“Onward” – On a Quest for Magic and Family Connections

“Onward” is a brotherhood movie in the way that “Frozen” is a sisterhood movie. I attended a media screening of this film, which has a lot of heart. Like many Disney/Pixar movies, it made me tear up at the end.

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When we meet Ian, he’s preparing for his 16th birthday and just trying to fit in at high school. Meanwhile his older brother Barley is a fun loving character who spends a lot of time in a fantasy world, full of magic and spells. Did I mention? The teens are elves.

It’s Ian’s dream to spend time with his dad, who died before he was born. Barley, remembers their dad and misses him too.  Ian’s dream could be a reality after the teen’s mother gives him a gift from his father. The gift? A magical stick that with the right spell can make their father come back for just one day.

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It turns out Ian has more magical powers than he ever knew. He makes a spell and it partly works: the boys have half of their father back. Their dad revealed from the waist down, purple socks included. The brother duo then embark on a quest to find a gem to help Ian create another spell to reveal the rest of their father.  Throughout this endeavor, Barley drives a rundown van named Guinevere. The vehicle is a character in itself.

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The brothers’ voyage starts as a mission to find that magical gem to help them spend one more day with their deceased dad. But it turns into a journey of self-discovery. The premise is that we all have a little magic in us if we just look for it and believe in ourselves.

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Tom Holland, who plays Ian, and Chris Pratt, who portrays Barley, are really a great set of brothers in this film. Pratt reminds me of Jack Black. As an aside, I’d like to see a Jack Black/ Chris Pratt film.

The movie is part fantasy, part modern day story. Some of the things that happen are absurd but you accept them and they somehow work in the overall storyline. The main characters are elves who live in cul-de-sac homes that look like mushrooms. Ian is a typical teenager; the family has a pet dragon, his mom does workout tapes and they all have cell phones.

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The fun unfolds. Ian’s mother, voiced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, has an interesting new boyfriend, a half cop/half Minotaur, who annoys the kids. During the journey, the teens meet tough biker elves who are hysterical. Plus, Ian and Barley spend a lot of time worrying they they’ll end up in a green gelatinous cube if they can’t make their mission a success.

Their dad loves to dance and despite not having a torso or a head, he’s got moves. He stumbles because he can’t see and the result is silly and endearing. It even has “Weekend at Bernie’s” vibes.

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We, Ian and Barley realize at the at end that we don’t really need to see the dad’s face. He lives on beyond the physical world because he’s reflected in his kids.

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This Pixar Animation Studios’ film is produced by Kori Rae and directed by Dan Scanlon. As expected from a Pixar/Disney film, the animation, music and sound are well done. The characters are lifelike and the storytelling is solid.

This heartwarming story will resonate with viewers, especially those who love a family story or anyone who grew up without a parent.

The movie opens March 6.

Animated Spy Movie “Spies In Disguise” Thrills the Whole Family

Spies in Disguise is the kid’s version of a James Bond movie. It has lots of heart and humor too, for kids and adults.

My family and I attended a preview screening of  the animated comedy from 20th Century Fox. Will Smith plays super spy Lance Sterling, a smooth agent who prides himself on working alone.  He relies on gadgets made by CIA-like scientists. Enter millennial scientist Walter Beckett, played by Tom Holland. He’s been using his stem skills to create and innovate since he was a little kid.

Spies in Disguise

Flash forward the present day and Walter is working in a government lab, tasked with making gadgets for secret agents. Lance needs those gadgets to get his missions completed quickly and efficiently. Even though his job is to build gadgets to take down bad guys, Walter encourages non-violence whenever possible. Many of his inventions are so mesmerizing that they cause bad guys and the audience to say, “aww.” Glitter is a theme.

At one point Lance needs helps and relies on Walter, who promises to make Lance invisible. Walter’s invention makes it happen but hijinks ensues when he turns Lance into a pigeon. The high-action secret mission continues for both Lance and Walter, who make an unlikely spy duo.

Disguise pigeons

This animated movie is very entertaining. The characters are great and animation is well done. Plus, the soundtrack from Mark Ronson is a hit. I predict this film is poised for a sequel or two.

Spies in Disguise opens Christmas Day.

Live-Action “Aladdin” – a Whole New Movie

Packed with lively music, precise choreography and attention to detail, Disney’s “Aladdin” (in theaters May 24) is pure fun. I attended a media preview and was wowed by this vibrant and energetic musical.

