Tag Archives: kids’ movies

Movies: Onward

This wasn’t one I’d planned on going to see at the cinema, but since Disney/Pixar went ahead and released it, we sat down with the kids to watch it. And, uh…

Let me be honest and say I have only sorta liked most of Pixar’s movies. I’m no big fan, particularly of their brand of sentimentality, which seems to be the driving force behind everything they do. I find that kind of thing annoying rather than endearing. So it was a 50/50 I’d get much out of this movie either.

The story is about an elf named Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland, the go-to for nerdy, self-conscious characters). It’s his sixteenth birthday. He never knew his dad, who “got sick” (that’s the only way we ever hear it described throughout the movie) before he was born. Ian’s older brother Barley (Chris Pratt) has a few memories of their dad. He also has a raging interest in the “old ways” meaning the days of magic.

See, while the modern world in this movie is more or less like ours, filled with smartphones and electricity, the past had been way more Lord of the Rings. But magic isn’t really practiced anymore because science is easier.

Still, when Ian’s dad got sick, he apparently also dabbled in a bit of wizardry and left behind a spell to allow the boys to bring him back for just one day.

Cue magical quest and bonding, all layered in a thick paste of sentiment.

The truth is, this is a concept in search of a plot. Everything that happens in the movie (and I won’t elaborate, so as to avoid spoilers) feels disjointed, or at best loosely linked. They are all incidents that… happen, and… It really did feel like people sat down and said, “What can we have them do, or what problems can we give them, that might be funny and also sweet?” And they came up with a list, and had those things happen, and there’s not much more to it than that. The stakes never felt high, and the end results were as expected.

Also, the funny parts weren’t actually very funny. At all. I don’t think I laughed once.

The kids got restless during this movie, and when asked afterward, they all resoundingly preferred Spies in Disguise (more Tom Holland, lots more funny, and all the sweet moments in that one feel earned). I did too. Times a million.

Sorry, but this one fell flat for me. A lot of wasted potential.

Movies: Spies in Disguise

This was a pretty silly movie. We entered with the expectation that it would be, basically, dumb. And it was. But it was hugely entertaining in its stupidity. Which is really all we wanted.

Will Smith voices Agent Lance Sterling, an American take on James Bond. Tom Holland is more or less doing his Peter Parker thing, only this time his name is Walter, and instead of working with Avengers, he works for… the CIA? I dunno, whatever unspecified agency Sterling serves. Sterling is no fan of Walter’s technology because Walter’s big goal is to not hurt people, just stop them from doing whatever evil thing they’re doing. Sterling, meanwhile, has a “fight fire with fire” attitude and seems to enjoy punching people and blowing things up. Still, Sterling turns out to need Walter’s help when a lookalike villain has the agency believing Sterling is a baddie. Here’s the part you know from the trailers: Walter disguises Sterling as a pigeon and things go from there.

Like I said, dumb. But stupidly cute, too. My kids were howling with laughter, even as they kept saying how stupid this movie was. In the end, they all said they loved it, and even I had to admit it was more fun than it had any right to be. Maybe because we entered with low to no expectations, we were easy to please. But this is one I’d watch again on a long flight or… while under quarantine at home?

Movies: Pokémon Detective Pikachu

Starring: [the voice of] Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Bill Nighy, Ken Watanabe
Directed by: Rob Letterman
Screenplay by: Dan Hernandez, Benji Samit, Rob Letterman, Derek Connolly
Legendary, 2019
PG; 144 minutes
4.5 stars (out of 5)

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I was stupid excited for this movie because the previews looked so cute. And it is a cute movie. Also very predictable, but I guess when the chief audience is little kids, I can’t really complain about that.

Justice Smith plays Tim Goodman, estranged son of Ryme City police detective Harry Goodman. When Harry dies in a tragic accident, Tim goes to Ryme City to wrap up his dad’s affairs, only to fall in with Harry’s Pokémon partner, a Pikachu with amnesia and a coffee habit (voice by Ryan Reynolds).

Ryme City has been built by a magnate (Bill Nighy) who has a dream of people and Pokémon living in harmony, which means Pokémon battles are outlawed. Harry seemed to have been tracking the source of a drug given to Pokémon in underground fighting venues to make them aggressive and wild. Tim and Pikachu pick up the thread of the mystery, along with an ambitious news intern named Lucy (Newton) and her Psyduck.

