The Brave Little Toaster (1987)

Kirby: The battery’s gone dead!

The Radio: We’re trapped here like rats! Small little rats with no hair and one leg!

 

I had been looking for this movie FOREVER at used dvd stores when I finally found it a few weeks ago at half price books. To me, this movie is just a classic. I hadn’t seen it in years but it’s one of those movies that I can still quote. I still happen to remember almost every single part. I still remembered half the words to one of the songs (which is kinda hilarious because the songs are probably the weakest part of the movie.) So what’s so great about a bunch of talking appliances anyway?

 A lot. This movie is seriously great for kids. It’s almost a perfect children’s movie that’s good enough even adults can enjoy it without rolling their eyes because it’s so stupid. And I hate to say it, but watching it now, I almost felt as if Pixar actually ripped these guys off. There were a lot of points while watching this movie that I went “huh, that’s a bit like Toy Story.” I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but I almost wonder if this is where a few of the animators got their ideas for Toy Story.

 Whoa. Time out. I just learned something. Upon doing research on who was involved in the making of this movie (I wanted to see if any Pixar animators were attached), I came across the origin of this amazing little movie. Turns out it was a short story first! It was published in a magazine in 1980, then became so popular and won a ton of awards, so it had to be released as it’s own book. It was popular because “it lacked a defined audience,” and people of all ages could relate. Wow. After reading that, seems like this movie did a good job adapting its pages. I might have to find this and read it.

 Anyway…. The movie focuses on five household appliances: Toaster, Lampy, Radio, Blanky, and Kirby (a vacuum). They’ve been abandoned in a summer cabin for a few years longing for their Master (a kid) and decide that instead of waiting for him, they’re going to go find him. On the way to the big city they get in all sorts of peril, but eventually their Master finds them, and it turns out he really did want and need them.

 It’s a super easy plot to follow, and I think a lot of kids can relate. A lot of adults can relate. Everyone in the world wants to just be loved and know that they’re appreciated. These appliances were appreciated and treated well by their Master, and they’re loyal enough to go through lengths to get that feeling again. I think any person would do the same thing. 

 The characters, even though they don’t have amazing backstories or the emotional depth we see in some movies, are great. They’re all memorable, if just for the fact that these are appliances. It’s fun to see the way they move. It’s fun to see the problems they run into. They each have very unique personalities, and odds are there’s at least one that kids can relate to. The Toaster is the leader, the Radio is annoying, Lampy isn’t too “bright” (intelligent), Blanky is the overly loyal naive little kid, and Kirby is the grump. Too many times in movies these types of characters are brought together and they’re magically friends. In all honesty, that kinda annoys me. Most friends have similar personalities, or they at least have some things in common. This movie though doesn’t do that! They’re all different, but they do have one thing in common: they all want to find their Master. They’re hardly friends, but instead more just tolerate each other because they’re all each other has.

 They’re like a family: they fight, they have really stupid arguments. They get on each others nerves. But at the end of the day, they’re willing to risk their lives to save each other (even grumpy old Kirby, although he’d never admit it). I don’t even know if you could call them “friends” even at the end of the movie. Sure, they all do learn some things and they do learn to accept each other for what they are, but I don’t know if friends is the right word to describe any of their relationships. Instead, they respect each other and they love each other; like a family (I’m not saying people in family’s aren’t necessarily friends… you get it).

 I remember as a kid thinking that this movie was a bit of a misnomer. I never understood why it was called the Brave Little Toaster, because I thought all of them were brave. In the end I chalked it up to the action the Toaster does in the last 5 minutes of the movie. They’re at a junkyard and their Master has found them but is stuck on a conveyer belt moving toward a pounding machine. The Toaster flings himself into the gears, essentially destroying himself and stopping the pounder from flattening his fellow appliances and his Master. Sure it’s brave. It’s sacrificial. But in my opinion, all the characters were brave because of what they had to get through to find their Master.

 Let’s talk about this unnamed “Master.” In the movie he actually does have a name, and it’s Rob. He’s a kid that spent every summer at the cabin where the character appliances were located, but hadn’t been back for a few years. Now he’s getting ready to go off to college and wants to go back to the cabin and get those appliances for the dorm. This was always something that bugged me. It’s Murphy’s law. If those appliances had just stayed there, they would have gotten everything they wanted. They weren’t patient enough. But then I guess we wouldn’t have a movie.

 Master is held in such high regard by the appliances that you would think he was God. And in appliance land, maybe people are like Gods. They change lightbulbs, fix you, etc. Until you meet the kid, you’re like, “Yeah, sure. They’re making this up. He was probably a really annoying kid.” But actually, it’s the opposite. I don’t think there has ever been this nice of a 17 year old. I admit I was only 2 when this movie came out, but I’m sure there has never been a 17 year old quite like Rob. He’s mature, he’s polite, he’s sweet. I know that’s kinda the point, and this IS a kid’s movie, but it kinda annoys me. But then I have to remind myself to just the movie go, and that this is intended for really little kids. It’s not a deep movie. It, in a way, isn’t realistic at all, and it shouldn’t be. It’s fantasy.

 This is going to be a short review because honestly there isn’t much to pick on this movie about. The adventures the appliances have are entertaining and tense, but don’t drag on. It almost feels like it’s a bunch of shorts stuck together in that regard. But that’s not a bad thing. The songs are meh, and some of them I completely forgot existed. But some of them are really catchy. There’s no villain (except maybe the appliances in Rob’s new house that are “cutting edge” and don’t want him to take the old appliances to college), so there’s no real long lasting drama. It’s a road trip movie, and sometimes the way you get there is interesting enough.

 A few extra thoughts:

  • at least on my DVD (which was supposedly an anniversary edition), the picture was really… bouncy. I don’t know if this is just an issue with the DVD or the transfer or if all of them are like this. It’s kinda sad, but it got over it. For the first 2-3 minutes it was really annoying.
  • AH-HA! Turns out many of the original Pixar animators worked on this movie, like John Lasseter and Joe Ranft. That kinda explains a lot now that I think about it….
  • It’s kinda funny watching this now that the appliances in Rob’s new home were “cutting edge” and they even sing a song about it. Now, they’d be like the main characters. Hahaha.

 There’s not much to pick on with this movie. It’s not an amazing feat of animation, but it’s entertaining and great for kids. The characters are memorable, the plot is easy to follow, and the “scary” moments are the right level for kids. I would highly suggest giving it a watch (it is NOT on Netflix watch instant FYI). It’s not a bad way to spend 90 minutes.

 I give The Brave Little Toaster (1987) 3.5 stars out of 5.

 Up Next: Ice Age (2002)

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All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)

“All dogs go to heaven because, unlike people, dogs are naturally good and loyal and kind.”

