THE STAR review

Oh… oh, this is going to be rich. The Nativity as told by talking animals. Oh do I have an atheist friend that I’m dragging to see this. He’ll kick, he’ll scream, he’ll cry, he’ll claw the ground with bloodied fingernails to resist me getting him in the theater, but I’m getting his butt in that seat to suffer with me.

Alright, so a little background on me. For those that don’t know, I’m Agnostic. I neither believe, nor disbelieve in God. I don’t blindly accept what a book tells, despite being open to the idea. Having said that, I was raised for much of my childhood to be a Catholic. I went to church on Sundays, even briefly took little classes that talked about the Bible. I remember little animated movies of different animation styles that talked about The Last Supper and Judas’ betrayal. Other than that, and one viewing of PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004) later, I know jack squat about the Bible. What can I say? Religion is boring and I prefer to distance myself from what far too many use as propaganda to spread intolerance and hate. I support the good fight that better Catholics and Christians do, but that’s their field of expertise, not mine.

The reason I bring this up is because I do not know the details of what is referred to as “The Nativity Story.” I probably know half of the bare bones basics. It’s the birth of Jesus Christ, three wise men give him gifts, and that’s it. So I have no idea if the movie is going to tell the story faithfully (Judging from the ratings I’m looking at, not likely), so I imagine even someone who doesn’t know the story will be able to pick up the inaccuracies and liberties. At the very worst, I’ll be able to pick up on what was made up… apart from the talking animals.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Steven Yeun (I ORIGINS [2014]. and TV shows VOLTRON [2016 – ongoing] and THE WALKING DEAD [2010 – ongoing]), Keegan-Michael Key (WHY HIM? [2016], DUE DATE [2010], MR 3000 [2004], and upcoming films HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3 [2018] and THE PREDATOR [2018]), Gina Rodriguez (DEEPWATER HORIZON [2016], TV show JANE THE VIRGIN [2014 – ongoing], and upcoming films FERDINAND [2017] and TV show CARMEN SANDIEGO [2019]), Zachary Levi (THOR: RAGNAROK [2017], BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE [2006], TV show CHUCK [2007 – 2012], and the upcoming SHAZAM! [2019]), and Oprah Winfrey (SELMA [2014], BEE MOVIE [2007], THE COLOR PURPLE [1985], and the upcoming A WRINKLE IN TIME [2018]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Timothy Reckart, known for short films, making his feature film debut. Penning the screenplay is Carlos Kotkin, known for OPEN SEASON: SCARED SILLY (2015) and RIO 2 (2014). Finally, composing the score is John Paesano, known for SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME (2017), TV show DAREDEVIL (2015 – ongoing), video game MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA (2017), and upcoming films MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE (2018) and PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (2018).

Overall, no, this ain’t gonna be good. But you know what? I know that. I really do.

This is my honest opinion of: THE STAR

(SUMMARY)

Bo (voiced by Steven Yeun) is a mill donkey whose life has strictly been grinding wheat. But he has dreams of joining the Royal Caravan and doing something important with his life alongside his best friend Dave (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) the dove. Turns out, they’re getting their chance at a new life when an angel descends from Heaven, tells Mary (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) that she’s going to be pregnant with the Messiah. The angel returns to Heaven, leaving a bright star in the sky and Bo decides that this is the sign he’s been needing to go on an adventure. Escaping his captivity and joining Mary and Joseph (voiced by Zachary Levi) on their journey to Bethlehem while being pursued by one of King Herod’s (voiced by Christopher Plummer) ruthless soldiers to kill the future Messiah.

(REVIEW)

Yup! It’s bad. But like I said before, I knew that going in. But if you’re going to be a parent and ask, “Well, is it suitable for children?” Yeah, sure, I guess. There’s nothing offensive, unless you count modern speech patterns, or phrases like, “Yeah, totally,” set 2,000 years ago, then kids will be fine. But adults like me will be in for a long eighty minutes.

Should I even bother mentioning anything positive? Eh, fine, I will, but I do it under protest as they don’t save the movie. The first positive thing I can say, the animation on the angel that visits Mary was pretty. And Ruth (voiced by Aidy Bryant) was occasionally not annoying.

That’s about it. The rest of the movie is so phoned in, you’d swear a free app created this movie but had a surprisingly large budget to warrant a star-studded cast, which might be the most impressive thing about the flick. Bo might as well be a Disney princess who thinks there must be more than this provincial life. Yeun certainly brings a comedic energy, but because his character is so bland and uninteresting that his talent is wasted here. This applies to the entire cast, really. Key isn’t funny, which is an accomplishment in of itself. Seriously, how does that happen? One would think having him in your movie would be a gift-wrapped bundle of comedy, but nope, his talents are wasted as well.

Oh man is the music annoying here. If there isn’t some obnoxious pop rendition of a public domain Christmas song playing, there’s original music, if you can call it that, that ruins scenes even more. Like, a scene that’s supposed to have drama and emotion at its core would be fine enough if there wasn’t any music, letting those emotions sink in. But because this movie talks down to kids, the music has to go all Randy Newman on us and sing about the emotions that we know the characters are feeling with obvious lyrics. To add insult to injury, there’s SO MANY OF THEM! Holy cow, I can’t believe how bad my headache got. I swear, it got to a point where a scene ends, a pop number plays. A scene ends, then a pop number plays. Ugh! Shut up, movie!

The jokes aren’t funny and half the time, the characters have to explain their own jokes. Bad enough that they’re not funny, but everyone knows explaining the joke ruins it even more and makes it unbearable. A clear indication that there was zero effort put into the script itself. The slapstick is incredibly forced, only put in there because, you know, kids laugh at pain. And if the jokes aren’t getting explained, the plot is. There’s a scene with the camels overhearing what King Herod is plotting and then immediately are like, “Oh no! I knew that king was up to no good!” Yeah… it’s like the movie thinks the audience has the attention span of squirrels and they weren’t paying attention. Then again, the movie is pretty boring, so it’s probably a good thing that the movie thinks we fell asleep at some point because we probably did.

Some moments don’t even make sense. Like when the Three Wise Men visit King Herod, they present him with gifts. When he thanks them, the Wise Men say, “Oh they’re not for you. They’re for the Messiah.” Um… first off, why present him presents if they weren’t for him. Second, why mention there’s a Messiah on the horizon, who is likely a known threat to any king’s rule? Kind of a bonehead move, if you ask me. Look, again, I never read the Bible, nor do I know the Nativity Story in any way, so for all I know, the Wise Men never visited the King, but even if this was true, then I would think this amount of honesty would royally backfire. “Wise” Men indeed. Phooey!

