Frozen II (2.5 Stars)
How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden Valley (2.5 Stars)
Klaus (3.5 Stars)
Lion King (2 Stars)
Maleficent: Princess of Evil (1.5 Stars)
Missing Link (2.5 Stars)
Toy Story 4 (5 Stars)
There are seven Family movies in this year’s Oscar-nominated list. Not surprisingly, six of them are animated features and five of them are sequels to previous movies. So let me start with the exceptions and then move on to the standards of the genre.
Maleficent: Princess of Evil is the lone live action movie, but it is a sequel. As happens in a lot of sequels, I found this one disappointing because it fails to keep alive the excitement and creativity generated by the first one. In addition, I think it raises some serious moral issues (I.e. genocide) that, especially in the resolution, may not be an enlightening experience for kids. Aside from some great-looking women, there isn’t much here for adults either.
The two original animated films, Klaus and Missing Link , are a mixed bag. Missing Link was a visual delight, and I loved the stop-motion animation technique, but I couldn’t really get my mind around the story – it was a little too simple-minded. Kids, though, will enjoy it and parents will appreciate the artistry.
Klaus is also filmed in a different style. The rich backgrounds are pretty much computer generated, while the characters themselves are done in a more traditional, hand-drawn style. The result is a combination of visual satisfaction, with personalized characters. Adults might appreciate the unique technical attributes. Meanwhile, the story is an origin story of Santa Claus and, therefore, will be of interest to everyone. Either of these movies will make for a great family evening with popcorn.
Three of the remaining sequels are, frankly, disappointing, all for different reasons, but would all be good for a family evening, in a pinch. The new version of The Lion King is, to most people, just kind of creepy because the CGI is so good that you can’t distinguish the animals from the real thing. That means that when they talk, sing, or dance, it just doesn’t look right. Must admit, though, that I don’t know how it plays with kids.
Frozen II has all the money, and computer power it can buy, that Disney can offer. And the CGI in this movie is state of the art. The sequence with the snowflakes and their representation of the four basic elements of nature, is spectacular. The story is mostly an origin story for Elsa and Anna, but can tend toward the dark side. While visually exciting, it could be a little too dark for kids and maybe a little simplistic for adults.
Another origin story, How to Train Your Dragon: Hidden Valley portrays where the dragons originally came from and where the must return to avoid an unfortunate fate. That fate, though, seems almost to be an afterthought – the story is choppy and contrived. Those who have followed the ‘Train Your Dragon’ series will be disappointed in the final chapter, and newbies will likely be a little confused and distracted. Still, the CGI, especially in the five minute scene taking place in the ‘Hidden Valley’ is beautiful. If you are a student of CGI you will likely want to see the movie just for that five minutes.
And that leaves Toy Story 4 which also appears to be a ‘final chapter’. I found this story both gorgeous in its sumptuous, computerized, animation, but also intriguing because of how it works at many different levels. The story works for both children and parents at the same time, which is rather remarkable. In fact, this is one of my rare 5 Star ratings, so, if you haven’t seen it, put it at the top of your list.
If you need more family movies to queue up, I recommend Ralph Breaks the Internet and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse as the best two family movies from last year. The Ralph movie was hilarious and I particularly enjoyed how they brought such an abstract notion as ‘the internet’ to life. The Spider-Man movie was an animated film that gives an origin story for the character but does so using a combination of animation techniques that made the movie interesting at multiple levels. Christopher Robin, Incredibles 2, Mary Poppins Returns, and Mirai, from last year, are all also-rans and I wouldn’t watch them until you’ve really exhausted other possibilities.
So that’s Family entertainment. Plenty there to watch, and several to avoid. Have fun!