Beauty and the Beast

A-

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some action, violence, peril and frightening images
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Fairy tale peril and violence, wolves, mob, guns
Diversity Issues: Very subtle suggestion that a character might be gay, tolerance a metaphorical theme of the film
Date Released to Theaters: March 17, 2017

Copyright Disney 2017
Copyright Disney 2017
Disney’s live action remake of one of its most beloved animated fairy tales is every bit as enchanting as we could hope, gently updating and expanding the story to give the characters more depth and appeal and filling it with movie magic.

In a prologue, we see that the Beast was once a handsome but vain and selfish prince who cared only about beauty. An enchantress cursed him to become a beast, the courtiers all turned into furniture, serving pieces, and accessories. If the Beast cannot find a way to love and be loved before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, they will never return to human form. The Beast has given up. He is angry, hurt, and terrified that he is unlovable, as Stevens shows us with just his voice, posture, and piercing blue eyes.

Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films, plays Belle, introduced in the opening musical number as a bit of an outsider in her small “provincial” French village. She loves to read, but seems to have read everything on the one shelf of books in the town. Belle is not concerned with her looks, and Watson is encouragingly messy, with locks of hair falling around her face and sturdy boots instead of the animated version’s flats. We can see that she truly loves to learn and has an independent, adventurous spirit.

Belle adores her father (Kevin Kline as Maurice), an artist turned repairman, and she is an inventor herself, creating a washing machine that can do the laundry while she reads. Gaston (a terrific Luke Evans, clearly enjoying the way Gaston enjoys being Gaston) is an arrogant soldier who wants to marry Belle because she is beautiful and because she is the only girl in town who does not think he is dreamy. “She hasn’t made a fool of herself just to gain my favor.” Like the prince who turned into a beast, Gaston judges people only on how they look and how they respond to him.

Away from home, Maurice is chased by wolves and ends up seeking shelter at the Beast’s mysterious enchanted castle where the candelabra and teacup can talk. As he leaves, he picks a rose for Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey”) furiously captures him. Belle tries to rescue her father but ends up taking his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

But in this “tale as old as time,” we know that Belle and Beast will begin as “barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly,” and it is genuinely touching to see how it unfolds. With additional songs from original composer Alan Menken (with lyrics from Tim Rice, along with some lyrics written by the late Howard Ashman for the original film that were not used), some backstory about both Belle and the Prince, and a more thoughtful portrayal of the development of their relationship. I was especially glad to see that their shared love of books played an important part in their connection.

The storyline is unexpectedly resonant with contemporary challenges, with the greatest threat from an angry mob suspicious of anything unfamiliar and easily spurred to violence. We get to see a bit more of the enchantress behind the curse as well.

The two moments fans of the original film will count on are the “Beauty and the Beast” waltz in the ballroom (now sung by Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts) and the musical extravaganza “Be Our Guest” (now sung by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere), and both are gorgeously, joyously stunning, but the moments that stay with us are the sensitive performances and the tenderness of the relationships.

Parents should know that this film includes cartoon/fantasy peril and violence, wolves, a monster, a curse, some scary images, and a subtle reference to a gay crush.

Family discussion: What did the Beast learn from his enchantment? Why is Gaston so selfish? What do Belle and the Beast discover that they have in common?

If you like this, try: the animated original and the live action “Jungle Book” and “Cinderella”

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Based on a book Date movie Fantasy For the Whole Family Movies Musical Remake Romance

Rock Dog

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for action and language
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Action-style cartoon peril, chases, predators, no one hurt
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: February 24, 2017

Copyright Lionsgate 2016
Copyright Lionsgate 2016
The second movie in three months featuring cartoon animals singing pop songs is “Rock Dog,” based on a Chinese graphic novel.

Luke Wilson provides the voice for Bodi, a sheepdog in Tibet, raised by his martinet father Khampa (J.K. Simmons). Bodi is never able to muster the “Kung Fu Panda” style mystic power his father tries to teach him as a part of the elaborate defense system he has put in place to protect the sheep from the Mafia-type wolves (led by Lewis Black as Linnux). At one time the community had two passions, making music and making wool. But after an attack by wolves, the instruments have all been locked away so that there will be no distractions from civil defense.

