Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild action and thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fantasy and cartoon peril and violence, fire,
Diversity Issues: Very strong and capable female characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 29, 2011
Date Released to DVD: August 16, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B0052XI5J8

The Weinstein Company may be nowhere near the gold standard set by Pixar in the imagination and technical ability of its animation, but it beats all ten of the champion’s justifiably lauded classics in one category. Pixar has yet to produce a single film with a female hero, while “Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil,” has two, both brave, strong, compassionate, loyal, smart, and independent.

As director Mike Disa wrote in The Huffington Post, female characters in animation – the human ones anyway – are nearly always focused on love and family.  “How many animated films have you seen where the female lead is little more than a cliché object for the hero to impress in the last reel? Face it, if you want to be a strong female character in animation you are better off as a mouse.”  He was determined to make a movie for girls and boys with female characters whose idea of happily ever after did not necessarily mean the perfect date.

The first “Hoodwinked” movie was a fresh and funny take on the tale of Red Riding Hood, with appealing characters and a clever script to make up for animation that tended to be static and pedestrian.  We entered the story at the climax, with the woodsman breaking into Granny’s house just as Red realized it was a wolf wearing Granny’s nightie.  As each of the characters explained what happened to a patient cop who happens to be a frog (elegantly voiced by David Ogden Stiers) we learned that everything we thought we knew about the story was wrong and any assumptions we had about the intentions and capabilities of the characters was entertainingly turned inside out and upside down.  The wolf (with the impeccably wry voice of Patrick Warburton, “Seinfeld’s” Puddy) was merely a reporter trying to get a story. Granny (voice of Glenn Close) had a secret – she was an X-games champion.  The burly, ax-wielding huntsman was a gentle soul who just wants to yodel.  Red did not need to be rescued by anyone.  And the real villain turned out to be the adorable little bunny named Boingo (voice of Andy Dick), who was trying to steal Granny’s recipes.

As the sequel begins, Red (voice of “Heroes’” Hayden Panettierre, replacing Anne Hathaway) has taken a leave of absence from working with the Wolf at a super high-tech law enforcement operation called HEA (for Happily Ever After). She is studying with the Sister Hood, a training camp high in the mountains with a combined program of martial arts and cooking.

Surveillance experts Bo Peep and her sheep, stationed at the control center’s bank of monitors, report that two children have been seen in the vicinity of a house made out of candy.

Wolf tries his best, but this time huffing and puffing won’t blow the door in.  To rescue little Hansel (voice of Bill Hader) and Gretel (voice of Amy Poehler) and Red’s granny from a masked wicked witch named Verushka (voice of Joan Cusack), he needs some help.

Red has yet to learn the Sister Hood’s most carefully guarded secret, the missing ingredient in the magic truffle recipe.  She still makes the mistake of getting distracted from her task by impetuous pride and impatient insistence on doing things herself.  But those lessons will have to wait – or be learned on the job — as she races to the rescue.

Red and Wolf get the help of old friends: the frog cop (who mutters “Mammals!” when things get out of hand), Twitchy the over-caffeinated squirrel (voice of co-screenwriter Cory Edwards), a banjo-playing goat, the yodeling huntsman (voice of Martin Short), and even an old enemy – Boingo, now confined, Hannibal Lecter-style, in prison. Welcome new additions include Wayne Newton as a singing harp, Cheech and Chong as two of the three pigs, and David Alan Grier as Moss the Troll, who tries to keep Red from crossing his bridge.

The jokes come very fast, with a whirlwind of pop culture references from “Happy Days” to the Food Network, “Goodfellas,” blogging, and the Disney classic “Mickey and the Beanstalk.”  There are some nice 3D swoops and drops, but the more vertiginous entertainment of the film is in the script as once again what we think we know about fairy tale heroines, villains, mean girls, old ladies, witches, and happy endings are deliciously turned upside down and inside out.