I think the greatest insult that I was inflicted on me was how it rips off TANGLED (2010). No joke, it really does. Levi plays a character who doesn’t get along with the horse-like animal, but become friends toward the end of the story. Okay, so the similarities end there, and it’s more of a cute coincidence rather than a full-blown steal. But the fact that this movie made me think about TANGLED and desperately would have rather watched that, then this is a great insult! Curse you, movie!

Overall, it’s not a good movie. If you wanted an eighty minute cliffnote of the cliffnotes of what the Nativity story is, then this movie will do it for you. But if you’re expecting a good movie, with comedy, drama, and deep, thought-provoking ideas, then you’ll get it… if you’re a toddler, which I wager is who this movie is aimed for. I don’t recommend this movie, even if your kid begs you or you just want a family outing at the movies. COCO (2017) is out in theaters right now. Get yourself an upgrade. No, it’s not particularly insulting, there’s no bad or perverted morals, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. The story of the first Christmas is more of a black hole of quality storytelling than a star.

My honest rating for THE STAR: 2/5

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COCO review

Not that this hasn’t been making its rounds in the theaters, but let’s face it, it’s sad that the Frozen short is getting the greatest amount of attention. Jeez, I hate Olaf.

Disney and Pixar. What can you say? Individually, they’re amazing. Together, who knows what kind of magic is in store for us? Well… okay, fine, Pixar is owned by Disney (what isn’t these days?), but there’s a lot of Pixar films that are considered “Pixar’s films” more than Disney’s and Pixar’s. It’s strange to see that mix and mash. Or maybe I’m just weird. Eh, who cares? DISNEY AND PIXAR!!! WOOO!!!

The story looks like it’s about a Hispanic boy who wants to know more about his father, a famous guitar player, and… honestly, it’s Thanksgiving as I’m writing this, I’ve had two or three mimosas, I’m a lightweight, all I can remember is that this movie looks eerily similar to the movie THE BOOK OF LIFE (2014), which I really liked. I liked the wooden marionette puppet look, but just because something looks and seems similar, doesn’t mean there aren’t differences. Besides, it’s Disney and Pixar. They do great work, so let’s judge it for what it is, not what it looks like.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Anthony Gonzalez (known for unknown stuff and shorts) and Gael García Bernal (DESIERTO [2016], BABEL [2006], AMORES PERROS [2000], and the upcoming Zorro reboot, Z, no release date announced). In support, we have Benjamin Bratt (DOCTOR STRANGE [2016], MISS CONGENIALITY [2000], and TV show LAW & ORDER [1990 – 2010]), Grabiel Inglesia (THE STAR [2017], THE BOOK OF LIFE [2014], MAGIC MIKE [2012], and the upcoming FERDINAND [2017]), and legendaries Edward James Olmos (BLADE RUNNER 2049 [2017], SELENA [1997], NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND [1984], TV show BATTLESTAR GALACTICA [2004 – 2009], and the upcoming THE PREDATOR [2018]), Cheech Marin (CARS 3 [2017], CARS [2006], THE LION KING [1994], and GHOSTBUSTERS II [1989]), and John Ratzenberger (CARS 3, RATATOUILLE [2007], THAT DARN CAT [1997], and the upcoming INCREDIBLES 2 [2018]).

Now for the crew. Co-directing, we have Lee Unkrich (TOY STORY 3 [2010], FINDING NEMO [2003], and TOY STORY 2 [1999]) and co-writer Adrian Molina (directorial debut; congrats, sir, but has contributed to writing THE GOOD DINOSAUR [2015]). Molina’s partner-in-pen is Matthew Aldrich, attached to the upcoming SPINNING MAN (2018). Composing the score is Michael Giacchino, known for WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017), JOHN CARTER (2012), RATATOUILLE, and upcoming films INCREDIBLES 2 (2018) and JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018). Finally, co-cinematographers, both making their debuts as such, are Matt Aspbury and Danielle Feinberg.

Overall, I’m sure I’ll like it, but I don’t think I’m going in with the highest expectations. We’ll see.

This is my honest opinion of: COCO

(SUMMARY)

Set close to Día de los Muertos, “The Day of the Dead.” The story follows Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a Hispanic boy hailing from a long line of shoe makers with a bit of a dark history. A long time ago, Miguel’s great great grandfather was a musician who wanted to play for the world instead of be with his wife and daughter, Coco. As a result, everyone in the family hates music and utterly refuses its existence in the house, with the notable exception of Miguel, who loves music and wants to enter the local music competition to prove his skills with the guitar. But after his family vehemently objects, destroying his handmade guitar, Miguel tries to steal the guitar of legendary musician and actor, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), who “coincidentally” has a similar history to his great great grandfather. But the guitar has magical properties and Miguel accidentally finds himself whisked away to the invisible land of the dead, where he soon meets his skeletal ancestors. But Miguel doesn’t want to return to the land of the living without the blessing of his great great grandfather, Ernesto, to return to the living so he can pursue his dream of being a musician, despite his family’s denial of it, both the living and dead.

(REVIEW)

While I don’t agree with the 9.1/10 that IMDb has given it (as of 11/24/2017), it’s still a good movie, even great at times, but not all the way through.

One of my biggest problems with the movie is Miguel’s family. Already, the set-up of “something bad happened once upon a time, so now that bad thing is forbidden among the characters of the story” is an over-done cliché that nobody likes, but I can’t stand how mean-spirited Miguel’s family is. Okay, so a man chose to build himself a career instead of being with his family. Deadbeat dads aren’t exactly uncommon. Tragic and possibly unforgivable, to be sure, but how in blazes did this generational hatred for music last so long? Coco never seemed opposed to music, so how did Miguel’s grandmother, his parents, his aunt and uncles, how are all of them so accepting of this blind hatred? Literally not one person is sympathetic, supportive, or understanding of Miguel? Not even in a peripheral sense? Especially since everyone involved wasn’t even alive when his great great grandfather abandoned his family, I just don’t see something like this lasting for as long as it does. Maybe it’d make more sense if every generation, someone in the family wanted to be a musician and they all abandoned their families, then we’d have some understandable drama. But it was something that happened once… a long time ago. Like, probably more than 100 years ago. You see the problem here? The set-up just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So it didn’t come as a surprise to me when Miguel rejected his family after his guitar was destroyed. They’re highly unreasonable and not very likable.

