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‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’

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Catholic News Service

If you can say or even read the name of the planet Uranus without bursting into gales of giggles, then “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” may not be the film for you.

From a giant mechanized toilet running amok to an orchestra of whoopee cushions, this cheerfully silly kids’ cartoon displays an obsession with bodily functions that parents averse to potty humor will not appreciate.

Harold, voiced by Thomas Middleditch, George, voiced by Kevin Hart, and Captain Underpants, voiced by Ed Helms, appear in the animated movie "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. .(CNS/Fox)

Harold, voiced by Thomas Middleditch, George, voiced by Kevin Hart, and Captain Underpants, voiced by Ed Helms, appear in the animated movie “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. .(CNS/Fox)

On the upside, director David Soren’s comedy, adapted from a series of books by Dav Pilkey, is otherwise unobjectionable and briefly showcases some positive values and behavior.

Having long ago bonded over their shared appreciation of the astronomical pun referenced above, fourth-graders and best friends George Beard (voice of Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (voice of Thomas Middleditch) have, over the years since, pulled off an extended spree of pranks at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. These have drawn the ire of that institution’s strict leader, Principal Krupp (voice of Ed Helms), who now plans to separate the pals by assigning them to different classes.

Fearing that their camaraderie will be broken up if Krupp follows through on this threat, the boys improvise a solution. They hypnotize Krupp, and use mind control to convince him that he is Captain Underpants, the superhero featured in some of the many comic books they have written and drawn together up in their beloved treehouse. (George is the writer; Harold is the artist.)

In this character’s lightly attired guise, his uniform consists of tighty whities and a red cape, Krupp battles Professor Poopypants (voice of Nick Kroll), a wild-haired mad scientist posing as a science teacher at Horwitz. Bitterly resenting the mockery and joking his name inevitably provokes, the professor has come up with a scheme to employ technology to stamp out laughter, especially among kids.

Amid the flying toilet paper and embarrassing sound effects, the happy idiocies of Nicholas Stoller’s script really veer off course only once. In a montage of practical jokes, the lads are shown to have disguised a men’s room at school as a restroom for women. As a result, a lady walks in on Principal Krupp while he’s standing at a urinal. It’s a sight gag that seems better suited to a (bad) teen comedy than one aimed at tykes.

A brief spell of seriousness toward the end of the movie finds the central duo figuring out that some grownups may be mean because they’re lonely. They then do their best to remedy an instance of this problem by bringing together two adults who have previously been too shy to act on their mutual attraction.

It’s a nice wrap-up. But viewers young or old will have to run a gauntlet of relentless, though mild, grossness to reach it.

The film contains pervasive childish scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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This trip is a long haul with a scatological wimpy kid

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Catholic News Service 

For better or worse, bathroom-themed gags have long been a staple of kids’ movies. But the family road comedy “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” carries this trend to excess.

Jason Drucker and Owen Asztalos star in a scene from the movie "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents.(CNS photo/Fox)

Jason Drucker and Owen Asztalos star in a scene from the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.(CNS photo/Fox)

Together with a noticeable lack of creative drive, writer-director David Bowers’ reliance on scatological humor blights his adaptation of the eponymous novel by Jeff Kinney, the fourth installment of a screen franchise that began in 2010.

As his family sets off on a cross-country journey to attend his great-grandmother’s 90th birthday celebration, a trip his mother Susan (Alicia Silverstone) hopes will foster family unity, mild-mannered middle schooler Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker) worries that being confined together in a car for hours on end will have the opposite effect on his often-quarreling clan.

He also rails against Mom’s ban on the use of electronics during the trip, a prohibition his overworked father, Frank (Tom Everett Scott), likewise finds it difficult to obey. Still, Greg has a plan to turn this unwelcome outing to his own advantage.

Recently shamed by an embarrassing video that went viral, Greg plots with his older brother, Rodrick (Charlie Wright), to retrieve his reputation by being taped in the company of online celebrity Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover). Digby is scheduled to appear at Player’s Expo, a gaming convention being held not too far off the Heffleys’ planned route.

The event that has made Greg notorious is typical of the excretion-focused humor that’s too often front and center as the film ambles along to little purpose. As the result of a misadventure too involved to recount in detail, Greg winds up with a dirty diaper stuck to one hand. His frantic and unsuccessful efforts to fling it away are captured by a host of cellphone cameras, and infamy awaits.

On the trip, though, Greg suffers other indignities of a similar nature. He winds up concealed behind a shower curtain while the person from whom he’s hiding relieves himself inches away. Later, on the road again and with no exit for miles, Greg is forced to use an empty bottle to answer nature’s call.

