Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Yukon Cornelius: This fog’s as thick as peanut butter!
Hermey: You mean pea soup.
Yukon Cornelius: You eat what you like, and I’ll eat what I like!

Rating: G

Themes:
• Friendship
• Fitting In/Being True to Yourself
• Confidence
• Coming of Age

Plot Synopsis:
This is the story of Rudolph and how he came to pull Santa’s sleigh. Rudolph is born with a red nose and his father tries to cover it up. When the other reindeer find out about the nose they make fun of Rudolph and exclude him. Rudolph meets and elf named Hermey that doesn’t fit in either, as he wants to be a dentist instead of a toymaker. The two decide to run away together. Through their travels they meet an odd prospector (Yukon), travel to an island of misfit toys and flee from the Abominable Snowman. Rudolph’s nose always gives their location away to the Abominable, so he decides to leave the group to spare his friends. Eventually he realizes that he can’t run away from his problems and returns home, only to find that his family was captured by the Abominable when they went to search for him. Rudolph tries to save his family but Yukon and Hermey end up saving the day. Everyone returns home to celebrate, but a blizzard threatens to keep Santa from flying. Rudolph’s nose solves that problem.

Review:
This is a holiday classic. The songs are wonderful, the characters memorable, and the lessons excellent.

Teaching Points:
I can’t think of anything really with this movie, except to emphasize the lessons within (having confidence in yourself, not making fun of others, being yourself).

Potential Pitfalls:
This was made in 1964 and there’s one line in it that irks me. When Rudolph’s father goes to look for him his mother wants to come along, but the father says “No, that’s man’s work.” The point of the line is to split up father and mother (the mother goes searching separately with Rudolph’s girlfriend), but it’s still out of date.

Links:
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

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The Secret of Kells

Brendan: Aidan is my friend. I’m helping him make the most incredible book in the whole world! He says it will turn darkness into light. Wait until you see it!
Aisling: Wait until you see the rest of my forest.

Rating: NR
This is a European import. I would rate it PG.

Themes:
• Christian and Pagan worlds
• Book of Kells
• Obsession
• Being True to Yourself
• Seeing the Big Picture

Plot Synopsis:
Brendan is a young boy living at an abbey in ninth century Ireland. His uncle, Abbot Cellach, is obsessed with fortifying the abbey against viking invaders, who are routinely pillaging the nearby countryside. A great illuminator, Aidan, seeks refuge at the abbey so that he can continue his work on a very important book. Brendan quickly makes friends with Aidan and offers to help him complete the book. He is sent into the woods, somewhere his uncle has forbidden him to go, to retrieve some berries for ink. Brendan gets lost and is almost devoured but wolves, but is saved by the fairie creature Aisling who then helps him locate what he needs. When he returns to the abbey his uncle is furious. Brendan begins to apprentice to Aiden as a scribe and soon must return to the forest for another item. This time he is after the eye of an evil forest god. With Aisling’s help he manages to defeat the creature and return with the eye. His scribe work becomes infinitely better, but his uncle is not happy when he finds out. He thinks the walls are much more important than the book, though Aiden warns him that the walls will do nothing to stop the vikings. Eventually the vikings do raze the settlement, injuring the abbot and causing Brendan and Aiden to flee. Years later, Brendan returns with the completed book.

Review:
The animation for this film is probably like nothing you’ve ever seen. It draws most of its influence from Celtic designs and the Book of Kells itself. The imagery is both beautiful and extremely potent.

The film is critically acclaimed, both here in the U.S. and internationally. I’m not sure how children would rate it however.

Teaching Points:
Irish Folklore/History– If you’re Irish already then I’m sure your family is already familiar with all of this, but for others I’d recommend looking it up.
The Book of Kells– This is a real book with extremely intricate illustrations that is considered one of the greatest treasures in Ireland.
Vikings– These are certainly the antagonists of the film. They too have a unique culture and history.

Potential Pitfalls:
The way one of the monks is drawn reminded me a bit too much of how African Americans used to be drawn in older cartoons. The character himself is fine, it’s really just the style of the animation that could be offensive to some.

