Tag Archives: kids’ movies

Cars 2: Conspiracy theory?

I hadn’t even realized a “Cars 2” was in the the making until political pundits got hot under the collar this week alleging some sort of conspiracy by the movie’s makers to push alternative energy sources.

The last time cars were of any great concern at our house, my son (now in college) was a toddler taken with Richard Scarry’s “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go” book — plus all manner of construction trucks, real or playground version.

So naturally I had to see what all the fuss was about. I saw “Cars 2” with Christopher — and a theater packed with kids from toddler to tween age — at Harkins Shea 14 Friday morning.

A little boy named Alex, there with his father (or very young grandfather), sat nearby — naming each “Cars 2” character as it appeared, often adding an adorable “zoom” sound like a real car engine.

It was his first movie experience, and he came dressed for success. Think khaki pants, crisp white T-shirt and plaid hat with a brim all the way around. He looked to be about preschool age, and had trouble negotiating the theater seat until he got his hands on a booster seat.

Both Alex and his grown-up laughed heartily throughout, and it was great fun to hear their reactions to the movie’s many plot turns and action-adventure sequences. Reviewers have claimed the film is plodding and predictable, but I really enjoyed it.

Christopher offered two observations as we walked out of the theater after the credits rolled. First, that it seemed much more violent than the first “Cars” movie — with more guns, bombs, fires, explosions and such (though no one really gets hurt). And second, that the storyline about oil versus alternative fuels felt unnecessary.

We didn’t feel like we were watching a message movie. “Cars 2” is a great visual romp. No more, no less. I’m not the least bit interested in cars or racing, but I loved seeing all the different makes, models and colors of cars. I’ve owned more than a few of the cars deemed “lemons” in the film.

The beauty of “Cars 2” is its settings — a small American town, a large metropolis in Japan and three European cities. Plus all the landmarks you’d expect to see, but with an automotive twist. “Big Ben” in London, for example, becomes “Big Bentley.”

I loved the attention to detail. The pope (a car) inside his pope-mobile. The truck raking sand in a Japanese rock garden. The tiara on the British monarch car. Also the many depictions of arts and culture — live theater, musicians, museums and more. The credits even thank the orchestra for making the music sound so good.

Your kids might enjoy learning some of the easy foreign language vocabulary used in the film. It never hurts to know how to say “thank you” or “excuse me” when traveling, and the movie’s world travels vibe might motivate young kids to try their hand at some new words from other countries. (This assumes, of course, that they know the importance of good manners in English too.)

If there’s a message in this movie, it’s not that oil is evil. It’s that friendship is good, and that friends accept one another “dents” and all. I suppose it might be offensive to those who insist a rigorous “rugged individualist” approach should prevail. But I’m guessing most parents who see the film with their kids will welcome the themes of loyalty, acceptance and forgiveness.

— Lynn

Coming up: Family fun with Changing Hands, What a difference a summer makes


Art adventures: Town of Gilbert

When summer temperatures soared last week, my 21-year-old son Christopher went online to search for fun places we could explore away from the heat — and found something I’d never heard of during my nearly three decades of living in the Valley.

It’s called the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. The preserve is located at Water Ranch in the town of Gilbert, within easy walking distance of the Southeast Regional Library. The preserve “was created in 1986 to provide open space, educational and recreational opportunities while reusing the town’s effluent water.”

Click here to begin your own exploration of the Riparian Institute — which offers all sorts of public, youth/scout and school programs. Think bird walks, garden tours and more. The preserve is also home to the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory, which makes for a fun family outing on Friday or Saturday night.

After walking through the preserve, some time in the cool Southeast Regional Library was just what we needed. The library was bustling with families shopping for bargains at the Friends bookstore, admiring a giant dollhouse and searching for fun summer reads together.

Teens sat curled up with books in the “Teen Oasis” while children enjoyed a LEGO class or other hands-on activities. I scoured the library for news of upcoming events, and learned that the Kawambe-Omowale African Drum & Dance Theatre will perform in the library’s assembly room Tues, June 21, at both 10am and 11:30am.

Event materials describe the drum and dance group as “a captivating performing arts company that offers a glimpse of West African culture through performance of drumming, dancing, singing, and storytelling.”

Other upcoming events include “Kids Summer Movies” (Thurs, July 14, 21 & 28 at 2pm) and the “Flat Stanley Puppet Show” Tues, July 26 at 10:15am and 11:30am (presented by SRP). Call 602-652-3000 before you go for all the fine print about tickets and such because space is limited.

