New family video releases and late summer are two things you don’t hear mentioned together very often. August and September are all about getting ready to go back to school and last hurrahs that take the form of vacations and outdoor recreation while the weather permits it. This is why the latest crop of new home video releases for the family are such a pleasant surprise. The latest trio of new-to-the-shelves entries has something for everyone from great casts to imaginative and eye-poppingly beautiful animation. There’s bound to be at least one title here you’ll add to your “gotta see” list.
The Angry Birds Movie
Available August 16
Sony Home Pictures Entertainment
feature length: 1:37
formats: streaming, DVD, blu-ray, 4K UHD
The prospect of a movie based on a once-popular online game might elicit eye-rolls from parents and kids who are all about the Pokemon or still living and loving the the Minecraft life. Remember The LEGO Movie? This new family home release falls squarely in that same category of being very good in spite of itself.
The animation is the same 3D style that made or broke The Peanuts Movie for fans of Charles Shultz’ classic animated specials. Some purists, who prefer their funny animals in two dimensional form, might find the deeper perspective and vibrant palette distracting. As an animated feature, it works well thanks to the writing and acting of flesh characters, who had little substance in their previous lives, as avian ordnance and porcine villains in a target game.
If the slapstick grabs the smallest chicks in the house, the smart, funny script and pitch perfect voice acting by Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, John Hader, Maya Rudolph and Kate McKinnon will keep older children, and the adults who love them, engaged until the final credits. One caveat: This film earned its PG rating. There’s some rude, crude humor and Red, the titular character voiced by Sudeikis, lives up to his name.
Elena of Avalor
length: three episodes so far at approximately 22-24 minutes per episode
available on streaming only
While fans of Disney princesses are impatiently waiting for Moana to make her debut on the big screen, their latest step to further diversify their leading ladies premiered on July 22.
Elena of Avalor, a spin-off from the much-loved Sofia the First series, offers the same top-notch writing and acting that makes Disney’s first little girl princess, who actually looks and acts like a little girl, such a winner.
Elena, the studio’s first Latina princess, skews a little older than Sofia, which might be a way to appeal to maturing fans of the first series. What carries over from Sofia are the recurring themes of kindness, inclusion, and believing in yourself. There are elements of girl-power in both series, but the addition of male peers and friends and supporting characters, who cross gender and generational lines, make this accessible to any child who loves fantastic themes and storytelling. The production values are not quite what you’d find on the big screen, but it still has the usual top-notch work one expects from the House of Mouse. The TV-Y rating is for the action and the stylized creatures. Some very young kids might find the high adventure and unusual beings who pop up unsettling, while others will be enchanted.
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New Videos For Kids: ‘Zootopia’, ‘Shrek’, And ‘The Land Before Time’ Are Must-Haves For Your Family’s Library
April And The Extraordinary World
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
feature length 1:45
formats: streaming, blu-ray, and DVD
This lovely steampunk fantasy may look like a product of Japan’s Studio Ghibli, but it actually shares production DNA with another animated classic. Je Suis Bien Content, the studio that produced the 2007 screen adaptation of Marjane Statrapi’s graphic novel “Persepolis,” is the outfit behind this award-winning feature film.
It doesn’t take very long to see, that in spite of the trappings of Ghibli’s pretty, pretty worlds with talking animals and otherworldly technologies, there is a very different sensibility at work. The muted palette of browns, greens, and grays, the blunt linework, and the angular character design edge April And The Extraordinary World closer to the European art house end of the feature animation pool.
This new family video release will most likely be an easy sell to older kids and adults with a taste for fantasy. The English audio edition features performances from Marion Cotillard, Paul Giamatti, and Tony Hale, who steals the show as April’s talking cat, Darwin.
The script, especially Darwin’s scenes, can be arch and very funny, but there is still the nagging feeling that the heart of the characters are lost in translation. One example of this is an exchange that has been heavily featured in the trailers. At one point April pushes away Julius, the young man who has been drawn into her quest. In the French version, she firmly declares, “Enough with the kissing!” in the English dub, she sputters, “There will be no more swapping saliva!” Lines like this leave the impression that the people involved with the American release are trying too hard to appeal to the Disney Channel crowd.
Convention and indie cinema crowds have compared April And The Extraordinary World to Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Stylistically, it has far more in common with another French animated classic, Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville. While both April and the titular frog-munching Triplets share color choices and a less prettified aesthetic, the former lacks the fizzy energy that made Chomet’s movie so much fun.
Save this new family video release for watching after the littlest cineastes in your house have gone to bed.
[Photo by Express/Getty Images]