Published on: 2nd January, 2010
2009 Perry’s Previews Top 10 G/PG-rated films
2009 is a fantastic year for G and PG-rated family films, especially in the animated category. I watched and reviewed 25 films in print, radio, and/or TV. I met and interviewed eight outstanding filmmakers at press tours, film festivals, and premier screenings, truly exciting for a 9-year old film critic!
I want to thank all of them and my legions of fans for their interest and support. I am happy to tell you that I recently won an award for my movie review column on “We Chinese in America,” a weekly San Diego newspaper. Here are my top ten films for 2009, let me know what you think. My extended reviews and interviews can be found on:
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/perryspreviews
5 starfish films:
Azur & Asmar (animation)
(clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80WFVB1EHT0, DVD available on Amazon)
This is a visually stunning movie. The breathtaking colors capture the flair of the Arabian Nights. I especially liked the vibrant flowers. This movie is about courage, sacrifice, love, and brotherhood. It is one of my all time favorite movies! The director is French animation master Michel Ocelot who invited me to meet him in San Francisco at the movie premier in March. It was my first director interview, a truly wonderful, enchanted experience!
Azur and Asmar are nursed under the loving care of Asmar’s mother, whom Azur called “Nanny”. Azur is a fair-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed boy. Asmar is a brown-skinned, hazel-eyed, and black-haired boy. Asmar’s mother told the boys stories of a faraway homeland and the Djinn Fairy, more beautiful than any diamond, waiting to be set free by a handsome prince. When Azur grew up, he sailed over the vast, dark seas, in search of the imprisoned Djinn Fairy, and was reunited with Asmar and his mother after Azur’s ruthless father drove them away. Azur was initially rejected for his blue eyes, which were thought to bring bad luck. The quest to save the fairy is a rocky one. Through torment and trial together, the brothers finally conquered all their enemies.
My favorite scene is the garden of Asmar’s mother, a garden full of imaginary flowers, overflowing with spectacular blossoms, more beautiful than any other real gardens I have ever seen! The most moving scene was when Asmar sacrificed his own life to help Azur win the Djinn Fairy.
Martin Luther King Jr. would be overjoyed to see this movie because it represents his ideals that men “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character”. Despite Azur and Asmar’s differences from the outside, their blood was the same color.
Nothing can break the bond between two brothers.
The Princess & the frog (animation)
What if the girl that the Frog Prince kissed in the fairytale was not a princess, would the magic still work? You will find the answer in the magical new Disney animated musical. One of the amazing achievements of this movie is in the large number of superb supporting characters, each with a rich and unique personality. The visual style is stunning. I liked when the golden light and the water surrounded Tiana and Naveen.
I love the storyline because it is fascinating and keeps you guessing what is going to happen next. I have many favorite scenes, one of them is when Ray the firefly died, he became a star, right next to Evangeline, the evening star! The funniest scene was when Tiana said, “Just one kiss,” then Naveen the frog prince said, “Unless you beg for more!” I thought these two scenes are genius touches.
This is the first Disney animation featuring an African American heroine. When I interviewed director John Musker at Disney D23 expo, he said the team wanted to do something different that has not been done before. When I compared Tiana and many other Disney princesses from older movies, I noticed an immediate difference: The other princesses were mostly wishful and lazy, waiting for some prince to deliver them to salvation. Tiana, however, is self-reliant, who also reforms a lazy prince and teaches him why work is important.
The Princess and the Frog is about love, sacrifice, dreams, and how to make your dreams come true. When you know what your dreams are, you must pursue them with hard work.
4.5 starfish films:
Pixar’s 10th film is my personal favorite one from that studio. My interview with director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera made it even more special. While heading toward his dream home in his floating house to the remote “Paradise Falls”, the lost world in South America that he and his deceased wife Ellie always wanted to go, 78-year-old Carl finds an unwitting stowaway on his front porch: a chubby 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer named Russell.
Together, Carl and Russell explored the forest with their newly-discovered exotic friend that Russell named “Kevin.” Soon, they discovered that the faded hero and nature explorer Charles Muntz has been chasing Kevin for over 50 years at Paradise Falls. To save Kevin, Carl and Russell must go through an unimaginable adventure that changes their lives forever.
