Strange Magic Review

strangeMagic-296x444Sometimes I feel sorry for George Lucas.  Then I remember what he did to Star Wars and I don’t feel so sorry but still what must it be like for one human being to be so high and then so low?  I can’t even imagine.  Well, he certainly hasn’t let failure get to his head because last week he released an animated film, Strange Magic, emblazoned with “from the mind of George Lucas” right on the poster for all to see.  I’m still baffled by that choice.  I can’t think of a single person who would see that tagline and think “George Lucas? I want to go to that”.

But I promised you I’d see every animated film in 2015 and I intend do so.  And no matter all the bad reviews I always try to go into every movie with an open mind and have been willing to go against popular opinion on more than one occasion (Atlantis: The Lost Emipre and Wreck-It Ralph anyone?).

The only theater I could find showing it (and just opened on Friday I will remind you) is this strange theater about 13 minutes from my house.  Everytime I’ve been there it is like a ghosttown and tonight was no exception.  Had the whole theater to myself which allowed me to take notes on my phone and not bother anyone.

So here’s the deal on Strange Magic.  It is bad but mainly because of the writing, annoying music and obvious story.  The animation is not half bad.  It is for that reason I would put it above last year’s stinkers Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return which didn’t look finished and the garish and unfunny Nut Job. If it was just a predictable fairy movie I might be able to place it with The Tinker Bell movies in animation quality but those movies are more clear, vibrant, better vocal performances and stories.

Evidently George Lucas made this movie “because nothing is made for girls any more”.  That was definitely true in the 70’s George but since Little Mermaid I think you’d have a hard time proving that at least with Disney (Pixar yes but plenty of movies made for girls).  I mean Frozen made over 1 billion!

The strangest thing about him making this for girls is a good chunk of the movie is about Sonny the elf finding the fairy Dawn (Meredith Anne Bull) with little scenes of Dawn and Marianne(Evan Rachel Wood) fairies usually thrown in to sing about love or how tough they are.

Sonny the elf
Sonny the elf

I think Lucas also thinks it will appeal to girls because there is lots of talk about love (it is Midsummer’s Night Dream in the same way Gnomeo and Juliet was about Romeo and Juliet).  And of course you have to throw in a wedding, a Spring Ball and an Elf Festival because girls love parties! (Groan…).

strange-magic-dawn strange magic marianneThe two faeries are sisters (of course) and one is free spirited and the other is bitter about love. There is also a Sugar Plum Fairy (Kristin Chenoweth) who is taken captive by the evil Bog King (Alan Cumming) who is known simply as Bog by his mother and followers.

bog king strange magicAll of this could be good in a corny kind of way but the music puts it over the top with each choice being so on the nose it is like playing a game of Name that Tune.  We know the moment we here the character is named Marianne we are going to hear “C’mon Marianne” by Frankie Valli.  As soon as a character is at the dance we hear “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston. It’s like Moulin Rouge but a decade too late and with an even more predictable plot.

The worst was at the end when a character breaks into Wild Thing by The Troggs. Couldn’t they have been a little more creative?  It’s like George Lucas downloaded his ipod, threw in a few modern songs like Kill You Makes You Stronger and Say Hey.

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Even the songs would be passable if the script was better. We get lines like

“Looking for trouble? Well, you’ve come to the right place” says the Bog King and then we get Trouble by Elvis which has lines “Well, I’m evil so don’t you mess around withe me”.  Groan.   It’s like these guys learned to write scripts in kindergarten.

Another line “You’re one to talk with your magic recipe.  A recipe for failure”.

“See what happens when love is unleashed on the world”

“Even with a love potion I’m too hideous to love”

“Why would you think a beast like you could get a beauty like Marianne” (surprised Disney allowed that one.  Gaston should be offended!

“My life flashed before my eyes.  I was hot…”

“I’ve learned something.  Never judge someone or it by the way he, she or it looks”  Thank George for explaining the most obvious moral in the world to us in case we didn’t catch on…

And my favorite “Pull your head out of the clouds.  Clouds of boys…”.  Oh boy. Now I’m thinking the writers have never met a little girl. Do they think this is how they really talk?

george-lucas-wants-pop-songs-to-sell-you-toys-in-the-trailer-for-strange-magic_1Basically the story is a girl fairy is jilted on her wedding day by a jerk fairy.  She turns against love but her sister is still a believer.  The elf Sonny is in love with fairy Dawn and wants to get the potion for her from the Sugar Plum Fairy.  The jilted beau also wants the potion to force Marianne to love him (the antidote is so groan inducing).

Then they meet various obstacles but get the potion fairly easily which is not guarded well by the Bog King who wants to keep the fairy because the potion didn’t work on the girl he loved. (that darn antidote again!).

They all end up meeting in the forest and battling over the love potion and it is so predictable and full of terrible puns and one liners.

sugar plum fairy strange magicI can’t figure out why they wouldn’t have made Kristin Chenoweth Dawn?  The Sugar Plum Fairy isn’t in the movie that much and has only 1 song.

