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Copyright © 2004 - 2006 Eclectic Homeschool Association
- Air Bud
Moviegoers and more than a few critics found much to enjoy in this Disney film about a lost dog named Buddy. The canine is befriended by a lonely boy and proceeds to become the star of the kid's junior high school basketball team. Demonstrating an abundance of on- and off-court agility, Buddy can dribble like a pro (no, not the wet kind of dribble), and he never misses a shot. Michael Jeter plays Buddy's original owner who returns to get his dog back (don't worry, he's an unworthy weasel), and director Charles Martin Smith brings a refreshing flair to the climactic basketball scenes. Air Bud was a modest hit for Disney, and the film's entertaining vitality gets a touch of poignancy from the fact that Lucky, the canine actor in the title role, died of cancer not long after the film was released. --Jeff Shannon
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The surprise hit of 1995, this splendidly entertaining family film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, director, and screenplay, and deservedly won the Oscar for its subtly ingenious visual effects. Babe is all about the title character, a heroic little pig who's been taken in by the friendly farmer Hoggett (Oscar nominee James Cromwell), who senses that he and the pig share "a common destiny." Babe, a popular mischief-maker the Australian farm, is adopted by the resident border collie and raised as a puppy, befriended by Ferdinand the duck (who thinks he's a rooster), and saves the day as a champion "sheep-pig." Filled with a supporting cast of talking barnyard animals and a chorus of singing mice (courtesy of computer enhancements and clever animatronics), this frequently hilarious, visually imaginative movie has already taken its place as a family classic with timeless appeal. --Jeff Shannon
- Court Jester
Danny Kaye spoofs Robin Hood and Scaramouche in this inventive slapstick swashbuckler. Portraying the clownish but good-hearted entertainer Hawkins, he infiltrates the court of the corrupt Basil Rathbone (up to his usual brand of cruel villainy) disguised as the legendary king of jesters, Giacomo. After a court sorceress hypnotizes Hawkins into believing he is also a legendary assassin, Hawkins has more identities than he can keep straight, and Kaye zips back and forth between them at, literally, a snap of the fingers. Comic highlights include a wonderful sword fight with Rathbone in which he constantly switches identities, and the classic "chalice from the palace/vessel with pestle" wordplay as Hawkins plays "hide the poison" and forgets where it is. With comely Glynis Johns as his spy-in-arms love interest, Angela Lansbury as the scheming princess, and Mildred Natwick as the dotty spellcaster, this is Danny Kaye at his comic best. --Sean Axmaker
- Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman - The Complete Season One (1993)
Season one of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman captures the popular television series at its most charming and original: a gently feminist, 19th-century Western with mythic overtones, a Gunsmoke-like vision of small-town constancy, and an audacious love story that might best be described as Buckskin Bronte. British actress Jane Seymour scrubbed away her accent to play Michaela Quinn, fifth daughter of a well-to-do Boston physician who encouraged her to get a medical degree despite social obstacles.