I said back in my Anastasia review that All Dogs Go To Heaven was quite possibly Don Bluth’s last hit before the 1997 movie. I guess what I mean by “hit” is that it actually made money. This movie, released in 1989, grossed 47M, compared to twice that for An American Tail (made right before this movie), on par with The Land Before Time, and crushing 1991’s “Rock-a-Doodle” with 11.7M. So I was right in saying it legitimately was Don Bluth’s last hit (at least before Anastasia).

So many people I’ve talked to over the years simply adore this movie. It makes them cry. They love the characters. They love the songs. They love the message. And honestly? until this last watch through, I never got it. I think that was because of my parents. I remember them not letting me watch this movie as a kid. I don’t want to say I resented them for it, but I do remember getting a bit annoyed because friends would talk about Charlie or Itchy or Carface and I’d literally have no idea what they were talking about. I didn’t see it till I was older, and even then I wasn’t that impressed. I took a giant hiatus (the last time I saw it was probably literally more than 10 years ago) then decided it was time to try again. This was the test. Was I missing something that everyone else seems to have gotten out of this movie?

Turns out, I was. I’ve mentioned before how brilliant I think some of Don Bluth’s early stuff really was. He had the ability to be dark without being nightmare inducing. He had the ability to explain hard things in a way kids could understand. He (sometimes) has an amazing way with characters; they’re not always perfect, but they’re real. All Dogs is probably the last of those movies for Don Bluth, and it acts more as a bridge in my opinion between his good movies of the late 80s and his (in my opinion) crap of the early to mid 90s. As such, there are some really great things about this movie, and some really not so great/signs of crazy things to come.

I do want to start by pointing out that my parents were right not to show this to me when I was younger. After watching it, i’ve decided there’s no way I’m going to show this my kids. Not until they’re older. Not only are these tough concepts for a kid to wrap their head around, but the whole plot hinges around gambling, death, murder, revenge, smoking, etc. Not exactly what you want every kid in the world watching. So yeah. Mom and Dad, I understand. Thanks for keeping me naive.

Alright, so on to All Dogs. In true Don Bluth fashion, we have an extremely hard concept at the core of this plot. Our main character, a German Shepard named Charlie, escapes from “prison” (aka the pound) after a stint of who knows how long and returns to his rat race-track casino-thing to find out that his previous partner Carface likes the way things have been going without him and doesn’t want to be partners any more. He then murders Charlie by having him run over by a car on a dock while he’s drunk (ah yes… there’s drinking in this too), and Charlie is sent to heaven, because All Dogs Go To Heaven: they’re loyal, selfless, etc. However Charlie isn’t ok with this and wants nothing more but revenge on his old partner. So he grabs his “life watch” and winds it up again, sending him down to earth, the angel whippet exclaiming “you can never come back!”

Obsessed with beating his old partner at his own game, he and his pal Itchy figure out why it is Carface’s business has been going so well. They have an orphan girl, Anne Marie, captive who can talk to animals and figure out who’s going to win each of the races. Struck with a brilliant idea, Charlie pretends to “rescue” Anne Marie and instead uses her skills for his own gain, all the while lying to her, telling her that the money they won will help her find a new family. Eventually Carface finds out Charlie has Anne Marie, and she in turn finds out Charlie has been lying to her. But of course by now Charlie has actually come to care for the girl, and in the end even sacrifices his own life to save hers.

I don’t care how smart you say your kid is: that’s a hard plot for kids to follow. It’s a very adult plot; too adult. The idea of life and death has been handled before by Bluth, and handled well. I know he’s trying to deal with the whole “what if we could change things” and the idea that, as the title says, All dogs DO go to heaven (it just might take them a few lives..). It’s heaven and hell. It’s just… I don’t know… I feel like it’s just too much for kids to handle. A kid wouldn’t actually understand this plot, whereas all kids understand Littlefoot and the loss of his mother. Is that because they can relate to littlefoot and they can’t to charlie? I dunno. Just a thought.

Let’s talk about Charlie for a moment, because I actually completely adore this character. Like Cera from The Land Before Time, he’s real, complicated, and painted in quite a depth. In the beginning of the movie he’s a selfish sleezebag. He’s out to get people’s money, but at the same time, the way he treats the other dogs in his joint point out that he does have a good heart somewhere deep in there. He’s legitimately pissed that he died, thinks it happened too early, and wants to cheat because he’s not done and wants revenge. Once Anne Marie enters the picture and we see him pretending to be nice to her, we know he’s just pretending. Then something happens. He actually starts caring about her, even though he tells everyone else he hasn’t. As a viewer, you can tell he does. But he plays it so well that even I was second guessing myself.

The moment he actually begins caring about her is subtle, and I could honestly see a lot of people missing it, then at the end going “wait… he actually does care about her?” yeah. You just have to pay attention. It happens when she talks him into being like Robin Hood and using some of the money to help the poor. They go visit a family of dogs that lives in a church and has nothing. There’s almost a dozen puppies, and he brings them pizza. He teaches them about sharing, and their mother makes a comment about how she never sees him around like she used to. This is what makes Charlie so interesting. We get hints that he wasn’t always a sleezebag. We get hints that he really is good deep down. It’s almost like when he’s there, something wakes up. He suddenly worries when Anne Marie is missing. Suddenly, he’s lying to her about stealing a wallet and trying to get her to leave the nice people’s house and go with him because… does he want to keep using her to get ahead? Or does he really not want her to stay there? You really can’t tell, and that’s what’s so great. He’s a tough guy on the outside that really has a soft spot for this girl, but he doesn’t want anyone to know. But things happen that make him choose. He chooses to be sweet to her when he doesn’t have to be. He chooses to go after her when Carface takes her back, knowing full well it’s a trap. And he chooses to save her when his watch falls in the water, ending his life for the final time. He’s a great character.

Our other main characters are good and memorable too. Anne Marie is a sweet naive little girl who wants nothing more than a family, but knows the difference between good and bad. She’s written as a good Don Bluth kid, channeling the similarities between real kids very well. (Geez I love that first scene where she’s trying to fall asleep!). Itchy, Charlie’s friend, is loyal to the end, not understanding why his boss is so into this little girl, and just wants to not be in trouble anymore with Carface. Then there’s carface. He honestly reminds me of a mafia man. He’s Don Corleone’s dog. He’s a scary villain that will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if he has to kill for it.

Those are the great and ok things about the movie. The plot IS good but hard to follow/understand for a kid, and the characters are good but again I feel like charlie is way to complicated for kids. The other characters aren’t. They’re good and kids can understand them and laugh and smile and cower in fear with what’s happening to them.

So far it’s like a normal Don Bluth movie, albeit a bit more ramped up with complicatedness. That’s arguably no different than The Secret of Nimh, which I swear I still don’t understand completely (other then again…. AMAZING main character there). So where are the signs of Bluth falling off the deep end?

