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Showing posts with the label Musical

Elf Pets: Santa's St. Bernards Save Christmas (2018), A Fox Cub's Christmas Tale (2019), Santa's Reindeer Rescue (2020)

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I want to start by saying upfront: you should discourage your kids from watching these. I'm not joking. And I'm not saying that because these are awful - they are, but that's the least of their problems. These specials cross a line between obnoxious and inappropriate in how they market their toys to kids. I'm not just talking about using animation as an extended ad, either -- this goes way beyond GI Joe or Transformers. GI Joe never explicitly told kids owning their crap would help save Christmas; these specials - all three  of these specials - quite literally convey that message. You want Santa's sleigh to fly? Help by "caring for" one of these three magic toys. I am not exaggerating. I don't recall ever seeing a show or special do anything like this before. With that out of the way, let's talk about the specials themselves, or rather the specials as a group. While all three contain unique characteristics, the overall concept and structure is iden

An Elf's Story: The Elf on the Shelf (2011)

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I'm torn on this. On one hand, this is a cheap ad for Elf on the Shelf, poorly disguised as an animated special. But on the other hand, it's so badly made, I think it actually may have contributed to the downfall of the brand, which is unquestionably a benefit to humanity. The special's protagonist is Chippy, an elf assigned a very important mission to help a boy recover his belief in Christmas. The boy, Taylor, hasn't undergone any sort of hardship or anything, and aside from being kind of a dick around his younger sisters, isn't a bad kid or anything. So the stakes here are pretty damn low. This is just about Santa sending one of his minions to police the beliefs of a random upper-middle-class kid. That's it. Chippy arrives in an Elf on the Shelf box, along with the stupid book, because we're really selling the hell out of the illusion any of this counts as Christmas lore. The family reads the book together, and we get the basic rules: the elf flies back t

The Fairies: Christmas Wishes in Fairyland (aka Christmas Carols in Fairyland, 2009)

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Wow. It took us a surprisingly long time to confirm the information in that title. Another from our stash of random DVDs bought from clearance bins, this... film? Extended episode? DVD special? is part of an Australian children's franchise that apparently started with some direct-to-video specials, then got recast, rewritten, and prettied up (by WETA) to launch a full television series, a longer series of direct-to-DVD movies, a program for ballet schools, and probably some stuff I'm missing.  Both generations of this property did a Christmas movie, but this is the later one with more professional production values. The fact that we weren't sure about that until after some thorough research tells you something about what a low bar "more professional" is in this case.  I don't love to hate on low-budget kids' stuff, but this is very strange, and not really in a good way. The actors are giving it a lot of energy and drive, even though they all seem like peop

Robin Robin (2021)

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Has animation ever looked this cuddly before? I know there has been other stop-motion work in felt, but this is simply exceptional. A new musical holiday special from Aardman Animations and Netflix, Robin Robin is available on Netflix, and it's just so dang adorable! The whole thing is animated with fluffy soft felted characters, and the artistry on display is amazing. The premise is simple: a robin has been raised by mice. The business of mice is to sneak into human houses to steal food. During the first of many delightful songs, it quickly becomes clear that Robin's chirpy, fluttery nature doesn't lend itself to sneaking, but she doesn't understand why it goes wrong for her.  This is a sweet special. There isn't anything unexpected about the resolution, but the humor and music ensure that the ride is thoroughly enjoyable. I'm going to sum up the rest of the plot below, but if you like stop-motion animation or musicals or all-ages media (or all three, like me),

Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square (2020)

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The problem with movies like Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square is that, once you watch them, you invariably find yourself in the position of having to write a scathing review of something created by and starring Dolly Parton, who is a national treasure. When we started watching this, we did so hoping - praying, even - that it would be fantastic, and that we'd be able to sing its praises. And, for what it's worth, there are good aspects to this movie. Christine Baranski plays the lead role, and she's amazing. Hell, it might be worth watching this for her alone. In addition, there are some good musical numbers and even more good musical moments. They got a cast who could sing, and it paid off. And for all the issues I'll have with the writing in a moment - just wait for it - this was structured the way a musical should be structured. The songs (or at least the vast majority of them) serve a purpose in the narrative, either moving the story forward, exploring char

Babes in Toyland (1934)

