The Star

B +

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Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some thematic elements
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Peril and some violence
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: November 17, 2017

Copyright Sony Pictures Animation 2017
Sometimes a little part of a big story helps us see the big story more clearly. And so in “The Star,” we get to witness the Nativity through the eyes of a little donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun), and the friends he meets along the way as he helps Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) on the way to Bethlehem.

Bo is stuck going around in circles in Nazareth — literally — yoked to a miller’s grinding wheel, his only view the rear end of the old-timer donkey in front of him (Kris Kristofferson). Through the window of the mill he glimpses the big world outside, and he dreams of doing something important, with a lot of pomp and splendor, and wants to escape so he can join the caravan of the king. Bo finally does escape, with some help from his best friend, a dove named Dave (Keegan-Michael Key). He hides out with the newlywed Mary, who welcomes him kindly and treats his injured leg, and then he ends up going with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

Meanwhile, shepherds are watching the star, King Herod (Christopher Plummer) is sending a formidable soldier with two attack dogs (Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias) to find the baby and make sure nobody threatens his right to the throne.

First-time feature director Timothy Reckart brings a background in stop-motion animation to give the look of this film exceptional depth and texture. The action and chase scenes as Bo tries to keep away first from the miller and later from Herod’s soldier show an astute appreciation for physical space and a real gift for making the most of it. The movie’s visual panache is enhanced by delightful voice talent from a widely diverse cast, including the camels of the three kings, voiced by Tyler Perry, Tracey Morgan, and Oprah Winfrey, Kristin Chenoweth as an excitable rodent, and “Saturday Night Live’s” Aidy Bryant as Ruth, a warm-hearted sheep who strays from her flock to follow the star. The stand-out is Key, whose high spirits show us that Dave the dove can be funny but most of all, he is a true friend.

Reckart also handles the tone very well, shifting seamlessly from gentle comedy to PG-friendly action without ever being disrespectful of or neglecting the movie’s main themes. The focus may be on Bo, but it is his experiences with Mary and Joseph that transform him.

Parents should know that this movie includes some peril and violence, brief potty humor, and reference to the virgin birth and pregnancy.

Family discussion: What did Bo learn about being important? Why didn’t Ruth stay with the flock?

If you like this, try: “Prince of Egypt”

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Just Jesse the Jack is Back! An Exclusive Trailer — “A Doggone Hollywood”

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A Doggone Hollywood,” starring Just Jesse the Jack, will be available on VOD and DVD June 6, 2017.

He’s got the number one show on television (starring Cynthia Rothrock, An Eye For An Eye; and Paul Logan (Sniper: Special Ops) and millions of adoring fans think he doesn’t have a care in the world. But the truth is, poor Murphy (YouTube’s “Just Jesse the Jack”) doesn’t have a friend in the world! True, he gets top billing on his weekly TV series ‘Doggie 911,’ but the old Hollywood adage – ‘It’s lonely at the top’ – certainly applies to this canine super-star. Then one day, fate steps in and some young fans (Sydney Thackray, Walker Mintz) accidentally let the little guy loose. The grateful pooch follows the kids home and they agree to hide him.

Meanwhile, the studio boss (Shadoe Stevens, The Late Late Show) has offered a big reward for his safe return, so the local sheriff (Michael Paré, (The Infiltrator) and some unscrupulous ‘agency men’ (Jaret Sacrey, Freddy James) are determined to track the dog down at all costs. So now, with dark forces closing in from all sides, can the kids save the dog, and can a lesson be taught the studio to be good to the hand that feeds them? Wagging his little tail with confidence, Murphy firmly believes he’s up to the task.

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New for Easter — Ice Age: The Great Egg-scapade

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Just in time for Easter — Scrat and his Ice Age friends have a new adventure with a hunt for an egg, Ice Age: The Great Egg-scapade. Just 20 minutes long, it is a delightful family treat.

Harried prehistoric bird mom Ethel entrusts her precious, soon-to-hatch egg to Sid. When she recommends him to her neighbors – Condor Mom, Cholly Bear and Gladys Glypto – business booms at his new egg-sitting service. However, dastardly pirate bunny Squint, who is seeking revenge on the ICE AGE gang, steals, camouflages and hides all the eggs. Once again, with Squint’s twin brother, Clint, assisting Manny, Diego and the rest of the gang come to the rescue and take off on a daring mission that turns into the world’s first Easter egg hunt.

