Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (2017): A Crappy Christmas Special With Good Music


   They played this crap before “Coco.” I think one reason I wasn’t prone to like it going in is Pixar has amazing shorts, and this was around 20 minutes. Seriously, the best thing that is happening in regards to this film is Disney pulling it from theaters. This is a thing that should have existed as an extra on “Frozen’s” Blue Ray. I enjoyed “Frozen,” I think it beats “Tangled” and is up there with the rest of the modern greats of this new 3D Disney renaissance…I did not enjoy this though.

When it comes to Christmas or really any holiday specials I am pretty picky. The only one that I could stay is great are the different retelling of “A Christmas Carol,” and that is largely because they are about more than just trees, myths and gifts…they have a larger purpose and it is a man forced to grow and see the world beyond himself. This film has none of that depth, with the exception of only one scene that could have been 2 minute sequence in “Frozen 2,” when it eventually comes out.

That scene is where we see that Elsa and Anna shared pictures of of Olaf as “Do you want a Build a Snowman?” Was the only connection they had growing up since Elsa was under room arrest after those events. It is touching and if the movie had just been that it would have been great, instead we get Marketing^TM! Got to sell those Olaf dolls. Also the cast is all back so their voices sound lovely, even though the lyrics are awful and on the nose. (Holiday Tradition is repeated in every scene in what felt like at least 3 times).

Olaf isn’t bad but what he is used for is. He goes around the village collecting traditions so he can do jokes with Sven and so there will be more Olaf toys to market. Olaf appeals to everyone and the most important thing is stuff! God, I can understand if people hate the holidays after this short…Olaf is in everyone’s business and in the end has to be found because of his own mess up and in the end he was the tradition all along! This is a story with no consequences that is just there to remind you these characters exist and “Frozen 2” is coming!

After that they have a big feast on the lake and you know what, the fruit cake that was given in his search is dropped on him from the hawk who took it. Oh joy, more stupid humor! Buy that “Frozen” gear! They all have new costumes in this! Get Olaf with a bow tie! Look at Elsa and Anna’s new dress! Christmas is coming, better buy those new toys!

This should have been an extra in a DVD, ideally in “Frozen 2” or the “Frozen” re-release. This film crapped all over the beautiful shots Pixar usually makes and even took time away from developing characters in “Coco,” which is the best Pixar film since “Inside Out.” This film purely exists for marketing and my guess is it will sell a lot of Olaf dolls, because of course it will. If your theatre is showing it, skip it if you can and find out when “Coco” actually starts. If this is the new normal for “Pixar” openings Disney is on the way to ruining one of the best artistic companies they own.

Final Score: 5 / 10. 5 only because the voice actors and animation are good even if the writing and story are garbage.

Beauty and the Beast (2017): An Unnecessary Remake That Played it Safe and Needed Better Singers or to not be a Musical

   “Beauty and the Beast” is a great example of an unnecessary remake and illustrates some great examples of the musical adapted to film. I’ll get into more of what I mean on both counts, and this isn’t a bad film per-say, it’s enjoyable…but it isn’t exactly good either. This is nostalgia that dares to be anything more and because of that nostalgia it drowns any chance for greatness. I’ll say non-spoiler thoughts, since there are a few differences…but if you’ve seen the animated film you’ve seen a much better telling of this tale with much better acting, song and animation.

    This film was directed by Ben Condon, written by Stephen Chbosky and produced by Todd Lieberman and David Hoberman.

     The story is a tale as old as time and goes back to the animated introduction of the original 1997 animated film…With the Prince being turned into a Beast for turning down a beggar woman who is asking for shelter, who is in fact a sorceress who curses him and his servants. After we pick up with Belle (Emma Watson) and her inventor father Maurice (Kevin Cline) are outcasts in a small town visit that find their life changed when Maurice stumbles upon the Beast’s (Dan Stevens) castle and is thrown into the dungeon for trespassing. Belle leaves to rescue him as she fends off her own Beast in the arrogant town hero of Gaston (Luke Evans) who wants her to be his wife. She trades her life for her father’s as the prisoner of the Beast and the story unfolds from there.

The Pros: The World – The world is one that I like…there is magic, curses and a relationship between the people of the village and castle before the Beast and the castle is cursed. There is the potential for politics too, both in the castle and town that is never fully explored beyond Gaston who is one of the more compelling characters in the film besides LaFou and the Beast.

The Ensemble – The only time the music works in this film is when the entire ensemble is singing. It is only at that time that it capture the large musical feel of the stage musical and original animated film.

Added Backstory – The added backstory is fantastic! Gaston is a war hero with PTSD, LaFou is Gaston’s friend rather than simply a patsy who helps him stay balanced, Maurice is an artist who lost his wife to the plague and the Beat had an abusive father. These are all great things that made it so I enjoyed the film, even though I don’t consider the film good.

Okay: Actors With No Voice Training Singing – This film is done as a musical, and it cast Hollywood actors who by and large aren’t musically trained. It is obvious and it hurts the show since emotion is conveyed through song and when Emma Watson or Gaston is singing flat or goes off on a tangent it feels artificial and took me out of the film .

The Castle – The castle is large but feels small. It is connected by bridges but only feels large outside…inside it is all stairways and small rooms. Even the library is a disappointment and just looks like a study. This worked in scenes of intimacy but failed to show the magic of the original or to create a new unique magic.

The Cast – The cast is okay, they aren’t great…most of them can’t sing all that well when they are given solos and they feel cartoony, which feels weird in a live action film. The townspeople are all characters without any redeeming qualities, except those above who are given some depth at least…and others are written with modern day speech (Maurice and Belle) and feel like they were written for the actors and not the characters.

