Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest

Another weekend means another Pirates of the Caribbean movie viewing as a family. In the years since I’d seen Dead Man’s Chest, I’d forgotten how long of movie it is. We had to watch it in two parts. All the same, it is a fun romp with lots of action.

The Story

Just like the first movie, Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man’s Chest revolves around an object instead of a specific main character. You guessed it, it’s literally the dead man’s chest or rather, the chest that Davy Jones keeps his heart in.

It seems Captain Jack Sparrow made a deal with Davy Jones and now it’s time to pay. Jack will do anything, including barter with other people’s lives, to escape his fate — one hundred years of forced service before the mast of the the Flying Dutchmen. He drags Will into this, hoping that Davy Jones will take him as a replacement, and fails.

Desperate to find a way out, Jack consults with the voodoo priestess, Tia Dalma, who reveals that Davy Jones weakness is the chest where he has placed his heart to escape the pain of love gone wrong. Whoever has the heart controls Davy Jones. If you can control Davy Jones, you control the sea.

Lord Beckett knows this and wants to use the heart as leverage for the profit of the East India Company. He arrests Will and Elizabeth just before their wedding and manipulates Will to go after Jack’s enchanted compass – the tool he believes will lead him to the secret hiding place of the dead man’s chest.

This is where Will is stuck in a giant knot of issues. He’s trying to get the compass so he can barter for Elizabeth’s freedom. While he’s at it, Jack shanghais him on the Flying Dutchman where he discovers his long lost father is one of the cursed crew on Davy Jones ship and wants to free him. Now he must find a way to save them both and he has zero resources other than his own courage.

Of course, Elizabeth isn’t going to sit this one out. The second she’s freed from prison by her father, she forces Lord Barrett to give her the Letters of Marque meant to pardon the individual who holds them. She then sneaks onboard another ship and directs it to Tortuga with hopes of finding Jack. If she can find Jack, she can find Will. Instead she finds Norrington, the man she was meant to marry in the first movie. He’s lost his commission and standing in the navy and hit rock bottom. He reasons that if he finds the compass for Lord Beckett first, he might win his position back.

All these story lines crash back together at Isla Cruces, where the chest is buried. A brilliant three way sword fight breaks out between Will, Jack, and Norrington to determine who ends up with the heart.

Did I mention there’s also a kraken?

My Review

Dead Man’s Chest has all the elements we came to love in Curse of the Black Pearl. There are lots of pirates doing their morally grey best to get by. There are also pirates who are monsters as they are more sea creature than human. There is an object that everyone has to get their hands on but for very different reasons. And, there’s a love story of two people trying to protect each other, usually by attempting to sacrifice themselves instead.

It’s still fun, but it suffers from sequel syndrome. The elements we love are there, but they aren’t new and exciting anymore so they can’t shine as brightly as they did in the first movie. There are fewer surprises as we know what to expect from the different characters. The characters themselves are stuck in a position where it feels like they they don’t have an important internal lesson to learn and instead are trying to fix a situation.

While it’s entertaining, it doesn’t have the wow factor of the first. The kiddos still enjoyed it but weren’t as into it as before. And, like I said, it’s really long.

Recommendations

If you liked the first Pirates movie, you’ll like the second. Probably not quite as much, but all the good stuff is still there. There’s amazing settings, great costumes, characters doing their thing, and enough complexity and conflict to keep things interesting.

I’d say it’s still better for older kids than younger ones because of the whole sea creature monster pirate element as well as a very realistic heart being in that box. Add to that the kraken attack scenes, and there is quite a lot of intense violence. That, and because the story is fairly complicated, younger audiences might struggle to know what’s going on and why it matters. But, that said, there’s enough action and crazy things going on that they might not care.

I give Dead Man’s Chest 3 out of 5 stars for being entertaining, but not surprising.


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Throwback Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean, Curse of the Black Pearl

It’s been seventeen years since the debut of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which means this movie has been around as long as my marriage. A few years ago we tried to show this to my kids and they decidedly didn’t like it. It was too spooky, had freaky skeleton pirates, and required attention to small details like the dialogue. This last weekend we put it to the test again — and they loved it.

