Four Family Films from Disney
The Game Plan (February 2/08)
A family comedy in the same vein of Kindergarten Cop and The Pacifier, The Game Plan casts Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Joe Kingman - a star quarterback whose fast-paced lifestyle is thrown for a loop after his illegitimate (and previously unknown) eight-year-old daughter arrives on his doorstop. Not surprisingly, Joe initially doesn't take too well to little Peyton's (Madison Pettis) presence - though it's not long before the ace footballer finds himself embracing fatherhood. There's little doubt that The Game Plan's early success is due almost entirely to Johnson's charismatic and sporadically hilarious performance, as the actor enthusiastically steps into the shoes of an egomaniacal, ridiculously conceited sports legend. Nichole Millard and Kathryn Price's woefully pedestrian screenplay hits every single hackneyed beat one might've expected from such a premise, however, and it becomes increasingly difficult to overlook the more overtly predictable elements that have been sprinkled throughout the proceedings. It goes without saying that the film probably would've benefited from a much shorter running time, as - at 110 minutes - there's simply no denying that certain sequences feel unreasonably padded out (a vibe that's compounded by the protracted and egregiously melodramatic third act). That Peyton primarily comes off as a shrill and downright irritating little brat only exacerbates the The Game Plan's various problems, and it ultimately seems unlikely that the movie will appeal to viewers outside of its target demographic (ie pre-pubescent tots).
The Lizzie McGuire Movie
Based on the popular Disney Channel television series, The Lizzie McGuire Movie follows Hilary Duff's titular character as she embarks on a two-week Roman holiday with her classmates (including Adam Lamberg's Gordo and Clayton Snyder's Ethan) to celebrate the end of middle school. Shenanigans ensue after Lizzie is repeatedly mistaken for Italian pop star Isabella Parichi (also played by Duff), and - through a series of events far too convoluted to get into - it's not long before the star-struck teen finds herself performing before millions on a televised awards show. While there's little doubt that The Lizzie McGuire Movie stands as a satisfying capper to the TV show, it's just as clear that the film is ultimately not quite as effective as its small-screen forebearer. The decision to take Lizzie and her friends out of their scholastic milieu proves to be disastrous, as the emphasis on Lizzie's solo adventures ensures that there's ultimately little separating the film from a garden-variety tween romp (the conspicuous absence of Lalaine's Miranda Sanchez probably doesn't help matters). It's a vibe that's exacerbated by the filmmakers' decision to employ precisely the sort of hackneyed elements that one has come to expect from such a movie, with the important moral lessons for the characters and the relentless barrage of pop songs on the soundtrack two particularly apt examples of this. Having said that, the film does improve considerably in its third act and there's certainly no denying the strength of Duff's affable work as Lizzie; the end result is an effort that'll surely have a much more positive effect on fans than on neophytes to the Lizzie McGuire saga.
Picking up where Air Buddies left off, Snow Buddies revolves around the shenanigans that ensue after the series' five central puppies - Rosebud, Buddha, Budderball, B-Dawg, and Mudbud - inadvertently find themselves in Alaska after sneaking aboard a refrigerated truck. There, the pups encounter a malamute named Shasta and eventually agree to run a dogsled race with a scrappy young boy. As expected, there's not a whole lot within Snow Buddies that's been designed to hold the interest of viewers over a certain age - though there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of John Kapelos' scene-stealing turn as smug French villain Jean George. Director and co-writer Robert Vince has infused the proceedings with an exceedingly silly sensibility that's sure to win over little kids, yet it does become increasingly difficult to stomach the film's often unreasonably broad comedic elements (including a wacky deputy and a scene in which one of the dogs morphs into a big snowball after rolling down a steep hill). Snow Buddies is, in the end, probably no better or worse than any of its predecessors, and it seems clear that fans of the series will find little to complain about here (one can't help but wish, however, that Vince and co-writer Anna McRoberts would include something for older viewers to latch onto).
Underdog is an affable, sporadically entertaining piece of work that's ultimately undone by its emphasis on relentlessly silly elements, although - admittedly - there's certainly no denying the effectiveness of Peter Dinklage's expectedly compelling performance. Jason Lee provides the voice of the title character, a bomb-sniffing beagle who's fired for incompetence and subsequently dognapped by the villainous Dr. Simon Barsinister (Dinklage) and his moronic sidekick Cad (Patrick Warburton). After a daring escape, Underdog finds himself saddled with a number of superpowers - though it's not until an ex-cop (James Belushi's Dan) takes him in that Underdog first begins to discover his new abilities. Screenwriters Adam Rifkin, Joe Piscatella, and Craig A. Williams - working, obviously, from the long-running '60s television show - essentially offer up a standard superhero origin story, as the bulk of the movie follows Underdog's efforts to get a handle on his powers and eventually use them to take down the demented Barsinister. And while it's all very cute and even entertaining for a while, there does reach a point at which director Frederik Du Chau's decision to stress overtly puerile elements becomes increasingly problematic - ensuring that although kids will undoubtedly get a kick out of the slapstick-heavy third act, older viewers will find themselves searching for something (anything) of note worth embracing.