The Cons: Writing for Actors  not Characters – Belle is written as Emma Watson in this and it doesn’t fit the era. Some of the dialogue like “fearless” (how Maurice describes Belle’s mother) or Belle being persecuted for teaching a girl to read felt like they were writing for Emma Watson and not for Belle. Belle is a much more passive character and that doesn’t mean she can’t still be a feminist character, she is…but when the dialogue is all tell…it took me out of the story. Belle deserved a script written for Belle, not for an actress and icon.

The Failure to Take Chances – This was a film that failed to take risks. It didn’t go full musical since it failed to cast any good musical talent, it failed to be a stage play since it was playing nearly all the same beats from the animated film. There is no reason to see this film, just watch the animated one since it is so much better.

The Theme of Tragedy…That Went Nowhere – When Belle and the Beast are getting to know one another it is through love of books. Belle’s favorite is “Romeo and Juliet” a play on tragedy and failed love and later the Beast is reading “King Arthur” another failed romance. This doesn’t go anywhere though and they take the same ending as the animated film with happily ever after when there could still be bittersweet with them both having learned to love, but too late.

   This was a film that failed to be small and personal (the castle gave us the small feel versus the large feel of the original film) and failed to be large and magical…Because of this it felt like a made for television musical at times…and the fact that the only time the music was really great was when the ensemble was singing was troubling. The reason it’s troubling is this could have easily been avoided. They could have followed up on the theme of tragedy and given us a wonderfully tragic tale, they could have made it more like a play rather than a musical, or they could have recast it as a musical and in turn made it on par with the much better stage musical of the film. Instead they tried to do a bit of all of it and failed on all counts. Added backstory and some great performances by Gadd, Evans and Stevens were not enouhg to to save it. This was a fun fan nostalgia trip, for a fan of the original film, but it isn’t a trip I’d take again.

Final Score: 7 / 10

Pete’s Dragon (2016): A Celebration of the Wonder of Nature and Magic of Childhood

   The new “Pete’s Dragon” is one of my favorite films. This is a film that manages to capture the wonder of nature, wildlife and childhood and also the complex relationships that come with family. The soundtrack leads to a beautiful meditation on it all with some absolutely wonderful performances by Bryce Dallas Howard and the legendary Robert Redford. Non-spoiler thoughts, I recommend this film and think you should check it out. I grew up on the original film and this film so different, and in my opinion so much deeper and better.

 The film was directed by David Lowery who co-wrote the script with Toby Halbrooks and produced by James Whitaker.

    The story involves Pete who is presumed dead when his parents die in a crash in the forest. It is here the dragon Elliot finds him and raises him before he runs into Ranger Grace whose husband is a foreman of the Lumbermill that has impeded on the territory where Elliot and Pete are living. From here the story unfolds.

The Pros: The World – The world is rich! The forest is full of life, the small town is full of politics and there is a dragon. This is very much a surrealistic fantasy world.

The Soundtrack – Daniel Hart creates a  beautiful americana folk soundtrack that captures the brutal feel of the lumber mill, the isolation of the town and the magic of the forest. It is meditative and reflects the feelings in our characters’ heads. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to see what music he does next as I’ve always been a fan of folk and it was perfect for this film.

The Characters – The characters are a strong part of this film! From Karl Urban’s Gavin who feels powerless so wants to own and capture Elliot as he’s in a dying industry (he works on a lumber mill) and his brother doesn’t respect him. Howard’s Grace is someone who is trying to make things work with her own family and make peace with the fact that her husband’s job is destroying the forest she works in as well as her own doubt of her father Mr. Meachum whose arc is capturing the magic of his childhood (Redford does this wonderfully) and of course the child actors who play Pete and Natalie who become friends as it is Natalie who helps Pete realize he wants to be a part of the world again and no longer separate in the forest.

The Wonder and Terror of the Natural World – The natural world is front and center in this story and all the wonder and terror of it all. It is almost hitting a deer that leads to the death of Pete’s parents and Elliot almost kills his new parents when he turns on his attackers and rage and attempts to burn them. It is only through respect that humans can co-exist with nature and with the natural world, is what the film argues. It is very Miyazakiesque and it is part of what makes the film so beautiful.

Okay: Dealing with Grief  and Loss – The film dealt with this a little bit but not really as Elliot was Pete’s way of dealing so we never him truly face the fact that his parents are dead. There are a few moments he misses them, but we never have the chance to see him face his grief. There was shock but after that not much else besides him forming a bond with a new family. It was dealt with a little but not enough for me to put it as a pro. The one way it worked was that Pete was tied to the forest and is always trying to run back until he faces his grief to some degree, which helps him form bonds in the world and a new family, in turn leading him to leave the forest.

The Cons: Jack – Jack, Grace’s husband is a plot device and is only there to counter the antagonist Gavin (his brother) who is hunting and captures Elliot. He never felt fully fleshed out and I didn’t know why he and Grace were together.

    This was an amazing film that is the only one of the Disney remakes that I consider great. “The Jungle Book” remake was awful and even though I’ve heard good things about “Cinderella” and “Beauty and the Beast,” I am still worried. A good story can pull upon past stories, but it shouldn’t be a retelling, if I wanted a retelling I’d just read or watch that same story again. This film gets away from that and it is part of the reason it is a favorite film now. This is a film where magic happens and truly captures the beauty that can surround us.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 Would be higher if Pete dealing with his grief had played a bigger role and Jack had been a character not a plot device.

Moana (2016): Honoring Polynesian Mythology and Culture in Disney’s “Princess Model” to Create a Classic

moana

  I really liked “Moana.” It was no “Kubo and the Two Strings” but besides “Up” and “Inside Out” not many can compare to that…but this is classic Disney as it’s best. This is Disney taking the “Princess Model” (Princess goes against status quo for family, tribe, etc. for greater good) and achieves final great ends while being helped along by animal and magical companions. This is the base of Moana that the director, writer and Lin-Manuel build upon. Suffice to say I have nothing but affection for this film as it captures both my love of history (paying tribute to the Polynesian tribes and their history of exploration) and culture (how they related to one another and others).

