Tag Archives: Children’s Films

Wholesome Adventures: A Review of Frozen II

Film poster for Frozen II. Image on poster is of Elsa using her powers to create ice against a purple background.Frozen II is the 2019 animated fantasy sequel to Frozen. It is about Elsa and Anna’s attempts to figure out the origin of Elsa’s magical powers and save their kingdom from being destroyed by the elemental spirits of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.

It isn’t strictly necessary to watch Frozen before checking out Frozen II, but I do highly recommend the first film in this series to anyone who loves the fantasy genre or animated films in general.

In order to avoid spoilers, I will only be discussing characters who were also in Frozen.

Characters

Idina Menzel as Elsa
Idina Menzel as Elsa

Elsa was the Queen of Arendelle and Princess Anna’s elder sister. She possessed magical ice powers whose origins were unknown. While she’d grown quite comfortable with using them, she had a deep longing to understand where they came from and why she had them.

Kristen Bell as Anna
Kristen Bell as Anna

 

Anna was the Princess of Arendelle and Elsa’s younger sister. She was deeply in love with her boyfriend, Kristoff. 

Josh Gad as Olaf
Josh Gad (right) as Olaf

Olaf was a sentient snowman created by Elsa’s magic who was first introduced in Frozen. He was as intelligent and silly as always.

Jonathan Groff as Kristoff
Jonathan Groff (centre top) as Kristoff

Kristoff was an ice harvester and Anna’s boyfriend. He was strong, loyal, and determined to help the people he cared about in any way he could.

Sven was his pet reindeer. He was a good reindeer.

My Review

Prepare yourselves for a story filled with wholesomeness and joy.

I love a good adventure that ramps up quickly in a storyline, so I was glad to see this film move so fast in the beginning. That snappy pacing was exactly what Elsa, Anna, Olaf, Kristoff, and Sven needed before setting off on their journey.

Yes, there was a brief summary of what happened in Frozen for anyone who isn’t familiar with this franchise. It was shared by Olaf and was as hilarious as it was accurate. As mentioned earlier, I think anyone who hasn’t seen the first film would have no trouble getting caught up to speed if they jumped straight into Frozen II. The nice thing about film series written for kids is that they tend to be pretty welcoming of new or distracted viewers, and this one was no exception to that rule.

Every sequel has to live up to the story that began that series. I had high expectations for Frozen II based on how much I loved Frozen. While this was a fun story, I thought it didn’t quite have all of the magic of the first one. Many of the jokes in it were references to things that happened in the first instalment, so they had to be explained for people just tuning into this series. I did find myself wishing the screenwriters had spent more time developing new, original jokes, especially when it came to characters that hadn’t been introduced previously. With that being said, I still enjoyed Frozen II and do recommend it.

Olaf was by far my favourite part of this film. Just like in Frozen, he was a regular source of amusement for both the audience and the other characters. His understanding of how the world works was childlike in certain ways and yet quite mature for a snowman of his age in others. I desperately wanted to include one of his jokes in this review, but I think it’s best if you discover all of them for yourselves.

If you need a lighthearted distraction for viewers of all ages, Frozen II is a good place to start.

Frozen II is available on Netflix and Apple TV. It is no doubt quickly attempting to catch up with Frozen and become available everywhere else in the known universe as well.

A  True Selfless Act Always Sparks Another: A Review of Klaus

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing science fiction, fantasy, and other speculative fiction films. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, The House with a Clock in Its WallsA Dog’s Purpose, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and Downsizing.

Film poster for Klaus. It shows santa with Jesper and a village child. Theyre surrounded by other characters who are looking at them with emotions ranging from adoration to annoyance. No content warning is necessary. I’d recommend this movie to viewers of all ages and backgrounds.

Klaus is a 2019 animated children’s film about a young, wealthy man named Jespen whose father sent him to a small, freezing cold town called Smeerensburg in order to establish a working postal office there.

I’ll leave it up to you to learn why his father decided to do this. It was something addressed in the opening scene, but it was so important to the plot that I’d rather not give away any hints about it.

