Saturday, October 31, 2020

Forgotten Films: 'The Witches'

Posted By on Sat, Oct 31, 2020 at 11:16 AM

Happy Halloween! In honor of this spooky holiday, I wanted to suggest a truly frightening film that is often overlooked — The Witches. The film was recently remade by Robert Zemeckis, co-starring Octavia Spencer and Anne Hathaway. While both the filmmaker and actresses in this new version are extremely talented, it doesn’t compare with the 1990 original. We all have films that frightened us as a child, and for me it was absolutely the original The Witches.

The Story: Luke is a recently orphaned child taken in by his eccentric, yet loving, grandmother, Helga. Helga warns Luke of a type of demon who walks the earth, known as a witch. They are disguised as ordinary women yet have purple eyes they hide with sunglasses and hooked claws they cover with gloves, among other eccentricities. For reasons unknown, witches have a deep loathing for children and seek to eradicate them. When Luke’s grandmother falls ill with diabetes, the pair decides to take a vacation to a seaside hotel. Little do they know that this is the very same hotel where the witches, led by the vulturine Grand High Witch, are holding a conference. On the trip, Luke must contend with the wrath of the witches of whom he was warned.

Why It’s a Good Family Film: This is a great Halloween family movie that is guaranteed to frighten viewers, but doesn’t have any of the gratuitous gore or jump scares many adult-only horror films incorporate. Nicolas Roeg, who directed the incredibly disturbing horror film Don’t Look Now, helms this adaptation of Roald Dahl’s twisted tale. He takes a reality-driven approach, capitalizing on the fear children often have of strangers, and yields frightening results. The witches appear human at first glance, and are dressed like suburban moms, which gets at the fact that many of the “monsters” in real life look no different than average citizens. These witches are cold, cunning and ruthless, and although they share the same goals as the bumbling Sanderson Sisters of Hocus Pocus fame, they couldn’t be any farther from the comical portrayal of the witches in that film.

Like many horror maestros, Roeg chooses not to explicitly tell you what happened to the abducted children. In one scene that kept me up for weeks, a little girl is abducted by a witch and then suddenly shows up trapped in a painting, slowly aging. There are so many questions that arise from this scene and it hits on the existential dread of being trapped forever without any means of communicating to the outside world. To me, in terms of horror, this is much more terrifying than a shot of a witch attacking a child.

On an aesthetic note the makeup, puppets and animatronics in this film are exceptionally well-crafted. The creative genius Jim Henson, better known for The Muppets, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal movies is behind the creature designs here. The Grand High Witch, when she reveals her true form, is so unpleasant and well-realized, that it makes you wonder how disturbed Henson’s mind must have been.

Anjelica Huston, famous for The Addams Family and her many Wes Anderson film appearances, is also incredibly good as the Grand High Witch. She’s equal parts creepy and fun to watch, and never gets too hammy in a role that could easily tread into that territory.

Age Recommendation: There is virtually no violence in this film. The witches’ appearances and intentions are terrifying, and they often announce they want to kill children. People turn into mice in An American Werewolf in London- esque transformation sequence. There is minor swearing and mice are killed (mostly off-screen). I’d recommend this film for ages 9 and up and, for those who are easily frightened, 12 and up.

The Witches (1990) is streaming on Netflix and is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon.

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Friday, October 16, 2020

Forgotten Films: 'Bridge to Terabithia'

Posted By on Fri, Oct 16, 2020 at 9:07 AM

Originally a best-selling novel by Vermont author​ ​Katherine Paterson, the 2007 film ​Bridge to Terabithia​ is wonderfully crafted and emotionally resonant. Similarly to the book, it captures a certain magic that can only be found within the imaginary worlds that children create. However, it also isn’t afraid to confront the harsh truths and darkness of the real world. The two children at the center of the story come across as authentic and believable. Introverts, or anyone who has experienced shyness, will likely find both the novel and film extremely relatable and touching.

The Story: ​Jess is an introverted kid growing up in rural Virginia. He often feels alone in his house, living with four sisters and a father who is condescending and favors his daughters. Things at school aren’t much better. He is constantly bullied and ignored by fellow students. To cope, Jess takes solace in his drawing. One day, a new student named Leslie arrives. She and Jess form a strong friendship, solidified by their shared experience as artsy and imaginative outcasts. Together, deep in the woods of their shared​ ​backyard, they create a land called Terabithia. Life is going great for Jess and Leslie until one day a terrible tragedy strikes.