    The film was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, written by Jared Bush and produced by Osnat Shurer.

     The film involves Princess Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) dealing with the after affects of Maoi stealing the heart of Te Fiti as her Island slowly dies and her people become more isolated. Prompted by her Grandmother and her own desire for adventure seeks out Maoi (Dwayne Johnson) and the heart to restore peace in the world once more.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is awesome! Welcome to a world inspired by Polynesian mythology, with gods, demons  and islands connected by travel. This is a world that I only wanted to spend more time in and you should experience for yourself.

The History – The history is rich and tells a story that needs to be told. The early explorers and traders in the Americas were Polynesians but that is often ignored to history as horrible folks like Columbus get credit instead. This world recognizes what was long before Europeans came and congresses the thriving cultures that colonialism and in many ways destroyed, even though many histories and cultures still live on, as shown by this film.

The Animation – This it the best of Disney Animation and shows us a variety of animation types…from 3-D over 2-D and some fantastic visuals. The islands feel alive and real and honestly, besides “Wreck-It Ralph” this is the best animation so far.

The Soundtrack – It’s Lin-Manuel Miranda overseeing it and it shows! You’ve got musical, rap and power as just as he gave power to “Hamilton” and “In the Heights” each culture and history he touches is given his own take and with it passion and life.

The Characters – The characters drive the film and are really what make it stand out and put it above “Kung Fu Panda 3” and most Dreamworks films.

Grandma Tala – Grandma is the heart of the film. She motivates Moana’s desire to travel beyond the island her death incites Moana finally doing it. She is there for Moana through the best and worst times and her loss is felt once it happens.

Chief Tui – Chief Tui is traditional Disney Dad afraid of Daughter being free. This time it is given reason though as he lost a friend when he went beyond the reef. Sadly we don’t get more exploration though, everything he does is a reaction to Moana and it hurts his character development.

Maui – Dwayne Johnson is awesome! Maui hurts the Goddess by sealing her heart (Disney is clearly okay going there post “Maleficent”) and his arc is restoring the heart and apologizing for his wrong which was for his ego and for humanity, the people who abandoned him leaving the ocean and Gods to give him his power and turn him into a Demi-God. He is funny but can do drama too…seriously, “The Rock” is underrated as an actor.

Moana – Is the princess who drives the story as she and her animal sidekick try to save the world and find Maui in order to restore peace. She is awesome and I wish she’d found her power sooner as we see her being a fantastic Chief before her voyage beyond the reef. I felt for her, she lost and she gained and she discovered her own power.

A Story Not Told in the West – Polynesian culture has usually always been exoctized in the west and this was finally breaking free of that. Rather than being treated as a vacation spot where the people are a reward rather than a people. This film changes that which is a needed reaction to Disney’s past exocization of Hawaii and Polynesia. This can’t be stated enough and I hope those involved are aware of Disney’s own dark history.

Okay: The Disney Princess Model – Princess teams up with magical being (The Genie, Stich, Mushu, etc.) and an animal companion (s) (The Mice, The Horse in “Mulan” and “Tangled,” etc.) to defeat her family’s prejudice’s (“Frozen,” “Mulan,” etc.) and restore balance and peace. Disney has done this so many times and that is why I say it is okay. “Moana” doesn’t subvert anything like “Zootopia” or “Frozen” did.

The Cons: Tamatoa and Codedness – A villian coded as gay who is vain wants to eat the heroes! This isn’t new! (Prince John, Radcliff, Jafar, etc.) DIsney you are better than this. Though to be fair, even “Wreck-It Ralph” Sadly had this problem too. Feminine men need to stop being coded as bad.

The Mother as Plot Device – The mother helps Moana and tells the story of why her husband fears the sea…she is basically a plot device to motivate Moana to stay or leave, which is a shame as her helping Moana leave hinted at so much more.

Why Afraid to Take a Chance? – This movie took the safe route, Moana with her magic friend and animal side kick saves the world. Nothing is subverted when so much more could of. I like that he demon was the goddess  who needed balance again, which was Miyazi-esque but so much more could have been done. Why did she assume Maui could only save the day? She was the Chief to be, she was empowered, there was no reason to hand him the direction for the first half of the film.

   This is a film that I really liked and I consider a favorite. Now it probably won’t make my Top 5 of 2016 but that doesn’t change the fact that Polynesian culture and mythology have not been explored in the west beyond being exotcized. This changed that and gained so much power because of it. Yes it followed the “Princess Model” which is Disney’s take on the “Hero’s Journey” but it did it in such a powerful. This was Miyazaki levels of storytelling and “Hamilton” inspired music (Thanks Lin-Manuel Miranda). I can only recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

The Jungle Book (2016): Great Cinematography But Extremely Boring and Slow

The Jungle Book

     As someone who wasn’t a fan of the original animated “The Jungle Book,” I think this was a movie that wasn’t made for me. The original is better though by leaps and bounds…as this at the end of the day this was a film that bored me so much I fell asleep during part of it. That hardly ever happens to me during films. So before non-spoiler thoughts, the amazing voice cast can’t save this boring film that would only really work as a movie playing in the background for kids…I don’t know how much of their attention it would be able hold of it is the core focus.

      “The Jungle Book” was directed by Jon Favreau who was also one of the producers while being written by Justin Marks. The other producer was Brigham Taylor and the film is based off the book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling.

    The story involves Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) telling the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi) and how his arrival changed everything in the Jungle while he and the other animals must deal with the threat of Shere Khan (Idris Elba) who wants Mowgli and any who support him dead.

     The film is beautiful, but that is about the only thing positive I can say about it. The Special Effects look great and manage to make some of the action meaningful, but there isn’t much to say beyond that.