The headstrong Quinn moves to rough-and-tumble Colorado Springs to set up a practice, faces stiff resistance from the locals, witnesses the brutality of white America's expansionism, and generally experiences a classic Western transformation from privilege to pioneering. Along the way, Quinn makes a heartfelt connection with the mysterious Sully (Joe Lando), a laconic outsider/cowboy-knight-errant/widower preserving his broken heart. While the series' pilot may be the best thing in this set, there is a lot to enjoy about further episodes (with such guest stars as Johnny Cash and Robert Culp) exploring Quinn's hard-won admiration from town skeptics. Dr. Quinn creator Beth Sullivan admirably balances the many influences and narrative forces at work; some of the best shows are idea-driven, such as "Portraits," which deals with prejudice. --Tom Keogh
- Homeward Bound - The Incredible Journey
Walt Disney studios had previously adapted Sheila Burnford's classic animal-adventure novel The Incredible Journey in 1963, and the story proves just as durable in this popular 1993 version, in which the heroic trio of animals are given voices provided by Don Ameche, Michael J. Fox, and Sally Field. They don't actually speak (like the clever critters in Babe), but we hear their "voices" as the lost household pets--Shadow the golden retriever, Chance the bulldog, and Sassy the cat--survive a harrowing series of adventures as they struggle to find their way home. Perfect entertainment for kids, this frequently clever movie offers an abundance of wildlife and beautiful location scenery, and the vocal performances by Ameche, Fox, and Field are surprisingly effective. A hit with parents and children alike, the film was followed by a sequel in 1996. --Jeff Shannon
- Homeward Bound II - Lost in San Francisco
This movie follows the unwritten law of sequels: bring back the same characters and put them in similar jeopardy with slightly tweaked circumstances. Instead of a cross-country journey, this time the pet trio must get from the San Francisco airport across the Golden Gate Bridge to their suburban home. Michael J. Fox and Sally Field return as the voices of Chance the bulldog and Sassy the cat, with Ralph Waite replacing the late Don Ameche as the elderly golden retriever. Their journey features dogfights, house fires, an epic battle with a pair of petnappers, and a love affair for Chance with a stray from the other side of the bridge (Carla Gugino). Sinbad voices another dog who guides them through the mean streets of the city by the bay, and Robert Hays stars as the father, but, frankly, that hardly matters. What does is the animals' banter, and they're funny. (Ages 3 and up) --Kimberly Heinrichs
- House Without a Christmas Tree, The
The House Without a Christmas Tree
The loss of a loved one is never easy and memories often make the holiday season especially difficult. Addie (Lisa Lucas) lost her mother when she was very young and, while she sometimes yearns for her mother, she is a happy well-adjusted ten-year old who wants nothing more than to have a Christmas tree in the living room. Addie's father (Jason Robards) absolutely refuses to have a Christmas tree in the house, but offers no explanation for his stubborn resolve which leads Addie to question his motives and his love for her. It falls to Addie's Grandmother (Mildred Natwick) to explain that her father is still immersed in grief over the loss of his wife and that the memories of Christmases past are simply too painful for him to endure. When Addie wins a tree at school, her father is enraged by both the presence of the tree in his home and the idea of his family accepting charity. Only by opening a line of communication and sharing their feelings and memories with one another can Addie and her father reconcile their differences and begin to understand one another. Set in 1964, this 1972 made-for-television special feels like a stage play with sets and scenery that evoke the essence of an age-gone-by. The message, of course, is timeless. (Ages 5 and older) --Tami Horiuchi
- Incredibles, The (Widescreen 2-Disc Collector's Edition)
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After creating the last great traditionally animated film of the 20th century, The Iron Giant, filmmaker Brad Bird joined top-drawer studio Pixar to create this exciting, completely entertaining computer-animated film. Bird gives us a family of "supers," a brood of five with special powers desperately trying to fit in with the 9-to-5 suburban lifestyle. Of course, in a more innocent world, Bob and Helen Parr were superheroes, Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl. But blasted lawsuits and public disapproval forced them and other supers to go incognito, making it even tougher for their school-age kids, the shy Violet and the aptly named Dash. When a stranger named Mirage (voiced by Elizabeth Pena) secretly recruits Bob for a potential mission, the old glory days spin in his head, even if his body is a bit too plump for his old super suit.
Bird has his cake and eats it, too. He and the Pixar wizards send up superhero and James Bond movies while delivering a thrilling, supercool action movie that rivals Spider-Man 2 for 2004's best onscreen thrills. While it's just as funny as the previous Pixar films, The Incredibles has a far wider-ranging emotional palette (it's Pixar's first PG film). Bird takes several jabs, including some juicy commentary on domestic life ("It's not graduation, he's moving from the fourth to fifth grade!").
The animated Parrs look and act a bit like the actors portraying them, Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter. Samuel L. Jackson and Jason Lee also have a grand old time as, respectively, superhero Frozone and bad guy Syndrome. Nearly stealing the show is Bird himself, voicing the eccentric designer of superhero outfits ("No capes!"), Edna Mode.
