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{Review} Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy: Action and Wit Translates Across the Generations

GuardiansoftheGalaxySome of my favorite childhood memories included going to the 7-11 with my father and picking up a comic book (or two or three) and reading them not just once but over and over. But over time, the Marvel Universe and I lost touch, and it is only via references via The Big Bang Theory and when I remember to actively seek out comic books for my own kids (alas, they are not as easy to pick up as they were in my youth), that I sometimes get a glimpse of the continuing storyline. So the true test for me about Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was if I could enjoy this movie without knowing the slightest thing about any of the characters — I deliberately did NOT read up about them ahead of time. The answer is a resounding YES. The second question in my mind was whether the PG-13 rating was going to be problematic for my kids, ages 8 and 10. They are mature for their ages, but I tend to be a bit protective of them — however, I knew they would want to accompany me to the media preview so with some quick research, I found the rating was due to action, violence and language and decided they could handle it. More on this further in the review.

The only other piece of the Marvel franchise I have seen is Iron Man — I haven’t seen Thor, Captain America, or The Avengers. So for comparison’s sake, I would say that while there is a lot of similar humor, I would say that Iron Man skewed to a far more mature audience (Tony and Pepper’s relationship being a major plot line) and that Guardians of the Galaxy, while requiring the ability to keep many characters straight and following a lot of double-agent type of scenarios, had a storyline my 8-year-old daughter could follow and enjoy.

I’ll admit, sometimes *I* got a little lost with some of the characters/species names, but not so much that it really mattered. I was also sitting between two kids, managing popcorn, and had some (funny, but talkative) reviewers sitting behind me, so that may be more a reflection on my situation than the move or… ahem… my brain cells. (Side note: my son also fractured his nose and I had to deal with taking him to the doctor, getting him x-rays that day and setting up an ENT appointment — all while there was no power in my neighborhood — so yeah, I was also a little frazzled that day.)

The movie centers around Peter Quill aka StarLord, a rakish mostly-good-but-sometimes-bad adventurer who travels through space finding/stealing valuable items and chatting up the female gender of all species. The Walkman and mix tape his long-dead mother gave him plays prominently in the movie, so unless you want to have a lot of whispered conversations during the movie with your kids about this, if you haven’t already explained what this mysterious object is to them, do yourself a favor and show them a picture of one. Sound track note:  if you like pina coladas… you’ll like the sound track!

As a result of stealing a mysterious orb, Quill sets of a chain of events that ends up attracting the attention of a beautiful but very deadly Gamora, a smart-talking, MacGyver-sih raccon named Rocket, a tree-like humanoid named Groot, and a revenge-driven “friend” whose species causes him to be overally literal, Drax the Destroyer. This unlikely quintet, uncertain of their own status with each other, soon find themselves in charge of protecting the galaxy from destruction.

There are many times this movie reminded me (and as I discovered, the kids as well) of Star Wars and this included several action scenes, the interplay of Groot and Rocket (only Rocket understands him), and sometimes Gamora reminds me of Princess Leia. I would be curious if you see the same parallels? Quill is a bit of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker combined to me.  I haven’t done any research to see if any of this was intentional — maybe it was.

Let’s talk about the PG-13 rating. Yes, there are definitely some swear words I don’t want my kids using but it is not over the top and I could talk to them both before and after the movie about it and felt like it was handled — I don’t recall any f-bombs being used, if there were, it slipped past me, these were more along words that rhymed with “ick” and “itch” and had the word “hole” in them. There is use of the middle finger. There is very mild romance in this, most of which will probably fly right past them. There is, of course, some violence and action scenes. There are fight scenes, spaceship shooting scenes, an implied beheading scene — that kind of stuff. My daughter, who is the more sensitive of my two kids when it comes to this stuff, did quite well and actually said to me after the movie (quite indignantly), “I don’t know why they rated that PG-13, I was the youngest one in that theater other than babies and it was fine!” (She wasn’t but that’s not the point.) As always, you need to use your own discretion. It could be scary to your kids, and you have to decide what is comfortable in terms of your own parenting style. We usually can talk things through.

