Category Archives: Musicals

Meet the Small Potatoes (2013) Movie Review

Meet the Small Potatoes

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Malcolm McDowell, Jasper Newell, Morgan Hartley
Director: Josh Selig
Release Date: 30 July 2013
Language: English
Length: 72 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Ratingimage_thumb82_thumb1_thumb1

Synopsis:

Discover how Ruby, Nate, Chip and Olaf rose from their beginnings as humble Idaho potatoes became global singing superspuds!  The four potatoes sing their way through different styles and different locations introducing children to many different types of music as the four singers fight and reunite throughout their career.

Review:

I am not sure what to think about this movie.  I know that it is supposed to be a spoof on the music industry and I could not help but think of The Beatles, though they never had a female member of their singing group.  I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but there were so many Meet the Small Potatoesparallels that I could not help but think of this.  The animated feature shows the potatoes working their way through Broadway and Las Vegas before they hit the big time.  They fight about who has to share the spotlight and who is the most famous and popular.  Then they fight over which style of music they are going to perform.  Disco and punk music are fought over with two members of the band trying to push their preferred form on the other members.  My favorite part of the movie was when they showed pictures in the background of the most famous performers when they were discussing various styles.  The potatoes would then sing a brief song that was in the disco, Broadway, punk, etc. style so that younger viewers can get a feel for what the music sounds like.

The whole story is told through interviews with people.  The four potatoes themselves tell a bit of the story, but their agent and fans tell the bulk of it.  It was interesting to see everyone’s different point of Meet the Small Potatoes Starred Upview and perspective.  Their agent always insisted that the band’s arguments in the public eye were scripted.  The fans were heartbroken when the band they loved and admired split up.  Many agreed that the member who decided to split to go solo was being selfish and that they wanted the band to stay together regardless of their personal feelings.  In many ways, Meet the Small Potatoes is a mockumentary about bands.  Unfortunately, this movie tells an all-too-familiar story of fame and fortune leading to fighting and hatred amongst people who used to be close friends and/or family.  It is told in a light-hearted way and the ending has a strong positive message after the band reunites for a performance, but I think this was temporary.

Though this movie is a bit odd, it is a solid introduction to various types of music.  The small potatoes sing a lot in the movie and, although their songs are fairly short, some of the music is enjoyable for older viewers.  I know that younger children are always captivated by music in these cartoons and I think that Meet the Small Potatoes will appeal to some younger viewers, but it will be limited to preschoolers, in my opinion.  Everyone speaks with a British accent, which may throw off some young ones, but they speak clearly and do not use a lot of slang so children should have no trouble understanding what is going on.  This movie is simply animated and fairly basic in regards to storyline.  Older viewers should keep their eyes peeled for glimpses of famous bands and musicians in the background, otherwise this movie will have limited appeal.

Content:

This movie contains sections of verbal arguments.  Recommended for ages 1 – 5.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Musicals

Jake and the Never Land Pirates: Peter Pan Returns! (2012) Movie Review

Jake & the Never Land Pirates: Peter Pan Returns! (2012)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Series: Jake and the Never Land Pirates
Starring: David Arquette, Colin Ford, Jonathan Morgan Heit, Loren Hoskins, Madison Pettis
Director: Kelly Ward, Howy Parkins, Mickey Corcoran
Release Date: 13 February 2012
Language: English
Length: 40 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating: image_thumb84_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

Peter Pan has returned to Neverland because he needs help – his shadow is missing!  Jake and his friends are ready to help Peter search everywhere, but Captain Hook finds Peter’s shadow first!  Without his shadow, Peter Pan is not happy enough to fly and, if he can’t fly, he can’t catch Captain Hook!  Can Jake and his crew get Peter’s shadow back?

Review:

This is such a charming special that I cannot resist watching it every time it Jake, Peter Pan and the Crewcomes on TV.  I confess that I was a bit disappointed that the Jake and the Never Land Pirates series was way too young for me to enjoy watching, but this particular feature-length episode is an exception.  The regular episodes are geared towards preschool age children (not that this would keep me from watching it if it was clever instead of just cute) and, while this “movie-length” version is also meant for the younger set, the music and details definitely enhance the show enough for older viewers to enjoy it, too.

My favorite part about this show is the music.  Most of the feature-length specials that are created out of popular TV shows are just a longer episode, but this one is something truly special. Not only is Peter Pan (voice by Adam Wylie) Peter is Too Sad to Flyback as a guest-star for this episode, but the show is packed with wonderful music!  “Here We Go, Yo Ho” will definitely play in your mind long after the movie ends, as it should, because it is wonderful!  Peter Pan sings a lovely lament about not being able to fly any more and there are several other songs included, as well. If you wait until the end of the movie, you can see two live-action pirate guys (Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson) who are part of Captain Hook’s (voice by Corey Burton ) crew singing another new song.  These two play dimwitted pirates to perfection and are a lot of fun to watch!

