Based on Mary Stewart’s classic children’s book “The Little Broomstick,” we meet frizzy haired Mary, a young girl sent to live with her great aunt Charlotte by her parents as they prepare to move. Overcome by boredom, she ventures out in to the wilderness and follows a mysterious black cat in to the nearby forest. There she finds an old broomstick embedded in an old tree, as well as a mysterious glowing flower called the “Fly-by-Night.” The influences of Studio Ghibli are all over the place in Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s animated adventure “Mary and the Witch’s Flower.” From “Whisper of the Heart,” “Spirited Away,” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” there are so many nods and winks to the aforementioned properties that it becomes kind of a treat to see it all unfold.
2017 had so many good films that just one list or even two were not enough. This list is all about fun. Movies that are fun to watch and have something to offer that may not be the top top best of the year but damn close. These are films you want to watch with friends, even one for the kids. Watch these at home in PJs or with a drink (hot cocoa is the drink of choice for one of those films of course).
I vividly remember watching “Rockin’ with the Chipmunks”back in the very early nineties where I recall loving the scenes of Alvin dancing along with Michael Jackson to “Beat It” and “Smooth Criminal.” Mostly a cash grab for the fans, “Rockin with the Chipmunks” is a brief history of the novelty group, spliced in with comedy skits and the members singing vintage rock and roll in their modern animation. The animation for the most part is dicey and fuzzy at best, allowing for a hazy series of music videos, but back then if you were a Chipmunks fanatic, you didn’t care.
Nickelodeon’s “Hey Arnold!” was one of the banner animated series from the heyday of the 1990’s. It was a subtle, sweet, and often funny coming of age show with a lot of heart and some brilliantly memorable moments that evoked pure emotion from its audience. Despite ending in 2004, Nickelodeon gave the series a final send off in 2002 with a flimsy and absolutely wretched big screen film that did nothing to close the world we’d come to love. Most of all, it did nothing for the story arc of main character Arnold, who spent a majority of the series under the care of his elderly eccentric grandparents.
Mid-way through the series, we learned that Arnold’s parents were explorers who spent their days traveling, and the last they ever saw of him was before they left for one last adventure to help a village suffering from a mysterious illness.
The long out of print “Rock-a-Doodle” from animation master Don Bluth has finally stormed its way on to HD thanks to Olive Films, and it’s a blast to the past for me. I fondly remember seeing a lot of the ads for “Rock-a-Doodle” as well as coming across TV spots and ads in comic books. Sadly, the actual cinematic experience was a bust, even for an eight year old moi. It was a dull, awful movie then, and it’s a pretty dull and awful movie, now. I doubt even the best of nineties nostalgia geeks can find a gem in this mess of a movie. I spent a good number of years putting “Rock-a-Doodle” in the back burner of my memory, and I realize it was for good reason.
Although I absolutely love “Thriller,” I’ve never been one to associate Michael Jackson with Halloween, but apparently someone does. “Michael Jackson’s Halloween” isn’t just an animated special for the whole family, but it’s classic Michael Jackson. It has his music, it inspires individuality, and it further emphasizes Michael Jackson as something of a mythical figure that centered his life on defending children against sinister forces lurking in the shadows. Suffice to say “Michael Jackson’s Halloween” is a weird animated special, but it’s an oddly entertaining one that will work if you’re a Jackson buff.
Ray Bradbury’s “The Halloween Tree” is easily one of the greatest Halloween movies ever made. It’s not just a movie about the holiday, but it’s a celebration of what the holiday stands for. For years Halloween has been incorrectly identified as a holiday that celebrates Satanism and evil, when in reality, Halloween is about observing death and celebrating life. Even the famous colors black and orange represent the ideas of death and life. The fantastic adventure we witness in “The Halloween Tree” is absolutely compelling while also helping to destroy the stigmas that often come with the ancient holiday. Mostly though, Bradbury’s story is about how we should learn to accept that there is a certain beauty in the concept of death as well as the concept of life.
At best I’d say that “A Witches’ Ball” is a serviceable movie. It’s exactly the kind of movie you’d find at Walmart one day that you’d probably buy for your daughter in hopes of distracting her with a fantasy while you’re preparing for dinner or something. It’s mediocre and hits about all the right beats for a movie heavily aimed toward small girls. Director Justin G. Dyck is a man whose entire filmography revolves around filming cheaply made, holiday oriented, family films and “A Witches’ Ball” s right up his alley.