Rankin/Bass 1: The Hobbit

hobbit 1977So we are starting off Rankin/Bass month off oddly enough by looking at a non-holiday TV special they made.  It was the first attempt to translate JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy novels to either big or small screen and while imperfect I enjoyed watching it.

I should state out front a couple of biases I have.  First, I love the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies.  They are in the running for films I’d take with me on a desert island. Second, I hate his Hobbit movies.  I found them deadly dull and without the moral weight of the LOTR movies.  Third, I like the LOTR books, but do not like The Hobbit, which I have never been able to get through. There are no stakes in The Hobbit.  It’s just an adventure and that’s not enough to draw me in  (I’ve never been that into fantasy especially as a kid).  I probably would have liked the Peter Jackson Hobbit films if he had made one or at most two.

All that out of the way, let’s talk about this film. It is traditional sketch style animation and aired on NBC in 1977.  I’d say for a made for TV movie the production values are top notch.  Everything from the voice talent of people like John Huston and Paul Frees to the wonderful music by Jules Bass and Maury Laws is done at a feature film level.  There is also not as much rotoscoping as the Ralph Bakshi LOTR film, which I also see some value in and don’t hate.

hobbit1977The Hobbit of course tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit in Middle Earth who goes on an adventure to help his friend Gandalf, the wizard, Thorin and the dwarfs to burgle his way into the Lonely Mountain. The goal is to confront the dragon Smaug and get the treasure in the mountain that belongs to the dwarfs. Along the way they meet elves, a creature known as Gollum, a race of giant spiders, and have a Battle of Five Armies.

hobbit 1977 4Amazingly enough what took Peter Jackson nearly 9 hours and 3 movies to tell, this film tells us in 1 hr 17 minutes!  That’s a huge win in this films column for me! That said, there are times when if I hadn’t seen the Peter Jackson films I might be confused.  The Gollum scene, for instance, makes sense because I know the book and live action films. If I didn’t I might wonder what the heck this strange creature was doing?  It seemed to me this film assumes a cursory understanding of the Tolkein world for all of its viewers which may not be unreasonable given the popularity of the book.

hobbit 1977 8There are also large sections of the book that are left out or are compressed into just a few minutes when I could have used a little bit longer. Particularly towards the end with the battle it felt very rushed.

hobbit 1977 2The music is  wonderful with much of it coming from lyrics in the novel.  Folk singer Glenn Yarbrough has a beautiful tamber to his voice and it was really quite calming whenever his singing would come on screen.  I particularly like The Greatest Adventure.

I will say if you don’t like this kind of folk music you won’t enjoy this film.  It’s very predominant but luckily I do so I enjoyed it.

hobbit 1977 6I appreciated some of the touches that were different than the Jackson films like the take on Gollum voiced by Brother Theodore was totally different than the Andy Serkis version. This is more like a monster with riddles than the more human-like characters we get with Serkis.

hobbit 1977 5I guess enjoyment of this The Hobbit depends on how open you are to something different than the version you are used too.  As I don’t care for the recent Hobbit films I was more than open to this different telling of the story. It’s very sweet and more like a fairytale than an epic quest of good vs evil in LOTR.

That said, there are some scary scenes for very small children such as when they are caught by the giant spiders.  But in general if your kid is dying to see LOTR this may not be a bad option.

Like I said it is sometimes too jam packed and certain elements in the animation feel a little dated but for a made for TV movie from the 70’s I was impressed.  It’s different and overall I liked it.

What about you?  Have you seen this version of The Hobbit?  What’d you think?  Please put in the comments section.

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Snow Day Movies

Best Snow Day MoviesSo I’ve heard of this little thing called Snowmogeddon that many of you are experiencing.  It is gorgeous here in Utah so go figure! As many of you are stuck inside with travel restrictions I thought I would help you out and suggest some great movies for watching on a snow day.  I figure you either want something you can cozy up with, something long or something cold.

For some reason I always think of making popcorn, hot cocoa and brownies when there is a blizzard outside.  Yum!

I am also specifically not picking any Christmas movies  because most people don’t watch those in January.

Here we go!

1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy-

lord of the ringsWhat better for a day stuck inside than a good trilogy and it’s hard to top Lord of the Rings.  You could even watch the extended editions with all that time.  What Peter Jackson did truly fits the word epic. They hit every movie lover need- great action, beautiful worlds, good performances and a battle against evil that has real heart at the core. When you get to the final scene with Samwise, Frodo, Gollum and the ring it is so satisfying.