Lucas did get some decent singers in Alan Cumming, Chenoweth and Wood but it is all like a karaoke theme night on romantic songs.

Like I said the animation is tolerable and it isn’t going to harm your kids like something such as The Smurfs with all its obnoxious product placement.  This is just a predictable bland movie with a lot of music kids won’t have heard of like People are Strange by the Doors or Mistreated by Deep Purple.  What little kid knows those?

As far as content goes there is a scene where two male characters kiss for laughs which has gotten so tired a joke. Get over it! The Bog King might be scary to little children but it is tempered pretty quickly with songs and jokes (and the Bog King’s mother trying to set him up).

So it is not as bad as Nut Job or Legends of Oz but that’s really damning with faint praise. A definite skip.  (The things I do for you guys!).

Overall Grade D

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Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart Review

jackIn my quest to see the animated films of 2014 I had a chance tonight to see the french movie Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart. It’s available to all subscribers right now on Netflix and I think it is worth a watch although it has its issues.

It’s probably the most steampunk influenced animation I’ve seen since Treasure Planet, so if you are a fan of steampunk than you will especially love it.

jack7Much like Book of Life the artistic style is the films strength.  It looks very creative (as steampunk is prone to do) and it surprised me with each character design, setting and creatures.    That said, I did kind of wish they had not gone the CG route and done stop motion or hand drawn for this kind of story.  I think it would have looked better and they would have gotten more emotion out of the characters who seemed flat on occasion despite the interesting design.

jack12

It kind of reminded me of Corpse Bride a little bit which is stop motion and I think this would have been better if it had taken that approach instead of CG.

The music is stronger than Book of Life.  In fact, the entire movie is based on an album by an emo sounding band called Dionysos that included an illustrated novel by the lead singer.  Not all the songs are memorable but they create wonderful mood that goes well with the visuals.

The story is the movies weakness.  It starts out strong with Jack getting born on the coldest day on earth and his heart dies so a midwife puts a cuckoo-clock in the place of his heart.

jack2The problem is he cannot get excited or fall in love with his clock heart or he could short circuit and die.  (Robots and clocks are a big part of steampunk. It reminded me a lot of Hugo in that regard.  Reminded me of a lot I guess!).

Unfortunately he meets a beautiful Spanish girl who sings and falls in love with her.  He also decides to go to school and meets a bully named Joe.

jack8There is an accident with Jack and Joe and Jack is forced to flee on a ghost train.  To be honest right around that point the movie started to lose me a lot.

jack11It looked really cool throughout but for the last 45 minutes or so I really didn’t understand what was happening.  There was a ghost train and he was chasing the girl and she didn’t like him and then liked him and then Joe comes and I don’t know what else.

jack4In Book of Life they have the 2 characters in love with the same girl and the songs but I liked in Book of Life there was some good in both of the boys.  It made it more interesting.  Here Joe is just a bad guy from school onward.  There was no motivation as to why he is a bully or mean to Jack.

Maybe I just need to watch it again to get a better idea of what was happening but n this watch through I was confused.

jack3

It also has a very poor English dubbing that doesn’t ever seem to match the lips very well, which is distracting.  I almost wish they had just used subtitles if they were going to do it so cheaply.

But it is visually wonderful and I love the steampunk look and the music was neat.  All together in spite of problems I still enjoyed watching it.

Have any of you seen it?  What did you think?

Overall Grade- C

It is not for very small children who might get scared or feel it is too sad.  More 10+

Rango Movie Review

rangoSo I finally had the chance to watch the Academy Award winning film Rango tonight. I had never seen it because a bunch of my friends at the time were very offended by it, so I never bothered.

I wish I could ask them what it was that offended them because it is definitely a very strange movie but I wasn’t offended.

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That said, I didn’t really care for it either. The artistic style I found off putting and there is a certain garishness to the story, dialogue I didn’t like.

It is a very strange movie and I appreciated some of the risks they took but it is not a pleasant film to watch. I don’t know if that makes sense but sometimes you look at a piece of art and you can see it is ambitious and groundbreaking and yet find it disgusting at the same time.  That’s what Rango felt like to me.

It’s about a pet lizard named Rango who is abandoned in the desert. There are a lot of surrealist moments at the start with a armadillo that has been run over but is still alive who is delusional and then other animals he meets and then he is chased by a hawk in a long sequence.  The story takes a long time to get going but eventually he makes it to an old west town called Dirt.

Tortoise_John_telling_Beans_to_sign_the_deed_to_her_father's_ranch Rango-shoot-out-007

Everything in Dirt is ruled by water and there are a lot of bad guys- a Gila monster (Ray Winstone), a desert turtle (Ned Beatty), a rattlesnake (Bill Nighy), a mole (Harry Dean Stanton), a hawk that can’t speak, and a bunch of rats that I think were bad.  Honestly I lost track after a while.  There were so many characters and the story didn’t make much sense.  Rango becomes Sheriff of Dirt and I guess that was explained but I  missed it. But he fights outlaws and there are bar room brawls and standouts.

