A feast of films

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  /20th Century Fox
Ben Stiller stars as the mild-mannered title character in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Crop of cinema offerings fit for the whole family

With time off and family in supply, there’s no time like winter break to get caught up on end-of-the-year family movies. Local movie houses have animated offerings, live-action films and a mix of both for audiences.

Frozen

Rated PG, 102 minutes

This animated musical is another feature in the Disney’s family-friendly juggernaut. It opened just after Thanksgiving, but is still in wide release.

The story of Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) doesn’t veer away from the tried and true Disney adventure story. Anna and Kristoff set off from their village in Arendelle, where it’s perpetually summer (think California summer, not scorched-earth Texas summer) until a deep freeze is cast over the idyllic Nordic town — by Anna’s magical and fed-up sister, Elsa.

Elsa has special powers to make snow, ice and frigid winds do her will. If Anna and Kristoff can thaw out Elsa’s chilly heart, they can save their home and reconcile relationships.

A plus for younger audiences: Disney doesn’t try to fix what isn’t broken. A talking, walking snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad) lends a twiggy hand and comic relief, and a reindeer acts more like a loyal dog than the woolly stag he is.

Walking With Dinosaurs

Rated PG, 87 minutes

Twentieth Century Fox pits this epic animated coming-of-age tale against Disney during one of the busiest times of the year for the movies.

Patchi is the runt of a clutch of dinosaur hatchlings — pachyrhinosaurus hatchlings, to be exact. Patchi (voiced by Justin Long) looks destined to be upstaged by his bigger, stronger brother, Scowler (Skylar Stone).

Patchi and his thick-skinned tribe have big, strong bodies, fearsome horns and formidable dinosaur roars. But they aren’t at the top of the paleolithic food chain, alas, and their migratory path takes them through dangerous territory and under the nose of the gorgosaurus, the fiercest predator of them all.

The film — which can be seen in 3-D — was originally intended to be a silent movie told in lush, photorealistic visuals. It later became more family-oriented, and a thin script was imposed on this imagined Earth.

Saving Mr. Banks

Rated PG-13, 125 minutes

A-list actors Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson take on the meaty roles of animator and entertainment mogul Walt Disney and English author P.L. Travers.

Travers (Thompson) penned the endearing book Mary Poppins, and when Walt Disney (Hanks) has her hop the pond in the hopes of landing the movie rights, he finds her stubborn and unyielding at every turn.

What could be an insider’s look at a difficult woman instead becomes a spirited story about two artists who find common ground between very different media. Travers is humanized as she shares memories of a difficult childhood, Disney’s business acumen gets the soft-focus treatment, and both characters — and the people behind them — grow nobler for it.

Grown-ups who came of age when Disney’s vision was rocketing toward its first peak will appreciate the backstory the movie provides for a favorite film. And anyone who always bemoans the way movie makers mess up their treasured books might learn a thing or two about why films are so often not literal when interpreting the written word.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Rated PG, 114 minutes

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has captured the American imagination since it was published in 1939. James Thurber’s short story appeared in The New Yorker. It was first adapted into a film in 1947, with Danny Kaye in the title role, though it was much different than the original story.

In the new film, Ben Stiller takes on the role of a mild-mannered man who devotes more passion to heroic daydreams — with himself starring as the resourceful hero — than he does to his actual life.

The 20th Century Fox film sets Mitty in present-day America, where the working stiff is anonymous in an expanse of neutral cubicles, following impersonal corporate marching orders. The film mixes dreamy computer-generated imagery — a disaster-zone photojournalist (played by a rugged Sean Penn) beckons from a snippet of film negatives for Mitty to take an uncharacteristic journey, fraught with uncertainty and danger, to find a missing photograph — with a contemporary sensation of ennui and listlessness.

Stiller directs the film as well as starring in it, and plays opposite Saturday Night Live alumna Kristen Wiig.

Like the 1947 film, Stiller’s telling makes big changes. This Mitty is a single man who yearns for connection and romance, but is sidelined by his own anxiety and insecurities.


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