2. Up

up_posterPerfect time to watch a movie about a floating house when you are stuck in the house!  I can’t think of a time when I wouldn’t want to watch Up.  It’s sweet, funny and touching.  I love the opening sequence more than any other piece of filmmaking I’ve ever seen.  I love that a character passes away yet her presence is felt throughout the film.  It’s a reminder to us that those we love and have lost are still a part of our lives. It’s also very funny and has some nifty action, a good villain, great voice performances and a perfect score.

3. Shining

shiningGot a little cabin fever?  I can’t think of a more appropriate and terrifying movie than Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.  It is the only horror movie I like because it is about a man going insane not some outside force attacking.  The artistry is a huge step above the typical horror movie and there is a lot of symbolism that can keep you thinking.  Plus, great performances from all involved.

4. 101 Dalmatians

101 dalmations

My tails froze and my nose is froze and my ears are froze and my toes are froze

Of course I have to include a Disney and I almost went with Lady and the Tramp because that is a very cozy movie but I decided on 101 Dalmatians because it is warm, funny and has a lot of scenes in the snow. Cruella is one of Disney’s best villains and the dogs get really close to getting caught many times.  The scene getting into the van makes me always hold my breath.  Cruella’s plan is so outrageous it also gives us some great laughs.  One of my favorites and a rare time where the sketch style is actually a benefit to all those spotted puppies.

5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

ferrisWhat is a snow day but an unexpected day off, so this is a perfect film for the occasion.  Ferris’ antics are obviously over the top but there is a real heart to the film which I actually find quite moving.  There is a theory that the whole day is planned by Ferris because Cameron is going to commit suicide and it is all set up to get him to the moment with the car and confronting his father.  I don’t know if that is true or not but it makes sense.  It’s one of those rare pictures which balances comedy, great writing, likable performances, 4th wall jokes and pretty intense drama. I like it more each time I see it.

6.  Frozen

Frozen-movie-posterHow could I not put it in?  Let the cold never bother you anyway and watch one of Disney’s most satisfying movies and one of the best musicals in a long time.  I love the relationship between the sisters as I have 3 sisters and trying to figure out what’s in their heads is really hard.  I thought the ending worked and the villain twist surprised me, which is hard to do in a fairytale.  They also used just enough of Olaf to be funny without overdoing it.  I know it has its detractors but I love it!

7. Pride and Prejudice

pride and prejudice

Technically this is not a movie but a miniseries but I figure you have 6 hours when snowed in why not watch Colin Firth stare longingly into Lizzie’s eyes…Sigh?  This is the standard by which all Jane Austen adaptations are measured.  Andrew Davies is such a great director for period pieces and the whole cast is engaging with the exception of Susannah Harker who is a rather blank Jane.  I love Jennifer Ehle as Lizzie and of course Colin Firth with the staring, eloquence, and a little dip in the lake we won’t soon forget.  Other great miniseries to watch are North and South (my favorite book), Wives and Daughters, Little Dorrit, Downton Abbey, Persuasion/Emma/Sense and Sensibility.  They are all great!

8. Groundhog Day-

groundhog day

It’s only a few days away from Groundhog Day so why not watch a hilarious comedy about the holiday? Bill Murray is at his best as a cranky weatherman named Phil who is forced to cover the groundhog day ceremonies in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Then he lives that aggravating day over and over again.  It is funny but there is also a nice heart to the story where he learns to see people in a new way including Andie MacDowell as the love interest.  He starts looking at her very cynically but as the days continue he understands her and starts to think a little less selfishly.  Terrific writing and directing by the great Harold Ramis.

9. Fargo-

Fargo_movieposter

I admit the ending I have to look away.  It’s pretty bloody but aside from that a perfect mystery set in cold Fargo, North Dakota. William H Macy is great as the man who’s plan begins to unravel.  Steve Buscemi is so creepy as one of the kidnappers. But the real star is Frances McDormand as the pregnant sheriff Marge who is one of the most likable characters in recent memory.  She is smarter than everyone else in the room but everyone discounts her because of her sex, way of speaking and being pregnant.  It makes you root for her and smile at the same time. Great direction by the Coen Brothers making the cold landscape of Fargo practically a character in the story.