Rango-Critters-2There is also a girl iguana called Beans who’s father owned land that the turtle tries to get her to give up throughout the movie. She is the only female character and an obvious love interest for Rango but she is treated in the movie like a man and so there is no chemistry or witty banter between the two. Honestly it seemed like Rango was in a different movie than the rest of the characters. It was weird.

There is a vault that is opened which has the town’s water and the bank manager is killed and the turtle controls the vault.  But they end up with only 6 days of water left.

About an hour into the movie they start on a journey to find water and I started to enjoy it more. There was more of a traditional narrative as opposed to the randomness of the earlier part of the movie.  It is also a movie set in modern times so why can’t they get the water?  It is also not like Great Mouse Detective where humans are living in the town and animals.  No, this is just a town for animals. But it is set in the old west but not really but why?

rango-apocalypsehowl

It was just a confusing movie and I didn’t think it was funny or aesthetically pleasing.  Even the way Rango’s eyes moved I found kind of unsettling and distracting.  It was like looking at someone with a lazy eye (I have a lazy eye so I know of what I speak) and they never look you straight in the face but their eyes are constantly moving. There is also 2 scenes where a hawk (long scenes) chases Rango in a bottle and a vending machine that do nothing for the story.

I’ve rarely been more befuddled by a film.  I guess it is one that just doesn’t appeal to me. I can see why others who appreciate randomness and the type of art love it. And if you are super knowledgeable about westerns than you might like it. Not everything has to be made for my aesthetic but it would have been nice to have at least a story I could follow with characters that made sense.  I think I am pretty open minded when it comes to artistic expression and creative films.

As it is, its too cluttered, confusing, and convoluted.

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Also, who is this movie made for? It’s not adult enough to be like a South Park or ‘adults only’ animated movie. But I can’t imagine any kids following the plot and myriad of characters or getting any of the jokes.  Part of the problem is kids haven’t seen the Western movies it constantly spoofs.  There is even a Dirty Harry cameo from Clint Eastwood.  Most young adults haven’t seen many westerns let alone kids. I wish I had seen more Westerns and it is on my list so I think a lot of the homages and spoofs were lost on me.  I don’t know.  I just don’t get who the movie is geared towards?

It kind of felt like they dumped all their ideas into a canon and then just put it all on screen without regards to a cohesive story or characters that made sense or we could keep track of.

Giving a grade is tough because it is thoughtfully made but it just didn’t work for me.  The last 45 minutes it gets better but I didn’t care for it. Sorry!

Overall Grade- D+

Watchmojo Best of Animated Series

I don’t know how familiar most of you are with youtube but the channel which will make a top 10 of everything (they literally have a top 10 evil despot list…,) watchmojo, has recently come out with a series on the top animated films by decade.  I will share some of my thoughts of their lists and what I would change.

For starters, I wouldn’t factor in success or how it changed the genre.  For my lists it would just be my favorites but I am sure for their channel they need more criteria.  It just seems like there are too many things that are popular or groundbreaking without necessarily being good.

1920-1970-

I understand having to go off of the decade idea but why not do a golden age list, xerox list, ect?  You could do 1920-1950, 1950-1979.  Even that would be better than 1920-1970 but whatever that was their choice. For the most part its hard to argue with the quality of films on this list; although, I kind of feel like Charlotte’s Web made the cut because they needed a non-Disney.  I love Charlotte’s Web.  I included it on my Top 11 Forgotten Animated Films. But in the first 50 years of animated films it wouldn’t make my top 10.

I also would definitely not include Peter Pan, which disappointed me probably the most on rewatch.  Pinocchio and Bambi are artistic masterpieces but just not top 10 favorites for me, but I don’t mind them being on the list and I like them.  I personally would add Jungle Book and Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (not even an HM?) in place of Charlotte’s Web and Peter Pan, but there isn’t a ‘bad’ movie on their list (too much to pick from over 50 years!)

#10: “Sleeping Beauty” (1959)-

#9: “Peter Pan” (1953)

#8: “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” (1961)

#7: “Charlotte’s Web” (1973)

#6: “Alice in Wonderland” (1951)

#5: “Fantasia” (1940)

#4: “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937)

#3: “Bambi” (1942)

#2: “Cinderella” (1950)

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
– “Lady and the Tramp” (1955)
– “Dumbo” (1941)
– “The Sword in the Stone” (1963)
– “The Jungle Book” (1967)
– “Robin Hood” (1973)

#1: “Pinocchio” (1940)

1980-1989

Someone took a long drink from the anime train in creating this list.  I can’t disagree with any of the Studio Ghibli picks and I have not seen Grave of the Fireflies or Akira but they are on my list to see.  Fox and the Hound is so corny I struggle including it; although, it certainly is better than other 80’s Disney offerings like Black Cauldron (which I don’t hate but has big flaws) and Oliver and Company.

