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A third new paint job for ‘Cars 3’

June 14th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Fasten your seatbelts and start your engines for a wild (and often ear-splitting) ride in “Cars 3,” the latest installment of the family-friendly animated franchise.

Six years after the initial sequel and 11 since the series began with “Cars,” the anthropomorphic autos are back with a vengeance. Director Brian Fee ramps up the racing action (and the roar of the engines) while introducing a fleet of new characters sure to please young viewers, not to mention toy manufacturers.

This is a scene from the movie "Cars 3." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage.  (CNS /Disney)

This is a scene from the movie “Cars 3.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. (CNS /Disney)

Happily, there’s much more than the dizzying blur of NASCAR-like action. Screenwriters Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson and Mike Rich inject a nice amount of heart and pathos into the comedic plot, and add winning messages about second chances and the value of mentoring.

The years have been kind to ace racer Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson). He’s still at the top of his game. But just over his shoulder is a new generation of faster vehicles, like the brash rookie Jackson Storm (voice of Armie Hammer).

“Enjoy your retirement,” Jackson tells Lightning as he whizzes past.

In a flash, Lightning is sidelined by an accident. Disillusioned and depressed, he retreats to his adopted home of Radiator Springs. There he draws on the support of his loyal tow-truck sidekick, Mater (voice of Larry the Cable Guy), and comely Porsche sweetheart, Sally (voice of Bonnie Hunt).

Sally knows Lightning must look to the future. “Don’t fear failure,” she insists. “Take a chance. Try something new.”

A spiffy fresh paint job by Ramone (voice of Cheech Marin) helps. “It’s so beautiful,” Ramone says of his own work, “it’s like the Sistine Chapel!”

With his spirits buoyed, Lightning heads to the training center run by his sponsor, Rust-Eze, and its new owner, the “businesscar” Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion). His eager young coach, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), is thrilled with her new, if elderly, charge.

“You’re my senior project!” she gushes.

As the bond between veteran racer and rookie wannabe grows, Lightning recalls the wisdom of his dearly departed mentor, Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman). On a whim, he takes Cruz on a road trip to find Doc’s original trainer, a grizzled ’51 Ford named Smokey (voice of Chris Cooper), to recapture some of the old magic.

“You’ll never be the racer you once were,” Smokey intones. “You can’t turn back the clock, kid, but you can wind it up again.”

“Cars 3” is full of surprises, and there’s a nice twist in store well before the finish line.

Preceding “Cars 3” is a short film entitled “Lou.” It’s a charming fable about a playground bully who learns the error of his ways thanks to some enchanted objects in his school’s lost-and-found box.

The film contains a brief, highly stylized crash scene. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G.

 

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‘The Boss Baby’ proves amusing, if flimsy

March 30th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Fans of Stewie Griffin, the “enfant terrible”of Fox-TV’s “Family Guy,” will know in advance just what effect the folks behind “The Boss Baby” are aiming for with their incongruously mature title character.

Mother, voiced by Lisa Kudrow, Boss Baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin, and father, voiced by Jimmy Kimmel, appear in the animated movie "Boss Baby." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. (CNS photo/DreamWorks)

Mother, voiced by Lisa Kudrow, Boss Baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin, and father, voiced by Jimmy Kimmel, appear in the animated movie “Boss Baby.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. (CNS photo/DreamWorks)

Whether the filmmakers have managed to create a similarly memorable prodigy is, however, another question.

In fact, considered overall, this animated take on the trauma of acquiring a younger sibling can best be described as amusing but flimsy. On the upside, objectionable elements are sufficiently few that all but the very youngest family members can safely enjoy the fleeting fun.

As narrator Tobey Maguire informs us, 7-year-old only child Tim (voice of Miles Bakshi) is a contented lad. He enjoys the undivided attention of his hard-working but solicitous parents (voices of Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow), so life is good.

Until, that is, the arrival of the eponymous, and otherwise unnamed, infant (voice of Alec Baldwin) whose disruptive presence promptly turns Tim’’s well-ordered world upside down. Resentful of the newcomer, Tim is also suspicious of such peculiarities as the fact that his brother arrived as the sole passenger in a taxi and that he wears a business suit.