I have one sentence to say: Big-Lipped Alligator. Anyone familiar with this movie will know exactly what I’m talking about. About 3/4 through the movie, there is a VERY random scene where Charlie and Anne Marie get kidnapped by tribal mice and set up as sacrifices to an alligator, but when Charlie sings, he forgets about eating them and instead just wants to sing with them. This scene happens, they swim off together, and literally… THAT’S IT. It is so completely randomly stuck in there! It’s not at all with the rest of the tone of the movie that it sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s bright and colorful while the rest of the movie is drab. The only reason I can fathom that it exists is that Don Bluth needed some plot device to come in 15 minutes later and rescue Charlie and help in the demise of Carface (yeah, he gets eaten). That’s the ONLY REASON I can think of why this alligator even exists! It’s so random, so NOT the tone of the rest of the movie, it’s out of place and bizarre! It’s just… it’s weird.

I should rephrase that. At that point in bluth’s career it was weird. Going forward, we would see more and more of this weird stuff. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if he ran out of ideas or what. But it’s sad that the beginnings of it had to come in this movie.

Very random before I tie up: I find it very interesting that these songs from this movie are not available to buy ANYWHERE. Not iTunes, not amazon, I think they seriously never sold it. Someone out there probably has a tape or ripped it from the actual movie. That is the only way this music is going to get onto your computer. And it’s a shame, because this music is catchy. I totally remembered almost all of these songs. More so than An American Tail. That’s saying something.

So here we go: I don’t recommend this movie for young kids. There’s a lot of adult themes and adult stuff. Like I mentioned before, the whole plot centers around gambling and murder. It’s a bit much. BUT… for older kids or even adults, I suggest watching it if you’ve never seen it, or if it’s been a while. This one often gets overlooked, but it has it’s many followers, myself included. I really do like this movie, and the real reason is because of Charlie. It’s a dark movie with dark style and an Amazingly complex central character. It’s worth a watch, but I’m a fan

I give All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989) 4 out of 5 stars.

Next up: The Brave Little Toaster (then I promise we’ll be out of the really old animated movies!)

Surf’s Up (2007)

Arnold: A winner is someone who doesn’t knock me off my surfboard, and break it when I’m trying to get some big waves. Especially Tank, he’s definitely not a winner.

Smudge: He’s a dirty trash can full of poop.

 

There have been many times in recent history that animation studios seem to have linked ideas. The first one that comes to my mind, when I really noticed this, was 1998. That was the year we had both “A Bug’s Life” from Pixar, and “Antz” from that small up and coming animation studio, Dreamworks. Well, more on those two later, but I remember being really sick of seeing trailers for bug movies that summer. Fast forward almost ten years later, and they’re doing it again. 7 months after Happy Feet was released, Surf’s Up came soaring into theaters. Given how I thought of Happy Feet, I was sick of penguins and a trailer about a surfing penguin just didn’t appeal to me. So I never saw it.

I actually didn’t see this movie for the first time until after college. My now husband and I randomly got it on Netflix (back when we actually had discs and watch instant didn’t exist), and we were both pleasantly surprised. This movie (much like Antz Vs. A Bug’s life) was NOTHING like Happy Feet. And in this case, that was a very good thing.

Surf’s Up is what happens when the Xgames crowd attempts to make a movie mainstream enough that everyone can enjoy it and everyone can experience what they feel when they do their sport. In this case, it is, obviously, surfing. It’s an extremely unique idea; who else would have EVER thought of using penguins as extreme surfers? In most ways, this movie really works. 

 Probably my favorite thing about this movie is the fact that it is filmed documentary style. It follows the adventure and experience of a young penguin named Kody who lives in Antarctica and wants nothing more than to be in a surf competition. We see old footage of when “Big Z,” an extremely famous surfer, visited his village when Kody was little. throughout the rest of the movie, the cameras follow him around, people off screen ask him and his family questions, and when he travels to the island to compete, they follow him around almost like a real competition or even “survivor.” It’s strange, but it also really works, especially given the subject material. You get that this is pretty much like an Xgames type event, and the documentary style not only adds for some interesting perspective and shots (that they may not have been able to get in other ways), but lends to enhance the story and the experience.

The animation is amazing. For being made around the same time as Happy Feet, this one puts that to shame. The colors used are awesome. I love that each of the surfer penguin’s feathers just so happen to be laid out in shapes and patterns almost as if it were a tattoo. The water looks extremely real, and the waves are beautiful. 

 Because this is filmed documentary style, it doesn’t always focus on the main character, Kody. In some ways, that’s refreshing. Sometimes we get a scene with a camera crew focused on a completely different character, or even a random scene that lasts two minutes of a camera man asking random characters different questions (think the talking heads in “The Office.”) By far the best thing about this whole part is the few scenes where they interview the penguin kids, Kate, Arnold and Smudge. Wow. They are extremely funny. The Cameraman might have asked something like “what’s your board made of,” and each of the kids gives an answer, always leaving the youngest to say literally the only thing that’s on his mind, even if it has nothing to do with the question. In other words, I really feel like they completely understood that this is what kids would actually do. Cause it is. While watching it, I was reminded of the Minions in Despicable Me. They’re that funny. But this came first. They just have a few scenes, but its worth watching the whole movie just to get to those.

One would think that with a documentary style movie, the plot wouldn’t be able to develop so much because, well, there’s certain things and places that “Cameramen” wouldn’t be able to go. But believe it or not, the plot doesn’t really suffer. Again it’s handled much like “The Office,” (hidden camera men during “private” moments). Granted, in my opinion, this plot is not exactly the most amazing nor the most interesting, but they do it well. Here’s a sort of quick run down (contains *spoilers*)

So Kody is a penguin from Antarctica who met his hero, Big Z, when he was a kid and now wants nothing more than to be a surfer. Now he’s a teenager and has a chance to try out for the Big Z Memorial competition (that’s right, Big Z is now dead). He’s so much of a whiner and so insanely persistant that they pretty much have to bring him along, even though he really isn’t that good. After reaching the competition and being completely humiliated by his big mouth and ego, he ends up wiping out after a 1 on 1 with the biggest competitor, Tank. Hurt, the lifeguard Lani takes him to her uncle Geek, to fix him up. Well, after spending an afternoon with him, Kody figures out that Geek is really Big Z and he’s been hiding out. After that it’s pretty much like the Karate Kid, with Kody trying to get Big Z to surf again and Big Z trying to get Kody to realize that competing isn’t everything; that surfing is a way of life. They both learn lessons from each other and in the end the competition is much more interesting that you’d think. And there’s a chicken that surfs named Chicken Joe. Yeah.