The beats are pretty basic, the jokes are not very sophisticated, and all the plot twists are easy to spot early on, but it’s still a cute little film. My kids loved it; my husband fell asleep through part of it. Justice Smith looks like his daddy, and one can very much imagine that the role of Tim would have gone to Will Smith if he’d been young enough. I only wish Ken Watanabe had been given more to do as Ryme City PD’s Lieutenant Yoshida, Harry’s boss. But it’s always good to see him on screen.

By no means a perfect movie, but not a bad way to pass the time.

Movies: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Voices by: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman
Directed by: Mike Mitchell
Written by: Phil Lord & Christopher Miller (screenplay); Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Matthew Fogel (story)
Warner Bros., 2019
PG; 106 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)

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I’ve often said that the real problem with making an excellent movie (or television show, or writing an excellent book) is that it sets an expectation for everything after to be at least as good or better. And that level of excellence is impossible to sustain. “Quit while you’re ahead” is a saying for a reason.

Hollywood, however, has zero sense of going out while on top. It likes to run franchises into the ground, eking out every last bit of money from movie goers. In fact, even when things are terrible, it will keep making more of them if people keep paying to see them.

Don’t be afraid. The second Lego movie is not terrible. It’s just not as good as the first one, and that’s not at all surprising. The first one was fresh and unexpected. This one had a lot—perhaps too much—to live up to.

If you recall the end of the first film, little sister and her Duplo blocks had invaded Bricksburg. This movie picks up five years later and tackles the theme of growing up, losing one’s imagination, and sibling rivals. It’s a lot to pack in. But basically, Bianca (that’s the sister) takes some of Finn’s (that’s the brother) Legos and he goes on a quest to get them back. This quest takes the shape of Emmet having to rescue his abducted friends.

That’s as much as I’ll tell you; I wouldn’t want to spoil anything. I will say there are a number of references (such as new character Rex being billed as a “raptor trainer” a la Chris Pratt’s Owen in the Jurassic World franchise… Oh, and yes, there are raptors).

Bottom line is that I did laugh a few times, and I did find the movie super cute. But it also felt like it was trying a little too hard in its themes, leaning a little too much on the music, and it just doesn’t breathe. The new characters aren’t given much development, and the familiar ones are too one-note here.

Still, my kids loved it, and they came home and *gasp* went to play Legos together. So… that’s a win.

Movies: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

My kids were asking for a movie night, and this one was family friendly and streaming (the only two criteria). I vaguely recall reading and like John Bellairs’ book when I was younger, but I don’t remember the book itself in any detail… What, I wonder, does that say about it?

The movie is about Lewis, whose parents have died in a terrible car accident, so he has gone to live with an uncle he never knew he had. Uncle Jonathan (played with aplomb by Jack Black) lives in a house as weird as he is, and with a platonic friend Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett). I really enjoyed watching these two; they seemed to be having fun, and my nine-year-old son laughed like a loon at all the banter and physical comedy this movie had to offer.

This is, in fact, exactly the kind of movie I would have adored at that age. However, be forewarned that, while my youngest did enjoy it, he was also a bit “creeped out,” as he put it, and we had to take extra care putting him to bed for the night. The creepy stuff includes animated dolls/mannequins, which I must agree is the basis for many a nightmare.

The story itself is fairly linear and goes without any real surprises: at first Lewis thinks Jonathan might be evil, but then he finds out his uncle is simply a warlock. Magic ensues, things go wrong, etc.

The production values are quite fine, and the movie is fun to watch as much for the colors and visuals as for the the silliness of the actors. I’m not sure why audiences didn’t enjoy it (46% on Rotten Tomatoes, though critics gave it 67%). Were they expecting something more sophisticated? It’s a kids’ movie based on a kids’ book, so it came in as exactly what I anticipated—slightly better than I expected, actually, given the ratings.

In short, it’s a solidly middling film, neither amazing nor terrible, just a fair amount of fun. I’d give it three stars out of five and say it’s worth watching with your kids (if you have them, or any you can borrow); otherwise, I’m not sure whether, as an adult, you’d find it worth your while. Maybe for nostalgia value. In any case, that’s a call you’ll have to make yourself.