Winter Movie Preview 2012: Family Films

The winter months are the slowest time of year for family films, which beats me. “Gnomeo & Juliet” was the first big animated/family film of 2011 and it finished 2011 with the second-highest domestic gross of any movie that came out in January or February. The offerings aren’t all that strong for 2012, but don’t be surprised if one of them ends up being one of the bigger films of the winter, even if that film is 20 years old already.

Beauty & The Beast 3D (Jan. 13)

Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Written by Linda Woolverton and 11 others
Starring: (voices) Paige O’Hara, Robbie Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach

Summary: Small-town beauty Belle wants to get swept off her feet, but gets more than she bargained for when a mishap with her father leads her to the castle of a prince cursed by an old witch to look like a beast.

The Word: The 3D re-release of “The Lion King” earned Disney an extra $90-plus million. Needless to say that opened up the rest of the Disney Classics catalog for a “limited engagement” 3D re-release. I don’t use the quotation marks lightly, as “Lion King” opened in mid September and is still playing right now (albeit in fewer than 10 theaters). Considering “Beauty” was the first animated film to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, it was a logical next step.

My Thoughts: Nothing screams cash grab like this 3D re-release campaign, but that’s because as someone who grew up with these films there’s no need to spend money on inflated ticket prices. It’s great for young parents though, as they can ensure their kids won’t be seeing something crappy.


Big Miracle (Feb. 3)

Directed by Ken Kwapis
Written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, Thomas Rose (book “Freeing the Whales”)
Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell

Summary: A news reporter in Alaska convinces and his ex-girlfriend, a Greenpeace volunteer, try to save a family of whales who are trapped in rapidly forming ice in arctic. Together they rally for government support to help carve a path through the ice to the ocean.

The Word: “Big Miracle” looks to be the latest in a line of successful inspirational movies involving animals and based on a true story, the latest being the fall hit “Dolphin Tale.” With a few more marketable stars and a time of year devoid of family offerings, this “save the whales” film could do quite well. Ken Kwapis, frequent “The Office” director and the helmer of “He’s Just Not That Into You” directs.

My Thoughts: I don’t doubt that this movie will be good. I also don’t doubt that this movie won’t be just like every movie you’ve ever seen involving overcoming the odds. The trailer also seems to give away just about every major turning point, but hey, it’s not like you wouldn’t have seen them coming anyway.


Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Feb. 10)

Directed by Brad Peyton
Written by Brian Gunn and Mark Gunn, Richard Outten, Jules Verne (novel)
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Dwayne Johnson, Vanessa Hudgens, Michael Caine

Summary: A young man (Hutcherson) convinces his mother’s boyfriend (Johnson) to take him in search of a mythical island that his grandfather always talked about.

The Word: Hutcherson is the only returning piece from “Journey to the Center of the Earth,” but I wouldn’t be surprised if you had no idea this film was sequel to that 2008 summer blockbuster that was one of the first 3D offerings since the extra dimension rose back from the dead. Dwayne Johnson replaces Brendan Fraser, which is a fitting replacement when you consider Johnson’s strangely abundant family film credits. Unsurprisingly, the director is Brad Peyton of “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore.”

My Thoughts: The original “Journey” somehow scrounged up $100 million domestically, but this is February and Jules Verne is very distantly connected to this one. The tiny elephants and giant bees will probably scare kids more than excite them, yet with a PG rating that’s exactly who Warner Bros. is going for. The lack of kid adventures in the winter gives this film its best chance to make money, but I wouldn’t expect any quality.


The Secret World of Arrietty (Feb. 17)

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Gary Rydstrom (English)
Written by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, Karey Kirkpatrick (English), Marty Norton (book “The Borrowers”)
Starring: (voices) Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, Carol Burnett

Summary: Arrietty Clock lives secretly in a house with the other members of her family … who are also 4 in. tall. They borrow only what they need to survive, but soon a young (normal-sized) boy discovers Arrietty.

The Word: Disney has slowly worked to get the brilliant anime films of Hayao Miyazaki to American audiences. “Ponyo,” a variation on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” got a wide release in August 2009 but wasn’t representative of the full extent of the auteur’s imagination, playing more directly to children than his other work. Disney has equipped a strong American voice cast to help give Mary Norton’s classic story greater appeal. Considering it will be the first animated film to come out in over a month, “Arrietty” will be the first real test for anime in the U.S.

My Thoughts: I definitely think “Arrietty” represents Studio Ghibli’s best chance at making a splash in the West. “The Borrowers” is a beloved story and the time of year couldn’t be better. I really want to believe that parents won’t be less inclined to take their kids to a film just because it’s not done in CGI. The receipts will never be as high as for a Pixar or DreamWorks offering, but provided the marketing is effective (and the trailer is a good start), it should be the biggest success the Japanese studio has had in the States.


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