Tag Archives: children’s movies

“Winnie the Pooh” meets “Avenue Q”

A scene from Walt Disney Picture's Winnie the Pooh--which is full of playful letters and words

Lizabeth suggested at about 12:45pm Saturday afternoon that we hit a 1pm showing of Disney’s new “Winnie the Pooh” film, which gave us little time to transition from Eeyore to Tigger mode. But we made it, and enjoyed every second of nostalgia nirvana in the short 73 minute film.

“Winnie the Pooh” is a literature lover’s dream — filled with images of books, letters and punctuation marks that come alive (as muses, not monsters), and scenes of Pooh characters bouncing, stumbling and flying through the pages of a “Winnie the Pooh” storybook.

Tigger doesn’t text or tweet. Kanga and Roo get letters the old-fashioned way — in their mailbox. Friends work together to solve problems. They’re creative. They cheer each other on. And they accept one another, foibles and all. Pull out the Pooh books before heading to the theater — you’ll want to extend the movie magic with a few good reads when you get home.

Robert Lopez wrote music and lyrics for both Avenue Q and Winnie the Pooh

“Winnie the Pooh” is a lovely musical jaunt, full of classical music in various tempos and styles. The movie features an original score by Henry Jackman and original songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, a married couple with impressive joint and individual credits.

Lizabeth spotted Robert Lopez’s name in the credits — because she’s familiar with his work on “The Book of Mormon” and “Avenue Q.” The couple share music and lyric credits for seven songs in the film. Anderson-Lopez voices Kanga and Playbill.com reports that Lopez makes the rumbling sound for Pooh’s tummy. It’s a gift, I suppose.

A careful review of the movie’s credits — which roll as some of the movie’s funniest antics unfold — reveals plenty of familiar names. There’s Zooey Deschanel, who contributes an original song and vocal performance for the film. And Craig Ferguson (the voice of Owl) of late-night fame.

Also actors who’ve voiced characters for Toy Story 3, Phineas & Ferb and SpongeBob SquarePants. Most endearing is the voice of Christopher Robin. It’s that of Jack Boulter, and it’s his first-ever voiceover role. I may have to enjoy the movie a second time just to relish all the voiceover talent — including narration by John Cleese, co-founder of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

A single line in the credits reads “Dan Read-In Memorium” — in honor of a longtime background and visual development artist for Disney Animation films who died in May of 2010 after battling melanoma. I read that donations to local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) chapters were requested in lieu of flowers.

Film credits mention “caffeination by Carlos Benavides” and thank three museums, including Britain’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where film directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall studied original “Winnie the Pooh” illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. The original stuffed animals that inspired Milne’s stories for his son Christopher Robin Milne are housed at the New York Public Library.

Disney's Winnie the Pooh opens with pages from this 1961 book by A.A. Milne

Children and their grown-ups giggled throughout the film as Tigger pounced atop a downtrodden Eeyore, Owl recited his lengthy memoir, Roo braved the forrest in his tea cup helmet, Rabbit found comfort in a checklist and Pooh raced to escape angry bees. There were no angry birds back in author A.A. Milne’s day (1882-1956).

When characters ponder knotting a rope to rescue friends who’ve fallen into a pit, Eeyore suggest that “it’s all for naught.” Later he’s convinced that “we’re all gonna die.” Roo offers a deadpan “Send the pig” (Lizabeth’s favorite line) when scary noises loom, and Tigger spends a lot of time saying “it’s gonna be great.” Pooh dreams of honey, meeting frustrations with a simple “Oh, bother!”

Disney’s “Winnie the Pooh” website offers a “100 Acre Wood Personality quiz” for those of you who’ve yet to identify with a particular character, and there are plenty of games, activities and facts for younger “Pooh” fans. As other folks flock to Harry Potter’s Forbidden Forrest, I’m perfectly content to linger in the 100 Acre Wood.

— Lynn

Note: Lizabeth found a cool “10 Questions” interview of Robert Lopez by Belinda Luscombe of TIME Magazine in which he talks about his “personal connection with Pooh.” Click here to watch the video from TIME.com.

Coming up: Pardon my Pygmalion

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More movie tales from Narnia

My oldest child, Christopher, has always been more of a doer than a reader. He wants to explore his own world rather than read about the worlds of others. 

But “Narnia” was a rare exception when he was in elementary school. I recall reading to and with him from C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia” series — and the excitement we shared each time we finished one and got to hit the bookstore for another.

We always bought the hard cover editions with gorgeous cover art, and regarded them as real treasures that would transport us on adventures of the mind and imagination.

