Category Archives: Family

A Boy Named Charlie Brown (1969, Bill Melendez)

A Boy Named Charlie Brown gets by on a lot of charm. It takes writer and creator Charles M. Schulz forever to get to the story. It takes Schulz so long to get to the story–Charlie Brown, spelling bee champ–it seems like there isn’t going to be a story.

Schulz lays the groundwork for the story, sure; Charlie Brown enters the spelling bee as an attempt to bolster his self-confidence. Nothing else has worked. He’s lost a baseball game, he’s had a lousy–not just for him–therapy session with Lucy. He even losses at tic-tac-toe.

So, right after Lucy and two other girls sing a song to Charlie Brown about him being a “failure face.” Not a great song. Rod McKuen writes the melancholy Charlie Brown songs, John Scott Trotter writes the didactic spelling song.

Even with director Melendez’s suburban Expressionist visuals and the fantastic montaging courteosy Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann, and Steven Cuitlahuac Melendez’s expert cutting, Failure Face is a low point. It’s the meanest the girls ever get to Charlie Brown. Sure, maybe it’s the inciting incident for the spelling bee plot development, but Melendez doesn’t change tone with it. Just because Schulz is finally ready to go, Melendez isn’t speeding up Boy. It’s still going to be slow and deliberate, with visually outrageous montages, interludes, and asides.

Schulz’s spelling bee plot works out. Linus gave Charlie Brown his blanket to keep him comfort at the nationals. Linus didn’t know he’d go into fainting spellings without the blanket, he and Snoopy go to nationals.

Nationals appear to be in a beautiful and empty New York City. Why Linus gets the excursion to the New York Public Library and Rockefeller Center while Charlie Brown is literally studying in a movie called A Boy Named Charlie Brown doesn’t even matter. Snoopy goes with Linus. And has his own daydream about playing hockey.

It’s the last daydream–or aside or iunterlude–and it’s the worst. It’s cartoon Snoopy in front of silhouetted hockey footage. Boy Named Charlie Brown has this Beethoven “music video” full of Eastern Orthodox imagery (I think, I saw eggs) and all sorts of other amazing stuff. It’s wondrous. And everything else is good if not excellent. To end on a blah daydream?

Maybe if Schulz’s lesson came through, it’d work. Schulz has a lesson in A Boy Named Charlie Brown for Charlie Brown and it’s eighty-five minutes coming so maybe it should be good. It’s not a good lesson. It’s a “movie’s over in two minutes” lesson. The film’s just shown it can do New York City and scale and then it’s got a bad lesson for Charlie Brown, who spent the last third of the movie offscreen.

Even the spelling bee is from the perspective of the other kids. Charlie Brown narrates Boy for a while, yet Schulz doesn’t want to spend the time with him. Schulz is sympathetic to Charlie Brown, empathetic to him, but he never seems to like him. All of Charlie Brown’s details are jokes at his expense. Or at least Schulz goes that route in A Boy Named Charlie Brown. The eventual story arc starts with lengthy depression monologue thirteen year-old Peter Robbins gets to do as Charlie Brown. Schulz gets intense when he’s not trying to be funny.

And then sometimes he’s not funny. Like Lucy. Not funny. Pamelyn Ferdin’s never particularly likable as Lucy here because all she’s ever doing is being mean to Charlie Brown. She’s invested in it, nothing else. She and Schroeder only have the one scene–kicking off the great Beethoven music video–but Schulz gives Lucy almost nothing other than being mean.

Glenn Gilger’s the best performance. He’s Linus. Robbins’s is good as Charlie Brown. But Schulz doesn’t give him anything good. Gilger’s best because he gets the best material.

Excellent score from Vince Guarladi. Fantastic animation. A Boy Named Charlie Brown has all the parts it needs to be great–not McKuen, sorry, forgot about him; but it doesn’t work out. Schulz’s plotting is too cumbersome.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Bill Melendez; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Robert T. Gillis, Chuck McCann, and Steven Cuitlahuac Melendez; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson; released by National General Pictures.

