Category Archives: Children & Family Movies

Earth to Echo (2014) Movie Review

Earth to Echo

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt, Jason Gray-Stanford
Director: Dave Green
Release Date: 2 July 2014
Language: English
Length: 91 minutes
Movie Rating: PG
View Format: DVD
My Rating

Synopsis:

“ When a construction project begins in their neighborhood, four friends (Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlestedt) start receiving bizarre encoded text messages on their cell phones. Setting out to find the origin of the texts, the group stumbles on an astonishing answer. ” — Netflix.com

Review:

I was disappointed with this movie.  I thought the previews looked like fun and was expecting an action-packed sci-fi adventure only to find a amateurish, unfulfilling mess.  Echo is a cute little alien who ends up Earth to Echo Movie Posterstranded on Earth and needs help repairing his ship to go home.  He communicates through our cell phone technology.  For some reason, he targets three friends (Teo Halm, Astro, Reese Hartwig) in a neighborhood that has been taken over by eminent domain to make room for a government project.  I was expecting the movie to take off from there and be a rip-roaring Goonies-like adventure with an alien thrown in or maybe an intense alien thriller with child stars like Super 8, but I felt like I was watching someone’s home movie instead.  The camera was really shaky.  I know that it was supposed to make us feel like we were part of the action, but I still think it is an unprofessional choice for a major motion picture.  If you are a brand new filmmaker and making your first movie, maybe I will give it to you, but Earth to Echo was released by Disney and I am used to a higher quality product.

The CGI on Echo was good, when he was shown, which was infrequent.  The child actors did a fine job, but I hated the ending and felt like the whole movie was pointless.  Ella Wahlestedt is thrown in the mix as a the token hot girl whom one of the boys like and this opened up the action to some more mature content than I was expecting.  The kids are hanging out in bars and the action took us to some teen parties with drinking and making out.  I was a bit surprised as I thought that the movie was targeted to preteens as a sci-fi action thriller just for their age group.  It would have been a stronger film if they focused on the group being split up, but getting together to help Echo, which someone changed their situation.

I watched this movie at home with my sister, her husband and their five children.  While I did not care for the movie and would have returned it Earth to Echo Skylinemostly unwatched, the rest of the group was much more interested and watched the whole movie without interruption.  The children, in particular, seemed riveted on the movie so maybe I am being too harsh.  This might be a case of the movie really hitting its target demographic as my nieces and nephews are 12, 11, 10, 9 and 4 and they seemed to enjoy the whole movie.  If you have children at home, they may enjoy this movie, but I feel that there are many better movies out there to watch with your children.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of drinking, smoking, and underage partying with teenagers drinking and making out.  The kids break a lot of laws to help Echo, lie to their parents and are running around at night to try to get Echo’s ship repaired.  Recommended for ages 8 and up.

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Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002) Movie Review

Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: A Peanuts Movie
Starring: Wesley Singerman, Serena Berman, Corey Padnos, Megan Taylor Harvey, Chrystopher Ryan Johnson
Director: Larry Leichliter
Release Date: 8 December 2002
Language: English
Length: 18 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Online Streaming
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

The Peanuts gang is ready to celebrate Christmastime again in this new holiday special.  Lucy (voice by Serena Berman) tries to persuade Schroeder (voice by Chrystopher Ryan Johnson)  to go ice skating.  Snoopy gathers money for charity while dressed as Santa Claus.  Linus (voice by Corey Padnos) doesn’t know what he wants for Christmas and struggles to write a letter to Santa Claus.  Sally (voice by Megan Taylor Harvey) decides to make everyone a gift this year.  Charlie Brown (voice by Wesley Singerman) attempts to make a Christmas card for the cute little red-haired girl in his class.  Join your favorite Peanuts characters as they prepare for Christmas.

Review:

This Christmas special was a bit of a mixed bag for me.  I enjoyed it, but it was very abrupt and quite brief.  It clocks in at app. 17 minutes (you can watch the whole video above!) so it couldn’t even be broadcast on TV as a half-hour Linus Writes a Letter to Santaspecial unless they padded it with a lot of commercials!  They had some really funny ideas to present in the cartoon, but they were all so short!  Instead of trying to come up with some longer plot lines to thread through the smaller vignettes, they just kind of lump them all together and jump from character to character and idea to idea without any link between them.  It felt like I was watching all of Charles Schultz’s Christmas comic strips in an animated form.  Each thought could have been rather easily adapted to a Sunday comic strip format, which works great in a newspaper, but is not quite as entertaining in a cartoon.

All of the main characters have an opportunity to participate in several brief sequences.  Charlie Brown (voice by Wesley Singerman) pops up quite frequently, but he is not really the star in this special.  He is mainly the foil for other characters as they need his help with other activities.  Charlie Brown is Snoopy as Santa Clausembarrassed to walk Snoopy (voice by Bill Melendez) to the corner where he plays Santa Claus to gather funds for charity.  He also wants to know why Lucy (voice by Serena Berman) cannot agree to be nice to him all year long when Lucy approaches him to say that one of her holiday resolutions is to treat him more kindly.  Lucy seems to be the star here and she and her brothers, Linus (voice by Corey Padnos) and Rerun (voice by Timmy Deters), appear in most of the cartoon.  In the beginning, Lucy ignores Snoopy, a wonderful ice skater, to try to persuade Shroeder (voice by Chrystopher Ryan Lucy Watching Snoopy SkateJohnson) to partner her in the skating show, but Shroeder is a hockey player and refuses to join her.  Rerun asks Snoopy (thinking he is Santa Claus) why Santa didn’t bring him everything on the list the previous year, only be scared off by Snoopy.  Linus tries several times to write a letter to Santa Claus – including giving Santa permission to skip their house! – until he finally gives up and just tells Santa to bring him a surprise.  Linus then tries to send a Christmas card to a girl that he likes in his class who sits behind him, but the little girl changes her name every day and he doesn’t know who to address it to!

