Avatar: The Last Airbender – Book 2 “Earth,” Episode 8 – “The Chase” – Internal Fighting and Coming Together

The Chase

     “The Chase” is an episode that when it works it is amazing, but when it has problems, it is really obvious. The episode gives us foreshadowing as well as character development and we get to see just how much of a threat Azula and her Trio really are. Suffice to say I enjoyed this episode, though I wouldn’t call it a favorite. “Zuko Alone” was a far superior episode.

     The episode was directed by Giancarlo Volpe and written by Joshua Hamilton.

    The story involves Team Avatar running from Trio as they are being tracked from Appa’s fur being shed from the spring. Because the Trio is always on their tale they are unable to get any sleep and begin clashing and fighting among themselves, leading to Toph leaving as the Trio closes in.

The Pros: The Trio – The Trio are amazing in this! We see them drive a metal tank, giant lizards and Ty Lee easily takes out Sokka while Mai neutralizes Katara’s Waterbending. Azula also nearly beats Aang and it’s only when she’s taking on the current and future members of Team Avatar that she runs but not before injuring Iroh.

Zuko – Zuko is lost and conflicted and we see him flailing still to live by the old honor of before as he tries once again to capture Aang so his sister Azula won’t get the glory and so that he can redeem himself. Given Azula is trying to kill him too he eventually joins Team Avatar in the fight against her, especially when he watches Iroh fighting with Team Avatar. In the end he is broken though as Azula injures Iroh and he rejects Team Avatar’s help to heal him.

Iroh – Iroh counsels Toph on appreciating the love other’s show you, and she in turn tells him he should tell his nephew the same thing. It’s a great moment and he laughs when Toph mentions that “Isn’t he a bit old to travel alone?” When he says isn’t she too young to be alone. They have a great conversation and his coming together to rescue Zuko from Azula at the end is powerful, made all the more so when Azula lands a direct hit on his chest, leaving him injured.

Toph – Toph is the loner and does her own thing for most of this episode, we see that she sees Team Avatar like her family and she is afraid to be a part of them or open with them because she doesn’t want to get hurt again or rejected. It is Iroh who is able to bring her around though and mentions that some people help because they want too, not because of the person you are. It’s for them, not for you. Which was just what she needed to hear as she joins them for the battle against Azula.

Aang – Aang has his hero moment when he leaves a fur trail that Azula follows and they have a standoff in the village. At one point he is fighting both Azula and Zuko (a precursor of things to come) and it is only through all the elements working together (Zuko and Iroh, Katara, Toph and Aang) that the evil within the Fire Nation (Azula) is defeated, but loss still occurs as she injures Iroh. Aang being aware of others is huge in this as even though Zuko had been trying to kill him, he still won’t turn on him. This is a great analogy for the overall arc of the series as people will be lost and injured from the war and it will take all the Elements coming together to defeat Ozai and Azula.

The Message – Tell people you appreciate them and care about them, because they can’t read your mind and all of us have our insecurities. I really liked the message this episode especially through the perspectives of Toph and Zuko.

Okay: Katara and Sokka – These two are just kind of there. Sokka is there to make jokes based on how tired he is and Katara is there trying to get Toph to help out. She never changes from this though and I found myself more sympathetic to Toph as Katara could get pretty passive aggressive and it was only when she was super tired that she actually addressed Toph not being a part of the team directly.

    I really enjoyed the foreshadowing this episode, couldn’t stand the infighting as it made Katara and Sokka seem much younger than they actually were..and it was a repeat of past fights almost in some ways too. For this reason I wish more focus had been on Iroh and Zuko and that Toph had left earlier to figure things out. The first part of the episode was hard to watch at times because the infighting among Team Avatar was written so terribly. Still, great final battle and you can’t go wrong with Iroh.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

“Better Call Saul” Season 1 Assessment – A Matter of Self Respect, Family and Life’s Shades of Grey

better-call-saul

      “Better Call Saul” kicks off the show strong and shows once again that Vince Gillian and  Peter Gould know what they’re doing. This was a show that I was a little worried about going in, especially when there was early talk about it being a comedy. Gillian can do comedy well but he is so much better at drama and tackling the shades of grey or moral decisions and choices. This is a huge part of why “Breaking Bad” is one of my favorite shows, besides how well the character arcs are handled and the beautiful writing and cinematography…all of which “Better Call Saul” has, though it is much more focused in it’s narrative than “Breaking Bad” was.

