“JUDY” Biopic Film Review

A truly gripping motion picture that will bring you to tears during this somewhere over the rainbow redemption story. Bring tissues. Renee Zellweger is captivating as Judy Garland, and you’ll swear that you’re watching Garland on the big screen. Although we may be familiar with the broad strokes career of the legendary entertainer, this film goes beyond the headlines and tabloids to deliver a true life story that could ironically be titled A Star is Born, or perhaps reborn. Ironic in that this film shows the life of a movie star after the lights have faded and the offers stop coming in, much like the movie she starred in. It’s a rise and fall story, of sorts, but is more precisely a fall and rise story as the movie focusses in on the last year of Judy Garland’s life. If you are worried that the film ends on her death, you can be relived that the film chooses to stop the story prior to the end of the iconic star’s life. And it works so incredibly well! While there are many movies (not unlike A Star is Born) that focus on the rise and fall of a talent in showbusiness, this movie skips all the glitz and glamor to paint a realistic portrait of what it is like for those whom grow up in front of the camera, controlled by those around them, just to wind up in front of booing crowds, empty bank accounts, homelessness, and a tumultuous custody battle. Not to mention her addiction to pills that was caused by abusive treatment at the hands of the old studio system because of being force fed pills from an early age. Whether you are a fan of the iconic diva or not, if you love command performances, then you do not want to miss the uncanny performance of Zellweger as Judy. All the way down to the mannerisms, vocal inflections, and over all behavior, she IS Judy. Although we all know of the tragic ending, no mistaking it, this film is an inspirational story of redemption.

The money is gone, career on the rocks, and risking the loss of custody of her two youngest children, that is the last year’s of Judy Garland’s life. Unfortunately the other side of the rainbow for Judy was anything but magical. Three decades after starring in one of the greatest film musicals of all time The Wizard of Oz, the beloved actress and singer is in dire straights. She is left with virtually nothing except her name and what remains of her timeless voice that charmed millions throughout her early illustrious career. In order to prove that she can provide for her two youngest children, she accepts a gig in London playing to sold-out shows at the Talk of the Town night club. While there, she reminisces with friends and fans, fights her depression and anxiety over performing, and begins a whirlwind romance with her soon-to-be fifth husband.

“For one hour, I am Judy Garland, and the rest of the time I am just like everyone else” is a paraphrased quote from the movie, but it illustrates how the actress and singer felt about her relationship with the world. The movie chronicles her inability to stay afloat financially in Los Angeles and must accept a gig in London where her personal troubles continue to follow and haunt her. Her character is so incredibly relatable because many of us have found ourselves in traps that we have stepped in and are at a loss as to how to get out. If you thought this was going to be another cliche musical biopic, then you would be mistaken. No pretense about it, this is an unapologetic look at the dark side of Hollywood in perhaps one of the greatest stories that is right up there with Norma Desmond. Now, I am not equating Judy with what is, in my opinion, the greatest film of all time Sunset Boulevard, but her story is not unlike the one experienced by Norma. The movie also comments on the far reaching effects of childhood trauma on the adult psyche. No one understood the extent that she was abused by the studio system except for Judy herself. If her present-day handlers knew what she went through during the years that American fell in love with The Wizard of OzMeet Me in St. Louis, and more, then they would not-so-casually write her off as a wrecked hasbeen who mismanaged her money and relationships. The film deals with perception versus reality. Strategically placed in the film are flashbacks to her childhood at MGM that provide context for moving the present story forward as each moment reveals a new layer to the legendary entertainer.

Zellweger delivers a performance for the ages in this film. More than a spot-on impression, she transforms into Judy Garland to the extent that you will almost believe that you are watching the iconic actress and singer on the big screen. It is clear that Zellweger studied Judy Garland for months in order to get into character. Her movement, speech pattern, posture, and other behaviors completely sell the audience on this audacious portrayal of such an icon. Never once does she break character and allow the actor to shine through, she remains committed to this phenomenally genuine portrayal of Judy Garland. We all know Zellweger can sing, after all, she wow’d us in Chicago (a rare example of when the movie adaptation IS better than the live show); but nothing will prepare you for the power of her singing in this movie. Other than Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, you will hear Zellweger sing other famous songs by Garland such as Get HappyThe Trolly SongCome Rain or Come Shine, and of course the encore of Over the Rainbow. during the movie’s climactic, emotionally charged, showdown. Even when singing, Zellweger is determined to deliver the songs just as a late-40s Garland did, complete with all the stubbornness, anxiety, and even anger. I truly hope that Zellweger is nominated for this role.