I personally would take out Fox and the Hound (and certainly never put it 3rd!) and put Transformers on the list (it’s really good! Blows the Michael Bay monstrosities out the window).   I would also pick Secret of Nimh over An American Tail even though I like Tail, Nimh is sooo great with such a dynamic central female character and mother.  You certainly will have no quibble with me on their #1 pick! Little Mermaid is my favorite movie of the 80s period animated or live action.

#10: “The Land Before Time” (1988)

#9: “An American Tail” (1986)

#8: “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988)

#7: “Castle in the Sky” (1986)

#6: “Akira” (1988)

#5: “Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989)

#4: “The Great Mouse Detective” (1986)

#3: “The Fox and the Hound” (1981)

#2: “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988)

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
– “The Transformers: The Movie” (1986)
– “The Secret of NIMH” (1982)
– “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” (1984)

#1: “The Little Mermaid” (1989)

1990-1999-

This is a really solid list with few quibbles from me.  I have not seen Ghost in the Shell but will add it to the list of anime I need to see.  The only other strange addition is James and the Giant Peach because on their 80’s video they said no live action/animated hybrids and so Who Framed Roger Rabbit was out.  James and the Giant Peach has an extended section that is live action (not just a few minutes like Lego Movie).  What’s up watchmojo?

I love Prince of Egypt so that would probably sub out for James but other than that no issue with this list.  Solid picks.  (The order I could squabble with but I’ll give them that). I loved Rescuers Down Under more than the average bloke so if it was solely on my preferences might have put that in and I really do like Tarzan but tough to argue with their choices

#10: “Ghost in the Shell” (1995)

#9: “Mulan” (1998)

#8: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)

#7: “James and the Giant Peach” (1996)

#6: “The Iron Giant” (1999)

#5: “Beauty and the Beast” (1991)

#4: “Princess Mononoke” (1997)

#3: “Aladdin” (1992)

#2: “The Lion King” (1994)

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
– “Antz” (1998)
– “The Prince of Egypt” (1998)
– “Tarzan” (1999)
– “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996)
– “Pocahontas” (1995)

#1: “Toy Story” (1995)

2000-2009

This is another solid list with a lot of predictable choices.  If I was just going off my personal preferences Shrek would definitely not make the list as I find those movies grating and obnoxious.  I am also not the biggest Wes Anderson fan and his style in a children’s film with Fantastic Mr Fox wasn’t a huge fan of although the film looks great.  I would have added The Triplets of Belleville, which is an animated french movie which blew me away.  Corpse Bride absolutely belongs on the list and Howl’s Moving Castle. Both I think are much better than Monsters Inc even though I like MI).

I also love Emperor’s New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire more than the average person, but I can see why they wouldn’t have made the list.  Waltz with Bashir if a stunning adult animated film that I love and I think Chicken Run is better than the Wallace and Gromit; although I like WandG.  That said, it is a solid list and I can see it totally being a popular opinion.  For the record, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs wouldn’t get an HM from me!  I have also found Lilo & Stitch to grow on me (own it on blu-ray now) even though I still hate Stitch’s design and personality. What I like I love!

Up is my favorite movie period, not just animated movie so no issue with me with that at #1 and Spirited Away, Finding Nemo, Incredibles, Rataouille, and Wall-e are masterpieces.

#10: “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” (2005)

#9: “Ratatouille” (2007)

#8: “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009)

#7: “Monsters, Inc.” (2001)

#6: “The Incredibles” (2004)

#5: “Shrek” (2001)

#4: “Spirited Away” (2001)

#3: “WALL-E” (2008)

#2: “Finding Nemo” (2003)

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
– “Kung Fu Panda” (2008)
– “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” (2009)
– “Lilo & Stitch” (2002)
– “The Emperor’s New Groove” (2000)
– “Chicken Run” (2000)

#1: “Up” (2009)

2010-present

Another solid and probably very popular list (although Frozen haters will be up in arms.  Go Frozen!). I am not a big fan of Wreck-it Ralph although I see why others like it and don’t dislike it just not as in love with it as others. It wouldn’t make my personal list.  I have also not seen Rango as  most of my friends hated it (not sure why but they did so I never saw it).  Glad to see Ernest and Celestine mentioned as that is such a lovely film (although Secret of Kells is great too).

I guess they were only going with children’s movies for these lists because Persepolis would have been cool to see.  I also loved Big Hero 6 and would put that in the Despicable Me spot (not that big a fan of those movies but I like the Minions!).   I also recently rewatched Paranorman and liked it even better on rewatch.  That would have gotten my Wreck-it Ralph spot.   But still a solid list.  It is kind of strange they go 50 years in first year and only 5 in final list (bad planning watchmojo?).  Definitely no arguments from me on their #1 movie.  Toy Story 3 made me cry my eyes out and it was tense, exciting, scary, and gorgeous- a practically perfect animated film.