      Before I go into more detail, this review does contain SPOILERS for both “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” since for me they shows inform each other, and not just because “Better Call Saul” is a prequel spin-off. There are some of the same characters and we get their backstories and also very similar themes too, though they are handled differently than the Fall of Walter White as Jim McGill (Saul before he was Saul Goodman) is a very different person. Also, as a side note I will eventually be reviewing “Breaking Bad” in full here on the blog.

    The story is that of James “Jimmy” McGill (played by Bob Odenkirk) and begins after “Breaking Bad” where he now works at a Cinnebun and has a whole new persona and identity. He is sad and you see him watching his old “Saul Goodman” commercials before we get a flashback to before to 6 years before “Breaking Bad” began. It is here Jimmy is a small town lawyer and ex-con artist who is trying to make his way in the world while dealing with the shame of his brother Chuck (Michael McKean)who is paranoid and successful, his brother’s firm “Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill” where his friend Kim works and where he wants to be a part of, as he worked in the Mail Room when he left the scam artist track and now cares about law. From here things unfold as secrets are revealed and Jimmy must choose what type of lawyer and man he wants to be.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is once again beautiful. The wasteland of the desert and isolation of the characters (especially Jimmy) is presented really well. I’d expect nothing less from the creators of “Breaking Bad” though. “Breaking Bad” always looked great and cinematography was used to present the themes of falling and brokenness really well, which “Better Call Saul” does in it’s own way too. Whether it’s Chuck’s fear when he goes outside and making the camera be from his point of view where everything is loud and bright or everything is in darkness, which is how Season 1 was filmed.

The Soundtrack – The country western theme is worked into it really well but there are also some great instrumentals too. The use of “Smoke on the Water” at the end of the series was great as well to show the choice that Jimmy makes. Dave Porter did a fantastic job.

The Writing – The dialogue is witty (again Gillian so wouldn’t expect any less) and there are great back and forths with anyone who Jimmy interacts with. Be it the nail salon owner, Kim, Chuck or his Old Testament like speeches to the law firm “Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill.” The script is also subtle too. When Churck admits that he’s ashamed of Jimmy and thinks he’ll always be a con, Jimmy silently leaves. It’s a powerful scene and the most you see is that he’s about to cry, but never fully does. It’s beautifully done and we see quite a few scenes like this where no dialogue needed because it was written and directed so well.

The Characters – The characters are all 3-Dimensional, with the exception of the gangsters who we haven’t really got to know. But the people at the law firm, the friends of Jimmy…none of them are simple. There are conflicts in the choices they make and it defines them in really interesting ways.

Mike Ehrmantraut – Mike is back from “Breaking Bad” and we get his backstory in this. In this we see that he’s a cop killer who killed the cops who were going to kill him and who had killed his son because after he’d convince his son to be corrupt his son had questioned, and that was enough for the cops to end hi. This leads to an investigation and he tells his Daughter-in-Law about what happens, as well as getting help from Jimmy against the Philadelphia detectives. In the end we see more of his road to Gus as he takes jobs as a bodyguard for people trying to stay under the radar and uses the money he has to care for his Grandkids. He’s a great character and has the defining quote of the series:

“I’ve known good criminals and bad cops, bad priests, honorable thieves. You can be on one side of the law or the other, but if you make a deal with somebody, you keep your word. You can go home today with your money and never do this again, but you took something that wasn’t yours and you sold it for a profit. You are now a criminal. Good one, bad one, that’s up to you.”

   Jonathan Banks continues to bring such depth to this complicated character.

Kim Wexler – Jimmy’s friend in the law firm and the person who he helps and who helps him a lot as he is getting on his feet as a lawyer. They’ve known each other a long time and she’s always celebrated his successes. Her choice is that between ambition (the partner track on the firm) and working directly with people the way Jimmy does. She chooses the partner track, at least for now and she wants to work with Jimmy as equals and has since he passed the bar. Rhea Seehorn is great in this role. She is Jimmy’s moral compass a lot of the time.

Chuck McGill – Jimmy’s paranoid brother who is a “Do it yourself” conservative type who looks down on those he sees as lazy, while not fully accepting that he is living on handouts from Jimmy and the company because of his paranoia of light and electricity. His character is tragic in this way as we see him working directly with Jimmy on a few cases, but we soon learn it was all for his own end as after he got Jimmy out of jail he never saw Jimmy as anything other than a crook. He’s a powerful character and much of what Jimmy does is a reaction to him or his firm. His character’s change is getting used to light again, or trying too, before retreating back indoors right around the time that he admits he is ashamed that Jimmy is a lawyer and doesn’t believe is a real lawyer at all. Michael McKean does a wonderful job in the role.