I also enjoyed the details that the animators included as Peter Pan, Jake (voice by Colin Ford ) and his crew traveled around Never Land.  The Tiki Trees all have different faces that change expression as you run by, the Cave of Shadows 126795_0042is delightfully spooky and the final race with pirate ships will have your little one cheering!  I believe that this series is created using CGI, but the show has a hand-drawn look, as well, which I find particularly attractive.  Your children will also be learning from Peter Pan as the episode plays.  While I found it ironic that Peter is cautioning Jake and his crew to look before they leap and to plan carefully before they take action, I guess he is the oldest person on the island!  This special features a new, more mature Peter and he helps Jake and the gang figure out how to outwit Captain Hook and eventually return Peter’s shadow to them.

If you have a little one at home, they will surely delight in watching this movie. It only runs about 40 minutes long so I am really using the term “movie” loosely, but for a younger viewer, this is the perfect length.  Packed with music, silly pirate antics and lots of adventure, this fast-paced feature will be sure to please your little pirate or princess at home!

Content:

This movie contains a mildly scary scene in a shadowy cave where things are pretty dark, but it really isn’t scary.  Recommended for ages 18 months and up.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Disney, Fantasy Movies, Musicals

Hans Christian Andersen (1952) Movie Review

Hans Christian Andersen

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Danny Kaye, Farley Granger, Zizi Jeanmaire, Joseph Walsh, Philip Tonge
Director: Charles Vidor
Release Date: 25 November 1952
Language: English
Length: 110 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: DVD
My Rating:   image_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

“Once upon a time there lived in Denmark a great storyteller named Hans Christian Andersen. This is not the story of his life, but a fairy tale about the great spinner of fairy tales.”  Danny Kaye stars as famed storyteller Hans Christian Andersen in this charming fictionalized biopic that blends music, romance, comedy and fantasy to trace the life of Denmark’s literary hero; a small-town shoemaker with a knack for spinning yarns.” — Netflix.com

Review:

I love Danny Kaye.  He is so funny and so charming in his movies that it is impossible not to fall in love with him and his characters on screen.  I can remember watching Hans Christian Andersen as a little girl and laughing at the songs and being spellbound by the ballets. This movie is Danny Kaye Singing About the Emperor's New Clothesan old-fashioned musical that creates a new fairy tale about Hans Christian Andersen, who wrote so many of the fairy tales we know and love today.  “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Thumbelina” and “The Ugly Duckling” all have enchanting songs that help tell the story in this movie.  Everyone will be sure to laugh at the king who finds himself “in the altogether” and find their self-esteem boosted as they sing the song about the Ugly Duckling.  “The Little Mermaid” is turned into a ballet and is shown in a fairly long sequence towards the end as one ofHans Christian Andersen’s most popular stories.  There are a few new stories created for this movie that are shared with us in pieces including a clock whose two hands were in love with the third and a chalk and chalkboard arguing about who was most important.  Alas, these stories were not fully written so we still don’t know what happened!

The movie is filmed in a kind of fairy-tale world.  Some of the colors are ultra-bright and all of the sets are a bit fantastical.  The costumes are quite lovely and the dancers show quite a few numbers with multiple Hans Christians Andersen's Fairy Tale Feelcostumes.  Naturally, everyone breaks into song and dance on a whim and you can be sure that an ensemble number is right around the corner!  The music is lovely and the acting is quite good, but there were some aspects of the plot that I did not care for.  The ballerina (Zizi Jeanmaire) and her husband, (Farley Granger), are a gorgeous artistic couple.  She is the prima ballerina and he is the choreographer and ballet Hans, the Ballerina & Her Husbandmaster.  Sparks fly on and off the stage.  The couple is clearly in love, but they also fight all the time.  This includes physical slapping, pushing, and violent verbal arguments, which always jolted me out of the fairy-tale quality of the story.  I also felt sorry for Hans Christian Andersen (Danny Kaye) who fell in love with the ballerina and was naive enough to think that she returned his love.  Poor Peter (Joseph Walsh) did his best to help Hans see the world as it really was, but Hans really did live in a world of his own.

Though this movie is old, it has retained much of its charm and still looks and sounds great.  Even though I have seen it multiple times, I still cannot help but laugh with the children as Hans tells his tales, sway along with “Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen” (you can hear this song on the video above) and get swept up in the imaginary romance between Hans and the ballerina.  If you enjoy musicals, be sure not to miss out on Hans Christian Andersen!

Content:

This movie shows some scenes of physical and emotional abuse between spouses.  They slap each other and call each other names, push and shove each other around, etc.  It is portrayed as part of a feisty, artistic temperament, but can be disturbing for some viewers as no one in the movie acts like it is wrong.  Other than that, the movie is clean and appropriate for viewers of all ages.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.

