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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TANGLED (2010) review

Go Disney and these re-releases at the AMC. Gives me the opportunity to write about them.

It’s been a fairly decent amount of time since I last saw this movie, but I have to say, it’s still firmly in my mind. And wasn’t this Disney’s first computer animated film after the hand-drawn PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)? It was certainly a game-changer Disney and set a new direction that would later churn out FROZEN (2013) and MOANA (2016). When I first saw this movie, I loved it. I laughed, I cried, gorgeous animation, wonderful music, it was about as Disney as Disney could get for me.

Fast-forward seven years, and I’m all kinds of excited to revisit this modern classic.

The story, if memory still serves, is about Rapunzel. As a baby princess, she was kidnapped from her king and queen parents for her magically and freakishly long hair. Her kidnapper, convincing Rapunzel that she’s her mother, uses her hair to keep her young and locks her away in a tall tower, convincing her of the dangers of the world beyond, despite her desperate desires to see the world with her own two eyes. Everything changes when a dashing, and charming roguish thief enters her home, takes her out into the world, and romance and music galore.

Man, I’m getting excited just thinking about it.

Here’s the incredible voice talent. Starring, we have Mandy Moore (47 METERS DOWN [2017], A WALK TO REMEMBER [2002], THE PRINCESS DIARIES [2001], and the upcoming RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]) and Zachary Levi (THOR: THE DARK WORLD [2013], TV show CHUCK [2007 – 2012], and video game FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS [2010]). In support, we have Donna Murphy (THE BOURNE LEGACY [2012], SPIDER-MAN 2 [2004], and STAR TREK: INSURRECTION [1998]), Ron Perlman (FANTASTIC BEASTS [2016], HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY [2008], and ALIEN: RESURRECTION [1997]), M.C. Gainey (DJANGO UNCHAINED [2012], and TV shows TANGLED: THE SERIES [2017 – ongoing] and LOST [2004 – 2010]), Brad Garrett (TMNT: OUT OF THE SHADOWS [2016], and TV shows ‘TILL DEATH [2006 – 2010] and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND [1996 – 2005]), and the late Richard Kiel (HAPPY GILMORE [1996], 007 MOONRAKER [1979], and THE LONGEST YARD [1974]).

Now for the talent behind the scenes. Co-directing, we have Nathan Greno (the upcoming GIGANTIC [2020]) and Byron Howard (ZOOTOPIA [2016] and BOLT [2008]). Penning the screenplay is Dan Fogelman, known for DANNY COLLINS (2015), CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011), and CARS (2006). Finally, the composer for the score is Alan Menken, known for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017), ENCHANTED (2007), ALADDIN (1992), and upcoming films ALADDIN (2019) and THE LITTLE MERMAID, no release date announced.

Overall, beyond excited. Can’t wait.

This is my honest opinion of: TANGLED

(SUMMARY)

Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) is a peppy eighteen year old woman with impossibly long blond hair with magical properties, like glowing and healing, wounds or aging. A particular gift that Gothel (voiced by Donna Murphy) has been exploiting since her birth. Gothel kidnapped Rapunzel from her king and queen parents and every year on her birthday, they light lanterns in her memory. She’s long hoped to see the lanterns for herself, but is sadly confined to her tall tower. Meanwhile, a charismatic and charming thief named Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levy) has just stolen a tiara, but is pursued by the Guard Captain (M.C. Gainey) and his horse named Maximus, which causes Flynn to accidentally stumble upon Rapunzel’s tower. The two meet and strike a deal, Flynn takes her to see the lanterns and she’ll return the tiara he stole.

(REVIEW)

Oh, what do you think I’m gonna say? The movie still holds up. I laughed, I cried, it’s still magical.

Where shall I begin?

This is about the only movie I can think of that explains the magic of the fairy tale (IE: magic healing hair) that makes perfect sense. Her mom was sick, they needed a healing flower, the rarest of the rare, make a soup out of it and wham bam, thank you, ma’am, magic blond hair. And seriously, baby Rapunzel is too cute.

