Hey everyone! Today I watched 5 movies at the Sundance Film Festival and could have watched a 6th but I am so tired I can barely keep my eyes open to write this vlog so another movie was out of the question. Needless to say I am going to make this short and sweet.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
This documentary continues the tradition of the childhood nostalgia docs found in films about Big Bird, Elmo and most expertly done with Fred Rogers in Won’t You Be My Neighbor (the gold standard). In that tradition this film does its job. I particularly liked the early parts about the creation of Sesame Street as a show for kids in urban areas with Black and Latino kids. Most of the later stuff I already knew from the Big Bird documentary. If you grew up watching Sesame Street than you will enjoy this one!
6.5 out of 10
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It
In another documentary we get a bio-pic of EGOT winning actress Rita Moreno. This doesn’t break the mold but it is a perfectly entertaining piece on the actress.
6 out of 10
Next up is a film from Poland called Prime Time. This is a short film at 93 minutes and it does a good job building all the tension that would come with a hostage situation of a TV news station on New Years Eve. The only thing I was unsure on is the man’s motivations for doing what he did. They could have fleshed that out better. Still worth seeing.
7 out of 10
The Sparks Brothers
This documentary is done by Edgar Wright and tells the story of the Sparks Brothers Band who started in 1967 and are still working together to this day. For 53 we’ve managed to stay both relevant and under the radar musicians that are not afraid to challenge convention. The Sparks Brothers is definitely way too long at nearly 2.5 hours but the brothers are charming enough to keep me engaged. I also enjoyed the animated sections in between the live action segments. It made me want to look them up on Itunes and get to know their cool sound better.
7 out of 10
In what is most likely to be the most divisive film of the festival R#J left me torn on how well it was able to execute its vision. Basically through social media it tells the classic story of Romeo and Juliet. I appreciate the experimentation and it fits in most of the original play with a lot of the language. But…it does feel gimmicky and its hard to get into the heart of the couple via social media. Still I found it fascinating and appreciate the risks taken. It’s a bold experimental take on a classic.
6 out of 10
So all fresh today!! Nothing but smiles. What about you? Did you catch anything at Sundance?
Sesame Street started its regular weekly programming for children in 1969 and it has remained on air for over 40 years. So naturally most Americans were raised on Sesame Street and have a fondness for them.
It is a combination of educational skits, puppets, and human characters. The puppets or Muppets were first introduced by Jim Henson and there are worlds of Muppets that actually rarely combine together.
You have Sesame Street that has Elmo, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, Ernie, Bert and the Count.
You have Muppets that has Fozie, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Skeeter, Ralph, Swedish Chef, Animal, Gonzo and many more.
Then there are Muppet Babies which are baby versions of the traditional Muppets.
and Fraggle Rock.
We’ll talk about The Muppets more when I review their Christmas Carol but today we are talking about Sesame Street and 3 of their Christmas films including one that has a rare combination of all 4 Muppet universes. Pretty exciting!
What makes Sesame Street so wonderful is it teaches children ABCs and other skills while making them laugh and providing messages from a diverse multicultural cast. They do not talk down to kids and have tackled hard topics over the years including AIDS, death, and divorce. The writing in all the Muppet Universe is always sharp, funny for adults and full of a warmth.
The key is they treat the world like an ordinary world. In the Christmas Eve on Sesame Street Big Bird is lost and the adult troupe at Sesame Street are as worried and upset as if it was their own little girl. It’s the same with the comedic moments. When Steve Martin has a scene with Kermit in the Muppet Movie he plays it just the same as if he was working with Chevy Chase or Dan Akroyd. That’s what makes The Muppets stand the test of time like Mickey or Winnie the Pooh because their worlds are thoughtfully rendered with universal themes.
This is my least favorite of the 3 and is more of a clip show than a movie but let’s talk about it.
Scrooge- Naturally our Scrooge is Oscar the Grouch. He is the Muppet that lives in a trash can. This is very similar to the Grouchy in the Smurfs movie.
I’m really surprised they didn’t use his song ‘I Hate Christmas’ from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street but there is a very funny narration by Tim Curry that starts out regal and stuffy and Oscar interrupts them.
The gimmick here is that Oscar doesn’t want to be disturbed until after Christmas but he gets a visit from Joe Marley of Scaredy Pants Delivery Service.
Then he gets a vintage bean can or a ‘ghostigram’ and is visited by 3 spirits that are not puppets. That was a major problem for me!
