Middle school is miserable enough, but for Alice (Alyson Stoner) there are complications that are even more horrifying. She is brand new in town because her father (Luke Perry)
has just bought a music store in Silver Spring, Maryland, so they have moved away from everyone they know. She has gotten off on the wrong foot with just about everyone — a neighbor who is in her class in school (a muddy handshake and un-gracious rejection of her family’s gift of a meatloaf dinner), a boy from school (she accidentally opened the door to the changing room at the store and saw him in his boxers), and her terrifying new teacher, Mrs. Plotkin (Penny Marshall, in a welcome return to performing) by insisting that she was supposed to be moved to another class. But the most important reason she feels out of place (aside from being 11 years old) is that she misses her mother, who died when she was little, and her father does not want to talk about her.
Naylor and screenwriters Meghan Heritage and Sandy Tung have ably evoked the tumultuousness of 6th grade as Alice swings back and forth from misery to ecstasy and from over-confidence to utter humiliation and back again. When Miss Cole (Ashley Drane), the teacher she idealizes, directs the school play, Alice thinks all of her problems will be solved. All she needs to do is get the lead and fix the teacher up with her father so they can unite in marriage and in recognizing Alice as the fabulously talented, confident, and popular girl she knows she is destined to be.
Of course, that isn’t the way it all works out. Alice lapses into daydreams, forgets to do her homework, and finds that she did not inherit her mother’s gift for singing. But she also discovers that she can learn from her mistakes and that everyone deserves a second chance.
Stoner is an appealingly sincere young actress with a gift for comedy and “High School Musical’s” Lucas Grabeel is terrific as her older brother. Co-screenwriter Tung directs with enough respect for his characters and the audience that he lets everyone learn some lessons without having a sit-com resolution to every situation. It’s a fine family film, enthusiastically received when I introduced it at the Tallgrass Film Festival and I was delighted when it came in second for the festival’s audience award.
Po (voice of Jack Black) is a soft, sweet-natured cuddly panda. He works as a waiter in his father’s noodle shop but dreams of being a kung fu champion. He studies kung fu history and cherishes his action figures of the Furious Five, the country’s top martial arts masters: Tigress (Angelina Jolie), Crane (David Cross), Monkey (Jackie Chan), Viper (Lucy Liu), and Mantis (Seth Rogen). They are trained by Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) under the guidance of the Master (Randall Duck Kim).
The great villain Tai Lung (Ian McShane, providing the obligatory deep voice and English accent), guarded by 1000 soldiers, breaks out of prison and the Master must select a new Dragon Warrior to defend the people. The whole town gathers to see which of the Furious Five it will be. In what appears to everyone — including Po — to be a mistake, the Master points to the panda as the chosen one. And it is up to Yoda, I mean Shifu, to train him.
The Furious Five are, well, furious. Like a group of middle school mean girls, they tell Po he does not belong. Shifu is frustrated and impatient, insisting that the panda cannot be trained. He does not have the grace or balance for martial arts.
The panda is part teddy bear, part Pillsbury Doughboy, part Cookie Monster, all soft, sweet, and cuddly. Like Santa, he has a belly that shakes like a bowl full of jelly, a long way from a lean, mean fighting machine. He is also unsure of himself, ashamed of his clumsiness. He is afraid to try for his dreams — afraid to upset the father he loves (Po never seems to notice they are of different species) and afraid he does not have the ability to do better. When he fails in training, he says dejectedly, “I probably sucked more than anyone in the history of kung fu…more than anyone in the history of sucking.” He admits to Shifu that he only stayed “because I thought if anyone could change me, make me not me, it was you.” But Po will learn that the source of his strength is what no one can teach him — his sincerity and humility. Po will find within himself the strength, focus, and resolve to face Tai Lung.
As wise and experienced as he is, Shifu has some lessons to learn as well. He has to find a whole new way of teaching — it turns out the way to a Dragon Warrior’s heart may be through his stomach. And he has to explore some regrets and mistakes from his past.
All of this is handled very lightly — the film spends more time on the pratfalls than on the brisk training montage and the fight sequences are well within the PG range. The sweet-natured lumbering bear with the big tummy trying to achieve the grace, discipline, and balance of kung fu gives the animators a lot of opportunities for offbeat variations, sight gags, and contrasts, a cartoon tradition going back as far as the ballet-dancing hippos in “Fantasia.” And the scroll-inspired landscapes and colors are spectacularly beautiful.