Sally (voice by Megan Taylor Harvey) provides some of the funniest sequences as she is young enough to not really understand everything that is going on.  She decides to make paper airplanes for everyone as a Christmas gift this year.  Sally then proceeds to write a letter to Samantha Claus and, rather than correcting Sally's Treeher, Charlie Brown just lets her go on believing what she wants to believe.  It is the other children at school who set her straight!  Sally also tries to get a Christmas tree for her family, but she doesn’t know how to cut down a tree.  She decides that she will just stare at a tree until it falls down and then bring it home.  However, the owners of the tree do not quite agree that the tree belongs to Sally.  This was one of the longer stories and it was quite entertaining.  I feel that the writers of this Christmas special could have done a bit more to extend any and/or all of these subplots into a 2 – 5 minute sequence instead of a 30 seconds – 1 minute sequence.  It just felt like all of the stories were so rushed!  I didn’t even have a chance to do more than smile in reaction before the next story was up on the screen!

This Christmas special will appeal to little children most of all as I am sure that they will appreciate the brevity.  The Peanuts gang is also given a face-lift and the colors are brighter with a slightly different style of animation than the Charlie's Christmas Cardoriginal Peanuts specials.  The characters are all still recognizable, however, and the vocal talents are similar enough to the originals that none of the new voices jumped out at me in a negative way.  Even though this is not my favorite Peanuts special, there is still a great deal to enjoy.  This special is so short and moves so rapidly that there is always time to squeeze it into my holiday viewing, which is a definite plus.  If you are a fan of the Peanuts gang or looking for a fun cartoon to share with some little kids around the holidays, this is a nice little filler.

Content:

This cartoon features some mild violence and rather stunning verbal put downs.  Appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) Movie Review

The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: a Rankin Bass Christmas Classic
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Shirley Booth, Dick Shawn, George S. Irving, Bob McFadden
Director: Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.
Release Date: 10 December 1974
Language: English
Length: 51 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb86_thumb1_thumb[4]

Synopsis:

Santa (voice by Mickey Rooney) wakes up one morning and decides he is too old, too tired and too sore to deliver Christmas presents this year.  Even his doctor assures him that no one will miss him if he doesn’t go out on his yearly sleigh ride to deliver presents.  But Mrs. Claus (voice by Shirley Booth) knows that the children around the world will miss Santa!  So she sends two elves (voice by Bob McFadden & Bradley Bolke) on a baby reindeer to find some holiday spirit.  Will Mrs. Claus and the elves be able to save Christmas?

Review:

This is one of my favorite Christmas specials to watch.  I look forward to seeing it every year around the holiday season and never tire of watching it.  I believe Sick Santa Clausthat these old Rankin-Bass Productions are the best Christmas shows to watch for children young and old.  This special has the old-fashioned stop-motion animation and it is the animation style that I equate with the best Christmas specials.  They make the motion look pretty dang good for claymation figurines!  It is a little jerky, but I think that it only adds to the charm.

The vocal talents are top-notch.  Mickey Rooney spoiled every other holiday special for me as it is just not the same to hear a Santa speaking that does not 00302291have his voice.  I am not very familiar with the woman who plays Mrs. Claus (Shirley Booth).  She narrates and sings in the special and has the perfect voice for Mrs. Claus – old, but spritely and a little mischievous.  The other characters were chosen for their memorable, unique sound.  Jingle (Bob McFadden) & Jangle (Bradley Bolke) are very distinct and I feel like their voices added to the charm and character of the film.  And who can forget Heat Miser (George S. Irving) & Snow Miser (Dick Shawn)?!  They are simply perfectly cast, as are all the speaking parts in this film.  Even the children’s voices add that special touch of charm and distinctive sound.

The best part of the Rankin-Bass specials is the music.  There are 8 distinctive songs in this 41-minute special, plus 1 reprise and they are all fantastic!  The special begins and ends with “The Year Without a Santa Claus,” a peppy little number that has some talky/singy action to explain what is going to happen in the special.  Mrs. Claus shines in “I Could Be Santa Claus,” where she sings about Heat Miser, Snow Miser & Mother Naturehow anyone can be Santa if their hearts are in the right place.  She is concerned that Santa won’t get up to deliver presents and is considering doing his job for him, but gives up on the idea after the elves think it’s a bad idea.  “I Believe in Santa Claus” is a beautiful, heartfelt number that I did not appreciate when I was a kid.  It is a ballad that talks about believing in Santa Claus like believing in love – as more of a feeling than a real person.  “It’s Gonna Snow Right Here in Dixie” is a fun, upbeat song that helps move the plot along as well as pick up the pace and make you tap your toe along.  The mayor is making fun of the fact that the elves promised them snow in Southtown, which is in Heat Miser’s territory and has never had a white Christmas.  “The Snow Miser Song” and “The Heat Miser Song” are probably the most famous songs that came out 00323473of this special.  They are such a fun addition to the show and I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get a smile on their face while these two stepbrothers are singing about their hatred of each other.  The last two songs are not written by Rankin & Bass, but they are some holiday classics that I never tire of hearing.  “Blue Christmas” gives the children of the world a chance to let Santa know that, while they understand him wanting to take a year off, they are going to have a sadder Christmas without him.  “Here Comes Santa Claus” was the perfect ending to this special as Santa Claus comes sailing into Southtown and all of the children cheer as they realize that Santa didn’t let them down after all.

