Soul (4.5 Stars)
Wolfwalkers (4 Stars)
Onward (3 Stars)
Over the Moon (3 Stars)
Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2.5 Stars)
Mulan (2.5 Stars)
Pinocchio (2.5 Stars)
The One and Only Ivan (1.5 Stars)
Three of this year’s eight family films are ‘live action’ movies, but they all rated at the bottom of my ‘family’ list. The One and Only Ivan, from Disney, has some terrific voice talent and the Oscar-nominated visual effects animation creates talking animals that are fun to watch. But, honestly, I think the characters could have been more invested and the story was, unfortunately, just lame. So watch it only if you have small children, but remember you have to make sacrifices as a parent…
There is a similar problem with Mulan. As a joint effort between the US and Chinese companies, it uses Asian talent and was filmed, largely in the same Chinese province where Muslim Uyghurs are mistreated, leading to some substantial critical backlash. Even without that, though the characters are undeveloped and aren’t invested with sympathetic features. The landscape, costumes, makeup, and visual effects are all stunning and the whole family, especially younger girls, will find some value. But most of us were expecting more.
Pinocchio also was not at all what I expected either, nor what my childhood taught me. This is an Italian film that goes back to the original story. As such, it is much darker and somber than anything Disney produces. Although IMDB puts this in the family category, I’m not sure young children will be happy with it at all. The whole ‘nose growing when you lie’ thing actually takes about one minute out of the film and then is never mentioned again. It is full of some extremely strange characters (nominated for Makeup) that don’t have a whole lot of continuity, and could be intimidating to children. So beware of this one.
The remaining five movies in this genre are all the animated features. Of those, two are really worth seeing, even if you don’t have small children. But let me talk about the other three first.
The Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is, well, forgettable. Yes, the sheep are cute, but there is no dialog. The movie communicates by sight-gags and references to maybe a dozen different science fiction movies. The story is basically E.T., but they also incorporate a bunch of other movie themes. Small kids might like the sheep, but it probably scores broader points with teens and, sometimes, adults.
Onward is Disney’s attempt to balance the ‘dead mother’ trope. This time, it is the father that is dead and his two sons succeed, through some magic to bring back half of him – the lower half that doesn’t talk. The two brothers only have a day with him and, in the end, the story is more about them then it is their Dad anyway. The story works and the animation is terrific – its Pixar after all – but the taste doesn’t last long.
Similarly with Over the Moon, which goes back to the daughter missing her mother theme. In this case, the daughter does some ridiculous science stuff which sends her to the other side of the moon where she encounters this alien Chang’e (a wonderful Phillipa Soo). Although the story line is only marginally interesting, the animation (on the moon side) is intriguing and, as a musical, there are some great songs.
But the best animated films have to be Wolfwalkers and Soul. The former is an Irish film using old-style hand-drawn animation to tell an old-Irish folk-tale. In this telling, though, there are lessons for the young and for contemporary adults facing environmental catastrophe. The movie works well on multiple levels. It should be on your must-watch list.
And then there is the Animated Feature Oscar winner from Pixar, Soul. Using state-of-the-art computer animation, the visuals in this film are stunning. The Oscar-winning soundtrack is spellbinding, especially in the way it fuses jazz and electronic music to tell the tale of a jazz musician who may have met an untimely death and has to confront the ‘next world’. Like Inside Out, Soul raises questions that can be addressed at all age levels. Truly an exceptional film.
My favorite Family movie from the 2020 Oscar season has to be Toy Story 4, the ‘final chapter’ in that series. In addition to some fabulous animation, the story offered morsels for all ages, especially parents whose children are leaving the nest. I gave it 5 Stars. I also liked Klaus quite a bit, although, being a Christmas origin story, it might not have appeal year round, but if you need something next holiday season, and haven’t seen it yet, add it to your list.
Family movies are definitely not my favorite genre, but there are some genuinely excellent films in this grouping, so sample it well.