The plot’s doesn’t really have anything we haven’t seen before, but there’s nothing really wrong with it. I am very glad that they didn’t drag out the “geek is really Big Z” thing for that long, because that would have honestly been annoying. It seems predicable as you’re watching it, but the ending throws a bit of a curve at you. Kinda. Not really I guess, but it’s refreshing. Its not a typical sports movie ending. Let’s say that.

The characters are… ok. Some are really great, and some are… meh. Kody as a character is very developed. We know where he’s coming from, why he wants this so bad, and they honestly did a very good job depicting a typical teenage boy. He’s impatient, thinks he’s all that, and is unwilling to listen to a lot of people. He grows a lot during this movie, and while it always isn’t pleasant to watch, they do it very well; it’s very believable for a real teenage boy. Big Z is the other big character, and likewise, he’s also wonderful to watch. He’s a surfer that’s been burned. Times changed and he didn’t. You can hear the tiredness in his voice but feel the love for the sport and the water and the board in it as well. Jeff Bridges always has that “old wise father” voice, and it’s put to good use here. His experience playing “The Dude” also helped with this role.

The other characters aren’t really that developed in the movie, but they’re ok. Lani the lifeguard is fine, and thankfully they don’t really push the love story, but it’s slightly there between her and Kody. Chicken Joe is there for comic relief and voiced by Jon Heder. That’s all that can really be said about him, and if you know Jon Heder, that’s really all that needs to be said. The villain is Tank, and honestly he’s not really a villain. He’s not scary or menacing. I like good villains, and well, he’s just not one of them. Instead, he represents the change that happened to the sport: he’s about competing, not against being one with the water and your board. You know. That stuff.  There’s some other smaller characters but they’re not really worth remembering. Except that there’s a sea otter with a tupée. That’s always cool to know.

My only other real complaint other than the plot is “eh” and some of the characters are “eh” is that I really didn’t feel like it was that long. It was over before I knew it and I felt like an extra 15 or 20 minutes might have really fleshed out some characters or plot points a bit more. But as it is, it’s cute. It’s definitely worth a watch. I can see it being the kind of movie you either like or don’t like, but I really can’t see anyone despising this movie. It’s very harmless. Give it a watch and see if you become one with the board, or you’re more like me and just find the whole thing a good “meh” kind of movie to watch when you don’t know what else is on.

 I give Surf’s Up (2007) 3.2 stars out of 5. 

Up Next: All Dogs go to Heaven*

*Yes, I know I said I didn’t own it back when I posted Anastasia. I have since fixed this. Yay for Half-Price Books! So we will be taking a bit of a 2 movie detour, as I bought that and the Brave Little Toaster).

 

Happy Feet (2006)

“I’m being Sponan-u-ous!”

 

There are very few movies like Happy Feet. When it came out, I remember people saying mixed things about it: it was cute, it was funny, the penguins were great, the music was weird, the premise was weird. I could go on and on about what people said about this movie. Strangely, no one had the same reaction I did upon first viewing it, which was… “what??? That isn’t what the trailer said it would be about!!”

 To be fair, the trailer was just a cutesy little penguin tap-dancing around set to some pop song. I thought it was going to be adorable. I figured, ok, this is going to be a movie about a cute little penguin who tap dances and maybe he’ll go on an adventure with his penguin friends and learn something about himself and fall in love and… well, you know, like other animated movies. Like a disney movie. We’d learn some cute lesson about being yourself, and everything would be happy by the end.

 Boy, was I wrong. There are very few movies that I have seen in the theaters early enough that the ending/plot wasn’t told to me before hand (this will pop up later in at least one other review…). Happy Feet was one of them. I saw it pretty much opening weekend. And, uh… my reactions are mixed. I’m going to go into great detail about the plot, because these are where most of my issues lie.  

Here we go: need I say that if you haven’t seen it and for some reason have been laying under a rock the last 10 years… *spoilers ahead*.

 So the movie DOES start out like I thought. Well, kinda. Actually, it starts with Nicole Kidman penguin (Norma Jean) singing Prince’s “Kiss” while looking for her mate. There’s only just one, and their songs supposedly fit together. Enter Hugh Jackman Penguin (Memphia), singing Elvis. They fall in love, and the first 15 minutes are very “March of the Penguins.” In that aspect, it’s good. It’s very biologically correct… except the transfer of the egg from mommy to daddy – real penguins don’t let the egg touch the ice. 2 seconds and that baby is dead and the egg is completely frozen. Yeah. Guess they didn’t do TOO much research on this…

Anyway, the baby hatches in the spring and we get Tommy Pickles Penguin (seriously, he’s voiced by E.G Dailey, who did Tommy from Rugrats). Actually his name is Mumble, a name not picked out by his parents, but by a fellow penguin chick named Gloria. But Mumble is… different. Instead of being able to sing, he tap-dances. Awww, it’s so cute! And honestly, it is. Except he’s not a proper penguin, because proper penguins sing! So in other words, he’s like that kid at school who’s super awkward and can’t do anything right. He’s also blamed by the penguin elders for the fish shortage and is sort of an outcast. Yeah. More on that later.

 After he grows up and heads out to sea for the first time, this is where things get interesting. He almost gets attacked by a leopard seal and meets 4 Adelie penguins, who take Mumble to their culture. These guys actually like his dancing, and upon seeing a few weird things (like a bulldozer) mumble decides to figure out why the fish have disappeared. The Adelie penguins take him to see Lovelace, a rockhopper penguin who supposedly can speak to the Gods through… yeah… a 6-ring soda plastic holder stuck around his neck. He is no help, and Mumble and his new friends decide to head back to Emperor land because it’s mating season. 

 We get some more stuff with the emperors, mumble is called an abomination along with his “foreign” friends, and they decide to go and figure out more stuff with why the fish have been disappearing. Eventually Lovelace joins them, the ring finally choking him. He leads them to where he found it, which looks like a whaling camp, where they get attacked by Killer whales. They get out of it and eventually find the boats that are taking the fish. Mumble goes after them, disappearing from antarctica and washing up on shore in (presumably) australia or New Zealand.

 This is where this movie SERIOUSLY changes. Really, I feel like this is two movies. The stuff in antarctica which is cute and mysterious, then there’s this. Oh. My. God. It’s like someone took a hammer and pounded you into the ground. Mumble wakes up in a zoo and sees humans, who are the people who are stealing the fish (overfishing). From his perspective, which this movie is told, he literally goes insane in the zoo. Obviously he’s just being nursed back to health but yeah… in case you didn’t realize it, very liberal die hard environmentalists made this movie.

The end is happy though, as Mumble is released with a tracker on his back so that the scientists can follow him and get the boats to leave the fish alone. Oh and mumble and gloria get together. Because didn’t you see that coming? Actually you do, but I didn’t mention much about the love story, because there’s just so much more…

 Whew!