The Story

In short, the main character of this story is actually the pirate vessel the Black Pearl herself. It is the boat itself that has influenced everyone in the story and driven the leading characters to make unexpected choices. Elizabeth rescues Will Turner from the Black Pearl when he’s young. Captain Jack Sparrow was the captain of the Pearl until there was a mutiny. The crew of the Pearl became cursed when they got greedy and took Cortez’s treasure.

The rest of the story is spent restoring these characters back to where they belong. Elizabeth needs to end up with Will Turner. Will needs to come to terms with his father being a pirate and still a good man. Jack needs to get his boat back. And, the crew needs to get uncursed.

What’s interesting is how each of these pieces become woven together. Elizabeth gets involved in the curse when she steals Will’s necklace, which is a piece of the Cortez treasure. Will should have always been part of the pirate crew because of his father, but only gets involved after Elizabeth is taken by the new captain of the Black Pearl, Barbossa.

In the end, the story is delightfully twisty. First we are shown all these pieces of each character and then in the last third of the story we see how each of these pieces snap together in interesting ways and everyone gets what they deserve, just not in the way you’d expect.

My Review

This is a fun movie that’s both full of action and heart. Even though this is a pirate story, Elizabeth and Will both face problems that are very relatable to the audience. As an adult there is plenty of dramatic elements and complexity to keep things interesting and for my kids there was enough slapstick humor and action to make it fun.

The sets are incredible, the costume design intricate and fascinating, and even though it’s campy and silly, the acting is actually pretty good.

My Recommendations

This is a great family movie, provided that all are old enough to not be scared by the pirates turning into skeletons and are willing to track what’s happening so it all makes sense. It’s clean, no swearing or overly graphic violence. Yes, there’s plenty of fun fighting and sword play, but very few depictions of blood.

If a kid’s old enough to be okay with the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, they should be fine for the movie.

I rate Curse of the Black Pearl 5/5 stars, super fun, lots of eye candy, and it’s exactly what it set out to be – a great pirate movie.


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TV Review: Hamilton

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Put down your pitchforks. I know Hamilton isn’t technically a TV review, it’s a musical theater review. Unlike a lot of people, I never had the chance to see it in a real theater. Watching it on Disney plus is the next best thing I could get my hands on. Did I miss out on the full experience, yes. Absolutely. Watching a recording of a stage production means that you miss the energy and vibrancy of a live performance. That, and it’s all too easy to watch the three plus hours in small chunks over the course of a week. Some of the experience is lost there as well.

But, now I can join the ranks of those who have seen the show. For that alone, it’s worth it.

About Hamilton

For those of you who have lived under a rock for the majority of the 2010s, Hamilton is a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton, a impressive figure when it comes to the founding of the United States of America. Because it is history, I’m not going to worry about giving away spoilers at this point. I figured you had over 200 years, it’s fair.

We start the story with a young Hamilton trying his hardest to be the best he can be with his limited means. He’s ambitious and willing to do the work it takes to make a difference as the United States is taking shape and shaking off its ties to Britain. He meets Eliza, the woman who becomes his wife, and we see the conflict that causes in her older sister who is attracted to his drive and intelligence, not to mention his passion for the causes he chooses to support. We also see the beginning friction of his relationship with Aaron Burr as Hamilton is a man of action, and Burr prefers to wait.

The Revolutionary War is in full swing and America is doing poorly. They don’t have the supplies they need and enlist the help of France through the help of Lafayette. This leads directly to the victory at Georgetown and the end of the war.

King George isn’t amused.

The end of the war means nothing but work for Hamilton who puts his every waking hour into writing up documents and creating systems to enable the United States to finance her government and govern her people. Eliza goes upstate to be with family leaving Hamilton the time and space he needs. This leads him down the path into temptation and he finds himself in the arms of another woman who ends up blackmailing him to keep his infidelity secret.

Meanwhile, Burr is causing more friction by switching parties to defeat Eliza’s father, Philip Schuyler. France is experiencing its own revolution, and Jefferson champions the cause of America going to its aid. Hamilton advises neutrality and his argument wins which puts him under intense scrutiny. Jefferson, Madison, and Burr want to discredit him before Washington.

All of this leads to the publication of the Reynold’s document, written by Hamilton himself and detailing his affair and subsequent blackmail. He chose to come clean publicly to prove he didn’t misuse government money. This destroys him, his family, and leads to the death of his son in a duel gone wrong defending his father’s honor.

