Essays · Movies

Dad’s Guide to the Kid Movies and Family Films of Fall 2017

The stuff you’ll be seeing whether you like it or not.
By  · Published on September 13th, 2017

The stuff you’ll be seeing whether you like it or not.

It’s been a bad year for mainstream animation and family films. Especially if you’re a parent who has to actually go see yet another Cars sequel or the movie starring a poop emoji without a choice in the matter. Not even a dad-indulging pun like “nutty by nature” could make up for us having to sit through a Nut Job sequel (squirrel, you know it’s true).

Fortunately, the outlook for the rest of 2017 is somewhat bright. There’s another Pixar movie that actually looks good out this fall. And another Lego thing. We dig those. The rest could just be more colorful garbage. At least most movie theaters serve alcohol now, right? Maybe one of them can offer a special “my little pony keg” for a certain upcoming cartoon feature release.

Below is a preview of all the stuff the kids will be demanding to see this season, and I even asked my own children for their thoughts on all of them. They’re three and five, so they just said exclaimed, “I want to see that, can I see that now?!” for each. Yay… sigh. Jeez… I guess I’m going to see the Nativity movie with the silly animals.

The Funny One

Who knows what a Ninjago is — even my kids just think it’s “The Lego Ninja Movie” — but we can probably look forward to the latest theatrical Lego movie. Sure, The Lego Ninjago Movie is not directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the guys behind The Lego Movie, nor is it centered on familiar superheroes like this year’s decent The Lego Batman Movie, but it does look amusing enough.

The character voices include Dave Franco, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Fred Armisen, Zach Woods, Michael Pena, and Jackie Chan, which is pretty promising. Plus there’s Justin Theroux as the villain — who also happens to be the main hero’s father. Great, another movie making dads out to be the bad guys again. When’s Lego To Kill a Mockingbird coming out? Or at least Lego Taken? (Looks on the internet, where everything already exists. Oh!)

As for the kids, this is actually my three-year-old daughter’s most anticipated of the season, which is weird considering what else is coming up ahead. Also, since when does she know what a ninja is? Maybe her brother told her. He’s excited about this, too. They’ll watch anything Lego (they’re watching the awful Lego Frozen Northern Lights as I type, in fact). They just can’t… lego of this franchise.

When you have to see it: 9/22

The Cash-Grab

One of my 10-year-old neighbors told me he’s not interested in seeing My Little Pony: The Movie because it’s a “cash grab.” Yet he’s down for The Lego Ninjago Movie, which is similarly based on popular toys. And therefore also a cash grab, right? The truth is, the one spun off from TV’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic doesn’t look quite as inventive with its adaptation to the big screen.

But it will be huge. “Cash grab” is right at least in terms of us having to grab our wallets and pony up lots of money for tickets and probably tie-in merchandise. Could there be entertainment value for parents? Friendship is Magic does have a lot of adult fans, so maybe. And the guest voices include Michael Pena, again, and Emily Blunt, Liev Schreiber, Zoe Saldana, and others we might enjoyably recognize.

My little ones are all about this, and have been for months. But I think they were a little more excited about it when the first teaser dropped way back in April. My daughter, then only two, regularly asked when we could go see it, wanting it to be her first theatrical experience. Her interest has waned slightly, maybe because she’s realized she can watch the show anytime. If I had my way, the kids would forget entirely that there’s an exclusive feature-length episode of the show that will cost money playing outside the home.

When you have to see it: 10/6

The One Nobody Has Heard Of

While not listed on all release calendars, apparently something called Gnome Alone is coming out next month. If that title isn’t punny enough for you, there’s a lot more in the trailer, only the marketing doesn’t make a lot of sense because in the name, “gnome” is supposed to make us think of “home,” while in trailer it’s used in place of “no.” As in gnome way am I going to leave my gnome to see this one. Oh wait, my kids want to see it.

The title of the movie (not to be confused with a 2015 horror film of the same name) reminds us of Home Alone, and that’s no misgnomer since this is another home invasion thriller for children. The plot involves a teenage girl in her creepy new house learning that a bunch of garden gnomes there come alive to protect the place from troggs. Hey, have you heard this one? What’s the difference between a gnome and an elf? Gnomenclature!

When you have to see it: 10/13

The Big Kid Movie

It’s time for my son to start going to Marvel movies. He likes the characters. His latest choice (and it’ll likely change again tomorrow) for a Halloween costume for this year is the Hulk. He keeps saying he wants to watch Guardians of the Galaxy. But when I showed him the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok, he said it looks too scary (I don’t dare show him Justice League). I blame Cate Blanchett for being so darn good at being evil. Well, he has time to change his mind before it comes out. Hey, what do you call a Norse god who lies about being defeated by the Hulk? A Thor loser.