We saw the movie in 3D and yes, the visuals were lovely, especially since the many galactic species were colorful and delightfully textured. But I will note that having seen so many movies in 3D lately, I did not find the 3D to be as eye-catching as say, Maleficient or Planes: Fire & Rescue. I can’t really explain why, it just was something that I noticed.

My final verdict: As a family, we enjoyed this movie and we think other families would as well. If you are an adult seeing it on your own, whether you are a comic book fan or not, I think you will be entertained. It is funny, adults will enjoy the retro references (especially if you were old enough to own a Walkman), and it is not overly-reliant on graphics to make the movie work. By the way, the media preview did NOT include the after credits scene, but there IS supposed to be one, so stay for it!

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy opens August 1, 2014. Check your local listings for times and theatres.

Disclosure: My family attended a complimentary media preview screening for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own. Images provided by the movie’s PR team.

{Review} Planes: Fire & Rescue

planesfireandrescueThe JavaKids and I were able to attend a sneak preview of Planes: Fire & Rescue earlier this week for the purposes of giving our review of the movie. Amongst the other invited guests were area firefighters, as the theme of the movie centered around the vehicles who fight forest fires and the opening credits dedicate the movie to the men and women who save lives every day as firefighters.

This movie is of course a sequel to Planes, where we first met the main character, Dusty Crophopper (voiced by Dane Cook).  Now a world-famous racer, Dusty discovers that he has a failing part that may soon end his racing days. As a result of testing his limits, he accidentally sets his hometown’s airstrip on fire, attracting the scrutiny of the safety department, which informs Dusty and his friends that the airport will be closed until improvements can be made, including updating the current fire engine and finding a second firefighting vehicle.

This sets the stage for a guilt-ridden Dusty to go off to Piston Peak National Park to learn how to be an aerial firefighter. Here we meet the brave crew who fights fires, the legendary fire and rescue helicopter Blade Ranger, scooper Dipper (voice of Julie Bowen), heavy-lift helicopter Windlifter, ex-military transport Cabbie, and the Smokejumpers, a team of  all-terrain vehicles who jump out of Cabbie and fight the fires from the ground by creating “breaks” and clearing paths.

Fires aren’t the only enemy the team faces. The Superintendent, who runs the National Park and more specifically is interested in his pet project the newly renovated lodge, is less concerned with safety than with dazzling VIP guests. Do kids in the audience understand the theme of bureaucracy and budget cuts and what happens when money is diverted to build pet projects? Well, maybe not as well as adults, but my kids (ages 8 and 10) understood it enough and it opened the door for some conversations, and to me, any time a movie does that, it’s a win.

Like the other movies in the Cars and Planes franchise, there are some jokes thrown in there that only the adults will get. There are a couple of romance themes. And there are times when the stories get a little clunky. For example, it took me a little bit to realize that Windlifter is supposed to be an Apache helicopter and therefore his off-the-wall-sounding stories are supposed to be Native American lore (I think?) so the way the characters respond to him (“Oookay…”) are not necessarily the most appropriate. But translating lore to vehicle-speak comes out sounding very bizarre. So it may be worth discussing that with the kids.

The visuals are stunning and yet not frightening. Hint: Stay a little bit through the credits for one last joke.

Overall, there are several good themes you can pick out in the story. The kids and I discussed several, including the fact that there can be more than one solution to a problem; the benefits of opening up and telling someone when you are afraid of something; what it means to be brave; and what the Superintendent was doing that was wrong.  There are more, but I don’t want to spoil things.

Is it cinematically perfect? No. Professional reviewers will pick apart elements of the storytelling and characterization. But from a family’s point of view, it was entertaining, provided a platform for deeper discussion, and we walked away smiling. The only regret I have is that I didn’t think to ask any of the firefighters in the audience what THEY thought of the movie.

