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Grade:  B+/A-

TV comedy

Not rated (would be PG)

It’s hard to believe people ever lived slower lives—especially at a time when folks can’t seem to spend a single moment without multitasking or yakking on cell phones in walk-and-talks that, despite their content (“I’m on my way to the grocery store now”), are conducted with West Wing importance. If you need a refresher course in slowing down, watch The Andy Griffith Show.

If Frank Capra had worked in television, I’m guessing he would have produced something along the lines of this folksy, feel-good, homespun situation comedy that offered an idealized portrait of small-town life. Never once during its eight-season run did the series finish outside the Nielsen Top 10, and its final season the show ended as the No. 1 watched show in America. I Love Lucy and Seinfeld were the only other shows to accomplish that feat.

The series, which ran on CBS from 1960-68, was ranked No. 9 on TV Guide’s list of 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. One thing that contributed to the show’s success was that it appealed to both rural and (sub)urban people, and white-collar as well as blue-collar workers. The writing was much sharper than other rural comedies that aired on television before or after it, and the aw-shucks sheriff without a gun solved problems with common sense and wit that was broadly entertaining.

The Town of Mayberry, North Carolina was a sleepy little backwater where Sheriff and Justice of the Peace Andy Taylor (Griffith) doesn’t drink, refrains from using harsh language, and seldom raises his voice. Before The Cosby Show got all sorts of love for modeling a kinder, gentler parenting style, the widowed Sheriff Taylor was showing an earlier generation a better way to raise kids and relate to people. With an aw-shucks demeanor, a bushel full of aphorisms, and a smile that could disarm all but the most hardened criminals, Andy spent much of his time dispensing common-sense advice to family, friends, residents, visitors, and yes, sometimes even criminals.

The writing for this character-driven comedy also featured some very funny lines, and a killer ensemble cast delivered them with verve. When you saw bumbling Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife (Don Knotts) and Floyd the Barber (Howard McNear) week after week, it was almost like living in a small town. You felt as if you knew them, and the show had a comfortable feel to it. Andy’s son, Opie, is played to perfection by a very young Ron Howard, while Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) is introduced in the first episode as the one who raised Andy and will now do the same with Opie. Fans of Father Knows Best were treated to Elinor Donahue (“Princess” from that earlier TV series) as a druggist and possible love interest for Andy in a five-episode arc.

This first season Griffith played Sheriff Taylor more folksy than he would in later years, and more than a few episodes ended with him sitting on the front porch with his guitar, serenading his “kinfolks.” In one classic episode, a state police task force uses the sheriff’s office as headquarters for an operation to catch an escaped convict, and they exclude Andy and Barney. But Andy plays a hunch and he and Barney end up catching the fellow, with the help of Andy’s leaky rowboat. Of course, the state officer in charge changes his tune about Andy and small town “sheriffin’.” That pattern would repeat itself with fun variations over the next seven years.

It’s tobacco country, so there’s occasional smoking, and fictional Mayberry is in the foothills of Appalachia, so there are poor folks who are accustomed to making their own liquor, no matter what the law says. But to underscore how relatively innocent it all is, in an episode titled “Alcohol and Old Lace” Barney and Andy follow a moonshine trail that leads them straight to a pair of sweet little old ladies. Meanwhile, town drunk Otis lets himself in and out of the jail, and Andy treats him as he is: a friendly neighbor who happens to have a problem with alcohol. Over time, even Otis becomes more than a town drunk, and viewers begin to embrace him as much as the other characters in this endearing ensemble.

For the first several seasons the producers clearly tried to give the show a boost by featuring a string of guest stars that included Bill Bixby (The Incredible Hulk), Buddy Ebsen (The Beverly Hillbillies), Barbara Eden (I Dream of Jeannie), Alan Hale Jr. (Gilligan’s Island), Edgar Buchanan (Petticoat Junction), and Arte Johnson (Laugh-In). They were interesting, but in truth unnecessary. Fans would have kept tuning in regardless, just to see the Mayberry regulars.

After two solid seasons, CBS added more Mayberry characters, among them dim-witted mechanical wizard Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors), schoolteacher/love interest Helen Crump (Aneta Corsaut), the rowdy, bluegrass-playing Darlings (real-life bluegrass band The Dillards), and rock-throwing, poetry-spouting nut-case Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris).

