My Rating: 7/10



Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer

Directed by

Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland

Written by

Nicholas Stoller

Other Info

Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Rated PG
89min (and no more, thankfully)

For grown-ups:
For kids:
Storks landed in my local theater tonight and I was there with my 2 daughters ages 9 and 11.  By the way, I’m 47. I’m happy to report the 9 and 11 year-olds loved the film. I was only somewhat impressed.

IMDB gives this synopsis: Storks have moved on from delivering babies to packages. But when an order for a baby appears, the best delivery stork must scramble to fix the error by delivering the baby.

If that sounds like  a convoluted story, you don’t know the half of it.

Kids will like it though.

This film has been promoted in theater trailers and internet for what seems like a year at least. I think the makers felt the title would resonate in so many people’s childhood memories that they would mark the premiere date on their calendar as well as their Google alerts. As old as I am, my parents never told me anything about storks bringing babies. If any parents needed an explanation, it was them. I’m the oldest of 4 siblings and I was intelligent and very inquisitive as a kid. Thankfully for me, they shared the truth about how babies are made and how they come into the world at a reasonable age: no need for storks.

My dad on the other hand did get the stork story when he was a kid. I sent him a text after the movie joking that he should see this film. Maybe he’ll get it. I think this film assumed the audience knew this dishonest legend that parents used to tell their kids. It’s ironic how parents in the 1940’s needed storks to explain the mystery of childbirth to children. After this movie, a lot of parents will have to explain the mystery of the storks in the movie through the actual explanation of birth.

But, enough about the weird stork angle, let me tell you 2 things that do work in the film. 1) The babies. The first strong impression I recall of a baby in an animated film is Jack Jack in The Incredibles. He is a firecracker. I loved the way he giggled as he was blurting out superpowers. I think he stands out in all our minds as a movie baby we won’t forget. The babies in this film are amazing in a similar way. Their voices are perfectly timed with deft CGI artistry. This makes them extremely cute and loveable. The best aspect is the laughs. Their laughs make the Pilsbury doughboy sound stand-offish. They invite you to love them. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of merch comes from this film. 2) SOME of the jokes. There is a small bird who is a sort of pseudo-nemesis. He is very funny. Some of the jokes lag too much though. I was surprised this film was so flat in its humor after having been in production for a year or more. Usually they test things like that with focus groups etc. This film feels “off the cuff” a lot. Moreover, so much is predictable because we have seen all this before.

Having said that …

Kids will like it. To them, I recommend it. All else, tell me what you think. I think I could have skipped this one and not have missed much.

Finding Dory

The unforgettable sequel to ‘Finding Nemo’ pleases with the introduction of some new hilarious characters, a cute story, and the comedic talent of Ellen Degeneres.

This sequel to ‘Finding Nemo’ pleases with the introduction of some new hilarious characters, a similarly cute story, and the unforgettable talent of Ellen Degeneres.


Finding Dory

Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O’Neill

Directed by

Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane

Written by

Andrew Stanton, Victoria Strouse, Bob Peterson, Angus MacLane

Other Info

PG | 103 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Riley’s Rating:

The question for viewers should not be, “Why is this good?” but rather “Why did it take 13 years to make this sequel?” Some movies are difficult to improve upon and This film betters ‘Finding Nemo’ (2003) in some ways. However, in other ways it is fish food compared to the live bait we viewers took in 2003. For example, no scene touches the amazing dentist office escape sequence in the first movie. Still, there are some new characters and laughs well written in ‘Finding Dory’ that do their own pleasing and that makes it well worth going to see.

The seals are among my favorites. You have two Laurel and Hardy types that love their rock as if it were a heated waterbed at sea. A funny third reminiscent of Beaker from the Muppets, tries to sneak up on the rock to have “a taste” but the two kings of the mountain always shuffle him off. This is a recurrent gag that works very well as comic relief. Then again, do we need comic relief from the amazing comedy of Ellen Degeneres? Not in theory but here she is the voice of the main character. In ‘Finding Nemo’ she herself was that relief. For anyone wondering if she pulls it off as a main comic, yes, she passes with flying colors.dory1

The story is identical to the first one only this time it is set in a wildlife preserve/theme park/museum sort of place. Dory remembers her parents that she lost prior to the first movie and she wants to get back to them somehow. This is made nearly impossible by her short term memory loss. Dory runs across a litany of new fish in the new setting, the most notable is an octopus named “Hank,” voiced by Ed O’Neill. Hank starts out as an antagonist but before long, Dory wins his affection and he ends up being the one who can help her most in getting back to her family. Virtually every aspect of the movie parallels number one so I suppose that could have been improved upon with some original sidebars.

The movie was originally set to be made for Disney by Disney’s experimental group “Circle 7 Animation.” That didn’t work out and the rights went back to Pixar who created the first animation for Disney on ‘Finding Nemo’ in 2003. In conclusion, I recommend this film to you but with a microscopic caveat that it isn’t base on anything original (to speak of, the search for her parents is slightly different than the other way around in ‘Nemo’). It lost a star from me for that. Still, I had a blast watching it at the drive in. I hope a lot of people get a chance to see this film.