Jimmy McGill – Bob Odenkirk owns this role. Jimmy is complicated. He starts out as the man who loves the joy of the con and wants easy and fast money but soon finds himself becoming a hard worker as he’s trying to make his own success and join his brother’s law firm on his own terms. He makes a lot of tough choices but is shown to have a good moral core as returns the stolen money that he was bribed with by clients and he saves the life of two other cons from Tuco at one point too. He has an awareness of others which makes a good lawyer and con artist. So much of his motivation initially is to do the right thing, impress his brother and become a lawyer in his brother’s firm. It is after he realizes it was never option and his con friend dies during their lost con together that he decides he will make his own path and get money whenever it’s offered after he rejected the chance for wealth tied to firm connected to his brother’s firm. His character is conflict over every decision he makes as he knows easy ways and how to connect with people but continues to be screwed by those closest to him making him resent the ones who have shaped him into the good person he was. What type of crook he will be remains to be seen but Mike’s quote applies to Jimmy big time.

Themes – Isolation (the McGills), betrayal (Jimmy on a few occasions as a con and when he does the right thing with the money, as well as Mike’s backstory), darkness and and light (extremes) and ambition (the McGills and Kim). Were the major ones I noticed.

The Message – The message is in Mike’s quote. You can be a good person whether you are a criminal or with the law, the important thing is will you choose to be? In the end Jimmy is shown to have a greater moral character than Chuck who could not forgive and looked down upon the person who was doing the most for him. This leads to Chuck being further isolated, just like when Jimmy lashes out he gets isolated from his friends too. There is also the warning that easy paths have greater trials later. The issue surrounding the stolen money leads to an episode arc where they have to steal the money from the family to force them to take the deal with Kim’s firm which will save more of them rather than them (The Family and Jimmy) going to jail. This happens a few other times too. The fast money of the underworld can lead to great rewards but very large falls which I think is something Jimmy may have forgotten at the end because he is reacting so strongly to his brother’s betrayal. These themes of goodness not defined by role and the danger of the fast track were the major messages of Season 1.

Okay: Nacho Varga – A criminal who works with Tuco but is trying to go his own way. We see this when he saves Jimmy’s life and wants the money from the family Jimmy was trying to con and we later see him keep his deal when the client Mike is protecting delivers him the pills. He’s smart but I haven’t seen kindness. Tuco cares for his family but what does Nacho care about? This is why he isn’t a pro.

Hamlin – Hamlin is presented as a tool and as the character we are supposed to hate as he is the will of Chuck we learn. He always like Jimmy but because of Chuck could never express it or show it as Chuck didn’t want his brother to be a lawyer. He’s very distant from everyone until he opens up about how much he respects Jimmy. I’m still putting him as okay because I would have liked to see more of that and I don’t know his motivations or why he likes Jimmy.

  If you liked “Breaking Bad” you will probably love “Better Call Saul.” Season 1 was much more solid than early “Breaking Bad” and was defined by drama that didn’t often involve life and death situations. This gave time for the show to be introspective in ways “Breaking Bad” early on wasn’t able to be. This is one thing I love about this show and if it can sustain this and Gillian and Gould know where they are taking the show, this could possibly surpass “Breaking Bad” in story and quality. It is still the beginning though, which means the arc could go in any direction. We are afterall, still 6 years before the events of that show, which gives us a lot of ground to cover.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10.

Gone Home – An Amazing Game of Love, Mystery and Relationships

Gone_Home

        I’ve never been one for games that are purely exploration. Often times I find them overly convoluted and confusing and the gameplay tiring. It’s one reason I could never get into the “Myst” series…Though I am willing to give that series another chance as one of my favorite games is an exploration game, “Journey.” “Gone Home” is also a favorite after playing it last night, though mostly because of how immerse the story is. Suffice to say, if you like a good mystery and powerful story, chances are you will like this game.

      The game was developed Fullbright, designed by Steve Gaynor and composed by Chris Remo. The game is in the style of a first person interactive story adventure game.

     The story involves Kaitlin Greenbriar who has returned home after being gone for a long time traveling and studying abroad in Europe. When she arrives to the home her family had recently moved into she finds that everyone in her family is missing and must piece together the mystery of what happened as well as the mystery surrounding her Uncle Oscar who owned the house before.