When a radio literally drops from the sky (an airplane loses some of its cargo), Bodi realizes his true purpose. He is not a watchdog — he is a musician.

Inspired by the music of rock star Angus Scattergood (Eddie Izzard), he decides to leave the mountain to follow in his footsteps: he will find a band in the legendary Rock ‘n’ Roll Park and play music no matter who tries to stop him. “Play your guts out and never stop, even when your dad tells you to stop, don’t stop.” He realizes that this is “the answer to my life,” and soon he is making music for delighted new fans.

Khampa reluctantly agrees to let Bodi go, but makes him promise he will return if he does not succeed. In the big city, he finds the Rock ‘n’ Roll Park, where he encounters a bully (Matt Dillon) who sends him to Scattergood’s booby-trapped fortress of a house as a prank.

Scattergood is desperately trying to come up with the new song his record label is demanding, but he is so isolated that he has run out of ideas, like Dana Carvey playing “Choppin’ Broccoli.”

There are some charming details (the sheep’s pub is called the Warp and Weft and serves shots of wheatgrass), and its international production team is reflected in its settings, like the Japan-inspired Rock ‘n’ Roll park, where Bodi and the bully have a shred-off. Bodi is a likeable hero and it is fun to see his cheery optimism paired with the burned-out, cynical Angus. Like the music they create, it is pleasantly entertaining.

Parents should know that this movie has cartoon action-style peril and violence, including predators, chases, fire, and some pratfalls, although no one is hurt. There is also some schoolyard language.

Family discussion: Why was it so hard for Angus to write a song? Why did he think he did not want to see anyone? How did Bodi know that music was his destiny?

If you like this, try: “Surf’s Up”

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Animation Movies Musical Talking animals

Sing

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril.
Profanity: Mild schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril, criminal activity, fire
Diversity Issues: Humor about disability
Date Released to Theaters: December 20, 2016
Date Released to DVD: March 20, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B01LTI0P1U
Copyright 2016 Illumination
Copyright 2016 Illumination

“Sing” is an often-adorable, often-puzzlingly off-kilter animated film about animal singers putting on a show despite many obstacles, for the love of music and performing. What’s best about the film is simple — seeing a wild assortment of animal characters sing an even wilder assortment of songs, everything from Lady Gaga to Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift to Christopher Cross. It works every time, with a nifty score from Joby Talbot tying it all together. The story around it, though, keeps getting derailed.

The concept harks back to the musicals of the 1930’s — the old “let’s put on a show.” Koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a failing impresario who is about to lose his theater. He has a devoted assistant with an unfortunate habit of losing her glass eye. Even more unfortunate, the movie seems to think we will find that hilarious.

How about a singing competition! Great idea! Small problem — due to a mistake, the prize money has been vastly inflated and the invitations to participate widely distributed. Oh, well, on to the auditions! Hopefuls include a cynical mouse (Seth MacFarlane) who croons saloon songs, Ash, a punky hedgehog (Scarlett Johansson), a harried pig with dozens of children to care for (Reese Witherspoon), a strange pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll), Johnny, a teenage gorilla in a leather jacket and with a Cockney accent, (Taron Egerton), and Meena, a shy teenage elephant (real-life “American Idol” contestant Tori Kelly).

The singing is a delight and I was genuinely sorry that so many of the performances were just snippets. The same goes for the all-star cast, many of whom have just one or two lines. It never takes advantage of the animal setting and instead relies on overplotted backstories of the participants that are mostly a distraction, with one exception the Rube Goldberg contraption the mother pig creates to care for her children and oblivious husband while she is out singing. Johnny’s father leads a robbery gang, and they expect Johnny to act as lookout and getaway driver just when he needs to be at the theater. Ash has a boyfriend who does not realize how special she is. And Meena is just too shy to perform. The robbery sequence and subsequent visit to Johnny’s father in jail, a serious and scary fire, some predatory loan sharks, and that glass eye “humor” are all especially poor choices for a movie positioned for families with young children.

