Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hmmm... what should the kids be watching?

By FRANCIS DASS

Chipmunks vs frogs: can't decide which kiddie movie to catch this weekend ?
Let us help you make up your mind - OR NOT, as the case might be!


Let's see... you are a very discerning filmgoer. This being January -- you've spent all your hard-earned money on the children's school expenses. In case they didn't tell you in parenting class -- the kids are not done with you or your helpless wallet yet. Just when you thought the end of the first month would spell relief as the salary comes in -- the kids want to go to the movies. As your budget allows for you, your wife and 14 children to catch ONLY one movie, let us help you decide which film to catch.



THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Voice talents of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cumming, Peter Bartlett, Jennifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Elizabeth M. Dampler, Reggie

This has to be the most insipid, irrelevant animated feature that the Walt Disney company has churned out in ages.

The script is weak and contrived, and the animation is supremely insulting. As if it is already not bad enough that the said "princess" is a figurative one in the beginning (sheesh, could you tell little Abdul and Ting Ting to stop bawling their eyes out already!), this pseudo-princess who is called Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is the daughter of a black man who has such huge stereotypical black lips that you don't know if you are looking at a pair of gargantuan luggage handles transplanted onto his face or whether he went for some silicon jabs and got the supersized-treatment.

Whatever happened to the fairly land and fairy-like things in a story that misleadingly calls itself The Princess and the Frog, then? Well, there is a jazz-loving alligator, a firefly and blind voodoo priestess. They all sing and dance, if that is any consolation at all.

To be fair, there IS a prince in the film. He's a callous young man called Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) whose transformation from carefree (think more along the lines of "I-don't-give-a-frog's-wart") to being responsible is so flimsy that you would miss it if you blinked. Adding a dash of the supernatural is a bad guy called Dr Facilier (Keith David). Facilier is a lifeless rip off of Hades from Disney's other animated film, Hercules (1998).

As fate would have it, Naveen is turned into a frog by Facilier, is kissed by Tiana who turns into a.... (not a princess, if that is what you thought!) and the rest of this pitiful movie revolves around people trying to turn themselves into humans and the baddie getting his just desserts.

There are the customary song-and-dance numbers scattered throughout and the introduction of the blind voodoo priestess Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis) who is probably the film's highlight. No, she does not have any real merit if you think about it -- but we said it just to spite the idea and any possibility of having to say anything nice about the hard-to-care-for and completely uninspiring leading couple.

Disney cartoons, I frankly think, do not prepare the kids for the real world. Then again, which Hollywood film ever does. It is all escapism in one way or another.



ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE SQUEAKQUEL
Directed by Betty Thomas
Starring Zachary Levi, David Cross, Jason Lee, Justin Long, Matthew Gray Gubler, Jesse McCartney, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, Christina Applegate, Wendie Malick, Kathryn Joosten

This live action-computer animation merger of a film, is somewhat watchable -- ONCE your hair stops standing on its end and your mind gets used to the sub-intelligent script. You look around, and the kids are rolling with laughter -- all those who are five and below, while you audibly hear explosions in the minds of anyone above 10 whose brain cells start committing suicide.

IN YOUR SEAT, you will look in great wonder and amazement at the screen and realise that the chipmunks actually DO speak like, err, chipmunks. It's not because they are wearing some super-tight underwear and their you-know-what are constricted -- but because if chipmunks spoke, they really would speak like that -- with that voice!

ON THE SCREEN, the likeable Dave (Jason Lee) is hospitalised because of Alvin misbehaves and so Alvin (Justin Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (Jesse McCartney) are shipped over to the Aunt Jackie (Kathryn Joosten). The chipmunk boys are enrolled in a school as part of their growing up process and Dave's slacker cousin Toby (Zachary Levi) is entrusted with looking after the rodents. Why Toby, you ask? Because Aunt Jackie is shipped to hospital (yes, feel free to blame the chipmunks.)

At school, Alvin turns his charms on the teenage girls -- and, shockingly, they respond! But the teenage boys know better... or so you think! A wedgie or two here and there and the chipmunks score a homerun against all who stand against them. Sigh!

Don't be surprised if the kids in the audience break out into unrestrained applause as a trio of female chipmunks are introduced: Eleanor (Amy Poehler), Jeanette (Anna Faris) and Brittany (Christina Applegate) as the rival singing sensation to Alvin and the Chipmunks. At about that time, you will notice that David Cross who plays the "evil" Ian is having plenty of fun hamming up his performance. You might feel an urge to smile at the thought of an adult acting so badly and having the license to enjoy doing so for the sake of earning a living. Then, as the thought of abandoning your family and running off to Hollywood to make an easy living enters your mind, suddenly, you will start noticing the other actors: the teenage-cast-of-thousands. When actors are badly directed, they will deliver horrendous performances -- that is a given, and the phoney-ness of their acting is clear for all to see (the hordes of teens reacting, err, wildly to the non-present CGI chipmunks which are added way, way after filming has ended). If you are movie savvy, this can be very painful to watch. On the other hand, if you are just a kid, you would not care at all.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, despite the bad acting and bad script, Alvin and the Chipmunks does manage to find its groove as the film progresses. By the end of it, you will feel money was better spent catching this with the kids rather than Princess and the Frog.



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