#10: “Adventures of Tintin ”

#9: “Wreck-it Ralph”

#8: “Rango”

#7: “Tangled

#6: “Despicable Me”

#5: “Frozen”

#4: “Lego Movie”

#3: “Ernest and Celestine”

#2: “How to Train Your Dragon”

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.
– Wind Rises

– Monsters University

– Bolt

– Megamind

– Frankenweenie

– Secret  World of Ariety

#1: “Toy Story 3”

So what do you think of Watchmojo’s list and my comments?  Where are they way off?  Where am I way off?  What do you agree with? As I well know nothing invites debate like the making of lists, so comment away.  Thanks!

Bonus Holiday Review: Home Alone

home aloneNow that I’m finished with Scrooge month I thought I might do a few bonus holiday reviews and tonight I watched Home Alone and boy does it hold up well.  Aside from technology changes I think it could be released today.  It’s still funny, sweet, sincere and a great family film.

I have a bit of a personal history with this movie.  When we were 10 my grandparents would take us on a trip and my trip was to go to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm and see my cousin in a choral competition with my grandparents.  It was pretty great.  Before we went down to Southern California we had a night and decided to go see Home Alone at the theater.  My parents weren’t big TV/Movie people so my movie indoctrination was fairly sparse- the occasional Disney and my recent obsession with Little Mermaid  which was released the year before Home Alone.  I certainly hadn’t seen many comedies at that point.

Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone.  I flew alone which was kind of brave!
Here I am in 1990 on the trip I saw Home Alone. I flew alone which was kind of brave!

So to the theater we went and I laughed my head off. It is the first movie I remember connecting with and laughing hard at.

The truth is I was a very independent kid so Home Alone was kind of my fantasy.  The idea of a kid not only getting by without his parents but defending the house and being smarter than everyone else is so appealing to kids (at least to my kind of kidlike mind). Pretty much if you want to know about me as a child watch Little Mermaid and Home Alone.  That’s the kind of independent spirit I was.  I hated to be told what to do and wanted to be taken seriously in conversation and life. My parents were wise to give me a pretty long leash.

What makes it funny is very good writing combined with the type of humor usually reserved for animation.  Road Runner or Tom and Jerry would have anvils dropped on their heads in cartoons but here is it is real people and all done by a charming little kid.

spiderI like that the movie stays grounded.  All of the stunts Kevin pulls off feel like the kind of thing a kid could do even if in reality they are not.  It’s not like he’s blowing stuff up or using chemicals a kid wouldn’t know about.  He puts ice on the staircase, puts toys and glass ornaments on the ground, makes havoc with a air rifle.   I’m sure you could tear apart things like the zipline as not being realistic but for the most part it feels plausible.  If anything it feels more grounded in reality than Columbus’ Goonies which is another child-fantasy film with heart and humor (a favorite of mine too).

home-alone-wet-banditsHe also doesn’t totally get away with it.  He comes pretty close to being hurt by the Bandits which creates a kind of nervous tension that makes the viewer laugh.

One of my favorite things about the movie is they make Kevin a capable kid.  Some of the best scenes are him going to the grocery store, doing laundry, sitting at church, meeting with Santa, and ordering pizza.  We sometimes see kids as so helpless but I bet a lot of kids in Kevin’s position would do just fine at all those tasks. They aren’t as stupid as we like to think.

home alone groceryThere is also real heart to the movie which especially for a holiday film endears the picture to all of us.  So many comedies today feel crass and then try to throw in sentiment at the end (I’m talking to you Adam Sandler).  But this maintains that kind of heart all the way through.  Even the fight between Kevin and his Mom at the beginning feels authentic to the way a family really talks and deals with one another. Again, it feels like a real family and that gives the whole crazy situation a grounding for the humor.

mom home alone 2I love the scenes with Kevin and the scary neighbor.  It’s sweet and sincere and reminds you of the fears and earnestness of children.  It could have been overly-sentimental but it is played perfectly and you have to give a lot of credit to Macaulay Culkin and Roberts Blossom who plays the old man.

home alone churchCatherine O’hara is wonderful as the Mother.  When she is pleading for help to get back to her son you wish you could help her. You not only feel her panic but her shame and guilt.  It’s very good.

home alone momI also like that Kevin does not immediately forgive his Mother.  He pauses for a second and looks at her.  You think maybe he will stomp off and then he smiles.  It is a great moment.

mom home aloneJohn Candy has a lovely cameo as a Polka band member who agrees to give Kate a ride to Chicago.  He’s joyful and sweet and wants to help a person in need, and the polka music makes it funny (of all the music I think polka is the funniest for some reason).

john candy home aloneJohn Heard feels authentic and real as Kevin’s father and the rest of the family is kind of generic Hollywood kids but it works.  My family reunions are full of chaos and I didn’t get along with my brother so those family scenes ring true for me.