    This is a film with an amazing voice cast…Murray as Baloo, Kinglsey as Bagheera Nyong’O as Raksha and Elba as Shere Khan is brilliant casting…but the writing is so bland and the characters are so one dimensional that none of it matters. Mowgli has a few chase scenes but they hold no power since he starts out doing a fake chase and the action is so slow…it doesn’t matter if there is an amazing voice cast since they just seem to exist. Nothing meaningful really happens beyond Mowgli making new friends.

    This was an uninspired film and it doesn’t give me much hope for the other films that Disney turned live action from what were originally their animated films. I hope “Beauty and the Beast” is good, but if it is like this film it is going to be really boring and not worth anyone’s time. A story has to have meaningful action and change and I didn’t see that in Mowgli’s story or in relation to the characters around him, they are all just kind of there and there isn’t any music to give it more life like the animated film where at least music can keep a boring or simple story interesting.

    If you have kids, they might enjoy it…but honestly just take them to “Finding Dory” or get them a Pixar film or “Zootopia.” That is a much better use of their time and your time and you’ll be a lot more entertained and experience a film that would actually have purpose.

Final Score: 3 / 10

Finding Dory (2016): A Brilliant Exploration of What it Means to be Dory

Finding Dory Poster

    For sequels that didn’t need to be made, this is a really good sequel. Pixar is one of those studios I’ve come to expect quality from and they continue this here as this is a film that will pull on your heart strings and gives our characters complete arcs and a fantastic adventure for it all to take place in. My non-spoiler thoughts are basically that you should see this film. It is no “Inside Out” or the untouchable Pixars but is is really good and is well worth your time.

   The film was directed by Andrew Stanton who also wrote the story and screenplay with Victoria Strouse also writing the screenplay with him. The producer was Lindsey Collins.

   The story involves Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) search for her parents when a memory is triggered that she lost them a long time ago and that they are at the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. This leads to her Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) traversing there to help her remember why she is searching and to find them again.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The World of “Finding Dory” is an amazing one! Whether it is in the reef or the Marine Life Institute Pixar’s diverse assortment of characters creates a rich world where the relationships only make it greater.

The Soundtrack – Thomas Newman once again creates gold! I have yet to be disappointed by his work and here he does a good job of capturing Dory’s terror of being lost and her joy of being reunited once again with her family.

The Animation – It’s Pixar, their animation has only gotten better with time. You can see the details on the fish, from their expressions to their scales…Pixar continues to create animation that looks so alive.

The Opening Scene – The opening scene is touching and sad as we see that Dory getting lost is what lead to her forgetting what she was looking for (her parents) that lead to her finding Marlin in the first place. Her parents help her with memory games and we see where she gets her songs and sayings from…they were to help her remember to find her way home.

Dory’s Memories – Dory’s memories are some of the strongest moments as we see her connection to characters and what they mean in those flashbacks, even if Dory doesn’t get their meaning fully…we do.

The Characters – Pixar has always been very character driven in it’s productions and this film is no different. The characters are what make this film besides the action, score and animation…and we get many more amazing characters.

Fluke and Rudder – These Sea Lions played by Idris Elba (Fluke) and Dominic West (Rudder) are hilarious and sadly also a bit of bullies. They help Marlin and Nemo get into the Marine Institute but they are also always picking on Gerald, who isn’t all there. They provide great comedic relief though as they are the one who call the birds to pick up Nemo and Marlin and witness the journey and escape at the end.

Destiny and Bailey – Destiny is a Whale Shark and Bailey is a Beluga Whale. Destiny was Pipe Pals with Dory when they were kids and is near sided so is always crashing into the tank. Bailey believes he can’t use his sonar…their arcs are coming to count on one another and have great chemistry with one another and Dory. Destiny was played by Kaitlin Olson and Bailey by Ty Burrell…both were fantastic.

Hank – Ed O’Neil plays my favorite character in the film. He is a red octopus who was traumatized by his experience in the sea so just wants to live out his life safe in a tank. It takes his adventure with Dory to realize he does care about people and to soften him up. He becomes part of her family by the end. His dark humor is great with Dory’s idealism and I’m glad we get to spend so much time with him.

Marlin and Nemo – The classics are back from the first one and much of their journey is finding Dory while Marlin learns to both respect Dory and her disability and also to let Dory be free in herself…an arc her parents also have to go through. I’m glad we didn’t spend as much time with these two as their arcs were largely in the first film.

Jenny and Charlie – These two are Dory’s parents and their arc is learning to trust their daughter and let her be herself and make her own choices. This understandably hard as they’d been waiting for her for years outside the Institute after she got lost…but she demonstrates that they raised her well and that she may not remember always but she knows how to survive, plan and to help others.

Dory – Dory is the main character of this film and her relationships are what define the film as we see her help her parents, Hank and Martin grow to accept her fully just as she learns fully to accept herself and her own power. As someone who found this for myself living with aspergers this is huge. Dory’s story is one of empowerment and shows that no matter how hard things get, going forward you can change your circumstances and find those who accept and love you.

Living With a Disability – A huge theme of the film is what it is like to live with a disability. As one who grew up with Aspergers I can relate to this, you face challenges were early on you do need help on and there are some things that never go away…even as you find ways to face those challenges and to grow from them to the point where you can be successful and stand on your own and from it live with the dignity everyone deserves.

Disabilities and Dignity – Dignity is a huge theme of the film as it is when Dory is shut down and hurt that she really goes off and gets lost…it is when the support is there that it is easier to face her memory loss and it is from dignity that she finds self respect and respect from her friends and family.

Okay: The Marine Life Institute – I think this was meant to be shown as positive sine the animals are all to be released into the wild (except those that are too sick) but it is still an antagonist I guess? The Marine Life Institute and their role in the film is ill-defined and more could have been done to explore the different animals’ relationships to it.

Cons: Drags in Places – There are some action sequences that go on a bit too long, especially at the end where Dory panics…the scene could have been shorter and still had the same impact with her finding her parents, same goes for the escape at the end. Some scenes just go on too long. If more had been cut I’d have easily given this a 9.