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The storyline is easy to follow: “street rat” Aladdin has to steal to survive; he doesn’t recognize Princess Jasmine, the Sultan’s daughter, when he meets her in the marketplace and she’s dressed as a commoner. He steals her bracelet and then rescues her when she gets in trouble with a market vendor.

nullAladdin follows her home and meets Jafar, played by Marwan Kenzari, the Sultan’s trusted advisor. Jafar, who wants to rule and has a plan to overthrow the Sultan, convinces Aladdin to locate a magic oil lamp from a dangerous cave. In return, Jafar says he’ll help Aladdin. But that’s not the case.null

 

Aladdin dusts off the lamp and unknowingly summons Genie, (played by Will Smith) who promises Aladdin three wishes.

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Genie wants to be a prince to capture the heart of Jasmine, who by law, can only marry a prince. The story plays out in exciting and adventurous fashion.

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This new “Aladdin” will surely draw comparisons to the 1992 animated version which is a beloved classic film. My take? On its own merit, this movie is a charmer. The animated version and this new “Aladdin” are two separate movies, both based on a Middle Eastern folktale, “One Thousand and One Arabian Nights.”

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I was impressed by the performances, especially the stars: Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin; Naomi Scott, who portrays Princess Jasmine; and Smith, who doesn’t disappoint as Genie.

Comedian Robin Williams was hysterical as the animated Genie in the animated film, so no doubt it’s a tough role for Smith to step into. He nails the multifaceted performance.  Throughout the movie, he’s  charismatic – singing, dancing and storytelling in big ways. When we first meet Genie, he’s larger than life and engaging; later he’s theover-the-top tailor who transform Aladdin in Prince Ali; and then we see how charming he is as the suitor for Princess Jasmine’s handmaiden, Dalia, played by Nasim Pedrad. Along the way, he becomes Aladdin’s friend too.

Massoud and Scott have great chemistry, singing and dancing throughout the movie as well.  We’ll likely see more of both actors in other projects. Their star power is evident.

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The common theme is freedom. Aladdin wants freedom from his life as a street rat; Jasmine wants freedom to be herself, leave the palace and someday lead the people of Agrabah; and Genie wants freedom from living in a bottle and serving whichever master picks up the lamp.

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I found “Aladdin,” directed by Guy Ritchie, to be a worthy remake. I can like both the original animated blockbuster and this new version. Let me know what you think.

Choosing the Best Summer Camp for Your Child

Summer camp season is fast approaching! There’s a lot to consider – what type of camp is best for your budget, your child’s interests and the family’s schedule?

Before you make a camp decision, check out the video I made with San Diego Family Magazine in which I share tips on how you can make sure you’re choosing the best camp for your child. 

Next, check out the magazine’s summer camp guide.

 

 

Review: “The Grinch”

Getting ready for Christmas? There’s nothing like a holiday movie to get you in the mood to celebrate the season.

Film Title: Dr. Seuss' The Grinch

The other night, my sons and I got a sneak peek of “The Grinch,” which opens today.

This animated movie by Illumination, which is based on Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is the latest iteration of the Grinch, chronicling a cranky green guy who hates Christmas.

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This Grinch isn’t portrayed as mean, evil or even very spiteful. Instead he’s a loner, who seems more sad, than anything else. (In a fun moment, he wallows in self-pity, playing “All By Myself” on the organ, next to his beloved dog, Max.)

Film Title: Dr. Seuss' The Grinch

His Who-ville neighbors are far too happy about the holiday and Grinch just wants the jolly season to end. Grinch, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch, decides to pose as Santa so he can steal Christmas. His plan backfires when the town’s little darling, Cindy-Lou Who has a special request for Santa. The theory is that Grinch’s heart is two sizes too small. After his encounter with Cindy-Lou Who, Grinch’s heart grows.

Grinch is a loner, who seems more sad, than anything else.

Narrated by Pharrell Williams, “The Grinch” has an impressive cast. We enjoyed Kenan Thompson as Mr. Bricklebaum, the over-the-top Who-ville neighbor who loves to decorate; and Rashida Jones, who plays Donna Who, Cindy-Loo’s overworked single mother.

Film Title: Dr. Seuss' The Grinch

This “Grinch” was a fun start to the season. www.grinchmovie.com

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Rated: PG

 

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

September is Hispanic Heritage month. I was honored to write a number of articles for Mediaplanet’s “Hispanic Heritage” report, published recently in The Los Angeles Times and PeriódicoHOY.