1323845870Eat-Junk-and-Watch-RubbishThere are a lot of little details I like.  Such as Kevin getting his own tree and decorating it or the fact he lights candles over his mac and cheese.  It makes this little kid feel like a real person instead of a caricature.

mac-and-cheseHome Alone could have gone off the rails in so many ways but it straddles that line of slapstick, sentimentality, and a good story just about perfectly.

I give a lot of credit to John Hughes’ writing and Chris Columbus’ directing.  They both had (or have in case of Columbus) careers where they respected young people and sought to tell their stories well.

Whether it is Chris Columbus writing Goonies, directing Harry Potter movies or The Gremlins, or John Hughes with Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller they both managed to always portray children and teens as real people with their own thoughts, desires and struggles.  We take them seriously because the creators took them seriously.

In the end with Home Alone I think even if you hated all the slapstick violence you could still enjoy the movie. There is enough character development and warmth to enjoy the movie on that level alone. How many comedies can say that?

And let’s not forget John Williams’ wonderful score. He combines traditional carols, band and pop music with his own original pieces in one of the best holiday soundtracks ever.  He’s the master!

I hadn’t seen Home Alone for a couple of years and watched it last year and was really charmed by it.  So if it has been a while for you give it a watch.  Your kids will love it and you will too!

Scrooge 27: Christmas Carol 1997- Tim Curry

christmas carol 1997I’ve told this story before on the blog but let me repeat it one more time.  When I was a little girl there was this restaurant called Shoney’s by our house and when we would drive by it my Grandmother would always say ‘Shoney’s, it’s not that bad”.  We would all laugh because why would you want to go to a restaurant that ‘is not that bad’ when you can go some place good.  Every once in a while I will find a movie like that and I call it a Shoney movie.  It’s not that bad but it’s not really good and since you have so many options why see a not that bad movie when you can see a good one?

So is the case with 1997 animated version of A Christmas Carol.  I know many hate it but I think it is a Shoney movie.  It’s certainly not good but on the other hand I didn’t think it was that bad either.

What makes it passable for me is Tim Curry as Scrooge.  He is one of my favorite actors who is not in near enough movies.  He has made playing a Scrooge a bit of a passion over his career and if you are an audible member you can download a recording of him reading Christmas Carol free which is infinitely more entertaining than this movie.  It’s a shame really because he is so good he deserved better than  to be saddled with a Shoney version in the movies.

tim curry

He even did a performance in 2001 at Madison Square Garden, which I’ve heard was amazing. Here he is singing from that production. This is particularly touching when you realize he sang it just 2 months after 9/11.  Amazing they even did the parade that year.

He’s still my favorite Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island (also my favorite Treasure Island).  He chews up every scene he is in.

I wish this version had allowed him to bring a 1/10th the charm and swagger he brought to Silver.

But let’s talk about what it is, not what it could have been.

Trailer

Cast:

Tim Curry as Ebenezer Scrooge
Whoopi Goldberg as Ghost of Christmas Present
Michael York as Bob Cratchit
Edward Asner as Marley’s Ghost
Frank Welker as Debit
Kath Soucie as Mrs. Cratchit, Ghost of Christmas Past and Fan
Jodi Benson as Belle

Scrooge- Again, I love Tim Curry, and I think he is fine in this.  Certainly the faults of the movie are not in his voice performance, which has gusto and nuance.  He also has a good singing voice where required.

Differences- It is a pretty straight forward retelling with a few differences- most of them not really working.

First of all, Scrooge has a dog which is very distracting.  We don’t want to see the expressions of the dog.  We want to see Scrooge.  I guess I am just not an animal person, so I did not need the dog.  Scrooge is enough.  We do not need a mean dog to add to his meanness.

tim curry christmas carol dogThe songs I actually think are fine but two are totally unnecessary.  One called Random Acts of Kindness is sufficiently random sung by the woman who is bringing Scrooge dinner before he gets to his door. This just lengthens the time it takes for the story to really get going and isn’t sung by anyone important or pertinent to the story.

wench tim curry christmasAnother strange choice is at Fred’s party they sing a song called Santa’s Sooty Suit and supposedly it was sister Fan’s favorite song.  This seems like an incredibly silly song to be your favorite song and again isn’t necessary.

One interesting difference is it is the only Victorian version I am aware of to have an African American ghost with Whoopi Goldberg voicing Present; although, it does not sound anything like her.

tim curry present

Strengths- Even though I just criticized 2 songs the rest of the songs were pretty engaging and all are well sung.  My favorite is Song on the Bridge with the voice of Ariel, Jodi Benson as Belle.

The whole Belle/Scrooge scene is done very well.  Also I liked when Scrooge is looking at the Cratchit’s he says ‘I wish I had a family’ and Present says ‘But you do you silly man’.  As a single adult sometimes it is easy to forget that we all have family even if it isn’t our own progeny.

The voicecast is also across the board better than the movie deserves.  Ed Asner as Marley, Michael York as Cratchit etc.