Recently we enjoyed an advance screening of the latest “Narnia” movie — titled “Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I was eager to see it because I quite enjoyed “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” when it was in theaters several years ago. (As a Colorado native transplanted to Arizona, I was especially fond of the forest scenes and snowy settings.)

“Dawn Treader” has less snow, but more sea. The movie was filmed in a few places, but none more stunning than Australia. It’s a visually pleasing work with or without the 3-D experience. Plenty of scenes take place aboard a ship, so it’s a fab flick for pirate lovers and seafaring souls.

Who knew one could enjoy a swashbuckling adventure in the absence of Johnny (originally a “Christopher”) Depp? This was true revelation. (Of course, there’s always the new movie “The Tourist” for those of you desperately in need of a Depp fix.)

I typically balk when I hear assertions like “there’s nothing new under the Sun” or “no idea is a truly new idea.” But I am starting to develop an annoying habit of finding oodles of other movies in every new movie I see. “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” was no exception.

Picture “Indiana Jones” meets “Pirates of the Caribbean” — then add a touch of “Ghostbusters,” “Harry Potter,” and final scenes of Disney’s “Enchanted.” Even echos of the television series “Lost.” Happily, it works. And that’s all that matters.

“Return of the Dawn Treader” is a sort of swashbuckling story meets theological treatise — with emphasis, luckily, on the storytelling. The religious views of C.S. Lewis, original author of the “Narnia” tales, inform much of his work — as do prevailing issues of the day. What’s the balance of destiny and free will? What gives the dark side of man its power?

I tend to view such films as gateways to analysis and dialogue. What was the historical context when C.S. Lewis wrote these works? What about the time period in which the action supposedly takes place? How does art reflect life in Lewis’ work? And what value are books and film in naming and critiquing individual values and cultural mores?

Then again, you can just wing it with the flying dragon vibe. No theological study needed to embrace the humor of the movie’s fencing mouse — or the other land, sea and air creatures the children encounter in their quest to save “Narnia.” (The creatures who bounce playfully on a single large foot are my favorites.)

If you favor thinking of the lion Aslan as a diety, then go for it. If you’re happy to leave his lionhood at that, you’ll still enjoy the tale. But either way you’ll notice religious and ethical concepts, such as the power and necessity of belief, throughout.

My one frustration with attending the UltraLuxe Scottsdale theater was that they have yet to work out a few of the kinks.

Clearly the person who designed this venue, despite its lush decor, wasn’t mother to a preschooler who needed a shelf in the bathroom stall, a super speedy concessions line or a cup holder that squared with the large size drink.

Take note theater folk: The truest test of a family-friendly venue is the ease of using it for the parents whose patronage you seek. Because this cinema has some nifty parent and child-friendly programs, I hope they’ll make some more strides in these areas.

Still, two out of my three “kids” have experienced this theater now — and they both give it high praise. The seats are comfy, the sound is excellent, and the staff are friendly and courteous.

But check it out yourself — and let me know both what you think of the luxury cinema atmosphere and what you think of some of the new movies out there this holiday season.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) from HarperCollins Publishers. And be sure to stay as the movie’s credits roll to enjoy delightful drawings by original illustrator Pauline Baynes (1922-2008) and the new Carrie Underwood song titled “There’s a Place for Us.”

Coming up: James Bond meets 39 Steps

The fine art of animals

Scene from Childsplay's "A Year With Frog and Toad"

I got to thinking about art with an animal theme as I was making plans to attend “A Year With Frog and Toad,” the opening production of Childsplay’s 33rd season, which runs Sept 18 to Oct 16 (Sat/Sun 1pm & 4pm) at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Turns out there are plenty of theater works for children who enjoy animals of all shapes and sizes — including another Childsplay offering (“Go, Dog, Go!”) scheduled for Jan 29-March 6 of next year, and a Phoenix Theatre Cookie Company production of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” to run Nov 19-28 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale.

The Great Arizona Puppet Theater closes its run of “Baby Bear Goes to School” on Sept 12, but has oodles of animal fare lined up for the rest of their season — including “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Apolodo,” “Little Bunny’s Halloween,” “The Little Red Hen,” “Cinderella,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “The Monkey and the Pirate,” “The Three Little Pigs” and more.

Scene from Childsplay's "Go, Dog, Go!"

I’m especially intrigued by “Apolodo” — which the puppet meisters will perform one night only, Sept 17, at 8pm. It’s based on a poem by Gellu Naum, “one of the greatest Romanian avant-garde poets.”