Planes: Fire & Rescue opens today, July 18 and is rated PG. You can learn more about the movie on the web site or Facebook page.

Image copyright of Disney, provided as part of media kit.

Maleficent: Refreshes the Tired Tale of Sleeping Beauty #Maleficent

Press photo courtesy of Disney.

Press photo courtesy of Disney.

Of all the Disney princess stories, Sleeping Beauty was never my favorite. After seeing the press preview of  Maleficent, I think I understand why — in my childhood mind, the story was filled with scary scenes and no context, whereas Maleficent has provided a backstory so interesting that I now want to rewatch the classic 1959 animated film.

It is important to note that the live action Disney Pictures film bears little resemblance to the original movie. And that is the point. This is meant to be the story of what makes Maleficent (sounds a bit like “magnificent”) so villainous and causes her to utter the curse that will cause Princess Aurora to fall into a deep sleep upon her sixteenth birthday. This is her story, not Aurora’s.

But more than that, this turns out to be a movie about relationships. The relationship between two types of lands — the kingdom of the humans and the moors of the fairies and magical creatures; Maleficent and the lover who betrayed her; the three fairies entrusted with raising the princess in the hopes of avoiding the curse; Maleficent and her sidekick who often serves as her voice of conscious; King Stephan and his own guilt; and other relationships that I won’t spoil for you. Naturally, one of the most prominent ones is the tug-of-war between good and evil — often even within the same being.

The crux of this story is Maleficent’s transformation from a pure-hearted guardian fairy to frighteningly vengeful force to be reckoned with after she is cruelly betrayed. Her body transforms as well as her soul. The animated Maelficent is one of the most frightening villains in childhood tales, so I know one of the most burning questions for parents is, “Will this movie be too frightening for my child?” The answer is two-fold. It depends on the child, and yes, certain scenes may.

Maleficent’s appearance is striking but in my opinion, not nearly as frightening as the cartoon version. The twisted horns are there and quite realistic, so that may be frightening, but if your child has already seen the animated version, probably not. She is not green-faced, but pale with extremely sharp cheekbones and her eyes change color over time. She is mesmerizing and powerful. Inanimate objects come to life onscreen (trees, rocks, and the like.)  However, to me, the most disturbing scene was the act of betrayal, fairly early on in the movie — partially because of how effectively Angelina Jolie conveyed the physical and emotional pain involved.  There are several fight scenes, and magic, and a fire-breathing dragon — only you will be able to tell if your child is up to that kind of action. The special effects are impressive and if you see the movie in 3D, then the impact is amplified — watch some of the trailers online with your child, for example, to get a sense of his/her reaction. I would not take very young children, but my 10-year-old was fine and I think I will take my 8-year-old now. Note that this movie is rated PG.

As intense as this movie is, there is humor throughout, which both my son and I enjoyed. Some may be annoyed with changes made to the Aurora part of the story line (i.e. the curse is delivered a little differently), instead, I took this as further support to the premise of “not everything is as you have been told.” The title character definitely overshadows many of the others — in some cases I’m okay with that; for example, there was no real need to see much of the queen in the land of the humans. In other cases, it may have been a matter of the actor’s creative choices more so than the storytelling, for example, I just didn’t connect well with Sharlto Copely’s portrayal of the king. Could Aurora’s character have been more developed? Sure, but again, she is really not the main focus of this story. I think we see enough of her for the purposes of the plot.

Overall, the movie was beautiful to watch, the story was compelling, Jolie was a pleasure to experience in the role, and the end result made me want to revisit the original animation as well as to read the French fairy tale on which both are based. To me, that’s the sign of an entertaining movie.

Maleficient opens in theaters today. I recommend seeing it in 3D.  Check your local theater for showtimes.

Website and mobile site:  http://disney.com/Maleficent

Note: I was invited to attend the press preview screening of this movie with a guest. All opinions are my own.

{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.