Movie Review: Rio (2011)

Hi guys!

Last weekend we had an opportunity to go see the new Dreamworks Animation movie Rio at the theater. We didn’t see it in 3D simply because it wasn’t playing in 3D at the time we wanted to go. But good old 2D CGI animation works just as well in my book, so I can’t say I was disappointed.

Rio is about Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network and Zombieland), a blue macaw living in small-town Minnesota with bookstore owner Linda (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up and Funny People). When ornithologist Sylvio (Bernardo de Paula) comes from Rio de Janeiro and tells Linda that Blu is one of the last of his kind, he implores her to fly to Rio with Blu to see if Blu and the last known blue macaw female would be compatible and possibly keep the species alive.

Of course, when Linda and Blu get to Rio, things aren’t quite that cut and dried. When Blu meets Jewel (Anne Hathaway, Love and Other Drugs and Get Smart), sparks fly but not quite in the way Sylvia and Linda might have hoped. When a boy breaks into the facility to steal the rare macaws, Blu and Jewel have to work together to survive…

Honestly, this movie was cute and probably one of the better animated features from Dreamworks. I don’t think it quite has the emotional pull of the first Ice Age movie and doesn’t come close to Pixar’s Up or Wall-E, but it was fun. The addition of Jamie Foxx (The Soloist and Dreamgirls) and Will i Am (The Black Eyed Peas) as birds Nico and Pedro was fun as they sang many of the musical scenes in the film. And George Lopez (TV’s Lopez Tonight and the George Lopez show) as the toucan Rafael and Tracy Morgan (TV’s 30 Rock) as the slobbering dog Luiz added quite a bit of humor as well.

Beyond that, though the movie was very colorful and cute, I just don’t get the fascination. That said, I don’t know that it matters. The target audience was families and my wife and daughters loved the film. So I’ll count it as a partial success.

The animation was smooth and gorgeous, so that wasn’t my problem. And the characters seemed to have good chemistry together. I just wasn’t all that sucked in by the story I guess. It was very family friendly however and had a number of positive messages.

According to IMDb, it’s already made nearly $40 million domestically in its first week, so I would expect it to quickly earn a profit on its reported $90 million budget in the next few weeks domestically and abroad.

If you have kids, Rio is a fun way to spend an hour and a half at the movie theater together. Have fun and let me know what you think!

–Fitz

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Book Review: Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science by Susan Hughes

Hi all!

Science and kids. For me, they’re like chocolate and peanut butter – a perfect mix. Unfortunately, science sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of standardized testing these days. Thankfully my daughters are in a school that promotes learning science and the art of experimentation from an early age. Even as young as kindergarten, both of my girls have been introduced to scientific concepts and techniques and hopefully will gain some of that thirst for exploration and explanation as they get older.

Books like Case Closed? by author Susan Hughes and illustrator Michael Wandelmaier can help show kids in a fun way how science is used in the real world with applications of science in other fields as diverse as archaeology, reconstruction of historical sailing vessels, and finding locations long lost to the desert sands. With each case, Hughes offers facts on how science, history, and investigation were used to discover the answers of nine different mysteries.

As a huge Egypt nut myself, I was engaged by the story of the lost mummy of the Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut. She was a powerful pharaoh about 3500 years ago who dressed and acted like a king because women were not allowed to take the throne. Through it all she found ways to support the arts and Egypt was graced with years of prosperity under her reign. Unfortunately, when her successor Thutmose III assumed the throne, all traces of Hatshepsut’s reign were wiped clean from the archaeological record. Her body was moved from her sarcophagus and thought lost for the ages.

Thousands of years later, when Dr. Zahi Hawass, chief archaeologist of Egypt, found a mummy in an undecorated tomb, there were signs that it could actually be a royal mummy. Could it be the lost mummy of Hatshepsut? Hawass was able to use modern technology to get details about the body without disturbing it too much physically. Using a CAT scanner, the same scanner used on living people to see the internal organs and structures inside a body, scientists were able to identify that the body was missing a tooth. A tooth had been found in a box found in the same tomb and they discovered that it was a perfect match for the mummy’s missing one. And with additional DNA testing, they concluded that the mummy’s DNA matched that of Hatshepsut’s grandmother. Mystery solved!