It’s the tale of a little penguin from a great circus in Budapest who has a full time job as a tenor and entertainer — and “is a bit of an actor on the ice rink.” Sounds like most of my multi-tasking theater friends.

Scene from Great Arizona Puppet Theater's "Apolodor"

Great Arizona Puppet Theater often presents work that increases youth appreciation for wildlife and their habitats.

In “Hotel Saguaro” (Feb 2-20, 2011), grandpa Sammy tells little Sammy about the relationship between desert animals and the saguaro cactus. With “Canyon Condor” (Feb 23-March 6) children learn about the importance of the condor and protecting its environmental niche.

I recall enjoying many a show by the Great Arizona Puppet Theater when my three children, now ages 17-21, were younger. It’s a wonderful introduction to the joys of storytelling, live theater and communal arts experiences.

"Dancing Bear" by Inuit artist Pauta Siala (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

Many a Valley museum features animal-related arts and culture — including the Heard Museum (which has both Phoenix and North Scottsdale locations). I’m especially fond of the polar bears and other North American wildlife depicted in their “Inuit Art” collection, but visitors also can enjoy a host of other animal art from several different cultures — created in all sorts of mediums. The Heard Museum is an especially fun place to play games like “How many fish can you see in this room?” or “Can you find a wolf in this exhibit?”

Keep an eye out for animal-related art at local zoos, nature centers, animal rescue organizations and wildlife habitats. The Phoenix Zoo offers their next “Wild Art” class for 2-5 year olds at 9:30am on Sept 25. (Did you know that koalas are headed their way?) Take a sketch pad and some charcoal or colored pencils along on animal/nature adventures and create your own animal-inspired art.

"Animals and People" by Inuit artist Winnie Tatla (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

If birds or butterflies are your thing, check the offerings at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

Upcoming art gallery exhibits at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum include an “Art Institute Student Show” opening Oct 2 and “The World of Nature in Miniatures” opening Dec 11.

Several of the Native American petroglyphs at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center depict animals. The museum also offers an educational program called “Ollie’s Storybook Adventures” which offers “fun and interactive ways for children to learn about…plants, animals and archeology of the American southwest.”

Cat in the Hat” fans (of all ages) can now enjoy a new television series on PBS. “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That,” which first aired on Monday, introduces young children to the wonders of science and the natural world. Comedy lovers may be especially delighted with the choice of actors to voice the role of the Cat — Martin Short (featured just last season at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts).

"Raptors of Arizona" opens Sept 11 at the ASDM Art Institute (Pictured is Richard Sloan's "Harris' Hawk")

Movie buffs who love animal fare can look for a 3-D film about two wolves named Kate and Humphrey opening soon in theaters Valleywide. “Alpha and Omega” also features angry bears, prickly porcupines and a golfing goose with a duck for a caddy.

Remember too that museum gift shops often offer unique animal-related gifts like the mouse-shaped cheese grater I recently picked up at the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop for a certain pasta-lover at our house. I also found a fanciful stuffed animal (a “Deglingos” offering called “Pikos the Hedgehog”) at the Phoenix Art Museum online shop. Alas — I have so far been unsuccessful in landing the rare “Mr. Pricklepants” of thespian and “Toy Story 3” fame.

Mireya Mayor (photo by Mark Thiessen) comes to the MAC in 2011

Finally, you can enjoy any or all of four “National Geographic Live!” events coming to Mesa Arts Center this season. The first, featuring “Ocean Adventures” with Jean-Michel Cousteau, takes place Oct 20. The final event in the series this season  (March 23, 2011) will feature Mireya Mayor — pictured above with a new lemur species she discovered.

If your organization or venue offers visual or performing arts with an animal theme, please comment below to let our readers know.

— Lynn

Kennedy Center tour hits Higley

Note: Higley Center for the Performing Arts presents a rare treat on Nov 16 for school children pre-K to 1st grade — the touring production of “Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Musical” presented by Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences. Reservations are required.

Coming up: Sampling of symphonies, A weekend of “Bollywood & beyond”

Here are the answers to trivia questions posed in a recent “Laugh Your Brass Off” post about this weekend’s production of “The Music Man” with The Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre: “The Music Man” received the 1958 Tony Award for “Best Musical” nominated alongside “New Girl in Town,” “Oh, Captain!,” “Jamaica,” and “West Side Story.” Actors who have performed the role of Winthrop Paroo on stage or screen include Ron (then “Ronnie”) Howard, Eddie Hodges, Cameron Monaghan and Christian Slater.