The fortune cookie-like “everyone is special” lessons of the film get a little murky, though, and parents will want to talk to children about alternatives to violence, safe participation in martial arts, and telling the truth. But the film’s unpretentious sweetness, the striking visuals and fresh settings, and strong voice characterizations by Black, Hoffman, Rogan, and Cross make this satisfying family entertainment.
Years ago, 1940-mid 1950s, there was a movie involving a spinster teacher in a small town, who had inspired generations of students. The story involves flashbacks and interaction of former students showing how she had such a positive effect on everyone’s lives. Answer: The lovely film you are thinking of is “Good Morning Miss Dove” with Jennifer Jones. I used to watch a movie about an orphaned girl when I was a kid. The movie starts out with a young girl in a bedroom with her father. By the look of the room you can assume they are wealthy and I think it’s in India. He’s getting ready to leave (to war I think) and she’s touching his face. The father says, “Are you trying to memorize my face,” she replies, “No, I already have it memorized.” He leaves and never returns (think he died at war). The girl gets moved somewhere and is forced to stay in the attic I think. She becomes a maid/slave in the house but her room is in the attic. That’s about all I can remember. I would have been watching it in the early 90’s and can assume it was released at that time. Any idea what that name of that movie is or possibly where I could find out? Thanks for you help! Answer: That wonderful movie (and book) is “The Little Princess.” It has been filmed a number of times but you are thinking of the 1995 version. It is available on DVD. Enjoy!Years ago i saw a film it was about a couple the move into a new house the women finds a wedding dress in the attic that is ripped. when the women put the dress on she is transported back in time to the time when the dress was last warn. me and my mum loved this film and have spent years trying to find out the name i know that it is a film from somewhere 1960s to 1980s at the end she stays in the past and when he moves out he finds pictures of her from the past. if you could help i would be so grateful. all my thanks Answer: Yes, it is “The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan” with Lindsay Wagner and Marc Singer. There was an old movie where at the end it was found that ma belle or at & t ruled the world. It was most likely from the the 60’s or 70’s. Please let me know if you have the answer. This is a tough one – Thanks Answer: That’s the very funny satire “The President’s Analyst” with James Coburn.I saw this movie a few months ago now I can’t think of the name of the actors or the name of the movie! Its about a couple with a daughter..hes a businessman and his wife and daughter go away for a weekend to look at a potential house they might buy…while she’s gone he cheats on her with a blonde woman. When he tries to end it with the blonde she tries to slit her wrists. She lies and says she’s pregnant, she stalks the family and kills the daughter’s bunny. Answer: That movie is “Fatal Attraction” with Michael Douglas and Glenn Close.I have been trying to find the name of a film about a man who had a pair of magic trousers. Every time he put his hand in the pocket he found a Â£5 note. I think it was a British film but not sure, I’m pretty sure it was in black and white though. It was around the time of the Million Pound Note with Gregory Peck. Can you help please?Answer: I believe you may be thinking of a British television movie called “Priceless Pocket” also featured in a compilation film called “The Triangle.” The government makes Mr Popple exchange the pants, but then his new pants have the same magic property.There was a movie I saw some years ago about a soldier who killed his wife and children and sid that some hippies broke ino there home and committed the crime. It was a true storyAnswer: That movie is “Fatal Vision” with Gary Cole playing Jeffrey MacDonald.What was the name of the American film that had a mixed raced girl who was white in appearance but her biological mother was black. She denies her mother in public so that her white friends will not find out she is half black and lie gets bigger and harder to hide. Set roughly 40s – 60s. Answer: I think this is probably “Imitation of Life.” There are two versions, but she’s probably thinking of the one with Lana Turner and Sandra Dee. Both are the story of black and white single moms with daughters who band together. And in both the black daughter is light-skinned and passes for white, even at one point telling her friends that her mother was her “mammy.” Then the mother dies and the daughter is devastated. What was the movie from the late sixties or early seventies set in New York which had as the main characters an older man and his son or adopted son(or similar) they had a personal game of trying to accurately identify the detailed accent origins of every person they met? .Answer: That’s one of my favorites! “A Thousand Clowns” with Jason Robards. I need the title of a comedy about a financial whiz running away from the mob and the FBI and hides out in a high school with a black janitor. Answer: That is “Hiding Out” with Jon Cryer of “Two and a Half Men.”In “Pulp Fiction,” what was in the box that Samuel Jackson would not give up? Answer: Good question, John! And the answer is that no one knows. Writer-director Quentin Tarantino intentionally left it up to the imagination of the viewer and there have been many fascinating alternatives offered by fans of the film. The myth-busting website Snopes has a good summary of the ideas and a confirmation that Tarantino did not answer the question. Thanks to all who wrote!