Escape From Planet Earth A Fun Escape For Families

Courtesy:  Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Courtesy: Anchor Bay Entertainment/The Weinstein Company

Escape from Planet Earth (Anchor Bay Entertainment/Weinstein Company) was released to theaters in February 2013.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t last very long in theaters after its premiere.  The reason(s) why it didn’t last are anyone’s guess.  But the most probable of reasons would be its comparison to the 2009 family friendly CG “animated” sci-fi comedy, Planet 51.  There is no denying the comparisons to said story.  But in its defense, Planet 51 isn’t the only movie from which Escape from Planet Earth lifted.  There are also influences from the likes of Monsters, Inc. and Monsters vs. Aliens throughout this movie.  And while it does lift from previous movies, it does have some originality in terms of its messages and its comic elements.  Those comic elements include the sci-fi and pop culture spoofs made much in the same vein as in Planet 51.  The spoofs aren’t the same as in Planet 51, either.  This makes them that much funnier and helps to make up for the story’s less original aspects.

It’s difficult to honestly write this and call Escape from Planet Earth the most original movie of its kind.  That’s because of the fact that it can so easily be compared to the 2009 family friendly sci-fi comedy, Planet 51.  On the surface, Escape From Planet Earth can so easily be considered to be Planet 51 in reverse.  Instead of the human astronaut trying to escape from the alien planet, this time, it’s the aliens trying to escape Earth.  It’s not the only movie to which this work can be compared.  It can also be compared to Disney/Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. (2001).  The comparison to that movie comes in the form of General Shanker’s (William Shatner—Star Trek) soldiers.  A close look at the men will bring viewers to note that his men are always running around in yellow, rubber hazmat suits that cover their entire bodies, including their faces.  This is very much in the same style as the agents of the Child Detection Agency from Monsters, Inc.  And the general story itself makes it just as easily compared to Dreamworks’ Monsters vs. Aliens.  It’s just that movie as much in reverse as Planet 51 in reverse.  Knowing all of these influences takes away quite a bit from the movie.  But for all that is taken away from it, Escape From Planet Earth isn’t without its positives.

Writers Cal Brunker and Bob Barlen (hmmmmm Bob, planet Bob…..coincidence?) did a lot of lifting from other previous CG based family friendly sci-fi flicks to make Escape from Planet Earth.  For all of the comparisons that can be made, what can be said of this creation is that it does still manage to save itself.  It saves itself thanks to its theme of family bonds and its pop culture and sci-fi spoofs made throughout the nearly ninety minute movie.  The theme of the family bond is something that those other family films don’t have.  So this serves to help set this movie apart from those movies and give it its own identity.

Just as the movie’s theme of family bonds helps to set it apart from other movies of its ilk, the pop culture and sci-fi references made throughout the movie help to set it apart even more.  The jokes are quite plentiful throughout the course of the movie’s run time.  There are jokes about classic 1950s sci-fi flicks, conspiracy theories and even a subtle stab at director James Cameron.  It’s so subtle that if a person isn’t really watching closely, one will miss it.  Those that catch it will truly appreciate it, considering Cameron’s reputation when it comes to science fiction movies.  There are far more subtle jokes and pokes that are peppered throughout the movie.  And those that give this movie a chance will appreciate the movie even more for them.  In turn, they will see that while it may not be the most original movie in its genre, it really is a movie that is worth at least one watch.  It is available now on DVD and Blu-ray in stores and online and can be ordered online direct from the Anchor Bay Entertainment website at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com/detail.aspx?projectID=5b081188-3392-e211-b3c9-d4ae527c3b65.  Fans can also check in on all of the latest updates on new releases from Anchor Bay Entertainment at http://www.anchorbayentertainment.com.

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Audiences Will “Love” Dreamworks’ New Madagascar Special

Courtesy:  Dreamworks Home Entertainment/Dreamworks Animation SKG/20th Century Fox/ 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Dreamworks Home Entertainment/Dreamworks Animation SKG/20th Century Fox/ 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Dreamworks Animations’ Madagascar movies comprise one of the company’s most successful franchises.  It’s so successful in fact that it has even spawned a holiday special titled, Merry Madagascar.  Now the Madagascar gang is back again for yet another holiday special.  This time, love is in the air for the gang as Valentine’s Day nears.  Ironically enough King Julian (once again voiced by Sacha Baron Cohen) gets his hands on a perfume called “Love Potion #9” that makes anyone that wears it irresistible.  When the “love potion” is used on Marty, it leads to an unintended effect, which ends up in Marty and the rest of Alex’s friends learning a very valuable lesson about friendship and love.  The moral lesson and the laughs together will keep audiences engaged throughout the course of the special’s near half-hour run time.  To be exact, Madly Madagascar’s run time is closer to twenty-five minutes than thirty.  Though chances are if it is ever run on television, it will reach the half-hour mark thanks to commercials. 