Smaller problems include some contrivances, like Miguel sporadically telling his family’s life-story to a stranger that he’s supposed to be shining the shoes of. Dante the dog was mostly annoying. Not Olaf annoying, but pretty annoying. And some moments seem a little too rushed. Like the movie was trying to get through its scene faster instead of letting the emotions sink in for the characters. It doesn’t happen often, granted, but it’s still present.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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Granted, any additional problems that I have are, objectively speaking, pretty small compared to the unlikable family. Having said that, there’s a few annoyances and some predictability to the movie that I couldn’t help but notice. Like, while I may not have predicted that Hector (voiced by Gael García Bernal) was really Miguel’s great great grandfather, but I called it pretty early on that Ernesto wasn’t either. And the movie tries SO HARD to make this a twist. Hector’s face ripped out of the picture, someone remarking how Ernesto is his family, but no one corrects him, just saying “never mention that man’s name again,” it all gets pretty forced.

 

And there’s the formulaic tropes that Disney and Pixar have been pretty fond of lately that I’m actually a little tired of seeing. First up, we have that thing where the budding traveling pair, Miguel and Hector, have an argument at the end of the second act, but you know they’re going to reunite. It’s not as forced or random as when MOANA (2016) did it with Moana and Maui, but it’s still in that ball park.

 

Also, the surprise villain. Oh jeez, do I hate it when movies do this, especially when it’s not really properly built up. Why did this story need a bad guy anyway? Isn’t the struggle of the lack of familial support kind of the main thing this movie was focusing on? And while I won’t deny that I liked how dark it went that Ernesto straight up murdered Hector for his music, as he never was able to write his own, I feel like there was a better way to spin this story. Wouldn’t it be a little more interesting if Hector really did die from food poisoning and Ernesto really was trying to keep his old friend’s memory alive, but because he was such a hero and legend in his time that he was never honest with the public, taking credit for music that wasn’t his own, he simply never acknowledged Hector? I feel like this could have fed more into even a theme of the price of following your dreams, giving Miguel a moment of pause if being a musician really is right for him, fearing that the fame could change him like it did Ernesto. I think that would have been more complex than simply, oh, he murdered him. It’s too easy, think.

 

And that final song and dance number between Ernesto and Imelda (Alanna Ubach) is pure padding. Instead of just trying to out Ernesto as a fraud to his fans, they sing and dance with him and not trying very hard to get that photo away from him and back to Miguel’s hands.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

But as much as I can rag on the elements that bothered me, I can’t deny what this movie does unbelievably well.

First and foremost, this might be one of the best-looking Disney-Pixar films to date. I am not kidding. This trumps FROZEN (2013), for crying out loud. The reveal of the land of the dead, the sheer size and scope of it, the layers, upon layers of animated beauty are truly a wonder to behold. The world of the dead is so lively, bustling with people with their comings and goings. It’s something you can easily freeze-frame and spend hours just gushing over the impossible detail the animators put in to it. But it’s not even just the land of the dead. This fictional Hispanic city is gorgeous to look at with its own personality to bring. The characters look great. Wonderful expressions, mixed with great voice-talent, it’s a whole package. And I’m telling you, your eyes are going to melt with awe when you look at Pepita, the Alebrije, which is this giant lion-dragon thing surrounded in bright neon colors that looks utterly phenomenal. There is no frame in this movie that isn’t pure beauty.

The music is great as well. Being someone who works in a restaurant with a kitchen staff mainly comprised of Hispanic cooks, I’m usually within earshot of some of that type of music. But as lively and fun as that is, nothing compares to the gorgeous tunes you’ll be listening in this film. When you get the chance, check out the soundtrack. Easily something that anyone can add to their personal playlists. Everyone’s a great singer, especially Gonzalez.

***SPOILERS***

 

 

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I even enjoy some of the ideas the movie presents as well. Like, apparently, there is a death or the dead. In the land of the dead, their entire existence is strictly based on their pictures being put up on the Día de los Muertos, and they continue to live on, so long as the succeeding families remember them through stories passed down from generation to generation. But if the succeeding families forget the dead, then even they fade out of existence, called “The Final Death,” which is chilling to think about. This factors in great with Hector and his desperation for Miguel to take his photo and put it up in the land of the living because Coco, his daughter, is almost ready to pass on herself and no one remembers Hector’s face, so he’s dangerously close to the Final Death. You really understand his motivations and his emotions when Miguel proves to be difficult, albeit for good reasons on all sides.

 

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***END SPOILERS***

I know there’s not a lot of positives to rave about, but they’re so consistent throughout the film that they hold up the movie extraordinarily well and overcome many of the problems I have. Ocularly, phonetically, this movie is magic of the highest caliber. Sure, I had problems with the set-up, some of the characters, and certainly had my issues with the final act, but this movie has way too much going for it that I can’t help but say that I do highly recommend it. This could even be one of those movies to watch around the time of Día de los Muertos, which goes from Halloween until November 2. If you’re a fan of Disney and Pixar, then you’ll definitely get your moneys worth. Seize your moment and see this brilliant and beautiful film.

My honest rating for COCO: 4/5

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THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009) review

Keep ’em comin’, AMC! I’m really enjoying these re-releases!

While I can’t claim to have seen every Disney film as a kid, this is definitely one that stands out as the one I really regretted not having seen in its initial run in theaters. Why? There were a lot of reasons, especially in retrospect. This would be Disney’s final hand-drawn animated movie and it featured Disney’s first black princess. That’s pretty unheard of. Oh, who am I kidding, this is unheard of. I think I tried to watch this movie once on Netflix, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get more than a couple minutes in. I can’t remember why. Well, now I don’t have an excuse. I’m getting my redeeming moment and seeing it on the big screen.

Here’s the voice talent. Starring, we have Anika Noni Rose (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING [2017], DREAMGIRLS [2006], FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY [2003], and the upcoming RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]) and Bruno Campos (MIMIC 2 [2001] and TV show NIP/TUCK [2003 – 2010]). In support, we have Oprah Winfrey (SELMA [2014], THE BUTLER [2013], CHARLOTTE’S WEB [2006], and upcoming films THE STAR [2017] and Disney’s A WRINKLE IN TIME [2018]), Terrence Howard (SABOTAGE [2014], IRON MAN [2008], and CRASH [2004]), the ever-amazing John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], BEE MOVIE [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and the upcoming TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), and living legends Keith David (THE NICE GUYS [2016], PRINCESS MONONOKE [1997], video game MASS EFFECT [2007], and the upcoming TV show Marvel’s NEW WARRIORS [2018]) and Jim Cummings (THE LION KING [1994], ALADDIN [1992], TV show CURIOUS GEORGE [2006 – 2015], and the upcoming CHRISTOPHER ROBIN [2018]).

Now for the crew. Co-writing and co-directing are Ron Clements and John Musker, both known for TREASURE PLANET (2002), THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (1986), and directing MOANA (2016). Co-writing the screenplay, making for a red flag total of three writers, Rob Edwards, also known for TREASURE PLANET. Composing the score is Randy Newman, CARS 3 (2017), CARS (2006), A BUG’S LIFE (1998), and the upcoming TOY STORY 4 (2019). Finally, the cinematographer… this animated movie has a cinematographer? Anyway, it’s Rasoul Azadani, who made his cinematography debut. Congrats, sir.