I love the dazzling actions, amazing visual effects, beautiful music, and strong morale. I noticed that the mood of the music changes along with the storyline, sometimes happy, sometimes sad. I saw both the 2-D and 3-D versions. I prefer the 3-D because it looks more epic and exciting! I also love the drawings, especially of Kevin and her chicks. The only flaw is that I felt the scene of Muntz chasing Carl and Russell up and down the ladders when he was approaching centennial age is not realistic.
“Up” is about escape, friendship, and connections. When Ellie passed away, it is like a balloon flying away, all that is left is the string. Carl tries to hold on to the string as long as he could, until one day he discovers a new balloon, so he could finally let go the old string… My favorite scene is the last scene. After their long and arduous quest to explore nature’s wonders, Carl and Russell each found someone to love.
Between the Folds (documentary)
What do you see in a piece of paper? The award-winning film “Between the Folds” shows that not only can you draw and write on it, but also create a true masterpiece of art out of a simple piece of paper. I first saw this film at the San Diego Asian Film Festival in Oct and loved it immediately, also because I fell in love with making origami starting at five years old after seeing an amazing origami exhibit at San Diego Mingei Museum featuring many of the artists in this film.
Origami, the art of paper folding, is a diverse and complex field. The instruction is simple: you have to change a piece of paper into a 3D shape by folding only, no scissors, no glue. Origami is like art, math, and engineering combined. It makes math beautiful to look at! My favorite piece was the “choreographer” Chris Palmer’s flower tower. His design was both 2D and 3D. You could press the design down to make it 2D, then push it up and make it 3D. It’s dazzling to see the transformation.
There is much debate about technique vs. art in the movie. I think the essence of true art lies in its simplicity. I love origami with wavy unfolded paper. It is harder to fold simpler. Technique is essential, but you should not let technique overtake your artistic ingenuity.
This movie shows the true magic of the art of paper folding. It also shows that mathematicians and paper-folders aren’t as different as we often think. The cinematography is dazzling. I thought the ending was a bit rushed.
Henri Matisse once said, “Much of beauty that arises in art comes from the struggle an artist wages with his limited medium.” I think that’s the perfect moral for this film. I will be interviewing director Vanessa Gould and look forward to that!
My Beijing Birthday (documentary)
Can a relationship form between a middle-aged New Yorker and a group of Chinese school kids? After 12 years, would they still remember one another? You will find all the answers in the moving documentary “My Beijing Birthday.”
In 1996, New Yorker Howie Snyder went to China to discover the hearts of the Chinese children. He started taking comedy classes with a bunch of 6 to 8 year olds in Beijing, and their teacher Mrs. Ma. He discovered many extraordinary things and threw them a birthday party at a Beijing McDonalds that they would never forget. Twelve years later in 2008, Howie revisited China to work on the Beijing Olympics and reunited with the kids who had grown into young adults.
Howie is the main character and director of the film. He is smart, humorous, has a good heart, and speaks flawless Chinese. Mrs. Ma is another fascinating character. She is a strict teacher with “tough love” who treats everyone equally, including Howie. One of the funniest scenes in the film is when Mrs. Ma disciplines Howie when he was late for class.
I noticed some irony in the film. For example, the Chinese kids’ favorite food was McDonalds, even though China is renowned for its own delicate cuisines. Also, Mrs. Ma used comedy to help her overcome the grief and isolation when she was sent to the countryside to labor during the Cultural Revolution.
This movie is about cross-cultural friendship. Howie observed that the Beijingers are very much like the New Yorkers: tough on the outside, tender in the inside. I met and interviewed Howie at the San Diego Asian Film Festival in October. He said he planned to follow the children and make another movie about them in another 5-6 years.
You may speak different languages, but friendship speaks only one language.
Do you ever wish that you had two mothers, a Real Mother and an “Other” Mother? If you had an Other Mother, what would she be like? A girl named Coraline is about to find out! Coraline had just moved to The Pink Palace and finds her life thrown in turmoil when she is trapped with her “friendly” Other Mother, who gradually shows her dark side and turns into a ruthless witch.