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3D Animation Fantasy Series/Sequel

Prom

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild language and a brief fight
Profanity: Brief schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Brief fight, bloody lip
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 29, 2011
Date Released to DVD: August 30, 2011
Amazon.com ASIN: B0041KKYHY

Less engrossing than a Clearasil commercial and more synthetic than a Rebecca Black video, “Prom” is Disney’s attempt to launch a new generation of tween idols with a wholesome confection about a high school dance. But the buoyant energy of “High School Musical”-style song and dance numbers is sorely missed and some sweet moments are not enough to make up for a thin storyline featuring too many inexperienced young performers. Anyone over the age of 12 will want to sit out this dance.

It begins three weeks before prom in a suburban high school.  The girls are excited about being asked.  The boys are terrified about asking them.  Apparently, even the ask itself is now a montage-worthy event, with high expectations for drama and creativity from the guys.  One romantic invitation features candles in the shed filled with party decorations, igniting a fire that destroys all of the “Starry Night” decorations.This is devastating for Nova (Aimee Teegarden), class president and all-around achiever who is determined that the prom will be “a perfect moment.” Jesse (Thomas McDonell), the school rebel (he has long hair, a motorcycle, and a bad attitude), points out that at the very worst, “the boys and girls of the school have been robbed of the opportunity to stand around and drink punch.  Lower the flags to half mast.”  The principal orders him to work with Nova to make new decorations, and inevitably, a less combustible set of sparks will fly.

The prom creates stress and drama for other seniors as well.  Two popular couples struggle with complications that go beyond the selection of limo and cummerbund.  The top candidates for prom queen and king are Jordan (Kylie Bunbury) and her boyfriend Tyler (DeVaughn Nixon), the lacrosse team captain and a playah off the field as well.  Mei (Yin Chang) does not know how to tell her devoted boyfriend since middle school that she wants to go to Parsons in New York to study design instead of to the University of Michigan with him.  The prom also gives shy, gawky Lloyd (Nicolas Braun) his last chance to ask a girl – any girl — out, with encouragement from his stepsister, Tess (a warm and engaging Raini Rodriguez).  And a pretty sophomore (Danielle Campbell) must choose between her awkward, music-mad lab partner and a smoother guy who may not be trustworthy.  And they squeeze in two characters from a Disney television series as underclassmen for cross-promotion and the already-announced sequel.

But never fear!  The over-packed plot still leaves time for the inevitable trying-on-dresses montage, a parent who has to learn to trust his daughter’s judgment, and a last-minute arrival of a back-lit dream date.

Parents will be relieved that everything stays reassuringly PG.  A character who would be a stoner in a PG-13 high school movie merely chomps on the candies that give him his nickname and talks about the girl he is bringing to the prom in a manner that sounds vaguely, well, vague.  And parents will appreciate the portrayal of supportive friends and moms and some nice lessons about self-respect, loyalty, and moving beyond shallow fantasies of “the perfect moment.” But with a dozen main characters it feels more like a series of Disney Channel sketches than stories.  Its effort to underplay the fantasy of the “perfect moment” prom is lost in its own focus on one magical evening.  A complaint from one girl about being required to read Ethan Frome is the only suggestion in the film that school is for any purpose other than college applications and finding prom dates.  Like a discount prom corsage, it looks pretty and wilts fast.

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Comedy Family Issues High School Romance School Tweens
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Interview: Carl Christman of ‘Selling God’

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Carl Christman, writer/director of the documentary Selling God, answered my questions about his film, an exploration of the way that fundamentalists market their religion.

How did you come to this project?

My films are a form of catharsis. I have many opinions about the major issues in life and feel the overwhelming desire to share my ideas. In past films I have dealt with War and Patriotism (Freedom Fries) as well as Terrorism and Fear (Culture of Fear.) The topic of religion seemed to be worthy of discussion.

How do evangelicals differ from other religious groups in spreading their religion?

Most religions movements work to spread their message. What sets the evangelical movement apart, and prompted me to focus on it in this film, is the skill with which they do it. They have very effectively used all forms of media and marketing to get their message out.

Are evangelicals successful in converting outsiders? In retaining those who grew up in the faith?

Judging by the continued growth and increased power of the evangelical movement I would say they are very effective at converting outsiders.

What do they consider the biggest threat to their way of belief?

There seems to be a feeling among many evangelicals that they are under attack from secularism. Since secularism is basically defined as being non-religious this means that religion is under attack from non-religion. Since three quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christian, however, I do not see Christianity as being in any danger.