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This is the third version of Babes in Toyland we've looked at here, and - in my opinion - probably the best of the bunch. Note I didn't say it was good , only that it was better than the 1961 Disney musical or the 1986 made-for-TV movie starring Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves . This one stars Laurel and Hardy, and is easily the weirdest of the bunch. Unlike the later adaptations (or the source material), the movie is almost entirely set in Toyland. Only the last act ventures outside its borders, and even then just barely. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The story is... uh... Well, that's kind of where things get complicated. The central conflict is built around Bo Peep and Tom-Tom planning to get married, but having to contend with Silas Barnaby, a cruel landowner threatening to evict Bo Peep's mother if Bo Peep doesn't agree to marry him. But here the thing - none of them are really the main characters. Instead, the main characters are Stannie Dum and Ollie

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

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We wanted this to be good. I mean, obviously we want everything we watch to be good because it makes for a more enjoyable couple of hours, but Jingle Jangle is a fantasy musical Christmas adventure where most of the cast is black. I'm assuming part of the reason this was made was so kids could have a big Christmas movie with characters who look like them. We really wanted to be able to hold it up, sing its praises, and feel good about ourselves. But dear God is this movie a mess. The movie this most reminds me of, sadly, is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms . Both movies were visually interesting but narratively lacking. For what it's worth, the designs in Jingle Jangle are much more inspired. The sets and costumes are gorgeous, and the visual effects are significantly better than I'd expect from a Netflix production. Aside from a couple sequences where CG body doubles are a bit obvious, this movie looks topnotch. Same goes for the music. Taken out of context, the songs ar

Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas (2017)

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Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas is a Canadian documentary/musical ostensibly chronicling the influence several Jewish songwriters had on the holidays. I say "ostensibly" because - somewhat appropriately - the documentary itself seems to go through an identity crisis. It's difficult to summarize what the final product is, since it feels like the purpose and core idea must have changed a few times during production. I'll back up. This opens with a quick introduction from the filmmaker, Larry Weinstein, who grew up fascinated by Christmas, a holiday he never felt like he could participate in. But from the start he lets us know this isn't quite accurate: his family had Christmas traditions built around avoiding the obvious trappings. He briefly explores the roots of the traditional Chinese meal enjoyed by many Jewish families at the holidays. A little too briefly, frankly. This is an interesting topic in itself, but Weinstein glosses over the history. This is goi

Anna and the Apocalypse (2018)

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We missed this one in theaters last year, mainly because it wasn't playing anywhere we could get to without a hassle. At the time, we regretted it quite a bit. Anna and the Apocalypse was getting good reviews and had an intriguing premise: a horror-comedy-zombie-Christmas-musical. That's the sort of thing we love! Well, it can be the sort of thing we love. In this case, it turned out to be the sort of thing we like, which - given our arguably unreasonable expectations - meant it was kind of a disappointment. The story, absent the musical gimmick (and unfortunately I do mean gimmick) follows fairly well-trod zombified ground. The main character and her friends are dealing with mundane problems and issues that have strained relationships with loved ones and each other. Then the apocalypse hits, and they spend the movie trying to reconnect with family and friends, growing as people along the way. And, of course, almost everyone dies horribly, usually after or while resolving

The Nutcracker in 3D/The Nutcracker: The Untold Story (2010)

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So, turns out this year's Nutcracker and the Four Realms wasn't as original as I'd thought. Eight years ago, someone else had the idea of flushing 80 million dollars down the toilet trying to merge Nutcracker with Narnia. According to Box Office Mojo , The Nutcracker in 3D (a.k.a. Nutcracker: The Untold Story) was budgeted at an estimated 90 million dollars. Its total US box office was a little less than two hundred thousand  dollars, and its worldwide total was just over 16 million. It's currently sitting on a Freshness rating of zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes . Somehow, both that and its box office total feel oddly high to me. The movie is, in all senses of the word, a fiasco, which I honestly mean as a compliment. Somewhere around the time the Nazi Rat King (John Turturro wearing some astonishingly weird prosthetics) finished his jazz solo by electrocuting his pet shark, I realized I was watching something gloriously bad. I'm getting ahead of myself. Th

The Star (2017)

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At this point, I'm fairly certain the entertainment industry has invested more time in trying to tell the story of the donkey who attended the birth of Christ than the story of Joseph and Mary. While this attempts to wedge in a bastardized version of the nativity, The Star continues this tradition by focusing its attention on Bo, a donkey with big dreams of one day joining the royal caravan and doing something important. His friend, Dave (a dove), also plays a role, as does Ruth, a sheep obsessed with following the star of Bethlehem. Opposing them are an assassin sent by Herod and his two hunting dogs. I'll admit I kind of like the idea that a bunch of kids are going to be devastated when they learn there's no canonical justification for a bulky cave-troll getting pushed off a cliff by a flock of sheep. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Or am I? There's really not a lot to say about this in terms of plot, because - spoiler alert - it's mostly just the g

