Six Family Films from MGM
The Adventures of the American Rabbit (February 12/05)
Crude, uninspired cartoon involving the adventures of a superhero rabbit (named, appropriately enough, the American Rabbit) who is forced to confront a cadre of villainous jackals. The Adventures of the American Rabbit is strictly for the kids, though it seems entirely possible that even they'll find little to embrace here. The animation style is decidedly subpar, making even the most quickie straight-to-video Disney release look astounding by comparison. The voice work is passable, but the dialogue borders on atrocious; the action seems to stop like clockwork every 15 minutes or so as an Important Message is doled out (ie winning isn't everything). And let's not even get into the ridiculousness of the American Rabbit's outfit, which is essentially an American flag supported by roller skates (could the getup possibly be more '80s?)
C.H.O.M.P.S. (March 26/05)
Sadly, the title is the best thing about C.H.O.M.P.S., as the film is strictly for kids (who will undoubtedly get a kick out of the broad humor and rampant silliness on display). The storyline revolves around an inventor (played by Wesley Eure) whose latest creation is a robotic dog that can do just about anything, particularly in the realm of crime prevention. Of course, this being a Disney ripoff, there's a subplot involving a competitor's efforts to steal C.H.O.M.P.S. by dispatching a pair of inept thieves (one of them's played by Red Buttons, if that's any indication). C.H.O.M.P.S. is based on a story idea by Joseph Barbera (half of the famed Hanna-Barbera animation duo), and it seems fairly obvious that the film would have been more effective as a 22-minute cartoon; there's far too much padding here, primarily in the form of the two clumsy burglars and their wacky hijinks.
The Golden Seal (April 12/05)
The Golden Seal is saddled with such an overwhelmingly deliberate pace, it seems highly unlikely that the film's target audience (ie small children) will be able to embrace it wholeheartedly (restlessness is bound to set in before the halfway mark). The story revolves around a young boy (played by Torquil Campbell) who discovers a mythical golden seal during a particularly harsh tropical storm, and must prevent his father and other poachers from killing the animal (its pelt is supposedly worth thousands). The Golden Seal's opening half hour is devoted entirely to setting things up (ie the legend of the seal, the various characters, the ridicule the young boy and his family face in the community, etc), which wouldn't necessarily be a problem if there wasn't so much repetition involved; at a certain point, one can't help but wish the film would just get on with it already. It doesn't help that the movie is rife with sequences that are either overlong or completely superfluous (ie an almost interminable scene in which the kid frolics with the seals - in slow-motion!) The conclusion is expectedly rousing, though it's not quite effective enough to allow the viewer to dismiss the unreasonably slow build.
The Legend of Johnny Lingo (February 17/05)
It's clear that The Legend of Johnny Lingo has been crafted to appeal to teens, and while the film is never quite as excruciating as it could've been (ie The Adventures of the American Rabbit), there's not much here to keep older viewers engaged. The storyline involves a young boy who is banished from his village after nobody agrees to care for him, and is eventually taken in by a famous trader named Johnny Lingo. The boy takes on the moniker as his own after his adoptive father dies, and uses his newfound notoriety to return to his own island (where he promised a local girl that he would come back for her). While the romance is unexpectedly touching, it's about the only element within the film that manages to make any kind of impact. Despite a bright, colorful style and several effective performances (Rawiri Paratene, the evil grandfather from Whale Rider, has a prominent role), it's impossible to overlook the simplicity with which this story's been told. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; kids will likely find plenty here worth embracing, though the same clearly can't be said for adult viewers.
Mac and Me (April 13/05)
Mac and Me is an extraordinarily blatant riff on E.T. that isn't even remotely as compelling or involving, and feels like nothing more than an effort to cash in on the success of Spielberg's science-fiction classic. The story revolves around a wheelchair-bound boy named Eric (Jade Calegory) who discovers a small alien living in his house, which he calls Mac (as in Mysterious Alien Creature, though the moniker could also apply to the extraterrestrial's love of McDonald's). Aside from the fact that Mac and Me has aged quite poorly (there's a break-dancing sequence, for crying out loud), the film sports a bland, cheap look that certainly doesn't do it any favors. Then there's Mac himself, a puppet which couldn't possibly look more like a puppet (a bad, shoddy puppet at that). The performances aren't much better, though star Calegory does possess a certain amount of natural charisma. Still, it's impossible to look past the various similarities to E.T., of which there are many (the movie even looks as though it was filmed in the same neighborhood as E.T.) And, of course, who could forget the almost comical instances of product placement, particularly Coca-Cola (which Mac must quaff on a regular basis in order to survive).
Namu, My Best Friend (April 14/05)
Namu, My Best Friend tells the exceedingly low-key story of an oceanographer named Hank Donner (Robert Lansing), who sets out to prove that killer whales are actually intelligent, peaceful creatures. Though the story doesn't really require a villain, it receives one in the form of a local fisherman who would like nothing more than to see Namu (the whale Hank is studying) pumped full of buckshot. Namu, My Best Friend is a cute, harmless little film that, while actually kind of entertaining, is utterly forgettable. There's no doubt that kids will enjoy it, however; younger viewers would probably be willing to overlook the obvious instances of padding that are peppered throughout (ie an unnecessarily long sequence in which Hank cavorts with Namu). Aside from one surprisingly unpleasant scene in which a punk kid feeds Namu a rock with hooks attached to it (!), this is essentially ideal family entertainment.