A little investigation proves that this is, indeed, no ordinary babe in arms. Endowed with an adult personality and the ability to speak, he also has a corporate agenda to pursue.

As a representative of the company that manufactures infants, Boss Baby is out to thwart the multiply named Francis Francis (voiced by Steve Buscemi), the head honcho of a pet marketing conglomerate. Francis, we learn, has developed a puppy so irresistible that no one will want to have children once the pooch becomes available. It’s up to Boss Baby to prevent the product launch of this heart-hogging animal.

This is explained with the aid of pie charts showing cuddly dogs eating into the market for youngsters, a satiric point that can be seen as vaguely pro-life.

But a darker tone is introduced as Boss Baby schemes shamelessly and callously threatens Tim with the loss of their parents’ affection. (Once further exposition reveals that success will mean Boss Baby’s permanent return to headquarters, however, Tim becomes his willing collaborator.)

Beyond gentle domestic discord and the caricaturing of executives, a more pressing concern for real-life moms and dads may be the repetition in the dialogue of the question, “Where do babies come from?” The answer is always, of course, a whimsical one, though a whispered exchange between Tim and Boss Baby, inaudible to the audience, briefly hints at the true explanation before both agree in rejecting it.

Along with silly potty and anatomical gags, this is not a movie for those averse to the sight of an animated newborn’s bottom, that’s about all there is to worry about in director Tom McGrath’s ephemeral adaptation of Marla Frazee’s 2010 picture book.

As for Stewie, he’s unlikely to eat his heart out over the debut of his big-screen rival.

The film contains some slapstick violence, mild scatological humor and a religiously themed but not irreverent joke. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘Rock Dog’ — Sheep, dogs and rock ‘n’ roll

February 27th, 2017 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

“You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog,” Elvis Presley crooned six decades ago. That pretty well describes “Rock Dog,” a feeble animated comedy about a canine with unlikely musical aspirations.

On Snow Mountain, high in the Himalayas, a Tibetan Mastiff named Bodi (voice of Luke Wilson) is stuck in the shadow of his stern father, Khampa (voice of J.K. Simmons). Their two-dog mission is to guard the village from marauding wolves eager to eat the resident sheep population.

Animated characters Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson and Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddie Lzzard, star in a scene from the movie "Rock Dog." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Animated characters Bodi, voiced by Luke Wilson and Angus Scattergood, voiced by Eddie Lzzard, star in a scene from the movie “Rock Dog.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.(CNS photo/Lionsgate)

Bodi prefers playing his guitar to sentry duty. When a passing airplane drops a radio from the sky, it’s like manna from heaven. Turning the dial to a rock ‘n’ roll station (reception is remarkably clear), Bodi is entranced by the music of legendary rock-and-roller Angus Scattergood (voice of Eddie Izzard).

The village elder, fittingly named Fleetwood Yak (voice of Sam Elliott), convinces Khampa to let his son leave the village and seek his destiny in the big city.

“It’s your life. Make it a happy one,” Fleetwood tells Bodi.

So Bodi hops the bus (mass transit is also surprisingly good), lands in the nearby metropolis, filled with anthropomorphic species, and seeks out Angus’ heavily guarded compound.

The aging rocker, a hipster cat with a British accent and a sassy robot butler named Ozzie, invites the awestruck fan into his lair, but his motives are not sincere. Angus needs a new hit, and Bodi’s fresh talent might be just the ticket.

Meanwhile, the big bad wolf pack, led by Linnux (voice of Lewis Black), is inspired by Bodi’s departure to mount a final assault on Snow Mountain. Sporting gangster attire and driving stretch limos, these cool dudes have one goal in mind: feasting on grilled lamb chops.

Director and co-writer (with Kurt Voelker) Ash Bannon keeps the story moving while borrowing heavily from other animated films, including “Zootopia” and “WALL-E.”

Despite the dangers characters occasionally face and Angus’ mildly intemperate language (he says things like “stupid bloody idiot!”), “Rock Dog” is mindless fare acceptable for all. except possibly the most easily frightened.