Overall, pretty excited.

This is my honest opinion of: THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)

(SUMMARY)

Set in New Orleans, Louisiana, circa 1912. As a little girl, Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) was really close to her father, who had dreams of opening their own restaurant. However, in the present day, Tiana’s father passed away and she spends all her time working in restaurants to buy her own, even if it means there’s less fun to be had with her friends. But one day, the arrival of the charming and woman-chasing Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos) causes a stir in town as he’s set to marry a rich young girl to improve a financial crisis he’s in. However, he strikes up a deal with the local voodoo witch doctor, Facilier (voiced by Keith David), in the hopes that he’ll get what he wants faster, but is instead turned into a frog, a spell that can only be broken if he is kissed by a princess. Desperate to be turned back to normal, he finds his way to a costume party where Tiana is dressed as a princess, convinces her to kiss him, but ends up being turned into a frog herself. Now the two set on a long journey through the Louisiana bayou to located another witch doctor to help them turn back to human.

(REVIEW)

I liked it for the most part. I wouldn’t put it up there as one of the classic Disney films, but I’m glad enough that I saw it.

The best part of this film is the music. While I wouldn’t say I go to jazz clubs or anything, though I really should, I do have a small love for jazz music. I love the style, the sounds, the classy feel of it all, and the music in this film from the score to the lyrics are drenched in it. More than anything, it’s a nice movie to put on, maybe not always to watch, but definitely to listen to.

I especially enjoyed Tiana as a character. There’s something respectable about a person who has such a strong work ethic like she does. Being someone who currently works in the food industry, I can tell you that such an upbeat personality like hers is pretty hard to find and even harder to maintain. Some may argue that she’s not realistically written in that regard, but that’d be a strange unrealistic thing to complain about considering that people get turned into frogs, crocodiles play trumpets, fireflies get turned into stars, and shadow monsters come from Hell. Oh, and speaking of trumpet-playing crocodiles, I absolutely loved Louis (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley). This guy had me rolling the isles laughing until I busted a gut. His infectious enthusiasm and love for jazz and his big dreams of playing with the greats, as well as his hilarious expressions, he’s by far the most enjoyable character in the movie. But how can I forget the living great that is Keith David as Facilier? He’s a fun villain with a cool design and even cooler powers. He charismatic, devious, and… damn, David’s voice just adds class to anything and everything. And… was he really singing?

I especially love the theme of the movie: In order to achieve your goals, you can’t keep wishing upon stars and hoping for the best. You have to work hard, work through the stress, pain, and tears. On one level, it’s nice that it steers away from the typical Disney thing where you just need to be in the right place at the right time in order to get more than what they have. And it’s also something of a stab at their traditional tropes as well, which I really found amusing.

And finally, a lot of the animation is fantastic. Never mind the background work, which is awesome as it is, but other aspects really stood out. I love how Facilier’s shadow is almost its own character, like a horror version of Peter Pan’s shadow. Really, all of the shadow animation is crazy cool, especially when Facilier summons demon shadows. Creepy, but awesome.

Sadly, the movie’s good moments are horribly mixed in with some… disagreeable stuff too.

The primary issue is that there are annoying characters that get way too much screen time. I’m not even just talking about Charlotte La Bouff (voiced by Jennifer Cody), though she is a few nails on the chalkboard to my ears. No, I’m talking about Prince Naveen himself. What an irritatingly written character! I know the whole point of him is that he’s supposed to be a womanizer and relentless flirt, but there is such inconsistency to how he’s presented. We the audience and Tiana both know he’s a clumsy and annoying flirt, but why would anyone other woman find him suave and charming? I’m sure someone’s going to call me out and say something like, “They crush on him because of his royal position and wealth, not him himself.” I get it, the movie was doing that thing where he’s supposed to be kind of unlikable in the first half of the movie, but as the story develops, he goes through an arch. He does, and his inability to be a competent human being is explained later on, eventually making him sympathetic, but until we get to that point, there is almost nothing to him. On top of it all, Campos is trying way too hard to be funny. He succumbs to that mentality that a funny voice makes a funny character, rather than a funny character making a funny voice. While I ended up liking him in the end, he was never funny.

Also, I know this actually pretty standard as far as Disney films are concerned, but… really? Tiana and Naveen knew each other for two days and he’s already ready to propose to her? Again, I know this is common in Disney films, but I have a problem with it no matter where it is. Relationships take time. Couldn’t the movie end with the two of them dating, instead of getting married? For as much as this movie made fun of the classic Disney clichés in the beginning, they sure stick to ’em a lot.

I’m happy that I got to experience this movie in the theaters. It’s a fun and enjoyable movie that’s great for all ages. The male protagonist is certainly obnoxious and for as many tropes the movie bashes, it does become prey to them. But the movie makes up for tremendously for its great female protagonist, side characters, and villain, surprisingly down-to-earth themes, wonderful animation, and the kicker, it’s spectacular jazz music. It’s not one of the animation greats, but it’s a solid and enjoyable film all the same.

My honest rating for THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009): a strong 3/5

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CORALINE (2009) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

CORALINE (2009)

Starring: Dakota Fanning (AMERICAN PASTORAL [2016], CHARLOTTE’S WEB [2006], I AM SAM [2001], and the upcoming OCEAN’S EIGHT [2018]), Teri Hatcher (RESURRECTING THE CHAMP [2007], 007 TOMORROW NEVER DIES [1997], and 8 episodes of TV show SUPERGIRL [2015 – ongoing]), and Keith David (THE NICE GUYS [2016], HERCULES [1997], video game MASS EFFECT [2007], and the upcoming THE GETTYSBURG ADDRESS [2018])

Support: Robert Bailey Jr. (THE HAPPENING [2008], MISSION TO MARS [2000], and TV show THE NIGHT SHIFT [2014 – ongoing]), Ian McShane (JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 [2017], THE GOLDEN COMPASS [2007], SEXY BEAST [2000], and upcoming films HELLBOY [2018] and JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 [2019]), Jennifer Saunders (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE [2016], SHREK 2 [2004], and MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND [1996]), Dawn French (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE [2005], and HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN [2004]), and John Hodgman (PITCH PERFECT 2 [2015], MOVIE 43 [2013], and BABY MAMA [2008])

Director: Henry Selick (MONKEYBONE [2001], JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH [1996], THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS [1993], and the upcoming TV show LITTLE NIGHTMARES [2019]). Writer: Henry Selick (short films). Composer: Bruno Coulais (a ton of foreign films). Cinematographer: Pete Kozachik (CORPSE BRIDE [2005], JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, and NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS)

Is LAIKA trying to be synonymous with Halloween?