Smeerensburg was a community filled with families who were feuding with each other. Their grudges were so enormous that none of the children were even sent to school lest they end up sitting next to the child of a family their parents hated. This meant that many of the young citizens of this town couldn’t read or write!

Needless to say, this wasn’t an easy assignment for Jespen. Luckily, his budding friendship with a toymaker named Klaus provided one bright spot in his new life.

 

Characters

Jason Schwartzman as Jesper
Jason Schwartzman as Jesper

Jesper was a postman who’d never actually finished postman school. He could be selfish at times, but he was also a creative and intelligent person.

J. K. Simmons as Klaus
J. K. Simmons (right) as Klaus

Klaus was the village carpenter who made toys that no one had ever played with. He was a deeply kind and generous man.

Rashida Jones as Alva
Rashida Jones as Alva

Alva was the town fishmonger who had originally trained to be a school teacher. Since it’s hard to teach an empty classroom, she’d been forced to change occupations and was not particularly happy about it. Her biggest wish at the beginning of this film was to move somewhere far away from Smeerensburg once she’d saved up enough money.

Needa Margrethe Labba
Needa Margrethe Labba as Márgu

Márgu was a Saami girl whose family lived on the outskirts of town. She did not speak English, but she did love visiting Jesper and playing with the other children.

 

My Review

I’m writing this review as someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas or enjoy the sentimentality of the holiday season, so what I’m about to say may come as a surprise: I loved this film!

Jesper was a wonderful protagonist. There was a lot of information about his backstory that I couldn’t include in this post for spoiler reasons, but he was a pretty well-rounded character…especially for something written for kids. I found it entertaining to see how he adjusted to life in dreary Smeerensburg. This wasn’t a cheerful place to live to say the least, and Jesper didn’t have a lot of experience in weathering unpleasant circumstances.

I also appreciated the lack of sentimentality (for the most part) in the story. Life in this community was hard for a lot of people, and the filmmakers showed as much of that as was appropriate for the age group they were marketing this towards. The fact that they managed to pull that off without including anything scary or too mature for kids to watch was impressive.

Honestly, some of the best scenes in this film were the ones that explained how the legend of Santa was formed.

For example, when and why did people first start believing that his sled was powered by flying reindeer? That question and many more were given funny, heartwarming answers that fit the tone of the plot perfectly. The photo near this paragraph gives a hint about another winter tradition that was explained in the plot, although that’s also something best left to each new viewer to discover for themselves.

A  true selfless act always sparks another.

Speaking of Santa, I’m guessing you can all guess which character he was in this tale. The storyline began long before he or anyone else knew what his destiny would be. There were so many lovely hints about who he was becoming along the way. I’ve never seen a story that focused on his origins before, so it was a ton of fun to check this one out.

The quote I shared above and in the title of this post came from this character. He had a lot of wise things to say, but this was my favourite line from him. It captured the essence of this film beautifully. Smeerensburg had so many problems that fed into each other that it was hard for the people who lived there to imagine how anything could change.

I really liked the idea of focusing on small things individuals could do to make the lives of others better without expecting anything in return. That’s the sort of philosophy that I think would make the world a better place if it were followed by everyone.

There were plenty of humorous moments as well. While the message itself was a serious one, the characters had no problem cracking jokes to suit every age group. I enjoyed that mixture of serious and silly content.

This was one of those children’s films that I’d recommend just as highly to adults. Watching it was a wonderful experience.

Klaus is available on Netflix.

Second Chances: A Review of A Dog’s Purpose

Last year I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain speculative fiction films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, Astraea, and The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

Content Warning: animal mistreatment and animal deaths. I will only briefly mention those aspects of the plot, and this will otherwise be a spoiler-free review. 

A Dog’s Purpose is a 2017 modern fantasy film about a dog named Bailey who was reincarnated mutiple times during his quest to find his original owner. It is based on a book by the same name.

The fantasy elements of this tale are light and contemporary. Think something closer to the magical realism genre than Lord of the Rings.