Some scenes have very dark and potentially frightening images. Also keep in mind that the vikings DO raze the abbey, resulting in the deaths of many citizens. There may not be blood and gore but the imagery is quite powerful. Use caution with extremely young children.

Links:
The Secret of Kells
Book of Kells
Early Christian Ireland
Irish Folklore

The Princess and the Frog

Young Tiana: Charlotte’s fairy tale book said, if you make a wish on evening star it’s sure to come true.
Eudora: Hmm, won’t you wish on that star, sweetheart?
James: Yes, you wish and you dream with all your little heart. But you remember, Tiana, that old star can only take you part of the way. You got to help him with some hard work of your own. And then… Yeah, you can do anything you set you mind to. Just promise your Daddy one thing? That you’ll never, ever lose sign what is really important. Okay?

Rating: G

Themes:
• Responsibility for Actions
• Working Hard to Obtain Dreams
• Maturity

Plot Synopsis:
Tiana is a waitress in New Orleans that works two jobs to try to save up money for her dream: a restaurant of her own. When a prince comes to town she is hired to cater a huge party and will finally have the money she needs. Unfortunately, someone outbids her at the last minute. The prince falls in with an evil Voodoo man who turns him into a frog, and Tiana is transformed as well when she kisses him. The two escape to the swamp, where they attempt to track down a Voodoo woman who can transform them back into human form. Along the way they fall in love, and the plot progresses along pretty predictable Disney lines.

Review:
I was pretty skeptical when I first saw trailers for this. It looked like it was attempting to cash in on a previous neglected market (African Americans) while utilizing stereotypical characters. Mulan and Pocahontas at least pull their heroines from literature and history. I also didn’t know how they were going to jam an African American princess into the middle of New Orleans. However, from the opening scene it became apparent that this was something special.

What makes this movie different is that it is fully aware of the “pretty princess” problem of many of Disney’s other films. Tiana is the daughter of a seamstress, and is playmates with a blonde, silly, completely spoiled little rich girl for which her mother designs endless pink princess dresses. Charlotte, while good at heart, is completely vacuous and desires nothing more than to wish upon stars and marry a handsome prince. Unlike her friend, Tiana grows up very grounded. She has a firm goal in mind and works hard to achieve it. Even though the movie ends in typical Disney fashion, it doesn’t change the fact that Tiana earned every bit of her happiness and success. She’s not just another empty Disney princess waiting around for prince charming to fall into her lap.

Teaching Points:
Hard Work = Rewards– Most people don’t have life handed to them on a silver platter, and this movie does a decent job of bringing that up. Too many kids these days grow up unappreciative of what they have and with a sense of entitlement for what they don’t.
Voodoo– This is actually a very interesting religion. I highly recommend looking it up.
New Orleans– This city is rich in history and flavor.

Potential Pitfalls:
None.

Links:
The Princess and the Frog
New Orleans
New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum

The Incredibles

“Everyone’s special, Dash.”
“Which is another way of saying no one is.”

Rating: PG

Themes:
• Family
• Being True to Oneself

Plot Synopsis:
The world is filled with superheroes. When Mr. Incredible (Bob) prevents a man from committing suicide he suddenly finds himself staring at a lawsuit. This opens the floodgate for more lawsuits and eventually all “Supers” must retire and go into hiding. Bob gets married to another Super and has three Super children, but the quiet life doesn’t agree with him and he finds himself trying to covertly help citizens without being discovered. Eventually he is hired by a mysterious woman to subdue a rampaging robot on a remote island. It is there that he uncovers an evil plot and is captured. The family must reunite and use their powers once again in order to overcome a new villain.

Review:
This movie is action-packed and full of great humor. Like most Pixar films, The Incredibles is entertaining for both adults and children.

Teaching Points:
None really, except maybe that children are not invincible and there are some people out there willing to harm them.

Potential Pitfalls:
None.

Links:
The Incredibles