Synopsis: After enjoying big Easter and Passover meals, the Reel Guys like to treat the family to a good movie. Because there are as many different kinds of family movies as there are colours on the most psychedelic Ukrainian Easter egg, this week the guys have a look at their favourites. From the big screen to rentals for the small screen they choose movies that will put an extra hop in your step this weekend.
Richard: Mark, if you’re planning to take the kids out to the movies this weekend, there are two recent family flicks that deserve to be seen on the big screen. The Lego Movie is possibly the weirdest, most psychedelic kid’s entertainment since H.R. Pufnstuf, but it is also one of the best films of the year so far, kid’s movie or not. Then there is Mr. Peabody & Sherman, a big animated film inspired by a time travelling segment from the TV show Rocky and His Friends. It’s the only kid’s movie with an Oedipal joke and the kind of children’s movie that I think parents and kids will enjoy, but probably for completely different reasons.
Mark: Richard, so far The Lego Movie is the most exciting movie of the year, family or otherwise, but it should be noted that it, too, has a strong Oedipal theme in it. As a father of a three-year-old, I’m never quite sure what family entertainment means; what’s appropriate for my little boy is different than what might entertain an eight-year-old. Pretty much anything animated works for all ages, but then it gets complicated. And gender plays a role in choosing the right flick, too. Young girls love The Wizard of Oz, but young boys, not so much. But you never know. My little one loves Frozen, just out on DVD, even though it might seem “girly” to some.
RC: People love Frozen. I’m not one of them, but there is no arguing with the success of that movie. I’m more on side with Despicable Me II, which I thought was great fun despite its predictable plot. The story of chrome-domed former bad guy Gru’s (Steve Carell) working with the Anti-Villain League could have written itself, but the inventive gags contained within are the reason the whole family will enjoy the movie. There are lots of fun characters, but it’s really all about the Minions — Gru’s yellow, jelly-bean-shaped helpers — who spice things up with their own special kind of anarchy. Speaking in gibberish, they’re fun and more than worth the rental.
MB: Despicable Me II is a treat but my little guy deemed it “too scawy”. But I look forward to a family viewing of E.T. — the greatest family movie ever. Young or old, boys or girls, who doesn’t love the tale of that lovable little alien? Also on my eventual DVD queue would be Gremlins and even Home Alone. Kids love movies with kid heroes.
RC: Speaking of kid heroes, the adaptation of the classic Maurice Sendak children’s book Where the Wild Things Are isn’t a movie for kids as much as it is a movie about being a kid. Max is the hero, a lonely kid who goes to where the wild things are. It’s a slow moving, simple film about deep feelings. It’s not a slick, brightly coloured kid’s film with a connect-the-dots plot and an easily digested moral, but it is a magical movie.
MB: I never got the appeal of the movie or the book, but maybe I’ve been missing something. But here’s an idea: Sit down with the family and watch A Hard Day’s Night. Everyone loves The Beatles, and this is the pop group in full cheeky-cute mode. Their rock songs from 1964 sound a lot like kids music today, with their melodic hooks and innocent lyrics.
“The Lego Movie” is possibly the weirdest, most psychedelic kid’s entertainment since “H.R. Pufnstuf.”
Released by a big corporation—Warner Bros—and based on one of the world’s most popular toys, it manages to feel as though a kid who threw away his Lego kit’s instructions and snapped the blocks together in random, fun ways made it.
When we arrive at the Lego universe it is ruled by the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), a tyrant obsessed with perfection and conformity. In his world the radio pumps out perfect pop sings like “Everything is Awesome,” and a group of robotic “micro-managers” ensures that everything is just so.
To guarantee the world he has created from interlocking bricks stays just the way he wants it, he has a plan to spray the entire thing—Lego people and all—with Kraggle, a super glue that will permanently paste everything it touches into Lord Business’s idea of excellence.
When Emmet (Chris Pratt), a Lego figure who was invisible in life, stumbles across the “piece of resistance” he becomes The Special, the greatest Master Builder in the universe, jopining a group that includes Batman (Will Arnett), a pirate named Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and Green Lantern (Jonah Hill).
With the help of the Master Builders, a loopy wizard named Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) a tough young woman with a sensitive side, Emmet must break free of the chains of conformity and defeat Lord Business.
The first thing you notice about “The Lego Movie” is the look. It’s computer-animated but looks like stop-motion. The film’s handmade composition isn’t slick, but it is playful, which is a perfect compliment to its Lego origins. (It should be noted, however, that the movie in no way plays like a commercial for the toys.) From the crude Lego flames to the awkward way the characters move, the movie is completely consistent in its vision of a Lego world.
The second thing you’ll notice is how off the wall the story is. It’s not just off-the-wall, it’s off-the-planet. Directors and co-writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have taken the movie’s credo of battling against conformity to heart and made a big budget studio movie that bends all the rules. At its heart it’s a simple hero journey, a primal story about good against evil, but frenetic storytelling and inventive twists in almost every scene add a richness that belies its humble toy story origins.
It may be a bit too hectic at times—blame video game influence for that—and a titch too long for little ones with short attention spans, but the overriding message of dancing to your own beat combined with an unexpected and touching live-action section make “The Lego Movie” far more than an exercise in nostalgia for parents who grew up creating worlds from little plastic blocks or a way to sell more toys to a new audience. Instead it’s a wildly entertaining movie that uses the toys as a muse, and does what the toys have always done, light imaginations on fire.
Without Sid and Marty Krofft the ’60s and ’70s would have been much less colorful. The brothers produced trippy Saturday morning kids’ shows like Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Lidsville and H.R. Pufnstuf. They were mind-bending romps with wild fluorescent puppet characters that looked like hip castoffs from McDonald’s-land and a psychedelic sensibility that had more to do with Reefer Madness than Captain Kangaroo.
Not that I knew that at the time. Later when I realized H.R’s surname was pronounced “puffin’ stuff” the hallucinogenic humor of the show made (slightly) more sense.
The Kroffts were best known for their insane puppet shows, but among their other credits were fantasy series like Land of the Lost, which gets the big screen treatment this weekend. If it’s a hit expect more shows from the Krofft vault to make the leap to theatres.
“I think a number of our titles are conducive to film,” says younger brother Marty, “Like Lidsville, Electra Woman and Dyna Girl; I know there is a big star that wants to be Electra Woman.”
This isn’t the first time the Kroffts have dabbled in film. In 1970 the brothers produced a theatrical version of the H.R. Pufnstuf television show. Simply titled Pufnstuf, it centred around Jimmy (Jack Wild), his magical talking flute, Freddy, and Jimmy’s old foe Witchiepoo (Billie Hayes) who tries to steal the flute and win the Witch of the Year Award.
It’s not Dostoevsky, but Witchiepoo and her Vroom Broom is worth a search on YouTube. (If they bring Pufnstuf back to the big screen Marty already knows who he wants to play Witchiepoo. “How great would Johnny Depp be as Witchiepoo?” he says.)
If Pufnstuf was Cheech and Chong for kids their next movie was John Waters-lite.
Shot in 1978, Side Show is a demented little flick that didn’t see the light of day until 1981. Directed by William Canon Conrad this strange piece of celluloid is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a circus.
The Kroffts and Conrad almost outdo Tod Browning’s Freaks, bringing together a collection of actual side show performers to add a sense of eccentric authenticity to the picture.
Side Show was a flop, but that didn’t slow down the brothers. They have been producing television and movies for almost five decades with no end in sight. As Disney chief Michael Eisner said, “The Kroffts always have one more show in them.”