The 249 half-hour episodes (plus a faux pilot episode of Andy on The Danny Thomas Show and Opie on Gomer Pyle: USMC) are on 32 discs, with each season having it’s own Blu-ray case and a slipcase holding them all together. The first five seasons aired in black-and-white, and that’s how they’re presented here. The introduction of color coincided with Knotts’ departure, so it felt like an attempt to compensate fans for the loss of the three-time Emmy winner. As if to reinforce how much he meant to the series, Knotts earned two more Emmys for a pair of guest appearances that he made, bringing his total—and the show’s—to five.  

This show would easily have been an A-/B+ had Knotts stayed and had Nabors not left the show to star in his own spin-off, replaced by a game George Lindsay as Goober, not nearly as interesting a character as Gomer. But the series had a knack of elevating minor characters so that they had the kind of depth that made people care about them, and that helped the show continue to evolve and stay relatively fresh over the years.

For fans, it will be a real pleasure to pop in a disc and sit back and watch 6-9 episodes per disk, plus eclectic bonus features that include behind-the-scenes clips, the Howards’ home movies on the set, opening clips, and original sponsor ads. Blu-ray is a visible improvement over the DVDs, and can be enjoyed even when streaming signals or Internet connections are spotty.  I have only two complaints, and they have nothing to do with the show or quality of presentation. One is that the boxed set includes no master list of episodes or any annotated descriptions. All we get are lists of hard-to-read titles on the discs themselves. That’s it. My other complaint is that the plastic “pages” that hold each disc have pretty flimsy points of attachment. When my set arrived, at least two discs from each season case were loose. When you pay over $100 for a set, you expect better. Paramount/CBS, are you listening?

When you watch these episodes you’ll see so many that you don’t remember, simply because relatively few of the episodes are shown on TV in rerun. It’s like discovering the show all over again.

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  6343 min. (249 episodes, 105.7 hours), Black-and-white (Seasons 1-5) / Color (Seasons 6-8)

Studio/Distributor:  CBS Home Entertainment

Aspect ratio:  1.37:1

Featured audio:  LPCM 2.0 (Season 1) / DTS-HDMA 2.0 (Seasons 2-8)

Bonus features:  B+

Amazon link

Not rated (would be G or PG for adult drinking and smoking)

Language:  1/10—Only occasional sanitized versions, like “dad gum it”

Sex:  1/10—Wholesome as can be, though there is a bathing suit contest in one episode

Violence:  1/10—Some “wrasslin’” and scufflin’, some black eyes, but the actual violence is mostly off-screen, just as guns are pulled but fired only occasionally

Adult situations:  2/10—Some adult smoking, drinking, and drunkenness

Takeaway:  This complete set came on the heels of the Blu-ray release of The Andy Griffith Show: Season 1; while those who bought that set might think they wasted their money, savvy classic TV fans know that when a studio tests the waters, if fans don’t respond there might not be another Blu-ray release

Review: The Truth About Spring (Blu-ray)

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Grade:  C+/B-

Family Adventure-Romance

Not rated (would be PG)

In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, two young Disney stars were among the most popular on the planet: Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and British actress Hayley Mills, whose debut with Disney (Pollyanna, 1960) earned her the last special Juvenile Oscar awarded. A year later she starred as separated twins trying to reunite their divorced parents in The Parent Trap, and a song she performed, “Let’s Get Together,” reached No. 1 on the charts in the U.S.

For a decade, Hayley was big—even bigger than Annette. Stanley Kubrick offered her the title role in Lolita (which her father, Sir John Mills, turned down), and her performance in the 1961 British film Whistle Down the Wind (an adaptation of a novel written by her mother) earned her a BAFTA Best British Actress nomination. She also was voted the biggest star in Britain that year.

The Truth About Spring(1965) was the third film Mills made with her famous thespian father—fourth, if you count the elder Mills cameo as a golf caddy in The Parent Trap—and this star vehicle plays very much like an affectionate last daddy-daughter hurrah before the later leaves the nest, as Hayley would. Just a year later her father would direct her Sky West and Crooked and she would marry adirector 33 years her senior from The Family Way, in which John Mills had only a minor rle. So there’s something inherently poignant in the Mills pairing in The Truth About Spring.

If you don’t look at the credits, you’d swear that this film was made by Disney, with the familiar musical cues, structure, characters, tone, and direction—except that it’s not. Universal made this one and tried the Disney formula, with disappointing effects.

In his autobiography, John Mills wrote, “If the picture had turned out to be half as good as the food, the wine, the time and the laughs we had on that location it would have been a sensation—unfortunately it wasn’t.”