Are they a political force?

The evangelical movement is definitely a political force. Evangelicals make up roughly a quarter of all Americans. This is a highly prized demographic for politicians and has tipped the balance in many elections.

How are some evangelicals like people who market books or music or other consumer goods?

My point in this film is to show how the marketing of religion is very similar to the marketing of anything else. The same techniques are used whether one is selling clothing or cars, soda or salvation.

Who do you think is the audience for this film?

Selling God has different audiences that watch the film for different reasons. Those that are not religious are likely to view it from the outside as a critique on the evangelical movement. Evangelicals are likely to watch the film and relate to the examples I offer, often on a personal level. In talking to people that grew up in the various denominations I dealt with in the film I found that they were amused by my unique take on the religious customs they had often taken for granted.

Did the evangelical community respond?

Most of my evangelical friends thought this was a thought-provoking critique. They did not necessarily agree with all of my conclusions, but they certainly enjoyed the process of exploration.

Do you see hypocrisy in the way that Christianity is marketed?

I do not see the marketing of Christianity as hypocritical. There is nothing that I am aware of in the tenets of Christianity that opposes marketing. Many people will not like talking about Christianity in terms of marketing, because they view it as being above such earthly techniques. I, however, have enjoyed applying the well-known consumer paradigm to the world’s largest religion. Hopefully this film offers a unique perspective on religion.

What good works do the members of this community support (other than trying to make converts)?

The Christian community has established many important institutions that improve all of our lives. I went to Christian schools from pre-school through college and I now teach at a Christian university.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the movie? What surprised you?

The biggest challenge in making this movie was trying to get access. Much of the footage I wanted to use was not easily available and many of the people I wanted to interview were not willing to speak with me. When I did have people welcome me with open arms it really stood out. I remember being outside the local Unitarian Church getting some shots from the street. When some of the parishioners saw my camera operator and myself outside, they invited us into their church, allowed us to film inside and spoke with us about their faith. I found their openness very refreshing.

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Directors Documentary Interview

Interview: Mike Disa of ‘Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil’

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Director Mike Disa has a terrific piece in the Huffington Post about his new film, “Hoodwinked Too! Hood Vs. Evil,” with not one but two heroines who are strong, smart, brave, and compassionate.

Look at any recent animated movie. Despite sometimes clever plot devices, each of the main female characters’ primary concerns are always love, marriage and family issues. Overused and limiting themes for a modern heroine.  And that’s when the female characters are even focused upon at all. How many animated films have you seen where the female lead is little more than a cliché object for the hero to impress in the last reel? Face it, if you want to be a strong female character in animation you are better off as a mouse.

I had a wonderful talk with Disa about making the film.

Why, all these decades later, do animated girls seem stuck back in the days of Snow White singing “Someday my prince will come?”

Isn’t that amazing?  It’s been basically the same story model now for 90 years.  It’s flabbergasting to me.  I used to get in conversations about this when I worked at the big studios.  They’d say, “Well, it’s a fairy tale and that’s what fairy tales are about.”  I’d say, “Go read the original fairy tales!  There’s a lot of other stuff going on.  And we’re choosing to change this and that — why aren’t we choosing to change this part of it?”  The only honest answer I have for that question is that the people making the films are unwilling to look at women in a different light.  You can go on about fairy tales and animation and the patriarchal system that creates princesses and all that but I think it comes down to the people in films want to portray women like that.

Powerful women in films tend to be the bad guys — Ursula, Cruella DeVil, Maleficent.

There are powerful female heroes in animated films; they just aren’t human.  Did you ever see “The Rescuers?”  If you’re a mouse, you’ve got the potential to be a great character?  You’re likely to get pigeonholed into being about family or sexual identity or role — if you’re an attractive human female or anything female in a Pixar movie, with the possible exception of Jessie in the “Toy Story” movies.  And even she is played off as Woody’s counterpart.  It’s odd because a lot of these studios are so interested in pushing the boundary technically.  Why aren’t they so interested in telling more than the same old story over and over?

What is even more revolutionary in your film is that not only is the girl a heroine, but so is the grandmother!  And not only is she tough, but compassionate and forgiving as well.

