The OFFICIALunOFFICIAL English Bulldog Mascot

Up, Despicable, Tulip & Toys

In Books, Children's Literacy, Film, K-12 Education, Popular Music, Thats' Life on January 19, 2011 at 12:10 PM

I lub movies. I go to the movies all the time. I especially like movies that are smart, fun and are mostly about kids and dogs. That makes sense, right? After all, I’m not only the Champion fur Children’s Literacy, I’m also a dog! BOL! So I decided I’d write about three films I especially enjoyed in 2010 and one that I lub every year all the time–  My favorite animated film “Up.”


Up“is a wonderful, thoughtful, thought provoking, utterly charming story that is basically about the affection that develops between a lonely, elderly widow named Carl and a chubby, awkward and neglected Eagle scout named Russell. And of course there’s a noisy, dangerous and scary adventure because what animated kids film would be worth its salt without the obligatory noisy, dangerous and scary adventure.  Oh and there must be no parents,  That’s the rule, too.

Our story begins with a sweet romance. Two children, Carl and Ellie, meet and discover they share the same dream of someday being explorers. In newsreels, they see the exploits of a daring adventurer named Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer). When his discoveries are reported being faked, he flies off in a rage to South America, vowing to bring back living creatures to prove his claims. Nothing is heard from him for years.

Meanwhile, Ellie and Carl (Edward Asner) grow up, have a courtship, marry, buy a fixer-upper and turn it into their dream home, live happily together and grow old– together. This process is shown in a sweet and lovely sequence, that depicts life and marriage in a way that is almost never found in a family film. The couple scrimp and save their loose change in a gallon jug.  They have a dream of someday taking a trip to Paradise Falls, but as John Lennon famously said in his famous song Beautiful Boy “Life is what happens to you– flat tires, home repairs, medical bills– while you’re busy making other plans.” Then the happy couple make a heartbreaking discovery. They will never be parents or have children of their own.  This interlude is poetic and touching.

After all this, the film focuses is on Carl’s life after Ellie. He becomes a recluse, holds out against the world, keeps his home as a memorial, talks to the absent Ellie. One day he decides to pack up and fly away — literally. Having worked all his life as a balloon man, he has the equipment on hand to suspend the house from countless helium-filled balloons and fulfill his dream of going to Paradise Falls. What he wasn’t counting on was an inadvertent stowaway, Russell (Jordan Nagai), an earnest Wilderness Explorer Scout.

There are  personalities here,  two old men struggling to articulate and account for meaning in their lives. And a kid who, for once, isn’t snarky or smarter than all the adults. And a loyal dog. And an animal sidekick. And “the cone of shame.” And a bulldog. And a house and all those balloons.

You will lub, lub, lub “Up.”


“Despicable Me”

This one begins with the truth that villains are often more fascinating than heroes, and creates a villain named Gru who freeze-dries the people ahead of him in line at Starbucks, and pops children’s balloons. Although he’s inspired by many a James Bond bad guy, two things set him apart: (1) His vast Mad Scientist lair is located not in the desert or on the Moon, but in the basement of his suburban home, and (2) He dreams not of world control so much as merely dominating the cable news ratings as The Greatest Villain of All Time.

Voiced by Steve Carell, Gru’s life is made more difficult because his mother (Julie Andrews) sometimes gets on his case. Memories stir of Rupert Pupkin in his basement, yanked from his fantasies by his mother’s voice. Gru’s most useful weapon is the Insta-Freeze Gun, but now, with the help of his genius staff inventor Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand), he can employ a Shrink Ray. Just as global-scale villainy is looking promising, Gru is upstaged by his arch-rival Vector, who steals the Great Pyramid.

Gru finds three cute kids at his friendly neighborhood orphanage, run by the suspicious Miss Hattie. His plan is to keep them at his home until his Moon scheme is ready to hatch, and then use them to infiltrate Vector’s home by subterfuge — pretending to sell cookies, say. It follows as the night does the day that the orphans will work their little girl magic in Gru, and gradually force the revelation that the big lug has a heart after all. The refreshing thing about “Despicable Me” is that is violates the convention that children’s animation must have a perky, plucky young hero. Carl Fredrickson of “Up” effectively put an end to that.

Get your folks to take you to see “Despicable Me” while it’s still in theaters.


“My Dog Tulip”

Here is the story of a man who finds love only once in his life, for 15 perfect years. It is the love of a dog. J. R. Ackerley wrote a book about a German Shepherd he rescued from a cruel home. My Dog Tulip is now an animated feature combining elating visuals with a virtuoso voice performance by Christopher Plummer.

The film is animated, but not intended for children. It is told from and by an adult sensibility that understands loneliness, gratitude, and the intense curiosity we feel for other lives, man and beast. The story is narrated by Plummer, in the voice of a man in his 60’s who works for the BBC and lives in London. He is a soloist, cantankerous, crabby, lonely. Ackerley is educated by Tulip in the needs and ways of domesticated dogs. He attends to the feeding of Tulip, the training, the grooming, the walking, the territorial marking behavior, the illnesses, the personality, the life and death. No parents of a child have ever been more observant or a better caretaker.

Poignant.  Sweet revealing.  Entertaining and a joyful visual experience as well.

My Dog Tulip (New York Review Books Classics)“My Dog Tulip.” You might have to rent or DVD this one. Or read the book!

Last but not least, there’s Disney/Pixar’s


“Toy Story 3”

Andy is all grown up now and headed fur college. Their problems begin with that most dreaded of commands, “Clean out your room!” Andy’s mom gives Andy three choices: (1) attic; (2) donation to a day-care center; (3) trash. As Andy examines his old toys, his gaze lingers fondly on Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), and he decides to take him along to college.

What with one thing and another, the other toys find themselves at the day-care center, which seems like a happy choice, until a dark underside of its toy society emerges in the person of an ominously hug-prone bear named Lotso. Buzz Lightyear is back, still in hapless hero mode, but after a reboot, he starts speaking Spanish and that leads to some funny stuff. I also enjoyed the plight of Mrs. Potato Head, whose missing eye continues to see independently of her head. This raises intriguing physiological questions, such as, if Mr. Potato Head lost an ear, would it continue to hear, or if he lost a mouth, would it continue to eat without a body? These are not academic questions; at one point, Mister becomes an uncooked taco shell.

This is a fun, fun, funny, fun, slapstick, fun comedy, lacking the almost eerie humanity that infused the earlier “Toy Story” sagas.  It’s also lighter and happier with action and jokes rather than character and emotions. “Tulip and Me,” it isn’t. Just a big ole’ smilefest.

So there you have it.  What were your favorite films in 2010?  I’d love to hear.

Goodwill Energies I project
On Each and every One of you
Each and every day.

“And there came to be evening and there came to be morning…”

That’s life today!

  1. Thank you for coming to our class and telling us about ThatOne. It was really fun to have a dog come in.

  2. Thanks for coming it was fun seeing a bull dog!

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