"RETURN TO NEVERLAND"


        MOVIE: *** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    RinoHarriet Owen as JANE
    Blayne Weaver as PETER PAN
    Corey Burton as CAPTAIN HOOK
    Jeff Bennett as SMEE
    Kath Soucie as WENDY

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney

    Directed by: Robin Budd and Donovan Cook

As much as it is a tradition at Disney to make classic animated films for the theaters, it has also become a tradition at Disney to make direct-to-DVD animated sequels. Generally, these are of a lower quality, both in story and design, than the original films. “Return to Neverland” fortunately falls in the category of decent sequel.

The hardest part about making a sequel, especially to something as coherently whole as a classic Disney film, is to actually make a story that works. What seems to be the stand-by at the direct-to-video animation department is the plot about the children of the main characters. “Return to Neverland” continues this tradition.

In this film, Wendy has grown up in the real world, and she has kids of her own. Her oldest, Jane, is the sensible one who plays second-mother to her little brother. When the father is shipped off to war, Jane becomes even more determined to keep things real. And the stories her mother tells of Peter Pan in Neverland don’t help the situation.

However, one day, Captain Hook kidnaps Jane, thinking she’s Wendy. Peter Pan comes to save her and must deal with the daughter that is more difficult than her mother was at the same age. With Hook continuing to pursue, it’s a race to see if they can make Jane the first Lost Girl in the gang.

If this sounds familiar, it is a bit. A similar story was the basis of the Steven Spielberg film “Hook,” only it was Peter’s kids that were kidnapped to lure him back to Neverland. On the cheese factor alone, “Return to Neverland” is a much better film. It’s more self-contained and just tells the story without the big-budget extravaganza.

As Disney sequels go, “Return to Neverland” works. It’s not groundbreaking, but kids who enjoyed the original “Peter Pan” should welcome a trip back to Neverland to spend some more time with the characters.

The DVD comes with scant features, including a not-so-obvious plug for the resurrected CGI “Tinkerbell” film as well as a set-top game that flies the viewer through the skies of London.



"RATATOUILLE"


        MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Patton Oswalt as REMY
    Ian Holm as SKINNER
    Lou Romano as LINGUINI
    Brian Dennehy as DJANGO
    Peter Sohn as EMILE
    Peter O’Toole as ANTON EGO
    Brad Garrett as GUSTEAU
    Janeane Garofalo as COLETTE

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney

    Directed by: Brad Bird

If “Ratatouille” wasn’t such a good film, my original theatrical experience would have ruined it. Yet, even with the hyperactive kids in the theatres and the dumbass parents who couldn’t keep them in check, I still enjoyed it.

The latest in the line of Pixar hits for the Mouse House, “Ratatouille” reunites audiences with “The Incredibles” director Brad Bird. However, this is an entirely different movie. While “The Incredibles” was much more of an action piece for a family audience, “Ratatouille” is a much more mature story. Sure, it’s got a CGI rat with some slapstick comedy, but at its heart, it is a much more somber story.

The film follows the rat Remy, who has dreams of being a chef. Of course, the fact he’s a rat makes his dream all the more difficult to achieve. However, Remy finds a way to start cooking when he befriends a kitchen worker who becomes his cooking puppet.

Whether you see this film on DVD or you saw it in the theaters, it’s a feast for the eyes. The animation is as good as ever, and Pixar continues to push the envelope and challenge themselves to make the virtual world even more real than our own. The characters are charming, and the story is warm and friendly. And experiencing the film at home on DVD is so much better than watching it with a snot-nosed two-year-old kicking your seat throughout.

Pixar fans and Disney fans alike should pick up this DVD for a keepsake, and the only thing that might keep you away is the knowledge that at some time in the near future, they’ll come out with a definitive 2-disc collector’s edition. Otherwise, the deleted scenes, featurette on food and the two animated shorts included on the disc should tide you over.

I have two sons, and they were more excited than I was to get this movie. And, aside from a few scenes that involve kissing, they watch the film with wide-eyed enthusiasm.