Head to the library and preserve this summer if your kids start feeling restless. You can explore the preserve, then hit the library to find related books (the library has a special list of offerings on animals, birds, butterlies/moths/insects, plants and reptiles/snakes).

Or follow a trip to the library with one of two preserve hiking options (a 1/2 mile concrete path and a 1-1.2 mile hike through preserve habitats). You’ll find maps in a wooden box near the preserve entrance, though we did just fine without one the day we visited. I look forward to returning one day to explore the observatory.

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— Lynn

Note: Always check event details like location/directions, hours of operation and cost before attending. For a comprehensive list of family-friendly events, check the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine daily.

Coming up: More art meets science

HOP delivers more than candy

Despite some sour reviews, I think the movie HOP is incredibly sweet

My kids are all old enough now that Easter baskets could easily be a thing of the past were my husband not so fond of sharing all those chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks.

Still, as the proud caretaker to a real bunny named “Rugby,” I felt it was my duty to take my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth to a preview of the new movie “HOP.”

I wasn’t expecting much more than a film intent on reinforcing chants of “I want candy!” Or a string of scenes less appealing than the few used for commercial teasers.

But I was pleasantly surprised. The storyline was original and the visuals appealing. Actors voicing the characters (including James Marsden, Russell Brand and Hugh Laurie) delivered grand comedy, and the songs were energetic.

“HOP” felt like a journey back to the best things in childhood — dreams, friendship, adventure and those adorable candies we call “Peeps.”

But beware the chief “Peep” in “HOP” — who thinks it’s time that bunnies move over to make way for chickens. It’s up to a teen bunny named “E.B.” to save the day. If only he could stop drumming and daydreaming.

My favorite scenes include the opening (which depicts giant statues on Easter Island), the scene in which a little boy named “Fred” sees the Easter bunny at work, scenes with a trio of bunnies called the “Pink Berets” and scenes in a giant candy factory that looks like an exploding rainbow.

“HOP” inspired me to research the real “Easter Island” — something parents might enjoy doing with their young children before seeing the film. Save the “candy” research for later, since it’s an easier sell.

I’ve been reading, and enjoying, the online “production notes” for “HOP” — which includes everything from casting and filming details to Easter Island history and legend.

It inspired me to learn more by visiting websites for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and “Dig” (a magazine, for youth, with an archeology/history theme).

“HOP” is about so much more than a bunny who “poops jelly beans.” It’s about following your dreams, supporting friends and family, and learning never to turn your back on those perky little “Peeps.”

— Lynn

Coming up: A startling mailbox find

Images: Universal Pictures

“Rango” meets “Beastly”

Recently I spent a morning at the movie theater with two of my children — Christopher (21) and Lizabeth (17). It’s a quick fix for days we’re feeling a bit restless but don’t have the time or energy for something more elaborate.

Lizabeth decided to see “Beastly,” a PG-13 flick that’s billed as a modern-day twist on “Beauty and the Beast” in which the beast is an outcast teen bearing all sorts of tattoos.

She was pleasantly surpised to learn that the cast includes Neil Patrick Harris, a favorite stage and television actor. Other cast members young movie-goers will likely recognize include Vanessa Hudgens and Mary-Kate Olsen.

The message of the movie is clear: It’s what you think of yourself, not what others think of you, that really matters. Lizabeth noted that this was voiced just once, during a pivotal part in the story. She appreciated the fact that the movie’s message is delivered with subtlety. No need to hit teens over the head with it.

Though our movies started at nearly the same time, Lizabeth ended up waiting a good 30 minutes for Christopher and I to finish up with “Rango.” It could have been at least 30 minutes, if not an hour, shorter without losing anything of real value.

“Rango” opens with the central character, a lizard (voiced by Johnny Depp), questioning his own identity — but the closer he gets to finding it, the farther the movie strays from having a clear identity of its own.

Some parts seem too scary for the little ones. Does the big, bad “Jake the Rattlesnake” really need a machine gun where a rattle would suffice? Does he have to use it so often and with such delight?

True, the piece is set in the “Wild, Wild West” — but are all those guns (handled in some seriously unsafe ways) really necessary? I’d have been content with other cowboy references — like the  many creatures who walk with bowed-legs from too much time spent on horseback.

There’s some humor that might appeal to teens or adults still fascinated with body fluids. The laxative joke. The “number two” joke. The order by law enforcement to get urine samples and fetch a latte — taking care not to mix up the two.