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Photo credit: Austin Hargrave

The cover story was about #EGOT award winner Rita Moreno, who​ discusses her passion for her Puerto Rican roots and her 70-year career, including her role as Anita in “West Side Story​.” Check out the article here.

Here are some of the other articles I wrote for this Hispanic Heritage report:

How Hispanic Real Estate Professionals Are Helping Boost Hispanic Homeownership

Actress Katherine Castro On Her Hispanic Heritage: “It’s Who I Am”

Meet Lizzie Velasquez: Latina YouTuber Who’s Focused On Positivity

Why Participation In Clinical Trials is a Must for Hispanics

Hispanic Actress & Immigration Advocate Francia Raisa’s Call for Unity

 

 

It’s Panda-monium!

Last week my sons and I got a sneak peak at “Pandas,” an IMAX movie that opens this weekend.

This documentary, which took three years to shoot, has lots of appeal. It’s educational – showing viewers the challenges pandas face in the world in terms of breeding, handling tough terrain and overall survival. Pandas are an endangered species around the world, mostly due to humans developing properties on their land, and the lack of bamboo, their primary food source.

“Pandas” grabs your heart too. It’s hard not to love these cuddling looking bears that we typically only see at the zoo.

When we first meet these cute pandas, they’re newborns, adorable and looking like stuffed animals. We see them cooing as babies and then we watch them – one panda in particular, “Qian Qian,” pronounced Chen Chen – grow up on camera and learn to navigate the world.

The pandas are born at the Chengdu Panda Base in China, a breeding center which has helped breed over 200 baby pandas. In the movie, the scientists interact with the pandas and they explain how they’re tracking the animals and helping them thrive in the wild.

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The movie took three years to shoot. The Chengdu Panda Base, which has helped over 200 baby pandas born during her tenure. Viewers meet the  scientists interacting with the pandas and they explain how they’re tracking the animals and helping them thrive in the wild.

We loved the movie – so fun and interesting. It’s narrated by Kristen Bell – a familiar voice for kids, who recognize her from “Frozen.”

Fun Fact: Giant pandas eat up to 30 pounds of bamboo every day!

We saw the IMAX film at Fleet Science Center in their Heikoff Giant Dome Theater, which has 76-foot wraparound movie screen and 16,000 watts of digital surround sound. Everything looks and feels so close. That experience makes you feel like you’re sitting across from the pandas in the wild in China.

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My sons and I enjoyed playing with the Panda props at Fleet Science Center too!

Fun Fact: Pandas sleep 10 to 16 hours a day! That bamboo they eat isn’t very nutritious and lacks protein, so they don’t have much energy.

“Pandas,” is rated G and opened April 6, 2018. Get tickets.

Check out the trailer below:

Movie Night: “Sherlock Gnomes”

This week is Spring Break in our house and a movie night is a welcome opportunity for fun.

Movie Night: "Sherlock Gnomes"

Last night, my sons and I got to attend a complimentary preview screening of the new animated kids’ movie, “Sherlock Gnomes.” The movie comes out today and it’s an entertaining film for the whole family.

Here’s the premise: garden gnomes in London are disappearing. Detective Sherlock Gnomes and his sidekick, Watson, along with two gnomes named, Gnomeo and Juliet, are searching for clues to find missing garden gnomes.

Among the highlights:

  • Johnny Depp portrays Sherlock Gnomes. He plays the character with a mix of snark and sophistication and I loved it.

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  • The movie references both “Sherlock Holmes” and “Romeo and Juliet.” My 9-year-old liked how characters from two stories could share the screen. I agree – a nice touch and it familiarizes kids with more literature and characters.

 

  • I really liked how every time Sherlock is thinking about a clue, the screen swirls into a black and white actively-animated dream-like sequence. For example, in one scene, he’s looking at a playing card with a black “9” and a scuff in the corner of the number. He’s trying to remember where he’s seen that “9” and that scuff before. So, in his daydream, we see lots of “9” – the number is in his bed, on an escalator, etc. He’s processing the information and so are we! This daydream is a lovely way of showing kids (and adults) how the brain processes information.

 

  • The movie features lots of Elton John songs and – spoiler alert – in one scene early on in the film, there’s a garden gnome that very much resembles the “Tiny Dancer” singer. At the end credits, I realized Elton John is one of the executive producers of the movie. His music is timeless and I’m happy this is a way to introduce his music to a new generation.

Sherlock Gnomes is rated PG and runs 86 minutes.