This season’s family films have their share of talking animals, including a TV dog (John Travolta), a lion (Ben Stiller) who gets stuck in Africa and even a cynical bunny (Steve Buscemi). But the live action fare looks a bit more compelling with monster tween hit, “High School Musical” heading to the big screen, and an imaginative adventure about an underground city about to lose its light. So get out the car seats, because, parents, there are movies in your future.
“High School Musical 3: Senior Year”
Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique ColemanDirector: Kenny OrtegaStory: The wildly popular Disney franchise movies to the big screen for its third musical adventure. As they head toward graduation, Troy (Efron) and Gabriella (Hudgens) struggle with the idea of being separated from each other for college. In the meantime, the kids decide to put on an elaborate spring musical that reflects their fears and hopes for the future. One to watch? If you’re a fan, why not? It will be interesting to see if those kids who got the first two films at home for free will come out and lay down their cash for this one. Disney president of production Oren Aviv told Entertainment Weekly that the fans “are rabid and they are loyal. But they need to see the goods.” Efron added, “Overall, the tone of the movie is much more grown-up. You're watching the kids from ‘High School Musical’ turn into adults.”Web site: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/highschoolmusical3/ Release date: Oct. 24
“Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”
Starring: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Cedric the EntertainerDirector: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrathStory: Still stranded in Madagascar, Alex the Lion (Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Rock), Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer) and Gloria the Hippo (Pinkett Smith) decide to head back to New York on plane flown by their penguin pals. But the plan backfires when they crash land in Africa. There, for the first time, they encounter species of their own kind and realize how different life in the zoo was. One to watch? If you liked the first one, this will most likely be more of the same. The entire cast is back along with directors Darnell and McGrath. McGrath told Entertainment Weekly, “We were trying to do something bigger and better.” Word is that the plot will focus on Stiller coming in contact with some of his family in Africa. Bernie Mac voices a lion in one of his last performances. Web site: http://www.madagascarmovie.com/ Release date: Nov. 7
Starring: John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, John Cleese, Jennifer Coolidge, Arsenio Hall, Sean HayesDirector: Tony LeondisStory: The classic horror sidekick Igor (Cusack) wants his chance in the spotlight, and when his cruel master dies suddenly, it’s his chance to win the Evil Science Fair with help from his two pals: a brain in a jar called Brain (Sean Hayes) and cynical bunny Scamper (Buscemi). But then the three discover an evil plot, and it’s up to them to prove that even Igors can be heroes. One to watch? Looks iffy. It’s a cute idea that comes from “Family Guy” writer Chris McKenna, but it doesn’t seem all that different in concept than “Shrek” — sort of the Halloween version. Buscemi, who did a great voice in “Monsters, Inc.”, should be the standout here. Web site: http://www.igor-movie.com/ Release date: Sept. 19
“City of Ember”
Starring: Bill Murray, Tim Robbins, Saoirse Ronan, Harry Treadaway, Martin LandauDirector: Gil KenanStory: The City of Ember is an underground city lit by glimmering lights, but now the power generator is starting to falter and the lights begin to flicker. It’s up to two teens (Ronan, Treadway) to unlock the mystery of the city’s existence and help the townspeople escape before the lights go out. Based on Jeanne Duprau’s novel. Murray co-stars as the Mayor of Ember.One to watch? Yes. Director Kenan is the man behind the very good kid’s film “Monster’s House” and here he creates an almost “Brazil”-like world. Kenan told About.com, “A lot of the work that I and (screenwriter) Caroline Thompson have done has been in taking something that’s purely a word-based mystery and puzzle-solving and making it visual and epic.” He added, “It’s a city that’s a character in every way, other than being physically alive. It’s got a heart that beats; it’s got a weak heart that needs one last push. It’s got a nerve center, brain. Every single character in this film is defined by their relationship to this city, either past, present, or future.” Looks like an inventive story. Web site: http://www.cityofember.com/ Release date: Oct. 10
Starring: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark WaltonDirector: Chris Williams, Byron HowardStory: Bolt (Travolta) is a dog who’s the star of his own TV show, but he actually believes he has his character’s superpowers. When he is accidentally shipped to New York, he must try to get back to his co-star and friend Suzy (Cyrus) with help from a cat (Essman) and a hamster (Walton). But can he do it without his superpowers? One to watch? Maybe. Note: this is a Disney Animation feature, not a Pixar movie. You can tell by the big names doing the voices. The film had a bumpy road to the big screen. “Lilo & Stich” director Chris Sanders was originally set to direct, but, according to the New York Times, was forced out by John Lasseter for not taking his story suggestions. Directors Williams and Howard make their feature debut. Web site: http://disney.go.com/disneypictures/bolt/ Release date: Nov. 21
Note: Dates are subject to change.