 Now to my thoughts: I feel like this movie is trying too hard to do too much. It’s trying to be an environmental tale. It’s trying to be a “be yourself” tale. It’s trying to be a “change can be good” tale. It’s trying to be all those plus a kids movie, a drama, a comedy, and a musical. Some of it really works, some of it is ok, and some of it seriously rubs me the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for saving the environment, but the lengths this movie went through are a bit drastic.

 It’s told through the perspective of the penguins so I get it, but this joke is a good example: they get to where Lovelace got his 6-ring stuck around his head, and as he points to the water, littered with more of them, one of the Adelie penguins goes “Look, we can each have one!” It’s funny…. But not. Not really. Actually, it’s morbid. Which I know is what they were going for, but I dunno. Not my cup of tea.

 As a “be yourself” tale, this movie really works. I actually adore the idea that every penguin has its own song, and finding the one that goes with you is the way you find your soul mate. I love mumble doing his thing and dancing to express his feelings instead of singing. I love that one of his parents embraces it and the other doesn’t. I loved trying to get him to sing and it not working. I loved that the kids made fun of him but Gloria somehow always understood him. I love that in the end his father understands how he was wrong to be so hard on his son and that maybe dancing IS something that emperor penguins can do. Honestly, if the movie had focused on this, I would have been much happier.

 Those few things listed above, as well as the synopsis I gave is pretty much what a kid would get out of it. Taking the penguins’ fish is bad, we shouldn’t litter, and it’s important to be yourself. But there is SO much more going on in this movie that it really is quite brilliant, even if it is all over the place. Like An American Tale, Happy Feet is an Allegory. It is the politics of the world played out between penguins, seals, and people. There’s class structure and racism.

 The emperors are America. Here, the older generation are the ones who make the rules, and anything that challenges those rules is deemed irresponsible and must be stopped (aka: mumble and his tap dancing… especially when he gets the other penguins to do it: scandalous!). They believe that praying will bring the fish back and that this is just something that has happened because they haven’t been as “good” and repentant as they could have been. 

 When Mumble meets up with Adelie penguins, their world is quite easily recognized as Latin America. I mean, we have penguins who speak spanish and sing “mambo.” They enjoy dancing and singing, and know there is a shortage of fish but don’t know what to do to get it back – they ask their guru for help. I don’t know what this suggests the filmmakers thought of latin America, but sure… it works. They are called “filthy” and “uncivilized” by the Emperor elders. Racism in action kids. That older generation… they just can’t accept anything different or new, can they?

The leopard seal is russian, the elephant seals are australian, and the Skuas seem to be from New York City. We don’t see much of them, but it just lends to a more complete world. The elephant seals don’t want to get involved (wonder what that means…?), the Skuas say they were abducted by Aliens (people)… you know, those New Yorkers are crazy… and the leopard seal tries to eat the penguins (hmmm, I thought the cold war was over…).

 Sometimes the political and religious overtones are a bit much, at least to an adult. I don’t think an elementary age kid would notice. It’s really preachy. REALLY preachy. It’s all well and good if you are liberal or an environmentalist, but if you are a conservative, I can’t even imagine how much this movie would really piss you off. Heck, I’m more liberal than a lot of people, and some of it even annoyed ME!

 I DO like the music, I do like the characters, I do like the fact that a lot of the stuff that was animated was realistic. The way the adelies walked. The greeting the emperors give each other. The way the killer whales played with their food before eating it. That’s all done right. But oh lord, do I have to bring up the passing the egg with it touching the ice again?? DO YOUR RESEARCH THE WHOLE WAY. Dang liberals trying to push their environmentalism on us…. *sarcasm* kinda….

 A little bit about the characters, because I do like them. Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) is really enjoyable. He’s sweet and humble, has a good heart, isn’t afraid to voice his mind and is willing to die to get to the bottom of the whole fish disappearing thing. Gloria (voiced by Brittany Murphy) is also enjoyable. You can tell throughout the movie that she really is mumble’s other half, she just has to come to terms with it. She’s not treated very well by him at one point (even though he thinks its for her own good) but manages to forgive him. Norma Jean and Memphis, Mumble’s parents, are supposedly based on Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, which actually knowing that makes them more tolerable. Otherwise Norma Jean is just… annoying. Ramon and the other Adelie penguins are fun (they’re mainly there for humor), and Lovelace is ok. He doesn’t have much speaking parts, seeing as he’s choking for most of the movie… 

 All in all, Happy Feet (2006) IS an ok movie. Just be warned it’s really in your face, preachy, and I can see why a lot of people don’t like this movie. But at the same time, it’s unique. Penguins with heart songs and tap-dancing and being yourself and standing up to authority. What’s not to like?  I just wish it didn’t change so suddenly for the last 20 minutes. Seriously. 

I give Happy Feet (2006) 3 out of 5 stars. It has a few good moments, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few things that just really annoy me. If you want a good environmental tale, go for Ferngully, or wait till I review Princess Mononoke…. 

Next up is Surf’s up. More penguins doing weird things!

Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

“There are worlds within worlds, Chrysta. Everything in our world is connected by the delicate strands of the web of life, which is a balance between the forces of destruction and the magical forces of creation.”

 There was a period in my childhood where I feel like all I wanted to watch was this movie. It honestly may have only lasted a week, but as I look back on it, it seemed like months. If anyone knows me, my obsession with this movie would make perfect sense. Love of animals and the nature/the environment are ingrained in my bones, and this movie has everything to satisfy that. Well, I did eventually grow out of my “must see ferngully” phase, and I didn’t see this movie for a long while, until after college. I was at an internship at an Outdoor Education Center with 11 other interns. This movie so happened to be in one of the residence houses, so we put it on. It was just as good as an adult, so of course I figured it just had to be one I needed to buy. I feel to our generation, it’s a classic. But does it deserve that label?

 In a short answer, Yes, it does. Despite its flaws and its incredibly dated feel, it is a good movie. It teaches a good lesson but isn’t in your face about it, compared to some other movies. It’s smart about how it goes about telling it’s environmentally minded story, mixing in the good with the bad. Kids don’t have to sit there and get eco-phobia from this one movie. It doesn’t scare kids into doing what’s best for the environment. It has its moments of being preachy, but in a good way, and in a subtle way. If that makes any sense.

 I find it interesting and funny that this little movie made by an Australian film company and only grossed 32 million worldwide became such a household name. I felt like everyone saw this movie. I feel like everyone still knows this movie. People compare every single other environmental movie that comes out to this one all the time (we got a lot of that when Avatar came out). How did this little movie become the pillar to measure up to? It certainly wasn’t the first, I’m sure, but it’s good.

