By Top Contributor Alcy Leyva
To say that movies have become a part of my family’s DNA would be an extreme understatement. On top of our Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu subscriptions, we own more DVDs than we can comfortably store. We replay classics such as Spirited Away and The Incredibles. We even once traveled several hours via Metro North train just to sit in a packed theater and watch a Dragon Ball Z movie. While the adults (okay, just me. My wife tends to catch up on sleep during kid's movies) are more of a Disney/Pixar bunch, my boys seem to be leaning more towards DreamWorks and the like. They loved both Despicable Me's and the Shreks, and I make it a point to take them to the theater to experience it. Take it from me: not all movies are created equal. For every Inside Out, they also managed to drag me to lesser known (and likewise particularly dreadful) films such as Mr. Peabody and Hotel Transylvania, films that, in comparison, felt less like an exploration of cheery childhood and more like passing a stone for an hour and a half.
Barring this (and the anemic quality of my wallet after dealing with the price tag of a family of six going to the movies once a month in New York) I feel like movies are vital to my boys’ development. Streaming services may expose them to an impressive library of shows and classics, but actually going to a theater, waiting on ungodly lines, getting buttered popcorn stains on your clothes: all necessary components of growing up.
So this is why I came up with “Daddy Friendly Films”. I not only get to dole out my personal recommendations on films that I watch with my sons and share it with you, but I also get to share some of their insight. As a rabid fan of film, I am constantly trying to teach my children to think critically, to not accept liking something “just because.” This is why I've included their thoughts on the films to bookend each review.
To kick off the very first “Daddy Friendly Films” section, and to get to know me and my family’s general aesthetic, here is how we rate the four films we saw this Spring/Summer season. This will include abridged looks at Zootopia, Finding Dory, Jungle Book, and The Secret Life of Pets. And with these movies coming out on blue-ray and DVD soon, here are how the recent kid’s movies stack up.
The Secret Life Of Pets
- Has talking pets!
- Story oddly doesn't make sense and most characters don’t have chemistry. Even the two main characters.
- Pets murdering people?
My boys loved the trailer for The Secret Life of Pets, so going to see it before Dory was a foregone conclusion. The animation was colorful and cartoony, plus it brought the laughs (specifically with a poodle head banging to System of a Down’s “Bounce”. I don’t regret knowing this). And my boys love dogs. They. Love. Dogs. Like teetering on an almost unhealthy level. They will run into a light post on a street watching a Pomeranian walk by. But Pets has its problems.
First, Duke (the stray taken in) is initially unlikable. He tries to dominate the house, which I understand is the nature of a dog, but makes for a character that is only a bully and a jerk. Having to teach my son’s about sharing space and respecting each other, this immediately turned me off to him for the rest of the story. Max the house dog is no better and though he is more likeable, he doesn't come off as endearing. Unfortunately, these things aren’t the movie’s only downfall. The characters had zero heart. No real affection was shown between the anyone we meet during the 1 hour plus runtime and it makes the film seem longer than it has to be. Even the later reveal of Duke’s past didn’t land. By then, I barely cared.
Which leads me to the last problem with Pets. Our protagonists run into an underground animal resistance group which not only wants to overthrow the owners, but they marvel at the thought of “killing” people. They only allow our leads to join their cause on the condition that they share the gory details of how they murdered their human. It was bizarrely dark for a film which would later feature several dogs walking in a circle sniffing each other's butts for a sight-gag.
Oh and the dogs have anuses. I'm not sure why this is relevant. Not that it offended me in any way. Just that it occurred to me that a team of animators worked on every detail of this animated film and included an anus on their characters. Just makes me take pause.
MarkAnthony (9): “It was good but I've seen better. It depends on how warm it is. (After I ask him to explain) I mean emotionally. It was cold. I don’t want to explain. I can’t.”
Avery (7)- “It was fun. I liked the rabbit. He was crazy.”
- Same likeable characters return
- New characters are introduced properly
- Great animation and humor
- Message of defining both family and home
Dory is definitely a movie which has built itself around the nostalgia for these established characters, which is both a strength and weakness. Yes, the movie can stand alone. But Finding Nemo was a gem with an interesting setting and brand new characters to populate it with. Nostalgia can only take you but so far and my oldest is only 9-- he barely has nostalgia for last night's dinner.
The premise alone worried me. Side characters getting their own movies rarely work. Disney realized that Dory upstaged every other character in the original film and recognized her potential. Luckily, the film still shows the heart of the previous endeavor and is very light on retreaded ideas. Even the newer characters are introduced properly with very little overlap. Though it definitely lacks the initial marvel of the original, what might have been another example of the film industry going to that well one too many times turned out to be a solid movie with interesting characters and yes- another message of what constitutes as family and home.
