The Last Mimzy
Lumpy and misshapen like a dilapidated stuffed animal, "The Last Mimzy" is a kids movie that wants to be this generation's "E.T." but doesn't know how to get there. An arduous first act of forced character development maps out the identities of brother and sister Noah (Chris O'Neil) and Emma Wilder (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) who discover a magical black box filled with a strange rock, a seashell and an old stuffed rabbit called Mimzy. Mimzy is a time-travelling alien attempting to assist the kids in inventing a solution to pollution and disease before her race and humanity are wiped out. Noah and Emma suddenly gain phenomenal brainpower and set about inventing a time machine of sorts. The story continually stalls out amid dead-end plot diversions leading to an unsatisfying ending.
The film was adapted from Lewis Padgett's "All Mimsy Were the Borogroves."
Rated PG. 90 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
Bridge to Terabithia
Haphazardly adapted from Katherine Paterson's popular 1977 coming-of-age children’s book, "Bridge to Terabithia" is a problematic movie held together by its charming child actors. Josh Hutcherson plays Jess Aarons, a gifted artist and fast runner whose less-than-wealthy home life with four sisters and surly parents demands some kind of escape. Jess’ underdog life—he gets bullied at school—picks up considerably when new girl Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) moves into his rural area. The fledgling couple develops a sympathetic rapport enlivened by their fertile imaginations. The pair create an imaginary world called Terabithia in a nearby forest. Jess and Leslie build a treehouse that can only be accessed by crossing a raging creek on a rope swing, and it’s this crossing that brings tragedy into Jess’ comprehension of the world.
Rated PG. 94 mins. (C) (Two Stars)
Steve Buscemi's invigorating vocal characterization of Templeton the rat is the only high point in this sleep-inducing live action-animated revamp of the 1973 animated classic based on E.B White's 1952 children's book. The ever-insufferable Dakota Fanning plays Fern, the precocious little farm girl who saves the life of a runty pig she names Wilbur, who needs the exhaustive assistance of a kindly spider named Charlotte (voiced by Julia Roberts) in order to avoid ending up hanging upside down in the smokehouse. Everything about the movie is a rote retelling of the story set in a vaguely '50s era Americana where nothing happens that doesn't revolve around farm animals. Director Gary Winick ("Tadpole") never varies the film's dirge-like rhythm as he walks through the plot like he's passing around a collection plate at a late night church service.
Rated G. 96 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
Eric Knight’s beloved 1940 novel gets a Scottish 1938 setting where impoverished nine-year-old Joe Carraclough (Jonathan Mason) is forced to sell his loyal dog Lassie to the wealthy Duke of Rudling (played impeccably by Peter O’ Toole) for the Duke’s young granddaughter Cilla (Hester Odgers). But Lassie knows who her real master is, and repeatedly escapes from the Duke to return to Joe even after the Duke moves her to the far reaches of Northern Scotland. Writer/director Charles Sturridge adapts the heart-warming story with strict attention to its modest emotional underpinnings of family, devotion, and a beautiful collie.
Rated PG. 100 mins. (B) (Three Stars)
"Everyone's Hero" was Christopher Reeve's final film project and the simple story of a little boy who risks everything to restore order to his family's depression era existence is a well tempered and heartwarming animated children's movie. Christened "Yankee," after the baseball team for whom his father works as a custodian, our 10-year-old "hero" is an enthusiastic baseball fan whose abilities with a bat don't quite measure up to his celebrated name. When Yankee's dad is fired because the great Babe Ruth's baseball bat Darlin' (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) is missing from the clubhouse, Yankee hits the road to retrieve the stolen bat. Yankee gets more than a few life lessons on a journey that takes him to Chicago where Babe and the Yankees are playing out the 1932 World Series. William H. Macy, Rob Reiner, Joe Torre, and the late Dana Reeve lend their voices to the film's colorful characters.
Rated G. 88 mins. (B) (Three Stars)
Barnyard: The Original Party Animals
Criminal acts and scenes of brutal violence spoil the effect of "Barnyard" as an animated movie for tots. A mythical one-man-operated farm is the setting for a cavalcade of animals to party like it's 1999 whenever the farmer isn't looking. Elder cow Ben (Sam Elliott) is the elected leader of the farm animals and he dutifully protects them from the ever-attacking coyotes in search of their next meal. Ben's irresponsible son Otis (Kevin James) is forced to face up to his inherited role as barnyard leader when Ben is ravaged by the coyotes while Otis and the rest of the animals whoop it up in the barn. Writer/director/producer Steve Oedekerk ("Patch Adams") smuggles a pro-military subtext into the script that scuttles the already drooping narrative with a sandbag of burden. It's impossible to enjoy vocal performances by Danny Glover, Courteney Cox and Wanda Sykes because the movie is so skewed toward authoritarian attitudes and fear.
