The Wizard of Oz (1939) Review

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, Richard Thorpe, and King Vidor

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Musical

Runtime: 102 minutes

MPAA Rating: G (2D version), PG (3D version)

IMDb Page

The hype exists for a reason. There’s little I can say about this endlessly iconic 1939 feature that hasn’t been said before. The charming story is about a Kansan farmgirl named Dorothy (Judy Garland) and her dog, Toto (Terry), being whisked away to the magical Land of Oz during a tornado. Even if you feel like you’re too old to be watching a family film like The Wizard of Oz, I highly recommend it anyway.

How was this made all the way back in 1939? The songs are still as catchy as ever, the special effects just as stupendous, the characters just as lovable, the flying monkeys just as frightening, the visuals just as splendorous, the action just as exciting, the drama just as moving, the humor just as amusing, and the pacing just as swift as ever. Those who say films were merely “proto-movies” prior to Citizen Kane (1941) can take a hike!

Holding this timeless masterpiece together is the message of there being no place like home. Sepia-colored Kansas may not be a roller coaster ride of excitement, but that’s where the heart is. To find their way back to the heartland, Dorothy, Toto, and their new friends must put their inner courage, compassion, and smarts to the test and defeat the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). Who couldn’t love a story like that?

The Wizard of Oz is just about as close to perfection as motion pictures can get. What? Are you actually going to criticize the painted backgrounds for not looking realistic enough? Anyway, this is a true classic that hasn’t aged with time. From the yearning for a better tomorrow displayed in the opening to the crazily imaginative adventures in Oz to the tear-jerking finale, this is the real deal.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

The Adventures of Tintin (2011) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 107 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Being an American, I wasn’t all that familiar with the character of Belgian comic hero Tintin growing up (although I do remember watching the cartoon series The Adventures of Tintin on television). I’m grateful for director Steven Spielberg for largely introducing audiences in the United States to the world of Tintin with the 2011 animated motion picture The Adventures of Tintin. Blending three of the classic Tintin stories (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure) together, the plot involves intrepid reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his dog, Snowy, going on an adventure after purchasing a model ship that everybody wants to have a part of. Okay, after using the word “Tintin” approximately 10,000 times over the course of one paragraph, let’s get on with the review.

After directing the Indiana Jones flicks, Steven Spielberg was a perfect choice to helm an entry into the almost equally pulpy Tintin franchise. Many (but not all) of the beloved characters from the comics make an appearance here, and there are several visual references to other Tintin adventures. As much as I loved the film overall, I am a bit disappointed with its depiction of Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). He shows a bit too much of his buffoonish side here, and not quite enough of his badass personality. All of the other characters seem to be on-point, though.

For this feature, the action in the comics was taken and pumped up to an eye-popping extreme. The film’s manic action sequences are astounding, featuring camerawork and choreography that would be near-impossible to pull off in a live-action movie. From a pirate battle to a wild chase through the streets of a Moroccan city, the big set-pieces really bring out the viewer’s inner child. Also worthy of mention are John Williams’ lively musical score and the fantastic opening credits scene.

The Adventures of Tintin is definitely one of my favorite animated movies of all time, and, as far as action-adventure pictures go, it’s up there, too. It has both the lovable characters and the jaw-dropping action scenes that those sort of features need to succeed. It’s terrific entertainment for most ages (there is some blood in one scene, after a man is shot) that’s bound to encourage viewers to learn more about the Tintin universe. Let’s hope that that sequel gets made!

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) Review

Directors: Lotte Reiniger and Carl Koch

Genre(s): Adventure, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 66 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

What’s the world’s oldest surviving feature-length animated movie? Something by Disney? Nope, that honor goes to a silent German film by the name of The Adventures of Prince Achmed (originally titled “Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed“) from 1926. The story is about young, fearless Prince Achmed setting out to restore order to the land after a devious magician crashes his father’s birthday bash. This picture uses silhouette animation (think stop-motion shadow puppets) to transport viewers to far away worlds. Home video releases are color-tinted.

