tailers. For more information and/or purchase, you may be interested in the official Nintendo Wii U site at http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu. If you are having trouble finding it locally, you may be interested in using my Amazon Associates affiliate link, which will allow you to support Caffeine and a Prayer at no additional cost to you.

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Wii U is a trademark of Nintendo. KOOL-AID is a trademark of Kraft Foods Groups LLC.

*If we know each other IRL and you weren’t invited, it doesn’t mean you aren’t my friend. It’s because I don’t have a house large enough to invite everyone I wanted to. Ping me if you want to come play!