No Surprise Here: ‘The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island” Is Another Relatively Enjoyable Addition to Shout! Factory’s “Boxcar Children” Cinematic Universe

Courtesy: Shout! Factory/Shout! Factory Kids/Legacy Classics

Shout! Factory and Legacy Classics are bringing the classic literary figures The Boxcar Children to Blu-ray and DVD in a brand new, Dove-approved adventure next week.  Set for release August 7, this second cinematic adaptation of the beloved children’s books is another mostly enjoyable offering from Shout! Studios and Legacy Classics Family Entertainment despite production values that again prove somewhat problematic to the movie’s presentation.  Those collective production values will be discussed a little later.  That’s because again, this production is not entirely negative.  It does boast a story that is certain to keep audiences of all ages engaged from start to end.  The bonus material included in the movie’s upcoming home release is another positive worth discussing.  It will be noted later, too.  Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island, and are certainly not the only items that could be discussed in examining the movie’s presentation.  One could also discuss the work of the movie’s voice cast, which includes at least two very well-known actors.  All things combined, The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island proves, unsurprisingly, to be an enjoyable new entry in Shout! Studios’ ongoing slate of stories from the beloved literary series.

The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island, the latest entry in the ongoing Boxcar Children cinematic series from Shout! Studios and Legacy Classics Family Entertainment, is a mostly enjoyable addition to the series.  That is due in part to a relatively simple story that, through its simplicity, is easy for viewers of any age to follow.  This time out, the kids – Mike, Benny, Jessie and Violet – are staying on an island on which their grandfather James (voiced by veteran actor Martin Sheen – Apocalypse Now, Spawn, The West Wing) has a barn of sorts.  While they are exploring the island, the children – who are obviously orphans no more, considering that they have their grandfather – run into John Joseph (Dan Dehaan – Chronicle, The Place Beyond The Pines, The Amazing Spiderman 2).  John Joseph has been hired by Dr. Moore (J.K. Simmons – Spiderman 1 – 3, Whiplash, La La Land) to help take care of things on the island.  Early on, it is revealed that John Joseph has a secret, but it isn’t until later that said secret is ultimately revealed.  His secret won’t be given away, but it goes without saying that his secret is somewhat predictable.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it could help to continue the children’s story in the next Boxcar Children entry.  Obviously, the story has a happy ending, though one can’t help but wonder why exactly the kids were living alone on that island for the summer in the first place when they end up going back to their grandfather’s mansion in the end, which is only a boat ride away.  Story begets story, perhaps.  The obvious rebuttal there is that had they not gone to live on their own in the barn (which had no electricity), there would have been no story leading to John Joseph’s secret and revelation.  What’s more, the discovery of the Native American skeleton in the cave seems to be brushed aside.  That loose end would have been a nice side story.  Maybe it will be covered in another adventure.  Getting back on the subject at hand, even with those digressions in mind, the movie’s story is still simple enough that it will keep viewers of all ages engaged and entertained from start to end of its roughly 82-minute run time.  Of course while the story itself will keep viewers engaged, the movie’s production proves problematic in the bigger picture of the movie’s presentation.

Once again, audiences get in this movie, a presentation whose animation is on par with an old N64 video game.  In other words, while it does create a clear setting for the story, the overall look sadly leaves so much to be wanted.  If one were to compare this full-on CG animation to other CG movies currently available, the comparison to said movies would reveal an aesthetic item that makes the movie somewhat uncomfortable to watch.  In the same vein, the movie’s music, while a nice addition to the overall presentation, sometimes has a tendency to overpower the cast’s own presentations.  This happens not just once or twice, but at multiple points throughout the movie.  As minor as that may seem, it does play a big part in the movie’s presentation.  Keeping that in mind, the movie’s production, while interesting to learn about in the companion bonus features, does detract from the viewing experience.  It doesn’t make the movie unwatchable, but it does take away from the overall experience.  As much as it takes away from the movie’s presentation, the noted bonus features make up at least to a point.

The bonus material included in the movie’s presentation includes the standard behind-the-scenes featurette and some insightful pieces on the music, sound effects and sound mixing included as extras.  The behind-the-scenes featurette is highlighted by the discussions on and from the voice cast and creative heads, of course.  It also includes an interesting note from one of the movie’s creative heads about how someone close to Gertrud Chandler Warner, the author of the original Boxcar Children books directly played into the movie’s creation (and that of its predecessor).  It’s noted in this interview that there was insistence that the cinematic adaptations of the books stay true to their source material and that said insistence overpowered the thoughts of some very powerful figures.  While the movie’s animation may leave viewers wanting, at least viewers know that certain higher-ups who wanted to update the story didn’t get their way, and instead allowed the story’s adaptation here maintain the look and feel of the original story.  It’s a small victory for creative power, but a victory nonetheless.  What’s more, this discussion itself serves to show yet again the importance of bonus features to a movie.  This in itself creates its own appreciation for the movie, making up at least a little for the low quality of the movie’s animation.  It’s just one of the discussions that proves the value of the bonus features.  The discussion on the movie’s music and its creation is just as interesting as that of the discussion on the approach to the movie.  Audiences learn through this discussion that the movie’s soundtrack was created almost entirely through real instruments.  The introduction of said instruments might even be the first-ever for many audiences.  It was for this critic.  That aspect of the movie’s creation adds even more appreciation for its presentation as does the standalone discussion on the creation of the movie’s sound effects.  The discussion on the sound production and mixing is the only one that will leave viewers scratching their heads, again considering the problems with the final product.  Even with that in mind, the other noted bonus features do just enough to make up for that feature.  That’s because they show how much time and work went into making the movie aesthetically appealing.  To that end, that work – set alongside the movie’s story – does just enough to make the movie worth an occasional watch even with the movie’s production problems.

Shout! Studios’ and Legacy Classics Family Entertainment’s latest addition to the Boxcar Children cinematic universe is a relatively enjoyable offering for the whole family.  It does have its shortcomings thanks to some production problems that cannot be ignored, but its easily accessible story and its interesting bonus material do enough to make up for that problem.  In turn, they join to make The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island a movie that is unsurprisingly enjoyable for the whole family for an occasional watch.  It will be available next Tuesday, August 7 and can be pre-ordered online direct via Shout! Factory’s online store.  More information on this and other titles from Shout! Factory is available online now at:

 

 

 

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