March 2024


family film

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)

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DIRECTOR: Marielle Heller

CAST: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, loosely based on a 1998 Esquire article “Can You Say Hero?” by journalist Tom Junod (with some names changed), is a well-intentioned, feel good ode to beloved television icon Fred Rogers (better-known simply as Mr. Rogers), whose children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood ran from 1968 to 2001 (Rogers passed away in 2003). To that end, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is an inoffensive, sweetly sentimental little movie whose quietly affecting moments sometimes get lost amidst its own treacly earnestness (though, considering I might apply those last words to the show it’s depicting, maybe I’m just not the target audience). Those with nostalgic fond memories of the late Mr. Rogers might find it a moving experience, while those indifferent or unfamiliar with the subject might be unimpressed.

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The Lion King (2019)

DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau

CAST: voices of Donald Glover, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones, Seth Rogen, Billy Eichner, John Oliver, John Kani, Alfre Woodard, Florence Kasumba, Keegan-Michael Key, Eric André, J.D. McCrary, Shahadi Wright Joseph


Considering Disney’s recent noxious trend of remaking its own animated classics with less-than-classic scene-by-scene regurgitations, it was virtually inevitable that The Lion King would be included. The Lion King is generally considered the “king” of the Magic Kingdom’s fleet of animated movies, arguably only rivaled by Beauty and the Beast, and now, following Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella, Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book, Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast, and Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin, the lion roars again, this time in CGI rather than hand-drawn animation form. Of all these remakes, The Lion King is probably the best, partly simply because it’s a remake of the one that had the best story in the first place, partly because it is visually splendorous. However, a surfeit of eye candy can’t entirely overcome a slightly hollow feeling, like a competent but uninspired cover of a classic song.

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Dumbo (2019)

DIRECTOR: Tim Burton

CAST: Colin Farrell, Eva Green, Danny DeVito, Michael Keaton, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins


Dumbo began life as a children’s story published in 1939, written by the husband-and-wife duo of Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. In 1941, Walt Disney, looking for something that could be slapped together quickly and cheaply to shove out into theaters to help offset mounting costs of his expensive flop Fantasia, bought the rights and the Dumbo animated film debuted in theaters, running a slim 64-minutes. While remembered fondly, it was arguably the most simplistic and juvenile of the Disney animated features of the time, so while this remake (of sorts) is the latest in Disney’s line-up of live-action recreations of its animated classics (following Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Bill Condon’s Beauty and the Beast and soon to include Jon Favreau’s The Lion King and Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin), the brevity of the source material required Tim Burton and screenwriter Ehren Kruger to do a lot of padding. The result, as one might expect from a padded-out reimagining of a simplistic and juvenile cartoon, is a middling affair that contains enough special effects and lively sequences to entertain children but whose generic and uninspired narrative has less to offer for their parents. Adults accompanying their children may be sufficiently engaged to not be suffering in silence for their children’s sake (which alone bumps Dumbo up above some other theatrical options for family movie night), but adults attending alone may be less enthralled.

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Peter Rabbit (2018)

DIRECTOR: Will Gluck

CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, voices of James Corden, Colin Moody, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, David Wenham, Sia


Devoted fans of Beatrix Potter’s gentle children’s stories will likely be appalled at how it’s been souped up with Home Alone-esque action, sometimes crude humor (though nothing that pushes the family friendly envelope very hard), and busy pop soundtrack, but Peter Rabbit keeps the action and comedy flying fast and furious enough that it will probably entertain small children while being at least passably enjoyable for the adults accompanying them.  It’s not the most high-brow family friendly entertainment to be found, but parents on the lookout for something to take their children to that’s not an endurance contest for themselves could do worse. Continue reading

The Shack (2017)

DIRECTOR: Stuart Hazeldine

CAST: Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, Radha Mitchell, Tim McGraw, Avraham Aviv Alush, Sumire Matsubara, Graham Greene


If you’ve a hankering for a full-length, two hour plus version of a Touched By An Angel episode (or you’re a fan of William P. Young’s 2007 Christian-themed novel of the same name), The Shack might warm your cockles. Considering Young’s book sold upwards of ten million copies, it might make back its costs and then some—-how expensive can a movie this TV-ish really be?—but for anyone else, it’s a “Lifetime Original Movie” handing down wannabe profundities in facilely feel good ways, and not worth watching unless you’re a Sunday School teacher hard up for something to occupy your pupils for a couple hours.

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The Lion King (1994)

DIRECTOR: Roger Allers, Rob Minkoff


(voices)  James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Matthew Broderick, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Moira Kelly, Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin, Jim Cummings, Madge Sinclair


It’s no surprise that The Lion King is widely-regarded as the “king” of Disney animated films. While the staples of Disney classics are in place- lighthearted and elaborately animated song-and-dance numbers and comic relief sidekicks- there is a surprisingly somber, at times even tragic underpinning and an epic feel that sets it apart from the likes of Aladdin or 101 Dalmations. In fact, the story was (very loosely) inspired by the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet, and while rewatching it in 2011 with my previous viewing many years in the past, while there are plenty of typical “kids’ movie” segments, there are other aspects, including the Hamlet references (which are more noticeable to adult eyes) that speak more to older viewers. Continue reading

Paradise (1991)

DIRECTOR: Mary Agnes Donoghue

CAST: Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, Elijah Wood, Thora Birch, Sheila McCarthy, Eve Gordon, Louise Latham


Paradise is one of those quiet little low-key films that slips through among the summer blockbuster action-adventure flicks and romantic comedies without hardly attracting anyone’s attention.  A thoughtful, deliberately-paced drama, it fell largely under the radar despite featuring popular—at least at the time—stars Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith.  But for those who happen across it, Paradise is not a “great film”, but a nice little story about four people, two adults and two kids, who grow emotionally through their relationships with each other. Continue reading

One Magic Christmas (1985)

Review: Disney's One Magic Christmas (1985) — Disnerd Movie Challenge

DIRECTOR: Philip Borsos

CAST: Mary Steenburgen, Harry Dean Stanton, Gary Basaraba, Elisabeth Harnois, Robbie Magwood, Arthur Hill, Elias Koteas, Wayne Robson, Jan Rubes


If a mix of down-to-earth drama about a hard-done-by family struggling during Christmastime and a supernatural fantasy involving Christmas angels and Santa Claus feels a trifle schizophrenic, One Magic Christmas manages to traverse its uncertain terrain about as smoothly as one could reasonably expect. The result is a trifle schmaltzy—what Christmas movie isn’t, unless one’s counting Die Hard—but the screenplay has a level of intelligence, it’s well-acted, and it blends modern problems with an unabashedly old-fashioned feeling.

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