Though it’s also an adventure with some romance involving a young girl initially dressed as a boy, The Truth About Spring wasn’t nearly as successful as Disney’s Swiss Family Robinson (1960), in which the elder Mills played the father of a family marooned in the early 1800s on an island paradise. That film had real pirates and a lush tropical setting full of all sorts of animals and a cast of characters that provided plenty of side stories.

This adventure allegedly took place in the Caribbean. But the scenery was actually the barren rocky coast of southern Spain, and the pirates are contemporary—pirate in spirit and function, not dress.  There may be a treasure hunt, but it somehow seems nothing more than a plot device.

Other than two groups of “pirates,” The Truth About Spring also has only the two Mills and Swiss Family Robinson veteran James MacArthur (perhaps most famous for his role as Danno on TV’s Hawaii Five-O) for plot possibilities. For much of the film they’re aboard a small sailing vessel where the free-spirited con-artist Tommy Tyler (J. Mills) lives with his daughter, Spring. Into their lives comes William Ashton (MacArthur), a newly minted young lawyer who’s on his uncle’s yacht for a vacation before starting his job in Philadelphia.

Looking to work another con, Tommy invites him to jump ship to do a little fishing on their sailboat, and the next thing you know Ashton is accepting an invitation to spend a few weeks on their boat. Contrived? Certainly. But once you get past a hokey title sequence, there’s a wholesome charm to this coming-of-age film that remains all these years later.

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  102 min. Color

Studio/Distributor:  Universal / Kino Lorber

Aspect ratio:  1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen

Featured audio:  DTS 2.0

Bonus features:  C+

Amazon link

Not rated (would be PG for some peril and social drinking)

Language: 1/10—I didn’t hear a single word, but I’m listing it as a 1 just in case . . .

Sex: 1/10—A first and second kiss, and a playboy uncle surrounded by cougars

Violence:  2/10—Guns are pulled, but no one is shot; there’s an explosion, but no one is hurt; and the fight against pirates involves punching, pushing, and whacking them with a mop

Adult situations: 1/10—Cocktails are held aboard the yacht, and Tommy channels his inner Popeye by smoking a pipe (and cigars)

Takeaway:  Hayley Mills still has a loyal following, and that fan base will be happy to have this seldom-broadcast film in their Blu-ray collections


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Grade:  B
Not rated (would be G)

These days everyone thinks Disney when they hear the word “Cinderella,” but the folk tale dates back to 7 B.C. and has spawned thousands of variations. The most common in western culture has been Charles Perrault’s Cendrillon (1697), which added the pumpkin, fairy godmother, and those uncomfortable glass slippers.

The Cinderella of this 2021 Norwegian film has been tweaked to reflect 21st-century values, though maybe something was lost in translation, because I couldn’t figure out what the three wishes might be—unless she wishes she could have a pet owl, like Hermoine Granger; wishes she could ride a horse and successfully pose as a man, like Mulan; and wishes she could shoot a bow and arrow as deftly as Katniss Everdeen.

I have to admit, it’s refreshing to revisit the Cinderella story from a non-Disney perspective. Yes, this Cinderella is kind to animals and people, and as a result, everyone loves her. She’s down to earth and always willing to help, but also feisty and far from submissive. Three Wishes for Cinderella is still a romance, but this princess doesn’t really need a prince, and she’s perfectly capable of rescuing herself. The happy ending is the result of two people being attracted to each other and mutually agreeing to be together. And in this century, that’s the happiest and healthiest ending.

The Internet Movie Database lists more than 400 filmed variants of the Cinderella story, and descriptions suggest this version may be closely related to a Czech/East German 1973 production that I haven’t seen, so I can’t offer any comparisons. I did notice that the 1973 film was shot in winter, and this Norwegian production followed suit. That alone adds an element of interest to a tale that should make Three Wishes for Cinderella stand out.

The other major selling point, especially for young viewers, is that charismatic pop star Astrid S is the lead actress and makes for a warm and extremely likable Cinderella. Astrid does it all when it comes to the songs that have over 2.3 billion streams—performing, writing, and producing her music and directing her music videos—and she manages to do it all, range-wise, in her acting debut. She shifts gears effortlessly, whether it’s playing the victim opposite a cruel stepmother, taking the blame for a servant’s blunder, chastising a hunter with a snowball to the back of the head, wielding a bow with precision, or trying her hand at guy-talk when she’s disguised. Astrid and the gorgeous Norwegian winter cinematography absolutely carry this picture, but there’s also added interest with the familiar fairytale plot getting tweaked a bit.