The Treatment of Gerald Versus the Theme – Gerald is a Sea Lion that also appears to have a mental disability but it is largely played for laughs. This struck me as off as the whole point of the film is accept people with all their quirks and that all deserve dignity. I don’t think Gerald ever got that from others.

   This was a really good Pixar film and one I’d highly recommend. It is bound to make you tear up at least once as Dory’s story is one that many people are no doubt familiar with. Dory gives a human face to what it is like to live with disability and the film is wonderful at respecting her dignity and personhood as we see just how great her family is by the end of the film. The only contradiction to this is the treatment of Gerald who is bullied and looks like he is also facing some sort of mental handicap. Gerald deserved respect just like Dory. Outside of this problem and some pacing issues this was a really good film. If you are fan of Pixar or animation you won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

Zootopia (2016): A Masterpiece Exploring Prejudice and Communities

Zootopia Poster

   “Disney Animated Stuios” is pretty much the new Pixar in regards to quality animated storytelling. “Pixar” is now where old Disney used to be as they are releasing tons of sequels and it isn’t ‘garutneed they’ll make a hit (unlike “Disney Studios”). Seriously, “Big Hero 6,” “Frozen,” “Wreck-it-Ralph.” These are films this studio has put out and now “Zootopia” is up there among them as one of the best animated films I have ever watched. Much like those this film is intelligent with characters, comedy and themes and gives us a lived in world without a powerful story we can relate to our own world and ourselves. Before I get further and into spoiler territory, go see this film.

    “Zootopia” was directed by Byron Howard and Rich Moore while being written by Jared Bush and Phil Johnston and was produced by Clark Spencer.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) moving to Zootopia to become a cop and finding out that the ideal world of animals that were once Predators and Prey isn’t the peaceful utopia she believed it to be. Together she must work with a hustler named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to solve the case on why certain predators are going feral and help save the city.

The Pros: The World – The world is awesome! It has a bunch of anthropomorphic animals and unlike a lot of “Dreamworks” films they don’t exist as jokes. There are fully fleshed out cultures and societies (of the the carnivore and herbivore variety) made to reflect our own, rather than satire pop culture…but that is the quality I’ve come to expect from Disney Studios.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful as Zootopia is split into different regions…from the Metropolis at the center, desert, rain forest, etc. It all flows together beautifully and I love how they show when animals go feral with the red eyes.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film as their histories are what inform the film, especially between Hopps and Wilde, who really carry the film. This is a film that is honest about it’s characters and in turn honest about our own basic humanity, with all of the pros and cons that come with it.

Mr. Big – Mr. Big is the gang lord of the Arctic region. He is an Arctic shrew who is pretty amazing as he helps our heroes once he learns that Hopps saved his daughter and in turn he makes her family and forgives Wilde for conning him.

Chief Bogo – Idris Elba is awesome in this! He plays a giant Water Buffalo who is the police chief of Zootopia. He has his own issues to work through as he doesn’t take Hopps seriously until Wilde calls him out for his prejudice against smaller animals and his belief they can’t be cops. He grows a lot and becomes of the few characters who remains a hero throughout the film.

Nick Wilde – Jason Bateman is fantastic as Nick, who is a tragic figure who had gotten beaten up by some herbivores as a kid because he was a carnivore, as they beat him up and muzzled him. From this we get why he doesn’t trust people and why he lives the sly fox stereotype. His friendship with Hopps is awesome as he helps her grow and she helps him grow as he becomes someone serious and stops conning others.

Judy Hopps – Hopps was beat up by a fox when she was little and her family hates foxes due to their experience in the countryside. That all changes when she goes to the city and befriends Nick. It is from there that she has to face herself when she helps the Assistant Mayor target predators when she blames their going feral on their DNA. From here there is one of the most touching scenes when she apologizes to Nick for all she’s done and they go to takeout the Assistant Mayor.

Prejudice and Communities – The main prejudices explored here are those based on body (Hopps ignored by the Police Chief and force) and carnivore vs. herbivore as the herbivores fear the Predators and vice versa due to times fear and hatred have been acted upon characters. We see this in how the Assistant Mayor uses the fear to limit predator opportunities and making Hopps a hero. It is when Nick and Judy get past their prejudices and Chief Bogo does too that they are able to take out the Assistant Mayor and her sheep who want revenge for being used and oppressed and wants to end the existent of carnivores.

The Cons: The Mayor and Assistant Mayor – I felt that these two were never fully explored. The Mayor was just someone taking advantage of the media to be better liked while the Assistant Mayor preyed on fear. There was so much more that could have been done with all of them. The mayor being a bully didn’t seem like a logical reason to target all carnivores.

Too Much Shakira – She is in this as Gazelle and she is everywhere. Seriously, at times this film feels like a Shakira commercial. I hated it as this city should listen to more people both in the news and music. This was the one thing that really took me out of the film.

  This was an amazing movie even if the Mayor and Assistant Mayor didn’t feel fully developed as characters, and there was way too much Shakira (and I like Shakira) as at times it felt like one giant music video selling her, especially at the end. These cons are overwhelmed by the positive though as the world is amazing and the core characters all go through character arcs that humanizes them and gives them depth. There is a lot to like about this film and I would not be surprised if it ends up making my Top 5 Films this year.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Star Wars Rebels: Spark of Rebellion (2014) – The Spirit of the “Original Trilogy of Star Wars” Captured Once More

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     It has been a long time since there has been a good story that came out of the Universe of “Star Wars” in the medium of film or television. I might be wrong about “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” that was also CGI animated but I do want to give the show a chance, largely because of folks from the “Avatar Universe” being involved as one of them (Dave Filoni) was with “Star Wars: Rebels.” For me the last great story that was in the medium of film or television for “Star Wars” was “Star Wars: Clone Wars” that was done entirely with instrumentals. Sadly “Episode 3” ruined some of the cool aspects of that episode, but I’ll get into that when I eventually review the prequels. For now this is going to be the introduction to “Star Wars: Rebels” and the fantastic potential this show has after this kickoff film…and as a fan of “Star Wars” this makes me glad. “Star Wars” has needed good stories again.

