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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.

{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.