At some point in the early years of the 21st century a bunch of Hollywood executives must have gotten together and decided that animated films should be made for all audiences. The goal was perhaps to make movies that are simultaneously accessible to the older and younger sets with colorful imagery that one expects from children’s films and two levels of humor: one that’s quite literal and harmless and another that’s somewhat subversive. The criteria has resulted in cross-generational hits like Wall-E and Madagascar and though it’s nice to be able to take my nephew to the movies and be as entertained by cartoon characters as he is I can’t help but wonder what happened to unabashedly innocent animated classics like A Goofy Movie and The Land Before Time?
Disney’s Winnie The Pooh is the answer to the Shrek’s and Hoodwinked!’s of the world: a short sweet simple and lighthearted tale of friendship that doesn’t need pop-culture references or snarky dialogue to put a smile on your face. Directors Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall found some fresh ways to deliver adorable animation while keeping the carefree spirit of A.A. Milne’s source material in tact. Their story isn’t the most original; the first part of the film finds Pooh Piglet Tigger and Owl searching for Eeyore’s tail (a common plot point in the books and past Pooh films) and hits all the predictable notes but the second half mixes things up a bit as the crew searches for a missing Christopher Robin whom they believe has been kidnapped by a forest creature known as the “Backson” (it’s really just the result of the illiterate Owl or is it?).
The beauty of hand-drawn animation all but forgotten until recently is what makes Winnie the Pooh so incredibly magnetic. There’s an inexplicable crispness to the colors and characters that CG just can’t duplicate. It’s a more personal practice for the filmmakers and should provide a refreshing experience for audiences who have become jaded with the pristine presentation of computerized imagery. The film is bookended by brief live-action shots from inside Robin’s room an interesting dynamic that plays up the simplicity of youth ties it to these beloved characters and brings you right back to memories of your own childhood.
With a just-over-an-hour run time Winnie the Pooh is short enough to hold the attention of children but won’t bore the parents who will love the film mainly for nostalgic musings. Still it’s the young’uns who will most enjoy this breezy bright and enchanting film that proves old-school characters can appeal to new moviegoers.
The story of the most dominant racehorse of all time does not easily fit into the standard inspirational sports flick mold. Such films typically require its protagonists to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles be they competitive (Hoosiers) personal (The Natural) societal (Ali) or some combination of all three (Remember the Titans). But by all accounts the greatest challenges to Secretariat capturing of the 1973 Triple Crown were not rival horses — indeed Secretariat had no true rival — but a pair of slow starts and an abscess. And abscesses — apologies to dermatologists — simply aren’t all that effective as dramatic devices.
Lacking most of the vital ingredients of the traditional underdog movie formula Disney’s Secretariat is forced to synthesize them. Its screenplay written by Mike Rich and based rather loosely on the book Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack adopts a conventional save-the-farm framework: When her parents pass away within months of each other Denver housewife Penny Tweedy (Diane Lane) is advised to sell off her family’s Virginia-based Meadow Stables a beautiful but unprofitable horse-breeding enterprise in order to pay the onerous inheritance taxes levied by the state. But Penny her deceased father’s hackneyed horse-inspired counsel fresh in her mind (“You’ve got to run your own race ” etc. etc.) is loath to depart with such a cherished heirloom. So she concocts a scheme just idiotic enough to work betting the farm — literally — that her new horse Big Red in whom she has an almost Messianic faith will win the Kentucky Derby Preakness and Belmont races in succession.
Of course Big Red under the stage name Secretariat goes on to do just that but only after the film subjects us to nearly two hours of manufactured melodrama. Lane grasping all-too conspicuously for awards consideration treats every line as if it were the St. Crispin’s Day speech. Her character Penny exhibits a hair-trigger sensitivity to the sounds of skeptics and naysayers bursting forth with a polite rebuke and a stern sermon for anyone who dares doubt her crusade from the trash-talking owner of a rival horse to her annoyingly pragmatic husband (Dylan Walsh).
Lane isn’t alone in her grandiosity. The entire production reeks of it as director Randall Wallace lines the story with fetid chunks of overwrought Oscar bait like so many droppings in an untended stable even using Old Testament quotations and gospel music to endow Penny’s quest with biblical significance. John Malkovich is kind enough to inject some mirth into the heavy-handed proceedings hamming it up as Secretariat’s trainer Lucien Laurin a French-Canadian curmudgeon with an odd sartorial palette. It’s not enough however to alleviate the discomfort of witnessing the film's quasi-Sambo depiction of Secretariat’s famed groom Eddie Sweat (Nelsan Ellis) which reaches its cringeworthy zenith when Sweat runs out to the track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes and exclaims to no one in particular that “Big Red done eat his breakfast this mornin’!!!” Bagger Vance would be proud. Whether or not Ellis’ portrayal of Sweat’s cadence and mannerisms is accurate (and for all I know it may well be) the character is too thinly drawn to register as anything more than an amiable simple-minded servant.