10. 7 Brides for 7 Brothers

seven bridesA classic musical directed by Stanley Donnen and starring Jane Powell and Howard Keel as a couple who marry on first sight which gives Keel’s backwoods brothers a bad idea for getting their own brides.  It is silly and over-the-top premise but it works almost in spite of itself.  The engaging cast of mostly dancers helps keep it likable and light.  It also has some of the best dancing in any Hollywood movie of its era. The barn raising scene alone is amazing.  And it is a perfect musical to watch in a blizzard because the girls get snowed in by an avalanche!

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There are a lot of other movies I could have picked.  What are some of your favorites? Please share in the comments and stay warm!

Family Movies I Like that Others Do Not

A popular post on these type of movie blogs is ‘movies everyone likes but I don’t’ or vice versa. You can check out my blogging friend Animation Commendation for his highly controversial picks (Wall-e and Up overrated! Outrage!).  He is focusing just on animation and I have decided to just post about the films I like others don’t.  As I said in my post Jerks, Trolls and Critics my goal in my writing is to be an advocate for film . It is not to tear down what other people love.

So I want to use this post as  a chance to advocate for films that I believe are underrated by critics and fans in general.  These movies are far from perfect and I can understand why people don’t like them but for whatever reason I found something to enjoy while watching them.  Call it nostalgia, call it low expectations but I like the following films that a lot of others don’t like.

In no particular order.

Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything-

Veggietales are kind of like the Christian fundamentalist cousin of the animation world but you know they are done pretty well.  The music is always fun, voicework good and the colors bright and colorful.

Pirates was the first time they tried to do a non-biblical tale (previously they had done Jonah as a feature film as well as their many direct to video films about Daniel, Moses and other stories).

This film could entertain kids of any faith as it focuses on finding heroes and makes a person a hero.

Tomatometer- 39%.  I’d give it a C+ it’s certainly not top tier animation but I still find it entertaining.

The Other Side of Heaven-

I admit this one is easier for me to like because it is about a member of my faith, John Groeberg who went as a missionary to Tonga and had some amazing experiences.

This was also the only film we were allowed to watch on my mission for the Mormon church and having served a mission like Groeberg I relate too it.

So maybe it isn’t for everyone but it’s pretty well made and acted.  I would think the story would be inspirational for those of other faiths but hard for me to know.

But this is my list and I like it so it makes the list!

Tomatometer 29%.  I would give it a B

Lord of the Rings-

Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings has developed a bit of a cult following over the years and I think it is deserved.  It is not perfect and Peter Jackson’s version is definitely better but this is pretty good.  The animation is strong in parts  and weak in others but scenes like the ringwraiths in Bakshi are really well done with a style I haven’t seen in other movies (kind of looks like a hologram)

They pack a lot into the film especially if you like the extended version of the Peter Jackson films and it can feel rushed but I still like the animation and the story is so solid at it’s core that it just works.

Our friend the Nostalgia Critic did a fun compare/contrast between the Jackson and Bakshi’s versions.

Strong language warning

Tomatometer 50%, I would give it a B-

Cinderella 3-

John Lasseter, over at Pixar, says they never do sequels unless they have an idea.  That was the problem with most of the made for video sequels of the 90s and early 2000s.  Most of them are a repeat of the original but with a new character (usually a child of our leads such as Bambi 2, Fox and the Hound 2, Lady and the Tramp 2 etc).  Then there are one’s that continue the story but in incredibly trite and stupid ways. (Pocahontas 2, Brother Bear 2, Cinderella 2, and Hunchback of Notre Dame 2 are the worst examples).  Finally there are sequels that are clobbered together from animated series that came after the movie and these are usually passable, on the Saturday morning cartoon level (Atltantis 2, Lilo and Stitch 2, Lion King sequels, Aladdin sequels etc).

But out of all of them The Little Mermaid sequels are passable but my favorite is Cinderella 3. Cinderella 2 is just her wedding and it sucks but 3 they actually have an idea.

Through a variety of circumstances Lady Tremaine finds the Fairy Godmother’s wand, which she then uses to turn back time and make it so Anastasia’s foot fits the slipper instead of Cinderella.  The Prince now has to marry Anastasia and things seem pretty dire for our heroine.