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Grade:  C+/B-
Fantasy musical comedy romance
Not rated (would be G)

Disney didn’t invent family movies. As early as the 1930s, studios were adapting literary classics by Stevenson, Verne, Kipling, Dickens, and Twain with the intent that they might appeal to whole families. Disney’s philosophy was to make films for children that adults could also enjoy; those early family films were made for adults, but with content that might also keep children entertained. So many of these films were pleasant entertainment, which is to say a kind of middle-of-the-road offering meant to please a lot of people a little.

When The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther reviewed A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court(1949), he called it “that good time to be had by all.” Like many costumed adventures the studio system produced, this Twain adaptation featured a fantasy common to children (being transported to another time and place) and musical numbers that were a staple back then. While the adults were enjoying the romance and music, children were engaged by the escapist adventure and comedy, with everyone appreciating crooner Bing Crosby (The Bells of St. Mary’s, Going My Way, Holiday Inn) as Hank Martin, an easy-going blacksmith/mechanic from 1912 who awakens from a bonk on the head to find himself in medieval England, where he falls for King Arthur’s niece (Rhonda Fleming), becomes a knight, and has to out-wizard Merlin (Murvyn Vye) in order to survive.    

But that was then, and this is now. Despite the engaging premise, A Connecticut Yankee doesn’t have quite the same crackling energy and spitfire gags as Bob Hope’s costumed pirate romp The Princess and the Pirate (1944), nor does it have the intricacy of plot and memorable scenes that still make Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester (1955) a great film. Both of those costumed adventures are stronger than A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which may have been more restrained because director Tay Garnett had a better track record with dramas and war movies than he did musicals or comedies. In fact, his last comedy prior to this one was seven years earlier: the bomb My Favorite Spy, with Kay Kyser. Everything in A Connecticut Yankee seems as mellow as Crosby’s character, when a more accomplished comedic director might have varied the pacing and contrasted Crosby’s mellowness with more madcap situations or manic characters.


Review of WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM (Blu-ray)

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Grade:  B-
Rated G

Coming-of-age juvenile novels, especially ones documenting life below the poverty line, have spawned an awful lot of films. Where the Lilies Bloomis part of that informal tradition, adapted for the big screen in 1974 after the success of another poor sharecropper story, Sounder (1972).

Where the Lilies Bloom is based on a book by Vera and Bill Cleaver and tells the story of a dirt-poor family living pretty much off the grid in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina. The mother of the family, still known in the area as the best root and herb doctor there ever was, died four years before the action of this film begins, and the father has that telltale cough and the kind of “spells” that suggest poor Roy Luther (Vance Howard), isn’t far behind.

That puts the focus on the children—in particular, on the second oldest daughter, Mary Call (Julie Gholson), because the oldest is a bit of a dreamer like her father and not the take-charge doer that their mother had been. With the father more and more out of the picture, Mary Call takes on the responsibility of leading the family . . . at the age of 14. That includes following her father’s wish that she keep neighbor Kiser Pease (Harry Dean Stanton) away from her older sister Devola, because Kiser is living in the family’s old house that he got “legal like” by paying the taxes that Roy had allowed to lapse—presumably because of grief following the death of his wife. Although Kiser is a persistent suitor, Mary Call is a bulldog that won’t let him near the place, even though he legally owns the sharecropper’s shack they now call home. Mary Call also has to raise younger brother Romey (Matthew Burril) and baby sister Ima Dean (Helen Harmon).

The story is narrated from Mary Call’s point of view, and like her more famous rural counterpart, John Boy Walton, she is good at writing and encouraged by a teacher to make something “more” of herself by leaving the hill country. But that’s the future. Mary Call is more concerned with the present. To earn a living, the children trudge up the mountain as generations of Luthers before them had done, pulling and pushing their wagon. Using their mother’s notebook as a guide, they pick all sorts of mountain herbs and roots to sell to the local pharmacist in a town far from their shack. And the focus of this film is as much on the family’s daily lifestyle as it is on plot.


Review of DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (Disney Movie Club Exclusive Blu-ray)

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Grade:  B+
Rated G

Nine years after Disney got into live-action filmmaking with their 1950 adaptation of Treasure Island, the House of Mouse scored a modest success with their 17th live-action entry, Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It wasn’t the box-office hit that The Shaggy Dog was that year, but solid enough now to appear on an IMDB.com list of “25 greatest films of 1959”—a list that The Shaggy Dog failed to make.

