The first segment is based on the classic and beloved story, The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. I remember reading the book and loving it as a child. I haven’t read it since then, but I think I will find a copy and remedy that. The Disney adaptation takes a fair number of liberties with the text, mixing up the stories and adding characters and scenes not found in the book.
This turns the story, which actually has a good ending to the book, into a slapstick adventure with no real ending. This is disappointing because Grahame did such an excellent job in the original tales. It is, however, pretty much how Disney was producing its films at the time. While I didn’t hate this adaptation, it never moved beyond mediocre.
The segment featuring the lanky and nasally-blessed Ichabod, based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, was better than the first segment, but only just. Ichabod Crane is the new school teacher for the quaint little town of Sleepy Hollow. Due to his unusual appearance, some of the townsfolk make fun of him, but he somehow catches the eye of the local beauty, Katrina.
This film contains some scenes which are still memorable, especially the tale of the Headless Horsemen, and Ichabod’s encounter with him near the end of the story. I remember watching this when I was much younger, and it was a terrifying scene. Even now, it retains some of that scariness.
The narrators for the two parts are each well known for different reasons. Basil Rathbone was a radio, film, television, and theatrical star who won multiple awards across his over 50-year career. His voice was instantly recognizable to the audience in 1949, and he was very well known for portraying Sherlock Holmes in a number of films. Bing Crosby, who narrated and sang in the Sleepy Hollow segment, was known for his dulcet tones on many an album and radio show.
Together, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is above average, but certainly not the best Disney has produced. It is worth getting, however, especially for the Sleepy Hollow segment, which is a great one to play around Halloween.
Release Date: October 5, 1949 (USA)
MPAA Rating: G
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (mild social drinking)
Sexuality: 0 (but a little flirting and eyelash-batting)
Violence: 2 (slapstick, gunfights, flaming pumpkin flinging, attempted beheading)
There is a likely reason why so many people didn’t enjoy the movie. Aside for the popularity of hating Twilight, Meyer’s better known creation, the premise is rather far-fetched: Earth has been occupied by parasitic aliens called “Souls”.
The Souls migrate from other planets in shiny little capsules. They insert themselves into the bodies of the dominant species, in this case us (phew!), completely replacing the consciousness of the host. Or so they thought. It seems that they haven’t encountered a species as willful as ours before, and many hosts aren’t so happy with the quaint utopia the aliens have brought to Earth.
The human rebellion’s ranks are dwindling, though, as the Souls spread out all over our planet. When rebel leader Melanie Stryder is captured, she fights the implantation in the only way she knows how: with attitude and snarky commentary. Her Soul is called “Wanderer” (Wanda for short) because apparently it is one of the oldest souls and none of the other billions of souls ever wandered. Slowly, Melanie starts to influence the actions of Wanda, and herein lies the strength of the movie.
Once you look past the somewhat silly premise with its flaws (for example, who implants the first Soul to arrive if it requires a team of them with host hands to manage the feat?), the story focuses on the characters. Creating compelling characters is Meyer’s strength.
When Wanderer/Melanie arrive at the rebel alliance stronghold somewhere in the Southwest, we have the painful reunion of Melanie’s body with her brother, and the painful reunion of Melanie’s body with her lover, Jared. Then to make things complicated, fellow rebel Ian takes a liking to Wanda, who likes him back despite Melanie’s protests. Meanwhile, the rebels struggle between liking Wanda, loving the memory of Melanie, and wanting to blow Wanda’s brains out. Can Wanda/Melanie bridge the gap and usher in a new era of understanding between the two species?
The film moves along at a steady pace, though slowly. It’s big on long, meaningful conversations, discussions about the importance of will and identity, and the angst star-crossed lovers experience when their bodies and minds just aren’t into the same guy. A lot of people hated it. Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 8% rating. Gosh, that’s really bad. We must not have watched the same movie.
I cared about the characters, aided by the strong performances of the actors, and I found the struggle of the surviving humans to maintain their free will believable. The relationships between the characters were a strength of the film, especially when the human experience was on display with its ugly and beautiful sides.
