Oddly enough there aren’t very many holiday specials or films for that matter that focus on Jesus Christ- the reason for the season! And that is truly one thing that stands out about the Rankin/Bass film The Little Drummer Boy.
Before reviewing this film I must own The Little Drummer Boy is not a carol I particularly enjoy. It’s nice sung by a choir but I guess I prefer the Christmas songs that I can sing easily by myself and ‘rump a pum pum’ doesn’t work with only one!
That said, the Little Drummer Boy is about a boy named Aaron who has a magic drum that charms his friends a donkey, sheep and camel. The animation is not very fluid in this movie but I oddly got used to it after a while.
Life seems good for him but one night his family is killed and his home is burned to the ground by roughians. That’s right. They don’t mess around in this film! It’s pretty dark to begin with.
Then a man named Ben Haramad abducts Aaron and forces him to join his circus of nitwits. Aaron becomes very bitter towards the people watching him in the circus and to Ben. At one point Ben paints a smile over Ben’s face because he refuses to smile for the crowds. It looks kind of like the Joker.
Aaron meets a group of Wise Men from East heading towards a new born King. Aaron escapes but as they head to Bethlehem Aaron’s sheep is injured and near death.
Aaron presents his sheep before the Christ-child and plays his drum as his gift. The sheep is healed and Aaron feels joy. It’s really quite a lovely moment.
I was ready to give this one a pass at first- especially when it got so grim and sad but by the end it had won me over. I liked seeing the character arc of Aaron and the whole sequence at the nativity was lovely.
The other standouts are a great voicecast with Greer Garson, Teddy Eccles, Jose Ferrer, Paul Frees, and June Foray
The music is also really special by Rankin/Bass regulars Maury Laws and Jules Bass. I particularly loved the Vienna Boys Choir throughout which fit for a story about a little boy.
Of course we get our title song and I think it was all handled beautifully.
So The Little Drummer is definitely a film worth a watch. It’s only 25 minutes (made in 1968) so what have you go to lose!
The next entry I’m looking at in my Rankin/Bass month is the 22 minute program The First Christmas: The First Christmas Snow. The rather ungainly title refers to a nativity play put on but really the The First Christmas Snow is more the plot of the special.
The First Christmas Snow unfortunately is one of the weaker entries I’ve seen but that’s not to say it doesn’t have some positive elements. It’s just very syrupy and preachy. More along the lines of something you’d watch as a kid in Sunday School to teach a principle than a real piece of cinema.
It tells the tale of a little blind boy named Lucas who is lost in a storm watching over his sheep and some nuns including Sister Theresa take him in and care for him. Theresa is voiced by Angela Lansbury and I could listen to her all day. Basically little Lucas gets to know the nuns and starts to feel at home with his sheep at the monastery.
But mean old Father Thomas (Cyril Ritchard) doesn’t think it is the right place for a little boy and insists he be taken to the orphanage. But Lucas and his friend Louisa pray for a miracle and they get what they ask for and more. Lucas is also trying to thwart off pranksters who lose his sheep and also trying to find the perfect gift for Sister Theresa.
there’s a Christmas pageant where Lucas and Louisa are our angels (did any of you doubt that would be the case?)
The thing that makes this bit watchable and sweet in its own way is the songs. Angela Lansbury sounds completely lovely singing White Christmas, Christmas Snow is Magic and Save a Little Christmas.
The stop motion is fine but not the best I’ve seen from Rankin/Bass and it’s just so syrupy it is hard to recommend- and that’s coming from an adamant apologist for many Christian films.
If you need to have a sub for Sunday School and want to teach about faith and miracles it would be a fine choice but I can still think of better. Honestly any of the veggietales shorts would be better with a similar message.
So this will definitely be near the bottom of my Rankin/Bass rankings if I do one but luckily it is only 22 minutes and I can stand just about anything for that long.
Let’s talk about our first holiday short in Rankin/Bass month (I’ll try to mix up the holiday and non-holiday). We are talking about Santa Claus is Coming to Town. I have to say from the start this is not one I remember watching as a kid. I remember Rudolph but not this one for some reason. I’m not going to say this was my first watch-through but if I have seen it was a long time ago.
With that said, I will say- this movie is weird. It’s just the oddest assortment of strange story, characters, animation, and everything else. I don’t think that is a bad thing per say but it’s just a bit hard to write about. It’s really a very befuddling movie!