I’m really glad you liked that because that was a part of the film I was pushing hard for as well.  Comments I have had about the Huffington Post article are like, “You don’t want to make love stories anymore?”  Of course I want to make love stories!  This is a love story.  It is about the love between dear old friends who have lost each other along the way because of the choices they have made, about the love of a grandmother and granddaughter.  It’s very much a classic love story.  Love is about more than dating.

I was so glad Patrick Warburton returned as Wolf.  No one can nail dry, understated wit the way he does.

He is amazing.  He was an absolute superstar.  He would show up after a day of shooting his live-action series, exhausted after a 15-hour day on the set.  (I can’t believe I just said “live-action.”  It shows I live in he animation world.  I’m like — “live action, it’s a little niche thing, don’t know if you’ve heard of it.”)

Not only would Patrick give an incredible performance but he would try alternatives, a different word choice or , he never quit.  You don’t need to direct him.  He’s got a fantastic ear.  You play it back and he’ll hear the same thing I hear, and say, “Let’s do it again.”  He’s a marvel to work with.  It’s such a joy to have people come in and not treat it differently because it is animation.  Every word he wants to be perfect, to work for the character, to fit the lip-synch, to reflect the subtext of the relationships and the rhythms of the other characters.

I’ve seen animation directors who are just: “Go faster.  Go slower.  Be angry.”  That’s such a waste if you have an actor like Patrick who plays subtext and comedy and rhythm.  If it’s appropriate, he’ll give you the funny line reading.  But then he will give you such true heart and emotion, until you get these great little moments.  There are some great moments where Wolf gets very introspective.  A lesser actor would have gone for the laugh.  You see that in animated films all the time.  We got some real emotion — he’s an incredibly talented guy.  I’m gushing, but he was just a revelation.  And he and Wayne Newton are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met in show business.

I wanted to ask you about the Wayne Newton character!  Is his singing harp inspired by “Mickey and the Beanstalk?”

He was influenced by it.  I grew up with that movie.  It’s spectacular.  But that comes to a larger point.  Everything in this movie is working on two different levels, and that is one of the things I like about it.  The movie respects its audience enough that it knows you’ve seen other versions of these fairy tales.  What we can do is subtly play with your expectations.  What was a huge part of the film was knowing that everyone would immediately think of the most popular version of the story.  So our beanstalk was made of cast iron and aluminum because I wanted something reminiscent of that wonderful organic Disney beanstalk but I wanted something completely different.  The same with the singing harp.  We need to nod to the classics but we need to twist it. The nightclub is based on the classic old Hollywood place where the great singers and performers played in the 1940’s before Las Vegas got big.  If you’ve seen any of the movies or places we refer to, it adds another layer.  But if you haven’t, it still works.

 

 

 

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3D Animation Directors Interview

What Can We Learn from #1 Songs?

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Jessie Rifkin listened to every number one song in the history of the pop charts, from Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool” up through this week’s “ET” by Katy Perry and wrote about it for the Washington Post.  He notes that “The first 100 non-instrumental No. 1’s were performed by 38 solo acts and 62 groups, but the most recent 100 were performed by 91 solo acts and nine groups” and that George Harrison and Elvis Presley had number one hits after they were not at the top of their careers.  “And only 19 instrumentals have reached the top spot, none after 1985’s synth-percussion-fest “Miami Vice Theme” by Jan Hammer.”  Perhaps most significantly,

What is remembered as the defining music of an era and what actually sold the most at the time are very different. Imagine the 1960s without Bob Dylan, James Brown and Jimi Hendrix; the 1970s without KISS, the Who and Led Zeppelin; the 1980s without Bruce Springsteen, Journey and Run-DMC; the 1990s without Nirvana, Green Day and Public Enemy; the aughts without John Mayer, Linkin Park and Taylor Swift. None of these giants have had a No. 1 song — at least not yet.

Get your own sense of what Jessie Rifkin listened to with these wonderful compilations of five seconds from every number one song on the top 40.  If you are as old as I am, it is the aural equivalent of seeing your life pass before your eyes.  What is the first pop song you remember?  What is the first one you ever bought?  What’s your favorite one-hit wonder?

 

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Music Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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