This latest round-up covers three films, each attempting to bring humor to a country on Yellow Alert. They don’t have much in common, although each does feature a single parent bonding with his or her child while trying to find his inner lion (“The Wild”) or to save the world from aliens (“Scary Movie 4”) or to help her daughter win a national televised singing competition (“American Dreamz”). The films are rated G through PG-13, but their intended audiences are very different. So, which ones are okay for kids?
American Dreamz
American DreamzI went to see this movie mostly because I wanted to know who the intended audience was. My kids had seen commercials for it during “American Idol,” which it heavily parodies, but it didn’t necessarily look like a kids’ movie.
As it turns out, the movie isn’t really for kids. Rather than offering broad humor, it’s a satire—director Paul Weitz’s “Emperor’s New Clothes” for 2006. Bottom line: It’s very cynical, and quite funny. It’s for anyone who’s tired of being afraid of terrorist camps, presidents who don’t read newspapers, unbridled American lust for fame, and Simon Cowell.
It’s one of those movies that forgets political correctness and delightedly skewers everybody: Arabs, Jews, blondes, gays, the Midwestern middle class, Hollywood sycophants, politicians, and Britney Spears.
The plot is simple: A young blonde schemer vies against a show-tune-loving misfit terrorist to win the latest round of “American Dreamz.” (They decide to play up Mandy Moore’s hard luck background, so her character’s first song is “Mama, Don’t Drink Me to Sleep.”) The president of the U.S., hoping to halt plummeting ratings, is booked on the show’s finale as a celebrity judge. The young terrorist is supposed to blow himself and the president up, live, on air. When he comes on to sing “My Way”--“And now, the end is near…”--the terrorists in the audience are upset, not because they’re afraid he won’t go through with it, but because they don’t think he’s talented enough to “sell” the song. 
Hugh Grant plays the Simon Cowell character with transparent ruthlessness. Grant's and Weitz’s last project together was “About A Boy,” where Weitz also coaxed new colors of performance from Grant. Mandy Moore fits the not-so-vapid blonde mold well. Willem Dafoe, as the vice president, is scarier than he was without his mask (shiver) in “Spider-Man.” But the actors seeming to have the most fun were Sam Golzari as the terrorist/ song-and-dance man, and Tony Yalda as his choreographer cousin who unfailingly steers him wrong.
What ages is it for? I think the test isn’t necessarily age, although I won’t be taking my children. My husband, maybe. (Someone brought a seven-year-old to the screening I saw, and she was clearly perplexed.) If you’re at a place where you are okay seeing a suicide vest with big letters saying “To Blow Yourself Up, Press This Button”--and, in the spirit of the movie, understand why that’s both horrifying and nutty--go, have a good time.
The Wild
The WildI went to "The Wild" planning to be open-minded about it, not intending to assume it was "Finding Nemo" meets "Madagascar," believing that the animators were probably well at work on this one before the others came out, feeling like we should give it a fair chance.
The first thing that struck me was the fantastic animation. We are truly living in a golden age of animation, where new techniques are being launched almost annually, it seems. The film looked stately and grand. And the writers were obviously well-acquainted with New York City. The city shimmers and beckons in the early sequences, and city-dwellers in the audience howled with appreciation at the gators’ garrulous directions. I think that was their last howl.
As the film progressed, it became impossible not to see it as sort of a large-scale game of Mad-Libs, where the writers fill in the blanks from a pool of adjectives and side-kick characters. It’s hard now not to notice how all these animated extravaganzas are completely male-dominated with one sole part for the quirky Ellen DeGeneres/Queen Latifah female who is tagging along. (This even goes for the superior "Ice Age 2"; in "The Wild," it’s Janeane Garofalo.)