The last straw between Hamilton and Burr occurs after the election of 1800 when Hamilton endorses Jefferson over Burr. Burr demands a duel and the rest, well, is history.

My Review

I went into Hamilton not knowing what to expect. It is a musical that defies all expectations in so many aspects. When it comes to an American historical my first reaction is that it’s going to be just as exciting at the Hall of the Presidents exhibit at Disneyland, meaning not exciting at all. To counteract this, Hamilton was written for today’s young people. The music is fast and clever, lots of rap and hip hop music, lots of very contemporary humor.

That said, after watching the first 45 minutes I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. Sure it was interesting, but at that point it wasn’t that interesting. Most of the music up to that point wasn’t memorable with perhaps the exception of Hamilton’s own iconic song that defines his character, “I’m not giving away my shot.”

What caught my attention was the use of choreography and dancers. In many musicals the dancers feel like a nice layer of frosting, coming in and out only when a point needs to be made. However, in Hamilton, they are actively used to not only add interest and dimension to what’s happening in the spotlight, but to also illustrate concepts that are hard to catch on stage, such as the path of a single bullet.

In contrast to the first 45 minutes, the last 45 minutes nearly ripped my heart out. We are confronted with tragedy after tragedy. Hamilton admits to is indiscretions and nearly loses the love of his life as a consequence as we watch her take all of his letters and burns them. His son dies after being shot in a duel to defend his honor. And the culminating blow, Hamilton himself knowing he is going to die and confronting each of his decisions and wonders if he made any difference.

It’s at times like these that I’m glad I watched this in the dark comfort of my own home. Lots of tears shed.

Considering everything, Hamilton is every bit of the success it has gained. There is a huge emotional payout, a mother load of talent, and in the end several catchy songs that stick in your head.

Recommendations

While this is intended for today’s audience and has plenty of pop culture influences to make it fun to watch, it does have a few mature elements that I’d blush to share with my kids. They don’t shy back from relating the tale of Hamilton’s infidelity, in song no less. That, and the subject matter itself is complicated enough that even I struggled to keep track of who was doing what and why.

However, I think that all high school students should watch it so they have a better understanding of what the Revolutionary war and our cry for independence meant for the people who lived it.


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Movie Review: Onward

Watching this movie happened as a bit of a fluke. Youngest kiddo needed something to watch in the evening after a busy day and we’d worn out our usual favorites. We’d seen the trailer and it looked interesting, but wasn’t something we were going to make a special effort to see.

That was before the lock down and the world was our very large oyster. It took a few weeks to reach the attitude of “heck, why not?” when it came to watching pretty much anything. And, it was on a streaming service we already had. Win.

The story

In New Mushroomia, magic and mythical creatures are a part of history. The world was full of elves, centaurs, pixies, and manticores and their magic was the force that made things work. Everything from transportation to interior lighting was taken care of using spells and unicorns.

Then technology happened – and it was easier, faster, and every one could use it. Fast forward a few generations in New Mushroomia and magic is nothing more than a part of history. People keep small dragons as pets and drive mini vans.

Ian Lightfoot is a teenage elf trying to make it through high school in one piece and survive his driving test. He’s shy, has a hard time talking to people, and would much prefer if he never had to leave his house ever again. He also has a wild older brother who lives and breathes fantasy role playing games.

On Ian’s sixteenth birthday he and his brother are given a gift from their deceased father, a real wizard’s staff with a single spell, the power to bring their father back for a single day.

But, this is a movie and something has to go wrong. In the process of attempting the spell the boys only bring half their father back – his now very alive pants. They set out on a quest to finish the spell before it wears off.

The rest of the movie turns into a fantasy twist reminiscent of Indiana Jones where the boys hunt down clues in unlikely places and test their courage. Are they successful? That would be an awful spoiler and I won’t tell you. But – I will say that it has a satisfying ending.

My review

Onward is urban fantasy at its most entertaining. It’s relatable, down to earth, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a real problem for the boys to solve that’s incredibly important to them, but isn’t so big that it feels forced. They’re not saving the world. They just want one more day with their dad.