The story is absolutely wonderful and has a positive message as well as plenty of silly moments.  By thinking about Santa Claus taking a year off, we realize that presents are not the most important part of the holiday.  In fact, when the children realize that Santa is serious, they all send Santa gifts and let him know that they understand, which I thought was really cute.  Of course, Santa saves the day in the end, but he also brings about some extra subplots that kept me Children Giving Presents to Santa Claussmiling throughout the special.  Mrs. Claus sends Jingle and Jangle, two of their dimmest elves, to find some examples of the holiday spirit, but they get into all kinds of trouble.  Their baby reindeer, Vixen, ends up in the pound, where she gets really sick, and they try to ask the mayor for help, but he doesn’t believe they are really elves.  To convince him, they have to make it snow in the southern US, where it never snows.  So Mrs. Claus, Jingle and Jangle travel to the Miser brothers and from there to Mother Nature (voice by Rhoda Mann) to make that happen.  Meanwhile, Santa Claus is trying to find the elves and the reindeer in Southtown, where he meets Ignatious Thistlewhite (voice by Colin Duffy), who is too old and too cool to believe in Santa.  Bottom line is, this special touches on one of the hot spots of Christmas: are you ever too old to believe in Christmas and Santa Claus?

If you have not seen this Christmas special, you are really missing out on a special holiday treat.  It is on TV every year on ABC Family’s 25 Days of Christmas event and is also available on DVD.  Even though it was made in the ‘70s, it is still a classic and has held its age very well.  A must see for the December Christmas holiday!

Content:

There are a few scenes of mild peril.  Recommended for viewers of all ages.

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Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land! / Hook on Ice! (2011) Movie Review

Jake and the Neverland Pirates: It’s a Winter Never Land! / Hook on Ice! (2011)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: David Arquette, Colin Ford, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Loren Hoskins, Madison Pettis
Director: Kelly Ward, Howy Parkins, Mickey Corcoran
Series: Jake and the Never Land Pirates Season 1, Episode 24
Release Date: 2 December 2011
Language: English
Length: 25 minutes
Movie Rating: TV-G
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

“It’s a Winter Never Land” – Hook and his pirates don’t want to go to all of the work to decorate a tree and get presents for Merry Winter Treasure Day so they steal everything from the Lost Boys.  Jake and his pals track the pirates through icy conditions, but are unable to recover all of their decorations and gifts.  Can they all remember what is really important about Winter Treasure Day?  Will the pirates learn the true meaning of Winter Treasure Day?

“Hook on Ice!” – In the spirit of the holiday, Captain Hook asks Jake and the Lost Boys to join the pirates on the hunt for the Snow Day Treasure.  Bring your slippery, slidey things (sleds, skis and more!) and get ready for adventure!  With Jake and his team helping out, can the pirates travel down the snowy slope, trick their way past the ice ogre, and save Hook (multiple times) so they can claim the treasure?

Review:

This is a popular and fun Disney Jr. show for toddlers and preschoolers.  It is a learning show and they teach counting, critical thinking skills and other lessons in a fun and interactive way.  I typically find something in the Disney shows that entertains me as an adult and I have tried to watch this show a few times, but it is solidly made for young children and does not really have anything in it for older kids or adults.  That said, it is beautifully made and my little nephews look forward to watching it every morning.  My favorite characters are the two real-Bones and Sharkeylife pirates (Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson) who sing all of the songs for the show.  If there is anything for adults in this series, it is these two and the funny songs they sing.  Typically the songs are at the beginning and end of the episodes, however, so there is dead space in between.  If you have little boys or girls at home, this is a great show for them to enjoy watching in the mornings before they go to school.  The main character is Jake, a little devil-may-care boy who is a lot like Peter Pan, but his crew has girls, boys and animals so everyone is covered and has someone to root for.  The adult pirates are bumblers and never seem to do anything right so it is easy for the children to defeat them all the time.  Good times for kids.

This particular episode is as close to Christmas as you get with this series.  Disney has been trying really hard to make some of their children’s shows non-Hook on Icedenominational holiday celebrations and this one is no exception.  The “c” word (Christmas) is not mentioned, it is all about treasure days.  Now, children who celebrate Christmas will recognize the decorated Christmas tree and presents that Hook stole from the kids, but for those who celebrate another holiday, it is just a decoration in the series.  The spirit of the holidays is found in this show, however, and I think that it offers a great lesson about valuing friends and family and being a better person around the holidays.  Captain Hook in particular did a great job illustrating this point as he is never willing to share with anyone and is much more likely to steal.  In “It’s a Winter Never Land!,” Hook regrets stealing the presents and cannot It's a Winter Never Landeven enjoy his ill-gotten gains.  Instead, he gives them back and then Jake and his crew invite the pirates to celebrate with them.  In “Hook on Ice!,” Captain Hook asks Jake if they can help him find the treasure so that they can borrow all of their snow gear (snowboard, sled, etc.).  Then he shares the treasure with the kids at the end.  Even though it seems like every Christmas show talks about sharing and the value of giving, I don’t think that you can show your children too many examples of this in action, especially for little kids who focus so much on the getting around this time of year.

With bright, friendly colors and simple storylines, Jake and the Never Land Pirates is definitely a show that is welcome in my home for young children.  They speak slowly and clearly and have some fun, piratey songs that kids will 122428_0026enjoy.  The characters try to encourage the children watching to participate by doing motions and cheering/talking in appropriate places.  I always encourage the kids watching to follow along (usually by doing it myself) as I love that they are trying to make shows interactive.  This is a great choice to watch around the holidays, especially if you are looking for something without Santa in it (Peter Pan sent the gifts).

Content:

Appropriate for children of ages, recommended for ages 2 and up.

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A Christmas Carol (1994) Movie Review

A Christmas Carol (1994)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Tony Ail, Nathan Aswell, Chera Bailey, Kathleen Barr, Lillian Carlson
Director: Toshiyuki Hiruma Takashi
Release Date: 1994
Language: English
Length: 49 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb80_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

A Christmas Carol, produced by Jetlag Productions in the year 1994 and released on DVD format by Goodtimes Entertainment in 2003, is based on Charles Dickens’s timeless Christmas story, “A Christmas Carol“.  This animated tale relays the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s experiences with three ghosts on Christmas Eve that transformed his life from a mean, miserly man to a man of generous spirit.