When you get to see it (with or without the kids): 11/3

The Religious One

You know what’s missing from the traditional Nativity story? Slapstick and other silliness. And not of the Mel Brooks or Monty Python variety. The animated with talking animals for kids kind. Some parents out there might be old enough to recall Don Bluth’s 1978 Disney short The Small One, which offers a donkey-focused story related to the birth of Jesus. The Star, produced by Sony and The Jim Henson Company, also focuses on a donkey who helps save the first Christmas, but as far as I know he’s not the one to carry a pregnant Mary to Bethlehem.

There are a few reasons to think positive about this thing. The director is Timothy Reckart, who made a really great Oscar-nominated stop-motion short (Head Over Heels) about a married couple who literally no longer reside in the same space in spite of living together in the same house. And the voice cast includes such amusing people as Keegan-Michael Key, Aidy Bryant, and Tracy Morgan, plus more fine talents like Ving Rhames, Christopher Plummer, and Gina Rodriguez who goes from Jane the Virgin to playing the Virgin Mary. Oh, and none other than Oprah as a camel.

If you’re hoping to avoid this, whether you’re religious and think it’s taking the piss out of a serious story or you’re not religious and want nothing to do with a Nativity play featuring Kelly Clarkson voicing a horse, just don’t let your kids watch the trailer. If you do, they’ll be hooked immediately by Morgan’s camel character dragging and complaining and later even more so by Key’s ass-shaking dove dance. Just remember, this is Sony Animation, which also thought it a good idea to give us an emoji movie.🎅  At least they didn’t borrow the line from the A Bad Moms Christmas trailer where Katherine Hahn says she’s “putting the ass back in Christmas,” even if it would be an innocently appropriate tagline here.

When you have to see it: 11/17

The Pixar One

Outside of Cars sequels, we parents are still very excited about Pixar movies. They’re typically as entertaining for us adults as they are for the kids. Coco looks absolutely stunning (see our recent report from Pixar for additional non-trailer-based anticipation). The studio once again takes us to an unforgettable world, this time the Land of the Dead. Don’t worry about your young ones being scared of a bunch of skeleton characters. They’re funny skeletons — or maybe I should say humerus skeletons — whose jaws literally drop. My kids thought that bit in the trailer was especially hilarious.

Yes, little kids will be interested in Coco. I wondered long ago if they would be, and then Disney confirmed they also had doubts by attaching a 20-minute Frozen short (Olaf’s Frozen Adventure) to the thing. It’s the first time, I believe, that Disney isn’t letting Pixar put their own short with a Pixar feature and it reeks of desperation to get the Frozen-obsessed tykes in seats. As it turns out, my kids actually seem more interested in the fresh Coco, even my daughter who literally watches Frozen every day, Probably because they already have Frozen at home every day.

Anyway, Coco is about a living boy who manages to accidentally transport himself to the Land of the Dead, which is a pretty lucky mistake considering how many people are just dying to go there. No bones about it, this will be a great movie. I will be running to the closest theater in my radius on day one. That’s no fibula. This is seriously going to be a sacrum event for animation fans. If you do go, be sure to talus what you think! Hey, why did the skeleton go to the movies alone? He had no body to go with.

When can you see this: 11/22

The Extra One

Do you know why they got John Cena for Ferdinand? Because we Cena this one already. Almost 80 years ago, Disney adapted the same children’s book as the seven-minute short Ferdinand the Bull. That’s all we need, still. But Fox and Blue Sky Animation stretched out the premise of a pacifist bull into a feature-length movie and is even bothering to release it against Star Wars: The Last Jedi — which most kids over the age of five will be seeing instead. What a terribull idea.

Of course my kids want to see it. Well, at first my son claimed he didn’t want to because he doesn’t like bulls. But once his sister said she wanted to see it and the idea of just her going to a movie and not him, too, was out there, he changed his tune. I’ll just find a theater with reclining seats, because if I have to come for the bull, I’d like to be comfortable. And nap. Hopefully they don’t charge extra just because it’s a bull movie. You know, because bulls charge a lot. Anyway, speaking of napping, what do you call a sleeping bull? A bulldozer!

When you have to see it: December 15 (Or hopefully after that so you can see Star Wars first.)

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.