       The television film was directed by Steward Lee and Steven G. Lee and Simon Kinberg. It was created by Lucasfilm and Lucas Animation and aired on the Disney Channel.

       The story follows that of the orphan thief Ezra Bridger who is pulled into the beginning of the rebellion when the crew of Ghost is stealing blaster rifles on his homeworld Lothal which also had the intention of stealing. As the Empire deals with them they are forced to work together when they receive information about Wookie slaves that need rescuing and Ezra must choose what kind of person he wants to be and to deal with his force potential.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation for “Star Wars Rebels” is fantastic! The animation flows, is distinct but also has a very organic feel to it, it reminds me of the old toys from the “Original Star Wars Trilogy.”

The Soundtrack – The music is wonderful. It plays tribute to music we’ve heard before in “The Original Trilogy” but does interesting things with it and gives it a different feel that at times feels sadder than the “Original Trilogy.” This makes sense as things have to be bad enough for a people to rebel, and this is telling that story. Kevin Kiner was a good choice for this show.

Lothal – The world of Lothal has a great design. It is a mixture of Tatooine but has more development and also the outskirts where the refugees from the Empire attempt to live. It’s a diverse world and it makes sense that the Rebellion would start here and that our heroes would be connected to this world.

The Action – The action in this film was fantastic! The Empire feels big without being overwhelming since we’re in the Outer Rim but we still get some great speeder and ship chases and the moment Kanan uses his lightsaber and reveals himself as a Jedi is one of the soaring moments of the fight.

The Crew of Ghost – The crew has a great dynamic and each bring an interesting dynamic to the series. Each of them is an outcast with Kanan and Hera being the closest thing to parents for all of them. Also the ship has a great design.

Garazeb – Is a Lasat with an Australian accent who is the tough guy with a good heart. His design looks like the early Wookie designs and he is a great character. He’s rough around the edges but will always put himself out there for others and go against his rather strong survival instincts. He is against saving Ezra but does come back after Kanan’s vote. He’s aware of the other species like him that the Empire nearly wiped out so he has a lot of reasons to want them defeated.

Sabine – Sabine is a Mandalorian who specializes in explosives and takes a liking to Ezra. They’re both orphans and she is easily his equal. She like Garazeb has a stronger survival instinct and after the trap votes against going back for Ezra. She is also the first to embrace Ezra though.

Hera – Hera is the mother of them all in a manner of speaking. She is a Twi’lek and in a relationship with Kanan (or at least feels like she is). She has the coolest head and helps Ezra to grow up. Ghost belongs to her.

Kanan – Kanan is the leader and one of the few surviving Jedi. He is dealing with the danger of Ezra being selfish and a danger to them but also his force potential. He offers to train him if the lightsaber Ezra stole from him is brought back. He’s shown to be very honorable and reveals himself as a Jedi in order to save everyone and forgiving since he gives Ezra a lot of chances.

The Message – The message is that there are things worth fighting for and how important it is to remember those who have nothing (the refugees) and to do something and stand against injustice. It is presented really well as we see Ezra go from the most selfish character to someone trying to be a good person.

Okay: Agent Kallus – Kallus is like a lite Admiral Zhao at the moment. Threatening but just not powerful enough. That may change once we see him get some victories beyond his brief capture of Ezra.

Chopper – Is a Astromech that is pretty rough and tough. I can’t really define it’s personality fully yet. I like the design though.

The Cons: The Wookies – The Wookie animations looked pretty derpy and were hard to really enjoy for that reason. The fur didn’t look like fur, it just looked like it was pasted on. Also the baby Wookie did not look cute it just looked creepy.

  I’m going to review this series. Not yet, but this television film sold me on it. “The Spark of Rebellion” was able to express motivations, lay down stakes (The Jedi Hunting Inquistor appears at the end) and we see that the Rebellion is just that, a rebel cause that is outmatched and outgunned by a far numerous and superior force. This makes it compelling and gives us a chance to see the complexity of the Rebels and the Empire.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great.

Big Hero 6 (2014): To Heal From Trauma and When Minor Characters Are the Most Interesting

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       Walt Disney Animated Studios is back being great again. “Wreck-It-Ralph,” “Frozen” and “Big Hero 6.” Let’s see if they can continue this going forward. Suffice to say this film was awesome! It had consequences, a good message and had some of the best minor characters I’ve seen come out of this studio. I’ll explain more of what I mean in the assessment, but there is very little wrong I can say about this film.

      “Big Hero 6” is loosely based off of the Marvel Comics of the same name (which was inspired by Japanese anime and manga) which were created by Man of Action and was directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, written by Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson and Jordan Roberts and produced by Roy Conli and John Lasseter. Essentially a lot of people made this possible and it’s surprising that it all came together so well given when there are this many people on board if often leads to “Too many cooks in the kitchen,” and becomes a mess.

Spoilers ahead…

     The premise is Hiro (Ryan Potter) is the main character living in the future city of Sanfransokyo where he takes part in Bot Fighting until his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) inspires him to go to college. After tragedy occurs during the event that Hiro makes it in it is up to his brother’s healing robot Baymax (Scott Adsit) to help him heal which leads them to discover the fire wasn’t an accident as  mysterious villain named Yokai is using the the nanobots that Hero created as a weapon and for a mysterious purpose. From here the story unfolds as Hero deals with the loss of Tadashi and facing this new threat. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world of Sanfransoyko is awesome! It reminds me of a city out of “Akira” or “Ghost in the Shell” and is the perfect mixture of our modern world with future tech. For example the Bot Fights that are underground but also the fact that everyone drives cars and Hiro’s Aunt’s cafe is a major area where characters go too besides the high tech. University. I wanted to visit this future world since it captured my love of robots and tech. so well…you can tell at least someone in this project has a passion for this stuff too.