Rated PG. 95 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
"Monster House" may well be the first mainstream animated exploitation movie. Debut director Gil Kenan upgrades the creepy animation style of "The Polar Express" to a more apt genre of kiddie horror movie and renders a disturbing stew of gratuitous violence, funky sexual tension and lurking physical menace. Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler wrote the script and the evidence of too many chefs spoiling the narrative broth is apparent throughout the movie. A demonic mobile mansion sits in a normal suburban neighborhood across the street from DJ (Mitchel Musso) a curious little boy obsessed with documenting the evil actions of its notoriously vicious owner, the depraved Mr. Nebbercracker (Steve Buscemi). Emboldened by his best friend (Sam Lerner) and a cunning faux Girl Scout (Spencer Locke), DJ and his friends attempt to put the house to sleep with lots of cough syrup even after the rampaging building murders two local police officials. By the time the animated child characters are playing with dynamite to blow up the residence, some parents will have already escorted their children from the cinema.
Rated PG. 85 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
Under the clumsy direction of Kirk Jones ("Waking Ned Devine") Emma Thompson’s witch of a nanny—she sports a single eyebrow, two hairy warts and one overly long front tooth—mysteriously arrives at the unkempt household of widowed funeral director Mr. Brown (Colin Firth). Mr. Brown’s seven devilish children take pride in the speed with which they have scared off 17 prospective nannies with diabolical antics such as pretending to eat their infant sibling. With calm aplomb Nanny McPhee instills in the disobedient children her five lessons for well mannered child behavior while Mr. Brown searches for a wife within the one month timeframe that his late wife’s Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) has allowed him if she is to continue financing the oversized family. Rated PG. 88 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
Under the clumsy direction of Kirk Jones ("Waking Ned Devine") Emma Thompson’s witch of a nanny—she sports a single eyebrow, two hairy warts and one overly long front tooth—mysteriously arrives at the unkempt household of widowed funeral director Mr. Brown (Colin Firth). Mr. Brown’s seven devilish children take pride in the speed with which they have scared off 17 prospective nannies with diabolical antics such as pretending to eat their infant sibling. With calm aplomb Nanny McPhee instills in the disobedient children her five lessons for well mannered child behavior while Mr. Brown searches for a wife within the one month timeframe that his late wife’s Aunt Adelaide (Angela Lansbury) has allowed him if she is to continue financing the oversized family.
Rated PG. 88 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
Zathura: A Space Adventure
Based on the children’s book by author Chris Van Allsburg ("Jumanji" and "The Polar Express"), "Zathura: A Space Adventure" is an example of why "deus ex machina" is one of the seven deadly sins of screenwriting. Still, Jon Favreau shows confidence in the directing style of his third feature film (after "Made" and "Elf.") Ten-year-old Walter (Josh Hutcherson), his 6-year-old rival brother Danny (Jonah Bobo), and their teenage sister Lisa (Kristen Stewart) are spending divorce visitation time with their father (Tim Robbins). Danny discovers a ‘50s styled pressed-tin, wind-up board game called "Zathura." With daddy away on an errand, the boys begin playing the game that involves two racing tin rockets and a slot where cryptic message cards are ejected. A house-penetrating meteor shower initiates the children’s journey into outer space with their uprooted house, which serves as a spaceship where a defective robot, alien lizard creatures, and a Gen X astronaut stranger (Dax Shepard) conspire to appease the sibling rivalry between the brothers.
Rated PG. 101 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Tim Burton lovingly adapts Roald Dahl’s famous children’s novel to the big screen with visual splendor and a hyper sense of the book’s cautionary themes regarding poor parenting. Johnny Depp gives a contained performance, as the eccentric Willy Wonka, that dips into Austin Powers’s vocal inflection as he takes five children and their parents on a tour of his world’s most elaborate chocolate factory. Superfluous musical set pieces, performed by a chorus of little Oompa-Loompas (all played by the versatile Deep Ray), accompany the episodic attrition of bratty children as their transgressions expel them from being eligible for the grand surprise prize that awaits only one of them.
Rated G. 106 mins. (B) (Three Stars)
A foursome of digitally animated zoo animals escape the inner city confines of Manhattan’s Central Park Zoo in search of freedom that’s not be all it's cracked up to be in this well-defined children’s comedy. Ben Stiller voices Alex the egotistical lion to Chris Rock’s confident but anxious Marty the Zebra. Jada Pinkett Smith does gentle vocal honors as Gloria the Hippo. Along with Melman the Giraffe, the crew takes a wrong turn at Grand Central Station and ends up shipwrecked in Madagascar where Marty’s primal feline instincts threaten every living thing around him, including his best friends. Sacha Baron Cohen is exceptional as the voice of self-proclaimed lemur king Julien.
Rated PG, 86 mins. (B) (Three Stars)