"Happy Feet" at IMAX Theatre at Navy Pier
The happiness you get from "Happy Feet" will last long after the credits. And it's not only the kids who leave smiling. Parents will love the music and the positive messages the movie delivers.
Zoe, 4, was especially affected. She left the IMAX Theatre at Navy Pier so filled with music she jumped on the Family Pavilion Stage with a group of other kids to belt out "YMCA" with the Navy Pier acting troupe, the Buccaneers. She then danced "Happy Feet"-style for the entire length of the pier on the way back to the van.
The IMAX experience makes the movie even more special since it put kids right into the action and the beauty of a land many will never see themselves. But even on a regular movie screen, "Happy Feet" is a sure winner for families. The movie contains several important themes, including being confident in being different and finding your place in the world.
In the land of Emperor penguins in Antarctica, in order to fall in love and be someone, the little penguins must find their heart song. Unfortunately for little Mumble, dropped by his daddy Memphis when he was still an egg, he can't sing a note. But boy can his feet dance out a tune and get your kids' heads and feet dancing in rhythm. Eventually cast out because of his un-penguin ways and talk of "aliens," Mumble finds amigos who embrace him and encourage his dancing feet in Adelie Land. They lead him to Lovelace the Guru for answers to his many questions about aliens (humans). Lovelace later chokes on a six-pack plastic ring, which leads Mumble, Lovelace and his amigos to set off across beautifully frozen land to find where the aliens live. What they find is trash in the water and too much fishing in the penguins' food chain. Little Mumble, still sporting baby fuzz around his face, ends up making a big difference by leading researchers back to the Emperor penguins, setting off a firestorm calling for worldwide laws to prevent over-fishing.
The other important theme is that parents can make mistakes, but they also get a second chance to make things right. Mumble's father supports casting Mumble out of the community only to later embrace his dancing son and learn a few steps of his own when Mumble returns.
A note for moms and dads: The preview of "Night at the Museum" before "Happy Feet" may scare the littlest ones. On IMAX, the T. Rex seemed to come out of the screen and had Zoe balled up in her seat cringing. But once "Happy Feet" starts with such high energy, the fear is quickly forgotten. Only a few scenes in the actual movie are scary-Mumble being chased wildly by a hungry, monster-like sea lion brought Arlee, 7, to tears and she said it ruined the movie for her. The other scene that might scare little ones is a fight between two killer whales trying to eat Lovelace and Mumble. They end up helping, though, by pulling off the plastic ring. Tamara L. O'Shaughnessy
"Happy Feet," released by Warner Bros. Pictures, is rated PG for "some mild peril and rude humor." Navy Pier IMAX Theatre, 700 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $15.50, $14.50 for seniors and $13.50 for children. Tickets may be purchased in advance online at www.imax.com/chicago or by calling (312) 595-5MAX, (5629).
"Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light"
Visiting the Museum of Science and Industry's "Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light" has become an annual tradition for our family. We go every year on Christmas Eve to visit the Ireland tree and learn about holiday traditions of other countries, then move on to enjoy all of the other exhibits this incredible museum has to offer for kids.
This year is the 65th anniversary of the exhibit, which is done with help from Chicago-area cultural groups that do the tree decorations, and it is better than ever. With the theme "Dashing through the Snow," the museum turns its main floor into a magical wonderland of winter, lights and the sights of Christmas.
As a special surprise for your kids, make sure you are near the top of the escalator as you enter the exhibit at the top of every hour and watch it "snow." Keep it a secret from the kids. Zoe, 4, and Arlee, 7, danced in the snow with so much joy on their faces it made me want to cry.
The girls said they especially liked the snow and learning about the trees. They were thrilled at picking out their favorites this year (yes, including the Ireland tree).
On the weekends, look for Ken Lukaszewski Sr. A museum volunteer with a short Santa-like beard, Lukaszewski spins engaging tales of each of the trees and traditions. The kids are so mesmerized they won't even realize they are learning, but will leave full of new information about other countries. We could have followed Lukaszewski around all day to hear his stories.
The museum hired Lukaszewski in 1994 for six weeks and ended up keeping him on for 12 years as a storyteller. Though now retired, he says he tries to add at least one new story for families every year. The stories and legends he shares help kids get more out of seeing the trees.
Even though America is a melting pot of traditions and cultures, Lukaszewski says "everyone should know about their own culture and their cultural heritage." That's what he tries to do by weaving stories about the trees, the countries and the traditions for anyone who will listen.