The Characters

There are quite a few characters in this film I can’t discuss without giving away spoilers because of the episodic nature of Bailey’s lifetimes. Every time he was reborn, he met a new cast of characters who taught him important lessons about what it means to be a good dog and to live a worthwhile life.

For the record, I discuss characters in the past tense in all of my film reviews in order to avoid giving my audience any spoilers for films that don’t involve reincarnation. Don’t read anything into it other than that if you happen to check out previous reviews at the top of this post.

Josh Gad as the voice of Bailey

Bailey was the main character of this story. He was an optimistic and friendly dog who looked for the good in everyone he met. With that being said, his personality changed a little bit from one lifetime to the next. There was always something likeable about him, but to my surprise he didn’t have the same quirks, habits, or preferences in every lifetime.

Dennis Quaid (right) as Ethan

Ethan was Bailey’s first owner and the first person to treat this dog with all of the love and the kindness he deserved. They originally met when Ethan was a child, and they spent many happy years together at the beginning of their friendship. The emotional bond between them was something that even death itself couldn’t break.

My Review

Let’s talk about the content warning I added for this review before discussing anything else about it. As I mentioned earlier, this tale follows one dog through several different lifetimes. Some of the lives he experienced were not happy ones, and there were scenes that showed him being mistreated by the humans around him. Since this was a children’s movie, none of those scenes were long or particularly graphic.

The difficult chapters of this dog’s existence were sugar-coated at times for the sake of the audience. I’d be happy to go into more detail about this part of the plot privately with anyone with needs more information before deciding to watch it, but I didn’t have trouble with it even though I’m generally sensitive to this sort of content. It was handled gracefully.

Bailey (right) in one of his earlier lifetimes.

One of the most interesting things about A Dog’s Purpose for me was seeing all of the changes to Bailey’s personality from one life to the next. Despite having the same soul, he evolved every time he was reincarnated.

To give one example, he was an active, energetic dog in some lifetimes and perfectly content to sit on the couch with his owners and watch television in others. I’ll leave it up to all of you to discover the reasons why he didn’t behave exactly the same way in every incarnation he experienced, but I did enjoy what the screenwriters were doing with these shifts in his temperament. They were all explained well.

There were times when I found this film a little too sentimental. This may have been due to the age group it was written for, but I would have preferred to see a more pragmatic approach to his journey in certain scenes. Bailey’s goal was a lofty one for a dog, and there were instances when it would have been nice to for him to run up against some more obstacles while he tried to find Ethan again.

With that being said, I was intrigued by the thought of a dog trying to figure out the meaning of life for his species. It wasn’t something I’d expect a canine narrator to think about, so it was interesting to see how he came up with his theories about why he kept being reborn and what he was expected to do with all of his lives.

This was a mostly lighthearted and uplifting movie that I’d recommend to kids and adults alike. Despite the occasionally sappy moments, I did enjoy seeing what Bailey’s various lives were like and how he made the best of each one of them.

 

A Dog’s Purpose is available on Netflix and iTunes.

My Review of The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Earlier this year, I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, CocoWinchester, The Little Stranger, and Astraea.

This is a spoiler-free review. 

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a 2018 American fantasy film based on John Bellairs 1973 novel by the same name. While it was written for a middle grade audience, I think adults would enjoy it, too.

This story was set in New Zebedee, Michigan in 1955. A ten-year-old boy named Lewis was recently orphaned, so he was sent to Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan.

The interesting thing about Lewis and Jonathan was that they didn’t seem to have any sort of relationship before the opening scene of this film. It made me wonder why he’d been selected as Lewis’ guardian! There was a reason for that, but you’ll have to watch it to find out.

While most of my aunts and uncles lived far away from the communities I grew up in, I did see all of them at least occasionally while growing up. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to go from not knowing a relative at all to being raised by them.

I liked the fact that the characters acknowledged how odd that transition was before diving into what Uncle Jonathan was capable of as a warlock and what was really going on in his magical, clock-filled home.

There wasn’t one clock in Uncle Jonathan’s house, there were dozens – or maybe even hundreds – of them. The vast majority of them were perfectly ordinary and were only capable of telling you what time it was.

