Ah the holidays . . . it’s a time for turkeys, family get togethers, gifts, and for some reason movies. The months of November and December not only bring good holiday tiding, but also pull us out of the dreck of the nothingness that usually line the film slate in September and October (with a few exceptions). Generally we’re so busy with things that how anyone (aka Hollywood) ever decided to bring out really great movies during this timeframe is beyond me.
I guess it has to do with the fact that students have Thanksgiving and holiday breaks. Kids have time off and hence, families have time to go to the movies. While The Adventures of Tintin and Alvin and the Chipmunks 3 are on the horizon as potential family holiday movies, here’s a look at two films out right now that are family friendly and worth the price of admission . . .
For a little backstory, I was never a big fan of the Muppets. I didn’t hate them or anything, I mean I grew up with Sesame Street so I did find puppet characters to be entertaining. However, I never wondered where they went after I started growing into my teens. So when I heard Jason Segal (How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) was going to bring the Muppets back to the big screen I wasn’t overly excited, but I was definitely intrigued since he did put a puppetry performance of sorts at the end of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. It seemed liked the right guy was working on this project.
After all the hype, all the parody trailers, and all the parody posters, The Muppets are finally here and back on the big screen. And I have to say . . . Segal really hit a homerun with this film. The movie is so smart and funny that I think it really is one of the best comedies of the year.
The film definitely harkens back to the Muppets’ variety show roots as the basic premise of the story is that they have to all come back together to put on a show to save their former studio digs. The driving force behind the Muppet roundup is Walter (a puppet who is not a Muppet) and his brother Gary (played by real life human being Segal). Together with Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams), they manage to roundup Kermit and the rest of the gang to put on this show.
As I mentioned earlier, the comedy of the film is probably the thing I loved most. The jokes were really smart and I ate up the self referential humor the characters had. If there ever was a fourth wall in the film, it was totally demolished by the end. Sometimes it can take you out of a film when the characters know that they’re in a movie and make references toward that fact. With The Muppets though, they did it in such a way where they made fun of common movie devices (such as montages and plot holes) that were smart and that I’ve often questioned myself in other films.
Another aspect that made the film fun were the Muppet characters themselves. The Muppet Movie and The Muppets Take Manhattan were probably the best Muppet movies and in this new film the filmmakers definitely keep each of the characters’ personalities intact. Though the voices may have been a little different, the characters on screen now are the same Muppets that I saw in those older films. Maybe a little older and a little more seasoned, but definitely the same characters.
Like any character that’s been out of the spotlight for a while, I liked the fact that all of the characters seemed a bit more serious since they all had moved on from their Muppet Show days. Even Kermit, who generally is the straight man in the Muppets organization, seemed a bit more serious that before–which I didn’t mind, but thought it made him seem more real and more contemporary.
The rest of the elements of the film are icing on the cake. The musical numbers are fun and provide their own laughs as well. There’s also a ton of cameos by a number of celebrities (Jack Black, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez just to name a few) that provide more jokes and laughs as well. Last, but not least, the heartwarming feel good story of any Muppet movie is there as well. While you may see it coming, that doesn’t take anything away from the genuine feelings that you develop for the Muppets over the course of the film.
Red Band Project rating – 4/5 stars // Rated PG // runtime – 1h 38m
Not going to lie, I didn’t think much going into Arthur Christmas. I thought it was going to be just another cheesy holiday film about Christmas. However, from the opening sequence alone I was pretty much sold on this film.
The film opens on Christmas Eve as Santa and his elves are delivering the last bunch of presents. When they return home to the North Pole Santa proclaims that he can’t wait to do this all again next year, much to the chagrin of his oldest son Steve-who expected his dad to step down after this year. Amidst all this celebration, it is discovered that one present went undelivered. Out of 2 billion kids what’s just one missed present? That sets up a quest (and the plot of our protagonist) for Santa’s younger son Arthur. For what little time is left on Christmas Eve, Arthur strives to deliver this last present. For what does Christmas ultimately mean if even one child loses faith in Santa?
My vision of Santa (yes, I still believe in the dude) is the one I think that most of us have: old guy with a beard wearing a red coat bringing presents to children all over the world in his sleigh pulled by reindeer. Yeah well, that’s how Christmas was 50 years ago. These days the story is different. While the job is still the same, Arthur Christmas shows us how Santa has modernized his operation for the new millennium. Old wooden sleigh . . . gone, replaced by the snazzy starship-like S1 which mimics the night’s sky on it’s underside. Santa’s little helpers . . . they’re still here in this version, though they’re now an elite elf tactical team that employs special forces-like precision to make sure that presents are delivered on time, to the right boys and girls, and above all– unseen. Oh, did I mention Santa’s arsenal includes all kinds of specialized gadgets that would make Q from the 007 series green with envy. I’m generally a sucker for military movies, especially contemporary ones that show modern day forces and tactics. This is exactly what the opening of the film gives you and I ate it all up.
Not to say that the film goes downhill from here. Solid storytelling and characters definitely propel the film through all the way to the end. Each member of the Santa family is definitely fleshed out and is fun to watch, especially when the Santa family gathers for a post-Christmas dinner. You may see shades of your own family’s awkward holiday dinner interactions in that scene.
The solid character building eventually leads to another thing that I liked about the film . . . there’s no “bad guy.” While the setup is perfect for the older son Steve to be the bad guy, things don’t turn out this way. I guess since it’s a Christmas movie the filmmakers may not have wanted to present anyone as “the bad guy,” but I actually think this strengthens the story and makes part of the message of the film fit with Arthur’s goal of delivering the last present . . . what happens when you take the magic out of Christmas and reduce it to statistics and values? Like I mentioned, there are no bad characters in the film–just good people not making the best decisions. While I won’t give away the end, let’s just say that the spirit of Christmas is preserved and the Santa family comes to realize what Christmas is really about. Something all of us need to remember every once and a while.
On a final note, if you can help it, Arthur Christmas doesn’t need to be seen in 3D. Save the kids and yourself the trouble and see it in 2D if you can. There wasn’t all that much 3D-ness in the film that warrants the price of the 3D surcharge.
Red Band Project rating – 3.5/5 Stars // rated PG // runtime – 1h 40m
Arthur Christmas and The Muppets extra helpings:
Really great interview with Arthur Christmas director Sarah Smith over at Cinemablend
Local review of The Muppets by Myong Choi over at Nonstop Honolulu
Local review of The Muppets by Ryan & Jen over at Popspotting
Local review of The Muppets by David Nishimoto over at the Honolulu Examiner
Have a happy holidays at the theaters everyone!