To love “Paddington 2,”hitting theaters on Friday, you don’t need to have seen its 2014 predecessor, “Paddington” (I haven’t), or read any of author Michael Bond’s “Paddington Bear” books (also haven’t). All you need is a sense of fun and a willingness to give yourself over to Paddington’s sweet, generous view of the world.
There’s a thrilling opening sequence which sets up the little spectacled-bear cub’s adoption in Peru by his Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo (also spectacled bears). The story then hops to the future, where Paddington (voice by Ben Whishaw) lives in West London with the Brown family — headed by “Downton Abbey” star Hugh Bonneville, and “The Shape of Water” star Sally Hawkins — which adopted him after finding him in the Paddington railway station.
Uncle Pastuzo has since gone to his final reward, and Aunt Lucy (voice by Imelda Staunton) is approaching her 100th birthday. Determined to buy her a vintage pop-up book of London landmarks as a present, Paddington takes on a series of odd jobs, with hilarious results.
The little bear — dressed in a duffle coat, boots and a hat — is the beating heart of his diverse London neighborhood, where all know him and (almost) all love him. He’s charming, kind, optimistic and unfailingly polite. Unknown to him, though, faded star actor Phoenix Buchanan (played an effortlessly hilarious Hugh Grant) has designs of his own on the book, which contains clues to a lost treasure. He purloins it, leaving Paddington to be blamed and sent off to jail.
Not even prison dampens Paddington’s spirits, as he uses his good nature and skill at making marmalade sandwiches to transform a motley crew of soft-hearted convicts into the Big House version of “The Great British Baking Show.”
As the Browns struggle to clear Paddington’s name, the crooks, along with baking, are also cooking up a jailbreak.
There are even touches of faith, with St. Paul’s Cathedral and some nuns figuring briefly into the plot.
The animated Paddington is seamlessly integrated into the live-action movie, which is a visual delight — without feeling overstuffed or breathless, as some animated films do today. There’s a lot of verbal humor (which is good for adults), so very little ones may not be able to follow it all, but they’ll love watching a teddy bear come to life.
Parents who grew up in the ’90s — and a lot of other folks who were adults then — will be happy to hear that Hulu is rebooting the animated series “Animaniacs.”
That’s good news for fans, and good news for families, since they’re one of the reasons cited for the return of the show starring the three zany Warner siblings — brothers Yakko and Wakko, and sister Dot — who live in the water tower at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.
Here’s a picture of them, from my office wall at Family Theater Productions in Hollywood.
Here’s what the press release had to say about why the show is coming back:
Hulu, Amblin Television and Warner Bros. Animation today announced a new deal to create and premiere a brand-new version of the iconic family-friendly cartoon franchise Animaniacs. Under the two-season straight-to-series order, Steven Spielberg will return as executive producer of the series, with Sam Register, President, Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Digital Series, and Amblin Television Co-Presidents Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank also serving as executive producers. The series marks the first Hulu Original made for families, and with the legacy of these beloved characters, is intended to provide a co-viewing opportunity and experience for families to enjoy together. New episodes are set to premiere on the premium streaming service in 2020.
In addition to announcing the new series, Hulu and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution also inked a new pact that makes Hulu the exclusive streaming home to the complete library of all 99 episodes of the original Animaniacs, as well as Pinky and the Brain, the subsequent Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain, and the complete Tiny Toon Adventures collection. As of today, Hulu subscribers can watch, catch up and relive their favorite moments from the original series with the whole family.
So, today, I fired up Hulu and had a look at the episodes, to see if they’re as family-friendly as I remember — since it’s going to be a while before we’ll see new installments.
“Animaniacs” is fast-paced and wickedly funny, with both slapstick sight gags and witty banter. There’s a very inside-showbiz feel to it, and a fair amount of irreverence. For example, one segment has the Animaniacs bedeviling a toga-clad Michelangelo as he’s painting the Sistine Chapel. When “His Eminence” finally arrives to survey the results, he’s played by Steven Spielberg, and the ceiling has had a bit of an “E.T”-style makeover.
But, as with most of the show, there’s no intent to be insulting or demeaning, just to be entirely wacky. To their credit, the sibs are a bit concerned about painting naked people in a church (so were some clerics at the time).
In between the comedy, the show manages to squeeze in some actual education, such as Yakko singing all the names of the world’s nations, or the trio meeting Einstein and helping with the theory of relativity.
If you’ve never seen “Animaniacs,” here’s a helpful guide:
The show is from the ’90s, so younger folk might not get the appearance of a sax-playing Bill Clinton in the opening credits, and some of the animated stars featured may look a bit different now (such as “Lethal Weapon”-era Mel Gibson, who head-butts some food at a party).
