Ranking Movies My Kid’s Watch – Part I

Screen shot from the Disney 'Tangled' website - used without permission because I'm a bad person. Visit them at http://movies.disney.com/tangled

Screen shot from the Disney ‘Tangled’ website – used without permission because I’m a bad person. Visit them at http://movies.disney.com/tangled

As any parent knows, once you have kids in this day and age, you tend to watch a lot of animated movies. You can be as idealistic as you want but there’s no way around it. We always have something on in the background. And if we like a movie (we rate them on a scale from 1-10), we’ll bestow the greatest of honors upon it: we’ll buy it on DVD. Yes, I know you can see most of this stuff for free through streaming video, but really it’s just easier to put a physical disc in the player. We are old-fashioned I guess. Heck we even have quite a few VHS tapes as well.

I love movies. I love going to the theater or watching them at home. It’s probably one of my most favorite things in the world to do. Call me an escapist I guess. But with two small children in the house I, my wife as well, get to watch very few grown-up movies. I can count on one hand the number of dramatic, scary, violent movies I’ve seen in the last several years. Maybe if we’re “lucky” we sneak in a romantic comedy on a rainy Saturday afternoon. If I do want to watch something R-rated, or even PG-13 I have to wait until after the kids are in bed. By then it’s usually 10pm and I’m exhausted from watching my wife raise the kids all day long.

So when life give you lemons, make lemonade. In fact there are plenty of kids’ movies that we throughly enjoy. Could be that I’d even watch one or two in my studio by myself if I was painting or needed background noise.

Over dinner last night the wife and I made a list of our favorite animated kid movies. We then listed the qualities we would use to rank the movies. In this post I’ll go over our not-scientific-at-all criteria as well as the list of nominees. In the next post I’ll share our rankings for the our top ten (maybe twenty if I’m feeling frisky).

Our Criteria For Liking A Kid’s Movie

Music – Off the top of my head I think all these kids’ movies have music, either songs written specifically for the movie, like that non-sense they keep playing from ‘Frozen’ on the radio, or regular songs such as ‘Send Me On My Way’ by Rusted Root in ‘Ice Age’. If there is at least one catchy tune, and not too many bad ones, rest assured it will increase our chances of liking it.

One Liners – Witty, clever, memorable dialogue can make a kid flick stand out. If we watch the same movie forty-two times in a row and we still chuckle at the same line every time, then that movie definitely “Snailed it”.

Plausibility – Ok, this is mostly my criteria and it’s hard to explain. See, most…okay all of these movies are not realistic compared to the real world. And I don’t have a problem with that. Fast snails, talking birds, monsters going to school…I’m down with all of that. What I’m not down with is a world made up solely of ‘Cars’, where everyone has very human like qualities and needs. They don’t have opposable thumbs…how do they manage doing anything remotely human without actual humans or even small helper robots. How do they apply their rear bumper ointment? Do other cars have to do that for them?  Gross. Usually in sequels and whatnot the producers will back off a little and start to apply fixes for this sort of thing, such as a fork lift that can mix drinks, after they realize the insanity of their ways. How do they pick up a martini glass though…

Animation – This is the eye candy part. Technology has gotten to the point where everything is essentially photo realistic. Regardless though, the look, style and quality play into how well we enjoy a movie. Back in the old days, like when ‘Bugs Life’ came out, animation was pretty good. Movies like ‘Open Season’ lose out because the animation isn’t our cup of tea. We need to be immersed in another world, and balance tech wizardry with cuteness and plausibility. Pixar is likely the gold standard for animation, but now days almost everyone has got their act together, unless they’re trying to be edgy or arty.

Feel Good – It goes without saying, the story has to make us feel good and be happy. If I want to be depressed I’d pay Disney to animate my life story. We didn’t even bother watching ‘Toy Story 3‘. And ‘Up!‘ may as well have come with a bottle of sleeping pills and a bottle of Jack. Look, I’m likely to cry even during a happy movie, I don’t need to bring an entire box of Kleenex with me. Beware of movies that transcend generations or time periods – death is unavoidable.

Storyline – As with any movie a good storyline is a must. All the other stuff doesn’t matter if the story isn’t engaging. We need a start, middle, ending. We need good characters, heroes, bad-guys, and preferably a cute sidekick or animal. Bonus points for a car crash.

Who’s Dead Or Dying – No one should be dead or dying, but if someone must, we’ll factor that in subconsciously. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, like when Paul Newman died between ‘Cars’ and ‘Cars 2’ they had to knock off his character but it was handled nicely – the kids would never pick up on that, just us old farts who miss the actor. Other times they knock off a character, usually a wife or mother, much to the chagrin of my wife. Usually dad’s are okay in kids movies.

Kid Friendly – Some animated movies seem kid friendly but if we feel uncomfortable watching them for fear we may have to explain something messy, like death, to our kids; or if the animation is scary, we likely will stop the movie or at least not watch it again. I think we watched ‘Frankenweenie’ and I spent the whole movie asking myself what have I done as my kids watched in mild horror.

