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Book Image Babe

Rated G
Amazon.com essential video
The surprise hit of 1995, this splendidly entertaining family film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture, director, and screenplay, and deservedly won the Oscar for its subtly ingenious visual effects. Babe is all about the title character, a heroic little pig who's been taken in by the friendly farmer Hoggett (Oscar nominee James Cromwell), who senses that he and the pig share "a common destiny." Babe, a popular mischief-maker the Australian farm, is adopted by the resident border collie and raised as a puppy, befriended by Ferdinand the duck (who thinks he's a rooster), and saves the day as a champion "sheep-pig." Filled with a supporting cast of talking barnyard animals and a chorus of singing mice (courtesy of computer enhancements and clever animatronics), this frequently hilarious, visually imaginative movie has already taken its place as a family classic with timeless appeal. --Jeff Shannon


Book Image Court Jester

Amazon.com
Danny Kaye spoofs Robin Hood and Scaramouche in this inventive slapstick swashbuckler. Portraying the clownish but good-hearted entertainer Hawkins, he infiltrates the court of the corrupt Basil Rathbone (up to his usual brand of cruel villainy) disguised as the legendary king of jesters, Giacomo. After a court sorceress hypnotizes Hawkins into believing he is also a legendary assassin, Hawkins has more identities than he can keep straight, and Kaye zips back and forth between them at, literally, a snap of the fingers. Comic highlights include a wonderful sword fight with Rathbone in which he constantly switches identities, and the classic "chalice from the palace/vessel with pestle" wordplay as Hawkins plays "hide the poison" and forgets where it is. With comely Glynis Johns as his spy-in-arms love interest, Angela Lansbury as the scheming princess, and Mildred Natwick as the dotty spellcaster, this is Danny Kaye at his comic best. --Sean Axmaker


Book Image Mary Poppins

Amazon.com essential video
There is only one word that comes close to accurately describing the enchanting Mary Poppins , and that term was coined by the movie itself: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! Even at 2 hours and 20 minutes, Disney's pioneering mixture of live action and animation (based on the books by P.L. Travers) still holds kids spellbound. Julie Andrews won an Oscar as the world's most magically idealized nanny ("practically perfect in every way," and complete with lighter-than-air umbrella), and Dick Van Dyke is her clownishly charming beau, Bert the chimney sweep. The songs are also terrific, ranging from bright and cheery ("A Spoonful of Sugar") to dark and cheery (the Oscar-winning "Chim Chim Cher-ee") to touchingly melancholy ("Feed the Birds"). Many consider Mary Poppins to be the crowning achievement of Walt Disney's career--and it was the only one of his features to be nominated for a best picture Academy Award until Beauty and the Beast in 1991. --Jim Emerson


Book Image Monsters, Inc.

Rated G
Amazon.com
The folks at Pixar can do no wrong with Monsters Inc. , the studio's fourth feature film, which stretches the computer animation format in terms of both technical complexity and emotional impact. The giant, blue-furred James P. "Sulley" Sullivan (wonderfully voiced by John Goodman) is a scare monster extraordinaire in the hidden world of Monstropolis, where scaring kids is an imperative in order to keep the entire city running. Beyond the competition to be the best at the business, Sullivan and his assistant, the one-eyed Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal), discover what happens when the real world interacts with theirs in the form of a 2-year-old baby girl dubbed "Boo," who accidentally sneaks into the monster world with Sulley one night. Director Pete Doctor and codirectors David Silverman and Lee Unkrich follow the Pixar (Toy Story) blueprint with an imaginative scenario, fun characters, and ace comic timing. By the last heart-tugging shot, kids may never look at monsters the same, nor artists at what computer animation can do in the hands of magicians. --Doug Thomas


Book Image My Fair Lady

Amazon.com essential video
Hollywood's legendary "woman's director," George Cukor (The Women, The Philadelphia Story ), transformed Audrey Hepburn into street-urchin-turned-proper-lady Eliza Doolittle in this film version of the Lerner and Loewe musical. Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady stars Rex Harrison as linguist Henry Higgins (Harrison also played the role, opposite Julie Andrews, on stage), who draws Eliza into a social experiment that works almost too well. The letterbox edition of this film on video certainly pays tribute to the pageantry of Cukor's set, but it also underscores a certain visual stiffness that can slow viewer enthusiasm just a tad. But it's really star wattage that keeps this film exciting, that and such great songs as "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." Actor Jeremy Brett, who gained a huge following later in life portraying Sherlock Holmes, is quite electric as Eliza's determined suitor. --Tom Keogh