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town aired on ABC in 1970 and it is basically a Santa Claus origin story. Our narrator is SD Kluger (SD for Special Delivery) voiced by Fred Astaire who isn’t given as much to do as you might think.
Basically there is a villain named Burgermeister Meisterburger (a great name!) who hates everything. One morning a baby is dropped on his doorstep and he sends it away to the ‘orphan asylum’ and then the animals rescue the baby from him and the Winter Warlock and then take him to stay with the Kringle Family who make toys. Who knew St. Nick had such grim beginnings!
But luckily the Kringles are sweet and lovely people and Kris grows up and wants to restore the Kringle family as the official toymakers of the King (who knew the king needed such a thing?). So he sets out to make and deliver toys.
Unfortunately Burgermeister has outlawed all toys and basically any other kind of fun. Everything in Sombertown (the name of Burgermeister’s kingdom) is dark and gray and sad. He not only bans toys but declares they are ‘illegal, immoral and unlawful and that anyone who has a toy will be placed in a dungeon!’. These must have been quite the toys!
So that’s sort of the set-up and I won’t give any more away but it involves the magic of the Winter Warlock and Kris Kringle’s attempts to circumvent Burgermeister’s crazy laws. In the course of the story you find out origins for Santa’s name, his relationship and marriage to Mrs Claus, presents under the tree, Christmas trees, going down chimneys, December 24th for presents, flying reindeer etc.
I could see someone really roasting this movie. It’s just so nutty but I enjoyed watching it. It’s only an hour so it didn’t wear out its welcome and did surprise me with the strange choices. The ending is very odd in that Santa doesn’t really save the people from Burgermeister. His family rules for generation until the townsfolk come to their senses. That’s more than a little disturbing if you really think about it…
The voicework by Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn and Paul Frees is all fine and fun to hear but nothing too special.
The music is a bit of a letdown with nothing that stood out for me. Songs like ‘No More Toymakers to the King’ and ‘First Toymakers to the King’ weren’t anything special and ‘If You Sit on My Lap Today’ made me a little uncomfortable. It’s just odd for Santa to be asking kids to ‘be prepared to pay’ for sitting on his lap.
So overall it is an odd trippy little film but I enjoyed watching it. Have any of you seen Santa Claus is Coming to Town? Have you watched it recently? Let me know what you think. Thanks!
This post was previously published on my column at ldsblogs.com. I would love if you all checked out that column and maybe added a comment or two.
Welcome as we get a little spooky here on Family Movie Night! It is October after all! So in honor of the season we are going to talk about Tim Burton’s 2005 film The Corpse Bride.
During this time of year many parents ask themselves a question about how dark is too dark for their children to see. I know when I was a child there are 2 films that really scared me and they were both Disney films. The first was Disney’s Return to Oz- an ugly, mean spirited film where Dorothy gets strapped down and give electro-shock therapy (and that’s before she even gets to Oz!). There is also a queen that has a hallway with heads that she scalps from people and wears when she wants a new look. Ah the nightmares.
The other movie that terrified me was as odd as it might sound- The Rescuers. It is an extremely downbeat, sad film from Walt Disney with a little girl who is kidnapped by a horror of a lady and forced to go down in a dark cave all by herself. There is very little hope for Penny and at one point she is told nobody will ever want to adopt her. Geesh Disney!
So those were two films that scared me but there are many kids who like both those films. So how do you know as a parent? It’s really tough. My advice would be you simply have to look at the kid in question and see how sensitive they are. Also what kind of scares does it have? Is it a ghost story or does it take on more weighty themes? What’s the overall tone of the film? Many of my favorite scary movies like today’s choice actually have a very sweet innocent tone but they are set in a scary world.
In the end it is a touch call for a parent but I think you know in your gut what your kid is ready for and can handle. Go with that.
That said, let’s talk about Corpse Bride. This is a really fun ghost story told with stop motion animation and in a mostly black and white Victorian world. Our main character is Victor who is being forced by his parents to marry a woman named Victoria, who is also being forced into the arranged marriage.
However, the two betrothed meet and find they like each other and don’t mind getting married. Unfortunately, Victor gets nervous and goes into the forest to practice his vows. In so doing he puts a ring on what he thinks is a twig but in actuality it is a woman in spiritual limbo named Emily, or in other words- the Corpse Bride.
With a ring on her finger Emily thinks her and Victor are married and swoops him off to the Spirit World where we get a terrific song called Remains of the Day. I love how in the Spirit World the colors are more vibrant, even fluorescent in hue. It feels like a different world than the Victorian one we’ve seen so far.