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Once (2006) Movie Review

Once

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglová, Hugh Walsh, Bill Hodnett, Danuse Ktrestova
Director: John Carne
Release Date: 15 July 2006
Language: English
Length: 85 minutes
Movie Rating: R
View Format: DVD
My Rating:   image_thumb85_thumb1_thumb

Synopsis:

“In this charming contemporary musical, a street musician (Glen Hansard) in Dublin strikes up a friendship with a migrant street hawker (Markéta Irglová), and the duo ends up composing and recording a series of songs over the course of a week that mirrors their burgeoning romance.” — Netflix.com

Review:

I remember watching the two stars, Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová, perform on the 2008 Academy Awards show.  They sang “Falling Once in the Music StoreSlowly” and won the Best Original Song Oscar.  At first, I was shocked that this film I never heard of beat out Disney’s Enchanted music.  However, once I heard the song for myself, I was intrigued.  I made a mental note that I wanted to see Once and promptly forgot about it for years.  Then I had the opportunity to see Once the stage musical on tour and remembered that it was first an indie film.  I fell in love with the music all over again and finally rented the movie that inspired it all.

I enjoyed Once, but I felt that the live musical was stronger and more fully realized.  However, I definitely love that there is a permanent version I can watch whenever I want!  The music is a showstopper in Once Looking Out on the Irish Shorethis movie.  I loved “Falling Slowly,” but it is not the only great song in the movie – not by a long shot!  I purchased the soundtrack and love listening to the music.  There are upbeat, funny songs like “Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy,” bittersweet love songs like “If You Want Me,” and anger-fueled songs like “Leave.”  In short, there is the whole gamut of a romantic relationship portrayed in song.  I loved the music more than anything else in the movie and feel that it is worth watching just to hear it!

The characters are likable and relatable.  I had no idea that the two leads Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová were relatively inexperienced as actors in this movie.  The film is shot in a way that makes it feel like a small indie film (which it was), which gave a feeling of intimacy between the viewer and the actors.  Glen Hansard helped write the music and Once Seeling Flowers & Buskingthen was persuaded to act by taking over the lead role.  Glen Hansard is unnamed in the movie and is referred to in the credits as “guy” meaning that he could be anyone or everyone around you.  Guy has not recovered from his breakup with his girlfriend and is living with his father repairing vacuum cleaners.  He spends his nights busking on the streets, playing his original music and watching life pass him by.  Markéta Irglová plays Girl, a struggling immigrant who sells flowers on the streets and is thrilled to get a position cleaning a rich woman’s home.  She is full of life and hope and her vibrancy draws Guy to her.  The two never get together in a romantic way, though they definitely feel the attraction and I thought the ending was very interesting.

Whenever I see an underrated movie like Once, I think I should spend more time watching indie films.  This movie is so charming and likable that I just don’t understand why it didn’t make more money.  Sure, you can’t understand everything the characters say due to some heavy Irish accents.  Yes, there is more singing than talking and no, the characters do not end up in a relationship together.  None of these change the fact that Once is a delightful film that I will be sure to enjoy again in the future.

Content:

This movie contains some bad language, a lot of drinking and quite a bit of smoking.  Extramarital pregnancies, separated spouses and cheating partners are part of the plot.  Recommended for ages 16 and up.

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A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969) Movie Review

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Peter Robbins, Pamelyn Ferdin, Glenn Gilger, Andy Pforsich, Erin Sullivan
Director: Bill Melendez
Series: a Peanuts movie
Release Date: 4 December 1969
Language: English
Length: 86 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

“The lovable kids from Charles Schulz’s popular comic strip “Peanuts” star in their first full-length animated film, which features now-iconic scenes such as Lucy tricking Charlie Brown by pulling away the football he’s about to kick. Other memorable scenes include Snoopy ice-skating with abandon in Central Park, Linus losing his security blanket and Charlie Brown competing in the National Spelling Bee. The film earned an Oscar nod for Best Score.” — Netflix.com

Review:

I remember watching this movie when I was a kid, but didn’t think it was anything special.  In fact, it seemed like there were a lot of rather boring parts!  I don’t know what caused me to Charlie Brown Championrent it again, but I am so glad that I did!  Now that I am older and have more experience, this movie resonated with me and definitely kept me entertained!  I don’t know if it is because I have had so many disappointments in my life or that I can relate with Charlie Brown and his hopes and dreams.  Too bad that Charlie Brown rarely succeeds in achieving what he reaches out for!  What I love the most about Charlie now is that he never gives up.  He looks forward to a new baseball season, keeps going back to Lucy for advice and keeps trying to get Snoopy to act like a real dog.  I watch Charlie Brown in this movie and think that my life isn’t really that bad.  I am not sure that I would be willing to get out of bed in the morning if I had Charlie Brown’s life!

Lucy is a huge part of what makes this movie so funny – too bad she has such a mean-spirited sense of humor!  She made me laugh throughout the film, but then I felt bad for laughing as Charlie Brown on the Pitchers Moundpoor Charlie Brown was always the butt of her jokes.  When Charlie Brown gets hit in the head with a baseball and Linus calls for first aid, Lucy’s reply is “I don’t think it’s that serious.  Second or third aid should do.” Later, trying to capitalize on Charlie Brown’s success and get him prepared for the spelling bee, Lucy proclaims “You have a smile like a sick pumpkin.”  I don’t remember Lucy being funny when I was a kid, but, now that I am an adult, she is hilarious!  Lucy always manages to come up with these zingy little one liners that are hysterical, but you have to pay close attention or you will miss out.  There is also some terrific physical comedy when Snoopy is involved.  While Lucy Showing Charlie Brown His FaultsLinus is fainting in Charlie Brown’s hotel room because he is missing his blanket, Snoopy keeps running and getting water.  But Snoopy doesn’t use the water to revive Linus, Snoopy drinks it himself!  Another favorite part of mine was when Lucy was itemizing Charlie Brown’s faults one-by-one using photographs and video clips to illustrate them!  Seriously, who is told be a (kind of) friend that their faults include: failure to deal with life in a vertical position, tendency towards fatness (including toes), etc.  Again, it is bad to be laughing at this poor little boy, but you just cannot help it!