Watch-ability Over And Over – After all, my kid is likely going to want to watch the movie a few thousand times. Which means we’ll have to listen to it over and over again while we hide in the other room. I’ve never actually sat down and watched ‘Cars 2’ from start to finish, but I’ve seen it 37,659 times already.

Previews – One other note, a movie trailer or the name of the studio making the film will sway our decision to watch it or not initially. Some movies got good reviews but we’re just not interested. Others we felt that way and stumbled upon them for free on TV and loved them.

There you have it, those are the general criteria we use. Below is the list we compiled of contenders for our rankings. If movie isn’t here then we don’t even consider it to be close to the top ten for the reasons stated above, or we simply haven’t seen it.

Add your favorites in the comments below!

Also, parents, what’s your criteria for evaluating kids’ movies?

The List Of Nominees For Our Top Ten (maybe twenty)

Turbo

Tangled

Despicable Me

Despicable Me 2

Lorax

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2

Frozen

Finding Nemo

Over The Hedge

Ice Age

Ice Age 2

Ice Age 3

Ice Age 4

Toy Story

Toy Story 2

Rio

Horton Hears A Who

Cars

Cars 2

Ratatouille

Hotel Transylvania

Megamind

Monsters vs. Aliens

Monsters Inc.

Monsters University

Meet The Robinsons

Brave

How To Train Your Dragon

Wall•E

A Bugs Life

Planes

The Incredibles

Bolt

 

 

Advertisements

Lawn Mower Review

As promised I’m going to tell you about my Father’s Day present.  Yesterday we picked up a new GreenWorks 40V 19″ cordless electric lawn mower at Lowes. As soon as our old Troy-Bilt mower kind of gave up the ghost, and coinciding with a comparison test in The Family Handyman magazine, I started researching a new mower.  Our old one was gas powered, and was giving me quite a few problems as of late. It would guzzle gas, belch out smoke and had a tough time maneuvering over the rough terrain of our yard.  Even though I’d just changed the oil it sputtered to a slow intermediate death earlier this week.  I could get it fixed up again but thought maybe it was time to rethink the mower situation. After all, I had previously reattached the front wheel axle when it fell off last year, but the axle still flopped around. And just this week I took off the front safety shield so the mower could clear the rough terrain.  Maybe after 9 years it was time for a new mower. Christine was never a fan of the old mower because the “self propelled” feature never even worked very well which meant she couldn’t mow the lawn.

I was intrigued by the idea of an electric mower after reading the comparison in the magazine. So I went online to Lowe’s and Home Depot’s websites to see what they had to offer. Pretty much all the mowers in the article could be bought at one or the other store. I focused in on the 19″ models, as opposed to 14″. This would mean fewer passes back and forth when cutting our 4,200 sq. ft. front lawn. I also keyed in on lithium ion batteries as opposed to lead acid; both are rechargeable. The lithium batteries are like the ones you use in your cordless power equipment.  In fact you can use the lithium ion batteries in the mower and also other power tools. They are interchangeable. The weight savings is 20-40 lbs. by going lithium vs. lead battery.  The lithium batteries also charge in and hour or two vs. 12 hours for a lead acid battery. I’m not sure what the advantage of a lead acid battery is other than it’s tried and true technology.

I was leaning to the GreenWorks 19″ mower from the get go because of it’s size, light weight and battery type. And remember, I was not a fan of the GreenWorks tiller, as the wheels literally fell off when I used it, but since then I’ve come to terms with that unit, and am wiling to give GreenWorks another shot based on my research. When I read the reviews on Lowe’s website (Lowe’s is the only place that sells them locally as far as I could tell, plus we had a $25 coupon), the mower got 4.2 out of 5 stars.  Many of the reviews spoke highly of its performance and I was willing to risk any of the negative reviews which focused on a few minor quality problems with the ignition. The magazine listed the price as $449, but Lowe’s listed it at $349…plus our coupon and it was available at a local store. All and all I was satisfied and went to the store to pick one up. Now the one in the store is model 25223, which includes two batteries, one regular capacity and one half the capacity of the other. Model 25312 includes two regular batteries, but that isn’t offered at Lowes. Based on the reviews I was fine getting the one and a half battery set. I like the idea of two batteries regardless of size so I can charge one while I use the other. I can always buy another battery, especially if I purchase an electric trimmer to replace my gas trimmer someday.

At the store I examined the mower and its construction. I know where all the weak spot are on a lawn  mower – handle where it connects to the body (same on this unit but more on that later), the metal frame which is good and a rarity on electric mowers. I even picked it up to see how much it weighed (not a one hand task but lighter than a gas mower, it’s specs say 49 lbs.).  The height adjustment lever was head and shoulders in terms of ease of operation compared to my gas mower.  One other nice feature is the large back wheel, much better than regular mowers with small back wheels for going over rough terrain, which we have plenty of in our young yard.