Review:

I am a huge fan of A Christmas Carol and make an effort to watch as many different versions of the story every Christmas season.  I found this one available to watch online on Hulu.com and gave it a go.  I confess that I was disappointed with this version.  I am accustomed to watching full-length movie versions of A Christmas Carol and this animated version is about half of the Three Ghosts in a Christmas Caroltime, but with almost all of the story.  Needless to say, the story is quite rushed and a lot of details and character development are left out.  Ebenezer Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, is introduced at the beginning of the story and then we don’t see him again until the end, when Scrooge attends Christmas dinner there.  Scrooge does not visit Fred’s part with the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Also, during the Ghost of Christmas Present segment, we are barely introduced to Tiny Tim and it does not really make sense when we are shown his grave at the end of the film.  The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Ebenezer breaking up with his long-time fiancé, Belle, but we do not meet her at Fezziwig’s party and we never even learn her name in this version.  The story is strung together with the same familiar quotes and scenes that you will enjoy in other versions of A Christmas Carol, but they are so abbreviated here that I did not find myself caring about Scrooge’s transformation at all.  There was no depth and no real emotion contained in this version.

I was a bit disappointed with the animation and vocal talents, as well.  The colors are flat and there are many dark scenes, as suits Victorian London, but there are no interesting details and shading to make it visually appealing.  Most characters and backgrounds are flat, solid colors and do not really seem alive.  I also did not enjoy the vocal Ebenezer Scroogestylings of this animated feature.  Ebenezer Scrooge’s voice is particularly grating.  There was just something about the way he talked that really bothered me.  Also, they wrote in a lot of whiney lines for Scrooge’s character and he sounds like a spoiled 2-year-old at times.  “I don’t want to go,” and “you can’t make me” actually feature into the dialogue, which I felt was going a bit too far.  The Ghost of Christmas Past has a deep, lovely voice, but he is this short little old guy in the cartoon and I didn’t think that the voice fit the character.  And don’t even get me started on the younger Ebenezer Scrooge!  I don’t know if they had the main vocal try to “sound younger,” but it was as high-pitched as a girl’s and did nothing to aid the scene between Scrooge and his younger sister.

There are three songs included, but they are more of a detraction than a help.  I enjoyed the first song more than the other, rather sickly sweet efforts, but it is because it was so strange that I liked it!  The singer reminded me of David Bowie in one of his earlier songs and, as this is sung during Marley’s appearances, it really didn’t fit the setting at all.  The other songs were so inconsequential as to be completely forgettable.  Unfortunately, the music did not do anything to add to the quality of this production.

I feel that the creators of this version were trying to introduce this familiar classic to a younger audience and so they purposefully kept it short and to the point, but I did not enjoy it as much.  This particular version is created with a Christmas Carol CharactersChristian background in mind, but I did not notice anything that they changed or added to make it more appealing to a Christian audience.  If you are looking for an animated version of A Christmas Carol for a younger audience, Mickey’s Christmas Carol gives a nice introduction in less than 30 minutes that is entertaining, well-animated and has lovely music.  If you have children that are a little older, Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol has some very funny scenes and some excellent music and still comes in at under an hour.  Both of these versions are crowd pleasers for old and young alike and tell the entire story of Scrooge’s transformation in a much more appealing way.

Content:

This cartoon features ghosts in chains, graveyard scenes and a ghost that looks like a skeleton.  Recommended for ages 7 and up.

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Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004) Movie Review

Mickey’s Twice Upon a Christmas (2004)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, Bill Farmer, Shaun Fleming, Tress MacNeille
Director: Carole Holliday, Matthew O’Callaghan, Theresa Cullen
Series: sequel to Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas
Release Date: 9 November 2004
Language: English
Length: 68 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

This fun-filled holiday extravaganza features all of your favorite Disney characters in holiday cartoons created just for this collection!

“Belles on Ice” – When Minnie Mouse is introduced first on the ice-skating rink, Daisy Duck’s feelings are hurt.  Both Minnie and Daisy want to be the star of the ice-skating show, but their scene-stealing antics could end up ruining the show for everyone!

“Christmas: Impossible” – Huey, Dewey and Louie haven’t been very nice this year and they ended up on Santa’s naughty list.  Deciding it is impossible to do enough nice things to change Santa’s mind, they decide to break into Santa’s office in the North Pole and put their names on the nice list!

“Christmas Maximus” – Max is second-guessing his plan to bring his girlfriend home for Christmas.  He just knows that his dad, Goofy, will find new ways to embarrass him!

“Donald’s Gift” – Donald Duck is not feeling the Christmas spirit – especially when Daisy and the boys drag him off to the Donald Duck Trying to Get Hot Chocolatemall for Christmas shopping!  Everywhere he turns, someone is playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and it is driving Donald crazy!  All he wants to do is go home and enjoy some hot chocolate.  Can Donald find a way to show he has the Christmas spirit before it is too late?

“Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas” – Mickey Mouse is upset when Pluto accidentally ruins the decorations for his Christmas party.  While Mickey goes shopping to find new party gear, Pluto runs away and ends up a pet for Santa’s reindeer!  But as wonderful as Pluto’s new home is, he just misses Mickey – and Mickey is missing Pluto just as much!  Will these two find their way back together to enjoy a Merry Christmas?

Review:

This is a great Christmas special to watch with children of all ages.  Little children will marvel at the amazing death-defying tricks that Minnie and Daisy Minnie Mouse & Daisy Duck on Iceperform on ice in “Belles on Ice.”  Teenagers will empathize with Max as Goofy does nothing but embarrass him while he is visiting for the holidays.  Parents will appreciate Donald’s struggle to find the Christmas spirit amidst all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.  The entire special is created in CGI graphics and, while this is not my favorite format, the cartoons here were well-suited to the brightly colored, bubbly animation.