The music is beautiful in this movie.  The theme song “Boy Named Charlie Brown” is both melancholy and hopeful and I enjoyed the performance at the beginning and the end of the movie of this featured song.  There are a few silly, fun songs performed by the kids in the movie, but most of the soundtrack features classical music.  I remember these parts as being Linus Playing Pianothe most boring when I was a kid, but now I really enjoy the long, peaceful interludes.  It is so clever of the filmmakers to use copyright-free music that ties in with a music-loving character in Linus.  But the best part of this movie as far as sound goes is the vocal talents of the children who performed in it.  I love that they used actual kids to deliver the lines.  You get little pauses and different phrasing that professional or adult performers would not have included.  I really felt like I was listening to children.  Granted, these children act like little adults, but there is still a childish glee and zest to their actions and their voices that I enjoyed very much.

The more I watch this movie, the more I enjoy it these days.  I highly recommend that you watch it again if you saw this movie when you were a child.  I guarantee that you will see the film in a whole new light and that it will resonate with you in a completely different way.  There is guaranteed to be a vignette that calls especially to you.  Will it be when Charlie Brown is trying to convince his team to really try to win a ball game this year?  How about when Lucy is using a video to show Charlie Brown his many faults and try to convince him that kicking a football will solve all of them?  Perhaps it will be the fact that Charlie Brown goes so far in the Charlie Brown at the Spelling Beespelling bee competition only to falter at the very end on an easy word?  There are so many little moments of humor and some really great animation for those who are looking and paying attention that I guarantee something will catch your eye.  Again, I am not sure that this film is particularly well-suited to young children, despite being animated.  The pacing of the film is really uneven and there is not enough overt comedy to keep young children entertained.  There is plenty of fun and frivolity for big kids, however!

Content:

This movie contains some slapstick, cartoonish violence.  Appropriate for ages 3 and up.

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The Three Musketeers (2004) Movie Review

The Three Musketeers (2004)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Wayne Allwine, Tony Anselmo, Bill Farmer, Russi Taylor, Tress MacNeille, Jim Cummings
Director: Donovan Cook
Release Date: 3 August 2004
Language: English
Length: 68 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy star in their first feature-length animated film together!  Mickey, Donald and Goofy are custodians dreaming of becoming great musketeers when their chance finally arrives!  Captain Pete assigns the three to guard the Queen herself!  But can these three inexperienced bodyguards keep the Queen safe from an evil villain who is trying to steal the throne for himself?  Join your favorite cartoon characters in this reimagined Alexandre Dumas classic.

Review:

This is such a fun little cartoon for children and adults to watch and enjoy!  I have seen so many different versions of Alexandre Dumas’s classic tale The Three Musketeers that I could not imagine what Disney would do to it to make it an appropriate vehicle for their three main cartoon characters.  I was surprised and delighted to witness the results.  The setting remains 17th century France, but they bent the rules a bit and included bathrooms, water pipes and more to allow for some very funny jokes (Pete looking forward to his bath for a month).  The animation is a combination of hand-drawn and CGI and I thought that it was very effective.  I still believe that Disney does hand-drawn animation better than anyone else and still hope that they will decided to do more of these high-quality, hand-drawn cartoons in the future.

The movie pays homage to older Disney presentations and has a narrator to get the story going and to explain things as they happen (mainly for younger viewers who are not familiar with this classic story).  Rob Paulsen performs the voice of The Troubador, a turtle who loves to sing.  He adds some wonderful touches as he not only narrates the story, but he also interacts with the characters in the movie to try and bring the movie the best possible outcome.  The other main departure is that this is not a retelling of The Three Musketeers, but a kind of sequel.  Young street urchins Mickey, Donald and Goofy are set upon by bullies in the streets of Paris, but saved by Aramis, Athos, Porthos and D’Artagnan.  The four musketeers sign a hat for Mickey and this is what makes the trio dream of becoming musketeers themselves.  I confess that I was relieved to see that the story uses the classic Three Musketeers take as a launchpad for the adventures here and did not try to redo it.  This left the door wide open for plenty of silly antics and funny moments.

There is a wonderful message in this movie along with the humor.  If you watch the film carefully, you will notice that the only thing holding Mickey, Goofy and Donald back is their own fears or feelings of inadequacy.  Mickey is too short, Goofy is too dim and Donald is too scared to be a real musketeer.  At least, that is what Captain Pete tells them and, after a while, they believe it.  All three are given a chance to overcome their shortfalls and to prove to themselves and everyone else that they have what it takes to be a great musketeer.  I love that Disney constantly gives us films that encourage us to reach for our dreams and to try and achieve, even when everyone around us is saying that it is impossible.