Coraline’s overworked real parents are too busy to afford what she wants, so she thinks her caring, button-eyed Other Mother is the solution, but she is actually the problem! Coraline’s new dim-witted friend Wybie’s black cat, whom Coraline nick-named “Wuss Puss”, starts going into the Other Mother’s world and begins to talk in a low, eerie voice. Wuss Puss warns Coraline, but it is too late, the Other Mother steals Coraline’s real parents. Coraline must call upon courage she never knew she had to free her parents and herself to the outside world.
With amazing 3-D effect, “Coraline” is a spectacular movie, and for every scene, you want to know what happens next!
Sometimes imagination can become reality, so don’t mess with it.
Do you ever think that animals have it easy in the wild? Think again! The first feature film of the new “Disney Nature” series, “Earth”, tells the inspiring tales of three families of wild creatures, and their courage and determination to survive in the ever-changing world. It followed the adventures of a humpback whale family, a herd of elephants, and a mother with two polar bear cubs.
The saddest parts are when a sea lion is shredded in the jaws of “Jaws”- a great white shark, and when the polar bear father died because of Global Warming, which causes the sea ice to melt too fast for the bear to have enough hunting ground. My favorite part was when the Mandarin ducks had their first “flight test”. The challengers look like balls of fluff as they somersaulted into layers of fallen leaves below. They are bouncing in mid-air with their legs thrashing helplessly, and the leaves bouncing on their tiny, downy feathers. I couldn’t help chuckling every time I see them plunge head first down the tree!
The filmmakers have many advantages of the modern world, like a helicopter camera and a camera that shoots 1,000 frames per second and slows the speed down by 40 times. The pictures and technology made every movement of the animal a thing of grace and beauty. When the cheetah catches the springbok, the cheetah’s paws moved like they are “massaging” the prey.
“Earth” is the first documentary film that I reviewed. Many people may think documentary movies are not as exciting or magical as fictional movies, but this movie defies that perception. The vivid images are so vibrant and high resolution that I feel as if I was right there with the film crew! Even though it is not fiction, “Earth” has the power to move and inspire people to act quickly to slow down Global Warming.
We must do everything in our power to protect and preserve our ONE and ONLY home, Mother Earth.
The Japanese animation master Miyazaki movie is a story similar to “The Little Mermaid” with a Japanese twist. Ponyo, is a red fish with a human-like face and magic power. She was named by a 5-year-old Japanese boy Sosuke, who found her stuck in a bottle at the shore right beneath his house in a sea village. Ponyo transformed into a little girl because of her love for Sosuke who promised to take care of her. He even gave her ham which became her favorite food! But her transformation had shifted the balance of nature.
The funniest scene was when a superstitious old lady from the senior center thought that a tsunami was happening when Ponyo squirted water on her face. My favorite scene was when Ponyo jumped from fish to fish in the menacing black sea, and the sound of the waves deafening, reaching to pull the girl to her watery grave. I thought that scene was so imaginative. Jumping from fish to fish is actually a pretty ideal way of travel! The stunning visual style and the bright colors captured the mesmerizing scenes of the underwater world.
I wonder how Ponyo could be put in fresh water from the bucket and survive if she lived in the ocean all her life in salt water.
The movie is about courage, friendship, willpower, love, and the bond between a boy and a fish. Love is true magic, a magic that makes the impossible possible!
Fantastic Mr. Fox (animation)
Who do you think will win in a battle of will and wit, man or animal? Mr. Fox, who looks like a businessman in a smartly tailored suit, is the leader of the animal team in the 2-D stop-motion animated feature. A few years ago, he had promised his short-tempered wife, Mrs. Fox who was pregnant at the time, to never steal a chicken or livestock ever again after they were trapped in a cage while attempting to steal a chicken.
Mr. Fox then became a columnist for the animal newspaper, but with paltry readership. His wild animal instinct yearned to be in the action and dodge danger. He sneakily stole food and chickens from the meanest farmers in the neighborhood, Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. Mr. Fox must assemble an army of animals and use his wit, strategic thinking, and wild animal spirit to win the battle.