From here on there are spoilers.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Chris Remo did a great job on the soundtrack! There is the haunting sounds in the house combined with punk rock music and jazz when you put cassette tapes into tape players around the house. It gives the mansion a lived in feel beyond the graphics and items you interact with.

The Graphics – The graphics are fantastic! The house is beautifu/l and it is haunting as you are trapped inside with no way to contact the outside world as the phones are down because of the storm. There are also tons of rooms that are really detailed. From the bedroom of your little Sister Samantha who is the character who learn the most about and your father’s study as well as your mother’s sewing room. Each room has a distinct personality that the graphics portray really well. This also includes the hidden rooms that have a really scary feel to them and feel like they’re out of “Silent Hill” at times.

The House – As described above, the house is wonderful and has so much personality to it. From the hidden rooms with abandoned crosses and a safe, to Sam’s rockstar room, to the ornate bedroom and study of the parents. The house feels real and mysterious and is pretty much a character all on it’s own. Wanting to learn more about what it revealed was a big part of what kept me playing.

The Story – The story is amazing! There are a few stories that you get in the overacing narrative. Your Mom has a crush on one of the Ranger’s she works with and is having marriage problems with the father who was possibly molested by Uncle Oscar and lives in shame of his father’s expectations of him as an author as he largely rights pulp…and Oscar’s store going under and his seeking redemption from his Sister for what he did.

The Prime story is that of Sam and her girlfriend Lonnie. The story involves Sam accepting she loves Lonnie and expressing that through her story of Captain Allegro and the First Mate who go on adventures together and are lovers. Her parents are religious though and they don’t believe her when she comes out to them and put her under house arrest. Later when they go to work on their relationship at a retreat, Lonnie leaves the military and runs away with Sam and you find the Journal entries that describe all of Sam’s experiences of learning how much she loves Lonnie, her being an outcast at school and her past friendship with Danny and making peace with herself enough to the point that she can leave home and make a life with the woman she loves. Katie is the one who learns all of this and we see and hear it through her experiences of discovering the mystery of why the house is empty.

The Characters – Uncle Oscar – His ghost haunts the house but it isn’t literal. He probably molested Terry (the Father of Sam and Katie) as we see Terry’s height measured throughout the years but stops at age 12 in 1963, which relates directly to the stories Terry writes about JFK and the assassination of him. He is not a good person and though he seeks redemption and has regret, we have no reason to trust him. I put this character as a pro because he reveals Terry to us in regards to Terry’s drinking and trust issues and also we see how Lonnie and Sam are ghost hunters as well as they try and get rid of what they see as his ghost haunting the house.

The Parents – Terry is insecure and drinks a lot and has a powerful artistic mind. His niche market even catches on with Time Travel and the Assassination of JFK. We don’t really know his relationship to his wife though and sadly his rejection of his daughter (whether from his experience with Uncle Oscar (not realizing that Pedophilia and Homosexuality are two very different things) or his insecurity in his marriage lead him rejecting Lonnie and Sam (or his religious belief, “Bibles” are all over the house). The Mom is pretty driven too as she gets promoted in Oregon in the Forest Service is maybe having an affair with Ranger Rick and sews and is in contact writing letters with one of her old friends. She’s also an immigrant from Canada. We see she’s supportive of her husband even though she is exploring another option. The marriage is complicated but I get her doubts given the amount her husband drinks and his doubts and we don’t know if he ever shared what happened when he was 12. They are off at a Marriage Retreat when Katie returns home though.

Sam and Lonnie – Sam and Lonnie are pretty distinct and awesome characters. Sam is quite and an artist who finds her voice both in coming out to her folks and when she runs away with Lonnie. Lonnie is tough and independent and is a singer in a band and is all about self improvement via her nearly joining the military. They are pulled apart at one point as Sam is looking at Reed College since she has a scholarship and Lonnie is joining the military. After Sam comes out to her parents though they choose each other. They are reckless but committed and it makes them very human and my favorite characters in this.

The Message – The message is one of equality and love and it is powerful. We see two people who are willing to risk everything for one another since who they are has been rejected by their parents. It’s powerful and shows just how rejected they were. The time period is the 90’s but in some families in the United States an LBGTQ relationship would still be seen as wrong and be rejected and not seen as love even when love is there. This message speaks to the affect that has on people. If Lonnie’s or Sam’s parents had accepted their relationship, they would not have run away as they’d feel they had a safe space to be together and themselves.