Folks should know before they go that this is a morality tale about the scarcity of water in the desert, and the impact of that scarcity on individuals and communities. “Rango” becomes sheriff in a little town called “Dirt,” which has mysteriously lost its water supply.

Turns out the meanie banker has stolen the water because he knows something others have yet to comprehend — he who controls the water, controls the world. Near the end of the movie we learn that all the missing water has been running sprinklers and such for his lavish Las Vegas style city complete with golf courses galore.

“Rango” and his posse of misfits find the solution and save their town, but leave movie-goers feeling like they’ve just endured a redundant sermon rather than an entertaining big-screen story. The writer’s apparently no fan of developers or real estate types.

A few that I happen to remember — It’s the deeds that make the man; It’s not about you, it’s about them; No man can walk out on his own story; We each see what we need to see. All true, perhaps. But not what I’m looking for in a movie.

Theater folk might appreciate the many references to their craft. Early on one of the “Rango” characters says “acting is reacting.” Later the good guys try to distract the bad guys by putting on a “thespian performance.”

A bit of advice to younger critters goes something like this — “Stay in school, eat your veggies, and burn everything but Shakespeare.” When a wise old bird sees two critters fighting, you suspect he might be hosting the latest reality TV show. “Dysfunctional family/Need intervention.”

Not surprisingly, a grandmother and her preschool-age grandson left about halfway through. I’m not sure there’s that much material in this movie that kids will feel they can relate to.

There certainly isn’t enough to keep adults engaged unless their highest aspirations include downing a tub of popcorn awash in salt and butter. It’ll never make my bucket list.

Randomly throwing in concepts like “metaphor,” “paradigm shift” and “defense mechanism” didn’t help. No one who aspires to lie down on Johnny Depp’s couch is looking for therapy or philosophical stimulation.

After sharing our thoughts on the moves we’d seen, Lizabeth felt “Beastly” earned a solid “B.” Christopher and I both gave “Rango” a “C” — but we were feeling generous.

— Lynn

Note: Feel free to comment below if you’ve seen either film and want to briefly share your own impressions

Coming up: Poetry meets dance, More movie reviews, Roosevelt Row, “Poetry Out Loud” meets PBS, Naughty puppets

Elton does the Bard

I set out early Sunday morning with my 21-year-old son Christopher in search of plants to refresh the giant flowerpots James’ parents keep on their patio.

Christopher suggested red since it was his grandma’s birthday and the occasion falls so close to Valentine’s Day. We stumbled on some stunning red tulips and a couple of small cacti with bright pink blooms.

It's "love at first fight" as Gnomeo meets Juliet

But before we did our planting, we took in the new “Gnomeo & Juliet” — a Touchstone Pictures film whose executive producer Elton John also provides much of the movie’s music.

As the movie was about to begin, a young boy sitting a few rows in front of us called out to friend who thought it was time to leave the theater. “The movie hasn’t ended yet!,” he exclaimed.

Apparently the previews for kid-friendly films like “African Cats,” “Rango,” “Hop,” and “Rio” were plenty entertaining for at least some in the crowd — and I must admit that they all look rather enchanting.

“Gnomeo & Juliet” (rated G) pits two competitive gardeners, and their gnomes, against one another. One house is red, while another is blue — and never, it seems, the twain shall meet.

The movie opens with one of many homages to William Shakespeare, who penned the gnome-free “Romeo and Juliet” long before the lawn mowers used in alley races by the film’s waring gnomes were invented.

Nanette tells Juliet she has good reason to fret

Many of Shakespeare’s characters are there — Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, Paris and such. But now they’ve got those pointy little hats.

The plot can only go so far before deviating from the original. As you’ve likely guessed or heard already — there’s no double tragedy as the film draws to a close.

Characters are voiced by all sorts of well-known performers, including James McAvoy (Romeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), Michale Caine (Lord Redbrick) and Ozzy Osbourne (Fawn).

The ending of “Gnomeo & Juliet” is neater and cheerier than it needs to be, but we still enjoyed the journey to get there — which includes some witty dialogue and word play, fun arrangements of Elton John and Bernie Taupin fare, and unexpected characters like baby bunny statues and a pink flamingo.

A statue of William Shakespeare comes alive at one point to explain a bit about the way his tale of ill-fated lovers ends, but it may be lost on the littlest viewers — unless their parents are clever enough to turn the movie into a “teachable moment.”

