By Jennifer Mangan
Over the summer, there was a steady stream of G and PG-rated kid flicks flooding the cinemas--so many that supply exceeded demand. Some media critics concluded that low box office sales was an indication that G and PG-rated films were becoming obsolete and that preteens are looking for more "sophisticated" films like "Austin Powers in Goldmember." It's a huge assumption to say that kids are abandoning the likes of "Ice Age," "Harry Potter" and "The Rookie" in favor of Mike Meyers. One way to disabuse filmmakers of those assumptions is to vote with your dollars and buy or rent the great family movies available now on video.
STUART LITTLE 2, Rated PG, 2002, $24.96, VHS, $27.96, DVD, all ages. Stuart Little, (voiced by Michael J. Fox,) is much cuter than Mini Me. He's so adorable--especially wearing his soccer pajamas--that it's almost conceivable to love a rodent. This is a love story with a lot of adventure mixed in, although Stuart may not admit it. As the Little's son George (Jonathan Lipnicki) grows up, Stuart realizes he needs to make his own friends. He meets a cute little chick--literally--named Margalo (voiced by Melanie Griffith) who's being chased by the evil Falcon (voiced by James Woods). Stuart brings her home and they strike up a "friendship." Falcon returns to capture Margalo but Stuart puts his life on the line to save her. Who wouldn't fall for a mouse like that? Great for the whole family.
ICE AGE, Rated PG, 2002, $24.98 VHS, $29.98 DVD; all ages. Not since "Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid" have I seen a movie three times. For the same reasons I liked looking at Robert Redford, I loved laughing at the foibles of Scrat, the prehistoric squirrel or rat, and Sid, (voiced by John Leguizamo) the freeloading sloth. Together with Manny, (voiced by Ray Romano) the wooly mammoth, and Diego, (voiced by Denis Leary), a saber-toothed tiger, they try to return a human baby to his father. There's action, humor, adventure and heart. Somewhere along the way, these prehistoric misfits learn to be a family. Who says PG-rated movies aren't worth our while?
SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON, Rated G, 2002, $15.95 VHS, $19.95 DVD; ages 7-up. Here is an example of a film overshadowed by the debut of "Austin Powers in Goldmember." "Spirit" shows us an initiative to save the American Wild Horse and ensure its freedom and diversity for future generations. An early warning: The film deals with serious mistreatment of animals. The "two leggeds" or humans, chain, whip, starve and shoot at Spirit. It's enough to give a sensitive child nightmares. Less sensitive children, however, will see the mistreatment in the context of the film, which tells of a wild mare with an unbreakable spirit. I would call this film sophisticated for several reasons: There are no talking animals. It's narrated sporadically by Spirit (voiced by Matt Damon) and the horses communicate with each other through expression and various horse sounds. The story is richly complemented with a lyrical score composed by Hans Zimmer and sung by Bryan Adams. On DVD, "Spirit" is a visual masterpiece. It's no surprise that the creative team studied great Western artists including Frederick Remington, Charles Russell and James Reynolds and visited eight National Parks to accurately portray the magnificence of the West.
THE COUNTRY BEARS, Rated G, 2002, $22.99 VHS; $29.99 DVD; all ages. I didn't think I'd crack a smile at "The Country Bears." The previews looked pathetic. Not only did I smile, I even howled. His adoptive parents never told Beary Barrington that he is a bear. Mom's in denial, Dad's a dope and Brother can't believe he's related to this odd bunch. When Beary runs away to find more folks like himself, he tries to reunite his favorite band, the Country Bears. Beary's family hires two local policemen who try and locate him. These characters make the film (the car wash scene is especially funny) along with the long list of celebrities who lend their voice and talent including John Hiatt, Queen Latifah, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt and Brian Setzer. I don't suggest you purchase the video, but if there's a night that calls for just plain silliness, it's worth the rental.
THE MASTER OF DISGUISE, Rated PG, Available Jan. 28, VHS-rent only; $27.96 DVD; ages 11-up. When Dana Carvey is lead actor and Adam Sandler's name is stamped on the production, it's safe to assume that the story line will score high on slapstick and low on emotional intelligence. Borrowing from "The Three Stooges'" penchant to slap each other silly, such is the scenario between Pistachio Disguisey, a sweet-natured Italian waiter played by Carvey, his father, Fabbrizio (played by James Brolin) and the archenemy Devlin Bowman (played by Brent Spiner). The gist is that member of the Disguisey family are masters of disguise who can become almost anyone or anything by harnessing the great power known through the ages as "Energico." Carvey manages 36 different characters and there's lots of witless bathroom humor. Kids will love it, parents won't. Enough said. Not appropriate for younger children because of language and crude humor.
LILO & STITCH, Rated PG, 2002, VHS $24.99; $29.99 DVD; Ages 10-up. This one is so unappealing that I don't recommend anyone waste the $3.99 to rent it. It's billed as a cartoon, but comes off as an emotional drama. What's funny about orphaned sisters who are left to survive on their own with a social worker breathing down their neck? Lilo bites and hits her classmates and she doesn't have any friends. Lilo's older sister and guardian, Nani, can't keep a job and is afraid of the social worker's threat to split them up. What's funny about an alien who destroys everything and finally sets fire to their home? It's not the kind of behavior I want my child to emulate. Destruction and sadness make up the majority of "Lilo & Stitch." The only redeeming quality to this Disney flick is that the older sister has a real figure, not the Barbie-thin body image so often peddled to girls. But it is not enough to make this worthwhile family viewing.
Jennifer Mangan is a freelance writer who lives in the west suburbs with her husband and four children, ages 16, 15, 12 and 11.