"FREE WILLY: ESCAPE FOM PIRATE’S COVE"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


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

    Rated PG
    Studio: Warner Bros.

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Bindi Irwin, the daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, gets her first feature film with the fourth installment in the “Free Willy” franchise. In this family flick, she plays a girl named Kirra who has to live with her grandfather (Beau Bridges) in South Africa while her father recovers from an injury. Her grandfather runs a fledgling water park that suddenly sees some new interest when a killer whale is trapped in the cove. Kirra befriends the whale and is determined to get him back to his pod, but a greedy local businessman who wants to put the animal on display threatens to keep her new friend captive for the rest of his life.

WHAT I LIKED
Having seen at least two of the previous three “Free Willy” films, I’ll be the first to point out that this is not an untouchable, infallible property. It’s pretty cheesy, actually. Even the first film. So the level of family schmaltz that comes with “Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove” doesn’t break with the tradition of the series.

For the most part, this film is a pretty standard animal adventure for the family crowd. It’s got some danger, especially with the greedy businessman trying to steal Willy, but it’ all generally very safe. It’s not exactly action filled, but that’ a result of its relatively mall budget. But for a Saturday afternoon film for the kids, it’s not bad.

I will hand it to Bindi Irwin, who is also the star of her own how “Bindi the Jungle Girl.” She is making the most out of her father’s memory, and that’s something to be admired even beyond the characters in the film.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
With any lower-budget, direct to video family film, you really don’t go beyond a certain level of filmmaking quality, and this is the case with “Free Willy: Escape from Pirate’s Cove.” Beau Bridges basically phone in his performance, and that’s a bit of a shame. We all have to make rent payments, but he could give a little more.

The other big drawback to this film is the all-too-obvious CGI effects of the whale swimming underwater. I know it’s more expensive to get real underwater photography with a live animal, but at times the effects were so cartoony that it didn’t look like they were even trying.

DVD FEATURES
The DVD comes with some digestible featurettes for a family audience. Included is “On the Set of Free Willy: Greetings from South Africa,” “Bindi’s First Movie Video Diary” and “Meet My Wild Co-Stars” in which Bindi introduces the viewer to some of the animals in the film.

Additional features include deleted scenes and outtakes, which actually show Bindi Irwin to be very professional even at her young age.

WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Kids and their families who want a light family animal adventure.



"THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG"
Blu-ray Review
by Kevin Carr


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

    Rated G
    Studio: Disney

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The Walt Disney Company return to traditional hand-drawn animation with “The Princess and the Frog.” This take-of of the Frog Prince legend tell the story of Tiana, a poor girl living in New Orleans in the 1920s. Tiana wishes to run her own restaurant and gets swept into a fairy tale when she kisses a talking frog. Instead of the frog turning into the handsome prince Naveen, Tiana finds herself transformed into a frog herself. Together the frogs join forces with other animals in the bayou to restore themselves and stop Naveen’s smarmy assistant from taking his place.

WHAT I LIKED
I have always dearly loved the animated film of the Walt Disney Company, and it is great to see “The Princess and the Frog” bring that back to the big (and small) screen. This may not be my favorite Disney animated film, but it was a lot of fun.

The filmmakers went back to what made earlier Disney films so great. They got awesome songs and fresh, vibrant animation. They borrowed elements from other successful films like “A Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Rescuers” to keep things familiar but gave enough of a new spin to make it fresh.

A lot of to do has been made about Tiana being the first African American Disney princess, and that is important. But more important was telling a good-hearted, adorable story that will live on in the Disney line. There’s plenty of comedy and fun in this film, and the story has enough twists and turns in it to keep both kids and grown-ups interested.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There really isn’t any part of this film that gave me a problem. it was definitely a safe return to what made Disney films great before the experiments of the new century (which were not necessarily bad) were started in the animation line.

BLU-RAY FEATURES
The Blu-ray package also includes a DVD and digital copy disc in the cast for maximum flexibility. Exclusive Blu-ray features include art galleries and multiple featurettes like “The Making of a Princess,” “Conjuring the Villain,” “The Return to Hand-Drawn Animation,” “The Disney Legacy” and “Disney’s Newest Princess,” “Bringing Life to Animation.”

The enclosed DVD includes deleted scenes, a filmmakers audio commentary, a music video by Ne-Yo and The Princes Portraits Game, which are also on the Blu-ray.

WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Anyone who loves Disney 2-D hand-drawn animation.



"ASTRO BOY"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


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

    Rated PG
    Studio: Summit Entertainment

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The brilliant son of the brilliant scientist Tenma is killed in a freak weapons accident, Tenma creates a robotic copy of the boy. However, he doesn’t tell the robot that he is a duplicate. Distraught from the loss of his real son, Tenma rejects the robot who falls to earth to join with other orphans. They must escape the clutches of a deranged robot slave-driver and later fight the weapon that killed Tenma’s original son.

WHAT I LIKED
I’ll start by saying that while “Astro Boy” is a far cry from the brilliant animated work done by the Pixar studio, it still looked quite brilliant. Now, CGI has gotten to the point that even a smaller production can deliver a great looking film. There is a retro-futuristic design that I have always loved, and I till find “Astro Boy” a gorgeous film to watch.