The film contains a few scenes of peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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‘The Resurrection of Gavin Stone’

By

Catholic News Service

The parable of the prodigal son gets a soapy Hollywood treatment in “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone,” a faith-based comedy-drama.

The eponymous character (Brett Dalton) is a washed-up former child star whose bad-boy antics land him in big trouble during a visit to his hometown in Illinois. Sentenced to perform 200 hours of community service and unable to leave the state, Gavin reluctantly moves back in with his estranged father, Waylon (Neil Flynn), a carpenter (hint, hint).

Gavin’s community service is at an evangelical Christian megachurch run by Pastor Allen Richardson (D.B. Sweeney). “We really do believe in second chances here,” the pastor says.

Naturally, Gavin is a fish out of water and unused to cleaning bathrooms.

Fortunately, there is an outlet for his creative energy. The church is rehearsing a Passion play for Easter, and the ragtag group of volunteer actors could use some inspiration.

The production’s comely director, Kelly Richardson (Anjelah Johnson-Reyes), who happens to be the pastor’s daughter, is suspicious of the flashy newcomer. All actors must be professed Christians, so Gavin pretends he is saved.

“I’ve had the passion of the Christ for a couple of years now,” Gavin quips.

Before you can say “Alleluia!” Gavin is cast in the lead as Jesus, sheds his narcissism, and begins to see the light, as per the film’s title.

Dallas Jenkins directs with sincerity from a predictable but non-preachy script by Andrea Gyerston Nasfell that offers lessons in forgiveness and redemption suitable for all ages.

The film contains a nongraphic portrayal of the Crucifixion. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

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Pet story: When the humans are away…

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Catholic News Service

Back in 1995, the classic children’s film “Toy Story” purported to show audiences what playthings get up to when they aren’t being observed by people. Now “The Secret Life of Pets” does much the same for domesticated animals.

Max, voiced by Louis C.K., Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet and Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper, appear in the animated movie "The Secret Life of Pets." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage.  (CNS photo/Universal)

Max, voiced by Louis C.K., Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet and Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper, appear in the animated movie “The Secret Life of Pets.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. (CNS photo/Universal)

The result is an entertaining animated free-for-all in which amusing characters and pleasing visuals of the Manhattan setting predominate over a serviceable but sketchy plot.

Terrier Max (voice of Louis C.K.) is the pampered pooch of New York apartment dweller Katie (voice of Ellie Kemper). Max’s only complaint is that Katie’s work separates them for much of the day.

While she’s gone, though, Max is free to cavort with the other pets in the neighborhood, including Gidget (voiced by Jenny Slate), a fluffy Pomeranian who harbors a secret crush on him. With their owners absent, the animals not only communicate with one another, they act in all sorts of ways the humans never suspect.

Max’s mostly pleasant routine is suddenly disrupted one evening when Katie brings home big, shaggy Duke (voice of Eric Stonestreet), a rescue dog from the pound. Though Duke initially tries his best to be friendly, Max, feeling threatened, rebuffs him. It’s not long before the two sink into a rivalry that leads to the series of comic misadventures to which helmer Chris Renaud, together with co-director Yarrow Cheney, devotes most of his attention.

As Max and Duke go inadvertently on the lam and struggle to evade the city’s animal enforcement officers, they fall in with a variety of colorful personalities.

These include Snowball (voice of Kevin Hart), a diminutive rabbit whose manners, vocabulary and fondness for violence incongruously mimic those of a crazed gang leader, as well as a hawk named Tiberius (voice of Albert Brooks). Tiberius has an ongoing ethical dilemma: he’s torn between his desire to befriend other creatures and his urge to devour them.

The upshot of it all is that Max and Duke’s mutual hostility begins to melt away in the face of shared adversity. And romance blossoms as Gidget proves her mettle in Max’s hour of need.

Tots will learn lessons about accepting the arrival of a younger sibling and about the value of self-sacrifice. The smallest moviegoers, however, may be put off by the dangers that loom on screen while some parents may not be pleased by all the litterbox humor on display there.

Those mild lapses in taste aside, “The Secret Life of Pets” makes for an experience as warm and fuzzy as a cuddle with your favorite puppy or pussycat. The feature is preceded by an animated short, “Mower Minions,” in which the pixilated creatures of the title attempt to raise cash by doing yard work, with predictably hilarious consequences.