It doesn’t take the acumen of a Sherlock Holmes to detect that depending on such incidents for laughs is a symptom either of laziness or an impoverished imagination. Whatever their source, the prominence and frequency of these scenes prevents endorsement of this sometimes queasy sequel for viewers of all ages.

The film contains much distasteful potty humor and brief adult wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Slamma Jamma’ dunk funk

March 24th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The well-intentioned sports drama “Slamma Jamma” occasionally comes to tepid life on basketball courts. But a weak script, together with production values indicative of a low budget, keep it hobbled as a story of redemption and Christian faith.

This is a scene from the movie"Slamma Jamma." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS RiverRain Productions)

This is a scene from the movie”Slamma Jamma.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS RiverRain Productions)

Based very loosely on the life of slam-dunk champion Kenny Dobbs, it stars Chris Staples (a former Harlem Globetrotter in real life), as Michael Diggs, a onetime college basketball star potentially worth millions as a pro.

He’s unable to profit from his talent after an unscrupulous agent takes advantage of him. Coasting on his fame, he gets pulled into the violent armed robbery of a gun store, which earns him a six-year prison term.

Not very adroitly, the film shows Diggs embracing evangelical Christianity behind bars, and, upon release, slowly rebuilding his life by energetically making new contacts while working a series of menial jobs. Since he starts out humble, there’s no big transformative moment and so little in the way of dramatic tension that “Slamma Jamma” becomes almost unwatchable.

Away from the hoops, writer-director Tim Chey, no dab hand at dialogue, comes up with little other than clichéd, if supportive, remarks from Diggs’ ailing mother, Gemma (Rosemary Smith-Coleman), and from a neighborhood minister, Pastor John Soul (Ray Walia).

Diggs eventually gets his life back on track by winning slam-dunk competitions, halftime events, typically, with prizes in the many thousands of dollars. The faith elements are limned only sparingly, making this movie a tough slog even for those inclined to look favorably on religious fare.

The film contains a scene of gun violence and some trash-talking. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Weekend flick? ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ an animated treat

February 10th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

In 2014’s “The Lego Movie,” Will Arnett voiced an amusingly self-absorbed version of Gotham City’s Dark Knight. With the entertaining spinoff “The Lego Batman Movie,” Arnett’s character, together with his inflated ego, takes center stage. Read more »

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Pet-lovers will revel in charming ‘A Dog’s Purpose’

January 26th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

While cats are said to be blessed with nine lives, the clever canine at the center of “A Dog’s Purpose,” voiced by Josh Gad, guides us through his adventures over four eventful lifetimes. Repeatedly reincarnated, he (and, for one stint, she) returns in the guise of various breeds and encounters a range of human caregivers.

Dennis Quaid stars in a scene with a dog named "Buddy" in the movie "A Dog's Purpose." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. .(CNS photo/Universal)

Dennis Quaid stars in a scene with a dog named “Buddy” in the movie “A Dog’s Purpose.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. .(CNS photo/Universal)

Although the concept of recurring earthly existences is kept strictly confined to the world of animals, the New Age-style philosophizing the four-legged protagonist engages in along the way may strike some viewers as a bore. That’s offset, though, by his droll, dog’s-eye view of the world.

During the first of his visits to the planet, as a golden retriever, he’s rescued from a dangerous situation and adopted by 8-year-old Ethan Montgomery (Bryce Gheisar). Ethan’s sympathetic, but unnamed, mom (Juliet Rylance) welcomes this addition to the household, and helps convince his reluctant (and equally nameless) dad, played by Luke Kirby, to accept the pooch, whom Ethan dubs Bailey.

Bailey becomes Ethan’s inseparable companion as the lad grows into a high school football star (KJ Apa) and finds true love with Hannah (Britt Robertson), a girl he meets at a fair. Ethan’s bright prospects are further burnished by winning a college athletic scholarship. But his father’s worsening alcoholism casts a pall over his life and eventually threatens his future.

While his bond with Ethan proves the most enduring of his relationships with humans, during other intervals Bailey first serves as a police dog called Ellie and later becomes a Corgi named Tino. Ellie does her best to comfort her lonely trainer, widowed Chicago police officer Carlos (John Ortiz), and Tino helps to liven up the stagnant social life of his companion, pining single gal Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste).

Pet lovers will revel in director Lasse Hallstrom’s slight but charming screen version of W. Bruce Cameron’s best-selling 2010 novel. Parents will be pleased to find the movie free of any genuinely objectionable elements.

Grown guardians also will want to note that some sequences are too potentially frightening for the smallest pups.