Starring Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown), Pamelyn Ferdin (Lucy Van Pelt), Glenn Gilger (Linus Van Pelt), Andy Pforsich (Schroeder), Sally Dryer (Patty), Ann Altieri (Violet), Erin Sullivan (Sally), Lynda Mendelson (Frieda), and Christopher DeFaria (Pig Pen).


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Sleeping Beauty (1959, Clyde Geronimi)

Seven credited writers on Sleeping Beauty and none of them could figure out any dialogue to give the prince. Though, notwithstanding some cute banter between the three fairies, there’s not much good dialogue in Sleeping Beauty anyway. Villain Maleficent doesn’t even get any. Eleanor Audley’s great in the part, but it’s not because of the dialogue, it’s because of the visuals. Sleeping Beauty is all about the visuals, which is why it can usually get away with not having great–or any–dialogue.

The film opens in prologue. There’s a new royal baby and she’s about to be blessed by three fairies–Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, and Barbara Luddy contribute the voices–only then Audley shows up, a magnificent, malevolent “mistress of all evil.” She curses the baby then disappears. It’s up to Luddy to cast a spell to save the baby best as possible (Audley’s too powerful a mistress of all evil to just invalidate the curse).

The story jumps forward sixteen years, to when the curse is supposed to take effect. Mary Costa is voices the grown baby–though, frankly, Costa’s semi-sultry voice is a bit off for a teenage girl. Well, maybe not for Sleeping Beauty since the other part of turning sixteen is her parents to get marry her off to a prince, thereby bringing peace or something.

The only visible clash between Costa’s father (Taylor Holmes) and the prince’s father (Bill Thompson) is Thompson wants Holmes to get drunker than Holmes wants to get. Sleeping Beauty isn’t great on logic. When a movie looks like Sleeping Beauty, it doesn’t need to be great on much else.

The film starts in live action, a dolly into a storybook (Sleeping Beauty), which opens and the illustrations become the animation, the book’s text becomes the narration, and so on. But from the start, the animation is lush and wide. Sleeping Beauty is “Technirama,” a widescreen frame, and Technicolor. Supervising director Geronimi plays a lot with depth, as the fairies are raising Costa in hiding. The great palace is only visible in the background, something Costa has no interest in. Instead, she sings with the adorable forest wildlife and meets a dashing young man.

Sadly, she’s promised to a prince. There’s some drama, but not a lot. A lot of drama would mean less songs and more dialogue. I’m not sure Costa has any dialogue after she gets to the palace to celebrate not having fallen victim to Audley’s curse. Except Audley’s smarter than everyone else, maybe because the fairies are more adorable than they are smart, and the royals are all idiots.

Sorry, back to the visuals. The depth is amazing. The forest goes on and on, filling the frame, with jagged plateaus and endless trees. Geography doesn’t really matter in Sleeping Beauty. There’s apparently only one house in the whole forest, because when Costa’s young man comes calling, he finds the place right away. Too bad she’s off at the castle to meet her prince and Audley’s waiting to capture… someone. It’s never clear. Logic, like I said, isn’t Beauty’s strong point.

The evil stuff is evil, even when it’s amusing–Audley’s got some Gamorrean guards she zaps with force lightning when they’re dumb, which is all of the time. In her first scene to herself, it turns out the only reason Audley’s in such a pickle trying to get her curse to work is because her lackies are all complete idiots. No one’s very smart in Sleeping Beauty, except Audley some of the time and Costa’s young man’s horse more of the time.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s beautiful. The character designs are exquisite. When Costa and the prince stop talking, their expressions are still phemonenal. The animation’s not incredibly detailed on the faces–the fairies get expressions, Audley sort of gets them, no one else–but there’s so much visible emotion. The music, which has its ups and downs (just like the songs), gives the film its progression. It all takes place in a day and a half so there needs to be something to soothe the halty plotting. The music, often adapted from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Ballet, does the trick. George Bruns handles that adaptation.