Okay/Pro: The  Gameplay – The gameplay is good but not great. There were many times I wish I could have explored more objects or learned more of what each object meant. For example, your father’s novels about the “JFK Assisination” where a Time Traveler goes back in time to stop it and later on wants to save himself was a story I wanted to read. This story is a glimpse into your Father’s life just as “Captain Allegro and the First Mate” are glimpses into who your sister Sam is. I also wish you could go outside so there would be more than just the feel of danger as you explore the house.

Okay: Katie – Katie is a cipher and we don’t get much of her personality beyond her love of adventure and her family. I wish we could have got her thoughts about Sam and Lonnie running away and if she accepted them and loved them the way her parents never could. Still we get some characterization, I just wanted more.

   I played the game in full with my partner playing a few places in it. She had played it earlier and I am extremely grateful she introduced this game to me and that I got to play and discuss it with her. It was a story we could relate to in many ways and the characters were so real. When I started to play it was hard for me to put down, which is one reason I consider it a favorite game. The gameplay was good enough that it didn’t interfere with the story and it was still a puzzle and discovery game rather than an interactive movie. I highly recommend this game and not because of the story message, it is a great game and one of the beset I’ve finished in a while.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

The Book of Life (2014): An Exploration and Celebration of Family and Love

The Book of Life

         “The Book of Life” impressed me, and I wasn’t the only one. After the show the halfway empty theatre erupted into applause and for good reason. A lot of films just have a good time with fun characters and leave it that, but this one actually managed to have some pretty amazing points beyond just general points and messages. It truly got into the motivations of it’s characters and what defined them and critiqued and celebrated the culture that inspired it. I wish there were more children’s films like this. I’ll get into the details of what I mean in the assessment.

      This film follows both the Halloween theme (spirits and the dead) while also celebrating another culture and holiday in that it is inspired by the myths and legends around the Day of the Dead.

    “The Book of Life” was written by Jorge Gutierrez and Doug Langdale, directed by Jorge Gutierrez and produced by Aaron Berger, Brad Booker, Carina Schulze and Guillermo del Toro whose name is the first thing you see when the show begins. His vision is a large part of what made this film possible. Which is great since he’s one of my favorite directors.

       The premise of the film begins with troubled kids from detention taking a tour of the Mexican Cultural Museum where a mysterious lady who is their tour guide shows them the “Book of Life” and tells the stories of the characters after laying out the world where the afterlife has “The Remembered” in constant celebration ruled by their God La Muerta and “The Forgotten” who have been forgotten and are ruled by the God Xibalba. It begins on the Day of the Dead where three best friends have a wager put upon them by La Muerta and Xibalba on who will win the hand of Maria. Xibabla chooses the fighter and warrior Jaoquin to win her hand and La Muerta chooses Manolo, the muscian from a line of Bull Fighters. From here the story unfolds as family obligation is put on the characters, forcing Maria abroad to Spain for school, Jaoquin as a soldier for Maria’s father the General and Manolo as the Bull Fighter to win her hand. These are the main stories that unfold as the God’s act on the events around them.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The World – The world, especially when the tour lady starts the story is fantastic! Most of it takes place in the small town of San Angel, and when it isn’t there we travel between the Land of the Remembered and Forgotten. My only issue is I wish we had seen conflict in the other worlds but that might have been the point. The conflict is among the living and among the living we see drama between lovers, family and bandits. The colors are dark and stark so when there is color it is beautiful! Every scene is rich with detail that helps give us the worlds and minds of the characters.

La Muerta – She was my favorite character in this and the one who seems to have wisdom even if she quickly will give it up for a bet. This need to take risks and bet adds dimension to her as a God especially in her relationship to Xibalba as all she wants is honesty from him and true sorrow for the things he’s done. For this reason her making Manolo her champion makes sense since he speaks the most genuine and honestly and isn’t bound by social pressure the way Maria and Jaoquin often are by their father’s legacies. He has enough will from the beginning to break that, much like La Muerta with breaking the rules so that Day of the Dead can occur and families can reunite for a time. That is her doing and there is a reason she is loved. She also has a great character design with a flowing red dress, skeleton face and candles on her hat and dress. Kate del Castillo does a great job bringing gravitas to the part.

Xibalba – Ron Perlman plays a very crafty role, which is great to see. His character reminded me a lot of Hades from Disney’s “Hercules” except that he deep down did just want love. This drives his character to strive for power as he feels slighted and jealous at everything La Muerta does and hates that he is watching over a world that is dying with people forgotten, for he feels forgotten. This drives his recklessness and makes him compelling. He doesn’t want to be alone and left out and that makes him sympathetic even as he does some pretty bad things to the human pawns in the bets (poisoning Maria and tricking Manolo into giving up his heart). He also has a great design that looks like acid and tar, which at the beginning is what he’s described of being made of.