Their feature film was something of a marvel. It’s by the same director as NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, and stop-motion animation hasn’t always had a consistent presence in film, but I think LAIKA’s keeping interest in it alive and CORALINE is owed a huge thanks for that. What would follow are extremely creative and memorable ventures like PARANORMAN (2012), BOXTROLLS (2014), and the two-time Oscar nominated KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS (2016). All of which leave their own special impact a memorability, a true testament to the talent that goes into these wonderfully creative movies.

The story follows a young girl named Coraline (voiced by Dakota Fanning). She’s just moved to a new place and is having a classic case of adjustment. She meets an odd, but well-meaning local boy named Wybie (voiced by Robert Bailey Jr.), but Coraline doesn’t care for him much. This doesn’t stop him from giving her a doll that looks just like her. While exploring her new home, she happens across a small door that leads her to a world seemingly exactly like her own, except her parents, called her “other parents” are different. As opposed to her real parents, who are too busy for her, hints of a troubled marriage, and rarely crack a smile, her other parents are more creative, give Coraline their undivided attention, and try their best to give her a fun world to be a part of, especially Other Mother. But as Coraline spends more time in this world, the more it becomes clear that in order for her to stay there, Coraline has to pay a price, one she isn’t ready to pay.

I love this movie. You know how the “G” rating for movies might as well be extinct, even though plenty of PG-rated movies are just G movies with maybe one weak swear word or one adult innuendo? Well, this is the movie you look at when you want to see what a real PG-rated movie looks like. It’s a kids movie, but make no mistake, it’s a horror film. There’s some dark and creepy imagery that gets pretty extreme. I know adults who get squeamish around this movie. From the moment Coraline enters the “other world,” it’s presented innocently enough, but it doesn’t take long for some of the oddities to stand out and you get a sinking feeling that this world isn’t quite right; that it’s way too good to be true. And when things start to unravel, the world gets scarier and more disturbing. I can definitely see some kids being too scared to watch this.

But in a way, that’s part of what makes Coraline such a great character to follow. She’s probably around the age range that this movie is targeting, younger teens and older kids. But anyone younger can probably look to Coraline almost like an action hero. She’s brave, smart, resourceful, determined, and barely phases at the scary stuff at all, even though I’m scared out of my wits looking at Other Mother’s final form. With that said, she is also a little mean-spirited. When she first meets Wybie, she gives him a nickname “Why were you born,” a play off of his proper name, Wyborne. Granted, when they two first met, Wybie almost runs her over with his bike, wearing a creepy skeletal mask with triad of different scopes attached to it, but it’s still surprisingly kind of mean, not that he seems particularly insulted by that.

Actually, this does present my first smaller problem with the story. Coraline is something of a mean girl. She been forced to move away from everything that she knows and her first encounter with the locals nearly hurt her. Within the first five minutes no less. Weak justification, but justification all the same. But why is Wybie so unaffected by the name-calling? He makes it clear that he doesn’t go into the flats, but it can be assumed that he at least has interacted with the other residents, who are clearly just as eccentric as he is. One would think the put-downs would be uncommon. Plus, wouldn’t the emotional hurt be a fine enough reason for him to drop off that Coraline doll? The movie states that he gave it to her simply because it looks like her. Um… is he seriously not questioning how creepy this is? If he was operating on hurt feelings, he could have purposely given Coraline the doll as a means to purposely creep her out, and as the events of the story unfold, we could easily beg the question if Wybie knew about Other Mother and keep Wybie’s knowledge of the other world as secretive as possible, only to reveal that he was only trying to get even with her, not try to put her in harms way and had no idea about the other world or what the doll’s purpose was. Wouldn’t all of this give Wybie some depth to his character and add to some mystery within the story? Also… doesn’t Coraline accept that doll a little too easily? I mean, it’s a doll that looks exactly like her and she hasn’t lived in the flat for longer than half a day and already something creepy just happened.

From this point, it’s just grand tour of the house until Coraline happens upon the magical door, leading her to the other world. Actually, this was about to be my second issue with the movie, the stuff in the real world being too boring. But then I thought about it for a minute and realized… I think that’s the point. Coraline is supposed to be fed up with her boring and mundane existence in her own home and around her parents, which is what fuels her to go to the other world where she’s the center focus. The dullness of the makes perfect sense. You can’t have it be lively, colorful, or visually interesting to look at, otherwise anyone could rightfully call Coraline a spoiled brat. You couldn’t have the parents get along or seem too loving, otherwise she could be called ungrateful. Her motivations for going into the other world are perfectly explored. It’s only later that we realize that at least the mother, Mel (voiced by Teri Hatcher) really is trying to be there for her daughter and empathizes that Coraline is going through her own thing right now, but times are hard for everyone, so sacrifices have to be made, further fueling Coraline’s desires to visit the other world. Even though the adults would now understand the parents and their reasons for being so distant, we still understand that Coraline is too young to understand the choices a parent makes for the greater good of the family.

Okay, I’ve been yammering on and on about the other place. Now it’s time to geek out about it. This place is unbelievably imaginative and wonderfully dark for Coraline to explore. Already the button eyes are disturbing because of the implications. Buttons have to be sewn on with threads and needles… yeesh. But when we’re introduced to Other Father (voiced by John Hodgman) that some measure of whimsy is presented. The mechanical hands built into the piano that allow him to play that piano. It’s a fun little moment, including the dinner scene where they’re eating a delicious buffet. A mango milkshake dispenser? Science, get on that, pronto! And then install it in my house immediately upon completion! Except… not a mango milkshake. Strawberry for me. Mango milkshake sounds gross. But then Coraline’s second visit includes a beautiful stroll through the garden. You have colorful frogs with button eyes, glowing tulips, or whatever they are, and flowers in the shape of dragon heads, it’s wonderful to look at. My absolute favorite thing is when Other Father shows up on a giant mechanical praying mantis that he uses to trim or cut down plants. I thought this was incredibly creative, the forelegs used like scythes, that was cool to watch. Yo, science! Here’s your second project for me! Oh man, that Other Bobinsky’s (voiced by Ian McShane) bouncing mouse circus… phenomenal. All those bouncing mice in perfect unison, running on rolling balls, playing instruments, I don’t even want to think about how long it took the animators to do that sequence, but it’s positively gorgeous to behold. And once the creepy stuff starts to happen… pure nightmare fuel. Other Spink (voiced by Jennifer Saunders) and Forcible (voiced by Dawn French) turned into a conjoined taffy monster, the rats that assume the form of Other Bobinsky, my skin is already crawling. And as I mentioned before, Other Mother’s final form… I don’t sleep well for days.

