Tag Archives: Family-Friendly

Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Cynics have called this film ‘predictable,’ but I loved it. Touching, character-driven, and inspirational, “Akeelah and the Bee” wins A’s from me. It reminds me of when I participated in spelling bees as a child. I was pretty good, but I never made it to the Nationals. To see young Akeelah do so, despite her impoverished background, is very moving.

Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) is an 11-year-old, highly intelligent black girl who lives in an Los Angeles urban community with few options. She shows an aptitude for spelling, but is not confident in her abilities. When her teacher notes that Akeelah is the smartest student in the class but seriously lacks motivation, she gives her a flyer for the school spelling bee.

Well, Akeelah breezes through that, and she is placed under the stern watch of Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne,) a former Harvard scholar haunted by tragic events in his past. Larabee is one those blokes who makes it almost impossible to please him, and Akeelah and he are initially at odds.

Akeelah finds a true friend and prepubescent love interest in fellow speller Javier (J.R. Villarreal)
and butts heads with her beautiful but stubborn mother, Tanya (Angela Bassett.) Meanwhile, she grieves for her dead father (played in flashbacks by Wolfgang Bodison) and worries for her brother Derrick-T (Eddie Steeples,)  who has taken up with Gangsta wannabees.

Her military brother Devon (Lee Thompson Young) loves her and supports her, encouraging her fledgling dreams to take flight. Gradually, however, she captures the interest of an entire community. The first thing you might notice about “Akeelah and the Bee” is the undeniable stage presence of Keke Palmer, who plays Akeelah.

This young girl has warmth and talent to spare. Laurence Fishbourne lends a lot of credibility to his character as Dr. Larabee who starts out not liking Akeelah much at all and gradually warms up to the girl’s charms. Angela Basset is also very believable as Akeelah’s deeply tired mother, who is frankly expecting to see her daughter flunk the spelling bee.

The characters are really well-written; it’s not really movie with villains, per se, but with different character
components who act and react with each other. The movie does not ignore the disturbing or sad elements (Akeelah’s dad is killed before the movie begins in a gangland shooting) but it makes them more manageable
somehow.

I first saw this movie when I was a kid and was happy to see it again. My opinion had not changed- it is still a very good movie. “Akeelah and the Bee” has a certain innocence without being naive and handles some troubling themes without forgetting to let the sunlight in.

It is a very special movie that should be appreciated by kids eight and up (those who are above the “Air Buddies” developmental stage, that is) and it will make kids and adults alike root for Akeelah, with all her grit and her might, against staggering adversity.

Frozen (2013)

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To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to “Frozen” when it hit theaters. The advertisements offered (as far as I could tell) corny jokes, typical animation, and the antics of an annoying comic-relief snowman. Cynical? Maybe. But that’s the way I felt, until I actually saw the movie and became a convert. Frozen is an adorable movie, and one that children are likely to love. For some reason expected Elsa, the ice queen to be some kind of deranged psycho, but I was was immediately compelled by her story. Even Olaf, a sidekick I’d been thoroughly prepared to dislike, had his moments.

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Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) is hidden like a leper for her volatile magical powers that make objects she comes into contact with turn to ice. Afraid of hurting her sunny and bewilderingly naive sister, Anna (voice of Kristen Bell,) she sits in a solitary room until tings go terribly wrong at the royal coronation and she takes to the wild. Anna, who hitherto wasn’t aware of her sister’s strange powers, goes of to find Elsa, accompanied by  gruff working man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff.) Kristoff loves his reindeer, Sven. Like, a lot. Anthropomorphic snowman Olaf (voice of Josh Gad) comes along, happy for the attention. Meanwhile, Hans (Santino Fontana,) Anna’s recently acquired crush guards the kingdom, and a permanent winter (which Elsa inadvertently caused) looms over the landscape.

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All the musical sequences were delightful with the exception of the ‘fixer-upper’ song performed by a group of mystical… trolls. That one just didn’t do it for me. Anna and Elsa were both well-written, but I was drawn more to Elsa, probably because I dig troubled characters. The animation was beautiful. The humor was a little hit or miss, but more often than not it hit it’s target. I love some of the little details like how Anna’s hair is a rat nest in the morning. Ever since I was a child I’ve been waiting for this- a princess who looked like a real person when she got up in the morning, before she put on her make-up, did her hair, and went out to face the world. Classic Disney princesses always look like they sleepwalked through the meadow to the beauty salon.

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The villain here is a little different as well, not only because he only reveals himself in the later portion of the movie, but because he isn’t the first thing people think of when they think of a villain. He’s handsome, well-groomed, and seems for all accounts and purposes to be quite charming. It’s never a bad idea to remind children that not all villains have moles and wild hair and yellow teeth, and feast on rat flesh in dark, dank dens. This movie isn’t one of the best kids’ films of all time, but it’s appealing, visually stunning, and sometimes even a little emotional. Find an excuse to see it, even if you have to take a friend’s kid to save your pride.

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