Parents should know that this film includes some slapstick humor, including a character whose false eye keeps popping out, criminal behavior involving a parent and teenage child, parent in prison, scary fire, business problems.

Family discussion: If you were going to perform, what song would you pick and why? What made Meena so shy and what helped her?

If you like this, try: “Zootopia” and “Despicable Me”

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Animation DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Musical

La La Land

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 9, 2016
Date Released to DVD: April 24, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B01LTI1WAI

lalalandThe nickname for the California town whose literal translation is “City of Angels” comes from its initials: LA for Los Angeles. But “La La Land” also refers to the culture of its most notable industry, whether the reference is to the magic of its images of pretty people doing pretty things or to the instability of the various deals, relationships, and people behind them. The title of this exquisite film from writer/director Damien Chazelle refers to all of that and to the “la la” of music as well. Its bravura, breathtaking opening scene introduces us to the world of the story, with one of LA’s defining experiences — being stuck in traffic on a sunny day — transforming into a stunning, joyous, candy-colored musical number, with the camera swooping along as a part of the choreography in, apparently, one long shot.

Among the Angelenos on the 105 Freeway are barrista and aspiring actress Mia (Best Actress Oscar winner Emma Stone), rehearsing some dialog for an upcoming audition, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician with retro taste, as we can see from his watch, ring, and car. He honks the horn. She flips him the finger. They go their separate ways and we follow her to work at a coffee shop on a movie studio lot, near the window where Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman looked out as the Germans marched into Paris in “Casablanca.” The magic of movies — both the way they move and inspire us and the gulf between illusion and reality — shimmer throughout the film.

Mia and Sebastian bump into each other (once literally) a few more times, as we see each of them struggle. He wants to own a jazz club, but his business partner has betrayed him and he has had to take a job playing bland Christmas tunes in a restaurant for a demanding boss (played by J.K. Simmons, who won an Oscar for Chazelle’s first film, “Whiplash”). He can’t help himself, and seques into jazz, just as Mia wanders in and hears him. She is transfixed. He is fired.

They meet up again when he is playing another demeaning gig — an 80’s cover band performing at a party. And then, after another party, he chivalrously walks her to her car, and they begin to like each other — so much that they swing into a cheeky song and dance about how much they don’t. The song is “A Lovely Night,” and in the classic tradition of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers tunes like “A Fine Romance.” The lyrics may suggest they have no interest in each other, but we and they know from the way their dance seems so effortless, that it is very much the contrary.

The story moves through the seasons (though of course the weather never changes) and soon Mia and Sebastian are happily living together and encouraging each other. But he feels pressure to take a job with an old friend (John Legend) that means good money but constant travel. And good intentions and true affection are sometimes not enough.

Chazelle’s deep and spacious romanticism includes the city and its dreamers and music and movies and love itself. There are dozens of sure-handed, thoughtful touches, from the imperfect perfection of the singing and dancing, which lends an intimate, accessible quality, to the telling glimpses of life in Hollywood — the brief glimpse of a big star or a scene being filmed, the humiliation of auditions, the people who get halfway through a pastry and then demand their money back because it is not gluten-free, the endless wait for the valet parking after a party, the way Mia’s clothes go from bright primary colors to patterns, subdued hues, and then black and white. The songs, with music by Justin Hurwitz and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are captivating and evocative. Sebastian walks along the pier, whistling and then singing about whether he dares to hope. Mia and her roommates wear bright, primary-colored dresses and sing about going out to a party. And in one gorgeous number, the exhilaration of love is made literal as the couple dance up into the stars of the Griffith Observatory.

There are tributes/references to classic films like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” but this movie is not derivative. The storyline is deceptively simple, but the specificity of the detail, depth of understanding, and beautiful performances create true movie magic. “La La Land” is narratively ambitious and emotionally resonant, with a final ten minutes that are pure, wistful poetry. Chazelle and Hurwitz understand that some feelings are just so big they have to be sung and danced. And this movie made me so happy I wanted to create a musical number of my own. But I settled for watching this more two more times instead.