This fairly short (only 66 minutes long) classic has visuals that are nothing short of entrancing. It’s certainly nothing like any other movie from…well, any time period. The silhouettes are surprisingly detailed, and almost every character, despite being little more than a shadow puppet, has a distinctive look. In addition to its astounding appearance, The Adventures of Prince Achmed is greatly aided by an energetic musical score by Wolfgang Zeller.

Based on old Arabian fairy tales, this feature has a timeless quality to it that keeps it fresh after all these decades. There is some swashbuckling action and some special effects that made me wonder “how did they do that?” The only time the pacing threatens to lag is when Aladdin shows up (yes, Aladdin and his magic lamp are here) and explains his backstory. It certainly doesn’t kill the film, but these flashbacks slow things down just a tad. Just a tad.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed is definitely no musty museum piece. It’s amazing from its character introductions at the beginning to its hair-raising finale. I’m not sure how much kids will enjoy it, considering it’s silent and all (despite bombastic music), but people who’re accustomed to pictures with no spoken dialogue will be floored. This one comes highly recommended.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Christopher Robin (2018) Review

Director: Marc Forster

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 104 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE THE ONE WHO’S CRYING! I expected to cry watching Christopher Robin, but not nearly as much as I did. Here, Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), friend to all things in the Hundred Acre Wood, grows up, but finds that he can’t escape Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) and the rest of the gang. Generally speaking, films in the “kids & family” genre aren’t my cup of tea, but this picture really grabbed me.

While I can’t say for sure, Christopher Robin should readily appeal to both children and adults. For kids, it’s got the whole troop of animals from the Hundred Acre Wood, brought to life with top-notch special effects, and, for the grown-ups, it has a very nostalgic story about the passage of time. All of this being said, older audiences will probably appreciate the flick more, as it appeals more to their emotional palette and Pooh and Company may not be onscreen enough in the first half or so for many kids.

Hyper-adorable and highly sentimental, this movie easily forces the viewer to reflect on their pathetic, miserable lives, while dazzling them with a whimsical story of friendship and childhood’s end (it works better as a drama than as a comedy, but it still has some swell comic relief). I’m not really sure that the solutions to the horrors of human existence presented here are realistic, but, hey, it’s just a Winnie the Pooh film, not a philosophical tract.

I had high hopes for Christopher Robin, and they were definitely exceeded. The waterworks were basically constant for me, and the whole thing was appropriately cute. I hesitate to call it a “tearjerker,” because of how effortlessly it made me cry. Most of the time, I prefer movies where people run around and kill each other, but this was a more-than-welcome change of pace.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

Mighty Joe Young (1949) Review

Director: Ernest B. Schoedsack

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 94 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

A spiritual sequel to King Kong (1933) and The Son of Kong (1933), Mighty Joe Young is also about a stop-motion primate on the loose. Jill Young (Terry Moore) is a young woman living in Africa with a pet gorilla (Joe Young, of course) who is convinced to move to the United States and participate in a new nightclub project schemed up by showman Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong). This one’s more kid-friendly than the other two monster monkey movies that I mentioned earlier, although it still has plenty of action, suspense, and life-threatening peril.

This spare-no-expense action-adventure film features an able cast that includes a young Ben Johnson (playing Gregg) as an Oklahoman cowboy who tries to wrangle Joe Young while in Africa. The numerous special effects here feel smoother than the ones in King Kong and The Son of Kong. The elaborate action scenes are probably some of the best of the 1940s. The decision to credit Joe as “Mr. Joseph Young” in the opening credits is a cute touch.

Mighty Joe Young sure knows how to successfully push an audience’s buttons, thanks to a winning combination of action and drama. Some scenes may be a bit too talky for children, and some of the animal fighting isn’t the easiest to watch (Joe beats up some lions during one of the big set pieces, but they’re mostly fake). Most viewers will find something to enjoy about this flick.

The original Mighty Joe Young forms an unofficial adventure movie trilogy along with the original King Kong and The Son of Kong. All three were directed (or co-directed) by Ernest B. Schoedsack and show off special effects that were groundbreaking at the time of release. If you’ve enjoyed the other two films, you have got to watch Mighty Joe Young.

My rating is 8 outta 10.