There was also a satirical bent to the movie, mocking our love for commercialism while reflecting it through the aliens’ eyes who embraced it, yet missed its meaning entirely. I laughed every time they shopped at the store called “Store”. Those Souls have a penchant for naming things obviously, but then we live on a planet called Earth so who are we to judge?
The Host was directed by Andrew Niccol, who co-wrote the script with Meyer. Niccol wrote The Truman Show (1998) and directed Gattaca, so fans of either of those movies may not find The Host on the same level, but it was by no means as bad as others will lead you to believe. Just assume that many people took their anti-Twilight sentiment into their viewing experience.
If you are looking for soft sci-fi for a Netflix night, and you like films about people who deal with feelings and the meanings of identity or the importance of will while beautiful people kiss each other, then you will likely enjoy The Host. Even if you don’t like romance, this film was good and I wouldn’t mind watching it again.
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (in the background)
Language: 2 (mild)
Sexuality: 2 (bareskin smoochin’. In fact, lots of smoochin’, but no nudity)
Violence: 3 (brutal violence, death, pools of blood)
The movie starts off with gorgeous nature scenes that gradually, gracefully coalesce into two tales that gradually (and not quite as gracefully) coalesce into one.
We have Prince Edward (Richard Chamberlain), heir to the throne of tiny, beleaguered Euphrania. His pragmatic parents want him wedded to a larger, richer, and better-armed ally, but Edward is a romantic who longs for love and mocks and grieves over the irony of his situation.
We have young Cinderella (Gemma Craven), who discovers that her recently-deceased father left everything to her stepmother. Her stepmother (Margaret Lockwood) allows Cinderella two options: to stay in her erstwhile-home as a servant, or be sent destitute to the nearest orphanage. Given those options, it’s somewhat understandable why Cinderella remains where she is.
An overworked fairy godmother (delightfully played by Annette Crosbie) improves Cinderella’s lot in life and orchestrates her chance to meet and fall in love with Prince Edward. And meet and fall in love they do. It’s sappy, but when you have two characters who, in their own ways, are each very love-starved, the typical love-at-first-sight is easier to swallow. The writers built up to it well.
Then the writers do something brilliant. Happy ever after? Nope. This is the midpoint of the movie. I really liked how this film addressed what would actually happen if a headstrong, romantic prince of a struggling small country insisted on marrying someone who, to the ruling classes, was basically invisible. In the end, yes, of course, there’s a happy ending. And, yes, by the time we get to it, it feels hurried and slapped-on. But there’s some darn good plot and some questions that a “lightweight” musical comedy was quite brave to address, before we get there.
The story isn’t the only good part of the film. Most of the actors were a joy to watch. Richard Chamberlain made a most charming prince. Gemma Craven brought a refreshing youthful vulnerability to Cinderella. The king and queen were delightful, the dowager queen a hoot, the man-at-arms John just the right balance of friendly subservience and incompletely-veiled envy, and the Royal Chamberlain such that you couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. The stepmother and stepsisters were jarringly over the top in an otherwise elegantly restrained movie, but I think that’s exactly what the director meant them to be.
The costumes were perfect. The costumers took fairly accurate period cuts and lines, then used colors and fabrics and trims and sequins (oh, the sequins!!) to make the costumes positively magical. Even if the movie were horrible (which it’s not), I’d still watch it repeatedly for the costumes.
Even the music was great fun. The tunes were catchy, the harmonies pleasant, and the lyrics surprisingly witty. I find myself wishing to see the stage version (yes, there is a stage version!) locally. I highly recommend The Slipper and the Rose. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable film.
Release Date: March 24, 1976 (UK)
MPAA Rating: G
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (some social drinking)
Violence: 1 (tantrums, threats of war)
Zarina is a pixie dust fairy who has a special talent and natural curiosity which leads her to discover multiple new colors of pixie dust (beyond the yellow and blue we already know about). After she causes problems due to her discoveries and refusal to stop experimenting, Zarina leaves Pixie Hollow. Skip to a year later.