The film contains potentially frightening scenes of peril, considerable cartoon violence and numerous scatological jokes involving animals. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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‘The BFG’ — Big friendly giant featured in dream of a movie

June 30th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

By

Catholic News Service

Like its source material, Roald Dahl’s eponymous 1982 children’s book, “The BFG” comes packed with specialized terms for its own fantasy elements.

Ruby Barnhill and the Big Friendly Giant, voiced by Mark Rylance, appear in the animated movie "The BFG." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Disney)

Ruby Barnhill and the Big Friendly Giant, voiced by Mark Rylance, appear in the animated movie “The BFG.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (CNS photo/Disney)

A golden phizzwizard, for instance, is the best kind of dream, while frobscottle is a fizzy drink that produces a less-than-dreamy intestinal reaction referred to as whizpopping.

As gentle as that ideal slumber, and no naughtier than that digestive disturbance, this adventure is certainly far superior to most offerings for youngsters broadcast over what Dahl called the telly-telly bunkum box. It’s entertainment for the discerning child who reads, and enjoys fairy tales with a slightly skewed perspective.

Lovingly directed by Steven Spielberg from a script by the late Melissa Mathison (who also wrote “E.T.”) “The BFG” combines live actors with motion-capture animation to recount the celebrated story of the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) and his orphan friend Sophie (Ruby Barnhill).

Admittedly, the film lacks some of the interactive whimsy and silliness of the long-running children’s theater versions, in which the language-mangling giant is an actor inside a massive puppet. Here, all the threats to the intrepid Sophie are dangerously literal. But Spielberg is unmatched in his ability to visualize the colorful dreams the giant magically collects, then distributes to sleeping kids.

Ten-year-old Sophie lives in a gruesome London orphanage operated by an incompetent. So at night it falls to her to see to it that the doors are locked and the windows shut. This is how she first spots the homely behemoth making his nocturnal rounds.

Like King Kong snatching Fay Wray, the giant quickly reaches in to abduct Sophie, carrying her off at a sprint to faraway Giant Country. There he explains that he had no choice but to remove her lest, having spotted him, she blow his cover.

The BFG, we learn, subsists on a single foul vegetable, the snozzcumber. But he’s the only vegetarian in Giant Country.

The rest of the landscape is occupied by even larger, far meaner creatures with names like Fleshlumpeater (voice of Jemaine Clement) and Bloodbottler (voice of Bill Hader). As their monikers more than hint, they’re all rampaging carnivores.

Thus the BFG has to protect Sophie from the others of his ilk. She’s not the first child who’s visited his homeland and, as he puts it, his flesh-loving counterparts are “always swallowing up human beings like they was sugar lumps.” However, that doesn’t stop spunky Sophie from arguing fearlessly with her outsized defender about anything and everything.

After several dangerous encounters and a sequence, the picture’s best, in which the giant demonstrates his dream-catching technique, Sophie works up an unlikely plan. She and the BFG will visit Buckingham Palace and appeal to the Queen (Penelope Wilton) to find a way to capture the bad giants so their child-snacking days will be over.

There, predictably, the frobscottle wreaks havoc on royal protocol, as well as on the sovereign’s pet corgis.

Since genuinely objectionable material is entirely absent from “The BFG,” parents’ only task will be to assess whether the peril in which Sophie finds herself, together with the delight the movie takes in whizpopping, makes this unsuitable fare for the smallest viewers.

The film contains potentially frightening situations and some mild bathroom humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG, parental guidance suggested.

 

Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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Weekend movie: ‘Finding Dory’ a treat for all ages

June 16th, 2016 Posted in Uncategorized Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Fans of the 2003 animated adventure “Finding Nemo” have reason to rejoice: The long wait for a sequel is over, and the follow-up, “Finding Dory,” once again turns vast expanses of salt water into tasty taffy. The result is a dandy treat for moviegoers of almost all ages. Read more »

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‘Finding Dory’ provides life lessons in family loyalty, teamwork and courage

June 15th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

Fans of the 2003 animated adventure “Finding Nemo” have reason to rejoice: The long wait for a sequel is over, and the follow-up, “Finding Dory,” once again turns vast expanses of salt water into tasty taffy. The result is a dandy treat for moviegoers of almost all ages.