The siblings are also always up for some outrageous flirting, especially when the brothers see the curvy nurse who works for their favorite frenemy, WB psychiatrist Dr. Scratchansniff — hence the show’s catchphrase, “Hello, Nurse!” As the boys leap into the nurse’s arms and plant kisses, Dot just sighs and goes, “Boys.” This doesn’t mean she’s above smooching and flirting with men herself. But that’s as far as the innuendo goes.
Characters also get squashed by cartoon anvils and blown up at regular intervals, but everyone survives.
The littlest kids won’t get most of the verbal humor, but they will get the physical comedy (and the occasional double entendre will sail right over them). On the upside, this is one show that older grade schoolers, tweens, teens and adults can all enjoy together.
Now, we’ll just have to see if the reboot manages to capture the spirit of the original. One problem with reboots is that times and tastes change — and these days, often not for the better. What seemed fresh and funny in the ’90s may upset today’s excessively-PC culture. Here’s to hoping that Spielberg’s clout means that we won’t wind up with a watered-down — or even worse, dumbed-down — “Animaniacs.”
In the meantime, parents can share the existing “Animaniacs” — and its spin-off “Pinky and the Brain,” and the equally wacky (and showbizzy) “Tiny Toon Adventures” (a younger version of Looney Tunes) — with the next generation.
It’s not “Veggie Tales” or “Davey and Goliath,” but it’s not meant to be. It’s smart and funny and endlessly imaginative — even more so if anyone in the family loves classic Hollywood and Warner Bros. animation.
Here’s my personal New Year’s Eve philosophy — once the ball drops in Times Square in New York City, it’s all over. On the other hand, lots of other places hit midnight before Gotham, so just about any hour of the night, somebody’s shooting off fireworks.
So, there’s absolutely no reason why little kids need to stay up until midnight in your time zone. If you’re home with them on New Year’s Eve — or if you’ve left them with a babysitter — Netflix has come up with a fun way for them to count down to 2018 with some of their TV friends and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.
Netflix is offering on-demand, New Year’s Eve countdowns for kids. They range from two to five minutes long and feature some popular shows and characters, such as “All Hail King Julien,” “True and the Rainbow Kingdom,” “Puffin Rock,” “Beat Bugs,” “Skylanders Academy,” “Word Party,” “Larva” and “Pororo.”
Here’s a preview trailer:
To access these Netflix NYE on-demand countdowns, parents can search for “New Year’s Eve Countdown” or “Countdown” at any time during the day (they’ve been up since Dec. 26 and hang around for all of January). New for 2017, countdowns will also get their own icon in the Kids row for quick access to all nine videos.
Also, in case you were wondering, while Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is ordinarily a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, the USCCB has rescinded that this year because the holiday falls on a Monday. Of course, if you still want to go to Mass, feel free to do so.
You can also check out the “Mary” episode of our fast and fun catechetical Web series, “Catholic Central.”
Blessed Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and Happy New Year!
As the current movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (reviewed here) reminds us, many of our current Christmas customs and decor date from the Victorian era in general, and from Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol” in particular.
But an English Christmas doesn’t begin or end with Dickens, and here are some contemporary performers doing the Lord’s birthday, British style.
The Cherry Tree Carol
Perhaps dating back to the early 15th century, this is one of the few Christmas carols to feature Joseph — and it’s not a flattering portrayal (but, spoiler alert, it all turns out well!).
Here’s British rock star Sting in a 2009 performance at Durham Cathedral, a medieval church in England, currently Anglican but formerly Catholic (aren’t they all?):
In the Bleak Midwinter
A late 19th-century poem by Christina Rossetti set to music in the early 20th century, it’s sung for the BBC by “Britain’s Got Talent” runner-up Susan Boyle (she lost, inexplicably, to a dance group called “Diversity”).
The Holly and the Ivy
This is a traditional British folk carol (meaning nobody knows exactly how old it is), but it was first published in the early 19th century. Here’s a live version by rock singer Annie Lennox:
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
Dating to the 16th century or earlier, this carol is actually referenced in “A Christmas Carol.” Here’s a very modern version by the a cappella group Pentatonix, which shot to fame after winning NBC’s reality-competition show “The Sing-Off.”
From the 16th century, this may be the only carol that refers directly to the Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod, and is a lullaby sung by the mothers of the doomed babies. The Holy Innocents are often left out of the Christmas narrative — not by us, as the Catholic Church has a feast day for them on Dec. 28 — but as horrific as the story is, this lovely carol commemorates them.