During the Pixie Hollow Festival of the Four Seasons, Zarina returns, puts almost all the fairies to sleep with magical poppies, and then steals the blue pixie dust at the heart of the Pixie Dust tree. Tinker Bell and her regular crew see Zarina flying off with the blue pixie dust and set off in hot pursuit, following her to a pirate ship anchored off Skull Rock.
The best performance was Tom Hiddleston as James, the first mate on the pirate ship. He does an excellent job all throughout the film; he makes a great pirate. He and the other pirates want to use the pixie dust to make their pirate ship fly so they can swoop in on any unsuspecting port and get away just as easily. To that end, they’ve made Zarina their captain.
The music is nothing special this time around. Joel McNeely did a good job making sure it fit into the film, but none of the pieces were especially moving. It worked, but didn’t go beyond that.
The story was pretty standard fare, and not quite as good as in The Great Fairy Rescue or Secret of the Wings. There were a few spots where the pacing was a little off, as well, but they weren’t significantly noticeable and will likely be missed by most.
The animation was well done, and continues the trend in the series of becoming more detailed with each release. The textures on the fairy dresses are approaching realistic, and the skin textures are getting more varied and less plastic-like. I really love how the digital tools are getting so close to traditional media (and even surpassing them in many cases).
Overall, I enjoyed The Pirate Fairy. It isn’t my favorite of the series, but it’s still one kids are sure to enjoy, and so I recommend it as a fun family flick.
Release Date: April 2, 2014 (USA)
MPAA Rating: G
Violence: 1 (mild peril from the pirates, sword fights)
Several familiar characters return, most notably Steve Rogers/Captain America, Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Nick Fury, and Bucky Barnes. Anthony Mackie is a great addition to the cast, as Sam Wilson/Falcon, and (spoiler alert!) Robert Redford makes an outstanding bad guy, playing politician Alexander Pierce.
Rather than summarizing the film, I’ll jump right into what did and didn’t work well.
Generally, characters worked very well: New characters and returning characters meshed well. Casting was perfect. The characters—all the main ones and any secondary ones with enough screen time for it to be pertinent—had clear, credible motivations. Their individual strengths and weaknesses influenced their actions and the course of the story. I liked how the characters had to confront their weaknesses and make choices that changed them, over the course of the film, and I liked how choices—even good choices—had consequences that were not necessarily good for our heroes.
There were a couple of small holes and a couple of spots where I would’ve liked a bit more detail, but generally the plot was strong. It was clear, it didn’t waste time on superfluous red herrings, it didn’t try to be too complicated or grandiose. It was just good, solid superhero fare. Though the fight scenes got too frequent for my tastes (I like good, well-choreographed combat as well as anyone, but too many fights get a bit dull), there was generally a good balance of fight scenes and conversational, story/character-building scenes. The scene between Steve Rogers and an aged, frail Peggy Carter was simple and sad and completely beautiful.
My one beef with the plot was the handling of the Winter Soldier. I’m sure they didn’t want to give everything away, since this story seems likely to feed into the next Captain America movie, but for someone like me who never read the comic books and didn’t re-watch the first movie before viewing the second, the level of detail they offered left me confused. If a character is important enough to be featured in the film’s title, I think the character deserves enough focus and detail to satisfy viewers who might be new to the franchise.
I think my favorite parts of the film, though, were its themes. First, the whole movie was remarkably wholesome. I guess you get that with as refreshingly wholesome a character as Captain America, but I really appreciated how that trait was allowed to permeate the movie. Also, the movie asked—and, good for the film makers, did not completely answer—some tough questions about fear versus freedom and the prices of both.
I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s probably too intense and violent for young children, but should be interesting and enjoyable for everyone else.
Release Date: April 4, 2014 (USA)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (minor social drinking)
Language: 2 (occasional use of “s-word” muffled by battle noise)
Sexuality: 0 (nothing inappropriate—really, nothing. Have I mentioned I love the Captain America movies?)
Violence: 3 (lots of combat and explosions, main characters in intense peril)