The Soundtrack – Henry Jackman is amazing! This score incorporates techno-electronic with soaring orchestra pieces to capture our characters highest and lowest moments. My favorite ones were a few of the running sequences where the electronic was blended in so seamlessly it made the future world real as well as capturing the threat of Yokai.

Tadashi – Daniel Henney does a great job as Hiro’s older brother who sets him on the path to greatness. We see his awkward charm as he’s building Baymax and also his care for his Aunt and brother as he rescues Hiro from a dangerous situation after the Bot Fight and goes into to rescue his mentor Professor Callahan which leads to his death. Only issue is I would have liked to see more flaws in his character…but his death, I haven’t felt something like that in a Disney film that wasn’t made by Pixar since the death of Mufasa. They nailed the loss of him to his friends at the University and Hiro…

Hiro – Hiro is a positive but I’ll be going into some of the cons of the film later which are entirely Hiro-centric for the most part. But, he is one of the first animated heroes of Japanese origin in the United States and he has a good arc as he goes from an arrogant guy who can’t see beyond himself to someone willing to risk and be a part of a team. He really cares about the group in the end as well as Baymax and becomes the character willing to risk it all even if it means risking his own life…given he does this when we learn about why the villain is doing what he is doing.

Baymax – Baymax is a great robot! He doesn’t really have a soul the way Wall-E does (he follows his programming and doesn’t make any choices…he does what he’s told and was programmed to do by Tadashi. This makes me think he may have an arc where he gets an emotion chip later akin to Data as at one point his care program is replaced by destruction program when Hiro wants him to kill Yokai…it take all Hiro’s friends to stop him and he protects his care program more deeply after that. He is very much out Aaisimovesque in he follows the Laws of Robotics in that he programmed not to harm people and clearly regrets his program being overrun after. Great robot and curious to see where the most likely sequels will take him.

Fred – Fred is the joke character who provides the headquarters for the team. He is the mascot at the college and obsessed with comic books. It is at his home when they are hiding from Yokai that Hiro gets the idea of turning them into Super Heroes. It is done really well and is all showing and not telling for the most part. I liked his character and I am curious to see where he goes from here as he is given purpose in becoming a super hero. T.J. Miller nailed this character.

Honey Lemon – This is a character I would have liked to see more of even though she isn’t one of my favorite characters in the film. She is bubbly, smart and loves pink. She breaks your stereotypes. She uses chemicals to break down metals and is the one who takes immediately to Hiro and is the most supportive of the group towards him. She doesn’t really have an arc which is a shame, but she’s a great character. Genesis Rodriguez is wonderful in the role.

GoGo – GoGo like Honey Lemon doesn’t really have a character arc but she is one of my favorite characters. She is an extreme sports enthusiast who designs her own vehicles  and is the on who puts up with the least crap from Hiro and Tadashi…which I wish she’d called out Hiro more. We see much more of her warmer side in this movie and she rocks in the last battle and saves them all on multiple occasions. Also I really like her for this line alone, “Women up.” to Tadashi in regards to be tough and fight on. Jamie Chung is fantastic as this character.

Wasabi – Wasabi is the one support character on the team who actually has a character arc! The guy is a neat freak and obsessed with order but Hiro throws all that into wack and he’s forced to face his fear of heights and not being clean throughout the story. This gives him a lot of depth. He’s smart and when it comes to the challenges he faces his fears and rises each time. He is the voice of reason and shines through and besides GoGo he is my favorite character. Damon Wayans Jr. did amazingly.

Teen Titans Similarities – This team reminded me of “Teen Titans” and I’m putting that as a plus. Fred was like Beast Boy, Hiro and Tadashi were akin to Robin, GoGo was Raven, Honey Lemon was Starfire and it rose beyond that analogue with Wasabi and Baymax being their own characters that aren’t really similar to Cyborg.

The Message – The message is forgiveness and growing beyond trauma and it is done really well. At one point Hiro uses Baymax as a weapon and we see his hate of Yokai has consumed him to the point of revenge above all else and as a way to not face his loss of Tadashi. Baymax shows him the video of Tadashi building him and Hiro is finally able to heal and accept the love from his friends. This takes time and it is a believable process and one of the things I appreciated most about the film.

Okay: Aunt Cass – She is supportive but a one note character…we don’t really get her motivation beyond caring for Tadashi and Hiro since their parents are dead. She isn’t a bad character, just flat.

Alister Krei – This guy is set up to be the big baddie as he offers to buy Hiro’s Nanobots which Hiro refuses…and the fire happens soon after. He isn’t guilty which is a nice touch but we don’t get the motivation behind his business…he is just corrupt and rather one note. Alan Tudyk does a good job with what he’s given at least.

Professor Callaghan / Yokai – James Cromwell does a good job playing the threat of Yokai when he appears as Yokai (the villain the the kabuki mask using Nanobots like tentacles) but as Callaghan he’s not fully fleshed out. We learn he wants revenge on Krei  for an experiment that lead to as far as he knows…the death of his daughter, so he starts the fire to steal Hiro’s Nanobots to use as a weapon. He never takes accountability for anything and at one point is near the University he was teaching at before he faked his own death in the fire. We see regret after Hiro saves his daughter for the life he’ll never have, but he still wasn’t great.  I would’ve liked to see more of his motivation.

The Cons: Hiro and Accountability – None of Hiro’s friends hold him accountable, even after he puts them at risk when he makes Baymax go all Terminator and overrides his programs to try and kill Yokai. This bothered me since he’s a teen and that doesn’t mean he should get away with crap, his friend are all in college and should know better. Especially GoGo who like Tadashi held him accountable for calling the school the Nerd School and motivating him to get into it. After Act 1 the only accountability is Baymax helping him heal. Which is good in a way, but Hiro still missed a major lesson.