The best part of the film, in my opinion, is the music.  The entire feature pays homage to a form of music that most people are no longer familiar with: the operetta.  This music is a cross between popular music and classical or operatic music.  I grew up watching Gilbert & Sullivan operettas with my family and so I was actually familiar with some of the music in the movie.  In fact, the “opera” that Queen Minnie is going to see is actually a performance of The Pirates of Penzance, arguably Gilbert & Sullivan’s most famous operetta.  Most of the remainder of the music is performed by the Troubador and the writers use the same tunes over and over again, but with clever wordplay, dynamics and varying speeds to keep the music sounding fresh and unique.  They really did a wonderful job with the music and you will find yourself tapping your toes and singing along before you know it!

If you enjoy Disney movies and are looking for a classically-styled Disney feature, this is a great one to check out.  It is only a little over an hour long and so it is a little guilty pleasure of mine.  Whenever I need a quick pick-me-up, I can pop this in the DVD player and know that I will soon have a smile on my face.  With plenty of laughs, some terrific animation and wonderful music, this movie is sure to appeal to viewers ages 1 – 100.

Content:

This movie contains some mild, cartoonish violence.  There are some scenes of fighting, attempted murder and evil laughter.  No one gets hurt and nothing really goes wrong, but they do use swords, anvils, etc.  Recommended for ages 2 and up.

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Filed under Animated Movies, Children & Family Movies, Historical Movies, Musicals

A Damsel in Distress (1937) Movie Review

A Damsel in Distress (1937)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Fred Astaire, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Joan Fontaine, Reginald Gardiner
Director: George Stevens
Release Date: 19 November 1937
Language: English
Length: 98 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Synopsis:

Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Joan Fontaine) must wed soon, but she is not in love with any of her suitors.  Determined to marry for love, Lady Alyce tries to sneak off to London to meet the American she met some time ago on a ski trip.  Unfortunately, her latest attempt to meet the man leads her to encounter Jerry Halliday (Fred Astaire), a famous performer who has broken hearts the world over.  Keggs (Reginald Gardiner), the family butler, mistakenly identifies Jerry as Alyce’s boyfriend and hijinks ensue as some try to keep Jerry and Alyce apart, while others try and help them find time together.  But in the end, the fact remains that Jerry is not the American that Alyce fell in love with – or is he…?

Review:

This was a fun musical to watch, but the strength of the film lies in its pieces rather than in the sum total of its parts.  The music was composed by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin, and the film was called a musical, but there was not very much singing in it.  There were some lovely instrumental pieces and a few clever lines of song, but most of the singing was done by choirs or arranged groups of people in the castle.  This was an unexpected disappointment as I am accustomed to musicals featuring song and dance routines throughout the film with the songs adding to the story.  Instead, this film relies on some performers at the castle to perform music for guests with Fred Astaire joining in at some points to great comedic effect.  While these songs were clever and fun, they just did not fit into the storyline and did nothing to further the plot.  I was delighted with the dance routines, however, and thoroughly enjoyed the performances by Fred Astaire, George Burns and Gracie Allen.  These three had some terrific routines that elevated the movie into something memorable and worth watching.  In particular, I had a wonderful time watching these three dance their way through a local circus.  It was cleverly staged and used some terrific sets such as spinning tunnels, slides, rotating circles, electronic sidewalks and fun-house mirrors.  Fred Astaire made the other two look like they were merely average dancers, but George Burns and Gracie Allen held their own and brought a lot of personality and style to the routines.  I feel that this movie was worth watching for the fun-loving dance routines alone, but there were so few of them!  I was left wanting a great deal more song and dance in the movie as a whole, but there were some brilliant moments that made me glad that I took the time to watch the film.

The plot is nothing special in this movie, but the actors and actresses did the best with what they had.  I never really bought the romance between Jerry Halliday (Fred Astaire) and Lady Alyce Marshmorton (Joan Fontaine).  I feel that the movie would have been much stronger if there was a love triangle between these two leads and the completely absent Mr. X that Lady Alyce supposedly fell in love with.  Having Lady Alyce change her mind and heart so often throughout the film made it difficult, if not impossible, to take her seriously when she proclaimed her love for someone else.  This main plot was a real disappointment, but the subplot of the servants in the castle was very entertaining and worth seeing.  All of the servants put money into a pot and then drew names out of a hat with the suitors’ names on them. Whomever drew the name of the winning suitor wins the pot.  Keggs (Reginald Gardiner), the straitlaced butler, maneuvers so that he draws the name of the current frontrunner, Reggie (Ray Noble), a rather dimwitted, but loveable young man.  He is outwitted at almost every turn by a young servant, Albert (Harry Watson), who knows that Lady Alyce writes to an American and insists on being given the name Mr. X as he is betting on Lady Alyce throwing Reggie over for her American.  Seeing an older, more established man battling a clever young boy was an unexpected delight and I enjoyed this plotline much more than any of the others.