Those inclined to be cynical may balk at bucolic scenes vaguely reminiscent of a TV ad for hay fever medicine. Still, a good-hearted romantic wrap-up matching characters played by Dennis Quaid and Peggy Lipton succeeds in keeping things cuddly for all but the most jaundiced.

The film contains mature themes, including alcohol addiction, possible cohabitation, some stylized violence with brief gore, scenes of peril and light scatological humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Rogue One’ found to be a worthy ‘Star Wars’ entry

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Catholic News Service

With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” last year’s promising re-ignition of the iconic franchise, “The Force Awakens,” gains a worthy and equally family-friendly companion.

Diego Luna, Felicity Jones and Jiang Wen star in a scene from the movie "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Diego Luna, Felicity Jones and Jiang Wen star in a scene from the movie “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. (CNS photo/Lucasfilm Ltd.)

Interstellar derring-do is once again the order of the day as this latest film in the series provides a rousing prequel to writer-director George Lucas’ 1977 original, subsequently dubbed “Episode IV – A New Hope.”

“A New Worry” might be an apt subtitle for “Rogue One” since its plot is driven by the fact that the evil Empire, served most prominently by Grand Moff Tarkin, (a computer-generated projection of the late Peter Cushing) and Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), is on the verge of deploying a game-changing new weapon, the Death Star.

With its potential to wipe out entire planets, the Death Star could doom the efforts of the gallant Rebel Alliance, headed by Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), to resist subjugation.

This crisis draws the movie’s main character, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), to center stage. As the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the brilliant scientist who unwillingly developed the technology behind the Death Star while being held captive, she has reason to believe that the armament can be sabotaged from within.

To prove this, she’ll need the help of intrepid Alliance officer Capt. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) as well as that of his mechanical sidekick, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). An amusingly straight-talking android, K-2SO is the source of most of the movie’s wry comic relief.

In crafting an exciting epic, director Gareth Edwards keeps the mayhem inherent in his story of armed conflict virtually bloodless. And the script, by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, celebrates altruism while also briefly tackling the morality of obeying some military orders.

But the ambiguous nature of the spiritual “Force” cultivated primarily, in this installment, by blind Buddhist-style monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) may be a source of concern for the parents of some teens. Since the Force can be interpreted in any number of ways, including a vaguely Christian one, the famous blessing it inspires having an almost liturgical ring to it, youngsters may need guidance to arrive at sound conclusions.

For all others, “Rogue One” offers old-fashioned entertainment in the best sense: an engaging showdown between plucky goodness and elegant villainy with a bit of delightfully innocent romance thrown in for good measure.

The film contains frequent but thoroughly stylized combat violence, religious elements requiring mature discernment and some frightening images including a scene leading up to mental torture. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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Who will save the Christmas festival in ‘Believe’?

December 8th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Evangelical Christian faith hovers in the background of the holiday-themed drama “Believe.” Though not as rose-colored in its outlook as some religiously-inspired projects, the movie, which is suitable for most age groups, lacks polish.

Ryan O'Quinn, Danielle Nicolet and Issac Ryan Brown star in a scene from the movie "Believe."  (CNS photo/Believe the Film)

Ryan O’Quinn, Danielle Nicolet and Issac Ryan Brown star in a scene from the movie “Believe.” (CNS photo/Believe the Film)

Cash-strapped factory owner Matthew Peyton (Ryan O’Quinn) faces both the impending collapse of his business and the end of the annual Christmas fair his family has long sponsored in his small hometown. In fact, he’s in danger of becoming a local pariah since not only are his workers on strike against him, but his neighbors, many of whom make a substantial profit from the carnival, though he puts it on for free, stand to lose out as well.

As Matthew struggles to decide whether to sell his company to save the festival, he draws support from his best friend since childhood, physician Nancy Wells (Shawnee Smith). He also gets emotional backup from a duo of newfound acquaintances: impoverished, ailing single mother Sharon Joseph (Danielle Nicolet) and her indefatigably cheerful little boy, Clarence (Issac Ryan Brown).

Matthew met the Josephs when Clarence took on the role of good Samaritan, rescuing Matthew after he was beaten up by thugs who also set his car on fire. This physical attack is only the starkest of the negative developments Job-like Matthew must cope with as the often downbeat proceedings move forward.

Matthew has moments of self-doubt and occasionally seems to give in to despair. He also doesn’t shy away from confrontation with his opponents, which helps give “Believe” the kind of dramatic backbone faith-driven movies often lack. That’s all the more welcome since at least some viewers are likely to react to Clarence’s unquenchable good humor, and the cavorting by which he gives vent to it, with an echo of W.C. Field’s famous growl, “Go away, kid, you bother me.”

