"Happy Feet" / "Flushed Away" / "The Santa Clause 3"
"Flicka" / "Her Best Move"
Your kids will probably love "Happy Feet," and here's why. The penguins are adorable. (As if to ensure adorability, the main character, Mumble, never loses his baby-fur, so he is literally a cutey-baby through the whole film.) The production numbers are fun and infectious, and watching the choreography of so many computer-generated penguins must be for this generation what watching Busby Berkeley or Esther Williams was for their grandparents.
The story is what kids are given to expect: a moral parable wrapped up in a fight against the evil doers in status-quo. (In case you're one of the half-dozen world citizens who hasn't heard, the movie's premise is this: All penguins sing a heartsong to find a mate. Little Mumble is born unable to carry a tune, but he does a mean jazz/tap step. He is somehow blamed for the scarcity of fish and banished. While out and about, he vows to discover the cause of the fish-famine. He meets a wider world, and comes back to a happy ending.)
In fact, my daughter came out of the IMAX theater saying, "I can't wait for it to come out on DVD so I can buy it and watch it again and again!" It really is an entertaining, well-made movie, and your whole family can have an enjoyable evening watching it.
And, okay, given all that, here are my gripes. Virtually all of the songs are covers of great toe-tapping songs from 30 years ago. Is no one writing infectious music these days? Or can they at least pick some underused gems? It's weird to be in a kid's movie mentally comparing Brittany Murphy's cover of "Someone to Love" with Anne Hathaway's cover of the same song in "Ella Enchanted." Why are Brittany and Anne being allowed to cover Queen anyway?
There has been quite a backlash from the conservative sector about the political message of the film: Don't ostracize someone for being born different; and quit over-fishing and throwing away soda-can rings. Now, they're both good messages in my book, hard to argue with, but I think what riles the folks that get riled is that when director George Miller decides to take on screeching ostracizers, he screeches back himself, through his characters. Quite literally, and out of the blue. Truth is, if you want the children of the screechers to take your point, you need to do it subversively--or at least in the warp and woof of the film, not ham-fistedly. Still, it is hard to argue with the fact that you shouldn't blame Mumble because he was born tone-deaf. He is pointedly NOT GAY, he just has, well, happy feet. He wants the chanteuse, and she wants him also.
As a writer, my biggest problem was that the plot ending just sort of fell apart. Mumble is captured and put in a penguin exhibit. Yet somehow the fact that he can tap dance--instead of landing him on the The Planet's Wackiest Animals or Ellen DeGeneres' Web Video Wednesdays--mysteriously gets him sent home, gets global overfishing stopped, and launches the thousands of flightless birds into another production number. I guess by then the writers stopped caring. Or the animation budget dried up. Whatever.
Bottom line: your kids will love it. It has adorable penguins and infections dance numbers.
Two years ago, psychologists published a study which found watching a movie could be "mood altering." Well, duh. But I've got to say that I went to see "Flushed Away" on one of those days when everything had gone wrong. Nothing horrible, everyone was still alive, but the day had been a definite downer. I came out, an hour and a half later, with a grin on my face, wondering why I had cared about those stupid things that had gotten stuck in my craw, anyway.
Since "Flushed Away" is animated, it's easy to assume it's a kids' film. Forget it. In that theater, I heard something I hadn't heard for quite a while: adults laughing out loud. Repeatedly. "Flushed Away" is so witty and clever and well-executed, that it shows most other Talking Animal Movies for what they are: just plain stupid. The characters are hysterical, the social commentary good-natured but biting, and the inside jokes--both verbal and visual--fly fast and furious. Kids will certainly enjoy "Flushed Away" on a different level than their parents will. Although, at least with my crew, the singing slugs were common ground.
The basic plot revolves around a pampered Kensington mouse named Roddy, who is mistakenly flushed down the toilet, only to discover an entire sub-England populated with rodents, frogs, slugs, and others. In his haste to get back to his well-ordered world up top, he runs afoul of the local crime boss and has to join forces with the spunky boat-captain Rita. Wacky adventures ensue.
The computer animation is fantastic. The characters are voiced by talent the caliber of Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, and Ian McKellen. And I reiterate my one-woman push to get Jean Reno an Oscar (see my review of "Pink Panther"). This is certainly a film that, the more you think about it, the funnier it is. And I bet there are lots of missed comedic touches to be caught on a second viewing. And just in case you missed it: That's the actual Tom Jones singing "What's New, Pussycat?" during the closing credits.
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
My sister-in-law, a teacher, was in a meeting of the minds in California in which it was decided that instead of allowing no holiday scenes, the school system would allow each religion (or anyone with a lack thereof) to be represented in the classroom. "So!" the moderator said happily, "Since you have a menorah, you can also have Santa Claus!" My sister-in-law quietly pointed out that the Christian equivalent of a Jewish menorah would be a Nativity scene. But it's very easy to see how the world at large could currently make the mistake.
I'm not one of those people who bemoan malls putting up "Happy Holidays!" signs instead of "Merry Christmas!" Why should merchants have to prioritize the importance of the holidays of their paying customers? One of the conundrums faced by many in the U.S. every year at this time is that there are no two philosophies more pointedly at odds than those at the roots of Christianity and capitalism.
With the arrival of "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause," it seems we have finally completely severed the two. This is a Christmas movie with absolutely no mention at all of Christmas outside of a toy context. No talk even about values as watered-down as "the spirit of giving" or the "size of your heart." The "Santa" (saint) part of Santa Claus is gone for good. Arrivaderci, Saint Nicholas, hello guy who happens to be standing near the suit when the previous Claus bites the dust. Never mind the implications of the idea that the centerpiece of the film is a baby to be delivered to the world at Christmastime. It's not the one you're expecting. It's Santa Jr. I won't even go there.
But you don't even have to be a "religious" celebrant of Christmas to find this film dispiriting. (At my kids' elementary school for the past several years, they've held a Santa Breakfast on Sunday morning, making certain the secular and religious celebrators of the holiday are separated for sure.) The movie fails on its own terms. The biggest message they can squeeze out at the end is that you shouldn't keep secrets from family, because even if your family is the biggest bunch of argumentative jerks on the planet, all that matters is that you're together(?!). Seriously.
In "The Santa Clause 3," the whole point of Christmas is meeting the incredible toy production and delivery demand on schedule. All the elves are played by children, but they have pointy ears to keep Santa's Workshop from looking like a giant sweatshop. Although sweatshop it is--the elves apparently have no free will and must do as the current Santa demands--all the elves have to stop what they're doing and smile and call "Hello, in-laws!" at good Santa's whim. This becomes even more painful (though no less troubling) when the evil Jack Frost becomes Santa and forces them to sing and dance to numbers from "A Chorus Line" and do evil capitalistic things by turning the North Pole into a Resort/Mall. The problem is, there isn't much difference between the extreme "gimmes" evidenced by children before and after said hostile takeover. And I'm sorry, but if you knowingly marry Santa, you can't spend time complaining that he's busy at Christmas.