I feel that the superb acting elevated this rather humdrum musical into something that was fun and flirty.  Gracie (Gracie Allen) was my favorite character by far!  She plays George’s (George Burns) featherbrained secretary and she was so funny!  When George threatens to replace her at the beginning of the film and hire another girl, her response is “are you sure we have enough work for two girls?”  I don’t think that she had a thought in her head, but I knew that I would smile when I saw her on screen.  She was a lovely dancer and interfaced effortlessly with everyone on screen.  Gracie Allen stole the show, in my opinion, and I will need to make an effort to look up some of the other movies that she is in.  Fred Astaire plays his typical role as a jaded playboy who is looking for a woman who truly loves him with his usual panache, but lacking some of the biting wit and weakness in character that would have made him memorable and interesting.  Still, Fred Astaire is incomparable when it comes to dancing and it was wonderful to see him dancing side by side with George Burns and Gracie Allen so his talent could be fully appreciated.  Too often his skills are hidden by floating skirts and beautiful partners, but this time you can see him side-by-side-by-side so that it is immediately apparent how fabulous he was.  Reginald Gardiner was quite entertaining as Keggs, who appears to be a prim-and-proper butler on the surface, but has a weakness for operatic arias and will do anything that it takes to win the money in the pot, no matter how low the blow.  Montagu Love, who played Lady Alyce’s father Lord John Marshmorton, was a refreshing change from a typical, domineering father.  He loves his garden more than society and there are a few entertaining scenes where he mistaken for a lowly gardener while tending his beloved roses.  I loved that he wanted his daughter to make a true love match, however, and really liked him.  I found Joan Fontaine to be largely forgettable as Lady Alyce Marshmorton.  She has a few romantic scenes with Fred Astaire, but nothing of particular note.  Indeed, the best part of her roles is the continual references to the Lawrence Leap, which is a perilous jump off of a balcony to preserve a lady’s honor.  Other than that, she is a beautiful prop to move the story along and never finds a way to hold her own with the brash, outspoken American crew.

I stumbled across this movie on TCM late one night and had a fun time watching it, but I understand why it is not available on DVD.  I would not imagine that it is anyone’s favorite musical and all of the leads have been in other, more memorable films that made a great deal more money.  Still, this is a fun black-and-white musical from the 1930s, when films like this were very popular so they churned them out by the truckload.  I felt like this musical was so close to becoming something truly memorable, but it just did not quite execute on its promise.  A stronger storyline and perhaps a different ending would do a great deal to elevate this film.  Still, there are some moments that truly sparkle and made me happy that I took the time to watch it.  If you enjoy older musicals, especially those featuring Fred Astaire, you will want to keep an eye out for this one on TV.

Content:

This movie contains some scenes of drinking and smoking.  There are a few passionate embraces and chaste kisses.  Recommended for ages 6 and up.

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Heidi’s Song (1982) Movie Review

Heidi’s Song (1982)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Lorne Greene, Sammy Davis Jr., Margery Gray, Michael Bell, Roger DeWitt
Director: Robert Taylor
Release Date: 19 November 1982
Language: English
Length: 94 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: streaming on computer
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

When Heidi’s (voiced by Margery Gray) Aunt Dete (voiced by Virginia Gregg) abandons her at her grandfather’s (voiced by Lorne Greene) remote goat farm, Heidi is afraid that she will never find a place in the gruff old man’s heart.  At first, everything on the mountain is strange and frightening, but Heidi grows to love the mountain and her grandfather.  When her Aunt Dete suddenly appears to take her to Frankfort and become the companion to a young crippled girl, Heidi does not want to go, but her grandfather believes that it is a great opportunity for her and gives her up.  Heidi doesn’t fit in at the Sesemann’s house in Frankfort, but she quickly becomes friends with Klara (voiced by Pamelyn Ferdin), the parlormaid (voiced by Janet Waldo) and the coal delivery man (voiced by Michael Bell).  Unfortunately, she does not manage to make friends with Fraulein Rottenmeier (voiced by Joan Gerber) or Sebastian (voiced by Fritz Feld), the butler.  When Heidi gets in trouble for smuggling kittens into the house, they lock her in the basement with the rats and it is up to Peter (voiced by Roger DeWitt) and her animal friends on the mountain to rescue her!

Review:

This version of Heidi is a loose interpretation of the classic story, but I love watching it!  There are so many wonderful songs in this movie that it adds an extra touch to the film and the story.  I think my favorite is “Imagine” (seen in clip above), a song sung by Klara (voiced by Pamelyn Ferdin) as she dreams of walking and dancing in her very first ball with a handsome prince charming.  “Sunshine” is a song that beautifully expresses the grandfather’s (voiced by Lorne Greene) feelings for his beloved granddaughter, Heidi (voiced by Margery Gray).  Another charming song is “Christmas Day” as Heidi tries to persuade her grandfather that you can capture the feeling and spirit of Christmas on any day of the year.  There are several more songs that tell the story of a nightmare, express Fraulein Rottemeier’s (voiced by Joan Gerber) frustration with Heidi’s lack of social status, proclaim the superiority of rats (voiced by Sammy Davis Jr.), and tell the story of a boy struggling to ask out a girl he loves (voiced by Michael Bell).  I found that the songs were spirited and charming, though quite short.  They are by far my favorite part of the movie and, as you only have to go a few minutes before another song is sung, there was a lot for me to enjoy.  The musical score is also wonderful and has a very special feel and quality to it.  Young children will certainly enjoy singing along with Heidi’s character and have a fun time watching this short, eventful version of the movie classic.