After everything, I ended up liking it more than I expected to. My biggest worry going in was that there wouldn’t be enough relatable material. Not a problem, we’ve all been teenagers and had to navigate that world. Add to that sibling issues, trying not to get in trouble with mom, and then layer on top of it a chance to see a dear parent who died too soon, if only for a day.

Yep. It hit all the feels. Not only was there action and adventure, there were also sweet moments of reflection and introspection. There were emotional highs and plenty of laughs as well as moments of loss and sacrifice.

I’ll admit, I cried at the end.

Recommendations

This is a solid family film that I think anyone would enjoy, although those who like any form of fantasy would especially like it. There is enough action and laughs that even very young kids will find lots to entertain them, although the climax scene might be too intense for some.

Because the boys quest is wrapped around being able to see their father one more time, I’d counsel anyone who’s recently lost a parent to proceed with caution. While I feel the film redeems itself, it might be too much to take.

I give Onward 4.5/5 stars


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Never Surrender: A Galaxy Quest Documentary

Holy snot balls, Batman! Did you know it’s been 20 years since Galaxy Quest came out. I could have sworn it was only like, I don’t know, eight? The time has flown by and yet Galaxy Quest is one of the rare movies we watch at least once a year. Even better the whole family likes it, so it’s a win-win for everyone.

To celebrate, the lovely people at Screen Junkies and FANDOM, created a documentary that was released November 26th, 2019. While we watched this one weeks ago, I wanted to review it today because our family recently visited the one and only Goblin Valley this last weekend. This is where the weird alien planet was filmed and is a favorite camping spot of ours.

Never Surrender is entertaining in that “Wow, I never knew that” kind of way. While a large part of the film is spent with the actors themselves reacting to just how many people love the movie and consider it their favorite, and another large chunk was spent in loving memory of the late Alan Rickman – the best parts for me were when they talked about the development of key story ideas.

For instance, did you know that the Thermians unique speech patterns and body language weren’t part of the original script? Instead, they were an accidental invention of Enrico Colantoni, the actor who played Mathesar. Mind blown.

While I would never doubt it for a heartbeat, I didn’t realize there were so many cosplayers devoted to Galaxy Quest. Two of the people interviewed for the documentary are Utah’s very own Harold and Roxanne Weir who do an amazing Mathesar and Laliari. I’ve caught them doing other cosplays, such as Harold’s spot on Severus Snape, at conventions and events I’ve attended as an author. Seeing them in the film was a special treat.

For those of you who love Galaxy Quest, you’ll enjoy this documentary. There’s a little of everything in there from the history of the story’s development, to the actors reminiscing, to the development of key scenes.

I rate Never Surrender 4/5 stars – solidly good.

The Hobbit, Extended Edition

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was surprised that my entire family was excited to watch every single hour of the extended Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. As a geek parent, these movies are part of our heritage and an important milestone to pass on to the next generation. Not only do they represent an icon in the history of fantasy, which is understandably important to me, but they also mark a turning point in movie history. Lord of the Rings, Return of the King swept the Oscars and was the first high fantasy to do so.

Just as you can’t just watch part of the Star Wars saga and call yourself a fan, you can’t just watch Lord of the Rings and not the Hobbit. The stories build off of each other and give valuable backstory to their characters.

Last week we embarked on a new adventure following Bilbo Baggins deep into the Lonely mountain and narrowly escaping the jaws of the dragon Smaug. We watched as power and riches nearly destroyed the last dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield. We saw how in the wrong hands, the ring of power corrupts its wielder. We learned that the most important power one can have is that of grit, determination, and courage, although magic is nice at times.

When Hobbit originally came out, I boycotted it. I was mad they choose to stretch a single slim novel into three fairly long movies. When this had been done with other books I liked, it always resulted in massive disappointment. I love the books of both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Even the huge success of Lord of the Rings as a movie wasn’t enough to convince me to invest my time into watching the entire Hobbit trilogy in all its extended glory.

It didn’t help that when Hobbit came out my personal situation had changed drastically from when LOTR came out. LOTR came out when I was in college. The Hobbit came out when my youngest was one. Going to movies was difficult at best. I have a whole long story of how we tried to take a nursing baby into Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thinking he would sleep only for him to cry the whole time and then explode a diaper.