Trolls (2016) and the Trolls Holiday Special (2017)

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We watched the Trolls Holiday Special and walked away with one big question: Is Trolls a Christmas Movie? After we got around to watching the movie itself, we decided the answer is ehhh... not really? Probably not? However, its one holiday element is unique enough that we wanted to catalog it. The movie Trolls (based somehow on the plastic dolls from back in the day) is a surreal confabulation of light, color, and pop music. The trolls are small and brightly colored, and the favorite snack of a larger creature that looks much more like your stereotypical common troll. These "Bergens" believe that the only way to be happy is to essentially steal the trolls' happiness (by eating them). However, (and this is where the holidays come in) they only eat trolls once a year, on a holiday called Trollstice. Other than being a pun on solstice, Trollstice has very little in common with Christmas though. There is one very early scene in which the bergen prince wakes his father

Santa, Baby! (2001)

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You know Rankin/Bass, it's the company behind all the classic stop-motion holiday specials. This has exactly one thing in common with those: it's loosely inspired by a holiday song. And I do mean loosely. You might think that the song in which the singer offers to trade "Santa" implied sexual favors for material goods and marriage isn't exactly screaming to be made into a kid-friendly animated special, and you'd be right. But we can't lose that name recognition, so the song is awkwardly shoved in twice. The plot follows a little girl named Dakota, whose father is a songwriter with writer's block. (He does not write "Santa Baby.") Also, Dakota is obsessed with animals, and the superintendent of the block (because that's a thing?) doesn't want animals in the buildings and keeps threatening to close down the local shelter. Honestly, the shelter needs something because the assortment of animals there is utterly bizarre, including

Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas (2016)

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I guess at least one good thing has come out of HBO's partnership with Sesame Street: we got a new Christmas special! It's not as charming and perfect as Christmas Eve on Sesame Street , but what is? It does have a lot of heart and humor. After a warm opening number about the lights of the season (with brief glimpses of Muppet families celebrating various holidays), we get to the plot pretty quickly. Elmo wants to know why we leave cookies for Santa, so his dad tells him a story. Apparently, back in an unspecified old-timey time, Sesame Street was an unfriendly place to live. This means we get a ton of gorgeous costume design on 19th-century versions of many of the characters. Elmo's ancestor moves to Sesame Street just before Christmas and is surprised by how rude everyone is - so mean that Santa never visits. He makes a "friend" by declaring that a girl who stole his ball can keep it as a gift, and that act of selfless kindness starts a chain reaction.

Bunheads: A Nutcracker in Paradise (2012)

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Let's be real. Here's what I want you to take away from this review: BUNHEADS IS STREAMING AGAIN. It's on Hulu. Go. Get thee to Hulu. If you are a musical theater nerd like me, go watch the first couple episodes of Sutton Foster and Kelly Bishop snarking at each other and see if you don't fall hard. I'll pause here for a quick moment of silence for the fact that this show only received one season. The basic premise is that Foster plays Michelle, a professional-dancer-currently-slumming-as-a-Vegas-showgirl who decides to change her life by getting married and moving to a tiny upscale California town, where she helps her mother-in-law (Bishop) run a dance studio. The show is by the woman behind Gilmore Girls and features her standout themes: intergenerational female friendships and pop-culture snark. I prefer this to the earlier show because this one is also about dance and art and living a creative life. (I promise The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is on my to-watch li

Elf: The Broadway Musical

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There are only a handful of movies and specials that we've watched over the years that Erin and I have felt strongly enough about to review separately. Elf is one of those films. I don't like it much ; Erin does . Now I can embrace my dislike of the movie more than I allowed myself to in that article because I have seen what the story can be instead. It turns out, I like Elf a lot once you remove Will Ferrell, the more juvenile/gross humor, and the poor musical choices. You know the story more or less, right? Human raised by elves goes to meet his father in New York, misunderstandings ensue, everyone learns the importance of family, love, and to be open to magic and wonder. In the touring production I saw this year at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, Buddy was played as sheltered but enthusiastic. He wasn't dumb; he wasn't the butt of every joke; he just didn't understand a lot about human society. And he was so dang genuine and kind that he won over eve