Perhaps the reason why Liza Minelli was quite objectionably vocal about her mother’s portrayal in this movie is because there are creative liberties taken by the writers in order to further dramatize Judy’s story. As I’ve told my screenwriting class, dramatize don’t tell. If a “based on a true story” or biographical film was simply concerned with the timeline of events, the cold hard facts, and cause and effect, then it might feel more like a police procedural or college lecture. Hence why it is imperative that writers DO get a little creative in the dramatization of events for cinematic purposes. For instance, the facts are largely correct in this story as I have compared them to Wikipedia and other newspaper articles, but where I can see the difference is Judy’s reaction to the timeline of events. Articles and tabloids may be able to show what happened, but it is up to the screenwriters to dramatize the reaction to the conflict. So perhaps that is what Liza is upset with, she doesn’t agree with the story details between what we know from Hollywood history. One of the tangential components in the movie is Judy meeting up with “Friends of Judy” at the end of one of her shows. Judy joins them, rather than be by herself for a night of poorly made omelets and casual singing around a piano. It’s an emotionally moving tribute to all the gays who’ve loved her over the years. In all likelihood, this was written for the movie as there is no way of verifying if this night ever happened. This is the scene where I feel that she should’ve sang Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas because tonally it was similar to that scene in Meet Me in St. Louis. Instead, she sings Get Happy.

Maybe this is an unconventional redemption story, but that quality is clearly communicated through the film. Rising up against the internal and external monsters in your life that have dragged you down so far that there is no end in sight. Whereas Judy may not have changed as dramatically as Scrooge did in  A Christmas Carol, she does change during the climax of the movie. If you want to know just how, then you need to go out and watch it!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com!

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“Rocketman” Movie Musical Review

Well, it’s better than BoRhap, but I should’ve rocketed passed this one. Before you throw tomatoes at me, as my opinion is clearly in the minority on this one, let me start out by stating that I do not care for rock n roll fever dream musicals. If you are unfamiliar with that subgenre of movie musicals, they are best described as those musicals that are surreal, nonlinear, and ultimately driven by emotion and image versus action or plot. Think of a poem versus prose. If you’re looking for an example of this type of movie, then look to Across the Universe. If you enjoyed Across the Universe or are simply a fan of Elton John’s music, then you will definitely enjoy Rocketman. If you are like me and do not care for the modern approach to a musical or unfamiliar with Elton John’s music beyond Step into ChristmasRocketman, or The Lion King, much like me, then you may want to consider blasting past this one. As outstanding as Taron Egerton’s impersonation of Elton John is, I am not ready to give him an Oscar nod. Personally, I do not consider excellent impersonations on par with acting. Impersonation and acting do not weigh the same, in my opinion. However, his performance appears to be highly committed and accurate to Elton John, which adds immense support to the tagline Taron Egerton is Elton John. Furthermore, this performance provides demonstrable evidence that Egerton is capable of a wide range of future roles. Where I do hope the film sees Oscar-nominations is in the spectacular costuming and mesmerizing production design. Those costumes were absolutely mind-blowing! For fans of Elton John’s music or simply the modern approach to the movie musical, then this will certainly be one to catch in the cinema on the big screen.

Rocketman is a modern movie musical that takes audiences on a fever dream journey through the highs and lows of Sir Elton John’s career from his breakout years to headlining Madison Square Garden to addict recovery and his resurgence in the 1980s.

