This latest edition of Scott’s Film Geek Journal was so big, I split it into two. It used to be that family films scraped the bottom of the barrel when it came to quality cinema. But over the last few years, I have been intrigued by the strides made in the genre of family fantasy adventure and have rediscovered some of the great films of old.
SCOTT’S FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 37
THE FROG PRINCE (a.k.a. CANNON MOVIE TALES: THE FROG PRINCE) (1986) – The young girls have been raised as princesses by their kindly but befuddled uncle (Clive Revill). Henrietta (Helen Hunt) is glamorous, poised and a total bitch, especially to her younger sister. That sister is Zora (Aileen Quinn), who enjoys singing, running around the castle and playing with her golden ball. But it turns out only one of them is a legitimate princess (which I guess means that their deceased mother was whoring around on the king, but the film doesn’t mention that).
Zora is very lonely and in need of a friend. She gets her wish one day when Ribbit, the Frog Prince (John Paragon) leaps out of the palace fountain. No ordinary frog, Ribbit is six feet tall, well-dressed and can talk, since and dance. He also is in need of a friend and hits it off with Princess Zora. When it turns out that only one of the sisters will be declared a princess, Ribbit resolves to teach her how to conduct herself as a lady.
This was one of the Cannon Movie Tales, an ambitious project from the Cannon Group in the 1980s. Their idea was to film a bunch of live-action family films, based on fairy tales. They spent money on casting some big names (or at least big for Cannon) and saved money everywhere else by reusing sets and getting cheap props. They committed to this in a big way, filming a bunch of these films simultaneously or back-to-back. The idea was to challenge Disney’s dominance of family films. It was a pretty good idea, especially since Disney itself was in a major rut at this point and didn’t really turn themselves around until THE LITTLE MERMAID in 1989.
Unfortunately, their first Cannon Movie Tale, RUMPLESTILTSKIN, bombed at the box office and that threw all of the other Cannon Movie Tales in doubt. It was a strange occurrence since the Golan-Globus team rarely admitted defeat. But this time, they scrapped the Cannon Movie Tales idea. There were supposed to be 16 films shot, but the Cannon team canceled the project with just nine in the can. That still left nine films. Rather than go through the expense of giving them all wide releases, the rest of the films got either very limited theatrical releases or went straight to video.
THE FROG PRINCE has a date that precedes RUMPLESTILTSKIN, so I’m not sure what the deal is there. This one had Aileen Quinn as the big star, and she’s the best thing here. People may remember her from ANNIE, a film I didn’t like at all. But Quinn is a talent and she belts out the tunes and embraces the role of Zora here. John Paragon is a fun if creepy presence as the six foot frog. Oh, if only the songs were any good. Back then, it was assumed that all family films needed to be musicals. Even Disney didn’t ditch this for a while. But the songs in the Disney flicks were at least memorable, while the songs in the Cannon Movie Tales are pretty terrible, as cheap as the productions.
Likewise, while they work hard to shift the romantic relationship between the princess and the frog in the original story with one of friendship, there are a few moments that send chills up the spine. If the mere presence of Ribbit isn’t enough (check out the trailer to get a good glimpse of him), it’s certainly a problem that he’s addressing a 12 year old girl as “scrumptious” and “ravishing.” Keep it in your folds, ya lily pad hopping pedo.
Still, a moderately enjoyable film from a more innocent yet less enlightened age. ★★1/2 (out of ★★★★)
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (2012) – This animated film goes with the conceit that monsters are real and not terribly evil. Instead, they live in fear of humans, who have persecuted them for years out of fear and superstition. For this purpose, Dracula (Adam Sandler) has opened the Hotel Transylvania, the only place on the planet where monsters can be themselves instead of hiding in the shadows. He also uses the place to keep his daughter, Mavis (Selena Gomez), locked up. But now, as the hotel has a big bash celebrating Mavis’ 118th birthday, a human (Andy Samberg) has managed to get past all the dangerous security designed to keep them out. To avoid a panic, Dracula disguises the human as another monster. Drac tries to get him to leave while he watches his daughter develop an attraction to the new visitor.
As a rule, I avoid Happy Madison productions. I believe that Adam Sandler is the worst thing in Hollywood right now, not just because of the films he stars in, but also the films he gets produced for all of his friends. I didn’t come to this decision lightly. Like most people out there, I really enjoy BILLY MADISON, HAPPY GILMORE and THE WEDDING SINGER. I don’t even mind a few later ones like 50 FIRST DATES and ANGER MANAGEMENT. But all of these films were a long time ago. What has he done recently? BIG DADDY, MR. DEEDS, THE LONGEST YARD, CLICK, I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY, YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN, FUNNY PEOPLE, GROWN UPS (which gets a sequel this summer – yippee), JUST GO WITH IT, JACK AND JILL and THAT’S MY BOY are the types of films that are at best painfully average and at worst the types of films you would force Al-Qaeda members to watch in order to get them to spill secrets. And then, there’s the films for his friends: both DEUCE BIGELOW films, THE ANIMAL, THE HOT CHICK, MASTER OF DISGUISE, DICKIE ROBERTS: FORMER CHILD STAR, THE BENCHWARMERS, STRANGE WILDERNESS, THE HOUSE BUNNY, PAUL BLART: MALL COP, BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR and the RULES OF ENGAGEMENT TV series. Yes, all of these came about because Hollywood owes Sandler favors.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA is not a Happy Madison production and thank God. I would hate to have to make an official exception to my rule. But it was produced by Sandler and his friend Alan Covert (who went from starring in GRANDMA’S BOY to writing right-wing political children’s books, I shit you not), which makes it one in all but name. And that’s a problem because I kind of liked this one.
The film starts out rough, very rough. There’s a lot of toilet humor involving poop and farts and honestly, that kind of stuff has just never been funny to me. Not making any great moral claim here, but it’s an easy route to take and not a funny one. Fortunately, things perk up when we get to know Jonathan and Mavis. The film gets kind of sweet and much funnier. Yes, Sandler brings his friends here too, but most of them do a good job (except David Spade as the Invisible Man – seriously screw you, David). Not a classic, but definitely a film I’ll be watching again. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
THE CROODS (2013) – At the dawn of time, a family of Neanderthals lives by one motto, “never not be afraid.” They also haven’t mastered grammar. The patriarch of the family (Nicholas Cage) is always driving this point home. This message is slowly becoming lost on his teenage daughter, Eep (Emma Stone), who longs to see the world but her father won’t allow it. When a cro-magnon boy (Ryan Reynolds) arrives, he takes the family on a wild adventure and the father learns that sometimes you need to go forth in the world without fear and allow your children to grow.
Wait a minute, this is practically the same plot as HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA! Eh, that’s fine. This plot gets visited by more than these two films and I only have a problem if it isn’t done with any originality.
Fortunately, THE CROODS was a big surprise. The film managed to be funny and entertaining. Particularly impressive once again was the voice performance by Emma Stone, wonderfully accentuated by the animation of character. The facial expressions are so great that it’s easy to forget that they are all computer manipulations.
Here’s the big corker – I cried during THE CROODS. Yes, I’m surprised by this admission but I’m not ashamed. There is a pretty lengthy sequence towards the end of the film which really made me choke up. Hey, I may have been wearing a horror t-shirt, but I’m a big softie when it comes to stuff like this. THE CROODS was a very pleasant surprise. ★★★1/2 (out of ★★★★)
Number of films covered in the Journal so far: 177
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