The characters are pretty one-note in this movie, but I enjoyed the way that they were portrayed.  Heidi (voiced by Margery Gray) is a beautiful, active young girl who effortlessly makes friends with everyone she meets; grandfather (voiced by Lorne Greene) is a gruff, lonely man who has purposely isolated himself from everyone around him so that he won’t get his heart broken again; Aunt Dete (voiced by Virginia Gregg) is a fussy, town woman who definitely does not fit in the countryside; Fraulein Rottenmeier (voiced by Joan Gerber) is a painfully thin, unhappy woman who rules the Sesemann household with an iron fist; Sebastian (voiced by Fritz Feld) is a short, bald man who fawns over Rottenmeier and agrees with her on everything; Tinette (voiced by Janet Waldo), the lovely parlormaid, is madly in love with Willie (voiced by Michael Bell), the coal delivery man, but believes he is seeing another woman; Schnoodle (voiced by Frank Welker), Rottenmeier’s spoiled dachshund enjoys tormenting all of the local animals; Spritz, Heidi’s young goat on the mountain who adores Heidi; Peter (voiced by Roger DeWitt), grandfather’s goat herder who quickly becomes friends with Heidi; and Klara (voiced by Pamelyn Ferdin), an en enchanting, unspoiled wealthy young woman who is confined to her wheelchair, but lets her imagination run free.  All of them have terrific actors bringing them to life with their voice over talents and the animation is simple, but effective.  There are bright colors and fun dream-inspired sequences that allow a touch of the fantastical to enter in to the story.

I can remember watching this movie when I was a child and it still holds fond memories for me.  I know that some people have a difficult time watching this version as it does not hold true to the classic book version, but I think that the film still captures the feel of the story.  There are a lot of humorous moments in the movie that always make me smile that are sure to have your children giggling as they watch.  Even the villains of the piece, Rottenmeier and Sebastian are hilarious!  With a few spine-chilling, spooky moments, plenty of funny scenes and over-the-top characters, this version of Heidi is a surefire family pleaser.

Content:

I can remember watching this movie when I was a child and it still holds fond memories for me.  I know that some people have a difficult time watching this version as it does not hold true to the classic book version, but I think that the film still captures the feel of the story.  There are a lot of humorous moments in the movie that always make me smile that are sure to have your children giggling as they watch.  With a few spine-chilling, spooky moments, plenty of funny scenes and over-the-top characters, this version of Heidi is a surefire family pleaser.

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Thumbelina (1994) Movie Review

Thumbelina (1994)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Jodi Benson, Gino Conforti, Gary Imhoff, Charo, Gilbert Gottfried
Director: Don Bluth & Gary Goldman
Release Date: 30 March 1994
Language: English
Length: 86 minutes
Movie Rating: G
View Format: DVD
My Rating: 4/5 stars

Synopsis:

“From the antic mind of children’s film animator Don Bluth comes a new, musical take on an age-old classic by Hans Christian Andersen. Tiny Thumbelina (Jodi Benson) pines for someone her own size with whom to fall in love, and soon she meets a dreamy prince. But before they can get together, she’s kidnapped by a toad who wants her to marry her son instead. Will Thumbelina and the prince reunite? Carol Channing, Gilbert Gottfried and Charo co-star.” — Netflix.com

Review:

This is one of my favorite early non-Disney animated cartoons.  I think that the music is absolutely wonderful!  It is by far my favorite feature of the movie and I find myself going around humming the songs or singing them in my head.  I especially love the romantic ballad, “Let Me Be Your Wings,” but I find that kids enjoy the more upbeat numbers like “On the Road” and “Thumbelina.”  This animated movie is packed with memorable, fun characters that your children are sure to love.  From the adventurous Thumbelina (voiced by Jodi Benson) to the courageous Prince Cornelius (voiced by Gary Imhoff), from the Prince’s bumbling Bee steed to the French-narrator swallow (voiced by Gino Conforti), from the gloomy, love-stricken Toad (voiced by Danny Mann) to the blind Mole (voiced by John Hurt), and this is not including all of the bugs, the barn animals and so many more fun characters!  With bright, colorful characters and lots of action, this movie will definitely appeal to children of all ages – even little boys who don’t typically like traditional fairy tales!