I love this movie. This is that kind of movie where it doesn’t matter if you’re a kid or an adult, there’s something for everyone to find engaging. Creepy imagery that’s loaded with creativity and imagination coupled with a dark tone, a great and unique protagonist in Coraline, and a wonderfully sinister performance by Hatcher, this is a truly amazing film that should be seem by anybody who has an appreciation for this kind of film making and storytelling and maintains its hold as my favorite LAIKA film, as well as my favorite film to watch around Halloween.

My honest rating for CORALINE (2009): a strong 4/5

I know there’s quite a few more Halloween themed or horror films that I could have reviewed and written about, some more obvious than most, but these were the ones that hit me the most and motivated me more to write about. Have a safe night of partying or trick-or-treating, everyone! Happy Halloween!

 

 

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HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (2012) – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

Starring: Adam Sandler (THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES [2017], I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY [2007], BULLETPROOF [1996], and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3 [2018]), Selena Gomez (NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY ROW [2016], RAMONA AND BEEZUS [2010], HORTON HEARS A WHO! [2008], and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3), and Andy Samberg (BRIGSBY BEAR [2017], THAT’S MY BOY [2012], HOT ROD [2007], and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3)

Support: Kevin James (I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY, HITCH [2005], and TV show KEVIN CAN WAIT [2016 – ongoing]), Steve Buscemi (TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT [2017], I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY, and CON AIR [1997]), David Spade (SANDY WEXLER [2017], THE BENCHWARMERS [2006], and TOMMY BOY [1995]), Ceelo Green (BEGIN AGAIN [2013] and MYSTERY MEN [1999]), and Fran Drescher (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 [2015], SANTA’S SLAY [2005], and JACK [1996])

Director: Genndy Tartakovsky (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 [2015] and TV shows SAMURAI JACK [2001 – 2017] and DEXTER’S LABORATORY [1996 – 2003], and the upcoming HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3), Writers: Peter Baynham (THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY [2016], ARTHUR CHRISTMAS [2011], and BORAT [2006]) and Robert Smigel (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2, and TV show SNL [1975 – ongoing]), Composer: Mark Mothersbaugh (LEGO NINJAGO [2017], LORDS OF DOGTOWN [2005], HAPPY GILMORE [1996], and upcoming films THOR: RAGNAROK [2017] and HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 3)

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA

Poor Adam Sandler. Well… maybe I shouldn’t say that with much sympathy, as I’m pretty sure he went on record once to say that the only reason he’s been doing the movies he’s done these last few years is to go on vacation. Kind of apparent with that statement that he’s not trying much anymore.

Having said that, explain the Hotel Transylvania series. Okay, you can argue that these movies aren’t Happy Madison productions, so it’s a legit argument to not blame him for their successes. They’re DreamWorks and they have a knack for making films that leave an impact on both younger and older audiences, so there’s other talent to breathe life into these movies. With that said, Sandler does have a hand in writting these films. How much of it was written by him is anyone’s guess.

Hotel Transylvania hasn’t exactly been a critical darling in the past, being labeled as just another Happy Madison production, but in animated form. In a way, I can see why. These movies definitely have immature humor littered around. Fart jokes, urine jokes, they’re all over the place, appealing more to little kids than a more widespread audience like Disney and Pixar.

In defense of these films though, and arguing to average critic, these films have heart. They do have drama. There is are stakes. These films have good things in them that I think go either overlooked or not given enough due respect.

Before I turn this into a duel review of both films, let’s keep me focused on this one. The story opens on Dracula (voiced by Sandler) starting construction of his hotel sanctuary for monsters to keep them safe from their human enemies, while also being a single father taking care of his treasured daughter Mavis (voiced by Selena Gomez). Baby Mavis is about the cutest vampire baby I’ve ever seen. I’d compare her to Renesmee from the Twilight: Breaking Dawn movies, but A) I’ve not see those movies, and B) since those movies bite the big ones, I’m just going to assume Baby Mavis is a thousand times cuter. Especially when she’s crawling around on the wall. She gets pretty cliché when the actual movie takes off, but I’ll tackle that later.

But if there’s anything that I truly enjoy about this movie is that even though the idea is cute enough, it would have been so easy to make this a cynical bouncy movie with no real drama. Thankfully, this movie rises above that and does a great job in that department. There’s real stakes in this for Dracula. He built the hotel to protect his daughter. Though the death of her mother isn’t anything particularly shocking, it’s actually pretty obvious or something that can easily be guessed early on, the moment when Dracula is talking to Jonathan about why he does everything that he does is done very well. The lighting on Dracula is beautifully dark, the silence or minimal use of the score, and genuine heartbreaking acting from Sandler culminated in a surprisingly emotional scene. On top of what he’s lost, the hotel is supposed to be that safe haven for other monsters so they don’t have to suffer the same circumstances he did. And Jonathan’s presence in the hotel is an enormous threat for all that he’s worked for.

The humor is pretty spot-on too. Some of Sandler’s musical numbers have humorous lyrics to them. Even the end pop song is a little catchy, despite the incorporated rap bits. I especially love certain lines like, “He’s my right arm’s cousin!” The animation is pretty great too. The colors are bright and it’s a visually pleasing movie too. Not only that, but it’s also visually distinct. There’s barely a single frame in this movie that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else. That’s deserving of some respect, if you ask me. The animation is also fast paced, highly energized, coupled with the actors giving their all makes for some pretty entertaining scenes. And I really enjoy the ending of how once upon a time, monsters were genuine scary stories, but have turned into cultural icons that everyone loves to watch, read about, and dress up as. And for the monsters to come out into the open, that’s a great way to set up the next direction these movies could go, which of course spawned the sequel.

As much fun as the movie was, it’s not without its imperfections. As soon as Mavis grows up, she’s a borderline Disney princess, the dreamer who thinks that there’s more than this provincial life. Ugh, thank God for the sequel, or I might have chewed my own tongue off. Oh, alright, she’s not quite that bad. Mavis isn’t annoying, or obnoxious in any real way, she’s just got no personality other than be the dreamer who’s lied to and has to react how a person who’s been lied to reacts. Eh, for the most part. She’s got one reaction that’s refreshingly different from other movies that do things similar, but in a more “other movies should be doing this anyway” sort of way. So I don’t care that much, but it’s still a note that I can’t ignore.

The cardinal sin of the movie, however, is Jonathan. This character is so beyond annoying. You know that reaction people have when they hear the voice of Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels? Well, that’s my reaction when I listen to Samberg here. Don’t get me wrong, Samberg has been in some wonderfully funny films in the past and has proven to be a good actor. But by the grace of God, why did he have to have a surfer dude dialect? This is a textbook example of how not to make a funny character; the mindset of a funny voice making a funny character, rather than a funny character making a funny voice. I don’t know if Samberg was directed horribly or he was making all the wrong choices, but every line of dialog just sounds like he’s trying to be funny, rather than actually being funny. While the immature humor did grate on me in the beginning, to its credit, some of it worked well enough. But nothing about Samberg was funny. Again, thank God for the sequel.