From a story standpoint, it works, and young boys (and probably young girls) can identify with the characters. The best parts of the film come not from the characters but rather from the action and robot battle sequences that have a strong high-powered feel.

I’ve got three young sons, and all of them like this film and had a blast watching it – both in and out of the theater.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
Two thing really bothered me about this film. First, the plot just didn’t seem well thought out. There are two different movies happening, and they are quite separate. I wasn’t wild about the “Oliver Twist” storyline of Astro Boy and his cohorts surviving on Earth. It seemed a bit too much of a rip-off and a slight rehash of things I saw in FOX’s “Robots” half a decade ago.

The other problem I had was that even though my kids liked the film, there are some pretty grim elements in it for a children’s flick. The vaporizing of a child in the first ten minutes? The flat-out destruction by the robot villains? The rejection of a son by his father? The evil slave-trader back on Earth? You will probably escape an awkward conversation about this film because the action can be distracting, but this movie does deal with some heavy subject matter.

DVD FEATURES
The “Astro Boy” DVD includes two short animated sequences, which are basically short films: “Astro vs. The Junkyard Pirates” and “The RRF In: The New Recruit.”

Additional features include a look at the cast with “Inside the Recording Booth,” the design featurettes “Designing a Hero” and “Building Metro City,” as well as an image gallery and a featurette on how to style your kids’ hair like Astro Boy.

WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Boys who want some cool action... at least through a good chunk of the film.



"PONYO"
Blu-ray Review
by Kevin Carr


    MOVIE: **** (out of 5 stars)
    BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5 stars)

    Rated G
    Studio: Studio Ghibli

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Ponyo is a water nymph who wants to explore the land above the sea. She escape and a young boy named Sosuke rescues her, thinking she’s a goldfish. With the magic of the sea, Ponyo becomes a little girl, and she runs off with Sosuke for an adventure. Meanwhile, Ponyo’s father has come looking for her, and the wrath of the sea threatens to destroy Sosuke’s village.

WHAT I LIKED
When you hear that “Ponyo” is a retelling of “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Anderson, you’ll likely expect something totally different than what it really is. “Ponyo” is a sweet, ethereal tale by master Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. What’s beautiful about this film, like “My Neighbor Totoro” is that the fantasy elements are so seamlessly blended with real elements. There is very little disbelief by the characters, and you want to believe yourself by the end.

Also like “My Neighbor Totoro,” “Ponyo” captures the innocence of a child a Sosuke befriends Ponyo so effortlessly and completely. It’s a fantasy tale but with such a warm, familiar tale that you accept the fantastic elements.

My kids absolutely love “Ponyo” as they do “My Neighbor Totoro,” which is the best endorsement there is.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There’s very little to take issue with when it comes to “Ponyo,” and were 2009 not a banner year from brilliant animated films (e.g., “Up,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Coraline” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”), “Ponyo” could have easily been the best animated film of the year.

BLU-RAY FEATURES
This Blu-ray release is crammed with special features. There is a disc introduction by the producers of the American version of the film as well as storyboards of the film. There is also a second disc, the DVD of the feature itself. But the Blu-ray expands to reveal “The World of Ghibli,” which throws a spotlight on wide aspects of the film. These are broken into “Enter the Lands” which looks at the story and the characters, and “Behind the Studio” which looks at the real-world inspirations with documentaries and interviews.

The movie itself runs a healthy 103 minutes, but you’ll easily spend more than twice that poking around the World of Ghibli on the Blu-ray.

WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Ghibli junkies.



"HANNAH MONTANA: MILEY SAYS GOODBYE?"
DVD Review
by Kevin Carr


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

    Not Rated
    Studio: Disney Channel

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WHAT IT’S ABOUT
It’s the end of the third season of the Disney Channel’s wildly popular tween comedy “Hannah Montana.” And Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) has a decision to make. Should she leave Malibu and go back to Tennessee to reconnect with her roots? Even if you’ve seen the end of the season on television, you can revisit it here before the start of season four. (Oops... spoiler alert.)

WHAT I LIKED
Unlike many folks out there that seem to be gunning for Miley Cyrus, I enjoy the “Hannah Montana” series. It’s cute and completely harmless. It’s also fun to watch, partly for the antics of Billy Ray Cyrus and Jason Earles.

This disc includes six episodes of season three, leading up to the finale. There is a special guest star spot with David Archuleta (who recently did a spot on the similar show “iCarly,” so he knows his audience) and some memorable faces from the past.

And let’s face it, the finale episode was a good one which offered a nice cap to the third season.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
The only iffy part of this story is that it seems to be a bit of a retread of “Hannah Montana: The Movie” from last year. After all, how many times does Miley need to ask herself this question? And how many times is her horse, Blue Jeans, going to get a spotlight.

DVD FEATURES
The DVD comes with an alternate ending, highlights to the episode “You Never Give Me My Money” and a featurette with Miley’s real-life sister Brandi as a roving reporter, asking questions of the “Hannah Montana” cast and crew.

WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Tweens.




    

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