Review: ‘Monster Family 2,’ starring the voices of Emily Watson, Nick Frost, Jessica Brown Findlay, Ethan Rouse, Emily Carey, Catherine Tate and Jason Isaacs

October 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Emma Wishbone (voiced by Emily Watson), Frank Wishbone (voiced by Nick Frost), Max Wishbone (voiced by Ethan Rouse) and Fay Wishbone (voiced by Jessica Brown Findlay) in “Monster Family 2” (Image courtesy of VivaKids)

“Monster Family 2”

Directed by Holger Tappe

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, Scotland, the Himalayas and outer space, the animated film “Monster Family 2” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A British family that can transform into monsters is targeted by an American family in a spaceship that wants to capture all monsters that they think are menaces to society. 

Culture Audience: “Monster Family 2” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the first “Monster Family” movie and people who don’t mind seeing a substandard animated film with a silly story and messy production values.

Maddox Starr (voiced by Daniel Ben Zenou), Mila Starr (voiced by Emily Carey) and Marlene Starr in “Monster Family 2” (Image courtesy of VivaKids)

“Monster Family 2” is one of those sequels that shouldn’t have been made because hardly anyone was asking for it and it’s worse than its predecessor. The 2017 animated film “Monster Family” was a huge flop with audiences and critics. It’s mind-boggling that anyone thought it was a good idea to do a sequel to a movie that clearly was such an unequivocal dud in every sense of the word. But here is “Monster Family 2,” a time-wasting, incoherent and dull movie that fails at any attempt to be funny or interesting.

Holger Tapper, who directed “Monster Family,” is also the director of “Monster Family 2.” The first “Monster Family,” as atrocious as it was, still had a story that was simple enough for people of many ages to follow: Count Dracula (voiced by Jason Isaacs) became infatuated with a married woman named Emma Wishbone who, along with her husband and two adolescent children, got cursed and the Wishbone family all turned into monsters. A lot of shenanigans ensued until the curse was predictably lifted. And (spoiler alert) at the end of the movie, Count Dracula was frozen into an icicle-like cage with his own snowflake weapon.

In “Monster Family 2,” Count Dracula is able to free himself from his icicle prison, but he isn’t in this sequel as much as he was in “Monster Family.” Instead, the family ends up spending part of the movie in outer space because of a convoluted story involving a spaceship-residing human family that wants to capture the world’s worst monsters. David Safier, who co-wrote the first “Monster Family” movie with Catharina Junk, is the sole screenwriter for “Monster Family 2.” Because he’s the only screenwriter this time around, it’s now easy to see who’s mainly responsible for coming up with all the bad story ideas for this movie franchise, which is based on Safier’s children’s book “Happy Family.”

Through a series of circumstances, the Wishbones are turned into monsters again: Emma Wishbone (voiced by Emily Watson) is turned into a vampire. Emma’s husband Frank Wishbone (voiced by Nick Frost) becomes Frankenstein. Emma and Frank’s daughter Fay Wishbone (voiced by Jessica Brown Findlay), who’s about 16 or 17, is transformed into a mummy. Emma and Frank’s son Max Wishbone (voiced by Ethan Rouse), who’s about 12 or 13, is changed into a werewolf. The Wishbone family is British and live in a middle-class home in New York City.

In the beginning of the movie, the Wishbones are at the wedding of Baba Yaga (voiced by Catherine Tate), the elderly witch who put a spell on them in the first “Monster Family” movie. Baba Yaga is friendly with the Wishbones now. Her groom is an elderly man named Renfield. The Wishbones are the only guests at the wedding, which takes place in a church. Count Dracula’s three annoying (and thankfully mute) bats are still hovering around being the pests that they were in “Monster Family.”

The Wishbones think that they have gone back to their regular lives as human beings. The only “turmoil” in the family in the beginning of the story is that Fay—who is constantly on her phone to take selfies and to use her social media—is expressing some teenage rebellion because she’s secretly thinking about dropping out of school. Max, who is an insecure brat, knows this secret and threatens to tell the parents. Emma is generally more level-headed than her husband Frank, who is sort of a bumbling goofball when he gets overly excited.