Animal lovers will be happy to know that the horses in Secretariat come off looking far better than their human counterparts and not just because they’re alloted the best dialogue. In the training and racing sequences Wallace effectively conveys the strength and majesty of the fearsome animals drawing us into the action and creating a strong element of suspense even though the final result is a fait accompli. It's too bad the rest of the film never makes it out of the gate.
Top Story: Law Firm Sues Suge Knight
The law firm of Kopple and Klinger sued rap mogul Marion "Suge" Knight, who is currently serving a 10-month prison term for a probation violation, claiming he has not paid them nearly $142,000 for services provided, The Associated Press reports. The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges Knight has sold or transferred at least four properties in the Los Angeles area for little or no compensation to friends to "hinder, delay or defraud" his creditors. According to AP, Knight's publicist, Jonathan Wolfson, said he hadn't seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.
Sex Author Comes Out With New Book
Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell takes a darker look at the world of sex in her new novel Trading Up. Reuters reports the book tells the story of anti-heroine Janey Wilcox, a Victoria's Secret model who sleeps with men to get ahead and befriends women solely for the same purpose. "Janey figured she might as well use sex as a weapon and enjoys using sex as a power over men. But the interesting thing about the book is it shows that using sex as a power over men doesn't really work anymore," Bushnell told Reuters during a recent interview. "Relationships (with men) don't last forever any more; it really is about female bonding."
The O.C. TV Week's Most Valuable Player
Although the power blackouts on Thursday and Friday wreaked havoc with Nielsen Media Research's number crunching and are not included in Nielsen's official weekly totals for week of Aug. 10-17, Reuters reports CBS and NBC were the top networks for the week. The big success story, however, was Fox's soap drama The O.C, whose viewership increased by 21 percent in its second week on the air. CBS won the week, averaging 8.4 million viewers followed by NBC (7.7 million); Fox (6.2 million); ABC (5.2 million); the WB (2.4 million); UPN (2.2 million). The top shows were: Who Wants to Marry My Dad? NBC; Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS; 60 Minutes, CBS; King of Queens, CBS; CSI: Miami, CBS; Big Brother, CBS; For Love or Money, NBC; Law & Order: Criminal Intent, NBC.
Revisit to Woodstock Canceled
The Ben & Jerry's concert One World One Heart Festival, scheduled to play at the original Woodstock site this weekend, has been canceled due to lack of interest, AP reports. "An economic downturn coupled with an unexpected slump in the music industry" forced cancellation of this year's event, says a statement on the company's Web site. Only 1,000 of the 30,000 tickets had been sold, USA Today reports. Tracy Chapman and LeAnn Rimes had been scheduled to headline the festival.
Club Owners, Band Fined in Club Fire
Owners of the Rhode Island nightclub The Station and the band Great White were fined $85,200 and $7,000, respectively, by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Wednesday in connection with a deadly blaze caused by pyrotechnics that killed 100 people Feb. 20. AP reports legal experts believe this decision will pave the way for the six other wrongful death suits filed by the families of the victims. "It's not absolute proof of negligence, but it will be used as evidence to illustrate negligence," David Yas, editor of Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly, told AP. "I don't think it's appropriate," band attorney Ed McPherson told AP. He also said the band couldn't have known about the safety conditions of the club.
Cowgirl Reeves Dies at 101 Falling Off Horse
Talk about dedication. Legendary Texas cowgirl Connie Reeves, who taught riding for 70 years at her Waldemar Camp for Girls, 70 miles northwest of San Antonio, Tex., died Sunday at the age of 101 after being thrown from her favorite horse, Dr. Pepper, Reuters reports. Her famous motto was "Always saddle your own horse."
Role Call: Pitt, Jolie Hook Up in Smith, DMX Flick Gets Distributor
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie will team up to star in the thriller Mr. and Mrs. Smith. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Jolie is replacing the departing Nicole Kidman who couldn't do the film due to scheduling problems. The story revolves around a bored married couple who find out they are enemy assassins hired to kill each other…The DMX-produced pic Never Die Alone has found a home at Fox Searchlight Pictures, who picked up the distribution rights. LAUNCHMusic.com reports the film stars hip-hopper DMX as a gangster whose murder is witnessed by a journalist (David Arquette) and whose life is told in flashbacks from a journal he kept when he was alive.