“Christmas: Impossible” is the longest cartoon in this collection at 20-25 minutes with “Christmas Maximus” the shortest at 5-7 minutes. I found something to enjoy in all of the segments, but I did enjoy the story and spirit of “Christmas: Impossible” the most.  It is always fun to travel to Santa’s workshop and see how the elves make all of the toys and get ready for the Christmas holiday!  In this cartoon, Huey, Dewey and Louie are definitely not playing nice Huey Dewie and Louie in Santa's Workshopand almost ruin the holiday for everyone to selfishly try to get more presents for themselves!  “Christmas Maximus” also struck a chord with me.  I can definitely remember being mortified by some of the things that my parents said or did – though they did nothing as embarrassing as what Goofy does! – and could appreciate Max’s position.  I couldn’t help but smile at the crazy things that happened to Goofy and particularly enjoyed the popcorn-popping scene in the kitchen!  This cartoon is the most similar to the classic Disney cartoons in length and layout.  There is very little dialogue, but Max is singing “Make Me Look Good” the whole time and it was a great way to present this cartoon.  If you pay close attention, you can hear how the song changes to match the way Max’s attitude changes towards his father.

“Belles on Ice” features Minnie, Daisy and the crocodiles and hippos from Disney’s Fantasia.  It seemed a little over-the-top and rather unbelievable, but I could definitely empathize with the attitude of the two divas featured here.  It is really difficult to step back and let someone else enjoy the spotlight!  “Donald’s Gift” provides a valuable lesson for all of us.  Donald Duck is one of my favorite characters and he is at his best/worst in this cartoon!  I look forward to Pluto with Santa's ReindeerChristmastime all year long and start watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music in November so by the time Christmas is actually here, I am totally over it!  Granted, it is my own fault for starting so early, but I just can’t help myself!  This cartoon makes fun of this trend by playing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” everywhere Donald goes – on the radio, on the phone, at the mall, etc.  It is important to remember that, while Donald may not be feeling the Christmas spirit, that does not give him – or us – the right to spoil the holiday mood for those around us, particularly our loved ones.  “Mickey’s Dog-Gone Christmas” has a similar message.  Pluto wrecked the decorations for Mickey’s party, but that doesn’t mean that Pluto ruined the holiday, despite what Mickey said to him.  Tensions often run high during the holidays and it is easy to overreact when something doesn’t go the way we planned, but it is important to remember how much we love our family and friends and forgive.  If Mickey had reacted differently, Pluto would not have run away and they would have been able to spend the holiday together rather than searching for each other.

There were some wonderful lessons to learn in Mickey’s Twice Upon a Disney Gang at ChristmastimeChristmas.  The best part about the lessons is that they are wrapped up in such entertaining trappings that children will not even know that they are learning!  This Christmas special is one that I look forward to seeing every year and I hope that it will become a holiday favorite in your house, too!

Content:

This movie is appropriate for viewers of all ages.

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A Magical Cartoon Christmas (2004) Movie Review

A Magical Cartoon Christmas (2004)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

A Magical Cartoon Christmas

Starring: Various
Director: Various
Release Date: 2004 (DVD Collection)
Language: English
Length: 75 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: Online Streaming
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Join Jack Frost, little penguins, silly dogs and dancing cakes in this Christmas cartoon collection!  With a total of ten classic cartoons, including “Somewhere in Dreamland” and “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” these cartoons from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s will be sure to bring a nostalgic smile to your face and give you a chance to share your childhood entertainment with the next generation.

Review:

There are a total of ten cartoons in this collections including:

“Ginger Nutt’s Christmas Circus” (1949) – A sneaky parrot steals a circus ticket from a weasel and then heckles all of the circus performers.  Includes Santa Claus in the circus parade & a Peace on Earth sign at the end, otherwise a regular cartoon.

“Peeping Penguins” (1937) – Four curious little penguins climb down the chimney into a human house and explore.  Features “Curiosity Killed the Cat” song.  Takes place during winter and there is snow outside, but no mention of Christmas.  A cautionary tale about not getting into dangerous items around the house.

“A Waif’s Welcome” (1936) – When a poor little orphan boy is welcomed into the home of a family, their spoiled brat of a son does everything he can to get him in trouble.  This cartoon doesn’t feature any Christmas touches (aside from some sleigh bells jingling on the roof), but it is a good message for all little children to remember how lucky they are to having a loving family, food to eat and a roof over their heads.

“Christmas Comes But Once a Year” (1936) – It’s Christmastime again and all of the little orphans at the orphanage are excited to play with their toys.  Unfortunately, all of the toys break the first time they try to play with them!  Can a talented inventor save the day and create new toys?  This is a cute little Christmas cartoon that I can remember seeing when I was a little girl.  I love the toys that the inventor creates – I wish I had that kind of ingenuity!  This cartoon also reminds us that it really doesn’t take that much to make a young child happy and to remember to give around the holiday season to those who are less fortunate.

“Jack Frost” (1934) – When Jack Frost arrives to warn the animals about winter’s approach, one young grizzly bear cub believes that he doesn’t need to be afraid of winter.  He decides to run away from home, but he soon learns that even grizzly bears need to have a warm den for wintertime.  This cartoon features some very cute scenes showing a gnome-like Jack Frost preparing the forest for winter.  There are no specific Christmas references, but the little bear does lick some candy canes and the cartoon takes place in a snowy forest.  While we all feel like running away at times, this cartoon reminds us that being at home with our families is often the best solution.