Overall, I think the movie’s fine. Kids will get a real kick out of it and I think some of the dramatic scenes work well enough for adults to find humor in it. It’s creative, energetic, fun, funny, and utterly engaging, despite its annoyances. But it’s still a great little film to put on for the entire family around Halloween, the perfect destination to get into the holiday.

My honest rating for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA: 4/5

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PARANORMAN (2012) review – Halloween Special

Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

PARANORMAN

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (X-MEN: APOCALYPSE [2016], LET ME IN [2010], THE ROAD [2009], and the upcoming X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX [2018]), Jodelie Ferland (BIGGER FATTER LIAR [2017], THE CABIN IN THE WOODS [2012], and CARRIE [2002]), Tucker Albrizzi (MONSTER TRUCKS [2017] and ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED [2011]), and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (TROLLS [2016], PITCH PERFECT [2012], SUPERBAD [2007], and upcoming films THE DISASTER ARTIST [2017] and HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 3 [2019]).

Support: Anna Kendrick (TABLE 19 [2017], THE ACCOUNTANT [2016], INTO THE WOODS [2014], and upcoming films PITCH PERFECT 3 [2017] and NICOLE [2019]), Casey Affleck (A GHOST STORY [2017], GONE BABY GONE [2007], and GOOD WILL HUNTING [1998]), Leslie Mann (THE COMEDIAN [2017], KNOCKED UP [2007], GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE [1997], and the upcoming THE PACT [2018]), John Goodman (VALERIAN [2017], EVAN ALMIGHTY [2007], THE BORROWERS [1997], and upcoming film CAPTIVE STATE [2018] and TV revival ROSANNE [2018]), and Alex Borstein (ANGRY BIRDS [2016], TED [2012], and TV show FAMILY GUY [1998 – ongoing]).

Directors: Christ Butler (directorial debut, and only directed project) and Sam Fell (THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX [2008] and FLUSHED AWAY [2006]). Writer: Chris Butler (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS [2016]). Composer: Jon Brion (WILSON [2017], THE OTHER GUYS [2010], PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE [2002], and the upcoming LADY BIRD [2017]). Cinematographer: Tristan Oliver (LOVING VINCENT [2017], FANTASTIC MR. FOX [2009], CHICKEN RUN [2000], and the upcoming ISLE OF DOGS [2018]).

LAIKA has quickly become a popular name when it comes to animation. While claymation and stop motion similar to NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993) aren’t exactly unheard of, they’re also not often done. But LAIKA has certainly made its career on that and they’ve certainly done a memorable job of it. From their debut in CORALINE (2009) and their most recent KUBO, they’ve done a wonderful job in creating worlds that feel surreal, dark, creepy, but overall touching and beautiful.

I actually never saw LAIKA’s second venture, PARANORMAN until later. I have no idea why, but when I finally did see it, it left a pretty decent impact on me. The story is about an eleven-year-old boy named Norman (voiced by Smit-McPhee), who sees dead people, pun intended. Thing is, while these spirits are benevolent, no one else sees them but him, and has a bit of a nasty habit of getting bullied at school and his parents being a little nasty about it. But then one day, his uncle, Mr. Penderghast (voiced by Goodman), is the only one who has the same gift and has spent decades keeping the ancient witch’s curse from wrecking terror on the town. But he dies and tries to convince Norman to take his place. But not given the best information, the witch comes back and wrecks that terror by unleashing her zombie horde.

The opening scene’s twist still takes me by surprise. As well as makes me laugh. The screaming woman and the brain stuck to her foot as she runs away from the zombie attacking her; priceless.

But more than that, this movie could almost be a spiritual successor to THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). What if Cole Sear ended up accepting his gift of seeing dead people and even embraced it? It’s a stretch in logic, sure, but it’s a fun comparison. Norman is a slightly mixed bag for me as a character. On the one hand, he is sympathetic and you feel for him for the way he’s treated. He’s a good kid and means well, doing his best to not make a scene. He’s a kid, so when it’s time for him to do something bigger than life, he’s scared, but he finds courage to do what’s necessary to save everyone, even if it means getting hurt, or worse. But my main issue with him is that he constantly tells people that he sees ghosts. At least, it’s implied that he does. Why does he do that? He’s eleven. He should be old enough by now to understand what adults will believe. At the very least, if they didn’t believe him the first time, he should be smart enough to know it won’t fly if he opens his yammer twice. Maybe if he was a few years younger, his behavior would have been more understandable, but as it is, it’s a little frustrating to watch.

The side characters are about on the same level too. Courtney (voiced by Kendrick) pretty much acts like a standard teenage girl who wants nothing to do with her brother. She does eventually go through a character arch of protecting Norman, but honestly, that arch kind of comes out of nowhere. Even when the zombies are attacking, she still treats Norman like he’s responsible for it. Never mind that zombies exist, which she barely has a reaction to, but she still treats Norman poorly, eventually abandoning him to his plan with dealing with the witch’s curse. It’s only when Norman figures everything out that she stands with him, but it happens pretty suddenly. Thank heavens this character is voiced by Kendrick, as she brings a charming energy to Courtney, otherwise I’d straight up dislike her.

Neil (voiced by Albrizzi) is mostly likable, being the only person that believes in Norman and what he can do, and does his very best to stand by him during the worst that the curse has to offer. My issue with him is that he is kind of a stereotype by constantly showing how obsessed he is with eating. And for every funny joke that he’s a part of, like refusing to leave Norman when the zombies attack in the town hall, but his muscular brother picks him up under his arm, he’s also part of an unfunny joke, like when he’s playing with the ghost of his dog and starts kissing his butt instead of his face. It’s… really strange how this pattern is repeated in the movie with the side characters.

So the characters are hits and misses. What’s legitimately good about the film. Almost exactly where it counts. For one, the animation, like all of LAIKA’s work, is spectacular. From the visuals, to the CG incorporated visuals, it’s all a wonder to behold. Norman’s home town bustles with activity and fills the streets with crowds. The yellow clouds that show glimpses of the witch’s face, those are particularly spooky and threatening and I never get tired of watching it. But above all else, my absolute favorite stuff comes from the witch herself.

