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Easter Alternatives: Better home video choices for the Easter holiday

On the shelves, come Universal's "Happy Faces" line of DVDs...I do question some of the choices...greatly

On the shelves, come Universal’s “Happy Faces” line of DVDs…I do question some of the choices…greatly

As I was looking through the usual rack of DVDs, what did my eye catch but another home video cash cow that is on par with DVD reissues. Universal Studios has released a selection of family films dubbed the “Happy Faces” version. No doubt a means to break in on the Easter holiday. Some of the choices I can see being fine with like The Little Rascals and Beethoven (not seen in the pic above) but then you have some that deserve questioning. Why Barney’s Great Adventure for its pandering to the younger demographic making it a headache to the older generation? Why Casper and Coaraline when both are more suited for a Halloween release? And of all the titles in the batch, who would be so cruel to let The Cat in the Hat be given this treatment?

Is this how low we have gotten for home video entertainment around the Easter holiday? Well this serves as not only a list of recommendations but also a letter to the studios out there in Hollywood trying to think of a way to “get in” on the holiday. From reissuing classics or making a film for the season, there are better movies to view around a time when kids hunt for Easter eggs while older folks respect the religious origins. So for those who are looking to entertain their children and those looking for something to watch in celebration of the bright and colorful season, look no further. And I can guarantee you, these are far better substitutes than something dull and uninspired as Hop.

1202379979_1Here Comes Peter Cottontail – This 1971 Rankin Bass classic deals with the Easter Bunny mythos in a more clever way than the 90 minute CGI-hybrid romp. Casey Kasem of Scooby Doo fame voices Peter as he picked to be the next Easter Bunny but soon all that changes when he’s challenged by a nasty rabbit named Irontail to an egg delivering contest. As you might guess, Peter looses but then a strange man helps him travel back in time to make amends for his actions. Not strange enough? How about having Irontail sabotage the machine so he can go to any holiday but Easter leaving Peter in a quest to find a suitable holiday for his eggs?

The main problem is that for a Rankin Bass special, its the weirdest one when you read it on paper. But what matters is the execution. Despite being dated and a tad psychedelic in spots, there are a lot of elements that do hold up. The message of perseverance and trying to deal with your failures is not easy to come across for a kid audience but somehow it holds everything together. On top of that, hearing the voice of Shaggy from Peter Cottontail gives some nostalgic vibes for older audiences but I feel it will be seen more for the voice performance of Vincent Price as Irontail. Anything Vincent is in will always shine no matter how bad or weird it will be. I remember watching this fondly as a kid and looking back on it, its probably my favorite Rankin Bass special next to The Stingiest Man in Town. But if this stop-motion affair isn’t your cup of tea, then look to the next choice…

Parting-the-Red-Sea-e1323927556524The Ten Commandments (1956) – Its funny how Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic has held up over the years. Ever since 1973, this grand telling of the Moses story has become a huge staple for ABC and rarely has been retired from the airwaves. Some might consider this corny by today’s standards but the performance of Charlton Heston and its visual look make up for it. This was made in a time before digital effects were known so elements like tons of slaves pulling a block of stone look more effective than it would today.

Even strange is how there was never an attempt to cut down its massive near 4 hour running time for a general release. This is up there with Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur as movies that don’t need a massive trimming to make it better. Older viewers will enjoy it for the sheer nostalgia and its subtle performances (despite some melodrama from time to time) and I feel younger viewers will be amazed by the scope and scale it brings. They will marvel at the building of Egypt while gaze in wonder when the Red Sea is parted.

600full-the-prince-of-egypt-screenshotThe Prince of Egypt – If you feel kids can’t handle a long epic, there’s also this alternative which is effective too. To think an animated musical of a Biblical tale can bring the same depth as the 1956 film while still be compelling and dynamic in new ways. Val Kilmer dons the voice of Moses as he goes for a more human approach in comparison to Heston’s theatrical take but I’m sure Ralph Fiennes shouldn’t go ignored as the brother Ramesses II. Ralph’s chilling performance matches such lush animation as we see not a cold being but someone who wants to keep a connection with his adopted sibling while still follow in his father’s footsteps.

Simon Wells directed this flick and its probably the only movie aside from Balto I can easily recommend for a family audience.  There’s a decent balance between dark and light that almost challenges the films of Don Bluth in perfecting a good movie for kids without going too dark or too light. The only drawback is that the comedic moments can feel really tacky and obviously set for the younger crowd but the more dramatic second half makes up for it. And you can’t complain when your movie is being scored by Hans Zimmer with delightful tunes by Stephen Schwartz.