Weaknesses-  The animation is definitely the weakness.  It is on the Saturday morning/direct to DVD level.  It’s jerky in spots, it doesn’t match up with the vocals sometimes and it just doesn’t look that pleasant.

past tim curry

Like look at Future.  It looks like a cheap He-man villain.

tim curry futureSo if you can handle that kind of Saturday morning, cheap animation than the movie is much more tolerable.

I just love Tim Curry so much that this version gets a Shoney vote from me.  It’s not that bad and the music, and strong voices make it tolerable.  I would certainly recommend the 2009 Disney version over this but that’s just my preference.  This is a good one if you do not like the scarier elements as those are very tame.

tim curry scrooge fun

A few of the songs are decent and the voicecast is very good.  So take it for what you will.  If you feel like something that is ‘not that bad’ than go for it.  I would say watch a great version instead of good but it’s passable.  (Glowing endorsement I know but I call it like I see it!).

This same year 20th Century Fox released Anastasia which is a million times better than this despite not being perfect.  Can’t win them all I guess! But seriously Hollywood get Tim Curry more parts!

Scrooge 26: Looney Tunes Then and Now

christmas2This really isn’t a Scrooge Month review but I’m honestly running out of versions so I thought it would be fun to talk about the Looney Tunes.  I love the Looney Tunes.  Last year I caught a lightning round on amazon and was able to get the complete Looney Tunes collection on DVD and as I watched them I was so impressed with the animation, intelligence and great laughs.  I finally understood why they were such formidable competition to Disney for so many years.  They are brilliant.

Then I heard about a new show that ran from 2012 to 2014 and my friends told me it was horrible . Just the drawings convinced me of that fact but I hadn’t watched an actual episode until this project.

I mean just look at these characters.  Look how weird they look.  Daffy’s beak is strangely shaped . The eyes are off.  There are characters I don’t remember seeing.

Looney-tunes new
In contrast look at the original.

Looney_tunes_wallpaper_1600x1469
The proportions look right . The characters we all know and there is a sense of fun about it. The new is so unpleasant to look at.

But I always say that with good writing anything can be good so I sat down to give both old and new versions of a Christmas Carol a shot.  See what you think

Old

New (Just a clip since it is 22 minutes but it definitely gives you the idea)

To me there is no comparison.  Neither really has anything to do with the Christmas Carol but the old is actually funny in a Home Alone style way with pratfalls and great music cues that add to the humor.  The new is Lola, a most unfortunate character, bossing everyone around and talking about manicures. The whole episode was crass and trying to be modern and sarcastic.  The voices are also off.  Let’s just say whoever they got is no Mel Blanc… Urgh!  That’s not Looney Tunes.  Warner Brothers should be ashamed of themselves!  I’m serious!

They have a brilliant legacy to uphold and if you are going to stick Looney Tunes on the label you better make sure it is bright and creative and funny.  Not cool, hip, lazy and unpleasant looking.  I’m telling you if they mess up with Animaniacs there will be no end to my wrath.

In contrast look at the recent Mickey Mouse show by artist Paul Rudish and how it respects the old shorts but adds a little bit of modern humor.

So in conclusion Warner Brothers I want more of this…

Bugs_Bunny's_Christmas_Carol Looney-Tunes

And less of this…
Christmas_at_Lola's_House

bugs2

Lola_and_Bugs_Bunny_A_Christmas_Carol

Have I made myself clear? End of rant….

Scrooge 20: Stingiest Man in Town 1978

The_Stingiest_Man_in_Town

As I have said several times on the blog during Scrooge month I am trying to be positive and so if I completely dislike a version I will skip it.  So far the animated versions of Christmas Carol have not been very entertaining (Mickey’s being the exception).

They are pretty much all musicals and the songs aren’t great and they end up feeling boring rather than entertaining.

However, there are a few that while not great have some things to recommend so I’ll cover them.  So is the case with the 1978 Stingiest Man in Town.  It is actually a remake of a version I’ve actually covered in my Basil Rathborne review.

They kept all the songs including the Santa Claus song which I wish they had skipped but most of the other songs are ok. The animation is done by the Rankin/Bass team who primarily focused on stop motion holiday specials such as Little Drummer Boy, Jack Frost, Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman etc.

Like I said, it’s not a good movie.  In fact, in some ways it’s terrible but it did just enough to warrant a review where I wouldn’t feel overwhelmingly negative.

Trailer-

Couldn’t find a trailer but here is the opening song to give you a feel.

Cast:

Scrooge- Walter Matthau

B.A.H. Humbug- Tom Bosley

Marley- Theodore Bikel

Young Scrooge- Robert Morse

Fred- Dennis Day

Past and Present- Paul Frees

Bob Cratchit– Sonny Melendez.

Scrooge-

Scrooge is voiced by Walter Matthau which like George C. Scott is a strange choice because his voice is so American.  And why in an animated feature would you cast a different voice for young scrooge?  Live action does this because an old actor cannot usually pull off a young look.  In animation that isn’t a problem and our voices are basically the same.