Even before I told my friend that I did not care for the movie, she already knew. Why? Because she knew that I didn’t care for modern musicals; therefore, she extrapolated a hypothesis that I did not like Across the Universe. She knows me very well. Now, before you think that I only like classic musicals, let me elaborate. When I say modern, I am referring to a modern approach to the narrative structure and execution of the musical numbers. For instance, I absolutely loved La La Land and greatly enjoyed The Greatest Showman. However, both of those are classical in their respective approaches to the movie musical. In terms of Broadway, I love Sunset Boulevard and Mamma Mia, both of which are chronologically modern, but the former is still a classically structured musical and the latter’s worldwide success is attributed to the timeless music of ABBA, with which I am very familiar. If I use Mamma Mia or Mamma Mia Here We Go Again as modern movie musicals, that I liked, to which I compare Rocketman, then I assess that if I was more familiar with Elton John’s music, then I would have probably enjoyed the movie a lot more. After all, I went into it with the certainty that I was going to enjoy it. As there are no real shortcomings in the movie (except for some of the clunky dialogue), I am left with the evaluation that I simply do not care for this type of storytelling, so that is why I did not care for the movie.

My favorite moments in the movie are the ones between Elton and Bernie, specifically the one just before a concert in which Bernie urges Elton to reconnect with his child-self to remember why he loved music to begin with. Elton refuses to acknowledge his life before his Elton John persona, and snaps at Bernie. Two seconds later, he reaches out his hand to grab Bernie’s and apologizes. This shows the complexities of their longstanding platonic friendship, and therefore visually communicates the strength and depth of their relationship. At the core of this movie, it is about the rise, fall, and rise of the central character that is guided by an unreliable narrator. The nonlinear narrative begins in the present day, then flashes back to the past. And this goes back and forth until the showdown wherein we move past the moment that we opened with to jump forward to Elton’s recovery and end BEFORE The Lion King. I know. I was hoping that we were going to get a reference to The Lion King and then end the movie. Because this is a rock n roll fever dream musical, it was important to establish Elton John as an unreliable narrator because we then interpret what we are about to watch through a highly subjective lens. Subjectivity is important in the interpretation of a dream, and this story is very dream-like. Since the movie begins with an addict Elton John and ends with a recovered Elton, this unreliability allows for a greater character growth arc that is emotionally driven. Emotion is of vital importance because this story has far more in common with a poem than prose.

Perhaps the narrative execution is not to my liking, but the musical numbers are highly engaging and lots of fun to watch. If you love the music of Elton John then these musical numbers will tug at your heartstrings or make you jump to your feet and dance along with the movie. The first act is quite strong, and the second act is moderately strong, but the third act is a little clunky. Still, every moment of this movie was more enjoyable than BoRhap. The movie would have played stronger for me had it not been filled with one-dimensional characters wrapped up in a lackluster plot. But hey the music and costumes are great! If you want the full experience of Rocketman, then I feel that you want to watch it in a Dolby Cinema auditorium for the exquisite audio and picture quality. Whereas BoRhap was mostly about the music, this one is all about the imagery followed by the music.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

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“A Star is Born” (2018) Full Film Review

This “ageless and evergreen” movie musical will move your very soul from “the shallow” to the deep. Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is the fourth version of this story, and the strongest of the group. Now, the Streisand version will always have special place in my heart because I’m a lifelong Streisand fan. But other than Streisand herself, the rest of the film is largely forgettable. However, Cooper’s A Star is Born is a mind-blowingly, unapologetic movie musical that delivers a genuine authenticity rarely seen in movie musicals. With all the hype that this film received out of the Venice Film Festival and others during September, there is often the question that IF the film lives up to the hype? The short answer is YES. Fixing some of the plot holes in the Streisand version and providing more comprehensive character development, the screenplay co-written by Cooper harnesses the power of a simple plot with complex characters dealing with the positive and negative affects of stardom on two different people caught in a “bad romance.” With two charismatic performers with outstanding vocals and music plus a gripping story that will have you hooked from the first bar to the last, A Star is Born is an etherial cinematic experience equivalent to that of a shooting star. A star that will shoot its way to the Oscars next year.