Victor of course still loves Victoria and he doesn’t know how to get himself out of the situation. Emily also is a sweet soul who has the best of intentions but also gets her feelings hurt quite easily. They are pretty well developed characters for this type of film.
The story is somewhat predictable but the visuals are so lovely creating a scary yet fun mood. The cinematography by Pete Kozachik moves through the city feels effortless and smooth. He even came up with a new way to use digital still cameras when filming stop motion. There also aren’t any dead zones where I am bored or wondering what is going to happen. I think that is the good thing about stop motion animation- it is so laborious to do there are rarely any wasted scenes.
My favorite part of the movie is the great Danny Elfman music. He is particularly good at packing exposition into the songs while still making them catchy and easy to sing along too. As I said, I particularly like Remains of the Day but Tears to Shed, According to Plan and The Wedding Song are all beautiful. I also think Victor’s Piano Solo is one of the best instrumental solos I’ve ever heard in a movie.
Overall it is a satisfying ghost story with a nice heart to it, beautiful visuals, and great music. I would be curious to know how your kids react to it and if it is too scary for them. Please put it in the comments what they think and if you have any suggestions for picks I could use in upcoming weeks I would love to hear. Let’s get some comments going!
Well my friends I have finished my series of watching all of the Oscar nominated films for Best Animated Feature Film. Last year I said 2014 was one of the best years in animation in a long time and now after seeing films going back to 2001, I stand by that claim. You can make an argument for 2009 and 2010 but for not having a Pixar movie it was pretty darn good- and really diverse in style, tone and everything else.
So here is my video breaking down my thoughts on the 2014 nominees:
This is the first year I was doing this blog and have reviews for all of these films, so my thoughts probably aren’t a surprise to any of you. Nevertheless, here is a little summary:
How to Train Your Dragon 2-A rare sequel that improves upon the original. An epic feel to the story and some of the best animation Dreamworks has ever done. I find the story with the 2 alpha dragons to be a little confusing and I think they give the Mother too much of a free pass for leaving her family. But still a very satisfying, entertaining, exciting film.
Big Hero 6- A film with real heart from Walt Disney Animated Studios. I love the character of Baymax and the relationship of Hiro and Tadeshi. I found the villain to be clever and surprising and Sanfransokyo was extremely creative.
Boxtrolls- A wonderful stop motion film about a town whose leadership gets to wear white hats and eat cheese. Snatcher the villain wants to wear the white hat and be respected which I think is a unique motivation and a good lesson for kids about labeling through clothing and other items. The Boxtrolls are sweet and the humor worked for me. The ending didn’t 100% work for me and the lead Eggs is a little flat and I don’t love the drag queen segment but it is very entertaining.
Tale of Princess Kaguya– A movie that has improved each time I’ve seen it. A true artistic masterpiece and a story unique to Japan. It is about a girl found in a bamboo stalk who is trained to be a princess. She has independent instincts but she chooses to be obedient. At first that was challenging to accept but now I love it’s different perspective. It is so gorgeous to look at and uses music very well. It’s a little bit of an artistically challenging movie but worth the effort.
Song of the Sea-A true masterpiece. Even with Inside Out, Song of the Sea is the best film I’ve seen this year. It’s got the emotional depth of Inside Out with Ben trying to deal with the loss of his mother but the hand drawn animation is stunning. Ben’s sister is a Selkie and Ben must get her back to the sea before it is too late. Along the way they meet an Owl Witch and other creatures so it is exciting, heartbreaking and tense. It made my Top 10 Favorite Animated Films. The music is stunning and I wish I could convince everyone to see it. I love it so much .
So if I was giving away the award I would pick Song of the Sea, despite my liking all 5 films. Of the mainstream nominees I do think Big Hero 6 is the best so in that sense the right film did win; however, I think Song of the Sea is the best of 2014.
What about you? What do you think of these 5 films and which would you pick as best of the year?
So I finally finished my video on the 2012 Oscars. Sorry this one took me so long (and it was a pain to edit today also!).
In 2012 we had 5 nominees and they all have their strengths.
Brave– I recently talked about that in my Pixar review. It is a flawed film that doesn’t deliver what it promises in the first 15 minutes. It is supposed to be an epic legend but turns out to be a domestic dispute between a mother and a daughter. I don’t mind that but it is a letdown when we are promised something mythic. I do like Merida, the music and the animation is top notch. I personally feel they took a lot of the lessons from Brave and used them to make Frozen better.
