A Little Princess (1995)
Written by Richard LaGravenese & Elizabeth Chandler
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
When I watch films intended for families or children, I always focus on the theme or lesson being communicated. I think, as an elementary teacher, I want to know what this picture is telling kids about the world and humanity. I’d heard very positive things about A Little Princess, mainly from the perspective that Alfonso Cuaron did a great job directing. From that technical perspective, the film is well done, save for some poorly aged computer special effects. But I actually found the lesson of the picture to be deeply troubling yet very much in line with many of the films that come out of Hollywood for kids.
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The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)
Written by Melissa Mathison
Directed by Frank Oz
Frank Oz is one of my favorite comedy directors of the 1980s and 90s. I consider Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and What About Bob? among my favorite movies from that period. He was also no stranger to making family-friendly fare with The Muppets Take Manhattan directorial credit as well as being one of the top performers among Jim Henson’s Muppet troupe. That’s what makes The Indian in the Cupboard feel so strangely disappointing and lifeless. The movie isn’t horrible, but it feels like it’s missing a critical emotional component that ends up leaving the picture ultimately forgettable.
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Written by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Brazil has often been explained as George Orwell’s 1984 played as a comedy, and that is not too far off. I don’t think the art deco world of the film is as authoritarian as 1984, but the flow of disinformation is just as crucial to the narrative. Brazil presents a prophecy of the world we live in now where the specter of faceless terrorism is used to cow people into apathy. The power is not sleek and sharp but buffoonish, making fatal errors and killing innocent people. But the stratified class system and a fear of being targeted if you speak up keeps the ordinary person docile.
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Santa Claus the Movie (1985)
Written by David & Leslie Newman
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc
In the wake of the box office failure of Superman III, producer Ilya Salkind wanted to cash in on more pieces of Americana, so he conceived the idea of Santa Claus the Movie. In the same vein as that 1979 film that kicked off the Superman franchise, Santa Claus the Movie, would explore the origins of the iconic figure, explaining all the facets from how he travels down chimneys to where his red suit came from. The resulting movie is a horrible piece of garbage that lacks any heart or humor, it’s a shallow, tedious drudgery that I cannot imagine any child enjoying for more than a couple of minutes.
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Return to Oz (1985)
Written by Walter Murch & Gil Dennis
Directed by Walter Murch
The Wizard of Oz comes with iconic images that pop into the mind as soon as you hear the name. Dorothy. Scarecrow. Tin Man. Cowardly Lion, The Wicked Witch. Emerald City. These are so embedded in the pop culture zeitgeist that to present the idea of a sequel must have been relatively daunting. Return to Oz was released forty-six years after the original and was a stark contrast to the rainbows and Technicolor of MGM’s film. Disney brought in Academy Award-winning film editor and sound designer Walter Murch (The Godfather trilogy, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation) for a brainstorming session on potential projects for him to direct. This is the only film Murch has and ever will likely direct, but it is a cult classic like few others.
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Written by Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas, Tom Mankiewicz, and David Peoples
Directed by Richard Donner
Director Richard Donner released two films three months apart in 1985: Ladyhawke in April and The Goonies in June. That’s quite a feat and two more genres tackled by the director who was never an auteur but simply made movies he was interested in. While Donner is still alive, he hasn’t directed a film since 2006 and will likely stick to producing and semi-retirement. His filmography is quite eclectic with everything from The Omen to Superman the Movie to Lethal Weapon to Scrooged, the two films mentioned above, and more. Donner doesn’t have a particular style or signature trademark, he’s one of those journeyman directors like Ron Howard or Joe Johnston that simply do the work. This can lead to great films just as much as it can deliver duds.
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Written by Tom Benedek
Directed by Ron Howard
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. has a profound influence on the 1980s and created a subgenre where family, fantasy, and science fiction merged. These were humanist movies, without threatening antagonists or, in some instances, no real villain at all. The common factor in all the pictures was characters experiencing contact with some fantastical entities, typically alien, evoking a sense of child-like wonder in them and leading to the resolution of interpersonal issues. Of the E.T.-inspired movies, Cocoon is one of the better pictures because it keeps the story character-centered and allows the science fiction elements to enhance that narrative.
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Written & Directed by Clive Barker
Nightbreed has so many great elements and ideas but ultimately fails at everything it is trying to do because it overflows with stuff. That stuff is characters, mythology, plot, pretty much everything. Horror legend Clive Barker wrote and directed this adaptation of his own novella, which I think might be at the core of the problems. He wants to have everything in this movie, but that means so much gets abbreviated but still presented, which leaves the audience confused about who certain people are or what some of this mythology being spoken about is.
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The Wicked + The Divine Book Three (2018)
Reprints The Wicked + The Divine #23 – 33
Written by Kieron Gillen
Art by Jamie McKelvie and Matthew Wilson
This penultimate volume in The Wicked + The Divine series is my favorite of the series. It jumps into a completely new realm with the death that capped off the last book. To shake things, the first issue in this collection is a mock-up of fake magazine articles about each member of the Pantheon, giving some much-needed depth and background to these characters. I always love when a creator plays with the format of their comic, like Grant Morrison’s Batman run and Jonathan Hickman’s current X-work. Things get back to the standard form with the next issue, but the status quo is shaken up.
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Written by Nicholas Kazan & Robin Swicord
Directed by Danny DeVito
Roald Dahl has always been one of my most favorite children’s authors ever since I had first Charlie and the Chocolate Factory read to me. Dahl has an incredible nastiness in his writing that appeals to kids, he reveals the truth of the world, mainly that adults are often gluttonous buffoons. There are also monstrous children, usually offshoots of their rotten parents. The child protagonists on Dahl’s work are overwhelmed by these abrasive forces but typically find a source of internal strength to overcome them and triumph. Matilda is one of the most archetypal Dahl heroes, and her story is very much centered in a nuanced examination of the education system.
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