Loving the bottle as much as he loves the stage, alt-country rockstar Jackson Maine (Cooper) wonders into a drag bar where he arrives just in time to see the performance of Ally (Gaga). Blown away by her incredible vocals, Maine finds her in the dressing room to introduce himself. Maine is taken back by her street smarts and homespun humility, but sees an undiscovered star. Although Ally has all but given up on her dream, Maine is determined to coax her out onto the stage Determined to provide Ally with the stage she needs to showcase her uncanny ability to create magic with her voice, a magic that has profound, authentic meaning behind it, Maine invites her to join him at a gig. When she refuses the invitation, Maine sends his chauffeur to follow her until she gives in. And gives in, she does. Already smitten with Ally, Maine falls madly in love with her after their voices make incredible music together. Soon, Ally’s career takes off like a shooting star, while Maine deals with his inner demons. Just like careers have ups and downs, so does the relationship between Ally and Jackson Maine.

As a star rises, a comet falls. While the basic plot of this, and the other versions of A Star is Born are similar in nature, this one feels the most cinematic. Cooper’s screenplay takes what the previous versions did well, and then improves where the others did not perform as well. With three previous ones to analyze, Cooper certainly had plenty of source material to pour over. What I appreciate most about this version is the foreshadowing and poetry that provide a rich subtext. One of the most important parts of plot development in a screenplay is the strategic placement and execution of emotional beats. Much in the same way the original songs in the movie drive those emotional beats home, the screenplay follows in suit. Although I will argue that the first half of the movie is stronger than the second half, the story is a powerful one that shies not away from depicting real issues that celebrities, especially in the music industry, face. There is an unapologetic approach to both sides of the stage. The beginning scenes pack a powerful punch. And I was completely sold on Ally’s ability to delicately balance toughness against vulnerability. Jackson Maines character development is gritty and believable. Fortunately, after the 1976 (Streisand) version shifted the focus from Hollywood to the music industry, that shift provided the foundation upon which 2018’s A Star is Born is built. For all this story has going for it, paving the way to a likely Oscar nomination, Cooper is unable to sustain the energy from the first act all the way through the rest of the movie. While the first and third acts are strong (especially the first), the second act lacks the charm and energy of the first but does effectively lead us into the showdown and realization. Whereas the pacing looses footing a little in the middle, there is no mistaking that this is a phenomenal retelling of a classic plot for a new generation, complete with humiliation, redemption, heartbreak, and love.

The cinematography is incredibly strong. While not heavily stylized in a particular manner like other filmmakers, who’s direction is part of that filmmaker’s identity, the cinematography in this film incorporated a variety of approaches from wide shots of real concerts to intimate closeups that work seamlessly together in order to provide the film with an outstanding and comprehensive visual appeal. One of the elements of the cinematography that stood out to me the most was just how natural and relaxed the camera movement felt. There were plenty of moments that I forgot the camera was there because it felt that I was present–in those moments–witnessing the plot unfold. While some directors may have felt the need to approach most of this movie as a music video (instead of a musical), Cooper allows the camera to linger in a moment to drive the emotion of that moment home. During the musical performances, there is certainly a music video feel to it, but it never takes you out of the story, at large. From beginning to end, the cinematography flows naturally across the movie.

Cooper and Lady Gaga’s respective performances are incredible. They will certainly wow you from beginning to end. Not surprising after watching the movie last night, Cooper delivers a command performance that is sure to land him a Best Actor nomination. He looks and sounds like an alt-country rockstar. I had no idea that he could sing! At no point does it ever feel like he’s acting. Such power in subtlety. It’s the little things he does that serves as evidence of his commitment to character and never acting like a Jackson Maine type but legitimately becomes Maine with all his problems with addiction to drugs and alcohol. Because the subject of celebrity addictions leading to untimely deaths has been in the news a lot, this was a great opportunity for Cooper to comment on this issue by depicting how tragic it is, and the affects on others.