The Sanchez Family and Manolo – The Sanchez family is fascinating, we see the legacy of bull fighting and “Being a man” a huge part which Manolo turns on it’s head by being a musician. Much of the story is his father coming to terms with that choice and Manolo’s inability to kill. It brings great drama and it is this dichotomy between tradition and doing what’s right (not to kill) that leads Maria to falling in love with him. Manolo thinks outside of himself while his family is largely obsessed with legacy. His mother doesn’t agree with legacy and shows how complex their family is in the Land of the Remembered as they had ancestors who fought in the revolution and that at the core it is character and integrity that matters, which Manolo has. He discovers all this when he meets his mother and dead ancestors in the Land of the Remembered and his mother and grandfather help him reach La Muerta who has been forsaken to the Land of the Forgotten because of Manolo’s death by Xibalba’s snake. We see him change the family legacy as it comes to a head when Xibalba will grant him life if he can defeat all past bulls killed by the Sanchez family, which he does in an epic battle that ends in a song for forgiveness for what his family has done. In the end they all grow through Manolo’s actions.

Of Jaoquin’s Hyper Masculinity – Jaoquin is obsessed with fighting and being tough above all else and this is celebrated by the culture as seen by the Sanchez all being bull fighters. His father was a hero and when he saves the General who is the mayor of the town and Maria’s father he is taken under his wing. This shapes his tendencies in viewing people as serving him rather than the other way around that when Maria returns he can’t see past himself and only wants to talk about his medals. It takes his talisman that makes him invulnerable being taken and Manolo dying for him to rethink his priorities and to stop trying to be the hyper warrior his father was. He also stops assuming what Maria wants and in the process the competition ends between the friends as they both truly act from love. His arc is growing out of his hyper masculinity and finding tenderness and balance. Malono goes through this too but much faster as for him it’s the simple choice of not to kill the bull.

Maria – Maria is an interesting character. She functions as a plot device for the boys to get out of their families shadows and become their own people, but she also is her own person too. She’d marry Jaoquin if he’d stay to protect the town from the bandits but if that isn’t an issue and if Manolo loves her, she’d choose him. She’s educated and smart and she calls on the town to fight back against the bandit invasion. I kind of wish La Muerta had chosen her as her champion. Zoe Zaldana is wonderful in this role.

Relationship Healing – Xibalba realizes how selfish he was and in the end he rules together with La Muerta again, it’s implied as they change from their human disguises (museum guard was Xibalba, tour guide was La Muerta) and they kiss. Manolo and his father make peace, Manolo and Jaoquin make peace, Maria and her father are on the same page and the town fights off the bandits. The arcs get completed and it’s all the rich for it. “Write your own story.” As the Candle Maker (the 3rd Death God) reminds us at the end.

Okay/Cons: The Kids – The kids in detention are there giving commentary like the grandson in “The Princess Bride,” and like him they are pretty forgettable. I get that they are standins for us, but they aren’t really needed. The story is rich and I cared more about the final reveal of Xibalba and La Muerta than about them.

The Music – Most are mariachi inspired covers of popular songs…this film would have worked better with an original soundtrack given it is an original world without pop culture references besides the songs. The songs kind of took me out of it for that reason.

The Beginning – Things start out really slow, both with the kids in modern day (never really cared about them) and when our heroes are children. I get why it’s important as it establishes their motivations (Maria to prevent killing and her hatred of it, Manolo and his music and bull fighting dichotomy and Jaoquin haunted by his father’s martyr legacy). But it could have been done faster. The best parts of the early scenes are when La Muerta and Xibalba interact.

The Candle Maker – Ice Cube plays a God who is kind of like Robin William’s Genie and just as annoying. I couldn’t stand how annoying this guy could get which is a shame since the Candle Maker as the neutral party is an interesting concept. He isn’t bad and has some great wisdom, but in the end is merely a somewhat annoying plot device.

       This was a really good film. I don’t know if I’d call it great because the things that are okay are at many points cons through the film. The kids are super annoying at the beginning and the slow start makes it hard initially to get invested in the characters until we see them again when they are older and active agents in their own lives. We just didn’t get enough time with the Gods in the beginning and had too much time with characters who were children. Still a fantastic film that I’d recommend. If you like animated films that have their own style and a good message, this is your film.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10, really good and a favorite.