51 posts categorized "Children's Cinema"

April 30, 2016



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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Ripe with allegorical possibilities (relating to the political aspects of belle epoch industrialism in America, the hollowness of organized religion, the importance of domestic over foreign policy, and the unreliability of authority figures), “The Wizard of Oz” is a beloved children’s coming-of-age film that strikes a universal chord with all audiences.

Based on L. Frank Baum’s 1900 children’s novel (“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”), which begat 13 novel sequels and a popular Broadway musical, the film has become a right of passage for children around the world. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced the picture in response to the success of Walt Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937).


Not only was it the most expensive film MGM had made to date, its production claimed the attention of three consecutive directors (Richard Thorpe, George Cukor, and Victor Fleming) before King Vidor was brought in by producer Mervyn LeRoy to put the finishing touches on the film.

Nonetheless, Victor Fleming is the director of record. Arriving on the heels of the Great Depression in 1939, the fantasy musical failed to make back its enormous production costs upon its initial release. It would be a decade later, during its first rerelease that “The Wizard of Oz” made good on its box office promise. It did so with a vengeance.  

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The advent of Technicolor allowed the filmmakers to perform one of the greatest surprises in cinema history. After an extensive 20-minute first act, set in beige sepia-tone, Dorothy (played by Judy Garland), an adopted farm girl from Kansas, steps into the primary-color-filled world of Oz. The startling effect of going from black-and-white to color still packs a punch.

Audiences at the time felt as if they had been jettisoned into a previously unknown realm of lush fantasy. No amount of theatrical staginess can detract from the dreamlike experience of watching Judy Garland’s wide-eyed Dorothy making fast friends with a “good” witch, a squeaky man made of tin, a floppy scarecrow, and a man in a lion suit.

With the good witch’s instruction to “follow the yellow brick road, Dorothy teams up with the scarecrow, the tin man, and the lion on a search for a unique aspect that each one is missing. The “Cowardly Lion” (Bert Lahr) needs courage. The scarecrow (Ray Bolger) wants a brain, and the Tin Man desires a heart. Dorothy desperately wants to get back home.

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Dorothy is an orphan whose emotional baggage is her greatest obstacle. There’s more than a little irony in the nature of her dream-journey as it returns her to waking life with the repeated phrase, “there’s no place like home.” It is a sentiment that reaches across all boarders and touches all people. American country music is built on that exact theme.

As thick with metaphors as any Shakespeare play, “The Wizard of Oz” is the greatest children’s movie ever made, and that probably ever can be made. From the green-skinned evil witch to the trio of singing “lollypop kids,” the movie ignites your imagination with quirky surreal elements that embed in your DNA. It is a film that changes its viewer forever after.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

January 06, 2016



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal! Your generosity keeps the reviews coming!

Cole Smithey on Patreon


Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki’s divinely imaginative display of madcap surrealism is virtuosic in this episodic coming of age classic. Incredible attention to details of animated visual elements such as deep perspective, fog, smoke, and fire, inform the film’s contrasting elements of realism and absurdist thought that pull in various thematic directions at once.

Miyazaki’s similar devotion to the minutiae of human behavior, as exhibited by a young girl on an odyssey of outrageous fantasy, lends the picture an emotional anchor of empathy. When the little girl runs into a wall at the bottom of a long stairway, we feel it. Regardless of how crazy things get (witness three dancing severed green male heads that transform into a giant baby boy), we are comforted by Miyazaki’s best intentions. Freud would have a field day with this ingenious filmmaker’s twisted nightmare sensibilities.

The picture takes on an epic quality.


Significant to the film’s English translation release is Pixar director John Lasseter’s championing of the family movie to Walt Disney Pictures. Lasseter hired a producer, screenwriters, and talent to translate “Spirited Away” for the Western palate. The effect is a seamless English translation of the original Japanese version that nonetheless retains all of Hayao Miyazaki’s thought-provoking intent, and wonderful sense of humor and surprise.