Other mysteries detailed in the book include finding an ancient city consumed by the desert sand, determining whether a Russian princess managed to escape certain death, and discovering whether it was possible to cross the Pacific ocean on an ancient raft. Each of the nine mysteries offers a setup, a discussion of the tools used, and the conclusions experts arrived at after processing the evidence and data. It’s amazing how much technology continues to illuminate about discoveries and mysteries tens, hundreds, or thousands of years old.

Hughes does a great job of clearly laying out the facts and the processes in a kid-friendly way. And Wandelmaier’s illustrations offer a great amount of detail in a colorful way sure to keep a child’s attention. I hope this book will inspire many children to form their own hypotheses and explore the many realms science hopes to unlock.

If you have a child interested in science who wants to learn more about a variety of topics, I can’t encourage you enough to pick up a copy of Case Closed?. Science can be fun and the only way we keep moving forward is by encouraging future generations to follow the scientific method. Who knows what inspired kids will discover in the next few decades and centuries?

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this great science book for kids below!

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DVD Review: Tom and Jerry Volume 1: Fur Flying Adventures

Hi again!

When I was a kid, Tom and Jerry cartoons were already in syndication and played regularly on Saturday mornings. That was back when there were only a handful of channels, not hundreds of channels like we have now. And back then I wasn’t much of a discriminating cartoon watcher. Whether it was Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Woody Woodpecker, Captain Caveman, Scooby-Doo, The Super Friends, or many others, I was typically glued to our old black and white TV with my bowl of Fruit Loops every Saturday morning.

Now as a parent, there are many more choices in the digital wasteland of television. A few new cartoons still get my attention now and then, such as 2011’s Young Justice and the continued Clone Wars adventures, but I can’t say that I really like shows like Spongebob Squarepants or Phineas and Ferb as an adult. As a result, I’ve found myself looking at older cartoons on DVD as a solution when we’re looking to watch something as a family.

Tom and Jerry Volume 1: Fur Flying Adventures collects fourteen different Tom and Jerry classics on one DVD for about an hour of cartoons. Most of these episodes were from the original Hanna-Barbera era from 1940-1958, but a few are from the Chuck Jones era (1963-1967) after he left Warner Bros. Cartoons in 1963.

Episodes on the DVD include:

  • Barbecue Brawl (1956)
  • Happy Go Ducky (1958)
  • Hic-cup Pup (1954)
  • Little Quacker (1950)
  • Rock ‘n Rodent (1967) (Chuck Jones)
  • Neapolitan Mouse (1954)
  • Pet Peeve (1954)
  • Pup on a Picnic (1955)
  • O-Solar Meow (1967) (Chuck Jones)
  • Robin Hoodwinked (1958)
  • Guided Mouse-ille (1967)
  • Timid Tabby (1957)
  • The Vanishing Duck (1958)
  • That’s my Mommy (1955)

It was fun watching these with my daughters. We especially enjoyed the shorts with “Ducky” – the baby duck that somehow gets into all kinds of trouble with Tom, who of course wants to eat him. I still remembered “Little Quacker,” “The Vanishing Duck,” and “That’s My Mommy” from my own childhood. And it’s definitely fun to revisit those days every now and again.

One that I didn’t remember seeing was “Robin Hoodwinked,” which included Tuffy, Jerry’s younger sidekick destined to get into trouble and somehow survive it all. It was fun seeing Jerry and Tuffy (in his cute diaper) rush into Nottingham Castle to save the captured Robin Hood and help him escape.

Also included on the DVD are a couple of trailers for more recent Warner Brothers productions, including Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (the latest Scooby-Doo animated series to hit the air) and Tom & Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes, which was released just a few months ago. We enjoyed the new series and the new film, which brought some of our favorite characters back into the limelight.

If you’re looking for a great way to keep your kids occupied for an hour, I’d definitely recommend picking up Tom and Jerry Volume 1: Fur Flying Adventures on DVD. If you’re looking for a larger, more organized collection of Tom and Jerry shorts, there are other options available to you including the Tom and Jerry: Spotlight Collections and Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this DVD and other Tom and Jerry classics at Barnes & Noble:

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