Still, Clarence manages to brighten Matthew’s mood as the latter doggedly holds out for a Capraesque happy ending. Along the way, writer-director Billy Dickson mostly avoids preachiness and keeps the imperative of his title Bible-based but nondenominational.

Mention of golden-age Hollywood director Frank Capra is almost inevitable, given that both Clarence’s name and his ambition to play an angel in the pageant that caps off the Christmas fair obviously recall Capra’s yuletide classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” in which Henry Travers played an eponymous heavenly messenger. Similarly, Matthew’s plight mirrors that of Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey in the earlier film.

While “Believe” is hardly in the same league as the beloved predecessor it evokes, the absence of most objectionable material does make it a safe choice for a large cross section of the family.

The film contains some nonlethal violence and a single crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

  

 

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‘Loving’ — Interracial love story becomes 1967 Supreme Court case

December 5th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

Dignity and understatement are usually noble qualities in a film. “Loving,” the fact-based story behind a landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision, is so restrained and decorous, however, that it nearly obscures the historical significance of the events it recounts.

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in a scene from the movie "Loving."  (CNS photo/Focus)

Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga star in a scene from the movie “Loving.” (CNS photo/Focus)

Partly that’s the result of the portrayal of Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton). This white Virginia bricklayer, one of the movie’s two main characters, is shown to be taciturn, monosyllabic, almost stone-faced. The only fleeting emotions he expresses are terror whenever strange cars appear on rural two-lane roads and a sense of humor while watching the sentimentalized South on offer in an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

Richard’s serene African-American wife, Mildred (Ruth Negga), gets to display considerably more human qualities. It’s she who kicks off their legal crusade, which eventually succeeded in demolishing race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States, by writing to Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Inspired by the civil rights movement, which she experiences only on TV, Mildred also understands the need for national news coverage.

The Lovings, who lived in Caroline County, Va., married in Washington in 1958 — thereby evading, temporarily at least, their home state’s law forbidding interracial unions. Such “anti-miscegenation” statutes had their origins in the days of slavery but were reinforced in Southern states after the Civil War; Virginia’s was enacted in 1924.

Shortly after returning to the Old Dominion, the couple was arrested and jailed. Because the commonwealth rejected the validity of their marriage, deputies also hoped to arrest the Lovings on a fornication charge; thus increasing the penalties they would face.

Contemptuous Sheriff Brooks (Marton Csokas) expresses the only flat-out racist sentiment in the movie, ridiculing Loving’s close proximity to black neighbors and telling him, “You were just born in the wrong place, is all.”

A judge gives the duo a one-year suspended sentence, and forbids them to return to Virginia for 25 years. So they move to Washington.

But they don’t take to city life, and when they return to Virginia for the birth of their first child — Richard’s mother, Lola (Sharon Blackwood), is a midwife — they’re arrested again. They eventually move to a neighboring county where law enforcement is less inclined to harass them. But they seek legal relief in order to return to Caroline County, where Richard has promised Mildred he’ll build her a house.

These circumstances must have been extraordinarily stressful, since the Lovings had no way of knowing whether any given nightfall would be the cue for a hate crime. Yet writer-director Jeff Nichols doesn’t allow either Richard or Mildred to be freely emotional.

Occasionally, relatives express their frustrations, but that’s it. Nichols keeps his drama free from the histrionics that surely must have occurred.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, inexperienced but hugely confident in the merits of the case, guide it to the Supreme Court. But even there, their arguments and those from the state, which at least would explain to viewers why all of this matters, are truncated.

So no long monologues for any of the characters. Rather, the dialogue aims to be brief and pithy. When lawyer Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll) asks Richard what he should say to the justices, for instance, Richard merely grunts, “Tell them I love my wife.”

The cultural impact of the Lovings’ struggle makes this valuable viewing for mature teens, despite the elements listed below.

The film contains a premarital pregnancy, a couple of crass terms, fleeting racial slurs and two scenes of childbirth. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

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No mistaking the entertainment value of ‘Moana’

November 23rd, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

The same tropical setting that provided the backdrop for the 1949 musical “South Pacific” now lends its exotic flavor to the animated feature “Moana.”

Characters are shown in a scene from the animated movie "Moana." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

Characters are shown in a scene from the animated movie “Moana.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS photo/Disney)

As for the feminism-friendly story of the movie’s eponymous heroine, well, as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lovelorn Seabees so famously declared, “There is nothing like a dame.”

The spunky heroine of Disney’s 56th animated film is a 16-year-old Polynesian princess (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) who seeks not a boyfriend but a grand adventure on the high seas, all to save her world from destruction.