Here’s Sting again:
Here We Come A’Wassailing
The traditional English carol and New Year’s song dates from around 1850 — so if you see it performed in any version of “A Christmas Carol,” remind yourself that somebody didn’t do their homework.
Here’s a Celtic-flavored version featuring American singer/songwriter David Archuleta:
Our biweekly TV family-viewing guide returns with three choices between Tuesday and Thursday, starting with the Christmas episode from the final season of one of America’s favorite sitcoms, starring one of our favorite Catholic stars.
It’s Christmastime, and Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Sue (Eden Sher) are devastated after Axl (Charlie McDermott) informs them that he’s not going to church this year because he’s beginning to question his faith. Meanwhile, Mike (Neil Flynn) goes to war with the Glossner kids after they keep defacing his new, giant inflatable snowman; and Brick (Atticus Shaffer) goes all out in an attempt to wrap his first present for a planned Christmas Yankee Swap.
Here’s a promo:
Fans know that Heaton is a devout Catholic, but they may not be aware that Atticus Shaffer is also an outspoken Christian. Here’s a clip of his appearance on season 2 of the interview show “Frankly Faraci” on Dove Channel (click here for season one; click here for info on season 2 on Dove Channel).
This one wound up on the USCCB’s list of recommended Christmas movies, Here’s what the U.S. bishops had to say:
Delightful yuletide comedy about a Chicago couple (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) who boycott Christmas after their daughter leaves home to join the Peace Corps, sparking unforeseen reactions from their militantly merry neighbors (led by Dan Aykroyd). The film is based on the novella “Skipping Christmas” by John Grisham. Director Joe Roth delivers a dose of holly-jolly fun that is, by turns, extremely funny and poignantly tender, and its warmhearted message of selflessness, family and coming together as a community clearly embodies the truest spirit of the season. Some suggestive humor, comic violence and mildly crude language.
See you later with 5 for Friday, looking forward to the weekend.
Some films and TV shows got lots of love from the voters in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, some got bits, others got none.
In the current climate of scandal in Hollywood, how are we to think about nominations? Among the films and TV shows getting nods are those that celebrate objectively sinful behavior; among those snubbed are ones with uplifting or positive themes (but we are happy to see NBC’s family-centric drama “This Is Us” getting several nods).
Unless recent trends take a 180-degree turn, the Golden Globes broadcast, airing Jan. 7 on NBC, with host Seth Myers, will be rife with political references and jokes, generally at the expense of one side of the aisle.
So, what are Catholics to do?
Here are some helpful things to remember:
People in the entertainment industry (and the journalists that cover it) are not a representative demographic sampling of the general American populace — politically, ideologically, socially or religiously. While that has always been true to an extent, it has become much more publicly obvious in recent decades.
Long ago, Hollywood felt obligated to reflect the likes and interests of the general American public — and to appear to be in agreement with it on major issues — but now it feels more obligated to represent its own interests. The people still speak at the box office, but theirs is not the only voice.
Some entertainment is produced to answer a need and want from the public — hence the popularity of Hallmark’s feel-good Christmas movies, for example — and some is produced based on concepts that have a proven track record (like comic books, young-adult books, video games or bestselling novels).
Other movies and TV shows represent either the passions and interests of those making them, or are designed to appeal to a very specific audience. Among these people, such projects may be considered the highest form of art and tremendously compelling, while to the general public, they may be unappealing, bewildering or even appalling.
If, say, faithful Catholics overwhelmingly ran studios and TV networks, were top agents and screenwriters, financiers and producers, then the landscape would be dramatically different.
That’s emphatically not the case.
People in Hollywood generally tell stories for two reasons (or some combination of the two reasons): to make money, or to satisfy a longing of their hearts.
As a radio friend of mine is wont to say, that which gets rewarded gets repeated. If content that Catholics and other Christians don’t find appealing still makes lots of money, more will get made. If good things come out — like “The Star,” for example — and they don’t make lots of money, more may not be made, at least by major studios.
But if Christians have a longing in their hearts to tell a story that reflects their sensibilities, many will find a way. The same is true of other folks whose hearts and sensibilities tend in very different directions.
And many of these other folks are also awards voters. Like anyone else, they vote for what they like and ignore what they don’t. If they don’t like the same things as you, well, that’s life.
So, to expect awards shows to honor only movies we love and find worthy is to be perpetually disappointed. To expect Hollywood folks to not expound upon their beliefs at awards shows is just as futile.
In the end, our power lies in choice: to see a movie or TV show or not, and to watch an awards show, or not.
Whether Hollywood responds to those choices and makes some changes … well, I’m hopeful but not optimistic.