 If you don’t know the story here’s a very quick rundown: in Australia there’s a rainforest called Ferngully that’s inhabited by fairies who take care of the forest. One fairy, Crysta, an apprentice to the shawoman Mage, is interested in their folktales and longs to see a human. She sees smoke rising in the distance one day and heads that direction, finding humans and a giant machine that eats trees. To save the life of one of the kids marking the trees to be cut down, she accidentally shrinks him to her size. He learns about the forest and about respect of the trees, and together they must stop the leveler from destroying Ferngully, which is now being run by an evil spirit, Hexxus.

 You can tell the development team thought a lot about the storyline and dialogue in this movie. It has some of the best for a kids movie. It has very thoughtful lines, very good exchanges between characters, and the humor is spot on for kids (I even still find myself laughing extremely hard at some places). They knew what they wanted to convey in their story and the way in which they wanted to do it. They succeeded.

 Where they didn’t succeed, however, is in the characters. I have complained about characters a lot in my reviews. That’s kinda because I guess you could call me a character snob. I LOVE characters. You can give me a really crappy movie with a crappy or extremely horrible plot, and I will still love it. Why? If the characters are good and interesting, I’ll deal with pretty much anything. My mind is immediately drawn to good characters, complex characters, and characters with good backstories. That’s why I find myself sucked into complicated shows and movies half the time that have amazing characters but the plot lines tend to be cliche, boring, or flat out ridiculous (I’m one of the few people who really understands LOST and is not pissed off by the end – I loved it actually).

 The characters are very one dimensional. They spent all this time on the plot and seemed to just pick the most common characters they could find. We have the old wise lady who seems to know everything and gives advice in riddles. Our protagonist Crysta is very Ariel from the little mermaid with a bit less attitude: she’s curious and naive but has a good heart. Zak is a clueless guy who must be taught the ways of the forest. He’s a bit bland, but at least you can tell the difference in his character in the beginning and the end. At least he really does learn something. 

 The only other sort of character they spend any time on developing even a little bit is Batty. Oh yes, we have to talk about him. Batty is a fruit bat that escaped from a lab where he was a test animal. He’s voiced by Robin Williams, pre-genie days. The voices for this were recorded in 1991, so it was literally right before Aladdin. Thank GOD it was before Aladdin. I can only guess what it would have been like if it had been after, and it would have been awful. In this movie, Robin Williams is actually funny!** Batty has the best lines, and yeah, he’s in there for comic relief, but it’s actually funny without going crazy pop-culture-y.  If anything, he actually teaches us stuff; things I never caught as a kid. He actually gives us what a bat is (“I’m a placental flying mammal; if you can’t tell, I’m a bat!”) and even at one point gives us the family name (Pteropodidae) as a joke. This writing is awesome. I remember laughing my butt of at Batty, and I still do. 

 There are a few random details with the story that honestly I would have changed. They really try to force a whole romance thing on Crysta and Zak, and they even try to throw in a triangle with this other fairy Pip who I guess likes her too? But there’s literally no build up, and honestly it seems out of left field; there were no romantic feelings, then all of a sudden… wow! We’re in an underwater cave and staring into each others eyes! It would have been much better if they had just let Crysta be a friend and teacher, and maybe they should have made Pip a brother or something. I don’t know, just not what they did.

 Ok, let’s talk about the villain, voiced by the ever awesome Tim Curry. Hexxus, as I understand it, is an evil spirit that rose up from the bowels of the earth long ago, bringing destruction on the forest. He was sealed inside a tree that the leveler eats and is released. When I was a kid I thought this monster was pollution (which I guess means they hit it right – I know what the bad guy to the environment is), but as an adult I’m seeing it a bit more complicated than that. If he came into being long ago, he can’t be pollution, he has to be something more sinister. Did a volcano erupt and cause destruction on the rainforest and this thing is like that spirit? And why is he so keen to destroy the forest? Maybe these things are answered and I’m not paying attention, but I would have liked a lot more depth in the mythology of this whole land and the fairies. It would have been cool.

 The only other thing I do want to talk about at a bit of length is the end. Mage (the old shawoman/fairy) sacrifices herself and disappears and turns into glowing light that gets transferred to each of the fairies. I’m guessing this is giving them the power to understand the forest? It’s not quite clear. Anyway, Crysta, Zak and Batty go to fight the leveler and Hexxus and Zak succeeds in… turning off the machine. yeah. Apparently it was that easy. Hexxus gets sucked back into the leveler (there’s no more pollution for him to feed on) and it seems all is good. Really?!? Is that really how they’re going to defeat…. HOLY CRAP THAT THING IS BACK!!!!

 Anyone remember this? After everything seems all well and good, Hexxus somehow manages to come back to life even though the machine is off and not only does he come back as a weird cloud/oil monster thing, but a SKELETON DRIPPING WITH FIRE AND OOZE!! That is freaking scary!! How did this not scar me as a child? After everyone is done picking their jaws up off the floor and calming the tears of young children, Crysta defeats him by taking a tree seed and he eats her. The tree starts to sprout out of Hexxus, and the rest of the fairies help it grow and the scary monster spirit thing turns into a tree. 

 So wait… they already took away all the energy that Hexxus needed by turning off the leveler, it comes back, and it’s a TREE that stops this thing? I mean I know they’re trying to make a point, but really?? This thing seems super powerful once it gets to full power, and a TREE stops it? Yeah. Am I the only one not ok with this plot point? It confuses me.

 Other thoughts on the movie that are super random and don’t require an entire paragraph each: 

 ~ This movie is REALLY dated. Like, early 90s tubular dude cool dated. They quite literally use that phrasology. 

~ The animation for a little indie Australian movie is really impressive. It’s colorful and it made me want to go there. I’ve heard the crew spent time in the Australian rainforest, so I say good job, it was money well spent (even the bit of CGI isn’t bad!)

~ The songs are super-forgettable. I’m a bit sad I never remembered them, because you’d think Robin Williams rapping would have been memorable.

~ Ralph Eggleston was a storyboard artist! I actually watched the credits and saw his name! If you don’t know who that is, he is a big Pixar guy. This was apparently his first job. He’s worked on tons of pixar movies.

~ I actually kinda like that even though this story is the Pocahontas/white guy comes in and saves the day movie, it doesn’t really happen like that. Yeah, Zak helps and turns off the leveler, but in the end it was Crysta and the fairies who ultimately defeated Hexxus. 

 Ferngully is all in all a great movie. I’m not really a big fan of the characters, but I feel I would have absolutely LOVED this movie had they developed them and the mythology of the place a bit more. It could have been so much more. There was so much more potential than they did, which is actually saying a lot. I would recommend it most definitely. It’s a good environmental and educational movie.

 I give Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992) 3.75 stars out of 5. 