But now, even before adult Rapunzel makes an appearance, we’re gifted arguably one of my favorite Disney characters of all time, Pascal. I love this chameleon. The expressions on his face are beyond priceless. All he does is make little croaking sounds- so I guess I understand why Flynn calls him a “frog” – but his face constantly speaks volumes. I still die of laughter every time his tongue flings out into Flynn’s ear to wake him up. It’s like, after slapping him to wake him up doesn’t work, he’s all like, “Fine, you want me be an animal about this, I’ll be a freakin’ animal about it.” I mean really look at him when he flicks his tongue. His body posture goes full chameleon. Throughout the entire movie, he moves like a person, he does that “fist into palm” threat thing…

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Yeah, that. I don’t know what it is about him, but everything that he does just cracks me up. Maybe it’s because of his size and lack of threat that makes him so adorably awesome. I want my own Pascal, but… I’m not a Disney character, so he’s relegated to my dreams. Bottom line, Pascal is awesome, I love him, end of story.

But now we get to the cream of the crop, Rapunzel herself. Once again, I really like this character. Yeah, she’s wide-eyed and dreams of something more than this provincial life, which describes, what, ninety percent of the Disney Princess line-up? But what’s done so well about her is that she’s legitimately funny and kind of dorky. Aside from Moore’s gorgeous singing voice, her comedy comes through. When Flynn gets knocked out by Rapunzel’s now iconic frying pan, and she’s inspecting him for his fangs that Gothel’s built up outsiders to have, she’s beyond hilarious after this. Flynn briefly wakes up and in a panic, she smacks him again with her frying pan, re-knocking him out. Even as I’m typing this, I’m laughing just hard enough for my co-worker to look at me, probably wondering what I’m laughing about. And her attempts at stashing his body in the wardrobe always makes me laugh too. Her hair getting caught in the door, his body falling out and landing on her, slamming the door painfully on his hands and pushing his protruding fingers back inside, GAH! I can gush about this all day. Even her celebratory, “See, Mom? I can take care of myself” ends charmingly funny with her smacking herself in the head with her own frying pan. God, I love Rapunzel.

And Flynn. Complaints first, I think he talks a little too modern for my taste. It’s not as bad as Maui from MOANA (seriously, that Twitter reference still angers me), but he’s the only character that talks like he does. “Me and the kingdom aren’t exactly ‘simpatico’ right now.” Perhaps I’m just a sucker for Levy, as I was a huge fan of CHUCK back in the day, but I love most everything about him. He’s so charming, so funny, and so full of himself, but not in the self-centered kind of way. You know he’s not a bad guy, per se, he just steals so he won’t be in a position to want anything. I think what I love most is that his interactions with everyone around him feel genuine, like how anyone would react in his particular situations. He’s never nasty toward any character, with the humorous exception of Maximus. Perhaps Flynn’s greatest asset is his interactions with other characters rather than himself being particularly great. I love his reactions to Pascal, I love his reactions with Maximus, and of course, I love him with Rapunzel.

Speaking of which, I absolutely adore this relationship between them. There’s instant attraction, but the romance itself takes some time. It doesn’t start off as a “we hate each other” trope, which drives me up the walls when that happens because you’d know that they’re going to get together in the end. There’s tension to be sure, but nothing dumb like that. As they travel together and get to know each other, their relationship naturally progresses to something more romantic. To this day, I think the scene with Rapunzel and Flynn on the boat surrounded by the lanterns while singing “I See the Light” is about the most romantic visual-fest I’ve see out of an animated film in years. It hasn’t been topped since. Although, to be fair, Disney hasn’t really done a romance film like this since TANGLED. WRECK-IT RALPH? MOANA? ZOOTOPIA? Nope, on all those accounts. FROZEN? More of sister-sister relationship thing. The romance was a side note.

***SPOILERS***

 

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And Flynn’s return to the tower to find Rapunzel, this scene still tears at me. He’s been stabbed by Gothel and he’s lying on the floor dying. Rapunzel is refusing to go with her quietly unless she lets him heal him. The desperation in her eyes, her voice as she’s talking to him, and he’s trying desperately to make sure that she doesn’t, so what does he do? He takes a shard of glass and slices every strand of hair, taking away her healing powers. Gothel dies, and so does Flynn. The emotions are so raw and they were each other’s new dream… yeah, I cried again. I can’t help it! Both characters are so lovable and charming as characters themselves and are even better together. It’s a tear-jerking scene!