The animation is on the Saturday morning level but it is passable and the songs are okay.  It’s not great but I enjoyed seeing Lady Tremaine back up to no good and just found it very clever.

Tomatometer is actually high with only 7 reviews at 71% but I still say this counts because the sequels are so generally disregarded and looked down on.

Tomatometer 71%, I would give it a C

North Avenue Irregulars-

I suppose this is probably more forgotten than disliked but I’ve been wanting to make a shout-out to it so here goes.

It is the kind of movie almost never made today.  A live action comedy starring A list talent for families. The story is silly and your enjoyment will probably depend on your taste of slapstick but it makes me laugh.

It was a dream team of comedic women with Barbara Harris, Susan Clark, Karen Valentine, Cloris Leachman, and a long list of faces you will recognize when you see them.

Edward Herrman is a nice foil for the ladies as the Reverend Hill who decides to take down local gambling syndicate using the ladies as the spies and detectives.

It has a pretty high tomatometer of 75% on 11 reviews but I still think it’s one that is easy to criticize but I like it. Great opening credits sequence too.

Tomatometer 75%, I would give it a B-

Disney’s Christmas Carol

Readers of my other blog smilingldsgirl.com kn0w The Christmas Carol is one of, if not my favorite stories ever written.  I make sure to see it at the local theater every Christmas and watch as many versions as I can.  There’s everything from Alastair Sims, George C Scott, to Bill Murray, Muppets,  and Mickey Mouse.

I think what I like about the story is it is about lost causes and how anyone can change their lives if they embrace Christmas (and for me Christ) and decide to be a better person.  It’s a story about redemption and I just love it.

When I heard that Jim Carey was being cast as Scrooge you can imagine my concern with a ham like him taking on my favorite character in literature.  However, he plays it surprisingly straight and there are only a few antics when soaring through space.  The spirits are done very well and there is a ton of the actual script taken from the novel, which is cool.

Some don’t like the stop motion animation but it doesn’t bother me.  It’s a style just like any other and I can go with it. I wouldn’t say this is my favorite version but I still like it.

Tomatometer- 54%, I would give it a B

Cars 2

I wonder sometimes if people really hate this movie or if they just are mad at it because it’s not Up, Wall-e, and Ratatouille.  Don’t get me wrong.  It has major problems but is it really one of the worst movies ever made? While I’m not rushing out to buy the blu-ray I thought it was fun, decent level kids movie and an homage to the spy flicks their parents and older siblings get to watch.

As I said in my Planes: Fire and Rescue review, the world of the Cars and Planes movies is nutty and does not stand up to much examination.  I guess there are car sex or car eggs hatching baby cars in this world?  But then they run out of parts which is strange.  Evidently some models are worthy of saving and others are not?

See how fast you can go down the rabbit hole with this world?  So I suggest just going with it and not diving too deep.  Just enjoy it as an homage to spy movies an leave it at that.

The other beef with this movie I hear is people don’t like Mater. I’m not sure why because I find him funny, as funny as a car can be at least…

It’s beautifully animated and the voicework is all good.  The plot is actually pretty convoluted and complicated involving natural fuel. (Wouldn’t a world of just cars actually like the world to be poluted, that is their life sustaining liquid like we have water, they have oil…Again over-thinking it!

Overall I think the bad buzz is overrated and this movie is an ok, fun time at the movies.

Tomatometer- 39%, I would give it a C

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

We’ve talked a lot about this movie on the blog. I am aware I am in the minority on it.  I thought it was a fun adventure movie with a wildly creative made up world that engaged me the way other good B Summer Adventure movies have like Indiana Jones, the Goonies, National Treasure etc.  I liked the language and culture they created and the troop of explorers was fun and diverse.

The animation is gorgeous especially once they get to the Lost City and we have the blue crystals and their power.  It has a bit of a steampunk feel and all in all I liked it.  I thought it was a fun action adventure, treasure hunting story with a good, exciting ending. It all just worked for me in the spirit of those B adventure movies.  So there you go!

Tomatometer- 49%, My Grade A-

Where the Wild Things Are

This is a movie you either go with and love or hate.  I love it.  It takes Maurice Sendak’s children’s story of a boy sent to bed without any supper finding a land of wild things and turns it into a brilliant movie.