The run-time aside, much of the reason for the enjoyment in this special comes from the special’s writing staff and the voice cast’s ability to interpret the script.  The entire cast from the previous Madagascar movies is back once more, with one more addition.  Phil LaMarr (Futurama) joins the cast as the voice of a wildlife official at a Safari camp who has to chase after the infamous penguins of Madagascar.  That’s right, even the penguins are back, creating their own mischief as the love bug has hit their leader, too.  The original voice actors behind the penguins have returned, too.  Keeping all of this in mind, it’s no wonder that interpreting the script for this special was so simple for the cast as it had to have been old hat for everybody. 

The cast’s interpretation of the writers’ script plays its own role (no pun intended) in the success of this latest special.  Audiences will also appreciate that the CG-based “animation” used in all of the previous Madagascar installments was used in this special, too.  That familiarity of sorts—as minor as it may be—will help make this new installment a welcome return for audiences of all ages.  The pop culture references to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Robert Palmer, The Black Eyed Peas, and The Clovers also make for their own laughs.  All of this combined with the script writing and voice acting will make Madly Madagascar a Valentines special that the whole family will enjoy year after year.

The main feature included in this new DVD release is enjoyable enough for the whole family.  It’s only part of the overall enjoyment that families will get from this new release.  Just as enjoyable are the bonus shorts included with it.  Two bonus shorts are included on the disc.  The first of the pair is a touching Pixar style piece titled, “First Flight” in which a rather unhappy man learns the meaning of happiness when a baby bird falls from its nest and he ends up teaching the young avian how to fly.  It truly is a moving story as short as it is.  And it will leave both kids and adults smiling and shedding at least some tears of joy.  Being that the only dialogue here so to speak is the man and bird “talking” to each other through bird song, the music played a big role in the success of the story.  It came through in a big way, too.  It added so much emotion to the entire story.  It goes to prove that Pixar just might have some competition next awards season if Dreamworks continues to try its hand with more animated shorts.  And from the viewpoint of this critic, if this short is any indication, more shorts from Dreamworks would be welcome.

The second short of the pair is far less emotional.  Instead it’s on the exact opposite end of the spectrum.  It’s taken from Dreamworks’ Over The Hedge movie franchise.  The short, titled, “Hammy’s Boomerang Adventure” is a laugh-a-minute short that follows Hammy and his friends in their discovery of a video camera.  Hammy’s friends use it to play a prank on Hammy.  The writing for this short harkens back to the days of the old Warner Brothers Looney Tunes shorts with its physical comedy between Hammy and the Boomerang.  And as with the short’s companion Madagascar feature, the original voice actors from Over The Hedge have returned here adding to the hilarity.  Adding even more enjoyment to the short is a little musical number from pop star Ben Folds.  Folds performs a song titled, ‘Heist’ for the short’s end credits.  It’s not that long, obviously.  But it’s still a catchy little tune that will have viewers tapping their toes.  It might even be enough to get audiences interested in hearing more of his music.  His music combined with the equally enjoyable shorts and main feature from the Madagascar gang come together to make for a DVD that any audience will want to check out when it hits store shelves next Tuesday, January 29th.  It will also be available online.  It can be ordered direct online via the 20th Century Fox store at http://www.foxconnect.com/madly-madagascar.html.

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The Adventures Of Scooter The Penguin Is A “Cool” Family Flick

Courtesy: Engine 15 Media Group/Entertainment One

The Adventures of Scooter The Penguin combines the best pieces of Happy Feet and The Ugly Duckling for a story that the entire family will enjoy.  This Dove approved family story focuses primarily on the issues of bullying and social acceptance.  It also throws in a coming-of-age story to help things progress.  And at a time when bullying is such a vital topic of discussion stories such as this are always welcome.  Even better is that while it takes on a story similar to that of Happy Feet, it leaves out that movie’s “preachy” environmental message.  Rather, it takes the high road and focuses more on the messages of social acceptance and bullying.

Scooter faces an uncertain group of penguins after he is brought into town.  He’s the only blue penguin there.  And his general stature is different from that of the other penguins.  Because he is different from the other penguins, he also faces a bully at pre-school.  But thanks to the support of two other young penguins, Scooter never gets down.  Along the way, Scooter even makes some other friends who are there to support him, especially when he faces off against his bully in a big swimming race near the movie’s end.  When he beats the other penguins in the race, even the bully changes his view, and becomes Scooter’s friend.  It all leads up to a final confrontation with an evil walrus.  When Scooter stands up to him, the rest of the penguins join in and follow his example.  They show through this simple action that they’ve accepted him.  Scooter learns through it all that it’s okay for him to be who he is and that anyone who is really a friend and who cares will accept him no matter what.

The lesson of self acceptance is an important one for all young audiences.  It’s even an important one for adults, as kids model themselves after the behavior of the adults around them.  So many adults act like the penguins in this feature.  They instantly look down their noses at anyone that is different from them.  Luckily, Scooter didn’t act that way.  He just wanted to be accepted.  He didn’t judge the other penguins for looking different from him.  In a sense, one could even take that as a lesson about the golden rule.  Scooter treated everyone else as he would want to be treated.  Again, both kids and adults alike can benefit from this lesson.  All said, the lessons taught through this feature more than make up for the CG based “animation” used here.  The feature’s “animation” is more akin to a PC based video game than features from the likes of Pixar or Dreamworks.  But again, that can be forgiven as the feature has substance and heart.  And in a time when it seems so difficult to find good family friendly features out there today, that counts for something.