When Darby O’Gill was released, the selling point for this family fantasy-adventure was the film’s depiction of leprechauns. Now the big attraction is a very young pre-Bond Sean Connery in his first starring role in a feature film. And he sings. How’s that for a pot of gold?

Connery plays a dashing young Dublin man who finds himself in an awkward position when he is assigned by Lord Fitzpatrick to replace an old man named Darby O’Gill (Albert Sharpe) as the caretaker for his country estate in the tiny town of Rathcullen. O’Gill is a popular man in town, even though everyone laughs at his earnest stories of leprechauns and his claim to have met their king, Brian Connors (Jimmy O’Dea).

A “city” fellow is a natural disruption to local rural life, but Michael McBride finds other challenges. For one thing, there’s Pony Sugrue (Kieron Moore), a boisterous town bully who could be the prototype for Gaston in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. A big strong man who tends to brag and mock others, Pony thinks he’s the natural choice to replace O’Gill and marry Katie, the old man’s daughter. In fact, he feels entitled. Then there’s Katie (Janet Munro), a charming young woman that Michael quickly falls for, creating a classic romantic triangle. Finally there’s O’Gill himself—a charismatic and likable old man that Michael grows fond of and would prefer not to hurt. Conflicts like these create a narrative structure that manages to entertain the adults who watch with children.


Review of THE COURT JESTER (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B+/A-
Adventure Comedy
Not rated (would be G)

The Robin Hood legend gets a makeover and a different focal character in The Court Jester (1956), one of Danny Kaye’s best. Along with Bob Hope’s The Princess and the Pirate, it’s also one of the classic costume comedies from the Technicolor era.

Once you get past a slightly corny title-sequence song sung onscreen by Kaye, this medieval musical comedy-adventure is full of pageantry and fun. Kaye plays Hubert Hawkins, a minstrel among merry men who hide in the forest and serve a Robin Hood figure known as The Black Fox. Aside from providing entertainment, Hawkins’ main job is to attend to the true king of England—a baby that somehow escaped the slaughter ordered by King Roderick the Tyrant (Cecil Parker) by his henchman, Lord Ravenhurst. That includes changing diapers and pulling said diaper down to reveal a “purple pimpernel” (a takeoff on The Scarlet Pimpernel) to each subject, who then kneels.

Despite his own timidity, Hawkins yearns for a more active and manly job. He finally gets his chance when he’s ordered to team with the swashbuckling Maid Jean (Glynis Johns) and take the child to safety after the group’s forest lair had been discovered. What follows is a clever plot with more twists than a French braid and running gags involving mistaken identity, slapstick, tongue twisters, and snappy catch-phrases.

At $4 million, The Court Jester was the most expensive comedy filmed to date, and it has a lot of elements that still make it appealing for family viewing. Colorful costumes by Edith Head really pop in high definition and bring to life the grandeur of Hollywood’s romantic vision of castles and courtly intrigues. There’s a petulant princess (Angela Lansbury, Bedknobs and Broomsticks) who refuses to marry a blustery Scotsman just so her father can form a political alliance. That princess has an attendant (Mildred Natwick) who is also a sorceress capable of hypnotizing people. And there is a troupe of little persons (billed as Hermine’s Midgets) that perform acrobatics and clever stunts that factor heavily in the family-friendly action. The American Legion Zoaves from Jackson, Michigan even make an entertaining appearance in a sequence where a knighthood ceremony is comically rendered. More

Review of THE SECRET GARDEN (2020) (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: B-
Family Drama
Rated PG

There seems to be just one rule for adapting a classic of children’s literature: stay close to the book. It’s a wonder more filmmakers don’t follow that unwritten rule.

The Secret Garden is a case in point. The 1949 release starring Margaret O’Brien earned a 7.5 out of 10 from audiences at the Internet Movie Database, while a 1987 TV version and 1993 big-screen remake were equally popular (7.2 and 7.3, respectively). All three films were faithful to the book. But a 2017 steampunk treatment got the cold shoulder (4.5), and two 2000 faquels (fake sequels)—Back to the Secret Garden and Return to the Secret Garden didn’t fare much better, with scores of 5.7 and 5.3.

Is it any wonder that audiences tagged this 2020 “reimagined” incarnation with a 5.6 rating? The weight of audience expectation was dropped like a piano from a rooftop on an otherwise beautifully filmed version, most likely because it dared to change things a bit.