Animated character Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, appears in the movie "Finding Dory." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. (CNS photo/Disney)

Animated character Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, appears in the movie “Finding Dory.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. (CNS photo/Disney)

The buoyant new film’s entertainment value, moreover, is moored to solid morals.

Working with co-director Angus MacLane, writer-director Andrew Stanton sets the earlier picture’s trio of main characters on another epic journey. This one is undertaken to reunite the absent-minded blue tang of the title (voice of Ellen DeGeneres) with her long-lost parents, Jenny (voice of Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy).

Accompanying Dory on her eventful quest are Marlin (voice of Albert Brooks) and Nemo (voice of Hayden Rolence), the father-and-son duo of clownfish she befriended in the first outing. In fact, this can be seen as a tale of two families since Dory’s bond with widowed worrywart Marlin goes deeper than mere friendship, while the care she provides sprightly Nemo is distinctly maternal. All that is left largely unspoken however.

Dory’s hunt eventually leads to the Marine Life Institute, a fictional aquarium on the coast of California. There she gains the help of three more pals: curmudgeonly octopus Hank (voice of Ed O’Neill), Bailey (voice of Ty Burrell), a beluga whale with defective sonar skills, and nearsighted whale shark Destiny (voice of Kaitlin Olson).

Through it all, Stanton conveys life lessons about family loyalty, teamwork and the proper balance between courage and caution via a script full of gentle humor and appealing personalities. But his most impressive achievement is the use to which he puts the various disabilities on display. While these challenges are sometimes milked for comedy, at a more basic level Stanton portrays them to send an implicit anti-bullying and pro-life message to youthful viewers.

Objectionable elements are virtually absent. During an underwater schoolroom scene, Dory, mistakenly believing that one of the kids has asked her about the birds and the bees, launches into a boilerplate explanation that only patrons of a certain age will understand. She’s quickly cut off.

At a moment of danger, Hank instinctively releases a wave of black ink. Dory tries to relieve his subsequent embarrassment about this with a brief verbal reaction that the strictest might insist on identifying as a bit of potty humor.

On the other hand, the dangers lurking in the deep lead to brief incidents of jeopardy for our buddies on screen that may prove too intense for small fry.

The film contains scenes of peril, a distant reference to clichés about the facts of life and equally vague bathroom humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

 

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3-D ‘’Ratchet & Clank’ remains flat

April 29th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , ,

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‘Catholic News Service

Busy 3-D visuals fail to mask the flat tone and by-the-numbers storytelling of the animated sci-fi adventure “Ratchet & Clank” (Gramercy). In fact, even undemanding youngsters may feel the space-time continuum yawning before them as the seemingly interminable 94 minutes of this video-game adaptation tick away.

Ratchet, center, voiced by James Arnold Taylor, appears in the animated movie "Ratchet & Clank." (CNS/Gramercy Pictures)

Ratchet, center, voiced by James Arnold Taylor, appears in the animated movie “Ratchet & Clank.” (CNS/Gramercy Pictures)

There’s nothing particularly wrong with the film’s underlying message. As encapsulated in the repeated tagline, “You don’t have to do big things to be a hero; just the right ones,” it actually echoes — however faintly — Mother Teresa’s famous formula: “small things with great love.” But the vehicle used to convey this respectable theme bears more resemblance to a tired jalopy than a gleaming spaceship.

Thus there’s a strained quality to the attempts at humor with which the script — penned by co-director Kevin Munroe in collaboration with T.J. Fixman and Gerry Swallow — tries to make the predictable plot more involving. When your primary hero, the titular Ratchet (voice of James Arnold Taylor), is a catlike creature called a lombax whose very nature requires an explanatory detour, moreover, it doesn’t bode well for the journey ahead.