Yet there was one magical clock hidden somewhere in the house that had the power to end the world. If Jonathan couldn’t find it soon, the bad guy might beat him to it.

The Characters

Owen Vaccaro as Lewis Barnavelt.

Lewis, the protagonist, was a bookish and intelligent 10-year-old boy whose parents had recently been killed in an automobile accident. He was sent to live with his uncle after their deaths.

Jack Black as Jonathan Barnavelt

Jonathan, a quirky bachelor, was Lewis’ uncle and guardian. He worked as a warlock and was quite good at his profession. While he had good intentions when he took in his nephew, he knew absolutely nothing about raising children. Some of the funniest scenes in this film showed what happens when someone who doesn’t understand anything about children attempts to parent one.

Cate Blanchett as Florence Zimmerman

Florence was an old and dear friend of Jonathan’s who lived next door to the Barnavelts. She was sensitive, caring, and by far the most intelligent character in this tale. I’d love to see a spin-off about her someday.

Kyle MacLachlan as Isaac Izard

Isaac was the antagonist in this story, but I can’t share anything about his backstory without giving away spoilers. Like Florence and Jonathan, he had developed the ability to perform various types of magic.

Colleen Camp as Mrs. Hanchett

Mrs. Hatchett was the nosy, grumpy neighbour who spent a great deal of her time spying on the Barnavelts and complaining about all of the strange things that can happen when one lives in a magical household.

My Review

One of the many clocks in Jonathan’s home.

I loved the humour of this film. Yes, it was written for a preteen audience, so there were the obligatory bowel movement and other body fluid jokes you’d expect for this age group. There were other scenes that were clearly written for adult viewers, though, and I don’t mean that in an x-rated sort of way at all. Instead, the storytellers showed how easy it is to make mistakes when you have no parenting experience and have suddenly found yourself raising a grieving 10-year-old.

That might not seem like good fodder for a joke, but it strangely was. I had so much compassion for Uncle Jonathan even while I laughed at his sometimes incredibly odd ideas about how a child of that age should be treated and how much influence they should have over stuff like what they eat for dinner or when they go to bed.

Jack Black’s goofy persona was the perfect fit for who Uncle Jonathan was, but I was also impressed with how this actor handled the more serious scenes Uncle Jonathan eventually experienced. He brought a lot of depth to a character that could have easily been written as nothing but fodder for comedy.

This picture-perfect casting repeated itself with everyone else in this film. Every actor was well-suited for his or her role, including the supporting characters who didn’t necessarily have a lot of screen time but who still managed to make their roles memorable. I always enjoy finding films that pay such close attention to matching actors to the roles that they play.

Be sure to pay close attention to what’s going on in the background of the scenes. Occasionally there are surprises lurking where you might least expect them, and I loved picking them out.

While I know that this movie was based on something that was written in the 1970s and set in the 1950s, I was disappointed with the gender-based insults that wereso carelessly thrown around in it. There were several times when Uncle Jonathan made sexist comments that made me wince. They were supposed to be written in the context of him having playful banter with another character, but I don’t personally see anything amusing about using gender-based slurs as a retort. As much as I enjoyed the plot itself, these scenes dampened my urge to recommend it to others without warning them about it first.

It would be one thing if those terms somehow played an important role in understanding the context of the storyline and the world in which it was set. I do not think that every potentially offensive reference should be edited out of classics when they are retold for modern audiences, but I do believe there’s something to be said for updating non-critical parts of a story that are understood in a completely different light now than when they were originally written. This was a case where those terms could have easily been been exchanged for non-sexist insults instead.

I like to end all of my reviews on a positive note, so the last thing I’ll say about The House with a Clock in Its Walls is that it was quite creative. It blended the wonders (and occasional frustrations) of childhood beautifully with the many references it included to more serious, adult topics like how to deal with grief or what it truly means to be a family. This is the sort of film that can be enjoyed by kids and grown-ups alike in my opinion.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is available on iTunes.