Nominated for four Oscars, The Incredibles won for Best Animated Film and, in an unprecedented win for non-live-action films, Sound Editing.
The most-repeated segments will be the two animated shorts. Newly created for this DVD is the hilarious "Jack-Jack Attack," filling the gap in the film during which the Parr baby is left with the talkative babysitter, Kari. "Boundin'," which played in front of the film theatrically, was created by Pixar character designer Bud Luckey. This easygoing take on a dancing sheep gets better with multiple viewings (be sure to watch the featurette on the short). --Doug Thomas
- Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (Full Screen Edition)
If you spliced Charles Addams, Dr. Seuss, Charles Dickens, Edward Gorey, and Roald Dahl into a Tim Burtonesque landscape, you'd surely come up with something like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Many critics (in mostly mixed reviews) wondered why Burton didn't direct this comically morbid adaptation of the first three books in the popular series by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. "Lemony Snicket," played here by Jude Law and seen only in silhouette) instead of TV and Casper veteran Brad Silberling, but there's still plenty to recommend the playfully bleak scenario, in which three resourceful orphans thwart their wicked, maliciously greedy relative Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), who subjects them to... well, a series of unfortunate events. Along the way they encounter a herpetologist uncle (Billy Connolly), an anxious aunt (Meryl Streep) who's afraid of everything, and a variety of fantastical hazards and mysterious clues, some of which remain unresolved. Given endless wonders of art direction, costume design, and cinematography, Silberling's direction is surprisingly uninspired (in other words, the books are better), but when you add a throwaway cameo by Dustin Hoffman, Law's amusing narration, and Carrey's over-the-top antics, the first Lemony movie suggests a promising franchise in the making. --Jeff Shannon
- Mary Poppins
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There is only one word that comes close to accurately describing the enchanting Mary Poppins , and that term was coined by the movie itself: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Even at 2 hours and 20 minutes, Disney's pioneering mixture of live action and animation (based on the books by P.L. Travers) still holds kids spellbound. Julie Andrews won an Oscar as the world's most magically idealized nanny ("practically perfect in every way," and complete with lighter-than-air umbrella), and Dick Van Dyke is her clownishly charming beau, Bert the chimney sweep. The songs are also terrific, ranging from bright and cheery ("A Spoonful of Sugar") to dark and cheery (the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cher-ee") to touchingly melancholy ("Feed the Birds"). Many consider Mary Poppins to be the crowning achievement of Walt Disney's career--and it was the only one of his features to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award until Beauty and the Beast in 1991. --Jim Emerson
- Monsters, Inc.
The folks at Pixar can do no wrong with Monsters Inc. , the studio's fourth feature film, which stretches the computer animation format in terms of both technical complexity and emotional impact. The giant, blue-furred James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (wonderfully voiced by John Goodman) is a scare monster extraordinaire in the hidden world of Monstropolis, where scaring kids is an imperative in order to keep the entire city running. Beyond the competition to be the best at the business, Sullivan and his assistant, the one-eyed Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), discover what happens when the real world interacts with theirs in the form of a 2-year-old baby girl dubbed "Boo," who accidentally sneaks into the monster world with Sulley one night. Director Pete Doctor and codirectors David Silverman and Lee Unkrich follow the Pixar (Toy Story) blueprint with an imaginative scenario, fun characters, and ace comic timing. By the last heart-tugging shot, kids may never look at monsters the same, nor artists at what computer animation can do in the hands of magicians. --Doug Thomas