No CG in Muppets movies!!!
But if I ignore the CG they are actually pretty clever. The first ghost is Rhubarb the Scottish Grouch to show 2 clips of Christmas Past.
The 2 clips are Burt and Ernie Gift of the Magi which we will talk about in a bit (a favorite of mine).
And then we get Big Bird singing ‘All I Want for Christmas’. She is missing Snuffy and it is a lovely heartfelt moment originally from Elmo Saves Christmas.
Both of these segments have tons of heart and I enjoyed them both.
Next for Present we have Christmas Carole who is voiced by Kristen Chenoweth.
There are 4 clips in this segment.
1. Elmo and Santa Claus from Elmo’s World: Happy Holidays
Elmo in the Muppet World symbolizes love. He isn’t telling jokes or getting stressed out like Kermit, or full of himself like Piggy. He is always loving.
2. Elmo sings about ‘Everyday Can’t be Christmas’ from Elmo Saves Christmas.
3. A nice segment on Chanukah and Kwanza from Elmo’s World Happy Holidays.
4. Keep Christmas With You from Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.
Final Ghost is a Robot from the future and we get a cartoon about Christmas in the future.
And that’s about it. It’s a pleasant film but the other 2 I am going to talk about are much better.
This is a film I loved growing up and you know what I still love it! It’s funny and got real heart like the best of the Muppets.
This one starts with 2 musical numbers with the kids and adults skating.
Coming out of the rink Oscar starts teasing Big Bird about Santa not being small enough to fit down the chimney. This starts the plot for the film.
Worried Big Bird asks Kermit to find out how Santa gets down the chimney so him and Grover interview a bunch of cute kids during segments. Freaking adorable.
We also get a the Gift of the Magi from Bert and Ernie and this is one of my favorites Muppets moments ever. It is so sweet and heartfelt, and gets to the core of the message of Christmas. I loved it as a kid and love it now even more.
I also love they sing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas at the end which is one of my favorite Christmas songs. It honestly makes me tear up a bit. It’s just a sweet little story about friendship and thinking of others more than yourself . I mean its his paperclip collection!
We also get this hilarious segment from Cookie Monster trying to write to Santa.
Everyone starts searching for Big Bird because he is up on the roof trying to see Santa and find out. Everyone becomes very worried. Maria scolds Oscar and says with real intensity (again like they are dealing with real people).
“The nest is something different. He’s got electric blanket there. And his friends are there. ‘What are you going to do about it”
When they find Big Bird it turns out Santa has come and he says ‘Now we will never know’
Bob says ‘Why do you want to know?”
Big Bird says ‘Because it’s important’
Bob says “No, what is important is we lost you tonight and we were all very worried and now we’ve got you back safe and sound for Christmas”
That’s the kind of heart I love in Sesame Street and Muppets. It’s just great.
This film is a perfect Christmas film for kids. It will make them laugh with Cookie and Grover, teach them about friendship from Bert and Ernie and remember from Big Bird what is important.
This is a very special Muppet movie because it is the only one that includes all of the Muppet universe- Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet Babies! It was very exciting to watch!!
It’s a pretty simple story. All the Muppets are gathering at Fozzie’s house and we get to meet his mother and as the day goes more people arrive. As they arrive we get more songs.
Robin and Kermit go in the basement and find a Fraggle Hole and invite the Fraggles up for Christmas. They sing a song.
It ends up being a very full house but the writing is funny. Ms Piggy is hilarious with a photo shoot at the beginning. Again, the photographer treats her like any other model which is why the Muppets works . He says ‘do that pouty thing’ and it is very funny.
Like I said the rest of the movie is just people arriving and singing songs. We get We Need a Little Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock, Sleigh Ride, Deck the halls, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, No Place Like Home for the Holidays.
Then the last 10 minutes are a Christmas medley of carols and it is very cheerful and entertaining.
This movie is a real treat. It’s so much fun to see so many of the universes together and so many characters. The jokes are funny. The songs are good. It’s not that long so the gimmick worked fine for me. It’s just great!!
So we have 3 solid Sesame Street Christmas films. I think kids and adults will enjoy all 3 with Christmas Eve and Family Christmas being the best of the 3. They are well written, funny, and have real heart. The Muppets are treated like real people and they don’t talk down to kids or patronize them. It’s the best!
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-
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
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!
Tomatometer is high because of people like me- 72%, My Grade A+
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
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.