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 novel followed a sickly 10-year-old girl who lived in India with wealthy parents that both ignored and spoiled her. Cared for by Indian servants, she awakened one day to find her parents dead of cholera and the staff long gone. Eventually she was sent to England to live with a hunchbacked uncle and his servants in an isolated mansion on the moors. As it happened, Archibald Craven had sealed off a private walled garden after his wife had died there. But Mary grew ever curious about the garden and also the cries she heard in the house at night. Eventually she found the key that unlocked the garden, hung out with the maid’s younger brother, and discovered a cousin she never knew she had, shuttered away in a hidden room because of a spinal illness that had kept him bedridden. He quickly became a diversion for Mary, who took him (secretly) to see the secret garden.

Writer Jack Thorne and BAFTA-winning director Marc Munden decided to mix things up a bit. They made the garden magical. Plants are ginormous, and far more tropical More

Review of FROZEN II (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: A-/B+
Rated: PG

Has there been a more anticipated Disney sequel than Frozen II?

Frozen was an instant classic, winning Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song. Within the first few weeks of its debut, children young enough to have barely mastered sentences could be heard belting out “Let It Go” with the same intensity as Idina Menzel, the Broadway talent who sang it in the film.

Frozen was a tough act to follow, but Frozen II gives the 2013 original a run for its money.

For me, the differences can be summarized with a few simple observations. I thought Frozen was marred only by two songs that stood out because they were less successful than the rest: a goofy snowman song that seemed to run counter to the mood of the film, even for comic relief, and a troll song that could have been cut and no one would have cared. But overall, the film brought Broadway style to the fairytale format (a Disney specialty) and also embraced the “meet cute” formula of romantic comedies, with fun characters and interesting side plots and plot twists that were simple enough for even those budding young sopranos and tenors to understand.

Frozen II, meanwhile, comes closer to the operetta in its use of music, where songs are sometimes employed instead of dialogue to move the story forward, and those songs (as a result) seem to come at more frequent intervals. That’s not bad, mind you, just different. Still, it’s been three months since the film premiered, and I have yet to observe any youngster singing a song from the sequel. I also couldn’t pick out a favorite song the way I instantly could with Frozen—though “Into the Unknown” was nominated for an Academy Award and the Frozen II soundtrack reached #1 on the Billboard 200 Album chart. So it might take a second listen for those songs to kick in.  I also thought that Frozen II, a darker film in tone and subject matter, had a plot that was both more richly imagined and a little more contrived, and therefore a little harder for younger children to comprehend. Maybe that’s because Frozen steered fairly close to the shoreline of fairytale land, while Frozen II comes closer to fantasy. There are ghosts and spirits and people living in a netherworld. More


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Grade: C+/B-
Entire family: Yes
Family drama
2019, 94 min., Color
Rated PG for brief language
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: n/a
Trailer (contains spoilers)
Amazon link

Jack Russell terriers have been popular with Hollywood. Most famously there was Uggie, who starred in the 2011 Academy Award-winning picture The Artist. Before him, we saw Eddie on the sitcom Frazier, Skip in the film My Dog Skip, and a CGI-enhanced Milo in The Mask. And now there’s Dally, who, unlike previous Jack Russells, isn’t a solo act. She’s partnered with a miniature horse named Spanky (here’s a link to their 2018 performance at the Del Mar National Horse Show just north of San Diego).

Though Dally and Spanky aren’t listed in the credits and the animals may or may not be the actual Dally and Spanky, this family movie was inspired by their dog-and-pony show. And while too often “family” has meant sappily unwatchable, Adventures of Dally & Spanky isn’t half bad. For all its flaws (and there are many) you still end up liking it because, corny as they seem, as one announcer at a talent show remarks, you can’t not like an animal act, can you? And that’s what this is: an 84-minute animal act that begins like Air Bud and quickly turns into Sing.

There’s not much in the way of plotting, and what there is we’ve seen before. Seventeen-year-old Addy (Brenna D’Amico) is grappling with the loss of someone close to her, and it’s affecting her relationship with her mother, stepfather, and half-sister Ella (Reylynn Caster). When she inherits a miniature horse, though, it ends up being therapeutic. And when her half-sister’s dog takes a shine to her horse, it brings the half-sisters closer together as they train the animals side by side and prepare for competitions to help the family raise money to pay the bills and cover the added expenses of boarding a horse. More

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