- My Fair Lady
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Hollywood's legendary "woman's director," George Cukor (The Women, The Philadelphia Story ), transformed Audrey Hepburn into street-urchin-turned-proper-lady Eliza Doolittle in this film version of the Lerner and Loewe musical. Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady stars Rex Harrison as linguist Henry Higgins (Harrison also played the role, opposite Julie Andrews, on stage), who draws Eliza into a social experiment that works almost too well. The letterbox edition of this film on video certainly pays tribute to the pageantry of Cukor's set, but it also underscores a certain visual stiffness that can slow viewer enthusiasm just a tad. But it's really star wattage that keeps this film exciting, that and such great songs as "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." Actor Jeremy Brett, who gained a huge following later in life portraying Sherlock Holmes, is quite electric as Eliza's determined suitor. --Tom Keogh
- National Treasure (Widescreen Edition) (2004)
Like a Hardy Boys mystery on steroids, National Treasure offers popcorn thrills and enough boyish charm to overcome its rampant silliness. Although it was roundly criticized as a poor man's rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Da Vinci Code, it's entertaining on its own ludicrous terms, and Nicolas Cage proves once again that one actor's infectious enthusiasm can compensate for a multitude of movie sins. The contrived plot involves Cage's present-day quest for the ancient treasure of the Knights Templar, kept secret through the ages by Freemasons past and present. Finding the treasure requires the theft of the Declaration of Independence (there are crucial treasure clues on the back, of course!), so you can add "caper comedy" to this Jerry Bruckheimer production's multi-genre appeal. Nobody will ever accuse director Jon Turtletaub of artistic ambition, but you've got to admit he serves up an enjoyable dose of PG-rated entertainment, full of musty clues, skeletons, deep tunnels, and harmless adventure in the old-school tradition. It's a load of hokum, but it's fun hokum, and that makes all the difference. --Jeff Shannon
- National Velvet
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This classic family film made a star of 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in the title role as spunky Velvet Brown, a girl who's determined to enter her horse, Pie, in the Grand National Steeplechase. Critic Pauline Kael called it "One of the most likeable movies of all time." Mickey Rooney costars as a young man who helps Velvet train Pie for the big race. At the last minute, Velvet herself has to ride Pie in the tournament and cuts her hair to pass for a jockey. Anne Revere won an Oscar as Velvet's mother, as did editor Robert J. Kern, who cut together a terrifically exciting horse race. Donald Crisp and Angela Lansbury are also featured as members of the Brown family. --Jim Emerson
- Princess Bride, The
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Screenwriter William Goldman's novel The Princess Bride earned its own loyal audience on the strength of its narrative voice and its gently satirical, hyperbolic spin on swashbuckled adventure that seemed almost purely literary. For all its derring-do and vivid over-the-top characters, the book's joy was dictated as much by the deadpan tone of its narrator and a winking acknowledgement of the clichés being sent up. Miraculously, director Rob Reiner and Goldman himself managed to visualize this romantic fable while keeping that external voice largely intact: using a storytelling framework, avuncular Grandpa (Peter Falk) gradually seduces his skeptical grandson (Fred Savage) into the absurd, irresistible melodrama of the title story. And what a story: a lowly stable boy, Westley (Cary Elwes), pledges his love to the beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright), only to be abducted and reportedly killed by pirates while Buttercup is betrothed to the evil Prince Humperdinck. Even as Buttercup herself is kidnapped by a giant, a scheming criminal mastermind, and a master Spanish swordsman, a mysterious masked pirate (could it be Westley?) follows in pursuit. As they sail toward the Cliffs of Insanity...