Paranorman- My favorite Liaka film and a film that made my top 50 animated films (so clearly I like it). I really like the character of Norman and the fresh take they have on the bully narrative with the bullied becoming the bully. I think it is very scary and funny with unique world building and character design.
Frankenweenie- This was a new one for me. I had avoided it because I really don’t care for Tim Burton’s style of movies. However, I must admit that I thought it was charming. I really liked the relationship between Victor and Sparky. It makes you want to cry when he loses his dog and all the homages to the classic horror films are a lot of fun. I also enjoy how they made it in black and white. Overall a very entertaining film with a lot of heart.
Pirates Band of Misfits- One of Aardman’s best films with incredible attention to detail it is an underrated film. They pack in the laughs and yet still tell a good story with the Captain wanting to win Pirate of the Year and his interactions with both Charles Darwin and Queen Victoria. If you haven’t seen it trust me it is worth a watch!
Wreck-it Ralph– A film that starts out and ends strong but gets mired in a bland Sugar Rush world in the middle section. Most people love this film but I think it is good but not perfect. I like the character of Ralph but Vanellope I find annoying. With the power cord train station they promise you all the worlds of the video games and yet spend 75 minutes in Sugar Rush, which to me is a disappointment. But it is still an enjoyable film. The villain reveal is done very well and I love Sergeant Tamora.
Like I said in the video, I think most people would pick Wreck-it Ralph for 2012 Oscar. I can totally see that. Of course, Brave won in a bit of an upset. I personally would give it to Paranorman but I know I’m in the deep minority on that. They are all enjoyable films. 🙂
Hey guys! So 2009 was a very strong year for animation. It was a year with 5 films nominated for Best Animated Feature Film and all 5 I enjoy. There were also strong films that I personally think could have gotten a nomination in another year like Ponyo (I know you’all disagree with me on that one but oh well!), 9 and A Christmas Carol, to name a few.
Not only are the 5 films nominated very strong but they are also really different so I had a lot to say about each. I ended up making 2 videos about them (my editing software was also giving me all kinds of grief so I got up what I could in 2 batches). The first video is about Princess and the Frog and Secret of the Kells.
Basically I’m hot and cold on Princess and the Frog. There is a lot I love about it and then things I really don’t like. I love the animation, the character of Tiana, vocal performances and 3 of the songs. I don’t like the voodoo elements, the convoluted story or Prince Naveen. He is not Tiana’s equal. All in all, that puts it in the middle of my Disney rankings. It’s certainly worthy of the nomination and worth a watch even with some major flaws.
Secret of the Kells is beautiful and looks like illustrations from a book. It is only lessened in my opinion because I think Song of the Sea by the same team is much better. Maybe an unfair comparison but I can’t help it when they are so similar. Nevertheless, Secret of Kells has a beautiful look to it. I like the story and the lead character Brendon is very appealing. The Aisling of the forest is beautiful with stirring music from Kila.
The next video has the remaining 3 films- Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline and Up. You all have heard my thoughts on Up ad nauseam but I did get a little emotional when talking about it and how it reminds me of my Grandpa who I love. It’s a special movie to me and I filmed the review several times but each time I started to tear up. That was my honest response so I left it in. 🙂
Fantastic Mr Fox is a very creative film directed by Wes Anderson. I love the world building and the story is a lot of fun based on Roald Dahl’s book. I really like the characters like Ash, Mr and Mrs Fox. The story is unpredictable even for someone who has read the book and it is extremely creative. It is actually my favorite Wes Anderson film and while I don’t find it super funny I do enjoy it.
Coraline is a film from Liaka and I liked it much more this g0-around. I always enjoyed it but for whatever reason I really was charmed while watching it this week. It is directed by Henry Sellick who did Nightmare Before Christmas and it has the same dark tone and style of that film. I love the character of Coraline. She is sincere, quirky, endearing, inquisitive and in the end loving. She ends up getting presented with another version of her family through this magic portal and it leads to some big scares but also a huge heart. I love that she comes to accept her parents for who they are, even though they aren’t very good people in a lot of ways. She still loves them anyway. It’s really surprising and visually inventive.
In this case, I clearly think the right film won because Up is my favorite movie. If I was going to pick a second place I would pick Coraline, but I can see people’s arguments for all 5. What would you pick? Thanks so much for your comments and for watching the videos. It has been a great series both on the channel and this blog and next up is 2010 where my Tangled got snubbed (wa, wa, wa,….). I look forward to watching the Illusionist for the first time. Thanks!