An accomplished, albeit somewhat scatterbrained, mechanic, Ratchet longs to leave the garage behind and join a glamorous band of interplanetary peacekeepers known as the Galactic Rangers. When he tries out for this prestigious team via an interview with their vain leader, Qwark (voice of Jim Ward), however, things go so badly wrong that Ratchet finds himself back among the spare parts being consoled by his gruff but kindly employer, Grimroth (voiced by John Goodman).

Yet plucky underdogs can’t be kept down forever. At least in the world of kids’ movies they can’t. So it’s not long before Ratchet teams with brainiac robot Clank (voice of David Kaye) to take on Drek (voice of Paul Giamatti), a planet-destroying villain who has temporarily managed to stymie the Rangers.

We know that the aptly named Drek must be about the blackest hat going since he’s not only a tycoon, but a polluting industrialist whose frequently seen factory spews soot into the air with merry abandon.

Joined at the helm by Jericca Cleland, Munroe adds moral observations about the dangers of pride and the need to be a team player to the aforementioned outline of everyday heroism. If their eyes haven’t glazed over, those are ethical signals parents and little ones alike can profitably take on board.

Momentary dangers and some loud mayhem, however, suggest that the very youngest moviegoers might better be steered in a different direction. All the more so if those supervising them have a low tolerance for tedium.

The film contains some cartoon violence, including explosions, and occasional peril. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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‘Norm of the North’ is animated and positive but forgettable

January 15th, 2016 Posted in Movies Tags: , , ,

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Catholic News Service

A wisecracking polar bear ventures south to save his home environment from destruction in “Norm of the North.”

Norm, voiced by Rob Schneider, and other animated characters, appear in the movie "Norm of the North." The Catholic News Service classification is A-I -- general patronage. T (CNS /Lionsgate)

Norm, voiced by Rob Schneider, and other animated characters, appear in the movie “Norm of the North.” The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. T (CNS /Lionsgate)

Though suitable for all ages, this animated comedy is unlikely to make much of an impression, either on targeted kids or on the long-suffering adults who accompany them.

Still, while it’s certainly not in the Disney/Pixar league, and relies too heavily on scatological jokes to win cheap laughs, first-time director Trevor Wall’s film does deserve some recognition for incorporating positive messages about family and friendship.

The eponymous creature (voice of Rob Schneider) suffers from a kind of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” syndrome: He just doesn’t fit in with his ursine peers. He dislikes hunting seals for dinner, and would rather disco dance than growl at the gawking tourists on visiting cruise ships.

“I put the soul into solstice,” he brags, twirling in the snow.

Norm is different in another way: He can “talk human,” a gift shared only by his Grandpa (voice of Colm Meaney), the species’ former sovereign.

“Polar bears are the icons of the north,” Grandpa intones. “An icon with a voice can be very powerful indeed.”

Norm learns that lesson for himself when a maniacal developer named Mr. Greene (voice of Ken Jeong) decides to build luxury houses on the polar ice shelf, threatening the ecosystem and the bears’ way of life. Greene’s assistant, Vera (voice of Heather Graham), is a reluctant participant in his scheme.

The mogul must be stopped at the source, and only a bear able to speak the lingo can do the job. Since Grandpa has mysteriously vanished, Norm is persuaded by the resident sage, a seagull named Socrates (voice of Bill Nighy), to hitch a ride to Manhattan and visit Mr. Greene’s high-rise headquarters.

He’s accompanied by a trio of lemmings, the Arctic’s smallest creatures. Like Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel in the “Ice Age” films, these voiceless but cuddly stooges get into all sorts of mischief. In a misguided bid for giggles, they also relieve themselves in public as frequently as possible.

Having reached the Big Apple, Norm makes an ally of Vera and of her precocious daughter, Olympia (voice of Maya Kay). Young Olympia heavy-handedly schools the bear and thus the audience in the wickedness of corporate greed and its impact on our fragile planet.

Overall, “Norm of the North” is silly and rather tedious. Yet, in less time than it takes the picture’s protagonist to shout, “Holy icicle!” all memory of the movie will probably have dissipated like a morning mist over frozen tundra.

The film contains mild cartoonish violence, some bathroom humor, and a bit of adult wordplay. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I, general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG.

 

McAleer is a guest review for Catholic News Service.

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