Parents should know that this film includes brief strong language and some emotional confrontations.

Family discussion: What did Mia and Sebastian learn from each other? How did their support for each other’s dreams change their careers? How did the music help tell the story?

If you like this, try: “Singin’ in the Rain” and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” — both inspirations for this film

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DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Musical Romance

Moana

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements
Profanity: MIld language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Action-style peril and some violence, some scary fantasy characters, sad offscreen deaths
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: November 25, 2016
Date Released to DVD: March 6, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B01MRNUJUO

moana posterDisney has kept the best of its reliable formula and freshened it up with a spirited story inspired by the ancient myths of the Pacific Islands and a spirited heroine who dreams of adventure, not finding a prince. It is gorgeously animated, heartwarming, exciting, and slyly self-aware. At one point a character notes that if she has a dress and an animal sidekick, she must be a princess. And in a scene way at the end of the credits (stay ALL the way to the end), a character re-appears to compare himself to another well-known animated Disney character. But it is also utterly sincere in its affection for the heroine and her quest.

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) lives on an Polynesian island paradise. Her father is the king and she will someday be the community’s leader. She has the run of the island, and loves the shore. She has the heart of an explorer, but her parents tell her that their people do not go beyond the reef because it is not safe out on the ocean. They do their best to warn her, but there is nothing that can stop Moana’s curiosity and sense of adventure, even after an initial voyage goes badly. Moana wants to know what happened to the courageous voyagers who once led expeditions from her island led by wayfarers who navigated with the stars. The ocean itself invites her to explore.

When an environmental disaster strikes, Moana realizes that the rules have to change. Her people will be wiped out unless she can return the heart that was stolen from Te Fiti, the goddess who created the world. Her heart, a pounamu stone, was stolen by the mischief-maker Maui (Dwayne Johnson), and the destruction that created has reached Moana’s island. Moana needs to find Maui and return the heart, before all of the island’s plants and fish turn to ashes.

Moana finds Maui, but he does not want to help, he has lost the stone, and Te Fiti broke the magical fishhook that is the source of most of his power. Without a working fishhook, his ability to shapeshift is badly compromised, leading to some hilarious misfires (watch quickly for one of his mistaken personas, a character from “Frozen”). Johnson’s ebullience is perfect for Maui, reminiscent of Robin Williams as the genie in “Aladdin,” with his mercurial personas and helpful but trickster role. He is covered with Maori-style tattoos which delightfully interact with him, a mini-movie of their own.

The two of them go on a journey filled with adventure and with great songs from “Hamilton’s” Lin-Manuel Miranda and Opetaia Foa’i. Highlights include Maui’s riotous “You’re Welcome,” as he explains all that he has given mankind (inspired by Maori creation myths) and “Shiny,” performed by Jemaine Clement as a treasure-loving giant crab. Moana is an appealing heroine, brave, smart, determined and devoted to her community. She is even devoted to her animal sidekick, a scrawny chicken with very little brainpower.

The animation is spectacular, with the ocean a character of its own, pygmy pirates, the giant crab, and a lava monster. And the resolution is especially satisfying, with not just redemption and triumph for our heroes and justice, compassion, and forgiveness rather than demonization of the character who would otherwise be the typical villain. The loveable characters, hummable songs, and heartwarming and joyful conclusion make this a holiday season treat for the whole family.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end of the credits for an extra scene. And be sure to get there in time for the adorable animated short before the film, “Inner Workings,” a sort of variation of “Inside Out,” as we see a man’s internal organs responding to the world around him and enticing him to transcend his daily drudgery with a visit to the beach. It was directed by veteran Disney animator Leo Matsuda.

Parents should know that this film includes action-style peril and violence with some disturbing images, sad (offscreen) deaths, brief schoolyard language, and brief potty humor.

Family discussion: Why didn’t the ocean return the heart itself? What did Moana learn from Maui’s story about his parents?

If you like this, try: “Whale Rider,” “Brave,” and “Mulan” — and try navigating without GPS

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3D Animation DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Musical Scene After the Credits
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