LTC-DisciplesThe Last Temptation of Christ – This is easily a hard movie to recommend because it depends on the kind of person you are towards religion. Are you one that believes in the faith or accepts some ideas? Can you be open to different interpretations or is there a fine line between artistic expression and blasphemy? Well, Martin Scorsese really pushed the limits and brought us a movie that was not only breathtaking but really questioned the faith.

William Dafoe takes the role of Jesus but in a more humanitarian view as opposed to a benevolent take we all know. Instead, it makes us wonder what it would be like if he had a thought process like our own. Even more ambitious is the final moments where we see what it would be like he was human. Would he regret not having the ability to sacrifice his life for others or appreciate life? These elements really caused a stir and its probably why Hollywood tries to please the masses with religious films that play it safe as opposed to really question the what if factor. If you have an open mind and understand its just fiction and nothing more, you’ll be safe and enjoy a movie that artistically powerful as is its script. Everyone else……Ten Commandments?

critters-2-the-main-course-featuredCritters 2: The Main Course – While I do prefer the first movie, its obvious from the start its not meant to be taken seriously. I remember watching this on first viewing and while I didn’t hate it, still feel it doesn’t hold a candle to the first one. But looking back on its zany and out of control tone, I will say it did expand on a lot and didn’t fail to deliver. There’s higher risks as the little alien porcupines munch about the town in many ways that are clever and too good not to spoil. Its obviously going for a “tongue in cheek” approach but sadly lacks the horror angle from the first movie. A lot of the Critters were obscure in the night time where else in the sequel, they look like daylight Muppets that keep munching and munching. They had distinctive personalities in the first film while the sequel has them multiply into havoc raking monsters.

With that said, it does expand on a few things like the alien bounty hunters and uses their changing abilities to clever moments like one looking like a Playboy centerfold to another moment when one of the hunters becomes so broken he literally erases his human identity thus forming into his normal form. Critters 2 was never meant to be a good movie and it obviously shows. Its a mindless affair that lets your leave your brain at the door and enjoy the crazy on the screen. And if your wonder what it has to do with Easter, I’ll leave it like this. You won’t think of Easter egg hunts the same way again after this one. Until I do a proper revisit and go in-depth, I still say its worth watching at least for “that” kind of crowd.

hero_EB20040618REVIEWS406180301ARMonty Python’s The Life of Brain – It can’t be Easter without this movie! While Holy Grail is my favorite of the Python gang’s filmography, I do admire the ambition and wit behind this one. Instead of poking fun at a religious figure, they more or less ask what would happen if someone else wound up in the same situation but wasn’t benevolent like Jesus. Mistaken as the Messiah when he’s just a regular person. Well, somehow the Python’s succeeded with this one. Just when you think a gut busting moment is done, you get another one right around the corner. The jokes and sketches they incorporate into the narrative are all hit making at fun at not just the topical theme of religion but even going as far to really bash Roman lifestyle. Its funny how this movie was considered blasphemous upon its release but during a reissue when The Passion of the Christ came about, viewers started to get the message better that it wasn’t about mocking Jesus but more on the New Testament era itself. I can’t recommend this comedy enough but if you offended…well…

Rental Corner: “Hop” dull and lifeless despite bright visuals

One of these things is not like the other...everything else is a delightful treat that this movie isn't

One of these things is not like the other…everything else is a delightful treat that this movie isn’t

This review opens up with a viewer beware because there is no other “holiday” movie I can think of aside from “The Nutcracker Prince” or “Valentine’s Day” that feels like a complete cash cow. Even Christmas movies have more dignity with nice pretty lights and try to maintain a message even when its bogged down by cliches and boring characters. So imagine how unsurprising I felt when I decided to examine “Hop” after four years of avoiding it like the plague. This little relic comes from a time when film makers were desperate to find a childhood icon like the Tooth Fairy and make a movie out of it. A simple fantasy icon that would get bloated into a slew and slay of pop culture jokes and pandering to the younger crowd. I want to say there is something worse than this movie in terms of what it does, but frankly I can’t think of one on the spot.

Easter gets the “Santa Clause” treatment here as the Easter Bunny (voiced by Hugh Laurie) hides away on Easter Island where under all those Moai statues is a bright and colorful factor that looks like it was taken from a commercial for Wonka Candy products. I want to say its cleverly designed but I keep thinking to all the Hershey and Cadbury chocolates that get crafted in front of our eyes. The “Santa” treatment is pushed further with baby chicks for elves who make the candies along with the cute little hares that help out to even the iconic Bunny riding around in a makeshift sled pulled by a team of baby chicks. The “Santa Factor” is so forced that it feels unoriginal. Ever more confusing is a teleporter device that is introduced later proving the sled useless when you can just jump from Easter Island to California and even China in just a mil-second.