After the storytelling, make sure you don't miss the special exhibit, "A Snow Story." Our favorite part was reading the story of Wilson Bentley, the first person to photograph snow crystals. There are several copies of the children's book Snowflake Bentley (all at eye level for children) that tells the story of the boy who turned his love of snow into his life's work even as others ridiculed him. The book's author, Jacqueline Briggs Martin, is scheduled to do a book reading at 1 p.m., Dec. 21 at the museum.
The Holiday Stage just adds to the magic, filled with performances by some pretty incredible kids on the weekends through Dec. 31. On weekdays Nov. 30-Dec. 27, performances by Chicago-area school groups, are featured.
We'll be visiting again Christmas Eve. Tamara L. O'Shaughnessy
"Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Light" will be open through Jan. 2 at the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. The museum is open 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Extended hours until 5:30 p.m. are planned Dec. 1-17, weekends and Monday-Friday Dec. 18-23 and Dec. 25-Jan. 1. Visit the museum's Web site at www.msichicago.org or call (773) 684-1414.
"Ice Age: The Meltdown" on DVD
I like animated kid movies, but sometimes I think enough is enough. And watching "Ice Age: The Meltdown" on DVD made me realize I've had enough of animals coping with disaster and acting like a family pack when we know they'd all rather eat each other and be on their way.
"Ice Age: The Meltdown" is the sequel to the movie "Ice Age." My family loved watching "Ice Age," so we were really looking forward to hanging out with some popcorn and watching the sequel. In this movie, Ray Romano plays the voice of Manny, a sweet woolly mammoth who's afraid he's the only one of his species left. On top of that, he and his pack of assorted creature friends realize the polar ice cap is melting and they have to find a new home or sink into the water.
Things get interesting when Manny spots another woolly mammoth named Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah). The only problem is that Ellie has been raised with a family of possums and thinks she is a possum, not a mammoth (I have to say-that concept is just plain weird). The storyline follows the emerging relationship between Ellie and Manny, as well as the efforts of the animals to escape the meltdown.
My 8-year-old enjoyed watching this movie, but my 10-year-old could barely sit through the whole thing. It was just too much of the same old stuff and the storyline wasn't strong enough to make it enjoyable. My 10-year-old really thought there wasn't much new or different from the original movie, and it wasn't worth watching this group of animals muddle through another natural disaster.
If your child is really into animated flicks, they might enjoy this movie. But if you're getting tired of the whole animal family facing disaster shows, you might want to take a pass on this. Liz DeCarlo
"Ice Age: The Meltdown" the DVD hits the shelves Nov. 21 and costs $29.98.
"Over the Hedge" game for Nintendo
This is pretty much your standard-issue, movie-support product, handheld video game. Hammy the Squirrel from "Over the Hedge" has to go under, over or around a number of obstacles in order to get to food. We found the controls to be a little unresponsive when you take Hammy in the wrong direction he mutters a little "No!" at you and shakes his head, but after a while that gets to be more annoying than actually helpful.
All in all this isn't a bad game to play. Kids who saw the movie will like seeing the characters again. Although the movement is a little tricky to figure out, eventually you can get where you want to go with it. But there isn't really anything new or exciting here I'd say wait a month or so and buy this one in the bargain bin. Bronwyn Wright
"Over the Hedge" on Nintendo DS is rated "E for Everyone" and is $29.95. It is also available on Xbox, PlayStation2, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo GameCube and PC. For more product information, visit www.overthehedgegame.com.
"Tom and Jerry Tales" game for Nintendo
If you don't like "Tom and Jerry" cartoons in general, this game probably isn't for you. The usual cartoon antics are toned down for this hand-held game and are definitely G-rated, but there is a lot of chasing and falling and getting "THWACKED" in the head with things. That said, my son loved this game and I got a nostalgic kick out of it as well.
The 3-D graphics are cartoon-like and in addition to playing the game, there are several little "set" pieces that make it fun remember Jerry's mouse hole with a teacup for a bath and a table made of a coaster and matchsticks? That's all here, and you can "mouse-over" them with the stylus and Jerry will jump on the bed, scrub himself in the teacup with a toothbrush and so on. It's cute and fun, especially for younger gamers.
In the actual game, Tom chases Jerry in the time-honored tradition of cats and mice and Jerry can jump on a radiator knob to give Tom the hot-foot, or navigate through the mousetraps and lead Tom into them. This is probably pretty basic for older kids, but the graphics, music and story aspect are all really entertaining and will probably charm even older grade-school kids. Kids in first through fourth grades should love it. Bronwyn Wright
"Tom and Jerry Tales" on Nintendo DS rated "E for Everyone" is $29.99.