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LIFE OF PI (Blu-ray combo)

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coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No
2012, 127 min., Color
Rated PG for emotional thematic content, peril
Fox
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 7.1
Bonus features:  B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UV
Trailer

After my family saw the trailer for “Life of Pi,” none of them were terribly excited to see the movie. My daughter thought it would be too sad to watch animals killing each other. My son said it looked boring. And my wife thought it would be “Cast Away” with a tiger for company instead of a volleyball.

Had they known it would be 39 minutes into the film before a storm even kicks up and that Pi’s entertaining backstory begins when he’s much smaller, they might have been less resistant. “Life of Pi” isn’t just a visual effects movie stuck at sea. There’s a compelling story here as well. Being shipwrecked with a volleyball is one thing, but with a Bengal tiger that can rip you to shreds and eat you unless you gradually train it to peacefully coexist? That’s another story—though it really can be too intense for younger children who love animals.

“Life of Pi” is rated PG, but this is no Peaceable Kingdom. Things do get eaten. A boy watches a ship sink with his entire family aboard. Sharks get their fill and food chains operate according to the laws of nature, even in the middle of the ocean. More

MULAN (2 Movie Collection Blu-ray)

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MulancoverGrade:  A-, B+
Entire family:  Yes
1998, 88 min., Color; 2004, 79 min., Color
Rated G
Disney
Aspect ratio:  1.66:1, 1.78:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD-MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVDs

Trailer (I)  Trailer (II)

Mulan is a wonderful piece of Disney animation and storytelling that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Mulan II may be less inspired, but it’s still one of the best direct-to-video sequels from Disney. Put the movies together in a single package and it makes for a solid double feature that holds appeal for the whole family. And while the sequel lacks a villain and is lighter in tone and palette, the two films still flow surprisingly well from one to the next.

Based on a Chinese poem (but Westernized as only Disney can get away with), Mulan tells the story of a girl who takes her frail father’s place in the army when the Huns threaten to overrun China. Will she be discovered as a woman? Will they save the kingdom?  Li Shang (B.D. Wong), the soldier responsible for training new recruits and leading them into battle, is both taskmaster and potential love interest.

Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is one of Disney’s strongest female characters. She’s confident, yet she has doubts. She’s a born feminist, but she also falls in love and has to negotiate a developing relationship. She trusts her instincts, but it’s not all hunches. Like Shang, Mulan has a good head on her shoulders. Best of all, in a world dominated by Disney princesses and happily-ever-after marketing, the romantic angle is downplayed, yielding to the heroic and the issues of civic duty, family honor, and loyalty to friends (or family or country) that play themselves out. More

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (Blu-ray combo)

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rogercoverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No

1988, 104 min., Color
Rated PG for cartoon violence, some sexuality
Disney/Touchstone
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD
Trailer

When Shrek took a playful slap at the sun-is-shining, birds-are-chirping world of Disney animation, audiences were absolutely delighted. What audacity, we read from all the reviewers. But let’s not forget that Disney took the first shot years ago with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a 1988 live-action and animation combo that won Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing. Richard Williams, the man who gave birth to the clownish Rabbit and directed the animation, was also given a Special Achievement Award.

In Roger Rabbit, the Buena Vista bunch paid tongue-in-cheek homage to the wise-guy humor, the physical comedy, and the hyperactive Daffyness of rival Warner Brothers animation studios—and spoofed their own characters for good measure. The result is a film that’s light years away from the ultra-wholesome Mary Poppins. Many parents won’t want their little ones watching until they reach the cusp of puberty.  There’s cursing, shouting, violence, hard drinking, big bosoms, sexual innuendo . . . and that’s just the first 15 minutes.