Why It’s a Good Family Film: ​One of the fascinating aspects of childhood is the ability to construct make-believe worlds that feel so real that you and your friends can seamlessly enter them together. These creative scenarios are seldom portrayed in coming-of-age films. The digital effects used in the film to create Terabithia and its fictional inhabitants are both original and whimsical, and perfectly capture a child's imagination.

At the same time, the film acknowledges that a child's imagination can also be a source of stress, like when a child sees clothing hanging in a closet at night and thinks it's some horrible creature. While Leslie and Jess imagine Terabithia as something magical and peaceful, at one point in the film, the trees and plants in the woods also appear as a terrible monster. When tragedy befalls Jess, he imagines a shadow demon hunting him.

Bridge to Terabithia​ doesn't shy away from tackling what it feels like to lose someone. When I first read the novel, I was taken aback by the tragic event at the end of the book, because it’s so sudden and gut-wrenching. Never before had I experienced an abrupt tonal shift like that. It isn’t written in for shock value, though, but rather signifies just how sudden tragedy happens in real life and the way friends can be incredibly important in our lives. Adding to this realness is the guilt the protagonist experiences over the tragedy, even if he had nothing to do with it. Author Katherine Paterson said in interviews that she drew from a traumatic experience in her own child's life when writing the story.

Age Recommendation: ​Kids roughhouse throughout the film. Bullies torment others rather viciously. Although death isn’t shown, a major part of the story centers around the tremendous loss, grief and emptiness we feel when someone very close to us dies. The kids imagine scary monsters, including trolls and shadow demons, in the woods. I’d recommend this film for ages 9 and up.

Bridge to Terabithia​ ​is streaming on HBO Max and is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon.

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Monday, October 12, 2020

Download the October Coloring Contest

Posted By on Mon, Oct 12, 2020 at 12:50 PM

Because the October issue of Kids Vermont is inserted in Seven Days — and only on newsstands for a week — we realize that not everyone may be able to pick up a copy. So this month we're making the coloring contest available as a downloadable PDF so that you can access it at home. Entering the contest this month is simple. Just download the PDF below, print it out and let your kids go to town. Then, scan or take a picture of the entry with your smartphone, and send it via email to Make sure to include the title of the piece, your child's full name, age and town, and your email address and phone number. You can also send a hard copy of your kiddo's completed coloring contest to Kids Vermont/P.O. Box 1184/Burlington VT, 05402. We've extended the deadline for October coloring contest entries to Thursday, October 22 to give kids more time to complete it. Happy coloring!

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Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Franklin County Nature Guide Is Shaped by Kids' Observations

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2020 at 3:28 PM

The cover of the new nature guide - COURTESY OF JEANNIE BARTLETT
  • Courtesy of Jeannie Bartlett
  • The cover of the new nature guide
A recently released nature guide to Richford, showcasing 70 species of native plants and animals, features observations and descriptions from local kids.  

Released in late September by the Franklin County Conservation District, the second edition of The Locals’ Nature Guide to the Richford Playground was spearheaded by district manager Jeannie Bartlett, who worked with kids ages 5 to 14  who attended the free Richford NOTCH day camp in the summer of 2018. The project was funded by the Upper Missisquoi and Trout Rivers Wild and Scenic Rivers grant program.
Chloe Decker, Tylee Shover and Taygon Shover check out a possible muskrat lodge at the edge of the Missisquoi River - COURTESY OF JEANNIE BARTLETT
  • Courtesy of Jeannie Bartlett
  • Chloe Decker, Tylee Shover and Taygon Shover check out a possible muskrat lodge at the edge of the Missisquoi River
Bartlett led a Stream Scientists program in which campers engaged in nature activities in and around the Missisquoi River: identifying both edible and dangerous vegetation; safely trapping, identifying and releasing crayfish; and observing and discussing what they found outdoors, from mushrooms to dragonfly larvae.

One page features friendly plants, like Virginia creeper and Jack-in-the-pulpit, that may be mistaken for poison ivy. Another section tells about forest animals and their tracks.

Charming drawings done by Bartlett are accompanied by scientific explanations and quotes from the campers. "Crayfish swim backward and they can be very, very fast. The tail acts kind of like a scoop," one quote, attributed to Isaac, reads.

A page from the guide - COURTESY OF JEANNIE BARTLETT
  • Courtesy of Jeannie Bartlett
  • A page from the guide
Bartlett created the guide by taking notes about what the kids noticed as they explored their natural surroundings. "I think my approach was very much to draw out what the kids already know... to be grounded in our shared curiosity," she said.

