Lionsgate’s Latest Family Friendly CG Centerpiece Will Entertain The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate’s latest CG animated feature Jungle Master is one of the year’s more welcome family features to come along so far in 2014.  Unlike so many of the movies released in recent years by Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar, Jungle Master actually takes the road less travelled.  The movie’s animation is the most obvious way in which it takes that road less travelled.  Despite being a CG presentation, it doesn’t bare that cookie cutter appearance of the movies released by Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar.  Another reason that it stands out is its run time.  The movie’s run time comes in at just under the ninety-minute mark.  That’s a very good thing and will be discussed later.  Last but not least of all that makes this movie stand out is its script.  The story lifts lightly from The Wizard of Oz believe it or not and adds in a touch of Avatar for good measure as well as other sci-fi flicks.  The end result is a story that the while it may never be as big as anything from Dreamworks or Disney/Pixar, is still enjoyable in its own right.  It proves to be a movie that the whole family should watch together and will enjoy together when they do watch it together.

Jungle Master is not one of the most well-known family flicks to be released by any of Hollywood’s major studios this year.  That aside, it still proves in the long run to be one of the year’s more welcome family friendly flicks.  One reason for that is the movie’s “animation.”  Lionsgate’s CG features are completely unlike those of Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar in the realm of animation.  It’s almost impossible to tell Dreamworks’ CG movies from Disney/Pixar’s because they all look alike.  The only way to really differentiate the two studios’ works is by the studio names.  That speaks volumes.  Lionsgate on the other hand has strived to keep itself separate from the mold used by those studios in terms of its animation.  The look of Lionsgate’s CG movies is rawer for lack of better wording.  But it isn’t raw to the point of looking like some pieces from perhaps independent studio Engine 15 Media Group and others.  There is actually some attention paid to detail with Lionsgate’s CG movies, including this one.  That attention to detail helps Jungle Master maintain its own identity separate from its bigger name counterparts from Dreamworks and Disney/Pixar.  It even helps the movie to maintain its own identity from Lionsgate’s previously released CG features.  That mostly original look is just one of a number of positives that surround Jungle Master and make it stand out among this year’s crop of CG movies.

The largely original look of Jungle Master plays a key role in the movie’s ability to keep audiences engaged through its entire eighty-two minute run time.  That run time is another reason that families will enjoy this movie.  It doesn’t even reach the ninety-minute mark.  That relatively short run time drastically increases the chances of keeping audiences engaged from start to finish.  This is especially the case with the movie’s target younger audiences.  Most of the CG movies released since 1995—which is when Pixar broke the mold and released Toy Story—have averaged about ninety minutes.  There have been a small number of movies that have come in just under that time.  But most either reach the ninety-minute mark or go well over it as was the case with Toy Story 3.  That movie came in at almost forty-five minutes.  Luckily its story worked well enough that it still succeeded and quite well at that.  Speaking of story Jungle Master’s story works wonderfully with its run time.  Its story combines elements of a number of other movies to make a story that somehow actually works.  It’s one more way in which Jungle Master works and makes itself one of this year’s more welcome family films.

Both the look of Jungle Master and its run time are important to the movie’s overall success.  They each play their own important role to the overall presentation as they both have an impact on whether or not audiences are kept engaged.  Luckily, both factors succeed by themselves and together.  As much as they succeeded, the look of Jungle Master and its run time are not all that made this direct-to-DVD feature work.  One would be remiss to ignore the movie’s script as an equally important part of the whole.  The movie’s script centers on a twelve year-old girl named Rainie (pronounced rainy) who runs away from home ater her mother forgot about her birthday.  It is assumed by the fact that Rainie was upset enough to run away that her mother (who remains nameless throughout the movie) has probably left Rainie alone more than once.  Her decision to run away ends up taking her to al alien planet  and a much biger adventure that is directly linked to the company for which her mother works.  It’s thanks to her adventure that Rainie realizes her mom hasn’t intentionally ignored her, obviously leading to an eventual reconciliation between mother and daughter.  The central story of the parent/child relationship is obviously anything but new.  It’s been done more times than a person can count on his or her own two hands.  However, the story’s execution is what makes this plot work.  Screen writer Steve Kramer lifted liberally from the likes of The Wizard of Oz and Avatar to make this story.  While he obviously lifted from the noted movies, Kramer didn’t try to just remake them and mix them together.  He used them more as influences for his story about family.  What’s more he balanced said elements quite well; well enough in fact that audiences will be moved to overlook the references to said movies and enjoy the presented story.