Featherstone delivers an anti-bias message

“Gnomeo & Juliet” is entertaining enough on its own (although it does drag in a few places, and include some adult-geared humor that seems a bit tasteless) — but it’s best enjoyed as part of a broader experience with Shakespeare.

Think time spent reading child-friendly adaptations of Shakespeare stories. Spring or summer theater camps with a Shakespeare theme. A family trip to the Utah Shakespeare Festival — which features kid-friendly “Greenshows.” Attending “Southwest Shakespeare Company” productions.

Of course, it can be our little secret if you also run right out and buy your own copy of the “Gnomeo & Juliet” soundtrack.

— Lynn

Note: Spring and summer performing arts camps, including those with a Shakespeare twist, fill quickly — so don’t delay in doing that camp homework and getting your child registered before slots are filled for your favorites.

Coming up: Meet the youngest “Gammage Goer,” Monty Python meets musical theater

Film photos from www.gnomeoandjuliet.com

Shrek: I’m a believer

Scene featuring Shrek, Donkey and Princess Fiona

I ran into Colleen Jennings-Roggensack and Kurt Roggensack after the opening night performance of “Shrek the Musical” at ASU Gammage in Tempe.

She’s the executive director for ASU Gammage, while he’s an ASU volcanologist. I was there with my 17-year-old daughter, Lizabeth.

It looked at the time like a volcano had just erupted in the theater, as children scurried to and fro trying to capture a few of the large circles of green and silver confetti released during the show’s final number — the song “I’m a Believer,” composed by Neil Diamond and recorded by the Monkees in 1966. (It’s the Smash Mouth cover that you hear during the 2001 movie “Shrek.”)

“I didn’t want to like it,” I confessed to Jennings-Roggensack. “But now I’m a believer!” We agreed that, although the musical is plenty fun for kids, it seemed at times that the adults might be having the most fun. As we chatted, a silver-haired woman walked by — unaware she was sporting confetti in her gorgeous locks.

Lord Farquaad isn't phased by talking cookies like Gingy

It’s hard to pin down the intended audience of this baby. Unlike some works that integrate youth and adult material with ease, “Shrek” seems to skip back and forth between the two.

It leaves the show, though perfectly enjoyable, feeling a bit choppy and disjointed. At times, it reads like a sparkling Las Vegas extravaganza. But sometimes it’s just a simple fairy tale.

To the credit of playwright David Lindsay-Abair and the rest of the musical’s creative team, “Shrek the Musical” isn’t a mere rehashing of the “Shrek” movies. The same characters are there, but the story has more layers — much like the onion Shrek uses to show his new friend Donkey that he’s more complicated than he appears.

Princess Fiona sparkles like Las Vegas royalty with her tap dancing rats

So is Lindsay-Abair, whose work you might have seen in movie theaters of late. He’s the playwright and screenwriter for “Rabbit Hole” — originally a play, which earned a Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

“Shrek” is great fun for those who enjoy the occasional homage or parody of favorite fairy tales or Broadway musicals. Think “Wicked,” “Les Mis,” “Lion King,” “HAIR” and more.

I’m certain I heard echos of “Rent” and “Hairspray” tunes, but Lizabeth tells me I’m merely “ovethinking things again.” I found myself wishing they’d found a way to incorporate “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” but perhaps that would have been in poor taste.

Can you hear Pinocchio sing?

The show is heavy with messages and morality tales. I suspect they’re too complex for younger theater-goers, yet a tad too sappy for the more mature crowd. “What makes us special,” we’re often told, “is what makes us strong.”

Tear down your walls. Don’t judge. Things aren’t always what they seem. Don’t fear something just because you don’t understand it. My favorite number, “Freak Flag,” is a high-energy celebration of diversity.

Still, Lizabeth and I agreed that we might enjoy the show more if it ran a bit shorter — closer to 90 minutes or so. Though I certainly wouldn’t want the job of deciding which scenes to cut. It’s best, I suppose, that producers never think to call for my opinion on such matters.

The four lead actors — Eric Petersen (Shrek), Haven Burton (Princess Fiona), Alan Mingo, Jr. (Donkey) and David F. M. Vaughn (Lord Farquaad) — were well matched in terms of talent, with each showing particular strengths. Sadly, the full measure of Petersen’s vocal talent isn’t revealed until well into the second act.

Four puppeteers operate this magnificent flying dragon

Other vocal powerhouses in this production include Carrie Compere (Dragon, Mama Ogre, Tweedledum), who dedicates her performance to the memory of her mother — leading me to surmise that her mom was a blissful blend of joyous and strong. Also Aymee Garcia (Mama Bear, Gingy), whose gingerbread cookie is smart and sassy. (Think “Eat me!”)

