April 2020 is here. And what an April it’s shaping up to be. Because of all the Covid-19 dangers, our minds are set on keeping a six-foot personal-space boundary and staying keenly aware of new shipments of toilet paper at the local store. Of course, more than any other recent April we’re also happy to hear about any new video fare to watch while holed up in the house for most of the day.
So let’s peek in on all the major streaming sites and point out a couple of new family-friendly films coming to each this month.
If you haven’t yet watched any of a certain franchise of evil-villain-turned-doting-adopted-dad pics, Netflix is offering the place to start.
Despicable Me (PG, 2010): Gru is a baddie who looks like Uncle Fester’s evil twin brother and sounds like Boris Badenov coming off of a wicked cold (voiced by Steve Carell). And boy, does he have some evil-genius plans in store for the world. Until, that is, he runs across three orphaned sisters who melt his heart like a blob of overheated Girl Scout cookie dough.
A little bad-guy thumping and toilet gags aside, this animated pic is pure smile-worthy joy. Or as I said in my review: “I found myself nodding my head and wiping away a secretive tear right along with all the other kids and parents in my row at the theater.”
And since Easter is soon upon us, you might want to turn from evil and flip on the first entry in a franchise of faith films.
God’s Not Dead (PG, 2014): Law school freshman and devout Christian, Josh, finds his faith challenged on his first day of philosophy class by a dogmatic and argumentative professor. But instead of backing down, Josh accepts the prof’s challenge to step up and defend his believe and argue God’s case before his whole class. Our own Adam Holz suggested that the film was a little “melodramatic” and “implausible” at times. But he praised it too, saying it “can always be seen focusing on the simple power of testifying to the Truth, no matter the cost.”
You’ll have to hold out ‘til the end of the month (April 25) for this next Academy Award winner, but you may find it worth the wait.
The Artist (PG-13, 2011): This black-and-white tale gives us the story of a silent movie star in Hollywood circa 1927. But the advent of the talkies seems to sound the death knell for George Valentin’s career. Is there any way to save the day? This inventive film is “voiced” almost completely by silent movie intertitle cards and staged much like a film from the 1920s. And it’s a compelling and immersive tale. “Except for a stray middle finger, a mild profanity and a few mouthed interjections, the on-screen content in The Artist comes straight from Hollywood’s Golden Age,” Plugged In reviewer Paul Asay said. And Paul suggested that this pic is, “the silent story of a man trying to make sense of a new, noisy world—perhaps not too far removed from where some of us are today, in a world filled with new avenues of communication.”
Hulu has a bunch of nice kid-friendly films on its docket. Here are a few of them.
The Ant Bully (PG, 2006): Ten-year-old Lucas has been bullied at school and he takes his frustrations out on an ant hill in his yard. But then the ants use a magic potion to shrink him down to their size so he can get a new perspective on things. Plugged In reviewer Chris Lyon said that some parents will balk at the idea of magic-casting ants who express religious adoration for a “Great Mother” ant. “Of course, most kids Lucas’ age will look past all that and just dig the imagination in the idea of shrinking down to ant size and getting to know the little critters working so furiously in the dirt. They’ll love to think about how it would feel to be so tiny. And they’ll likely identify with Lucas’ willingness to take responsibility for his actions, to step up heroically and help his friends, and to stand with other kids against bullies.”
Dr. Suess’ Horton Hears a Who (G, 2008): Horton the Elephant struggles to protect a microscopic community from his neighbors who refuse to believe a world of tiny “Whos” can possibly exist—especially on a little fluff of clover.
Our Lindy Keffer really enjoyed this kids’ pic saying, “moviegoers looking for a Sunday school take-home lesson all spelled out and labeled with circles and arrows won’t find it here. But they will be given a chance to engage in meaningful discussion about both faith and responsibility—all because of a lumpy and lovable elephant.”
Spider-Man (PG-13, 2002): This early Sam Raimi-directed superhero film sets up how orphaned science geek Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider and given spider-like abilities. This coming-of-age arachnid tale is perfectly written to resonate with adolescents, underdogs and the “little guy.” Director Raimi explains, “For me, the strength of the character has always been that he is a real person—one of us. He’s gone through junior high and high school, he’s a bit of an outsider, he can’t get the girl, he’s broke … he becomes a superhero, but he still has to do his homework in the evenings.” And Plugged In’s Bob Smithouser wrote, “In the midst of a culture that seems to take pleasure in finding its heroes in all the wrong places, this finely-spun film debut is a refreshing alternative, putting down a solid franchise tent pole with a moral core.”
OK, so you and your kids have likely been hitting the Disney streaming site pretty hard as of late. What with all the toy stories, Marvel adventures and trips to a galaxy far, far away, there’s a lot to see. But you may not have ambled over to see all the Disneynature films they’re dropping this month. Here’s a solid example:
Bears (G, 2014): This documentary tracks a family of bears that come down from their mountain den, eat salmon and clams (with a little grass salad on the side), then head back to dig another hole for winter. But it’s all the things that happen during that yearly (and in this case, lightly anthropomorphized) trek that’ll keep you riveted to the screen. And as I said in my review of the film, “it’s worth noting that this particular furry frolic is the most kid-friendly journey of all the Disneynature flicks. There’s nothing, really, that’s unbearable.”
While we’re on the subject of furry creatures on great adventures, how about some tiny singing ones?
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (G, 2011): The vacationing Chipmunks and Chipettes are turning a luxury cruise liner into their personal playground, until they become “chipwrecked” on a remote island. As the ‘Munks and Chipettes try various schemes to find their way home, they accidentally discover their new turf is not as deserted as it seems. This tale, full of beaches, songs and sandy chipmunks harkens back to the Frankie Avalon beach movies of yore. And that makes for more fun than you might expect. Or as my review of the film said, “with the exception of a reclaimed Lady Gaga song or a largely unintelligible rendition of a rap track, this third chipmunky release is the cutest and most harmless one yet.”
Now let’s harken back to another time and another group of singers and dancers.
Xanadu (PG, 1980): This musical pic, staring Olivia Newton John and Gene Kelly and featuring the music of the Electric Light Orchestra, tells the story a Greek muse who shows up to assist and inspire a young artist and help him create an artistic success, a unique club called “Xanadu.” OK, so this concoction of sugary entertainment won’t exactly drive you to deep thought. And you will encounter some unexplained magic, wispily clothed Greek muses (stemming from classical religious mythology) who emerge from some street art and broad stuff like that. But as fantasy musicals go, it’s toe-tappingly fun. Bring your roller skates.
That last film mentioned is an indication that streaming services are reaching way, way back to give you a number of older, less frequently seen films to enjoy while you’re dutifully self-distancing. But Amazon takes the prize on oldies this month. It’s got everything from old Bond flicks to Daniel Boone pics from the ‘30s and Tarzan old timers that came out even before Johnny Weissmuller swung onto the scene. They’ve even rounded up some silent films like this classic:
The Lost World (NR, 1925): Actor Wallace Beery heads a silent-movie retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novel. This is Jurassic Park-like fare from back in 1925. A reporter joins a great expedition to a South American “lost world,” though his real goal is to win the heart of a beautiful woman. And, oh, he gets so much more. Dinosaurs roar and battle and a brontosaurus ends up in London. The story is just so-so, but the special effects—from an age when a computer was only science-fiction—are pretty impressive.