Kramer’s re-telling of original writer/director Xu Kerr’s story is one of the most important of this movie’s aspects in considering its level of success.  He obviously used at least a couple of rather well-known movies that have come before as both influences and elements of this movie.  But he also didn’t try to just rip off either work.  He balanced them together to make a largely original story that centers on family.  That creativity and homage still is not all that makes this movie work.  One should also take into account the movie’s cast and even its bonus shorts.  Victoria Justice (Victorious, Victoria Justice, iCarly), Jane Lynch (Glee, Hollywood Game Night, WreckItRalph), David Spade (Just Shoot Me, The Benchwarmers, Tommy Boy), Josh Peck (Drake & Josh, Ultimate Spiderman, Ice Age: Continental Drift), Christopher Lloyd (Cyberchase, Back to the Future 1 3), and John Lovitz (Saturday Night Live, The Critic, Gorwn-Ups 1 & 2) make up the movie’s cast.  Lovitz proves to be the real star of the story with his comical antics voicing Mulla.  The fact that so many well-known names overall would feel confident enough about such a movie makes it even more worth the watch.  And the bonus shorts included with the movie will entertain children for a little while after the movie ends.  These extra positives combined with the positivews already noted make Jungle Master a movie well worth at least one watch together by any family.  It is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at:




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Bailey’s Latest Adventure One Fun Roundup For The Whole Family

Courtesy:  Entertainment One/Engine 15 Media Group

Courtesy: Entertainment One/Engine 15 Media Group

The latest release from Engine 15 Media Group’s Adventures of Bailey series takes the beloved Golden Retriever down south to the Lone Star State in a mix of young love and literal puppy love and a madcap canine caper.  A Night in Cowtown centers on a bumbling criminal that accidentally steals an elderly woman’s dog named Felix after losing Frankie, his boss’s dog.  The theft happens as a result of a case of mistaken identity.  This leads to the intertwining stories of young love between Bailey and Trixie, and that of his teenage owner, Abbi (Christine Galyean) and Marc (Mason Dye).  The resultant hunt for Felix offers plenty of laughs and warm moments for the whole family.

The story behind this latest of Bailey’s adventures is a pretty simple one to follow.  And much like many of Engine 15 Media Group’s other releases, this story too offers some slight Christian undertones.  During one scene, audiences find Ski Bidwell (Mark Hanson) in a small church, holding Felix, and contemplating his personal future.  This is the only moment throughout the course of the movie’s near hour and a half run time in which any religious imagery is presented.  This is actually a very good thing for church groups as it keeps the story from being too preachy.  It offers the remainder of its time to plenty of moments that make it a fun, family friendly movie that is worth the occasional watch.

While A Night in Cowtown is not a major motion picture, it holds its own with Disney’s releases in its Buddies franchise.  Sure, the dog’s mouths don’t move with the Bailey movies.  But other than that, Bailey’s latest adventure has just as much heart as Disney’s Buddy movies.  Its production values, cinematography, and acting are at about the same level as the aforementioned series.  Rick Shew, Trey Bumpass, and Christine Galyean have all returned for this third installment of the series as are Kenzie Pallone and Liz Franke who just happens to be directly related to director Steve Franke.  That so much of the cast from the series’ second installment has returned for this film is largely to credit for the on screen performances.  The performances from the cast are but one part of what held this direct-to-DVD movie together.  Its cinematography was just as nice as the series’ previous installments.  David Pinkston headed up the movie’s cinematography.  He is the series third head of cinematography.  And while each movie has now had someone different heading up that department, the shooting for this movie was just as solid as that of the previous installments.  That leads to the movie’s production values.  These are just as positive as everything else that went into bringing this installment of Bailey’s adventures to life. 

Any viewer that is a fan of Disney’s Buddy movies or PBS’ classic series, Wishbone, will enjoy Adventures of Bailey: A Night in Cowtown.  It isn’t as well known as the previously mentioned movies and series.  But young viewers will enjoy this movie (and the previous adventures of Bailey) just as much as them.  Its cast does a good job in its own right.  The camera work, production, and scenery are just as good, too.  All said and done, for a straight-to-DVD feature, it’s an enjoyable feature.  It will be available in stores and online next Tuesday, May 21st.  It can be purchased online via Amazon at  The Phil’s Picks Facebook page is also giving away three copies of the movie on DVD this week for three lucky fans.  Fans need only “Like” the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and write on the page’s timeline, noting that they want to be entered in the drawing for a copy of the movie. 

