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Four Family Films from Disney

Alice in Wonderland (February 1/11)

Despite its emphasis on admittedly jaw-dropping instances of animation, Alice in Wonderland remains curiously uninvolving for the duration of its sporadically interminable 75 minute running time - as the film has been infused with an aggressively plotless sensibility that grows more and more grating as time progresses. The movie, which follows Alice (Kathryn Beaumont) as she tumbles into a strange world called Wonderland, moves at a moribund pace that's exacerbated by its decidedly episodic structure, with the hit-and-miss nature of Alice's various encounters ensuring that one's interest tends to ebb and flow from start to finish. And although the film certainly boasts a handful of genuinely compelling interludes - ie Alice's encounter with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare - Alice in Wonderland is, for the most part, dominated by weird-for-weirdness'-sake segments that would feel right at home within an abstract art installation. It is, as a result, not surprising to note that the movie tends to come off as a watchable yet thoroughly forgettable piece of work, with the pervasively less-than-engrossing vibe ensuring that the film ultimately stands in sharp contrast to other Disney releases of that era (ie Peter Pan, Cinderella, etc).

out of

Prom (January 6/12)

Though geared exclusively towards young teenagers, Prom, despite its plethora of superficial and stereotypical attributes, ultimately manages to establish itself as a perfectly watchable - albeit utterly forgettable - little drama detailing several characters' efforts at preparing for the title event. Among the myriad of subplots on display here are the class president's (Aimee Teegarden's Nova) growing friendship with the school rebel (Thomas McDonell's Jesse), a shy dork's (Nicholas Braun's Lloyd) attempts at finding a date, and a longtime couple's (Yin Chang's Mei and Jared Kusnitz's Justin) realization that their time together might be coming to an end. (The latter is, it becomes clear, a highlight within the proceedings.) Prom is, at the outset, awfully difficult to wholeheartedly embrace, as scripter Katie Welch's places a continuing emphasis on cliches and tropes of an almost unreasonably hoary nature that is, to put it mildly, somewhat distracting. The charisma of the various actors generally compensates, and it doesn't hurt that Welch has included a few genuinely entertaining subplots (eg Lloyd's ongoing and elaborate efforts at asking someone out). There's little doubt, too, that filmmaker Joe Nussbaum does a nice job of handling some of the movie's more overtly familiar moments, with the most obvious example of this Jesse's encounter with Nova's well-meaning yet disapproving father (Dean Norris' Frank). And although the movie begins to palpably run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark - a feeling that's perpetuated by an increased emphasis on melodramatic moments - Prom, buoyed by an impressively romantic finish, manages to establish itself as a passable time-killer that isn't quite the arduous ordeal one might've anticipated.

out of

Spooky Buddies (December 23/11)

Given that the Air Buddies series has been responsible for such worthless releases as 2008's Snow Buddies and 2009's Santa Buddies, it's not especially surprising to note that Spooky Buddies boasts the feel of a lazy, consistently unwatchable bit of kid-oriented filmmaking - with the movie ultimately establishing itself as the absolute nadir of this epically terrible franchise. The movie follows the Buddies - B-Dawg (Skyler Gisondo), Budderball (Nico Ghisi), Buddha (Charles Henry Wyson), Mudbud (Ty Panitz), and Rosebud (G. Hannelius) - as they attempt to prevent a diabolical warlock (Harland Williams' Warwick) and an evil creature known as the Howlloween Hound from taking over the world, with their efforts eventually assisted by a ragtag group of scrappy kids and the spirit of a puppy that was murdered decades earlier. It's clear right from the get-go that filmmaker Robert Vince - working from a script cowritten with Anna McRoberts - has absolutely no interest in capturing the interest (or changing the mindset) of the series' detractors, as Spooky Buddies has been infused with as aggressively a juvenile sensibility as one might have expected - with the film's pervasively infant-oriented sensibilities compounded by its complete and total lack of even partially developed supporting characters. And while it's certainly possible that small, dimwitted children will enjoy the over-the-top antics of the protagonists (eg one of the Buddies dispatches a villain by farting in his face), Spooky Buddies will, for the majority of viewers, come off as an absolutely interminable experience that leaves this unstoppable franchise with nowhere to go but up. (We can only hope, anyway.)

no stars out of

Wreck-It Ralph (November 25/12)

Wreck-It Ralph follows the title character (John C. Reilly), a video game villain, as he grows tired of his nefarious reputation and endeavors to change his reputation, with his ongoing efforts inevitably wreaking havoc in the crowded arcade within which he resides. There's little doubt that Wreck-It Ralph fares best during its opening stretch, as the movie, which opens with an irresistible sequence revolving around a self-help group for video game baddies (including Street Fighter's Zangief, Super Mario Bros.' Bowser, and a ghost from Pac Man), boasts a pervasively lighthearted feel that's heightened by both the stellar voice work and the lightening-fast pacing. It's only as the narrative proper begins to kick in that Wreck-It Ralph begins to lose its hold on the viewer, with the thinness of the plot growing more and more problematic as the film stumbles into its colorful yet almost egregiously loud midsection - as filmmaker Rich Moore, working from a script by Phil Johnston and Jennifer Lee, eschews smaller character moments in favor of over-the-top and exhausting action sequences. The progressively uninvolving atmosphere is exacerbated by an emphasis on familiar and downright stale elements (eg Ralph's friendship with a scrappy outsider named Vanellope), and it's subsequently not surprising to note that the movie peters out to a distressingly demonstrable degree in the buildup to its frenetic and overwhelming final stretch. (It goes without saying, too, that the film is mostly lacking in the heart that one has come to associate with Disney's animated endeavors.) The end result is a passable yet disappointing effort from the so-called Mouse House, with the movie unable to live up to the almost impossibly high bar set by modern Disney releases like Winnie the Pooh and Tangled.

out of

© David Nusair