Unbeknownst to this small wedding party, they are all being spied on by an American family of three people in a spaceship, which is called the Starr Copter. These spies are the Starr Family, whose motto is “I can make the world a better place.” The family consists of a billionaire philanthropist couple named Maddox Starr (voiced by Daniel Ben Zenou) and Marlene Starr and their teenage daughter Mila Starr (voiced by Emily Carey), who is sent to do all the dirty work for her parents.

Actually, the Starrs think that what they’re doing is the opposite of dirty work. These do-gooders are fanatical about finding and capturing the worst monsters in the world. They want to keep these monsters imprisoned in pods on their spacecraft. Mila ends up capturing Dracula. Her parents praise her and tell her to capture Baba Yaga next.

And that’s how Mila ends up literally crashing the wedding, where she states her intentions. She has drones that can lift people in the air. The Wishbone family tries in vain to stop Mila from abducting Baba Yaga and Renfield, but Mila whisks the bride and groom away and holds them captive on the Starr Copter.

During this weirdly slow-paced battle, Mila gets into an argument with Max and insults him by calling him “Pizza Boy.” Mila gives him this nickname because she says that the only thing it looks like he knows how to do in life is order pizza. It’s a mean-spirited dig at Max’s body size because he’s a little chubby.

“Monster Family 2” has some strange comedy that falls very flat, not including the body-shaming jokes that are downright moronic. During her argument with Max, Mila kisses him on the lips, which suggests that she’s actually attracted to him. After Mila kisses Max, they both say in disgust, “Eww!” This kissing scene just looks out-of-place in this movie.

Max is also dressed like a 1980s pimp when he goes to the wedding: He’s wearing gold chains, a brown fur-lined jacket, baggy pants and sneakers. Max’s father Frank compliments Max and tells him he looks great. It’s an odd remark, considering the outfit looks more like a Halloween costume than something an adolescent boy should be wearing at a wedding.

Even more bizarre: There’s an Oedipal moment when Max emerges in this inappopriate attire, he swaggers like he thinks he’s a pimp, and he looks at his mother and touches her face in a way that suggests that he thinks even his own mother could fall for his seductive charms. This is all being depicted for a boy who isn’t even old enough to have a driver’s license. And this hint of incestful thoughts from this boy is just too creepy for a family-oriented movie—or any movie for that matter.

Out on the street before they go into the church, Max happens to see a girl he has a crush on. But right at that moment, his baggy pants fall down. The girl and the friend who’s with her take photos on their phone. Max is naturally embarrassed. It’s a scene that’s awkwardly presented in the movie. And let’s just not discuss the cheesy dancing to MC Hammer’s 1990 hit “U Can’t Touch This” that comes later in the movie.

In the quest to rescue Baba Yaga and Renfield, the Wishbones are turned into monsters again when Max uses a magical amulet that he got from Baba Yaga. Mila’s parents tell her that the Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti (also known as the Abominable Snowman) are next on her list of monsters to capture. What follows is a lot of ridiculousness involving the Wishbone family (in monster form) going to Scotland and the Himalayas.

The action scenes in “Monster Family 2” are poorly staged, with characters in the film moving too slow and/or standing around talking in what are supposed to be high-energy chase sequences. The dialogue is simply awful. The story is extremely tedious. The characters are unappealing, while the voice performances are mediocre. And there’s a truly cringe-inducing moment toward the end where some of the characters sing the Human League’s 1986 hit “Human,” in a scene that’s supposed to be sentimental for all the reasons you think, if you know the lyrics to the song.

The only notable thing that “Monster Family 2” has going for it is that the animation is very colorful. Worst of all, for a movie about a “monster family,” there is hardly anything spooky (even in a comedic way) about this film. Any movie that under-uses an iconic villain such as Count Dracula is a movie that’s not worth seeing.

VivaKids released “Monster Family 2” in select U.S. cinemas on October 15, 2021. Sky Group premiered the movie in the United Kingdom on October 22, 2021.

