This is one of those times when I feel like I have the best job in the world. I get to indulge my weakness for movies with monkeys in them and watch a world-class nature film. Add to that a cartoon classic and a costume production, and it’s a very good time indeed.
I’m really excited about this month’s selections, and I just know you’ll find something to love too. If not, as always, I invite you to write and tell me what you think.
DEEP BLUE, rated G, $29.99 DVD; ages 9 and up.
What kind of weird and wonderful creatures live deep in the sea? The answer is just one of the reasons I love this exceptional BBC production. Sure, "Deep Blue" is another nature film following in the flippered footsteps of "March of the Penguins," but so what? An abundance of compelling nature films the entire family can enjoy is a good thing. This one also has an exceptional soundtrack.
"Deep Blue" is not limited to one part of the world; we’re introduced to cute (but not so cuddly) polar bears and their quest for food in the Arctic Ocean, and the graceful moves of dolphins in the tropics. I was awed by seeing soaring sea birds dive deep underwater, where they swim as though still flying, with wings outspread.
The film’s narrator describes the world of the deep as one of birth, death and renewal. I say it is one of beauty, breathtaking action and a reminder of how precious our planet is. This is really a collector’s item. Appropriate for ages 9 and up, middle school or grandparents. Tastefully shot, no gore, but an honest look at nature.
Sylvia says: A+. A note on the G rating: This is not for the timid. There is a lot of hunting for food because besides playing, flying and swimming, that’s what goes on in the world of these creatures who live in and around the sea.
SPYMATE, rated PG, $26.99 DVD; ages 8 and up.
I like this movie’s style. It’s got a smart girl who is into science, madcap sidekicks who are also caring and a dynamic partnership of ace spies, one of whom is Minky the Monkey. I wasn’t sure of the tone of the production when I watched the opening. The desert setting made me worry that there would be anti-Arab sentiments or connections to the real Gulf Wars.
Instead, in a scene worthy of James Bond, agent Mike Muggins is saved by his partner, Minky the Monkey. Instead of getting the girl, they fly off into retirement—a life of the circus for Minky and fatherhood and insurance sales for Mike.
When a scientist who is more annoying than evil kidnaps Mike’s daughter, the duo is back in action, aided by Debra Jo Rupp (the mom from "That ’70s Show") and Minky’s friends from the circus. Emma Roberts plays Amelia, the smart young scientist. She is age appropriate and sweet. The weakest character is her idol, a female scientist with a really bad accent and a preordained trajectory to be the love interest of Amelia’s widowed father.
"Spymate" features lots of fun, cool gadgets and really great scenery from one of my favorite places in the world, Montego Bay, Jamaica. The film also hits Japan and the slopes. There is just enough martial arts action to get the adrenaline going and showcase the acting of the late Pat Morita, but no real violence.
Sylvia says: A For adventure, friendship and fun.
BEST PALS DONALD AND DAISY, not rated, $14.99 DVD; ages 2 and up.
This is one of three new titles featuring classic Disney cartoon partners. Mickey, Minnie and Pluto may be better known, but what I like best is seeing a sweeter side of that rascal, Donald. Donald tries to court Daisy, but having Huey, Dewey and Louie running around makes it difficult.
I know this is just a clever ploy to repackage old cartoons, but that’s cool, because they really are classics, and funny ones at that. The lessons are not as role-model-perfect as one would find today, and Donald is a bit of a bad egg. Still, it is laugh-out-loud funny and the core message of friendship remains—even if Donald is not above stealing from his nephews’ piggy bank.
Sylvia says: B. A new vision for a classic couple.
THE TOY CASTLE TWINKLE TWINKLE, not rated, $14.99 DVD; ages 2-8.
The maker of this series is on a mission to bring an appreciation of the arts to young people who may not get it at school. While it is a noble goal, I found this to be more preschool programming than big kid stuff, but that’s OK.
"Twinkle Twinkle" is set in a toy castle where the inhabitants come to life "only at night when your eyes are shut right!" Live-action characters, including a toy soldier and ballerina, are involved in stories where they learn how to get along with others and offer life lessons on self-esteem and positive self-expression. The stories are not weighed down or preachy, and the best parts are the "time to dance" segments, which are fun to watch and should be doable by little ones willing to try the clown shuffle or the jack in-the-box. I first fell in love with ballet watching "The Nutcracker" on public television as a child, and I enjoy going to see live dance to this very day. This may instill a love of the arts in your little one as well.
Sylvia says: B+. The theatrical makeup was a bit over the top, but good work.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also is a producer at WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.