Not Enough Time with the Team – Honey Lemon, GoGo, and even Wasabi to a degree never get the character exploration they deserve. They are all more fascinating than Hiro but we don’t get their backstory and motivations…I look forward to sequels to see this happen though as this seemed to be Hiro’s origin story primarily.

    This is a movie I’d highly recommend. It is one of the best animated films I’ve seen that has come out recently and really is a Gold Standard. If you like a great music, interesting world, coherent plot and characters who actually change and grow…you will probably like this film. So, check it out if you are looking for something that has loss and a message that is always worth remembering.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Would be higher if the minor characters had been explored more and Hiro had been more accountable.

Wreck-It Ralph (2012): The Story of Outcasts, Healing and Purpose

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Talk about nostalgia, as a gamer the references to specific games and types of games alone was enough to find joy in this film, and to top it all off it had a great story. Before I go into more detail though, the film is “Wreck-It Ralph.” As a kid who used to love arcades and a person who still loves arcades this film captured part of what makes arcades and gaming as a whole so wonderful.

“Wreck-It Ralph” was directed by Rich Moore, who was also one of the story writers. It was produced by Clark Spencer and the screenplay was by Jennifer Lee and Phil Johnston, with the story by Rich Moore and Phil Johnston and Jim Reardon. As can be seen, there is a lot of overlap on folks who helped make this movie happen which is why I think the world and story were so solid going in. It looks like a collaboration.

The story of “Wreck-It Ralph” is that Wreck-It Ralph is tired of being the bad guy and outcast in his game and when he’s told by the townsfolk he’ll be accepted if he gets a medal he jumps games in the arcade and goes Turbo, from here the story unfolds as he shakes things up in the worlds between the arcades and Fix-It Felix is sent to bring him back.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The animation – The animation is amazing. It flows, it captures retro games when it needs too and the characters in 3-D look great (Sonic, Bowser, Pac-Man Ghost, etc.) it is a beautiful film to look at, especially the dark world and shooter of Hero’s Duty and the whimsical color of Sugar Rush.

the Music – The music has electronic feel to it and is memorable and fun. I loved the soundtrack, Henry Jackman was good at integrating video game music throughout which further enriched the world that had been created.

The World – All video games are connected and the characters interact when the arcade is shut down. It is kind of “Toy Story”like that way. There is interaction between characters and you understand people’s fear of getting shut down as they are left homeless or destroyed as what happened when Turbo tried to hijack a new racing game and what he does later.

Sergeant Tamora – A character designed with a traumatic backstory who over the course of the film deals with the loss of her husband on their wedding day. She actually reminds me a lot The Bride from the “Kill Bill” films. Jane Lynch is fantastic and she has to be one of my favorite characters in the film. She is the one who teaches us about the threat of the Cy-Bugs (bugs that adapt by becoming whatever they eat and who are programmed to expand like a virus). She is a wonderful character, though her romance with Fix-It Felix was kind of unnecessary.

Vanellope – Is a glitch in sugar rush who is persecuted because she is different. The Candy King sees her as the biggest threat and she is the rebel who helps Ralph find his heart. She reminds him of something more to fight for and is the one who is willing to risk for others in the end too. She is the most selfish initially outside of Ralph, but both of hteir arcs involve finding each other and caring for everyone else when they find they are or were alone. Sarah Silverman was not annoying and did the kid sister role really well.

Fix-It Felix – He doesn’t really have an arc beyond getting awareness outside of himself (a theme of this film) but he still doe a good job. He eventually gets beyond his privilege and peer pressure from the townsfolk’s tower he always fixes when Ralph wrecks it in the game. I think Tamora helps him realize this when he sees just how lucky he’s had it when her back-story is referenced. He has funny expressions in his speech that make him adorable and he is a kind guy.

Wreck-It Ralph – Ralph reminds me a lot of the character of Shrek, except without all the cynicism, he genuinely wants acceptance and will go to any lengths to get it. It makes him interesting as he isn’t the guy who doesn’t care, he cares but goes about it the wrong way as well as having his code against him in regards to his awkward size that destroys things. When he finds his heart at the end it is fantastic as he puts himself at risk for Van and she does the same for him. He finds community in the end and it is done in a believable way. John Reilly was perfect for this role, though at times i thought it was very John Goodman like too.

The Themes – The themes of the outcasts finding acceptance and love is beautiful and done really well. There weren’t any characters I didn’t like and it was good at showing how wanting to be accepted and fit in can lead to selfish and selfless actions.

The Final Fight – Cy-Bugs, Van glitching to save Ralph has he activates the Mentos volcano.

Okay: Candy King/Turbo – He was an okay bad guy, I don’t get why he wanted to go Turbo and conquer all the games given he had things pretty good in the Candy Kingdom. His issue with Van I didn’t understand either. Did he expect to always win? He wasn’t a horrible villain but I wouldn’t call him great either. There hasn’t been a good one of those that wasn’t Pixar and from Disney though since…since Disney did 2D animation. None of their 3D villains really stand out if they aren’t made by Pixar. Cool design after he absorbs the bugs (how did he absorb the Cy-Bugs?) for the final is cool though and he does feel like a real threat in the film for what it’s worth. I wish Alan Tudyk had been given more to work with.

Cons: Some of the puns – Some of the food puns got a little out of hand…again this is from a guy who makes tons of puns and generally likes puns. At times this movie made too many.

I got to say, I loved this film. The characters were fantastic, even if the villain wasn’t great…the world and music were amazing…if you’ve ever played video games you’ll find a lot to love about this film. It’s not as great as “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” but still a favorite nostalgic film after today. I highly recommend it.

Final Score 9 / 10. Solidly great.