“Hawaiian Birds” (1936) – When a group of flashy birds arrives from the big city, a local island girl leaves her hardworking boyfriend to follow them to their nightclub.  Unbeknownst to her, the girl’s faithful boyfriend follows her to try and persuade her to return home to their island paradise.  This cartoon features the instrumental version of “Jingle Bells” playing while it is snowing in the city.  Otherwise, it is a normal cartoon about being happy where you are at and not running away from those who love you.

“Hector’s Hectic Life” (1948) – Hector, a dog, is warned by his owner that if he makes one more mess, he is out on the street!  Determined to be good, Hector is doing all he can to stay out of trouble.  But when three little puppies show up on his doorstep, Hector will have his hands full trying to keep the house clean!  The puppies destroy a Christmas tree and make a mess of the Christmas presents, eventually ending up in the Christmas stockings.  I really enjoyed the creative ways that Hector cleans up the puppies’ messes – I wish cleaning in real life was that easy!

“Snow Foolin’” (1949) – Different animals show off their ice skating skills in funny and creative ways.  There is also a sing-a-long with a bouncing egg for the song “Jingle Bells.”  This cartoon doesn’t feature a plot, but it was one of my favorites in the collection.  It was just cute, fun and short.  I love the different animals ice skating and got a kick out of their antics.

“Little Audrey: Tarts and Flowers” (1950) – Little Audrey bakes a gingerbread man whom she follows to the magical land of Cakeland, where the gingerbread man is going to be married to the angel food cake.  But the devil’s food cake wants angel cake for his own and will do anything to keep her!  This is a cute little fantasy cartoon that features many cakes and sweets that children dream about.  Not a Christmas cartoon, but a sweet treat for little ones.

“Somewhere in Dreamland” (1936) – A poor boy and girl work hard to try to help out their single mother put food on the table, but they are always hungry.  On Christmas Eve, the children dream sweetly of a special place called Dreamland full of new clothes, toys and all the delicious food they can eat!  When they wake up on Christmas morning, they find that their hovel has been magically transformed into a Christmas dreamland thanks to a few local merchants.  This is probably the most well-known and beloved of the cartoons in this collection and there is something really moving about it.  Not only do we get to see the lovely dreamland that the children have created to escape their bleak reality, but we get to see some good, kind-hearted people reach out to help those in need during the holidays.

One of my main complaints still remains the fact that they are always trying to cram non-Christmas-themed cartoons into a Christmas cartoon collection.  Other than that, these cartoons did give me a sense of nostalgia.  I remembered some of these cartoons from TV when I was a little girl.  These cartoons are definitely simpler and more basic than the cartoons that children watch today.  I am not sure if little children will have the patience and interest in watching these older animated features.  These have not been cleaned up or brightened to appeal to a new generation of viewers.  The colors are quite muddy and dark.  Also, these animated cartoons are sorely in need of a clearer soundtrack.  The volume is quite low and you can hear the feedback from a poor quality soundtrack as you listen to the songs and speaking.  Still, it was fun to see these cartoons again and, while they cannot really compare to the Disney cartoons (which have been digitally remastered in most cases), they do possess a certain charm and are enjoyable.

Content:

These cartoons feature parents spanking their children, the threat of blows, poverty, and some rather scary looking villains.  Recommended for children ages 3 and up.

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Special Agent Oso: The Living Holiday Lights Special (2010) Movie Review

Special Agent Oso: The Living Holiday Lights Special (2010)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Special Agent Oso Season 2, Episode 11
Starring: Sean Astin, Michael P. Greco, Madison Moellers, Raymond Ochoa, Meghan Strange
Director: various
Release Date: 6 December 2010
Language: English
Length: app. 40 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Special Agent Oso (voice by Sean Astin) is a little miffed that his friends would rather race off and spend time with their friends and family than to include him Advent Wreathin their holiday celebrations.  Luckily, he has some special quests to take his mind off of things!  First, he stops off at Celeste’s house in France to help her set up a Christmas advent wreath before her grandparents arrive.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: get the advent wreath, Step 2: put the candles in the wreath and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Learn about the unique colors and meanings of the candles that go into the wreath, as well as the fact that Santa Claus is called Pere Noel in French.

After that, Special Agent Oso travels to Israel to help Noah (voice by Raymond MenorahOchoa) set up the Menorah so it is ready when the family arrives to celebrate Hanukkah.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: find the Menorah, Step 2: put the candles in the Menorah and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Oso remarks that the set up is very similar to Christmas and asks to understand what the difference is.  They include a special musical number explaining a little bit more about what you do on the Jewish holiday.

Finally, Oso is off to the USA where Braden wants to set up the kinara for kinaraKwanzaa, but he is not sure what to do.  Follow these three special steps to success: Step 1: find the kinara, Step 2: put the candles in the kinara and Step 3: have an adult light the candles.  Now that we are on the third celebration with the same routine, we should realize that, though the holiday trappings are a little different, we all celebrate in similar ways.  We also all value the family at this special time of year.

Review:

This special begins with Oso blasting ornaments onto trees as he boards down a snowy slope so you might be fooled into thinking this is just another Christmas special.  If so, you would be sadly mistaken.  Sure, the show begins with helping with a Christmas decoration, but the emphasis is on an advent wreath, which is Celestenot something commonly seen in the US.  Also, Celeste is a cute little girl who really understands the spirit of Christmas.  When her grandparents arrive, Oso asks where the presents are and she replies that being with her family is enough of a gift for her.  When she discovers that Oso doesn’t have any family to spend Christmas with, she invites him to stay and spend the holidays with her family.  Unfortunately, Oso has other people to help so he takes the gift of a Christmas tree from Celeste’s backyard and is on his way!  As he travels to his next destination, Oso ponders what a family is.  He decides that is formed of people you love and care about.  He tries reaching out to his friends, but they are always brushing him off, or at least they seem to be – but there is a fun surprise for him in the end!

