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Wednesday, November 23,2011

Screening room

Here’s a pair of ‘kid’ movies adults shouldn’t overlook

by James Sanford

For parents who regularly endure Justin Bieber videos and “Hannah Montana” repeats, the idea of  “kid-friendly” entertainment can be hard to face.


But what happens when you inject a touch
of class and sophistication into a film that would seen to be designed
for younger viewers? You get movies like “The Muppets” and “Hugo.”


Happy holidays, everybody.


While children will enjoy “The Muppets”
for the slapstick and perennially cuddly characters, like Kermit the
Frog and Fozzie Bear, the heartiest laughter at the preview screening
last week came from people over 30, the ones who may be old enough to
remember be excited about watching Paul Williams or Cheryl Ladd
guest-starring on “The Muppet Show” many moons ago. Certainly,
31-year-old “Muppets” star Jason Segel must have fond memories of those
days, and he’s channeled them into the frisky, free-wheeling screenplay
he co-wrote with Nicholas Stoller.


Although “The Muppets” takes a few
liberties with the familiar characters — and, admittedly, Kermit and
Miss Piggy’s new voices take a bit of getting used to — it retains the
irreverent humor that was always the trademark of the late Jim Henson’s
creations. Segel and Amy Adams play Gary and Mary, starry-eyed
small-town types who help Gary’s lifelong pal, Walter, reunite the
long-disbanded Muppets gang for a benefit show to save their former
theater from the clutches of greedy oilman Tex Richman (a madly mugging
Chris Cooper, obviously having the time of his life).


“Those Muppets think they’re so funny —
well, it looks like the joke’s about to be on them!” Richman growls.
“Maniacal laugh! Maniacal laugh! Maniacal laugh!” Unable to do his own
chuckling, this born delegator makes his associates do it for him.


As in earlier Muppet films, there are
several cameos by recognizable stars — including Emily Blunt, putting a
sly spin on her role from “The Devil Wears Prada” — and numerous
musical interludes that allow Adams and Segel to show off their fancy
footwork (she’s great and he’s, well, energetic). Kermit, Miss Piggy
and the rest prove that a few years away from the spotlight haven’t
done them a bit of harm, and new additions to the crew — such as ’80s
Robot, who gurgles such sayings as "gag me with a spoon" and tries to
serve New Coke — fit in charmingly.


Martin Scorsese isn’t the first name
that comes to mind when one thinks of fantasy, but the director’s
enchanting “Hugo” marks a marvelous change of pace from “The Departed”
and “Goodfellas.” Based on Brian Selznick’s novel “The Invention of
Hugo Cabret,” this is a dazzling celebration of cinema history,
incorporating clips from silent films (including a bit of Harold
Lloyd’s “Safety Last” and a sumptuous serving of the vintage fantasies
of George Melies, played wonderfully by Ben Kingsley) and paying
tribute to the magic of movies.


Young orphan Hugo (Asa Butterfield)
lives in a Parisian train station, where he spends his days winding the
station’s many clocks and trying to repair an automaton left to him by
his father (Jude Law), who instilled in him a love of technology. The
movie is fascinated by all things mechanical: This is one of the few
recent films in which 3D effects serve the story instead of merely
being decorative. But Scorsese doesn’t overlook Hugo’s friendship with
the book-loving, adventure-craving Isabel (the beguiling, radiant Chloe
Grace Moretz) or his battles with a martinet of a police officer (a
zesty Sacha Baron Cohen). 


While there’s excitement, mystery and
abundant humor in “Hugo,” there is also a palpable sense of wonder.
“The Muppets” is a tasty dessert, but “Hugo” is a banquet for the
senses and a reminder that imagination and innovation were always a
part of filmmaking, long before the days of digital technology. When
Scorsese rolled out scenes from Melies’ ground-breaking 1902 adventure
“A Trip to the Moon,” an audience member at the press screening gasped,
“Oh, that’s awesome.”


For the record, that viewer was definitely not a child. 

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