Time heals all wounds and when it came time to find the next movie to watch as a family, the Hobbit was a perfect fit. The kiddos already liked LOTR and knew the characters and at a run time of nearly 9 hours, it would take several days to finish – perfect for all those nights we were scratching for something to do while stuck at home together.

Turns out, the Hobbit is an excellent series of movies. Yes, I know that the screenwriters took lots of liberties with adding elements that didn’t originally exist in the book, but they stayed true to what we understand of Middle Earth and the world Tolkien created.

Is it a family friendly film? Sure. There’s no course language, no nudity (unless you count the extended scene where the dwarves are playing in the fountain at Rivendell, I don’t), and while there’s expected violence, there’s very little graphic injury. The same as LOTR, there are, however, several horror elements so I don’t recommend the Hobbit for young or sensitive viewers.


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Jumanji 2: The Next Level

What’s the best thing to do to a movie that did relatively well? Make a sequel!

This writer dies a little inside when this happens. When you have a good story there are specific elements that have to be in place to make that magic happen. It’s a combination of character, location, and problem that makes the story come alive and makes an audience excited to watch.

I’ve harped on this a few times before (ahem, Frozen 2, I’m looking at you). When a story has a satisfying ending and everyone is happy, it leaves little room to add more to it. The big bad has been defeated and there’s literally nothing else to do that makes sense. This is true for this sequel. They ended the first movie in the Jumanji series with the characters destroying the game console, literally breaking the chance of anyone to ever be trapped in the game ever again.

Which is why writing this sequel would be a challenge. We reenter the story when the characters who were originally high school students are now in college. With that single choice, all the problems our teenagers had are now being faced by adults and that change in attitude shifts the meaning of everything.

My Review

I only half liked the movie and that’s because the three main actors are are some of my favorites. Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillan can come to dinner anytime and I would be ecstatic.

The movie itself suffers from script writers literally inventing problems just to be able to create a new movie. With our main characters now older it introduces a whole host of adult problems. No longer is the biggest problem about embracing who you are and rocking your best self, now it’s more about not being afraid to maintain a long distance relationship and with the inclusion of some new characters, worrying about bad decisions made years ago.

This is where I think the largest misstep happened. The main character Alex has a crazy grandpa who is staying at his house as he recovers from hip surgery. He and his old friend turned enemy get sucked into the game. It was supposed to be funny, but like I said, this movie was geared toward a teenage audience and spending a huge amount of time dealing with older people acting in an over the top stereotypical elderly way really got on my nerves. Maybe that’s because I’m not a teen, not sure. All I know is the ideas and imagination of the first movie came across as truly fresh and funny and in the end I liked it.

For Jumanji 2, yes there was a good message at the end. All the characters got their happy ever afters, again. But to get there they had to go through a lot of the same stuff as the first movie, but this time with the grandparents in tow. It led to lots of awkward that was hard to find funny. My kids were amused by it, but clearly didn’t like it as much as the first one by far.

Did I mention they snuck Awkwafina in there?

Recommendations

If you loved the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and you want to recapture that magic for another movie, The Next Level will get you 60% of the way there. There is the same body switching hijinks and the same puzzle solving mentality that came with the first movie enough so that it’s an okay watch.

If you were hoping for something that elevates the “Welcome to the Jungle” experience, you will probably be disappointed. Most of the story is the same problems as the original but compounded by needing to explain it to these older characters who just can’t get a clue no matter how hard it’s thrown at them.

I give it Jumanji: the Next Level 3/5, a solid Meh.

Cats 2019: Just, why?

Back when I was a teenager and at the time deeply involved in modern dance, I went to see Cats on Broadway. It was quite the experience. I didn’t know what to expect but was excited because it was one of the musicals where I’d grown up listening to the music.

Even with all that, it was weird. I loved watching the talent of the dancers and the sheer athleticism it took to do the unique cat-like choreography. Hearing the music from a live performance carries it’s own special kind of energy. With all that there’s plenty to enjoy even if the story itself doesn’t seem to work.

Most people don’t know that Cats: The Musical was originally a collection of poems published in 1939 called “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot. In it, and to no surprise, each poem talks about different cats and their names. In 1954 six of these poems were set to be performed with a speaker and orchestral accompaniment in a work called “Practical Cats”. They were later adapted into the musical using several of Eliots unpublished works. Interesting note, Grizabella, the cat chosen to be the jellical cat and the one who sings Memory, wasn’t in the original Practical Cats book and was also pulled from the unpublished works.