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Bailey Hits The Road Again In New Holiday Special

Courtesy: Engine 15 Media Group/Entertainment One

Bailey, the Golden Retriever is at it again.  In his second adventure, Bailey gets left behind by his family yet again.  This time, the dog has to find his way home in time for Christmas after he’s accidentally left on the farm of his boy, Truman’s, grandparents.  In his efforts to get back to his family, Bailey meets even more animal friends who help to lead him to a powerful Native American chief who can grant wishes.  One of those animals is a llama whose name happens to be named (hold your breath) Dolly.  Get it?  Dolly llama?  Ba-dump-bump-bump.  Only parents would get that joke.  It’ll make any parent laugh a little, too.

All jokes aside, one could argue that Bailey’s latest adventure is a coming-of-age story of sorts.  As he and his brother, Duke, make their attempt to find the Native American chief, Bailey learns the real meaning of Christmas.  The religious tie-in mixed into that message makes this another good feature for any church group.  And being that it stars a group of animals, it’s perfect for any young audience.  Add in a run time just short of ninety minutes and it becomes that much more fitting for its young viewers.  Of course the entire adventure has a happy ending, leaving everyone with that warm and fuzzy feeling.

This latest installment of Bailey the Golden Retriever’s adventures obviously isn’t a major production.  It is however, a good family movie.  Its messages of family, and social and religious tolerance makes it a good feature both for the family and for the church family.  It’s a movie that will remain relevant for audiences not just today but for every young viewer.  Who doesn’t love dogs?  Who doesn’t need to be reminded every now and then of the true meaning of the holidays?  It makes for a good combination for any kind of family.  And it’s available in stores and online now.

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Two “Paws” Up For Trooper And The Legend Of The Golden Key

Courtesy: Entertainment One/Engine 15 Media Group

Look at what followed me home!  Can I keep him?  Who hasn’t either said or heard those words?  That is essentially how Engine 15 Media Group’s direct-to-DVD feature, Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key starts out.  When a young family moves to a new town, the parents’ son, Tommy (Joey Roberts), brings home a hound dog named Trooper after the town’s evil mayor and his equally vile niece say that he has to either find a home or be sent to the pound.  And it’s thanks to Trooper that the story takes off.  Trooper and the Legend of the Golden Key is a fun little family friendly flick (say that three times fast).  Sure, it’s no block buster.  But it is good for the whole family.  There’s no way to escape (as with Vampire Dog) the comparisons to PBS’ hit 90’s show, Wishbone.  Trooper’s little friend, Dash is similar to Wishbone, in terms of both his personality and size.  And the general feel of this feature makes it feel like it belongs on PBS Kids.  That’s not a bad thing, either.  Despite the acting of the cast, led by young Tommy and his parents Paul (Eric Sweeney) and Sandy (Sandy Howell), the larger picture actually has enough heart to make it worth at least one watch.

The actors in this movie’s cast are anything but professional.  There’s no doubt about it.  But they come across as being just as down home as the story’s setting.  It’s a nice welcoming small town.  That small town vibe mixed with the cast’s welcoming personalities makes it that much more watchable.  It adds to the enjoyment of the story.  Who would have ever thought that in small town America, there would be a mystery that would reveal a treasure no one would have ever imagined.  Even the evil mayor and his niece never saw it coming.  The whole thing is told from the vantage point of Trooper and Dash.  Both parents and kids alike will like this, especially with Trooper’s grandfatherly personality.  His presence is completely reassuring and will keep audiences watching.    

For a direct-to-DVD movie, it’s watchable not just for its welcoming cast, but also for its story.  Audiences will find the movie to be a guilty pleasure as it will even fool adults with its twist on what’s behind the “hidden door” in the empty house.  What’s behind the door, and the key that opens it turn out to be “key” to the whole mystery.  The answer to it all won’t be revealed here.  Audiences will have to find that out for themselves.  Those audiences who give it a chance will have a V8 moment when the mystery is finally unraveled.  When it’s all said and done, audiences will be left feeling fulfilled.  It could even leave them wanting to watch it again later as it turns out to be that enjoyable for the whole family.

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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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