The main thing that I do not love about this movie is the animation.  No matter how you try to slice it, this movie is just not as good because it cannot compare to the superior animation from Disney.  However, the team who created this movie got so many things right and are very close to being able to match Disney’s award-winning formulas of star-crossed lovers in a fairy tale with all kinds of memorable secondary characters, but this one is just not quite there for me. I love the colors and the overall golden tone to this film, but the characters feel fairly flat and are a bit too child-like for me.  It is okay that the characters appear younger and more child like (the chubby cheeks, the naivety, etc.), but then the subject should not be so focused on love and marriage as those, to me, are more appropriate for older characters.

Anyway, this is a lovely, fun older animated feature that you – and your children – may not be fully aware of and you should be as it is a lot of fun to watch and is very appealing.  Again, the music is wonderful and they have some amazing vocal talents in this movie so it is definitely worth a rental.  You can also regularly find this movie for sale for $5 – $10 and I feel like that it is worth that and more.  If you have little girls at home, you should seriously consider adding this movie to your collection as they will love it!

Content:

This movie features a few scary images and moments as Thumbelina is very small in relation to the world around her.  Young children will be able to relate to this, however, as they are so much smaller than the adult world surrounding them.  Thumbelina is kidnapped and several people try to force her into marriage.  She is also made fun of and has some narrow escapes.  Prince Cornelius gets into a few sword-fights with the villains, but no one ever dies on screen (they are injured and fall to disappear and stuff like that instead).  Appropriate for viewers of all ages, recommended for ages 3 and up.

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Second Chorus (1941) Review

Second Chorus (1941)

Movie Review by Debbie Winkler

Starring: Fred Astaire, Paulette Goddard, Artie Shaw, Burgess Meredith, Charles Butterworth
Director: H.C. Potter
Release Date: 3 January 1941
Language: English
Length: 84 minutes
Movie Rating: Not Rated
View Format: TV
My Rating: 3/5 stars

Synopsis:

Fred Astaire is a dancin’ fool for love in this Oscar-nominated musical comedy about trumpet-playing pals who compete for the affections of a beautiful woman. Musician buddies Danny (Fred Astaire) and Hank (Burgess Meredith) follow their friend Ellen (Paulette Goddard) to New York City when she’s hired as Artie Shaw‘s band manager. A string of comical mishaps ensues as Danny and Hank try to land spots in the band – and to win Ellen’s heart.” — Netflix.com

Review:

This is an old, black-and-white romantic comedy that I both liked and disliked.  Danny (Fred Astaire) & Hank (Burgess Meredith) are roommates and best friends who meet in college and formed a band called the Perennials.  They have no intention on graduating from college and having to actually work for a living, but they both graduate by mistake.  They are both competing to get into Artie Shaw’s band and to win the affections of the beautiful Ellen (Burgess Meredith), a former collection agency secretary.  They managed to get Ellen fired from her previous job and hired her to be their manager, but she ends up going to work for Artie Shaw (who plays himself in the movie) as she is really talented at what she does.  The friends will do absolutely anything – lie, cheat, steal, whatever it takes – to beat out the other guy and to win Ellen’s heart.  I can see that they were going for comedy here by the pranks that Danny & Hank play on each other, but some of them were not that funny to me.  Also, I guess I always realize that I am living in a completely different era as these cocksure, smooth-talking, lying pranksters/playboys are just not my cup of tea.  I couldn’t find myself on the side of Hank or Danny and found that I wouldn’t really have picked either of them or been able to stay friends with them after all of the anguish they caused me if I were Ellen!  Still, there were some funny moments and a few great dance sequences put on by Fred Astaire that were definitely worth watching.  I also loved Lester (Charles Butterworth), the wealthy, older gentleman who decides to back an Artie Shaw concert.  He was adorable and so funny in his role as a rather clueless bachelor who would believe anyone when it came to social matters and music.

The music in this movie is wonderful.  The real Artie Shaw Band is in the movie and, if you enjoy big band music, this is a movie not to be missed!  While Danny & Hank were able to break into the music world pretty easily (they had several miraculous connections and a few lucky breaks), I know that this was not the case for most musicians then or now.  They do show a few of the less-than-desirable jobs musicians take (singing & dancing in a folk ensemble or blowing the bugle at the horse races), but, as a whole, being a musician is shown as something glamorous and a get-rich-quick option.  There really are few songs with words in this movie so it is not your traditional musical, but it definitely focuses on music – almost to the exclusion of anything else!  The two leads are musicians, it is their life ambition to play trumpet in a great band, they girl they are both in love with is a music manager, all of the pranks they play involve music directly or indirectly and, of course, there are musicians playing almost the whole way through.  I felt that the music and the few dance numbers by Astaire definitely overshadowed the plot and the characters.

I thought this movie was a fun walk down the lanes of a bygone era, but it is not my favorite by Astaire and I did not really care for his character or most of the others in this movie.  Still, I had a fun time watching it and really enjoyed listening to the music.  If you have a chance to check out this movie on TV, as I did, I think you should check it out – just don’t expect a lot!

Content:

This movie shows smoking & drinking, a few sexual innuendos (very mild, mainly about people jumping to conclusions), and lots of silly pranks.  Recommended for ages 6 and up.

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Filed under Classic Movies, Comedy Movies, Historical Movies, Musicals, Romantic Comedy Movies