When Cats left Broadway, movie producers saw this as an opportunity. It had earned 3.5 billion in the US over the course of its 18 year run, there had to be enough people interested it seeing it blown into a silver screen masterpiece. There needed to be changes to create a better storyline and the inclusion of several big names to spice up the appeal and thus the Tom Hooper Cats disaster was born.

Meet Victoria, the newest cat to enter the Cats pantheon of odd characters

What they did right

While most will criticize the CGI used to make people look like actual cats, they did a remarkable job making cat/human hybrids. The ears, whiskers, and tails all acted like they would on a real cat. The real problem wasn’t the CGI itself, but the very real issue of creating something that hits all the uncomfortable notes of the uncanny valley. A super realistic cat/human hybrid is creepy.

They used ballerinas and professional dancers to do all the heavy lifting, and thank heavens! Cats is known for its complicated and energetic choreographed numbers and the film lived up to that expectation. I would watch it just for the dancing and dump the rest.

The locations, even if they mostly were CGI were interesting and appropriate. This is more of a challenge than you’d think. Every thing would have to be created in a different scale to reinforce the idea that these people are supposed to be cats.

Hey look, they created a character so Taylor Swift could play too. How nice.

What they did wrong

They made the movie believing it would be successful. They spent over $100 million and recent numbers say they only grossed $76 million.

Okay, that’s harsh. The Broadway musical did well because people knew what it was going in and there’s something special about a live performance that movies can’t live up to. Trying to make it fit the masses and hope for the same success was asking too much.

Huge mistake #1 – They made the cathumans too realistic to the point they were uncomfortable to watch. There was a thin layer of CGI fur that was all that separated my eyes from what looked like a bunch of naked people running around and singing. Like I said, uncomfortable. The stage musical can get away with it because the dancers are clearly wearing unitards.

Huge mistake #2 – They tried to make it a more compelling story by adding extra elements to help explain what was going on that didn’t really work. It doesn’t matter how you try to explain it, the “story” of Cats will never be a compelling one because 90% of the screentime is spent in all the introductions. There’s no time to build up what any of the important stuff is or why it matters.

Huge mistake #3 – They put human faces on cockroaches and mice. Not even joking. And worse, some of the cockroaches get eaten by cathumans. So gross. And, we just won’t mention the whole part with Rebel Wilson in all her nearly naked cat furriness. I’m scarred for life.

I wasn’t lying. It’s not pretty.

My recommendations

If you loved the stage musical of Cats and want to revisit those moments, you might like the movie. But be warned, they changed the tune of several of the songs. All of the good songs are still there, but a few of the minor ones got a significant face lift. Also, if you enjoy good choreography and watching great dancing, then you’ll at least enjoy those moments. However, there aren’t enough of them to justify wading through the whole movie.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of Cathumans, or seeing far too much of Rebel Wilson. or if you really need your movies to have a story and a point, then you better skip this one.

I give the 2019 Cats a 2/5

Watching the Extended LOTR with Kids – all Twelve Hours

Being stuck at home has very few perks, being able to watch the entire extended Lord of the Rings movies with the whole family ended up being one of them. My kiddos hadn’t seen any of them before. Until recently the youngest was too young to understand or be okay with the action scenes. It might have been desperation talking, but we deemed it the perfect time to add a whole new universe to their ever growing list of sci-fi/fantasy experiences.

Normally when we suggest doing a family movie night, the suggestion is met with a mixed bag of whining and gnashing of teeth. One of the three will be cool with it and the other two, depending on how teenagery they feel about the whole thing, will try to respectfully (or not so respectfully, depending on how the current Fortnight match is going) decline.

This time ALL THREE wanted to watch, and not just the first movie, or the first part of the first movie. No, they all wanted to watch all three movies. That’s a whopping 12 hours of family togetherness. Win.

I’m not sure if it was stir crazies caused by day after day of being stuck at home with a dwindling list of things that sound remotely interesting to do, or if Lord of the Rings holds some mystical appeal that attracts our nerdiness like a magnet, but I’m grateful. For eight nights over the course of two weeks, we snuggled up on the couches, popped popcorn, and watched the epic unfold.