My favorite scenes featured Fiona’s entourage of tap dancing rats, a Shrek and Fiona burp-fest, and Shrek’s anthem to self-doubt titled “When Words Fail.” Plus anything and everything involving puppetry — especially the dragon scene — which you’ll appreciate even more if you’ve seen the fine work of our own local Great Arizona Puppet Theater.

See if your children can figure out the mechanics of Lord Farquaad's short stature and nimble legs

Puppetry on this grand scale requires athleticism and agility, and you’d be wise to extend the fun at home by having plenty of puppets at the ready so your child can act out his or her own stories.

Laptime with favorite fairy tales may also surge in popularity at your house after you’ve experienced this show with your kids.

You might also want to revisit the “Shrek” films — as well as the “Shrek” book written by William Steig (first published in 1990). It’s fun to find and talk about differences in various tellings of a single story.

When all is said and done, I suppose you’d have to say that I’m a believer.

— Lynn

Note: “Shrek the Musical” (Book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire, Music by Jeanine Tesori) runs at ASU Gammage in Tempe through Jan 9. Click here to see “Gammage Goer” reviews of “Shrek” and other ASU Gammage productions.

Coming up: Expert tips on college theater program auditions

Much ado about movie theaters

Never cry over spilled milk, but spilled popcorn is an entirely different matter

There’s much ado about this week’s opening of the movie “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

An exclusive sneak preview takes place at Harkins Theatres Fashion Square in Scottsdale at 7pm on Thurs, Nov 18.

Tickets are $20 apiece, and benefit Arcadia High School STUGO Prom and Project Graduation. They’re available only at the Arcadia front office and bookstore — and only while supplies last.

Maybe “Harry Potter” isn’t your vibe. If you’re more of a Metropolitan Opera buff, check out today’s movie theater showings of “The Met: Live in HD.”

Donizetti’s Don Pasquale” can be seen at several Valley movie theaters Sat, Nov 13 (mostly AMC, but also Cinemark) — and more live MET performances come our way during the 2010-2011 season.

We’ve already got our tickets to see a live broadcast of the 25th anniversary performance of “Les Miserables In Concert.” It’s playing in select movie theaters nationwide on Wed, Nov 17. (Take note if your child is a Jonas Brothers fan.)

Harkins Theatres and Emerging Pictures present “Das Rheingold” this week as part of the “The Opera and Ballet in Cinema Series.”

It’ll show at 11am on Thurs, Nov 11 at Arrowhead Fountain 18, Chandler Fashion 20 and Scottsdale 101 14 theaters.

Other big news in movie theater world this week includes the Fri, Nov 19 opening of a new theater at the Scottsdale Pavilions (just off the 101 at Indian Bend).

Those of us who’ve driven for months through and around Pavilion-related construction zones are especially pleased that we’ll soon be able to reap some of the rewards.

UltraStar Cinemas’ UltraLuxe Theater in Scottsdale plans to add two family-friendly features come December. 

Their “Parenting Movie Morning” program will show a new film each week in a baby-friendly environment (think low light rather than total darkness, lower volume that’s easier on babies’ ears, accessible changing tables and such).

The “Kidtoons” program will feature a different G-rated film each month, to be  shown Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30am.

I like the timing on this baby. Get your exercise in the morning, then hit the movie theater. Take kids home for a healthy lunch and watch them nod off during naptime.

Movies are selected to appeal to preschool through school age children, and tickets for those who’ve passed big birthday number two are just $2.50 (littler one are free). And kids who attend get free giveaways like stickers or temporary tattoos.

The first “Kidtoons” movie shows at 10:30am on Sat, Dec 4. It’s “Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas.” Sounds like the perfect warm-up for an afternoon trip to see the many monkeys living at the Phoenix Zoo. (You can now enjoy “Curious George” on PBS television too.)

Technically, much ado about movies should involve Shakespeare in some way. So naturally I found that too. Turns out the fine folks at Emerging Cinemas now present “Ballet in Cinema,” “Opera in Cinema,” and “Shakespeare in Cinema” (complete with performances from the Globe Theatre in London).

But more about that in a future post. For now, we have “Harry Potter,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and other holiday blockbusters to attend to.  

— Lynn

Coming up: Movies and mental illness, Finding art at the Phoenix Zoo