I have a copy to give away! Send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with Egg in the subject line and tell me your favorite animated film. Don’t forget your address! (U.S. addresses only). I’ll pick a winner at random on March 29, 2017. Good luck!

Reminder: My policy on conflicts

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Rock Dog

B

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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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A Dog’s Purpose

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MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements and some peril
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and alcohol abuse
Violence/ Scariness: Tense confrontations, domestic abuse, fire, law enforcement peril and violence including shooting, sad animal deaths, animal neglect
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: January 27, 2017
Date Released to DVD: May 1, 2017
Amazon.com ASIN: B01N37D6XC

Copyright Amblin Entertainment 2016
Copyright Amblin Entertainment 2016
The doesthedogdie website helpfully lets us know what some people consider the most important deciding factor in selecting a film. They — and their visitors — will have a tough time with this one because in one sense there are at least three dogs who die in this film but in another the whole point of the movie is that dogs do not really die; there are doggy spirits that go on from dog to dog, learning how to be more devoted, more loving, more helpful. So yes, there are some tough moments for both the human and canine characters in this film. I cried just watching the trailer. But on the other hand, there are gorgeous and adorable dogs. Even better, there are puppies.

“A Dog’s Purpose,” based on the best-selling book by W. Bruce Cameron is an unabashed love letter to dogs and the humans who are lucky enough to be loved by them. Yes, it is sugary and sentimental, but so is the devotion dogs and people have to each other. These are not cats like Garfield, who often scorn us and bestow their favors sparingly, or an “Every Which Way But Loose” orangutan who can outwit us. These are dogs who have nothing but time to play with us or comfort us and are always overjoyed to see us.

Bailey, voiced by Josh Gad of “Frozen,” is born (puppies), then quickly caught by animal control and (subtly) killed. Then, he is born again, and adopted by a boy named Ethan. Bailey is curious about the world and his place in it. Much of the gentle humor of the film comes from Bailey’s efforts to understand human behavior, and much of the sweetness comes from his realization that his purpose is to love, to help, and to remind humans of something important they tend to forget and dogs are very good at — to appreciate this exact moment, to inhabit it fully.

Bailey and Ethan adore one another, happy to play together all day. Bailey gets up to the usual dog mischief, but the real problem in the family is when Ethan’s dad becomes depressed, begins to abuse alcohol, and becomes abusive. By that time, Ethan is a teenager, in love with Hannah (Britt Robertson), and being recruited for football scholarships to college. But things go wrong for Ethan, and Bailey gets old and tired…and is reborn as Ellie, a K-9 dog partnered with Carlos (John Ortiz), and then as a corgi adopted by a lonely student (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), and then as a neglected dog abandoned by his owner’s boyfriend.

There’s nothing subtle, surprising, or sophisticated about this story, which is as chewed over as a dog’s favorite bedroom slipper. But audiences will be won over by the unabashed affection for its subject and funny-only-after-the-fact incidents that will be only too familiar to anyone who has ever lived with a dog. Its belief in the deep connection between humans and the devoted dogs in their lives — and did I mention the puppies? — help it connect to us as well.

NOTE: The release of some leaked behind-the-scenes footage appeared to show one of the dogs being mistreated by a handler in order to get him to do a stunt. The producer of the film has made a detailed statement about the incident, accepting responsibility for some mistakes but also making it clear that the leaked footage was edited to distort what happened. Anyone concerned about the treatment of the dogs on the film should read his statement in its entirety.

Parents should know that this film has tense, sad, and dangerous situations including very sad deaths of beloved pets and character injured, alcohol abuse, depression, domestic abuse, neglect of animal, fire, law enforcement violence including kidnapping, shoot-outs, and rescue, some potty humor, and some disturbing images.

Family discussion: What do you think a dog’s purpose is? How is it different from a human’s purpose?

If you like this, try: The book by W. Bruce Cameron and the movies “My Dog Skip,” “Marley & Me,” and “The Three Lives of Thomasina”

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