"PIXAR SHORT FILM COLLECTION"


        MOVIE: ***** (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    Studio: Disney

With how affordable DVDs are to rent, there are very few that I would ever recommend as a must-buy. But considering the wealth of entertainment and historical value there is in the “Pixar Short Film Collection,” this DVD fits that description.

While I have loved the Pixar theatrical releases immensely, one of the extra bonuses of seeing them is the short films they always tag on the beginning. From the early days of “Toy Story” and “A Bug’s Life,” I have loved watching these leaders almost as much as I have enjoyed the films. And later DVD releases of the films often include another short film that is equally as fun to watch.

Now, the entire Pixar short film collection (to date, at least) is available on a single disc. Coinciding with the release of “Ratatouille,” the “Pixar Short Film Collection” contains a chronological retrospective of the development of the short films.

But this isn’t just a compilation of short films. It contains documentary interstitial and explanations of how the technology was developed and how it (and the company itself) grew. From the early days of “Tin Toy” with the freakishly monstrous baby to the modern day brilliance of movies like “Lifted” and “One Man Band,” it’s a joy to watch, and it’s also offered in digestible chunks for a younger audience.

Short films included in this collection are “The Adventure of Andre & Wally B,” the logo-inspiring “Luxo Jr.,” “Red’s Dream,” “Tin Toy,” “Knick Knack,” “Geri’s Game,” “For the Birds,” “Mike’s New Car,” “Boundin’,” “Jack-Jack Attack,” “One Man Band,” “Mater and the Ghostlight” and “Lifted.”

Hopefully, Pixar will be around for many years to come and continue to provide some of the best animated entertainment ever seen. It’s going to be too long to wait for the “Pixar Short Film Collection: Volume II,” but I guess we’ll just have to be patient.



"MEET THE ROBINSONS"


        MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)
    DVD EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5 stars)

    STARRING
    Angela Bassett as MILDRED
    Daniel Hansen as LEWIS
    Matthew Josten as GOOB
    Laurie Metcalf as LUCILLE KRUNKLEHORN
    Stephen J. Anderson as BOWLER HAT GUY
    Harland Williams as CARL
    Adam West as UNCLE ART
    Nicole Sullivan as FRANNY

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney

    Directed by: Stephen J. Anderson

While Pixar will always be the market standard for computer generated family films, Disney’s other feature animation arm (which I believe was created with the anticipation of Pixar leaving a few years back) has put out some decent films. It started with “Chicken Little” and continues with “Meet the Robinsons.”

This film tells the story of a young inventor named Lewis who has been left in an orphanage. He keep up hope that his mother will come back for him, and he longs for a family of his own. One day, a strange young man shows up with a time machine and whisks him into the future to introduce him to a family he’s never known.

What I have enjoyed most about both “Chicken Little” and “Meet the Robinsons” is that they are not held back by convention. Both films have an incredible visionary style and undefinable flavor to them. It seems that Disney has made a concerted effort with both films to get out of the rut of just adapting fairy tales. Even “Chicken Little,” which is based on a children’s story, went above and beyond anything you’ve ever heard in the original tale.

“Meet the Robinsons” had the feeling of “The Incredibles” without the superheroes, and it really serves as a way to stretch the imagination. On the surface, it’s a story of a young boy searching for a family, but the movie has a greater scope than this. There’s a nostalgic feel to the movie, bolstered by the retro sci-fi design, and it presents a fun family adventure.

The only real drawback to the DVD release is that you can’t watch it in 3D, which was available in limited run when this movie hit the theaters this past spring. However, I’ve heard from the folks at RealD, which are the geniuses that make the ultra-realistic 3D process come alive today, that it’s only a matter of time when we can have this experience at home.

The DVD of “Meet the Robinsons” comes with a nice collection of special features, including deleted scenes, a look at real inventions that changed the world, music videos, the film’s development from the original book, an audio commentary and a family set-top game.

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