The Secret Life of Pets

Quick gags and incredible visuals save this Secret and predictable Life of Pets we already knew about.

There’s a new foil for movies and it’s getting more and more prevalent, especially in holiday trailers. It happens when misinformation is conveyed about what a movie is about. This is a funny, cute, well-made animation film but it was advertised to be something that it’s not. Kids are likely to enjoy this more than adults, there’s no humor for grownups.


The Secret Life of Pets

Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart

Directed by

Yarrow Cheney, Chris Renaud

Written by

Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Brian Lynch

Other Info

Animation, Comedy, Family
Rated PG
90 min

The Secret Life of Plants (1973) is a book by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. It was once part of pop culture consciousness. Among other things, the book and study indicated that plants grow better when they’re spoken to. I can’t help but suspect the sound of the title resonated well when they named this film. It was advertised of a year with a trailer that should pets doing things in their apartments: playing records, rocking out and head banging, and getting a massage from the electric mixer whisk. Those are only the initial scenes. After that they leave the apartment building and have a rip-roaring adventure on the streets of New York. This is no “mellow at home” peek at the secret life of Pets, which is unfortunate, I would have liked to have seen an understated funny film like that.

Katie is Max’s owner, he’s a little white dog. She leaves him in the apartment every day when she goes to work. Through a random sequence of events that don’t need detailing, Max is kidnapped. The dogs in his building, led by Gidget, a female white fluffy dog. The movie consists of finding and rescuing Max. I might add that the kidnappers are a rouge group of animals that have escaped from the animal shelter. The number of animal characters is overwhelming. Short little gags bring you back but most of the movie it’s hard to follow the motivation of any given character. It is a children’s film so I ignored that flaw. Still, movies like Toy Story showed how to have a lot of characters without losing the focus on the primary characters.

the-secret-life-of-pets-has-record-breaking-opening-at-the-box-officeThere are interesting voices here but honestly, they sort of fade into the collage of action happening in the movie. I usually am very curious to look up who the voices are, not so this time. It’s too busy to hear any soul or expression from the voice actors. There is a scene where Duke is pulling Max on a rope through the water and he says: “You’re not doing great but you’re not drowning and that’s something.” I think that summed up the film for me. It had the flash that would attract the kindergartners but won’t charm the older kids or the adults.

The best thing about this film is the small gag stuff, I wish it had a lot more. For example, when the pets are cleaning up after their party, one yells to the hamster atop the vacuum “Myron Vacuum!” Myron is riding the vacuum in a hilarious way. You have to see it to laugh I think. There are a handful of moments like that. They hold the attention of the viewer. The story is not very tender or endearing. There is never a reference to what time it is that would bring the suspense up remembering when the dog owners are coming home. It felt like they deviated from the original idea and added a Flushed Away type adventure that would be fine for another movie but not this one. This film aspires to be something original but ultimately, it’s like so many other animated films we’re seen come down the pike in recent decades. Because the writing was not endearing to the animals it portrayed and because I felt it was advertised incorrectly, it lost two stars with me. I recommend it for very young kids, say 11 and under.


Disney has made a fun, innovative, colorful, and well scripted film here. Don’t let the little rabbit make you think of “HOP,” it’s a ton better than that. Plus, there’s a fox voiced by Jason Bateman so right there you are already out of the “HOP” solar system.

Zootopia (2016)
Ginnifer Goodwin

as Judy Hopps

Jason Bateman

as Nick Wilde

Idris Elba

as Chief Bogo

Directed by
Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush


Written by
Jared Bush


Genre, Rating, Length, etc.

Animation, Action, Adventure
Rated PG
1h 48min

Of course I give this film 5 stars, a perfect score. I’d give it more but I don’t want to appear as if I’m gushing. And this over a rabbit and a fox nonetheless. Well, actually there are a whole zoo of animals, hence the title. While we’re on the subject of the film’s name, I can’t help but wonder it this is Disney’s way of describing the Animal Kingdom theme park history. Actually I mean a fictional history like they did with the films “Tomorrowland” and “The Haunted Mansion.”

It’s a story of a police cadet that gets an assignment in Zootopia, the Los Angeles of cartoon cities. This police officer is a small female rabbit with not much for brawn but she makes up for it in enthusiasm. Through a strange course of events, she befriends a crooked fox and the two have adventures. They are the only ones who can stop a crooked plan to zombify the citizens.

There is a lot here and all of it is wonderful. I loved the elephant ice cream clerk and fox’s “baby” that turns out to be a deep voiced pygmy fox, a partner in crime. The critics are loving this film and so am I. I love the voice actors. Jason Bateman should get an Oscar, his fox character is pure genius. I recommend this film for any age.