For a movie that’s turning twenty in 2021, the story and the cinematography has stood the test of time remarkably well. It was amazing when it came out, it’s amazing now.

As a lifelong fantasy fan, having my kids enjoy something that I love is a dream come true. We played spot the Peter Jackson and discussed Andy Serkis’s evolution from minor role, to major character. We cheered the good guys winning and hid under blankets when Shelob crawled out of her spidery hole. We all cringed when Aragorn starts singing and hooted when he and Arwen smooched on screen. There might have even been a few tears shed as Eowyn witnesses the dying breath of King Theodred.

While I can’t plan on this amount of sheer movie attractiveness ever happening again, I can rest assured that hubby and I have done our part in teaching the kiddos their geek legacy.

Favorite moments from the films include Gandalf smacking his head inside Bilbo’s home at Bag End, Gandalf decking a throughly panicked Denethor with his staff, watching my 8-year-old crouch on the end of the couch just like Gollum, and Samwise carrying Frodo up the mountain.

Next on the list: The extended Hobbit movies. We’ve got a whole box of microwave popcorn and apparently endless opportunities for family togetherness – let’s do this thing!

What are you all watching with your families? I’d love to hear about it!


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Breathing New Life into The Little Prince

There is a tiny book that has made a lot of impact in my life and that is The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Back in what seems like forever ago, also known as 2015, Netflix took on the extraordinary challenge to create a feature length film of the book. At first, I was sincerely worried. Would they be able to capture the same light-hearted innocence? Would they hint at the deeper life lessons hidden inside?

Turns out they did, and they did a stunning job of it. The movie makes me cry every time I watch it. It’s one of the few movies that even knowing that I’ll cry, that I still will watch regularly. I’ve seen it *gasp* more than Titanic. Hard to believe, but true.

The book all by itself is full of wonderful flights of the imagination and comes packaged in a lovely narrative frame using an older narrator, the Aviator to guide us through the pages. Taking inspiration from that literary framing, the movie took the idea one step further by framing it again from the perspective of a little girl who gets told the story when she needed it most.

It was a risk that I feel payed off. Not only did it give the watcher the opportunity to see the story through the eyes of a child, but it showed how that child changed. This little girl is the opposite of both the aviator and the Little Prince. Daughter of a hard working accountant, she was given no room for creativity in her life. She is destined to go to the prestigious Wentworth Academy and to do so must spend each waking minute hard at work studying and writing papers.

To emphasize the difference between the girls life and that of the story of the Little Prince, her scenes are rendered in clean computer animation which feels symbolic of the clean orderly straightforward life she is living in. The only break from the orderliness is the home of her neighbor, a raggity collection of angles and ideas that have all hunkered together into a modpodged whole.

When we watch the Little Prince scenes, they are created in breathtaking stop motion – all done with gorgeous paper crafting. It is as if the story itself has risen from the scraps of paper and colored pencil in which the Aviator has written it. If you still haven’t made up your mind to watch this movie, do it just to see how pretty it all is. You won’t regret it. It is truly art in motion.

The girl needs someone to show her what it means to be a child. If you recall, one of the biggest complaints that the character of the Aviator makes is that adults forget everything important when they grow up. They forget how to play and have fun and start believing all life is is work and being paid and in turn paying bills.

The story of the Little Prince is revealed to us one piece as a time as it is shared by the girl’s eccentric neighbor, a quirky elderly gentleman who once was the Aviator. He’s childlike in his fascinations with color and story and is always working on something wild and wonderful. It is him, not the story that get’s the little girl to finally pay attention to why wonder and play is so important.

Some would argue that they took a few too many liberties when it came to the movie’s ending. At the beginning, I was one of them. Instead of ending the story with the end of the book, they extended the story and showed what happened to the Little Prince when he became and adult and forgot everything important. It takes a journey of the girl to save him and remind him of what was truly important, his planet, asteroid B612 and his rose.

By saving him, the girl in turn saves herself from growing up too fast. She proves that she can enjoy the best of both worlds and be responsible as well as fun loving. She even shows her mother, who has the best of intentions but not perhaps the best tools, how to enjoy the little things.

In the end, the 2015 Netflix production of the Little Prince is both charming and profound, It’s a wonderful reminder of the things that are truly important.


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