Whether you are a fan of Lady Gaga or not, there is no doubt that her acting and vocal performance will leave you speechless. Of course, being speechless never stopped me. Without breaking character or forcing her real-world persona and fandom into the diegesis of the film, there is a nod to her status as a queer icon. One of the early scenes in the film features her at a drag show. This scene fits into the story perfectly, and successfully sets up some of the subtext and commentary later on in the film regarding how the music industry (and Hollywood to an extent) package female performers. The character of Ally allows fans of Gaga to explore a different side to her through most of the film. During the second act, there are moments that remind us of what makes Gaga so popular–very similar to her real-world celebrity self–but these moments never detract from the more organic, intimate ones. Although Ally’s quest for stardom does play out a little cliche as it points us back to the real-world Lady Gaga, Ally’s character finds herself back to her true self at the end of the film. As a side note, I love the nods to the the 1976 one by way of Ally talking about how her nose was considered too big by talent scouts. A brilliant nod to Streisand’s trademark nose.

With a very strong start, mediocre middle, and relatively strong recovery, Bradley Cooper’s A Star is Born is a don’t miss film! If you were worried that the film was not going to live up to the hype of the festivals, no need to worry any longer. From what I have gathered from other critics, members of #FilmTwitter and the #PodernFamily (podcasters), there appears to be an agreement (mostly anyway) that this film is an outstanding work that will be one to watch for this upcoming awards season. Perhaps it won’t be the next Silence of the Lambs and take the Big 5 Oscars, but it will likely still do very well.

Ryan is a screenwriting professor at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog!

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“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” movie musical review

You won’t be able to resist the singing and laughter! A major summer box office win for Universal Pictures! Ten years ago, I loved Mamma Mia! and now I equally enjoyed the sequel that seemingly came out of nowhere. I danced, I jived, I had the time of my life, and you will too! The entire original cast is back, and not only them, but select supporting and atmospheric characters as well. Mostly filled with new additions to the Mamma Mia! musical soundtrack, you still get the crowd favorites, those showstopping numbers Dancing QueenSuper Trouper, and of course Mamma Mia. Selections from other songs from the original motion picture (and ABBA Gold album) also make appearances. In our world that seems to be filled with so much negativity, hate, and sadness, a movie like this is needed to lift the human spirit, let go of all your cares, and give yourself over to the timeless music of ABBA and the hilarious antics of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Just like I will be the first to tell you that if you’re searching for the most fun show on Broadway, to select Mamma Mia!, the same rings true for the sequel to the original adaptation. It is so much fun! It might be kitschy fun, but immensely entertaining and very well produced. While some movies and movie musicals comment on society or deal with hard topics, this is a refreshing film that reminds us that it is okay to attend the cinema for no holds barred fun in order to uplift the human spirit.

It’s been ten years since Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) threw her wedding to find her dad, and she is working diligently to remodel and reopen her mother’s hotel. Sadly, Donna (Meryl Streep) has passed away and left the responsibility of running the hotel to her daughter. In order to do her mom proud, Sophie is putting the finishing touches on the grand opening party when she receives some troubling news and a storm wreaks havoc on the hotel. Channeling inspiration from her mother, Sophie reflects on all the stories her mother told her about how she met her dads and came to the island. We get to spend a significant amount of time with young Donna (Lily James) as she makes her way in this world. From graduation to making a home out of the farmhouse and falling for Harry, Bill, and Sam along the way. Sophie learn how her life parallels her mom’s in so many ways. Reuniting with Rosie (Julie Walters) and Tanya (Christine Baranski), she moves forward with determination to see her mother’s dream all the way through. Just when she’s had enough surprises in her life, Sophie finally comes face to face with her estranged grandmother Ruby (Cher).

There is beauty in simplicity. Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again delivers an amazingly fun movie musical built upon a simple plot with iconic songs. It’s a juke box musical. While it may lack the depth, introspect, or critical value of other movie musicals, it possess a power to make an emotional connection that doesn’t hit you hard or seek to change your worldview on an issue, but instead uses the power of song and dance to make you smile. Genuinely smile. The kind of infectious smile and laughter that fills the auditorium at the movie theatre. Sometimes filmmakers are so concerned with upholding the art of cinema, packing in powerful messages, or visualizing deep themes that the desire to entertain for fun gets forgotten. Not only is this the most fun at the movies you will have this summer, but it’s a movie that is solidly produced. It has a command cast featuring performances by Meryl Street and Cher and a lovable cast of familiar and new characters. Whereas the original movie relies mostly on top tier ABBA songs that are generally known to fans and public, this movie employs mostly second and third tier ABBA songs. Fortunately, these lesser known songs will soon find their way into karaoke libraries and mix tape play lists on Spotify and AmazonMusic.