There’s no mistaking the entertainment value of “Moana,” gloriously rendered in 3-D, with a delightful array of characters and toe-tapping songs co-written by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Broadway’s “Hamilton.” The film also offers good lessons about family, friendship and the need to be responsible.

But Christian parents may be concerned to find that Jared Bush’s screenplay is steeped in indigenous mythology. “Moana” presents a view of creation at odds with the biblical account, and could confuse impressionable minds. Well-catechized teens, however, will likely slough these elements off as mere fantasy.

As “Moana” tells it, in the beginning was not God but a comely goddess named Te Fiti, who commanded the oceans and brought life to the world.

Te Fiti was joined by a demigod (half -god, half-human) named Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson). Maui had a nifty talent of pulling islands up from the sea with his trusty fishhook. But he was greedy, and stole the magical “heart” of Te Fiti. Darkness covered the world, and Maui was banished.

Fast-forward several centuries to the tranquil island of the so-called “Chosen One,” Moana. Since her name means “ocean,” it’s no wonder that Moana is drawn to the open waters beyond her island’s protective reef, despite the warnings of her father, Chief Tui.

“No one goes beyond the reef,” he says. “It keeps us safe.”

But the ocean has a mind of its own, and — in a manner strikingly similar to the animated column of water in 1989’s “The Abyss” — the sea pokes and prods Moana into seeking her destiny. Her quest is to locate Maui, transport him across the sea (demigods don’t swim), and restore Te Fiti’s heart before the encroaching darkness reaches Moana’s island.

Maui is more surfer dude than classical Greek god. He’s also accustomed to adulation, not the commands of a teenager. The tattoos covering his ample girth spring to life, acting either as a voice of approval or an admonishing, Jiminy Cricket-like conscience.

Throw into the mix Moana’s pet, a dimwitted rooster named Heihei (voice of Alan Tudyk), and you have the recipe for a chaotic but amusing journey across the sea.

With previous helming credits like “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker represent the aristocracy of Disney animation. Yet “Moana” does feel derivative at times, with echoes of previous films. And storm sequences as well as creature battles may be too intense for younger viewers.

The film contains nonscriptural religious ideas, mildly scary action sequences and occasional bathroom humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

 

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‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’

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Catholic News Service

Fans of British novelist P.G. Wodehouse have a special place in their hearts for one of his most memorable comic creations, a shy and eccentric newt fancier with the immortal name Augustus Fink-Nottle.

Katherine Waterston, Eddie Redmayne, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler star in a scene from the movie "Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them." The Catholic News Service classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. (CNS /Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Katherine Waterston, Eddie Redmayne, Alison Sudol and Dan Fogler star in a scene from the movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. (CNS /Warner Bros. Entertainment)

Gussie, as his pal Bertie Wooster always called him, turns out to bear some similarity to the protagonist of “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Since the film is primarily a fantasy and not a comedy, however, this resemblance proves a mixed blessing.

Penned by “Harry Potter” scribe J.K. Rowling, and set in 1926 New York, the movie follows the stateside adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), an alumnus of Harry’s alma mater, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who specializes in studying and preserving the creatures of the title. As he travels the globe, Newt keeps an entire menagerie of the outlandish critters he’s collected in an ordinary-looking but magical suitcase.

When this valise accidentally falls into the hands of everyday mortal Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), the owner of an outwardly identical grip, it’s easy to foresee the fallout. Jacob cluelessly releases the inhabitants of Newt’s portable zoo, thereby creating two interconnected problems for the spell-caster.

First, there’s the danger of setting off a panic as fauna unknown to nature wander the streets of Gotham. The result of such a sensation, moreover, would be to reveal to humans the existence of the whole carefully hidden world of wand-wavers with persecution and conflict the likely results.

To prevent all this, Newt joins forces with local Ministry of Magic enforcement official Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston). While barely able to understand the alternate reality he’s suddenly stumbled into, Jacob, too, lends a hand.

Finally, to round things out and create parallel love possibilities, Tina’s sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol), also joins the chase to retrieve the strays.

As directed by “Harry Potter” veteran David Yates, “Beasts” is visually impressive. And Folger brings off Jacob’s working-stiff persona to droll effect. But, overall, emotional engagement is lacking, perhaps because Redmayne makes withdrawn bashfulness one of his peculiar character’s leading qualities. Thus, special effects wind up predominating over human interaction.

The predictable mayhem punctuating the story is thoroughly stylized. So parents may be more concerned to find that a vaguely religious atmosphere surrounds one of the villains of the piece, anti-wizardry crusader Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton).

The film contains considerable action violence with minimal gore and a couple of uses of a slang term some may find vulgar. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II, adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13.

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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