 Up next: let’s continue with environmental movies and watch Happy Feet (2006). These will be fun to compare… 

 

 **in case you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of the Genie. But we’ll get to him…

A Chipmunk Adventure (1987)

Ahhh, the days before the scary CGI chipmunks. The days when the chipmunks were 2D, as tall as normal kids and looked absolutely NOTHING like real chipmunks. Now, they make rude jokes and sing songs like Single Ladies. And honestly? I don’t know if back then was any better.

 I remember loving this movie as a kid. My sisters and I would watch it, laugh at it, sing the songs, and dream about taking balloon rides around the world. It was fun. Watching it now as an adult, it is still fun. But there are many – MANY – things I don’t like about this movie. 

 I’m going to start with the things I like about this movie, because honestly once I get into the bad things I have a feeling I will start rambling. The songs, in my opinion, are great. There’s a lot of original songs in here mixed in with some Chipmunk classics, and the new songs are on the whole pretty catchy. Years later, I still remembered them almost word for word (that shows you how much we watched this…). Many of them are upbeat, but some are really heartfelt. The Chipettes singing a song about how important your mother is to a baby penguin is just… it’s so cute. Watching it now, I almost wished that I had paid more attention to the song as a kid. I would have run up and given my mom a big hug after that.

 The upbeat songs are great as well, and for the most part they work well with the story. Some are actually performed by the chipmunks/chipettes, and some are sung over montages. Both work well, and most of the songs do move the story forward. The only one that is kinda just stuck in the middle of nowhere is the song “The Girls of Rock and Roll,” which, if anyone has seen the movie, you just kinda have to start singing it once you mention it. It just sort of happens. Anyway, it is kinda in the movie for no good reason, but it’s a fun song and super catchy (side note: this song was actually written to be performed by a radio artist – I don’t know who… cyndi lauper? Tiffany? Someone in the 80s, but they passed and so it was put in the movie instead).

 I also really enjoy the characters and the playful banter/hatred shared between Alvin and Brittany. It’s a strange dynamic and I know the chipettes are honestly just female carbon copies of the chipmunks, but if anything that’s why it’s funny. The personalities mesh or don’t mesh so well that you get a lot of interesting lines. I only really wish that they would have spent more time the 6 of them then split up for the movie. 

 Some of the side characters I also thoroughly enjoy. The house-sitter Miss Miller I really remember loving as a kid, and she’s not any worse now. She’s an older lady that seems to have a few screws loose and is extremely gullible and clueless. The other characters (and there are a lot of very random 2-line or even no-line characters) are kinda eh. There’s not much to them. They’re there to fulfill a purpose, and they do, but they’re not there for much else.

 Alright. Now to what I dislike. The reason I didn’t explain the plot earlier is because it’s sort of in my borderline like/dislike list. I like the idea of the plot: The chipmunks and the chipettes are competing in a balloon race around the world to see who is the best. They visit different places and at each of these places they must deliver a stuffed doll to prove they were there. That part of the plot, I like. If they had kept it like that and just made it a story about all the weird people they ran into and the crazy adventures they had, it might have been perfectly fine and easy for kids to follow. But no. They couldn’t make it that easy. 

 Instead, on top of that plot I just told you, they have this other diamond smuggling…. Thing. The two people who sponsored the race are diamond smugglers and the dolls that the kids are using to prove they were where they were are really stuffed with diamonds being delivered to clients. They receive a doll in return, which is filled with money – a payment. The detective agency is trying to track them down and arrest them for their crimes, and so there are these two guys following the kids trying to stop them. 

 As a kid, this is a bit complicated. Because the way it’s set up, we’re supposed to believe that the two diamond smugglers, Claus and Claudia, are quasi-bad guys. You get the idea they’re doing it for their own thing and using the kids, but they’re never actually established for what they actually are: criminals who smuggle diamonds. Instead, our antagonists of the movie are actually the two detectives who chase after the kids, trying to stop them from delivering the dolls. They are depicted as mean individuals (I mean, they have gold teeth and evil smiles – they HAVE to be the bad guys, right?), when in fact they are actually the good guys. They’re working to try and stop the diamonds from being smuggled. 

 It’s almost as if they wanted to make something complicated for the kids watching so that they could then at the end do a switch and some sort of twist ending. I don’t know. I don’t think it works. I just always remember the end at the airport when everyone is chasing everyone else, Dave gets into the car with the main inspector guy. I remember thinking as a kid “don’t get into the car with him, he’s the bad guy!!!”. But he’s not! Ugh. It’s complicated. I don’t know why they did it like this (actually it was probably because we’re seeing it through the kids eyes), and honestly it’s a bit confusing. 

 Believe or not, that’s not actually my worst qualm with the movie. Well, it sort of is. The other big issue I have with this movie is more complicated than plot. I’m sure I’ll get more into this subject in later movies (I’m looking at you old Disney movies), but I have to talk about it now: Stereotypes. Oh. My. Gosh. This movie is wrought with them. Now I do think some people overanalyze and over criticize a lot of movies for being racist or depicting a certain person or group of people as stereotypes, but this movie could be the poster child. Let’s see. There’s so many to choose from, where should we start….

 How about the villains, Claus and Claudia. They’re caucasian, slimy, and speak in an accent that I’m assuming is german (although I swear sometimes it seems russian). Yeah. As if that wasn’t done on purpose.  When the chipmunks are in mexico the people are seen as fat, jolly, and they have taco stands shaped like sombreros and have festivals everyday. The king in egypt (I think that’s the county?) who captures the chipettes is about 8 years old, wears a turban and has a harem. He sends the dolls the girls have to a room guarded by cobras. Oh and the tribal people in indonesia. I can’t really even explain them enough to do them justice. They’re almost depicted as stupid and uncivilized, yet somehow they know the song Wooly Bully? Yeah. This is a big problem I have with this movie. I feel like a teensy bit more research could have gone into making the places the kids went a bit more realistic. That would have been really cool actually.

  Let’s face it: the chipmunks have never really been perfect roll models. They’re fun, but at the same time they’re just… I don’t even know how to describe them. They’re rude kids. They break the rules. They fight. I don’t know. I feel all disillusioned. I still love their Christmas songs though. And I do still like this movie. I just don’t love it.

In the end, I’m going to give A Chipmunk Adventure 2.5 stars out of 5. It’s worth watching once for the songs. Honestly though, just downloading the songs off iTunes works just as well. The chipmunks started as singing stars, and that’s really where they should stay. 

Next Up: Ferngully (1992)

Balto (1995)

“Thank you Balto. I’d have been lost without you.”

 

Oh this movie. I am really torn on how to review this. There are so many things that are just so not good about this movie, but nostalgia says that I must love it because I liked it as a child. Two conflicting emotions in my brain and I don’t know which one to follow. So I’m just going to write. This is going to be interesting.

In the review for Anastasia, I mentioned how much I hate movies that just aren’t historically correct. Well… this is kinda the movie I was talking about. To me, this is honestly the first one that comes to mind. Sure, I’m sure there’s some war movies or some dramas that aren’t historically correct (and I will definitely get to those), but this was the first thing that popped into my head. 

