Movies Till Dawn: Kids’ Movies for Grown-Ups

Missing Link” (2019, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) Pompous 19th century adventurer Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman) finds his entry ticket into a League of Gentlemen-styled club in a timid male Bigfoot named Susan (Zach Galifiniakis). Audiences passed on this sweetly cracked stop-motion animated feature from Laika, which is unfortunate, as it has visual style and technique to spare, and a winning voice cast that includes Zoe Saldana, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson and a particularly gonzo Timothy Olyphant. Maybe not enough slam-bang (or fart jokes) for very little kids (though there’s a terrific barroom brawl), but older ones who have appreciated Laika’s other efforts (“Kubo and the Two Strings“) will find a similar mix of epic sweep, off-kilter charm and laughs here. Fox’s Blu-ray/DVD includes commentary by writer/director Chris Butler and several making-of featurettes that provide closer looks at the intricate sets and character design.

Penguin Highway” (2018, Shout! Factory) The unexplained arrival of penguins in a Japanese village seems to coincide with fourth grader Aoyama’s own scientific-minded inquiries into the mysteries in his own life: namely, the future and girls, especially older dental hygienist One-san, who seems to share his boundless curiosity. Though there are many cute, wide-eyed kids and even cuter penguins in this Japanese animated feature by first-time director Hiroyasu Ishida, “Penguin Highway” is not for younger viewers, due to its protagonist’s obsession with female anatomy (though this plays as precociousness and not perversity) and the elliptical story behind the penguins, which are linked to other, far stranger fauna from other dimensions. So it’s anime-loving teens and adults who will most likely appreciate Ishida’s eclectic approach to what could be sticky-sweet or weird material. Shout’s Blu-ray/DVD includes interviews with Ishida and source material author Tomihiko Morimi (“Night is Short, Walk On Girl”) as well as a sampling of Ishida’s previous shorts.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix” (2019, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) Fox caps its ownership of the X-Men franchise (having been snapped up as part of its acquisition by Disney) with this twelfth feature based on the Marvel mutant series, which focuses on Jean Grey (Sophie Turner, “Game of Thrones”) and the repercussions of a space mission that transforms her into the dangerously powerful Phoenix. No one seemed particularly satisfied with writer/director Simon Kinberg‘s effort (including himself), which feels overplotted and desultorily performed by its cast (which includes James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and briefly, Jennifer Lawrence), though Turner and Jessica Chastain (as chief villian Vuk) both navigate their all-over-the-place story arcs. Younger True Believers may also find it inordinately downbeat – there are more than a few ugly deaths, but little of the levity that made such moments palatable in “Avengers: Endgame.” For X-completists, mostly: Fox’s Blu-ray adds commentary by Kinberg and producer Hutch Parker, as well as deleted scenes and a five-part (!) making-of doc.

The Buster Keaton Collection: Volume 3 (Seven Chances/Battling Butler)” (1925/1926, Cohen Film Collection) Two lesser-known Keaton silent comedies, both sourced from Broadway plays: “Butler” finds the star/director in Fauntleroy mode as a pampered son of privilege who’s mistaken for a boxer and forced to face the “Alabama Murderer” (at the Grand Olympic Auditorium, no less), while in “Chances,” Keaton can rescue his brokerage firm from financial ruin if he can get married before the end of the day. Neither is as essential as the titles on Volumes 1 and 2 in Kino’s Keaton Blu-ray series, but both have stand-out moments (the training and fight sequences in “Butler,” and especially the brutal punch-out that concludes the film, all of which reportedly influenced “Raging Bull,” and the avalanche scene and bridal chase in “Chances”) that should impress and amaze newcomers to Keaton’s work. Kino’s Blu-ray includes a restoration of the two-color Technicolor prologue in “Chances.”

Vigil” (1984, Arrow Video) The accidental death of her rancher father has a seismic impact on the life of 11-year-old New Zealand girl Toss (Fiona Kay), who must learn to contend with not only her mother’s relationship with a farmhand (Frank Whitten), but her own physical and emotional upheavals. Glacially paced but gorgeous feature – the first from New Zealand to compete at Cannes – from director Vincent Ward (“The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey”) is a coming-of-age film told through silence, observation and changing perspective rather than Big Moments of dawning realization; as such, it may not work for all viewers, but Kay’s remarkable performance and the photography of New Zealand’s unearthly landscape by Alun Bollinger (“The Lord of the Rings”) are hard to deny. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes an appreciation by the late journalist Nick Roddick and archival pieces on the film’s production.


About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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