Review: ‘River City Drumbeat,’ staring Ed ‘Nardie’ White, Albert Shumake, Imani V. Keith, Jailen Leavell, Emily Carey and Ed Hamilton

August 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row: Imani V. Keith and Jailen Leavell in “River City Drumbeat” (Photo by Juan Castañeda/Owsley Brown Presents)

“River City Drumbeat”

Directed by Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatté

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Louisville, Kentucky, the documentary “River City Drumbeat” features an all-African American group of people discussing River City Drum Corp (RCDC), a musical band for children who are primarily from the underprivileged area of West Louisville.

Culture Clash:  Many of the members of RCDC come from crime-ridden neighborhoods and/or troubled families, and the band has helped them lead positive and productive lives.

Culture Audience: “River City Drumbeat” will appeal primarily to people who like documentaries about adults who inspire and mentor young people to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams.

Albert Shumake in “River City Drumbeat” (Photo by Juan Castañeda/Owsley Brown Presents)

Whenever there’s a movie that takes place in financially deprived, predominantly African American area of a big city, too often the narrative is about crime or hopelessness. However, the documentary “River City Drumbeat” is an excellent example of how people in this type of community can help the community’s youth without expecting pity or the government to be in charge of a program that’s aimed at solutions. This inspiring film (directed by Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatté) shines a deserving spotlight on the Louisville-based youth group River City Drum Corp (RCDC) Cultural Arts Institute, as it goes through a leadership transition.

RCDC is no fluke. Founded in 1991 by Louisville residents Ed “Nardie” White and his wife Zambia Nkrumah (who tragically died of breast cancer in 2010), RCDC began as a way for young people in the community to have an after-school activity as a positive alternative to criminal activities plaguing the city, specifically in the lower-income west side of Louisville. The age range for RCDC members are 2 to 18. Although RCDC is open to people of all races, the membership is predominantly African American, and the group places an emphasis on drumming and culture rooted in African traditions.

In other words, the group is about more than just teaching musical skills. As White says in the documentary: “We developed River City Drum Corp to connect children to arts and culture. Our culture is going to be our savior.”

The documentary chronicles White’s decision to retire as leader of RCDC and pass on the leadership position to his protégé Albert Shumake, who is an alum of RCDC. Shumake (who was 34 when most of this documentary was filmed) is just like a son to White, and he credits White and Nkrumah for leading him in the right direction, because his life could have turned out very differently.

Shumake was 8 or 9 years old when he met White, who says in the documentary that Shumake’s parents both had heavy substance-abuse issues at the time. White knew that Shumake was not an athletic kid, in a community that placed a high value on sports (especially basketball or football) as a way to get out of the “ghetto” and get rich. White and Nkrumah became surrogate parents and got Shumake to join RCDC because they could see that he had musical talent.

Shumake ended up getting a vocal scholarship at the University of Kentucky. After graduation, he became an artist and a DJ. However, Shumake says that his priorities changed after became a father (he’s shown with his adorable daughter Ella and Ella’s mother) and after Shumake’s mother became sick and he had to help take care of her. Shumake says that he wanted a job in music that would be more stable and give back to the community, and so the time was right for him to work with RCDC. He became White’s right-hand person until White announced his retirement and that Shumake would be his successor.

In the documentary, Shumake gets teary-eyed and emotional when he reads a letter that he wrote in the year 2000, when he was a teenager in high school. In the letter, he describes his hopes and dreams to Nkrumah. Shumake says reading the letter also brings back a painful memory of a teacher who told him that he wouldn’t amount to anything, However, Nkrumah and White believed in him. It’s that type of mentoring and inspiration that RCDC offers to the children in the program, because sometimes they don’t have that type of encouragement at home or at school.

White says that he certainly wasn’t encouraged to be artistic when he was growing up, because he came from a neighborhood where African American males were expected to excel at one of three things: basketball, football or criminal activities. He grew up poor, in a household where there were 15 to 20 people living in close quarters at the time. White credits Nkrumah for introducing him to African arts.