Released by Touchstone Pictures, Disney’s adult division, this one isn’t really aimed at small children. It’s an affectionate parody of 1940s hard-boiled detective flicks (especially trenchcoat Bogie affairs like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep) that also draws inspiration from Chinatown. Somehow it manages to combine a moody, shadowy noir atmosphere with the Acme gag-a-minute Tex Avery style of exaggerated animation that kept knocking characters like Wile E. Coyote for a loop.   More

WESTWORLD (Blu-ray)

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westworldGrade:  B
Entire family:  No

1973, 89 min., Color
Rated PG for violence, adult situations
Warner Bros.

Aspect ratio:  2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C+

Trailer

Twenty years before Jurassic Park, Michael Crighton created another film about a high-tech fantasy theme park brought to its knees by science and technology run amok. Westworld was the writer-director’s first feature, and while it’s not as engrossing as the dino experience, older children and sci-fi lovers will still like this one.

As an overlong “commercial” tells us, Westworld is really one world in a three-world fantasy theme park that also includes Roman World and Medieval World. Here, bored vacationers of the future can pay $1000 per day to live out their fantasies as gunslingers, sheriffs, lords and ladies, or Roman nobles and slaves in worlds that are authentic in every detail. At the core of every theme park are a cadre of robots that look and behave exactly like people—even bleed like humans—except for one thing. “They haven’t perfected the hands yet,” re-visitor John (James Brolin) tells his first-timer friend Peter (Richard Benjamin).

Only hours into their fantasy experience, the two of them are having a drink at the saloon when a mean-looking hombre (Yul Brynner) knocks into Peter and ridicules him until, goaded by his friend, Peter engages him in a gunfight. He wins, of course, because at Westworld, as John reminds, the guests’ fantasies are always fulfilled. More

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME 2 MOVIE COLLECTION (Blu-ray combo)

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hunchbackcoverartGrade:  B-,  C+
Entire Family:  No

1996, 91 min., Color
Rated G (but contains violence)
Disney

Aspect ratio:  1.78:1, 1.66:1
Featured audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C+
Includes: Blu-ray, DVDs

Trailer

I’m not sure how Disney got away with a G rating on The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Within the first few minutes a mother is killed onscreen while trying to save her baby, and the perpetrator—the intolerant Minister of Justice—then tries to drown the child.

There’s plenty of violence throughout the film, with one main character seriously wounded and another appearing to die on-camera. Minister of Justice Frollo persecutes the gypsies and burns their houses, while the people of Paris bind and humiliate the title character—a bell ringer (Tom Hulce) whose deformed face and back have made him a monster in the eyes of everyone except three stone gargoyles who come to life and the gypsy Esmerelda (Demi Moore), who at first thinks he’s wearing a Feast of Fools mask.

Then there are the sexual overtones, including a pole dance allusion to Striptease (which Moore made the same year), some innuendo-filled banter between Esmerelda and Captain Phoebus (Kevin Kline), and Frollo’s pervy fondling of Esmerelda’s hair (with the implication that she can do something for him). As my wife put it, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is “too dark and too dirty for kids.” And in keeping with a dark story that’s under lit much of the time, the normally cheery Disney songs are mostly somber here. “Sad and boring” were the adjectives my 11-year-old daughter used to describe the film. More

PHINEAS AND FERB: THE PERRY FILES – ANIMAL AGENTS (DVD)

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phineasandferbcover

Grade:  C+
Entire family:  No

2008-11, 12 episodes (168 min.), Color
Rated TV-G (aimed at younger children)
Disney

Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Bonus features:  D

Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0

Like Kim Possible, this animated Disney Channel show is aimed at elementary school children ages 6-10 but has a Fairly Oddparents and Pinky and the Brain style that might appeal to older siblings and a throwback vibe to the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons that makes it more tolerable for adults than most kid fare. But I wouldn’t rate this particular release one of the best, nor do all of the episodes have to do with “Animal Agents.”

On the plus side, the humor doesn’t come from disrespectful kids, and the children depicted actually like each other, even if they drive each other crazy from time to time. So from a parent’s perspective, it’s a fairly innocuous show and, let’s be fair, at least it celebrates inventiveness. More

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