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Leguizamo’s New PBS Special Will Entertain And Move Audiences

Courtesy: PBS

John Leguizamo has become one of Hollywood’s big names thanks to his time as the voice of the loveable Sid the Sloth from the Ice Age movie franchise.  What a lot of people don’t know though is that Leguizamo has been making audiences laugh for years.  Thanks to the new documentary from PBS, Tales from a Ghetto Klown, audiences will get to learn about Leguizamo’s comedy roots, and about everything that went into bringing his latest project, “Ghetto Klown” to life.

Tales from a Ghetto Klown profiles Leguizamo’s rise to stardom, from his early days up to his most recent one-man show.  Viewers see how far he’s come through interviews with his family and friends, including other comedians.  Archived footage of his previous work adds even more depth to his story.  In watching this documentary, audiences may be somewhat surprised to see a man with two very different sides.  On stage, audiences see a man who is entirely in control and self confident.  But on the other side, Leguizamo admits himself that he’s nervous just trying out his material in a rehearsal with a very small invited audience.  It shows just how serious Leguizamo takes his craft.  Understanding that makes for that much more appreciation for him both as a person and an entertainer.  On another note, viewers will note that perhaps Leguizamo is a comic book geek.  In some of his interviews and even in his on-stage performances, he’s seen wearing comic book based shirts.  He’s got both an X-Men shirt and a Batman shirt.  Audiences who are fans of both DC Comics and Marvel will appreciate the shout outs even if they are just coincidental.

Leguizamo really comes across as something of an underdog in this presentation.  So when it begins to follow the journey to bring his latest show to life, audiences will find themselves rooting for him.  First there was an issue with having lost a contract for a theater in which to perform his show.  And then his prep show in Chicago was nearly shut down thanks to a massive snow storm.  Luckily though, he does finally see the fruits of his labor.  And even despite negative reviews from some critics, his show was obviously a hit among audiences.  It was such a hit that when it closed in the U.S., he ended up even going a Spanish language version of his show in Colombia.  The road to making that show happen was just as interesting.  Audiences can find out for themselves everything that he went through to make that show happen.  There are moments here that will amaze some audiences.  Those moments will also move audiences as they show Leguizamo getting back in touch with his roots.

The journey from dream to stage will keep audiences’ eyes and attention through the near hour long presentation contained on this documentary’s single disc.  Audiences will also laugh at the snippets of his act included as bonus features.  And for those who want even more depth to the presentation, there are even more interviews with those involved with the show’s birth and life included as bonus features.  They all come together with the main presentation to both move and entertain audiences.

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People Like Us Is An Underrated, Moving Drama

Courtesy: Dreamworks Pictures

Family is the most important thing that any person can have.  Without family, what does anyone have?  Sam (Chris Pine), his mother (Michelle Pfeiffer), and the sister he never knew he had (Elizabeth Banks) learn this lesson in Dreamworks’ new movie, People Like Us.

People Like Us is a powerful and emotional drama.  On the surface, it may be just another movie that’s based on actual events.  But the story presented here is much more real and emotional than audiences may want to believe.  Cases such as the story presented here really do happen.  The problem is that society has attached a stigma to it.  So it tends to be generally swept under the proverbial carpet.  People don’t want to know about such stories.  Keeping in mind just how real People Like Us is, one can’t help but feel sorry for Sam’s sister, Frankie.

When Sam first revealed to Frankie that they were related, she goes absolutely berserk.  Not knowing for so many years would make such a revelation a massive load both emotionally and psychologically.  One has to put oneself into Frankie’s shoes to really appreciate her reaction.  She was looking at the situation from the vantage point of having had an emotional connection to Sam before discovering he was her long lost brother.  Here was this single mother who had no clue who the father of her child was.  The shock of having her hopes dashed is entirely understandable here.  Of course, she does come around by the movie’s end.  The full ending won’t be given away for the sake of those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to see the story.  Though audiences are encouraged to see it for themselves to find out how it all ends.

The emotional drama between Sam and Frankie is just part of what will keep audiences watching throughout the movie’s near two-hour run time.  Sam’s relationship with his mother Lillian (played expertly by veteran actress Michelle Pfeiffer) gets tied into the story.  The secret that Lillian keeps plays directly into Sam’s relationship with Frankie.  At the same time, it’s that same secret that eventually brings Sam and his mother closer by the story’s end.  It would be wrong to say that the end of People Like Us is happy.  Rather, it’s better described as bittersweet.  But ironically, enough, it will leave audiences feeling fulfilled after the emotional journey on which they embarked at the story’s beginning.

When it was originally released earlier this year in theaters, People Like Us was released among a glut of Summer blockbusters.  Because of that, it was easily lost in that sea that is the silver screen.  But it will be released next Tuesday, October 2nd on DVD and Blu-ray.  As surprisingly deep and emotional as it is, hopefully it won’t be lost in the sea of new home releases as it is definitely worth the watch. 

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