Christmas Movie Review: Arthur Christmas (2011)

It’s been Christmas movie watching time here at my house and we certainly have our favorites. Arthur Christmas is one of those movies that surprises, delights, and is just plain good.

The Story

Arthur is the younger of Santa’s two sons. Because he’s not in line to be the next Santa, he gets pushed around to different North Pole jobs. He’s clumsy, naive, and full of more Christmas spirit than anyone else on Santa’s staff, including the big man himself.

His older brother, Steve, has taken it upon himself to make Santa’s deliveries an efficient and orderly operation. He’s scrapped the old fashioned sleigh in favor of the S-1, a city-sized spaceship with enough high-tech gadgetry to make any nerd cry. At the North Pole, he’s created a mission control center that supports each and every present drop.

When a undelivered present is found after Santa’s delivery run is finished, Steve states that it’s inconsequential. Missing one child out of over 7 billion is no more than a rounding error. She’ll receive a gift equivalent instead sometime during the general window of Christmas.

This is unacceptable to Arthur. No believing child should miss out on their gift from Santa, even if it means extra time and effort on their part. He enlists the help from grandpa Santa who had secretly hidden the old sleigh. Off they go to deliver the girl’s gift only to learn that grandpa Santa doesn’t know how to get there.

Various accidents ensue, grabbing the attention of military survelliance all over the world.

Is Arthur successful? Can’t tell you. That would be a spoiler. You’d better go watch it.

My Review

Like I said before, this is a delightful movie that is great fun for the whole family. There’s a great balance of gorgeous settings, humor aimed at adults, fun characters with realistic problems, and a good message at the end.

Oh, did I mention that it also has one of the most gorgeous film scores for a kid’s Christmas movie? Lots of brass fanfare and sweeping strings – my personal favorites.

Another big plus for the adults is the terrific cast voicing the characters. There’s James McAvoy as Arthur, Hugh Laurie as Steve, Jim Broadbent as Santa, Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Claus, and Bill Nighy as Grand Santa.

Recommendations

Even the youngest kid is going to like this one. There’s plenty of eye candy and silliness to keep young watchers engaged while there’s also enough depth to keep the adults amused. There are some mild inappropriate bits – like when grand Santa talks about putting naughty children back to sleep with a sock full of sand and a dab of whiskey on the lips. There’s also a scene where they are almost attacked by lions and shot at by a Idahoan.

I give Arthur Christmas 5/5 on my Christmas movie list. Good all around.


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Christmas Movie Review: Elf (2003)

‘Tis the season to be a little silly, and Elf is definitely a silly family-friendly movie with plenty of fun for both parents and kids.

Confession time. The first time I watched Elf, I hated it. Everything about a fully grown man acting like a 5-year-old all over New York City made me cringe in the worst sort of way. I literally hid under a blanket because I was so embarrassed for Buddy’s character.

I didn’t watch it again until I had kids of my own. Which, by the way, raises the bar on what you see as embarrassing. All the stuff that really bothered me the first time I watched it suddenly became seriously funny. Ah, the joys of being a parent, am I right?

The story

Buddy is a human who has been raised by Santa’s elves up in his workshop at the North Pole. One day he learns that he, in fact, is not an elf and that his real dad lives in New York. Buddy decides that the next logical step is to find his father, not only to reconnect, but also because the man is on Santa’s naughty list and perhaps there is a way to change that.

Unsurprisingly, Buddy’s dad want’s nothing to do with a 35-year-old man baby who doesn’t know how to function in the real world. His wife, however, is far more understanding and welcomes him into their home where he meets his half brother. Buddy can’t be trusted to be left alone. The last time they did that, he used the wood from their entertainment center to make a rocking horse. He has to go to work with his new found dad.

It doesn’t go well.

As a side story, Buddy meets a department store worker working as an elf for the holidays and totally falls in love. He’s so different from anyone that Jovie has met before, that she can’t help but give him a chance.

All this comes to a head when Buddy rushes to his dad’s work to tell him that he’s in love during a critical meeting, and what’s worse, Buddy inadvertantly insults the man his dad had the hopes of closing a big business deal with. Dad tells Buddy to get out of his life and never return.

Buddy, totally heartbroken, leaves to see if there is somewhere in the world he belongs and happens to spot Santa crashing into Central Park. It seems that without Christmas cheer, Santa’s sled can’t fly. Buddy, having been a North Pole elf, thankfully knows how to fix the engine and finally feels needed. In the meantime, his half brother convinces his dad that family is all about helping each other and they go looking for Buddy.

When they find him in Central Park, dad finally realizes that everything Buddy has told him about his past is actually true. He has a huge change of heart and helps Santa get back to delivering presents.

My review

For a Christmas story, this one is pretty perfect. We have an innocent character who only wants to do good in the world and one who’s lost sight of the meaning of Christmas and family. Through their interactions, they both grow and learn together what is really important. Do I still think it’s a bit silly? Yes. It’s over the top silly. But, now, with that blessed lens of perspective, I can laugh along with all the things Buddy does and just enjoy the story.

The story is well balanced, full of heart, and now a family favorite.

My recommendations

I’ll state this again, but if you’re the type that can’t handle watching adults acting childish, this movie will make you super uncomfortable. Buddy literally has no inhibitions, but he also doesn’t know any better, so much of it is forgivable if you can get that far.

There are hoards of positive messages and great role models of what it means to be good family and a good friend. There’s no real swearing, it’s all swapped out for silly things like “crap” and “meanie.” There’s one reference to someone being naked in a shower, but it’s not dwelled on.

For a clean fun Christmas movie, Elf gets a 4/5 in my book.


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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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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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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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