Book Image National Velvet

Amazon.com essential video
This classic family film made a star of 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor in the title role as spunky Velvet Brown, a girl who's determined to enter her horse, Pie, in the Grand National Steeplechase. Critic Pauline Kael called it "One of the most likeable movies of all time." Mickey Rooney costars as a young man who helps Velvet train Pie for the big race. At the last minute, Velvet herself has to ride Pie in the tournament and cuts her hair to pass for a jockey. Anne Revere won an Oscar as Velvet's mother, as did editor Robert J. Kern, who cut together a terrifically exciting horse race. Donald Crisp and Angela Lansbury are also featured as members of the Brown family. --Jim Emerson


Book Image Princess Bride, The

Rated PG
Amazon.com essential video
Screenwriter William Goldman's novel The Princess Bride earned its own loyal audience on the strength of its narrative voice and its gently satirical, hyperbolic spin on swashbuckled adventure that seemed almost purely literary. For all its derring-do and vivid over-the-top characters, the book's joy was dictated as much by the deadpan tone of its narrator and a winking acknowledgement of the clichés being sent up. Miraculously, director Rob Reiner and Goldman himself managed to visualize this romantic fable while keeping that external voice largely intact: using a storytelling framework, avuncular Grandpa (Peter Falk) gradually seduces his skeptical grandson (Fred Savage) into the absurd, irresistible melodrama of the title story. And what a story: a lowly stable boy, Westley (Cary Elwes), pledges his love to the beautiful Buttercup (Robin Wright), only to be abducted and reportedly killed by pirates while Buttercup is betrothed to the evil Prince Humperdinck. Even as Buttercup herself is kidnapped by a giant, a scheming criminal mastermind, and a master Spanish swordsman, a mysterious masked pirate (could it be Westley?) follows in pursuit. As they sail toward the Cliffs of Insanity... The wild and woolly arcs of the story, the sudden twists of fate, and, above all, the cartoon-scaled characters all work because of Goldman's very funny script, Reiner's confident direction, and a terrific cast. Elwes and Wright, both sporting their best English accents, juggle romantic fervor and physical slapstick effortlessly, while supporting roles boast Mandy Patinkin (the swordsman Inigo Montoya), Wallace Shawn (the incredulous schemer Vizzini), and Christopher Guest (evil Count Rugen) with brief but funny cameos from Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, and Peter Cook. --Sam Sutherland


Book Image Princess Diaries, The

Rated G
Amazon.com
A thoroughly engaging fairy tale that's family friendly without being condescending, The Princess Diaries is your basic Cinderella makeover story given a fresh, affectionate twist courtesy of a game, energetic cast and a screenplay that skirts schmaltz in favor of gentle, effective comedy. Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is a frizzy-haired, glasses-wearing 15-year-old girl whose two highest ambitions are to become invisible and to get a few smooches from the slickly attractive school heartthrob. As a girl who can't stand being the center of attention so much that she throws up during debate class, she's stunned and horrified when her coolly continental grandmother (Julie Andrews) shows up and informs her that she's the crown princess of the European principality Genovia. Soon enough, Mia has to undertake "princess lessons" (and a makeover) from her queenly grandmother, and eventually she blossoms into a confident, radiant girl--despite the worries and pressure that her newfound status brings. What makes The Princess Diaries work is director Garry Marshall's guileless, irony-free approach to the material (based on Meg Cabot's novel). In comparison to most snarky, ultra-hip teen comedies, The Princess Diaries is refreshingly and enjoyably square, content to win you over on charm alone and not a slick bag of tricks. Hathaway is a charismatic, appealing role model with a sharp sense of comic timing, and Andrews--who came to stardom as the object of a makeover supreme in My Fair Lady on Broadway--is at her regal best whether teaching Mia the proper royal wave or learning how to eat a corndog. Both leading ladies are complemented by a finely tuned cast, including Hector Elizondo as Genovia's head of security (and romantic counterpart to Andrews), Heather Matarazzo as Mia's best pal, and Robert Schwartzman as the good guy who ultimately wins Mia's heart. All in all, a royal pleasure. --Mark Englehart


Book Image Sound of Music, The

Amazon.com essential video
Some people may sneer at this 1965 musical, but the truth is the film has earned its status as a perennially watchable romantic-drama, largely on the strength of a fun story and chemistry between stars Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Veteran filmmaker Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still ) mostly stays out of the way of the film's appealing elements, which include a based-on-fact tale of Austria's von Trapp family, who fled their Nazi-occupied country in 1938. Andrews is delightful and even fascinating as Maria, who sheds her tomboyish ways as a novice nun to accept the mantle of adulthood, becoming matron of the motherless von Trapp clan. Plummer is matinee-idol handsome and gives a smart performance to boot, and the cast of young people and kids who make up the singing von Trapp children make a strong impression. Based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical, the score includes such winners as "Maria" and the future John Coltrane hit "My Favorite Things." --Tom Keogh



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