Do yourself a favor and head to the movies this weekend to smile, laugh, and sing along with Mamma Mia: Here We go Again! I enjoyed it so much, that I could definitely watch it again myself. But tomorrow night I need to watch Universal Pictures’ other release this week Unfriended: Dark Web (coincidentally, another sequel that came out of nowhere).

“The Greatest Showman” movie musical review

Stunningly sensational! Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages witness the larger than life movie musical adaptation of the life of P.T. Barnum directed by Michael Gracey. Dazzling! 20th Century Fox’s The Greatest Showman is an incredible work of motion picture and performing arts magic. Never before has the magic of the American circus been captured so brilliantly. As the movie stares, “a man’s station is truly limited only by his imagination.” From the costumes to the music and choreography, this film is sure to inspire anyone who has a dream and wants to realize it. The music will have you singing along, clapping, and even tapping your toes because the emotions will get you right to the core. Ordinarily, a movie like this could generate an interest in budding performing artists and showbusiness enthusiasts to “run away and join the circus,” but the big top had its swan song earlier this year. One can only speculate that had this film been released last year that the circus that still bears his name Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey would still be touring today. Sadly, the circus had its final performance in May 2017. From the moment the movie opens, you will be completely immersed in the world of P.T. Barnum, a world unfamiliar with the concept of shows that were sheer spectacle, illusion, and simply designed to put smiles on faces. It’s entirely possible that this may prove to be the greatest films of 2017, and certainly one of the greatest movie musicals ever made.

Simply stated, The Greatest Showman is the film adaptation of the life of P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and depicts how he was inspired to essentially create the very concept of showbusiness. From his successes to his failures, this movie showcases the very beginning of the American circus, a tradition that would last for nearly 150 years. Filled with incredible original music, this original movie musical displays how one man’s vision became a worldwide sensation.

My first observation of this film is just how polarizing it seems to be. On one hand, some critics and websites praise it for being an absolute delight while others are rating it rotten. Unapologetically, I feel strongly that this film musical is nearly flawless. As to how accurately it reflects the life of P.T. Barnum, I cannot speak to that because I have not spent hours researching his life; however, from what I do know about him, the movie seems to have captured the inspiration and vision accurately, as well as his faults and pitfalls. While standard holiday issue biopics are nothing new, what with The Darkest Hour also on the horizon this season, Gracey turns what could have been just another biographical film about an American icon into a larger than life dazzling display of precise choreography, effective montages, and just plain fun! Ringing Bros. may have closed the bigtop for the last time, but the soul of P.T. Barnum lives on in what Feld Entertainment (parent company to Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey) does. Without P.T. Barnum, we may not have the concept of showbusiness as we know it today. Despite staying away from the usual meaty themes found in Christmastime biopics, this film packs a powerful punch and supports the need for entertainment and the arts in our lives.

The high degree of passion Jackman displays for his character cannot be overstated. Though Gracey shows his directing prowess in this film, it is the labor of love of Jackman who has been trying to get this movie musical made for the better part of a decade. While the cliche underdog story may not be anything new, the method through which the story is told is a must-see spectacle. What works best in the movie are the extravagant and intricately choreographed musical numbers. The infectious and inspirational songs of The Greatest Showman were written by La La Land Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul while the brilliant choreography was staged by Ashley Wallen. Each and every musical number is powerful and truly adds to the fantastic experience of this film. Moreover, this movie musical typifies the height of the visual and performing arts in terms of the ability to create an imaginative atmosphere that generates sheer delight in the minds and eyes of the audience.

In many ways, this movie is an extension of the circus that many of us grew up watching as kids and even adults. The circus was never about deep, complex stories; it was about entertaining audiences of all ages and bringing smiles to faces. And this film will certainly bring joy into your life this holiday season! Such a perfect movie for the week leading into Christmas because it is fun for the whole family.