Release Date: 28 November 2014
Director: Paul King
Production Company: Studio Canal
While a lot of family films these days seem to focus on the lowest common denominator of fart jokes and rock music standards, this adaptation of Paddington strikes a nice balance between being faithful to source material with a contemporary appeal. In fact, it feels a lot like the family films of the 1970s and 80s. A prologue to the film where an explorer meets Paddington’s aunt and uncle in Peru in what appears to be the 1930s adds to this feeling because the main part of the film is supposed to be 40 years later which would place it in the 1970s although what’s on the the screen is clearly London in the 2010s. Setting aside this chronological confusion, Paddington is a delight with well-timed slapstick humor and a lot of heart as Paddington finds a place with the quirky Brown family. There’s also a subtle commentary of the reception of immigrants in modern England, not just with Paddington but other characters such as an antique store owner who’s suggested to have fled Nazi persecution and a diagetic group of buskers whose mambo tunes comment on Paddington’s situation.
The thing that keeps the movie from being great is a plot involving Nicole Kidman as an evil taxidermist from the Natural History Museum eager to make her mark by stuffing a new species for display in the museum (namely, Paddington). While this leads to the climax of the movie where the Brown family rallies to save Paddington, I think the movie would’ve been stronger if the filmmakers had the confidence that the story of Paddington adjust to life in London would be enough to carry the movie.
Title: Lilo & Stitch
Release Date: 2002 June 21
Director: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review: A big leap forward in time from Dumbo, but coincidentally this movie was actually inspired by Dumbo in that the filmmakers wanted to make a low-budget experiment and is also the first Disney animated film to use watercolor backgrounds since Dumbo. The story involves Stitch, a genetic experiment designed to cause mayhem who escapes and crash lands in Hawaii. There he meets Lilo, a young girl being raised by her older sister after the death of their parents, who is an outcast among the other kids and tends to lash out violently, not unlike Stitch. The movie takes some chances in setting it in Hawaii and incorporating Hawaiian culture as well as a starkly honest depiction of a sisterly relationship. The movie is laugh out loud funny and heartbreaking, and I can’t believe I waited 15 years to see this genius film.
Release Date: 21 December 2016
Director: Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings
Zootopia used a city of anthropomorphic animals as the setting for a socially-conscious police procedural, and Sing does essentially the same thing for the musical comedy, albeit not as sophisticated. Koala Buster Moon is a show biz impresario who decides to save his decaying theater by staging a talent competition. Cue audition scenes followed by rehearsals with quirky core group of ambitious talent: a soulful gorilla who does not want to be part of his father’s bank-robbing gang, a punk rock porcupine more talented than her self-centered boyfriend, an overworked mother of 25 piglets looking for a chance to express herself, an exuberant, Teutonic pig in sparkly dance leotards, and a shy, teenage elephant with a strong voice.
The movie is full of gags and generally funny enough to entertain both children and adults. But it also contains some serious undertones and cynicism about show business that seems a bit heavy, especially a terrifying scene in which the theater is destroyed. The movie has it’s flaws, among them a soundtrack that switches frenetically among popular songs (the licensing bill must’ve been huge) and is a bit a bloated at nearly two hours in length. But it’s better than the sum of it’s parts with some joyous musical performances, especially in the final performance at the end of the film.
Release Date: March 4, 2016
Director: Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Set in a world of anthropomorphic mammals where predator and prey have agreed to live together, Zootopia is a comic, animated film that smartly takes on issues of inequality that appear ripped from the headlines touching upon women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, and prejudice against Islamic peoples. The story is about Judy Hopps, a country rabbit who comes to the big city as the first rabbit on the police force. Made unwelcome by her police chief, Judy ends up working with a hustler, a fox named Nick, to investigate the disappearance and apparent reversion to wildness of several predators. The movie has fun with the clichés of police procedurals and revels in exploring the fantastical world of a city made up of different mammalian habitats. It’s a funny and clever movie, and enjoyable for old and young alike.
Title: Kung Fu Panda
Release Date: 6 June 2008
Director: Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Another family movie night, inspired by a visit to the zoo. Po is a clumsy panda working in a noodle shop who is a big fan of the Furious Five kung fu warriors. He somewhat accidentally finds himself selected as the Dragon Warrior to defend the Valley of Peace against the vengeance of the evil Tai Lung. There’s a lot of humor playing off of martial arts film clichés, pop culture references, and Po’s roly-poly silliness. But it’s also an inspiring film as Po manages to be a hero in his own way. The animation is also pretty spectacular. I’m still wondering how they made two sequels out of this, though.