Including kids' direct quotes  in the guide shows them that "their observations matter" and instills a sense of capability and confidence, Bartlett added.

Copies of the 32-page guide are available at public libraries in Richford, Enosburg and St. Albans. Download a free copy of the guide, as well as the guide's first edition and The Locals' Guide to Nature in St. Albans, here.

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Forgotten Films: 'James and the Giant Peach'

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2020 at 11:07 AM

  • © Airborne77 |
Filmmaker Henry Selick is one of the best when it comes to stop-motion animation. His films, including The Nightmare before Christmas and Coraline, are often mistaken for the works of the more famous filmmaker Tim Burton. That’s not surprising, as Burton is the producer of many Selick films; The Nightmare before Christmas was even marketed as a Burton film.

Although both directors favor a dark, gothic atmosphere, Selick’s films are uniquely his own, often featuring characters who discover fantasy worlds that reflect the grim reality of their own world. James and the Giant Peach, based on the Roald Dahl children’s novel of the same name, is the second film Selick directed. The 1996 film underperformed at the box office and is often overshadowed by Selick’s other work. This is unfortunate because it features the same artistic genius and compelling themes.

The Story: James is a British child who lives the good life until his parents are devoured by a rhinoceros (yes, you read that right). He goes to live with his abusive aunts, Spiker and Sponge, who make the Dursleys of Harry Potter fame look compassionate and tenderhearted in comparison. After a man gives magical crocodile tongues to James, he drops them and a gargantuan peach grows. While his aunts attempt to use the peach for monetary gain, James discovers the inside of the fruit houses large humanoid bugs who sympathize with James’ plight. After escaping his aunts by rolling the peach down a seaside hill and into the Atlantic Ocean, James and his newfound friends set sail to New York City, a place that James has always dreamed of escaping to.

Why It’s a Good Family Movie: James and the Giant Peach is a fantastic film because it combines all the best elements of filmmaking and classic children’s literature: the absurdity and surrealness of Alice in Wonderland; the adventure that comes with making new friends and traveling to a perceived utopia of The Wizard of Oz; and the theme of a wholesome British orphan oppressed by terrible adults found in Oliver Twist (a trope later used in Harry Potter as well).

Additionally, the film’s artistic style is similar to French films like Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. This type of film creates a surreal, grimy and artistically beautiful atmosphere that makes the viewer feel like they’ve just had a dream.

I’d argue that James and The Giant Peach is the most faithful Roald Dahl movie ever created. Dahl was a writer whose strange, offbeat children’s stories featured masterful prose and unrestrained creativity. He was notorious for disliking past film adaptations of his books, and thus Selick worked very hard to please Dahl’s estate. Families will enjoy the wonderfully odd obstacles James and his insect friends must overcome, which often mirror his real-world problems — like a mechanical shark that represents the abuse from James’ aunts.

Additionally, the insects— including a bumbling centipede, an introverted spider and a foppish grasshopper — are tons of fun. Though they all have problems, they are ultimately good influences on James and demonstrate how a diverse group of characters can overcome their differences to form a family. Through his experience with them, James is able to gain confidence and stand up to and overcome his fear of rhinoceri (which represent his parents’ death) and his aunts.

The one minor gripe I’ve always had about the film is its depiction of New York City. The city is portrayed as a utopia, where tons of children laugh and play amongst the streets. It feels almost sterile in its cleanliness, and every adult there is patient and nice. Although I can understand that the filmmakers were trying to use New York City as a symbol of a better future, having lived there for several years, I can confirm that it's not a realistic depiction.

Age Recommendation: The aunts in this film are needlessly cruel and condescending. They talk about beating James, though it is never shown. They are played comedically and over-the-top, though, which makes them a bit less scary. The centipede is a chain smoker. A nightmarish rhino made of thunderclouds, undead murderous pirates and a mechanical shark all might be frightening to really young children. I’d recommend this movie for ages 6 and up.

James and the Giant Peach is streaming on Disney + and is available to rent on iTunes and Amazon.

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Camp Common Ground

Camp Common Ground

Starksboro, VT

Founded in 1994, Camp Common Ground is an inter-generational family camp designed to provide families with a healthy and happy bonding experience while weaving in elements of nature education, arts, music, wellness, sports, and fun! Camp Common Ground prides itself on welcoming all definitions of "family" and cultivating a sense…(more)

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