Stingiest-Man-in-Town-b-web

So his voice just doesn’t fit Christmas Carol.  Plus, I keep waiting for him to tell a joke.  I’m so used to Walter Matthau meaning comedy and I know he played grumpy curmudgeons in movies like Grumpy Old Men but it didn’t quite work here.

Differences- Well, the big difference is there is a narrator voiced by Tom Bosley named B.A.H. Humbug (isn’t that hilarious Bah Humbug is his name?).  Groan. He is very annoying.  Makes Jiminy Cricket look like a seasoned pro.

stingiest humbugAs I mentioned they also include the Santa Claus song which doesn’t belong in this story.  This is a story about Christmas and redemption.  Leave Santa Claus to the Santa Claus stories…

Strengths-

Aside from the Santa Claus song the rest of the songs are fine.  I’ve certainly heard worse.  I can see why they were popular enough from the 1956 version to warrant a reuse.  An Old Fashioned Christmas is a pretty good carol and the other songs are decent songs.

There are also segments that feel heartfelt and are pretty accurate to the book and the scenes with Isabel and Scrooge I liked well enough. So the content wasn’t that bad.  It’s just the appearance and the voices and a few other odd touches that felt off.

All of these segments were pretty good.

bob cratchit stingiest stingiest man past 1978-toon-mrs-fezziwig stingiest marley

The scenes in the Pawn Shop and with future are very well done and creepy. And aside from the bug and the Santa scene it is fairly accurate to the story so for kids it’s not a terrible way to introduce them to the story (although much better ways out there so why bother?)

1978-toon-old-joeThe voicecast gives it their all and Theodore Bikel is very good as Marley.  Also frequent Rankin/Bass collaborator Paul Frees is very good in his various roles.

Also some of the backdrops and settings are lovingly drawn.  It seems hard to believe that many of Rankin/Bass went on to work for Studio Ghiblin and Hiyao Miyazaki.  So different!

Weaknesses-

Well there are a lot.  First of all, the animation is just weird.  All of the characters look like bobblehead dolls with giant heads and small bodies.  It looks so odd.

1978-toon-childrenThis is going to sound mean but they look like Sloth from the Goonies.  I don’t know why they made that choice in the design?

Also like I said the Santa Claus and Matthau’s American comedic voice is distracting.  But there is a heart to all the performances, the story and music that is sincere and pleasant. It just felt weird and I couldn’t get over the look of the human characters.  Plus, the addition of B.A.H.  Humbug was super lame.

stingiest man cartoon fred

I can picture if you like things that are a little bit strange and you like animation that is odd looking than you might enjoy this.  Those are the big hurdles that kept me from enjoying it completely.  It wasn’t for me but for a particular type of viewer I think it could be a lot of fun.   Maybe I’ve just grown soft because of the bad animated versions I saw. I don’t know.  With all its faults, this was at the top of the pack if you can believe it…

Things are looking better than ever for the Disney’s Christmas Carol.  Definitely my favorite feature film animated version.  Still will be reviewing the Tim Curry version and Mr Magoo’s Christmas Carol also by Rankin/Bass I believe. Both by special request.  We will see!

Scrooge 15: Flintstones Christmas Carol

A_Flintstones_Christmas_Carol We’ve done 4 more serious Scrooge versions in a row so let’s take a quick minute to talk about a silly one- Flintstones Christmas Carol.

It’s not good per say but I didn’t think it was awful either.  I think if someone said ‘you are in charge of making a Flintstones Christmas Carol’ I don’t think I could have come up with something this good and there is something to be said for that.

Scrooge- The gimmick behind this version is that Bedrock Community Players is putting on a play and the whole town is involved including Fred who is has let his lead role go to his head .

Fredflintstone

You kind of have to go with the world of Flintstones and assume that Christmas would exist (and there is a line about Jesus) even though Jesus clearly would not have lived in caveman times.  Just go with it.

So Fred is obsessed with the play and forgets Wilma and Pebbles . At the same time we see the actual play and it is a pretty faithful narration and the animation isn’t terrible.

flintstone marleyMr Slate plays Marley and then when others get sick Wilma ends up playing Past and Belle making Fred realize what a Scrooge he is being.

flintstone wilma pastDifferences- Like I said we are in Flintstone world and there is a play of Christmas Carol within the movie.

Strengths- It does contain a fair amount of content from the story.  The voicework is pretty good.  The animation is bright and colorful.  This isn’t that bad.  Is it good? No but I’ve seen worse. (Better than Smurfs and All Dogs but worse than Disney or Mickey).

Weakneses- The world is just too goofy for Christmas Carol.  It probably shouldn’t have even been attempted and it is strange that they still tried to the sets Victorian for the play.  This is caveman.  how would they know what that all looked like? I know overthinking it but it is sort of strange.

flintstones as future flintstones-christmas-carol-20My advice is put on Mickey or Muppets instead but this isn’t terrible if your kids end up watching it.  I haven’t seen much Flintsones.  Is it worth watching?