2008: Not an Exceptional Year for Kid’s Movies, but These Are Certainly the Best
5 Horton Hears a Who!
You might wonder how a Dr. Suess picture book is long enough to turn into a full length feature film. The answer, is by adding layers and layers of action with deeper and deeper metaphors all with the message that we should just all get along. Fortunately, that’s the message of the original book too. Being turned into an hour and a half non-rhyming movie doesn’t do much for Dr. Suess’ original story, but the book’s illustrations are a wonderful way to show off what CGI can do. The graphics manage to beautifully capture the whimsy of Dr. Suess’ world without verging on the nearly grotesque as in past Dr. Suess movies, such as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
4 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa
Although the common wisdom says that a sequel is never as good as the original, this movie argues otherwise. Although the characters are the same and it’s more or less the same gags, the tone is mellower and less frantic. After deciding to return to the Central Park Zoo the quirky band of misfit animals manage to escape from Madagascar but make it no farther than the plains of the Sahara, which happens to be where Alex the lion was born. In theory, the plot deals with reunions between each of the animals meeting with their own species as it lives in the wild but the focus is still more on cutesy jokes and mischievous penguins. But since the plot is pretty thin to start out with, that’s not such a bad thing.
3 The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
The makers of Prince Caspian make no attempt to update the Chronicles of Narnia for our more cynical times and the movie is more beautiful for it. Even if in certain details it isn’t true to C.S. Lewis’ book, the atmosphere stays loyal to the original’s innocent sense of nobility and adventure. This isn’t a movie for preschoolers and includes plenty of violence; although it’s not too gory and older kids will be excited to be allowed to watch a movie with actual battles in it. It’s not our fault that kids can be callous. Those battles also give play to one of the movies great strengths which is the beautiful color and movement in every single frame. If you were to take a screenshot at any point in the movie you’d end up with a beautiful picture straight out of our dreams of chivalry and magic lands.
2 Kung Fu Panda
First, a warning: No matter how many times we see this movie, we continuously crave noodles afterward. Otherwise however, the movie has few drawbacks. Po, the clumsy comic-book nerd turned accidental warrior, is voiced by Jack Black at his best and by far least annoying. The supporting cast is also star-studded, with the group of warriors known as the Furious Five voiced by Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross. It’s got a nice, sweet message about how anyone has the power to achieve their biggest dreams and the importance of teamwork. But the fun part is the subtle and affectionate mockery of martial arts movies, not excluding The Karate Kid. Particularly entertaining is the classic training montage that lets us watch as Po goes from bungling ball of fur to round, tubby kung-fu master.
If there was ever a movie that let you say “sci-fi futuristic dystopia” and “adorable” together, then this is it. Wall-E is a cute little robot left to roam the Earth after it has become a landfill that is no longer safe for humans to inhabit. He is a wide-eyed naïve trash compactor who, despite being the hero, never speaks more than one word at a time and even that is rare. The heroine and love interest, if you can call it that, is a robot named EVE who has come to check Earth for signs of habitability. When she is summoned back to the space station where the humans live, Wall-E hitches a ride to follow her and stumbles through teaching the humans a lesson about reconnecting with the Earth, their own humanity and the simple joys of life. The lack of speech can make this either very easy or very difficult for young children to follow, depending on their learning style and attention span, but older children and adults will have no problem. In fact, the message probably could have been conveyed with a little more subtlety but we’ll forgive it. That adorable robotic face could get away with much worse.
We maintain that this wasn’t a great year for kid’s movies but if you disagree make your point here!