Today we get to one of the hardest years I think I will face in this analysis of the films nominated for Best Animated Academy Award each year. I love all of the 3 films nominated and can see going with any of them.
Check out my video where I talk about the films and decide- did the right one win? If you like the video give it a thumbs up. Thanks!
Picking my favorite was difficult because they are all so strong. In the end I went with Corpse Bride because I love the Danny Elfman music and being a lover of musicals that will always put a movie over the top. I particularly like these 2 numbers.
What would you pick? Please put in the comments section. Thanks. I’ve really loved this discussion on both my channel and here on the blog from this series so thank you for contributing!
I’ve been eagerly awaiting this week’s Hit Me with Your Best Shot as it is an animated film, and one that I happen to love at that- Aardman animation’s 2000 Chicken Run.
I know this is about chickens instead of turkey but it has become a bit of a Thanksgiving tradition at my house to watch Chicken Run. It certainly beats Free Birds as a Thanksgiving film and I don’t think there are any other movies about poultry. Am I wrong?
I watched it again today and was delighted all over again. This will be more like a traditional review from me since animation is my blog focus but at the bottom I will have my best shot like normal.
If you haven’t seen it, Chicken Run is a claymation, stop motion animation take on a prison escape movie like The Great Escape.
It focuses on Ginger (Minnie Driver), a plucky chicken at Tweedy egg farm who refuses to be satisfied with a life at the farm. She is really the only intelligent chicken in the lot. Well, there is the braniac chicken but she’s the only one that seems to understand what they are up against.
The design of the farm is brilliant with hen houses that look like the cabins of the Great Escape. All of Ginger’s attempts to escape feel very reminiscent of those pictures. I like this shot the bunk has 17 on it like Stallag 17, another famous prison war movie.
The chickens end up failing in all of their attempts and Farmer Tweedy gets suspicious the “chickens are organizing!” which his wife Mrs Tweedy thinks is insane. She’s the main villain of the picture and a lot of fun in a Cruella Deville type fashion. Her dream is to turn the chickens into pies and she buys a giant manufacturing machine to make the pies.
With the purchase of the new machine Ginger is about to lose hope when a rooster named Rocky comes flying in to the farm. Ginger knows he is from the circus but thinks he has somehow learned how to fly. To Ginger this could be their salvation. Perhaps he can teach them how to fly! Of course what he isn’t telling them is he is shot out of a canon and can’t fly, but he needs to hide out from the circus while they are in town so he plays along and begins training them on how to fly. This involves a really fun montage of chickens doing pushups and the like.
There’s also an amazing sequence where Rocky and Ginger get caught in the pie making machine. It’s in the spirit of Indiana Jones and adventure movies with all kinds of obstacles to conquer. It blows my mind when you watch this scene and remember it is all done with moving clay figures inch by inch.
The ending plays out in a fairly predictable way for this genre of movie but Mrs Tweedy is pretty scary, maybe too much for some kids? As is always the case it depends on the child.
Thing that makes this movie special is the writing. It is funny throughout. Not just the homages to escape movies but the dialogue is witty and will make you laugh. Pter Lord and Nick Park bring the same type of humor we got in Wallace and Gromit with perhaps more of a visual component added in. (Karey Kirkpatrick is the screenwriter with a story by Lord and Park).
All the other aspects are very strong including great music by John Powell and Harry Gregson- Williams. I particularly like “Flip, Flop, Fly” a great swing number!
Plus, I like the way the chickens look. I like the smoothness of the skin and the feather collar and feather underneath. To me it is a pleasing design. All the sets are incredibly detailed and intricate especially when you consider they are all done by hand (stop motion animation is unbelievable).
I always say when I judge a comedy the number one factor is- Did it make me laugh? The answer for Chicken Run is Yes! I laughed back in 2000 and I laughed today watching it. It’s a delight in every other way so I can ignore a somewhat predictable story.
For me it is a big win!
Overall Grade- A
Hit Me with Your Best Shot can be difficult because do you pick the shot that gave you the most pleasure or the one that looks the best? The two are not always the same.
My favorite joke in the movie is when Ginger tells the girls about the pies and Babs (the knitting chicken) says “I don’t want to be a pie. I don’t even like gravy”. I don’t’ know why but that cracks me up every time.
But the shot of her saying that line isn’t that great. I will go with the line just after it and you can see the mayhem on the part of the hens at this news. I think it is emblematic of the entire film, the claymation style and I love the expressions on the chickens faces. So great!