***SPOILERS***

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Agatha, or Aggie (voiced by Ferland) brings home the emotional weight. Aggie was once just a little girl, but was accused for being a witch and was killed. But before her death, she placed a curse on the people that did her harm. The way she’s animated in her ghostly form is unbelievably unnerving, and is far more scary than half the things I’ve seen in legitimate horror films. An eerie yellow glow, electricity flying around, and constantly twitching like a glitch in video game graphics. Her face and the way it contorts, it’s all pretty frightening in its own right. But then you see her in her human form and you see a scared little girl who was just being a little girl and murdered for it. She was bullied, and she become angry, vengeful, wanted to hurt those that hurt her just as bad. She’s a victim who doesn’t want to be a victim anymore. You totally understand and empathize with Aggie. She was wronged. No one agrees with her causing chaos and destruction, but anyone can understand why she resorts to these measures. The way that she connects with Norman is the highlight of the film. In many ways, I would actually have preferred to see that she was calmed down and would come back in a possible sequel, but that would leave the ending less powerful and meaningful.

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***END SPOILERS***

This movie is absolutely wonderful to watch around Halloween. Sure, it’s got its flaws in the characters, but it’s got more than enough charm, likability, and great visuals and animation to make it worth a watch. It’s not just good enough for kids, it’s good enough for adults as well. It’s a little scary, but that’s all subjective, isn’t it. Some kids will watch this and be totally fine, others could possibly get nightmares. But as with all horror-type movies for kids, they should know that there is a happy ending and that it’s okay to be afraid. Hence the theme of the movie and the most poignant quote of the film. How did that go again, Grandma (voiced by Stritch): “There’s nothing wrong with being scared, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.”

My honest rating for PARANORMAN (2012): 4/5

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MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE (2017) quick review

Ugh, shoot me now.

I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that I’m not the target audience. Even as a kid, I was never into My Little Pony, the toys, or the show. For obvious reasons (I’m a dude). But fast forward to the present day, there’s a revival series, and I’m… surprisingly hearing good things about this show. In the sense of… even adults were watching this show. I have to admit, judging from the trailer I watched, and YouTube’s Cinema Snob’s review of the original My Little Pony film, this movie does look far less kiddie pandering and has a lot more personality to it. I can’t say if it’s still something that I’d be into, but I guess that’s why I do these reviews, right?

Here’s the voice talent. Starring, we have Emily Blunt (THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR [2016], THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU [2011], THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA [2006], and upcoming films SHERLOCK GNOMES [2018] and MARY POPPINS RETURNS [2018]), Zoe Saldana (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 [2017], STAR TREK [2009], DRUMLINE [2002], and upcoming films AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018] and AVATAR 2 [2020]), Kristin Chenoweth (THE PEANUTS MOVIE [2015], STRANGER THAN FICTION [2006], and RV [2006], and the upcoming THE STAR [2017]), Liev Schreiber (CHUCK [2017], THE OMEN [2006], SCREAM 2 [1996], and two upcoming and untitled films, one an animated Spider-Man project [2018], and the other a Woody Allen movie [2018]), and Tara Strong (TV shows THE FAIRLY ODDPARENTS [2001 – ongoing] and THE POWERPUFF GIRLS [1998 – 2005], and video game INJUSTICE 2 [2017]).

Now for the crew. Directing, we have Jayson Thiessen, known for a ton of My Little Pony projects. Red Flag, a total of three writers: Meghan McCarthy (other My Little Pony projects), Rita Hsiao (TOY STORY 2 [1999], MULAN [1998], and the upcoming DISENCHANTED [2018]), and Michael Vogel (other My Little Pony Projects). The composer for the score is Daniel Ingram, known for other kids TV shows. Finally, and… this animated movie has a cinematographer? Anyway, the… cinematographer is Anthony Di Ninno, known for… another animated film, RATCHET & CLANK (2016).

Overall, I can’t say I’m excited or all that interested.

This is my honest opinion of: MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE (2017)

(SUMMARY)

The ponies of the magical land of Equestria are setting up for a Friendship Festival, all being organized by Princess Twilight Sparkle (voiced by Tara Strong), and is set to be the party of the ages. However, preparations are interrupted by a storm, created by a rogue unicorn named Tempest Shadow (voiced by Emily Blunt), leading the armies of the evil Storm King (voiced by Liev Schreiber), who wants the magic of the ponies and their rulers. The ponies are attacked, but Twilight and a small group of her friends manage to escape, setting out to look for help from their fabled cousins, the hippogriffs.

(QUICK REVIEW)

Big shock, I wasn’t into the movie.

First off, with some strange exceptions, this… doesn’t look like it should be a theatrical release. Not that I’m any particular expert on animated films, but I couldn’t help but feel like the movie just looked like an episode of a TV show. It’s not necessarily bad, per se, but it does look cheap. But like I said, there’s some weird exceptions. There are some moments that have good animation, but when the movie tries to blend the lesser animation with the better animation, it’s really distracting.

It’s obvious that this was made for little kids. The story’s been done, the characters are copy and paste, it’s not particularly funny, the songs are forgettable, and there’s probably more than a few plot points that come and don’t really go anywhere or get any real development. I’m pretty sure at some point, I fell asleep, but I don’t think I missed much. Many of the core pony characters feel way too indistinguishable from each other, each just looking pretty with big eyes and big smiles. At least as far as personalities are concerned. Oh sure, you can tell me, there’s the shy one, there’s the vain one, there’s the hyper one, there’s the cowgirl one, and all that jazz, but ultimately, those are descriptions and traits. Not personalities.

But… I won’t completely trash the movie. There are admittedly a couple of elements that I didn’t hate. Chief among these is Pinky Pie (voiced by Andrea Libman), who is delightfully insane. She is completely over-the-top in everything that she is and does. From crazy eyes in a battle scene, to eruptions of happiness during… well, any other scene she’s in. I can see others being more annoyed by her, and I won’t ever argue that, she’ll be a hit or miss for any adult, but for me, I enjoyed her enough. And on the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s Blunt, who is trying really hard to be sinister and it kind of works. I wish she was a little more sarcastic and cynical to give the adults someone to identify with, but I enjoyed her more than I probably should have.

And I do get a tickle out of seeing Tara Strong, one of the greatest voice actresses today, being the star of a theatrically released movie. So in a way, through all the annoyances and nauseating talks of friendship, it was worth seeing it just for that.

Overall, I don’t think it’s a good film. But let’s face it, this movie isn’t for me. It’s for little kids and its fanbase. It’s innocent enough, but if your kids are bugging you to see it, find a cheap theater near you. Otherwise, for you adults… well, you’re either a weirdo for wanting to see it, or you’ve already made your decision not to and I’m not going to try to convince you to see it. It’s not the most god-awful animated film I’ve sat through, I don’t even think it’s bad, but, no duh, it’s not for me.

My honest rating for MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE (2017): a weak 3/5

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