There are some okay songs. The one with Costa in the forest with her animal friends and then the young man is great. But because of the way the young couple dance their way through the frame–Sleeping Beauty loves to play with reflections and there’re lakes in the forest. The fairies don’t get songs, they get banter. Luddy gives the best performance, mostly because she’s the only one to get any characterization.

The third act, which is a narrative mess, is also a breathtaking action sequence. Geronimi and editors Roy M. Brewer Jr. and Donald Halliday create this phenomenal sequence. It’s not entirely successful–it’s a little rushed and there’s not really any nailbiting–but it’s breathtaking. Even when Sleeping Beauty is uneven, it’s gorgeous to behold.

It’s a beautiful film. Also one with a lot of problems.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Clyde Geronimi; screenplay by Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, and Milt Banta and based on a story by Charles Perrault; edited by Roy M. Brewer Jr. and Donald Halliday; production designers, Ken Anderson and Don DaGradi; released by Buena Vista Film Distribution Co.

Starring Verna Felton (Flora), Barbara Jo Allen (Fauna), Barbara Luddy (Merryweather), Eleanor Audley (Maleficent), Mary Costa (Princess Aurora), Taylor Holmes (King Stefan), Bill Shirley (Prince Phillip), and Bill Thompson (King Hubert).


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Moana (2016, Don Hall, Chris Williams, Ron Clements, and John Musker)

Moana takes a while to find its stride. Directors Clements and Musker and Hall and Williams aren’t at ease until the movie’s on the water. The film starts on a Polynesian island, with a young chief-in-training (Auli’i Cravalho) secretly longing not to be stuck on the island paradise, but out exploring the ocean. Grandmother Rachel House encourages her, dad Temuera Morrison does not, she’s got an adorable pet pig and dimwit chicken as sidekicks… it’s cute, but it’s pretty shallow.

Once the movie gets out to water, however, everything changes. Cravalho isn’t reacting to House or Morrison, the performance all of a sudden has energy and personality. Until that point, it’s been entirely unclear how the story is going to work. Every time it seems like it’s going to be a quest story, Morrison steps in and shuts it down for a few more minutes. The first act of Moana is overlong.

Back to the water. The computer generation animation in Moana has these distinct thick edges for the characters. Again, cute enough, brings in some extra personality, whatever. No, not whatever, because once the characters are on the water, it’s all about how the CG light hits their CG angles to make CG shadows. Moana is shockingly beautiful. And the directors know it. They compose for it. The film gets away with a lot because of that lightning and the composition.

But it’s strongest assets are leads Cravalho and Dwayne Johnson. Johnson’s really, really good, giving a personable, but measured performance. His character–a selfish, disgraced demigod who Cravalho offers a chance at redemption–has a fairly predictable arc so there shouldn’t surprises and there aren’t in the narrative sense, just in how Johnson and Cravalho interact. Johnson’s got an askew distance in his performance, fully supporting Cravalho while still doing rote predicable incorrigible sidekick. It’s a surprisingly good performance, especially since it starts before the directors have shown they can excel at anything. They haven’t proven themselves at sea yet.

Jared Bush’s script is mediocre but fine for the first act. Too long, like I said before… way too long. Then there’s action and conflict and character development and excitement. There’s action, conflict, and character development in the first act, there’s just no excitement.

Land has lectures, ground situation, ground situation songs, and sadness. Ocean has excitement and exciting action. No more lectures, just funny and sometimes touching arguments. Good slapstick. Giant crabs doing Bowie impressions (Jemaine Clement is awesome). Sentient–and evil–coconuts roaming the high seas under the pirate flag. A lava beast. Oh, and a ghost. That’s a particularly gorgeous night sequence, because the light from the ghost–it’s a good ghost–provides the lightning for the figures’ angles.