The wild and woolly arcs of the story, the sudden twists of fate, and, above all, the cartoon-scaled characters all work because of Goldman's very funny script, Reiner's confident direction, and a terrific cast. Elwes and Wright, both sporting their best English accents, juggle romantic fervor and physical slapstick effortlessly, while supporting roles boast Mandy Patinkin (the swordsman Inigo Montoya), Wallace Shawn (the incredulous schemer Vizzini), and Christopher Guest (evil Count Rugen) with brief but funny cameos from Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, and Peter Cook. --Sam Sutherland
- Princess Diaries, The
A thoroughly engaging fairy tale that's family friendly without being condescending, The Princess Diaries is your basic Cinderella makeover story given a fresh, affectionate twist courtesy of a game, energetic cast and a screenplay that skirts schmaltz in favor of gentle, effective comedy. Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is a frizzy-haired, glasses-wearing 15-year-old girl whose two highest ambitions are to become invisible and to get a few smooches from the slickly attractive school heartthrob. As a girl who can't stand being the center of attention so much that she throws up during debate class, she's stunned and horrified when her coolly continental grandmother (Julie Andrews) shows up and informs her that she's the crown princess of the European principality Genovia. Soon enough, Mia has to undertake "princess lessons" (and a makeover) from her queenly grandmother, and eventually she blossoms into a confident, radiant girl--despite the worries and pressure that her newfound status brings. What makes The Princess Diaries work is director Garry Marshall's guileless, irony-free approach to the material (based on Meg Cabot's novel). In comparison to most snarky, ultra-hip teen comedies, The Princess Diaries is refreshingly and enjoyably square, content to win you over on charm alone and not a slick bag of tricks. Hathaway is a charismatic, appealing role model with a sharp sense of comic timing, and Andrews--who came to stardom as the object of a makeover supreme in My Fair Lady on Broadway--is at her regal best whether teaching Mia the proper royal wave or learning how to eat a corndog. Both leading ladies are complemented by a finely tuned cast, including Hector Elizondo as Genovia's head of security (and romantic counterpart to Andrews), Heather Matarazzo as Mia's best pal, and Robert Schwartzman as the good guy who ultimately wins Mia's heart. All in all, a royal pleasure. --Mark Englehart
- Shrek 2 (Widescreen Edition) (2004) DVD
The lovably ugly green ogre returns with his green bride and furry, hooved friend in Shrek 2. The newlywed Shrek and Princess Fiona are invited to Fiona's former kingdom, Far Far Away, to have the marriage blessed by Fiona's parents--which Shrek thinks is a bad, bad idea, and he's proved right: The parents are horrified by their daughter's transformation into an ogress, a fairy godmother wants her son Prince Charming to win Fiona, and a feline assassin is hired to get Shrek out of the way. The computer animation is more detailed than ever, but it's the acting that make the comedy work--in addition to the return of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz, Shrek 2 features the flexible voices of Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins), John Cleese (Monty Python's Flying Circus), Antonio Banderas (Desperado), and Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) as the gleefully wicked fairy godmother. --Bret Fetzer
- Sound of Music, The
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Some people may sneer at this 1965 musical, but the truth is the film has earned its status as a perennially watchable romantic-drama, largely on the strength of a fun story and chemistry between stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Veteran filmmaker Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still ) mostly stays out of the way of the film's appealing elements, which include a based-on-fact tale of Austria's von Trapp family, who fled their Nazi-occupied country in 1938. Andrews is delightful and even fascinating as Maria, who sheds her tomboyish ways as a novice nun to accept the mantle of adulthood, becoming matron of the motherless von Trapp clan. Plummer is matinee-idol handsome and gives a smart performance to boot, and the cast of young people and kids who make up the singing von Trapp children make a strong impression. Based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical, the score includes such winners as "Maria" and the future John Coltrane hit "My Favorite Things." --Tom Keogh
- SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (Widescreen Edition) (2004)
How many movies offer the rare spectacle of a parasailing pink starfish flying over a crowd with a congratulatory pennant clenched between his buttcheeks? And that's only the tip of the iceberg--The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a freewheeling goof of a cartoon, full of surreal twists as its diminutive heroes head down a dangerous road to rescue the lost crown of King Neptune. SpongeBob (voiced by Tom Kenny), an arrested adolescent in the mold of Pee-wee Herman, works at a fast-food restaurant that serves something called Krabby Patties (as the restaurant owner is himself a crab, it's not clear what exactly they're made of). His best friend Patrick Starfish (Bill Fagerbakke) lives under a rock and has an IQ in the lower digits. Still, their friendship carries them through many a tight spot as they strive for manliness. Anyone seeking a coherent world will be disappointed; in this undersea adventure, things catch on fire or seem to be surrounded by air whenever it's convenient for a gag. The jokes are often more silly than actually funny, but there's an undeniably energetic joviality to the proceedings. Featuring the voices of Scarlett Johansson, Jeffrey Tambor, Alec Baldwin, and a fully fleshed appearance by David Hasselhoff.--Bret Fetzer