MarkAnthony (9)- “It was fine. Didn't really really like it. Didn't like Finding Nemo too much, either. It was safe.”
Avery (7)- “I liked it. This movie was funnier than Finding Nemo. And Dory was funnier. It was the better movie because of baby Dory.”
- Follows the ‘67 classic closely but really has more of a plot, which allows it to focus more on the themes of belonging and human nature
- Not a musical but it still features two of its most famous songs (in specific forms)
- Lead actor who plays Mowgli was great
- Animals are well rendered and are realized characters.
- Sheer Khan!
- Some dark, scary moments that made my younger sons uncomfortable
I grew up watching the Jungle Book and singing along to the songs on a Disney cassette tape, so a live action film both excited me and made me groan. Part of me wanted to relive a classic again. The other part felt like Disney is that burned-out mom who is trying to make Monday’s lasagna into Thursday’s Shepard’s pie.
The Jungle Book is actually a movie that feels like both, honey-dipped and dolled up with CGI. And that’s not a bad thing. Part of this is due in part to the young actor who plays Mowgli (Neel Sethi) who is actually pretty great considering that he was acting while staring at empty air during production. I can’t even tell you how many award winning actors can barely manage to do the same.
The animals were rendered perfectly alongside Mowgli and the all-around visuals were quite stunning. The voice actors added both their presence and size to their roles. And speaking of that: Sheer Khan (voiced by Idris Elba, his second check from Disney after also voicing a character in Zootopia) owns the screen. Even without Idris’ bassy vocals, Khan is a literal force of nature. Other standout performances, by names alone, go to Bill Murray and Christopher Walken who play Baloo and King Louie, respectively.
It is worth noting that some scenes were a bit intense for my younger boys. Mowgli is the sympathetic character, the only human we get to meet and know on an emotional level, so seeing him wrapped up by a giant snake or even when he confronts King Louie, reimagined as a giant ape that time has forgotten, made them curl up in their seats. Nothing too traumatic, but be aware of this if your children suffer from night terrors or just nightmares.
MarkAnthony (9)- “It was better than Dory. It had more adventure. It was more adventure in an adventure-y way.”
Avery (7)- “It was like real life. I kept jumping and my popcorn fell on the floor. Scary sometimes. I did like the kid running and jumping. It felt cool.”
- Fun, original story
- Fully realized environments with amazing world building elements
- Slightly confusing real world allusions
Zootopia was definitely one of the best kid’s movies to come out this year, though I fear that it wasn't competing with much. The only reason it nudges out Finding Dory or Jungle Book is that it isn't a sequel or re-imagining.
The animation is slick and there is an obvious and almost infectious sense of scale and vision. From the various sections of the city to the animal characteristics spread throughout, it was refreshing to come into a new world and get immersed in its rules and lore. And yes, there were some actual laugh out loud moments, some just for adults to connect the logic behind its humor.
What sets this movie apart from the others, I believe, is that on a basic level, it’s easy to explain to a child of any age about the movie’s ideas regarding stereotypes and bigotry. But giving the world posed in Zootopia a closer look reveals that while on a surface level, and while the film praises inclusion and harmony, the city itself is segregated by region. While a cool visual, it is also the basis for some extremely negative views between the animals and it reminds me of sections in New York which feature some very segregated and socially isolated communities (even though we are still known as a “Melting Pot”). I applaud the creators for going forward and creating a kid’s film which isn’t told with the typical black and white formula, one that matches our actual social construct. I feel that this movie is amazing for opening up discussions with your children regarding community, cultures, and subcultures in our actual world.
MarkAnthony (9)- “Better than all of them. It was cartoony and it had the right balance of action and humor.”
Avery (7)- “I liked when they were on the train seeing the different worlds. But mostly the train.”
Note from the Writer: Feel like you agree with my movie reviews or did I miss the mark? Do you recommend a current or classic movie that others should share with their families? The perfect place for everything is in the Comments Section down below. Any and all ideas are welcome and feel free to Like or Share the link to this article with family and friends.
Alcy Leyva is a Bronx-born writer who enjoys fiction and likes to prod at its dark corners for strange interlopers. He taps into elements of fantasy and dark humor, but tends to roam around tirelessly for the next great project. He enjoys movies, gummi bears, and the word “schadenfreude”. You can find more of his work at AlcyLeyva.Weebly.com.