Ok, time to get this out: BALTO WAS NOT A HALF BREED. HE WAS NOT PART WOLF. HE WAS A PUREBRED SIBERIAN HUSKY WHO WAS ALREADY PART OF A SLED TEAM. Ok. This is my biggest qualm about this movie. I don’t even want to know the conversation that led to this idea. It probably went like this:

Movie Studio Exec: “oh, let’s do a story about the iditarod and the diphtheria outbreak in Nome.” 

Screenwriter: “Yeah it’s a good idea, but there’s no drama. There’s no story there. Especially if we want to make this a kids movie with talking dogs. We need to compete with Disney.”

Movie Studio Exec: “hmm… wait! What if we make balto part wolf?”

Screenwriter: “But he wasn’t part wolf…”

Movie Studio Exec: “So? Think about it! We can make him an outcast, we can give him funny sidekicks. We have have him overcome his own lack of self confidence and be a hero in the end! It will be perfect!!”

*face palm* I’m sure this is why they did it. They had to be marketable, and in 1995, the biggest competition was Disney. Everyone was trying to be like them. Everyone had talking animals and sidekicks and songs (ok this movie doesn’t have any songs, which is honestly incredibly refreshing). But why do this?? There’s probably a whole generation of kids who are now adults that seriously think this is what happened!! Either that or something very similar. That Balto was a wolf dog who led the anti-toxin from Nenana to Nome. SO. NOT. TRUE. It’s almost as if the movie wants you to think it was true also with the way it’s framed. It starts out live action with a grandmother and granddaughter trying to find the statue of Balto in Central Park. She tells the story… AS IF ITS ENTIRELY TRUE. UGH.

Let’s have a little history lesson about what really happened, shall we? In the winter of 1925, the village of Nome, Alaska had an outbreak of Diphtheria, which affected many children, especially the Alaskan Natives who had no immunity (yeah, try to find what looks like an Alaska Native in the movie…). Anchorage shipped by rail the antitoxin from Seward to Nenana, where the first of 20 mushers picked it up. That’s right. More than 20 mushers and over 100 dogs ran the antitoxin from Nenana to Nome. Not just one team like in the movie. The route was 674 miles. No wonder the dogs in the movie needed someone to rescue them!

Balto was the lead dog in the last relay team, led by musher Gunnar Kaasen. He was the one who brought the medicine to the town, but many people believe the true heroes were Leonhard Seppala and his dog team, led by Togo. They did the most treacherous part of the trek. But no… history remembers the dog who brought the medicine the last leg of the journey.

I don’t even want to tell you what happened to Balto after he became a celebrity. It’s honestly too sad to even explain. But eventually he died and his remains were mounted. Yes, you can go to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and see the dog in all his glory (side note: Togo’s remains are in Alaska. I saw those when I was a kid…). And one thing you will notice is that Balto is certainly not part wolf. Does this look part wolf to you??

Image

Ok, now to get on to the movie. My one giant qualm out of the way, let’s try to see this movie for what it is: a fairy tale and disney wannabe. It’s ok, I guess. The main band of characters is pretty well developed. They actually did a good job developing Balto as being half-wolf, and it plays pretty well into the story. Jenna, his love interest, is kinda blah boring, but I guess she serves her purpose because Balto wants nothing more but to impress her. Boris the goose is funny I guess. Muk and Luk the polar bears are there to add funny stuff for the kids, and to be honest I do find myself laughing a lot during this movie. It is a funny kids movie, but there are lines that I’ve picked up now as an adult that went way over my head before. 

There are a ton of random characters and it honestly seems like too many. Some of them may only have one or two lines, so it’s almost like why introduce them at all? There’s two female dogs that are sort of friends with Jenna…. I don’t really know what more to say. The villain, Steele, is a selfish, typical stupid man. Sure he’s evil, but he didn’t really do much for me. He has some sidekicks named Nikki, Kaltag and Starr, and still to this day I can’t figure out which is which. What I do like about these three is that they’re really not his sidekicks. They actually can’t stand the guy, but only join in on making fun of Balto because they feel like they have to.

The human characters are also super bland. The parents of the little girl rosie who gets sick are just there, as is the doctor and the other random people. Now I get it that this is supposed to be from Balto’s perspective, but like I said before, It’s actually being told by *spoilers* the now grown-up Rosie. Maybe it’s what she thought was going on as she lay in bed incredibly sick. If that’s the case, this movie is a bit more brilliant than I gave it credit for. If that’s the case, then any plot points that I might have had a qualm about I shouldn’t, because it was all in the head of an incredibly sick, dying little girl. A dying girl who saw her dog Jenna liked Balto. But could that be what they were going for? I have no idea… It’s just a thought.

So I have lots of issues with this movie. The plot is not true and the characters are kinda bland, save our quartet. So what in the world could I possibly have to say that’s good about this movie? It is entertaining. It really is. I don’t know if this is nostalgia talking when I watch it or what, but this movie really is entertaining. There’s adventure, there’s romance, there’s laughter, there’s hardship. There are scenes that stick with me even today. Scenes that are so good that they almost make up for all the shit.

One of them is in the beginning. Balto and Jenna have gone under the floorboards of the hospital because Rosie got checked in and Jenna wants to know what’s wrong. She’s complaining how nasty and dirty it is, and Balto tells her to look at the glass half full. He then proceeds to make an analogy, using broken bottles and the light from above the floorboards for the polar ice caps and the sun to suddenly show the northern lights on the wall. That is so creative!! It’s just so good! For whatever reason, that scene really stuck with me. 

The other scene is later when Balto has the antitoxin and just fell off a cliff (yeah, I know…). He has to come to terms with his wolf side and realize that he does have the courage to do this and not give up. A white wolf comes to him (whether or not this is a figment of his imagination I still don’t really know) and encourages him to keep going. As the wolf walks away, he places his foot in the wolf’s footprint and it matches. Again, don’t know why this stuck with me, but it’s just good. It’s like proof that he can do whatever he puts his mind to, and I think that’s cool.

So what do I do with this movie? Where do I put it on a 1-5 scale? I’m seriously torn. I do recommend seeing this movie, especially if you have kids, because it is fun. It’s funny, and your kids will probably love it. What I would probably do is make some sort of theme with it and tell them the real story about the antitoxin run so that they know that this movie is more of a fairy tale. I think history and stories like this are really important, because they’re good points in history. It’s a story that really did have a happy ending and really did have heroes. They just weren’t part wolf…

I guess I give Balto (1995) 3 out of 5 stars. I really can’t bring myself to give it a lower grade, even if I have my qualms with it. Blame nostalgia. 

Up Next: A Chipmunk Adventure