Moana’s a thoughtful, gorgeous, amiably complex picture. The directors do well, the script does well, the computer animation’s breathtaking. Cravalho, Johnson, and House are all wonderful. It’s a lovely film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Don Hall, Chris Williams, Ron Clements, and John Musker; screenplay by Jared Bush, based on a story by Clements, Musker, Williams, Hall, Pamela Ribon, Aaron Kandell, and Jordan Kandell; edited by Jeff Draheim; music by Mark Mancina; production designer, Ian Gooding; produced by Osnat Shurer; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Auli’i Cravalho (Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui), Rachel House (Gramma Tala), Temuera Morrison (Chief Tui), Nicole Scherzinger (Sina), and Jemaine Clement (Tamatoa).


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The NeverEnding Story (1984, Wolfgang Petersen), the international version

For most of The NeverEnding Story, director Petersen’s ability, the special effects, and active lead Noah Hathaway keep the whole thing going. It’s a gorgeous looking film, with great photography from Jost Vacano and exceptional editing from Jane Seitz. Hathaway’s character, a boy warrior, gets a fantastic characterization–simultaneously sensitive and brave–he’s a fantastic protagonist.

Except he’s not the protagonist. The protagonist is Barret Oliver’s similarly aged character (the passive lead). He’s locked up reading the book, The NeverEnding Story, and experiencing the book’s events as they unfold for the viewer too. The only way Petersen and co-screenwriters Herman Weigel and Robert Easton come up with to integrate the two concurrent narratives is cutting to Oliver reacting to the book. Sure, Seitz cuts the scenes beautifully and the “real world” parts of the film are arguably the best directed, but Oliver’s a weak protagonist. He’s a weaker lead. Everything strong about the way Hathaway gets characterized is ignored when it comes to Oliver. He’s bullied–both by classmates and his jerk father (Gerald McRaney)–he’s mourning the death of his mother, but he’s got no depth. It ought to be fine because he’s not part of The NeverEnding Story.

Until the film ties the two narratives together, ingloriously shucking Hathaway, and generally collapsing under its own import. The film had already forecasted a shaky mythology regarding reading but hadn’t run out of goodwill at that point. It burns through it in the final act, with Petersen trying real hard but unable to pull it off. Not even the booming, sweeping score from Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder can save the finale. Probably shouldn’t be a surprise The NeverEnding Story can’t figure out a way to end well.

Some of the performances are wonderful, but there aren’t a lot of supporting parts. Hathaway just goes from person to person (or troll to troll) and has a scene or two, then moves on. Sydney Bromley and Patricia Hayes are great as a bickering gnome couple. Alan Oppenheimer voices most of the animatronic creatures, including the flying dragon. He’s great.

The special effects–and the fantasy scenery–are the real accomplishment of The NeverEnding Story. The composite shots are often awesome, same with the sets, same with the animatronics.

The NeverEnding Story disappoints. Petersen needed to be stronger when directing Oliver, needed to come up with a better finish. Both those elements were essential, both don’t work out.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Wolfgang Petersen; screenplay by Petersen, Herman Weigel, and Robert Easton, based on the novel by Michael Ende; director of photography, Jost Vacano; edited by Jane Seitz; music by Klaus Doldinger and Giorgio Moroder; production designer, Rolf Zehetbauer; produced by Bernd Eichinger and Dieter Geissler; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Barret Oliver (Bastian), Noah Hathaway (Atreyu), Tami Stronach (The Empress), Moses Gunn (Cairon), Sydney Bromley (Engywook), Patricia Hayes (Urgl), Deep Roy (Teeny Weeny), Tilo Prückner (Night Hob), Gerald McRaney (Bastian’s Father), Thomas Hill (Carl Conrad Coreander) and Alan Oppenheimer (Falkor).


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