After years as a photojournalist, White took the plunge to launch RCDC with Nkrumah. It was venture that was inspired after he taught drumming at a Boys and Girls Club in Louisville, and he saw that the youth in the community didn’t have many artistic outlets where adults took the time to teach them music and life skills. Not only do the children in the non-profit RCDC program learn how to drum (they start off with pipe drums and then can graduate to the drum line), but they also learn how to make their own drums. White and Shumake say that the kids being able to put their own drums together gives them a certain self-confidence and positive pride that they wouldn’t get if the drums were donated to them.

Shumake also demonstrates in the movie’s opening scene how drumming can be relatable to everyone if they think of it in terms of a heartbeat. He speaks to a group of RCDC students and tells them to put their hands on their hearts so that they can feel their heartbeats. He says that everyone can understand rhythm because the first sounds that everyone hears in the womb is a mother’s heartbeat.

RCDC is funded through performances that it gives and through donations, but the documentary doesn’t get too much into the details of fundraising for the RCDC. The fact that the group has been able to survive for all these years speaks for itself. And it’s very obvious from what’s seen in the film that RCDC has the full support of the community.

“When your kid joins Drum Corp, you join Drum Corp,” says the mother of Imani V. Keith, one of the RCDC students featured in the documentary. At the time this documentary was filmed, Keith was a senior in high school, so it was also her last year for her to be a member of RCDC. In a documentary interview, Keith says that before she joined RCDC, she had a “rocky” and “unstable” year in sixth grade. “I was in the principal’s office all the time.”

She adds that she found stability and purpose in RCDC. She comments: “Mr. White instilled in me leadership: Who are are going to be? Will you step up?” Keith also mentions some of the sexism she’s experienced because she’s in a drumming band, which is usually male-dominated. She says that when people don’t believe that she can drum because she’s a girl, she likes to prove them wrong.

Two other RCDC students are featured in the documentary: Jailen Leavell (who was also a senior in high school at the time this documentary was filmed) and Emily Carey, who was still an underclassman at the time. Leavell talks about how he was doing sports and RCDC, but White told him he had to choose one over the other in order to excel. Leavell chose RCDC, but he gripes that he felt that he could’ve handled his sports and drumming activities at the same time. Leavell and Keith both have college plans, and they say that RCDC helped them achieve those goals.

The documentary also takes a little bit of detour by showing White with his longtime friend Ed Hamilton, a Louisville sculptor. White then gives a tour of some of Hamilton’s art that is on display in the area. It becomes clear in the documentary’s epilogue why this “sculpture tour” segment gets this amount of screen time in the film.

Losing his wife to breast cancer isn’t the only family tragedy that White has experienced. He also opens up about what losing a granddaughter to gun violence. It adds greater poignancy and urgency to his work with RCDC and the legacy that is expected to be passed on through generations of children. At one RCDC event, White marvels at how many RCDC alumni are there who have brought their children and whose children are now in RCDC.

“River City Drumbeat” also includes footage of the group performing and traveling by bus to do concerts outside of the Louisville area. Keith’s and Leavell’s graduation from high school is included in the movie, as well as their graduation from RCDC. And it’s easy to see that White transitioning out of the leadership position is bittersweet for him, but he knows it’s the right thing to do and that he’s given the reigns to the right person.

As Shumake says at the end of the documentary: “The things that I feel are my strengths or my superpowers, I won’t let circumstances stop that. That’s the battle of everyday life. People who give up and don’t know how to fight the battle end up unhappy. I don’t plan on doing that. I’m going to keep fighting.”

Although “River City Drumbeat,” which is made in a very straightforward and traditional manner, is ostensibly a music documentary, the movie doesn’t focus very much on the technical aspects of learning how to play music in the RCDC program. And there’s no big championship competition driving the story, as there are in most movies about young students in a musical group. The real story is about the emotions and the lives affected by RCDC and how the group has changed them for the better.

Owsley Brown Presents released “River City Drumbeat” in select U.S. cinemas on August 7, 2020.

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