James Mardsen and Russell Brand are two slackers in search of a good script

James Mardsen and Russell Brand are two slackers in search of a good script

But all is not well as his son E. B. (voiced by Russell Brand) has dreams of being a core drummer than travel around the world and give out candy baskets. In pursuit of his dream, he goes to Hollywood to see his talent get known. Personally, I had mixed feelings in regards to Russell Brand’s performance. I don’t think he’s a bad actor considering he can do different voices but unfortunately, the only movie I can think of where he did this was for the mad scientist Dr. Nefario in Despicable Me. Next to the Minions, this old-bumbling scientist is one of my favorite characters from that movie and for a while, I didn’t think for once he was voiced by Brand. So there is proof he can be funny and do different characters but the same can’t be said as E. B. Throughout the whole movie, I keep hearing this over-aged rocker personality in a character that would have been more suited if it was voiced by someone younger say 13 or 14. The design of the character is better fitted that way and it feels weird to have Brand’s voice come out of his mouth considering he doesn’t do anything to fit the character aside from giving his own personality which doesn’t do much.

Quiet conveniently, he gets hit in a car accident by Fred O’Hare (James Marsden) who gives into his fake injury and takes the blame. As you can imagine, they both have a common trait as they constantly get viewed by their family as the lower berth and asked to get a real job. It also doesn’t help that Fred keeps on blowing every job opportunity just because the script says he needs to. I found no sympathy for this character and what form they tried to inject into doesn’t work. To describe the relationship between E. B. and Fred is akin to the manic ventures of Alivn and Dave from Alivin and the Chipmunks. Which is ironic seeing Tim Hill lends a direction and it shows with the typical staple of pop culture jokes and buffet of low-brow toilet humor just to keep the kids awake.

Hank Azaria does doubel voice duty as Carlos and Phill which feel like last minute add-ons than actual threats....

Hank Azaria does doubel voice duty as Carlos and Phill which feel like last minute add-ons than actual threats….

What form of conflict they have here doesn’t feel fleshed out. Hank Azaria feels added on as a last minute villain with the role of Carlos, a Hispanic accented Chick who is tired of being second banana and plans to take over the Easter holiday. With so much time devoted to E. B. roaming Hollywood, we care little of what happens as the evil spring chick plans to replace Easter goodies with worms and bird seed. But even then we don’t care what happens because of how lazy the script feels and how uninspired everything is. Carlos only exists because “Hop” needs a climax when it still builds to an unsatisfactory conclusion that feels scaled back and anti-climatic as a transformed Carlos tries to fly off but the action plays  safe by having it take place in the factory than do an actual risk.

And that’s the key phrase here, “playing it safe.” This movie doesn’t offer much new outside of being two cliched films for the price of one. By combining all three “Santa Clause” movies and fusing them with the tropes of an Adam Sandler movie, the end result is something that looks nice from time to time but the whole story and batch of characters we get are dull, cliched and feel more like cardboard cut-outs than dimensional characters. Its a shame because there are some unique ideas that could have lived up to potential like a ninja-like group the Easter Bunny has called the Pink Berets which are female bunnies with pink berets. There is an open possibility for making funny characters but all they do is act menacing and grunt a lot. There’s only four animated characters that talk while every other CGI being just resorts to cheeps and noises. Again, so much room to make characters for but instead feel like moving scenery than living things. Most of the time they feel more like Minion clones than actual animals.

So much good animation put to waste...literally. All that is missing is the Wonka logo here!

So much good animation put to waste…literally. All that is missing is the Wonka logo here!

I feel bad because the animation was done by Illumination Entertainment and their craft really shows here from the feather and fur textures to the composition of these fictional characters into live-action footage. However, the effect wears its welcome as we can tell James Marsden is not in a real set but blue-screened into a CGI background and most of the climax feels like a video game level than an adrenaline pumping finale. To say “Hop” is the next holiday classic for the Easter season is an insult to the eyes and ears of those who wish for something magical and astounding. I’d go as far to say its on par with the 2003 adaption of “The Cat in the Hat” where only the visuals look good but can’t support an under-cooked script. I want to say its a harmless feature but when the only image to take away is an Easter bunny defecating jelly beans to prove he’s magic, there’s really nothing else to say here except there are better alternatives than a soulless picture like this one. Keep this one out of the Easter basket and join me in the next blog post for some “better” alternatives. Trust me, they are far more unique than the pain that unfortunately exists here. And oddly enough, when “Hop” was released to home video, it came out one whole year after its theatrical debut to obviously tie in with the Easter holiday. In that time span, many forgot about it and claimed it to be a lost film. Personally, I feel its better that way.