So we loaded up the box and took our new friend home with us. It was to late to do anything last night so this mooring was “go time” to test out the new mower. I unpacked the batteries and charger, read the manual briefly and started charging the big battery. An hour or two later I switched and charged the smaller battery. Then it was time to give it a go. I unpacked the mower and lifted it out (it has a handle on top), it was light and new and oh so awesome.  Happiness.  Set up was a breeze, just unfold the handle and slide in the battery and insert the red key to complete the circuit.  With the wife watching and taking photos I depressed the button and pulled back the bail.  With a subtle “whirr” my little green machine came to life. I quickly mowed the tall grass in the walkway eliminating the chances that ticks could hide there while we got in and out of the car. I then pushed the mower to the front yard to finish what my gas mower didn’t.

Several of the reviews online commented that this electric mower actually made mowing “fun” and “enjoyable”.  After ten minutes of back and forth I was beginning to agree. The mower is so lightweight and quiet that it’s essentially like vacuuming your living room in terms of ease. And there is no belching grey smoke or loud noise like a gas lawn mower. The large wheels and light weight also allowed the mower to get over ruts and obstacles easily compared to my lumbering “self-propelled” gas mower. This mower is not self-propelled, but there is no need because it’s so easy to push with very little effort. One cool trick with an electric mower is you can flip it over to inspect the underside. I ran over some bird netting and got it all tangled up. I removed the key, literally flipped it over and extracted the netting, no problem and no worries that gas would come pouring out of the top of the mower or that the heavy mower would flop back onto my foot.

I had mentioned the handle attachment is the same as on other mowers. This area broke multiple times on my old mower. When you go to turn the mower at the end of a pass, so much torque is applied that eventually the handle snaps. I’ll spare you the details but take it from me, it’s a bad design, driven by cost savings. Well, with my new mower it’s so easy to turn because it’s light weight, there isn’t nearly the torque on this part of the handle so it should last for some time. My only complaint on the handle is the length isn’t quite long enough for my 6′-1″ frame, but I would have that issue with almost any mower I suspect.

I always cut in mulching “mode” and this mower mulched very well. It comes with a side chute and bag attachment but I rarely if ever use those.  Both looked easy to install though. The mower starts with a buildup “whir” then settles into it’s cutting rhythm. It will seemingly adjust the power if it starts to get bogged down. I did not get it to bog down so much that it stopped. Though when the battery runs out, it stops automatically, no perceivable wind down of power.

The great thing about the electric mower for our new yard is that is does not pick up rocks or branches. The old mower would just destroy it’s blade on picked up rocks and tree branches that I would “forget” to move. This electric one isn’t powerful enough to lift up the debris and rattle it around, which is actually a good thing. And if you do have to stop, you just release the bail to shut it off, move a stick or whatever and then just press the button and pull the bail back to start it whirring again. No cord to pull, or starter key to turn. This eager mower owned our uneven yard.  It cut even the gnarliest weeds and tall grass. For fun I even blazed a trial to the septic field and back with it; I just didn’t want to stop mowing plants, it was that much fun.  It did leave the occasional grass or weed sticking up but our grass was super long.  The regular mower did the same under these conditions. The damp grass proved no hindrance to our new green mower either. And I could even mow our mulch covered “paths” without throwing mulch everywhere. Awesome.

The sound was amazing. The mower becomes more of an appliance instead of this loud thing you have to fight around the yard. I mowed right around the bee hives (with my suit on just in case) and the bees didn’t bother me one bit. You could run this thing at 7am on Saturday morning and your neighbors wouldn’t mind a bit I bet. Heck you could have guests hanging out in your yard and be like “Hey, I gotta mow this grass real fast, carry on about your business” and you wouldn’t bother them in the least, other than them thinking you were weird for mowing the grass during a party.

I did go through both batteries, and had to take a lunch break to recharge one of them to finish the bee area. No big deal.  I wasn’t nearly as tired as I would have been pushing the gas mower and the forced break was good for my heart health too I suspect.  If I had two large batteries I would be fine. Plus with the gas mower I have to stop at least once to refill it with gas, so changing a battery out midway is no big deal. At the end of the day the handle flips down and you could store this thing on a shelf if you were so inclined.

Overall I can’t get over how much I like my new electric mower. No more messing with gas, and oil changes. It’s light weight provides it with several advantages and makes it perform better than the old mower on our lawn, which I have to say, our lawn is probably a harsher environment than any suburban lawn out there. We have weeds and ruts everywhere and the mower was perfect.  I’m pretty sure my four-year-old or mother could use this mower, it’s so easy to push. I don’t see any viable reason why I would ever go back to a gas mower.  Maintenance wise all I’ll have to do is replace the batteries every few years and sharpen the blade. This is the future of lawn care in my (virtually professional) opinion. It’s already great and only going to get better. I’m really happy with the mower, granted I’ve only used it once.  I’ll keep you posted if I have any issues but so far so good.

(Note: I have a video showing how quiet the mower is but I can’t post it on WordPress without paying $60 to post videos. If I post the video to YouTube (presumably for free) I’ll let you know.)