My favorite character is Mr. Fox: witty, smart, and charming. He is not careful and his strategies often backfire, because he thinks only of the thrill and reward, not of the risk and consequences of his actions. The film is about friendship, wit, trickery, and strategy. I like the visual style of the film. The fur looks so real, it moves when the animals talk or have facial expressions.
One obvious flaw is that the rat who guarded Bean’s cider cellar told Mr. Fox that his dying wish was to taste Bean’s cider, but I saw the rat sipping the very cider contentedly with a long straw earlier in the film!
Comparing to the 1970 book by Roald Nahl, I like the movie better because the characters are richer. There are new characters like Ash and Kristofferson in the movie that made the family dynamics more interesting. The visuals are more vivid and the story is funnier in the movie.
Before taking risks, think about not only the rewards, but also the consequences.
Oscar nominated shorts 2009
The five Oscar-nominated short films are truly magnificent. My favorite one is “Lavatory Lovestory.” A lonely female lavatory caretaker wishes she has someone to love. Suddenly, a flash of blue catches her eye! Flowers? And they are in the can that she collects money. It’s up to her to find the secret admirer.
“This Way up,” is an extraordinary film about father and son. The story starts when they are carrying the father’s deceased wife (the son’s mother), and the car gets crushed by a huge boulder. They finally race to the tomb when they see it….. Their spirits join the spirit of the mother, and they all take the adventure of a “death time” that beats the life time to the grave!
“Le Maison en Petits Cubes” (Pieces of Love), which won the Oscar for animated short film in 2009. An old, grumpy man in a huge, towering sea-side house takes the plunge when he got a set of scuba gear. He collected memories and pieces of love from his life that was buried under the vast ocean over time, but his wife haunted his memories of the past. In the bottom, he looked at the ocean floor, and remembered his childhood.
Pixar’s “Presto” is a magic show gone awry. A small rabbit, desperate to have a juicy orange carrot, is used in a magic show to be pulled out of a hat. Instead, the first time the magician attempts to pull him out, he gets a mouse trap! I like it when the magician is electrified and volts are streaming across his spiked hair. This is a hilarious movie!
Last, but not least, the film “Oktapoli” is a journey of two octopi in love who saved each other from being eaten as the next seafood entrée! The hilarious film can entertain adults and children alike!
I noticed that none of the five Oscar-nominated animated short films have spoken words. Action speaks louder than words indeed.
The Fan and the Flower (bonus short)
(clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tw1BprkiNgE )
Do machines ever get lonely? And what happens when they get lonely? In the 7-minute animated short “The Fan and the Flower,” you will meet an electric ceiling fan whose loneliness turned on high setting! Finally one day, the old lady who lived in the house bought a small plant and put her in the fan’s room. A most unusual love blossomed between the fan and the flower: The fan made clouds of wind and rays of light that captured the flower’s heart. In return, the plant showcased many stunning flowers in all sizes and shapes. She brought colors into the fan’s life, and he brought motion into hers. Though they could never touch each other physically, their spirits embrace with ease.
In the end, the fan made one brave move and sacrificed himself to save the flower when her life was in danger. Soon, the flower stunned the world with a miracle in remembrance of the fan.
I learned that the power of a movie does not depend on its length. Short films can be just as powerful as feature films. This one is the most powerful yet, because of the amazing imagination, the economy of images and narration, and the simple but enduring love story. I also enjoyed meeting and talking to Bill Plympton, the ward-winning director and animator of this film at ComiCon in July.
I first saw the film at the San Diego International Children’s Film Festival in July, where it is among the all-time favorites at the festival. Though it was made in 2005, I love it so much I have to include it as a “bonus entry.” It is a 5-starfish film!
The deeper essence of the movie, I believe, is to inspire humans to sacrifice more for their loved ones. The film is about love, friendship, sacrifice, and connection. Nothing can break love, not even death.
Perry Chen is an award-winning 9-year-old columnist, movie critic, and radio talk show host of “Perry Previews the Movies” on www.wsRadio.com. He has been featured on CBS Evening News, Fox, KUSI, San Diego Union Tribune, San Diego Family Magazine, San Diego Magazine, SDNN, The China Press, etc. He has been invited to numerous film festivals, movie premiers to interview prominent filmmakers, and walked on the red carpet.