I have never celebrated Hanukkah or Kwanzaa so this special included some good basics to explain a little about how they celebrate.  There is less focus on why they celebrate and what they celebrate, but if you start with the decorations, you can kind of begin a conversation about the other points from Oso's Menorahthere.  In Israel, Noah gives Oso a dreidel, a special top with symbols on it.  You play a fun game with it and, while it is not really discussed, it is shown as Noah and his little sister play with it.  In the USA, Braden is pretty sparing with his explanation of what Kwanzaa is.  I confess that this is the holiday I know the least about and, being a whiter than white person, I doubt if I am going to be celebrating it anytime soon.  I wish that they had included a bit more information about this celebration as I feel that most people in the US could stand to get a bit more knowledge about this holiday and why it is so important to those who celebrate it.  I left the special knowing that there are seven candles in the kinara and that there are multiple colors, but that is about it.  Still, it was nice to see the whole family gathering together to light the candles and to hear a bit about the day’s principal (just the first day).  We also get to hear the traditional holiday greeting, meaning “What’s the news?”  Braden then gives Oso a unity cup, but it just makes Oso realize that he doesn’t have a family to celebrate with.

While Oso helps children who celebrate the holidays in different ways, this special ultimately is trying to convey the message that the most important part of the holiday is the family you spend it with.  Whether you are spending time Oso on His Sledwith the family you are related to by blood, by adoption or creating your own family with close friends, that is the most important part of this holiday season.  This is a very important message for little kids to receive as it seems like most of them are focused on what they are going to get this year.  I confess that I was exactly the same when I was younger so I try to cut the kids some slack, but I also know that I was not wishing for iPads and cell phones when I was little.  My gifts cost a lot less money!  It is really easy to get carried away at this time of year and to forget what is important.  I would encourage parents as well as children to think about what message they want to give at this season.  If you can afford to buy your children whatever they want, should you?  Or should you focus on family activities and learning to appreciate and value the holiday that you celebrate for what it is?

Make sure that, if you watch this holiday special, you stick around to the end.  Oso has his three holiday presents that he received from the children he helped, but he has no one to share the cup with (no one to dine with), no one to play the dreidel with and no one to help him decorate the tree.  And, as we all know, there Christmas Trainsis nothing worse than a lonely holiday!  Luckily, there was a special surprise waiting for Oso at the end of the episode and it should bring a smile to your face.  With bright, cheerful colors and blocky CGI-animation, this show is perfect for toddlers and little kids.  I highly recommend this special for little ones who are trying to understand why everyone celebrates in a different way.  With simple, basic instructions to follow for each holiday celebration, little ones should be more likely to be tolerant and to ask questions.  Unfortunately, there is not a lot in the Oso series for older children and adults to enjoy, which would give this special  a higher rating.  Still, the message is great and this is definitely one of the best Oso episodes I have seen and appropriate for children of all races and religions to watch because of its handling of three different holidays.

Content:

Recommended for children of all ages.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa

Magic Gift of the Snowman (1995) Movie Review

Magic Gift of the Snowman (1995)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Tony Ail, Nathan Aswell, Chera Bailey, Kathleen Barr, Garry Chalk
Director: Toshiyuki Hiruma Takashi
Release Date: 9 November 1995
Language: English
Length: 47 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

When Landon finds out that his younger sister, Emery Elizabeth, is so ill that she might not live to see another Christmas, he comes up with a plan to help her get better.  Landon encourages Emery Elizabeth to eat regularly, take her naps and her medicine and take better care of herself.  If she does, Landon will share the story of Snowden, a really cool snowman who lives in the magical kingdom far, far away.  Magic Gift of the Snowman, produced by Jetlag Productions in 1995 and released on DVD by Goodtimes Entertainment, is an original story from Jetlag Productions.

Review:

I stumbled across this animated tale on Hulu.com during the Christmas season and, while not a great movie, it is definitely cute and will appeal to younger viewers, especially to preschoolers.  The animation is simple, but bright and Magical Gift of the Snowmancolorful.  Emery Elizabeth and all of the girls in the movie were shown with pale pink lips that almost didn’t even look real so there was something off about the animation of the faces, but that is a minor detail.  Landon reminded me visually of Henry in The Littles, but he and all of the other children are animated in a very cute, borderline anime-fashion (no big eyes).  There are some original songs included, none of which I felt was good enough for me to remember what they were about when the movie was over, but I am sure that children will enjoy the music nonetheless.

The best part about the movie, however, is the sweet storyline.  It was so wonderful to see an animated special where siblings not only got along, but they love each other and encourage each other.  Landon loves his little sister very much.  Rather than be upset that she is getting a lot of care and attention due to her prolonged illness, Landon is determined to do all he can to help Emery Elizabeth get better.  He spends a chilly afternoon in the yard creating Snowden, Snowdena snowman that reminded me quite a bit of Frosty the Snowman, but in sunglasses and a trenchcoat.  Snowden’s slang may be dated now, but little kids will not know that and will get a kick out of the way Snowden talks.   Landon and Emery Elizabeth must help Snowden recover Princess Electra’s smile from an evil villain who is determined to make all of the children take candy, rainbows and their dreams and turn them into a bunch of slimy yuk.  Emery Elizabeth is critical to defeat the villain as she can use the power of her inner self to turn her wheelchair into any object with wheels.  I loved that the writers chose to make Emery Elizabeth, the handicapped one, the heroine of the story.  Instead of having her wheelchair be a weakness, Emery Elizabeth was able to turn this disability into a great strength that eventually saved all of the children!

This movie is definitely created with children in mind.  I felt like Landon or Emery Elizabeth on a Magnificent Steedanother young boy or girl would have imagined a story like this and chosen to share it with their siblings.  The magical kingdom where everything takes place only has children who live there.  They dance, play and sing all day, powered by Princess Electra’s magical smile.  The beds are shaped like cream puffs and ice cream cones.  Every toy and game imaginable is available for the children to play with and they have no cares or worries.  The only limit on what you can do in this magical kingdom is your own imagination.