Chihiro Ogino (voiced by Daveigh Chase) is a 10-year-old Japanese girl, sulky at her parents’ decision to move the family to a new town. Whiny Chihiro needs to learn some trial-by-fire lessons in discipline that her parents aren’t giving her. The girl’s powerful imagination provides just the vehicle for such a transformation into a young adult.

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En route their new house, dad takes a “short-cut” leading to a disused theme park that Chihiro’s irresponsible parents insist on exploring with their daughter in tow. Unperturbed by the lack of any other people in or around the park, mom and dad seize the opportunity to gorge themselves on a cornucopia of fresh meats inexplicably displayed at the park’s only open shop. All these two want to do is consume as much food as possible. Dad insists he will pay the bill whenever, if ever, it comes. Miyazaki’s sideways commentary on Japanese society runs deep and personal.

Satire bubbles throughout the storyline involving shenanigans at an exotic bathhouse for spirits who are typically more evil than good. The film’s innumerable caricatures are revealed in bizarre forms born of Miyazaki’s wicked vision. Ralph Steadman has nothing on Miyazaki in the department of the abstract grotesque.

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All rational thought flies out the window as mom and dad are transformed into giant pigs before Chihiro’s eyes. The same weird voodoo that robs Chihiro of her parents’ ability to look after her, introduces her to a boy named Haku (voiced by Jason Marsden). Haku is a dragon spirit, which means that he transforms into a giant white flying dragon.

The phallic imagery is intentional. Chihiro has something to long for, other than merely her parents’ liberation from their incarnation as unrecognizable swine. Haku's flying abilities (in dragon form) allow for Miyazaki's signature flying sequences to take your breath away. This is big spectacle animation as only Miyazaki can deliver. The author-director handles the tempo and nuance of the flight sequences is ever so delicately to give the sense of the liberation of flight.

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Haku instructs Chihiro to ask for a job in the bathhouse. Haku may not the most reliable counselor, yet Chihiro follows his confident command. Once hired by the establishment’s giant-headed witch Yubaba, Chihiro is at liberty to interact with the bizarre spirit creatures that visit the baths to cleanse their bodies and souls. The shocks and lessons that Chihiro receives, matures her into a young adult, able to see beyond the limitations of her parents, and also her own.  

Rated PG. 125 mins.

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

Cole Smithey on Patreon

June 11, 2015


Tomorrowland Hollywood hastens its entropic slide with a dystopic children’s story that lacks cohesion, logic, and even style. Audiences believing George Clooney’s barely-seen presence in the movie will elevate it are in for a letdown. The same rule applies to director Brad Bird (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”) who seems to have been asleep at the wheel. Even the film’s pro-ecology theme gets muddled beyond recognition due to a litany of plot, character, and dialogue failures. “Tomorrowland” is a poster-child for everything wrong about Hollywood in 2015. How its by-committee script (it was written by four screenwriters) ever got greenlit for production is a mystery. Heads will roll at Disney.

The Disney-brand-aggrandizing plot centers on a futuristic theme park (a la Space Mountain) whose cement-poured surfaces of curved lines create a hermetic atmosphere of cultish aspiration.

Tomorrowland2In flashback we see the child version of Clooney’s character Frank Walker attempting to impress the powers-that-be (namely Hugh Laurie) at the 1964 New York World’s Fair with his self-made jetpack. It doesn’t actually work, but it looks nice in a retro steampunk way. The seemingly good thing that comes of Frank’s experience is meeting Athena (Raffey Cassidy) a slightly older flirt who gives Frank a button pin with a “T” (you know, for “Tomorrowland). The button has special powers that transport Frank to (you guessed it) Tomorrowland, a place you could describe as a culture-vacuum.

The movie abruptly switches gears to follow Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a twentysomething girl who also came into possession of a Tomorrowland button at the hand of Athena. The method to Athena’s madness comes didactically clear in the film’s pasted-together climax involving some call-to-arms pap about young people rising up to repair the toxic sins of their predecessors that are killing the planet.

“Tomorrowland” is an ideal summer movie if you objective is to get an air-conditioned nap at a handy cinema. Sadly, the movie isn’t much good for anything else.

Rated PG. 130 mins. (D) (One Star - out of five/no halves)


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