It is the only film I’ve ever seen that captures the brooding quiet nature of childhood.  Some say that makes it depressing but I remember being that kid.  I remember hearing things in school like global warming or war and puzzling at how this could be.  To me it was amazingly refreshing to have a kid who isn’t perky but a real person with all moods.  His behavior when he meets the Wild Things is so authentic to what a kid, especially a boy, would do and I love it!

It’s a brilliant film in how it gives our character an opportunity to confront himself and his mother and realize they are both imperfect but trying. What a beautiful moment that is?

The puppets were the perfect choice as opposed to CGI.  It makes it feel real and palatable and the voicework is PERFECT!

I broke down the movie in more detail on my Where the Wild Things Are Defended post.

Tomatometer is high because of people like me- 72%, My Grade A+

Space Jam-

To be honest I am really surprised the Space Jam tomatometer score so low. This is one of the few spots we can see our Looney Tunes friends on the big screens and I think it is charming.  All the characters like Bugs, Daffy, Yosemite Sam and more are there in this live action/animation combo.  Bill Murray is pretty funny and Michael Jordan is one of the better athletes turned actors (need I mention Shaque in  Kazaam?)

I guess the plot follows a similar underdog theme but is anyone watching this for the intricate plot?  No.  They are watching it to see Bugs, Daffy and others tell good jokes and have a fun time and I think that’s what they get out of it.

Give it a watch through I bet you will agree it’s an entertaining flick.

Tomatometer- 35%, I would give it a B-

Follow that Bird-

Again this is probably more underrated than disliked.  It has a very high tamotometer score in fact but I wanted to give it a shoutout anyway.  Follow that Bird is the first Sesame Street movie and it is a real gem.  Some people might discount it as a only a movie for little children because it is from Sesame Street but if you do that’s a shame because it is very clever and heartfelt.

Big Bird finds out he should be raised with a family and is adopted by the Dodo family making his new name Big Dodo.  Despite having everything with the Dodo’s he isn’t happy, so he runs away.  The rest of the film is part roadtrip and part our yellow bird finding out who his real family is.

It’s a lovely message for kids, there are lots of laughs and real heart too.  I love all of the Muppets movies but this one will be close to the top for sure . I need to do a list of my favorite Muppet’s movies soon.  What are your favorites?

Tomatometer- 91%, I would give it an A

Soul Surfer-

Another Christian film critics were incredibly tough on.  It tells the true story of Bethany Hamilton who lost her arm to a shark while surfing and how she made it back to compete in the pros with one arm.  I will agree that the special effects are not great and it does look pretty obvious where they cut off Anna Sophie Robb’s arm in post-production.

However, if you can get over the technical flaws there is a lot to like . Bethany is an amazing person.  In fact, at the moment she is on The Amazing Race and tearing it up there.  I thought at first she was stunt casting to get sympathy but she has been up for every challenge.  She does with one arm what others struggle with 2.  Everything from rock climbing to balancing tasks she’s been up for and she’s done it all in such a pleasant and happy way.  I like her even more than I did after this movie.

The supporting cast is strong with Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents and Carrie Underwood as a youth minister. Aside from the arm special effects the rest of the surfing shots are well done and the story didn’t play out exactly as I thought it would and it is an exciting moment when she gets back on the surfboard.

Doesn’t reinvent the wheel but what it does it does well and I enjoy watching it.

Tomatometer- 46%, I would give it a B-

American Tail Fievel Goes West

Most people like the first American Tail but are tough on this sequel.  I would agree it is not as good but I still enjoy it.

This one is not directed by Don Bluth like the original but Steven Spielberg is a producer.

In part 2 we get the Mousekewitz family deciding to leave New York for the promises of the West (streets weren’t paved with gold I see!).  Fievel idolizes Wylie Burp the sheriff of the west who is brilliantly played by the great Jimmy Stewart in what I believe is his last role on screen.

On the way they meet a conniving cat who is trying to get them out there as cheap labor.  Our friend Tiger voiced by Dom DeLuise again shows up and we also get Amy Irving, John Cleese and Jon Lovitz.

In the end, it’s a pretty entertaining story with twists and turns. I enjoy the homage to the western and hearing Jimmy Stewart as Wylie.

The music by James Horner is also wonderful and I particularly love Dreams to Dream.

Tomatometer- 40%, I would give it an A

So that’s my list!  What do you think? Seen any of these?  Do you hate them or think they are pretty good? I’d love your thoughts. Thanks for reading my ramblings.