While I think children will really enjoy this tale, I did not enjoy it as much as I thought I would.  There is not a lot there for older children or for adults to want to sit through it with younger viewers.  Many view this DVD as a Christmas Emery Elizabeth & Landon to the Rescuemovie, but there is nothing really Christmasy about it.  Emery Elizabeth needs to live past the holiday to have any hope of recovering from her illness, but over half of the action takes place in a magical kingdom.  There is one scene at the end that shows Emery Elizabeth opening a Christmas present near the Christmas tree, but that is the only Christmas scene in the movie.  Still, if you are looking for a movie to share with your children around the winter holidays, this is a good cartoon to buy.  You can usually find it for $2 – $5 online or in stores so it is very affordable and worth the cost if you have little ones at home who will watch it a few times in a row.

Content:

This movie contains an evil villain who looks like a zombie with big bug eyes, but he is not too scary.  There is also a scene that contains a lot of fire that the children have to escape.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular (2003) Movie Review

Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular (2003)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Scary Godmother #1
Starring: Tabitha St. Germain, Scott McNeil, Garry Chalk, Britt McKillip, Adam Pospisil
Director: Ezekiel Norton, Michael Donovan
Release Date: 17 July 2003
Language: English
Length: 47 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: image_thumb83_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Jimmy doesn’t want to have to take his younger cousin, Hannah, trick-or-treating with his friends so he tricks her into going to the basement in an old, deserted house.  Terrified, Hannah is sure she is going to be eaten by monsters and is relieved to be rescued by her Scary Godmother who whisks her off to a Halloween party!  There, Hannah will meet a skeleton, a werewolf, a vampire family and a monster who hides under the bed who teach her that not all monsters are scary.

Review:

This is such a cute special that I want to give it a higher rating because I love the story, but I hate the graphics.  I understand that not everyone has the high budget of a Disney or Dreamworks animated special, but, for some reason, the Scary Godmother and HannahCGI in this Halloween special really bothered me.  It is a weird combination between CGI like you would see in a video game and a flat CGI format that is forced into movement, almost like an illustration from a picture book that has pieces moving in it.  I know that I am not describing it very well, but there is just something off about the show.  The colors seem weird, the characters are strangely flat and the animation takes a bit of getting used to.  Once you watch 5 – 10 minutes, the animation will probably not bother you any more as you get used to it pretty quickly.  I don’t know that younger viewers will notice it at all, however, as they are accustomed to different forms of CGI animation than I am (due to some really strange shows on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network), but the animation here really bothered me.  Check it out for yourself by watching the entire special above.

The best part about this Halloween special is the storyline.  I love that it teaches children not to be scared of monsters by introducing them one by one and making them silly and funny.  Hannah meets her Scary Godmother first, who is a Skellywitch.  She rides a broom and can cast magic on others.  For some reason, Hannah is not scared of Scary Godmother at all when she meets her.  It may be that this is because Scary Godmother whisks her away from a creepy, dark house or it may be that she is always smiling and is dressed really cheerfully.  Scary Godmother’s costume is a rocking combination of ballerina, witch and fashionista.  Skully the Skeleton is next.  He literally surprises Hannah by bursting out of his closet and then jokes that everyone has one!  Skully is so worried about the party snacks and decorations that Hannah quickly realizes that she has nothing to be afraid of.  These two characters are the least frightening in the show so it was great that they started off with them.

Harry the Werewolf is the first guest to arrive at Scary Godmother’s house.  He wears loud Hawaiian shirts and is always hungry.  Harry is pretty loud and prone to making abrupt movements and wanting to devour everything in sight so he makes Hannah pretty nervous.  But Harry is too worried about arguing with Vampire FamilySkully about who gets to eat the party snacks first to pay much attention to Hannah.  The next arrivals are a vampire family complete with Duke, Duchess and their son.  Both children are encountering a vampire child and a human child for the first time so they have a lot to discuss.  Hannah is pretty scared of the vampires, especially since they keep joking about sucking her blood rather than eating the party treats!  A Hannah and Bug a Boofew well-placed jokes about food and sleeping arrangements turn these two into friends before Hannah even knows what is happening!  The last monster to arrive is the scariest – the Bug-a-boo, a monster who scares children from under their bed.  Hannah is really scared of the monster and keeps her distance until they both learn that they share favorite pizza toppings and both know Jimmy.  It doesn’t take long before Hannah is having a fun time and even bonds with her new friends to play a practical joke on Jimmy and his friends!

The only part of the story that I did not like was the section about Hannah’s flashlight.  Hannah’s parents sent her off to go trick-or-treating with a flashlight, Scary Godmotherwhich they assured her would scare away all of the monsters.  The only problem is, her flashlight doesn’t scare any of the monsters!  I know that this is supposed to be a funny part of the show and help children see the monsters as non-threatening, but I think that it might cause problems for some younger viewers.  I always believed that monsters couldn’t get me if the light was on or if was daylight so you might have to have a talk with your kids after the show to explain to them that flashlights might not be bright enough to work, but their bedroom light does?

Ultimately, this was a great new special to discover for Halloween and I think that it is wonderful to see someone is still making Halloween cartoons to show around the holidays.  I remember looking forward to seeing movies like this on TV so much around Halloween and now it seems like there just aren’t as many to watch any more. While the animation style was not my favorite, I love the message and there are plenty of laughs for viewers of all ages to stay entertained!

Content:

This movie features monsters including a witch, a skeleton, a werewolf, a vampire family and a monster with multiple eyes and really big teeth.  All of them are presented in a silly, funny way so it shouldn’t be too scary for younger viewers, but Hannah does scream quite a bit and get scared as she meets new monsters.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

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