I suppose the one complaint that I have is that Flynn doesn’t stay dead. Yeah, I know, we wouldn’t want the kids to be traumatized, but… why not treat them like adults? Bambi’s mom was killed and kids are fine today. Why not have Rapunzel take Flynn to the kingdom, reunite with her king and queen parents, and have him have some kind of royal burial and remembered for his bravery and being instrumental in reuniting the royal family? Wouldn’t that be a little more powerful instead of a deus ex machina healing drop of tear that has never been revealed to be part of Rapunzel’s arsenal of healing abilities? Death is a part of life and isn’t that what Disney does well? Helping kids tackle hard subjects and providing a point and giving them something to feel and think about? Even artistically, Flynn’s death would make more sense, especially seven years later and there’s no real plans for a sequel.

But happily ever after works too and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy to see him back, but that the sentimentalist in me talking and… well, I’m a sentimental guy. Plus, fairy tale. Can’t expect dark and depressing from them, especially if they’re being churned out by Disney.

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***END SPOILERS***

I suppose if I had any other complaints about the film is that Gothel seemed a little inconsistent in her writing. Even moreso now, I’m confused as to whether or not she actually cares about Rapunzel. She gives her all these things to keep her occupied and quiet, chess boards, paint supplies, etc, but on her birthday, she wants this special paint made from this special thing that will take three days to get. If Gothel straight up didn’t care about Rapunzel, why give her so many nice things and why go this far out of her way to do something nice for her if she didn’t feel something for Rapunzel? And she kisses her and tells her that she loves her. If nothing else, I would have liked to see more ambiguous feelings from Gothel. She can still ultimately care only about herself and her youth over Rapunzel, but more inner turmoil would have made her stand out and more memorable.

To my understanding, there’s been quite the online debate over whether or not you’re Team Tangled or Team Frozen. Well… okay, I’m sure that’s fizzled out over the last few years, but I’m gonna throw my two cents in anyway. As you can probably guess, I’m Team Tangled. Now don’t get me wrong, I like FROZEN just fine. In fact, let me gloss over what I think it did better. The music is better, there’s just no denying that. The animation is better as well. To be fair though, I can easily see this being why: TANGLED, as I’ve mentioned a few too many times now, was the first computer animated film for Disney after PRINCESS AND THE FROG. I can easily see the creators behind the film deciding to make TANGLED because it was a smaller and simpler story. There wasn’t a need to go hugely over-the-top with its visuals. In a sense, TANGLED could easily be seen as a test run for how the technology looks. That’s not to say the animation department didn’t give it their all, I believe they did, but really look at how gorgeous FROZEN looks by comparison… there is no comparison. Lessons were learned hardcore and they made a visual marvel in FROZEN. And of course, there’s that theme: the strongest love is the love between sisters. That’s never been done before in Disney. It wasn’t some man that saved the girl, it was her sister. That’s a powerful thing to say. There’s also smaller ground-breaks, like the story following a queen (Elsa) as opposed to a princess, and probably does a better job of making fun of past Disney tropes than TANGLED did.

But here’s what pushes me over to the other side of the fence. When I go see movies, ideally, I will be challenged emotionally. My favorite films will often make me think, make me cry, or more impressively, both. While neither film really makes me think necessarily, FROZEN didn’t grab me emotionally. Why? Because the bond between Elsa and Anna is too forced to me. They were close as children, sure, but after the accident, Anna’s memories were erased and their parents locked Elsa up for horrible reasons for years. And in all that time, Anna always held on to her love for Elsa? Seriously, at no point she didn’t give up? Look, I get it, you never give up on family, blah blah blah, but wouldn’t the message of sisterly love be more powerful if, say, Anna was the “villain” of the movie? Her parents are dead, her sister hasn’t spoken a word to her since childhood. There doesn’t seem to be a defined disconnect between the two. Anna is blinded by her nauseating optimism as she’s singing, but as soon as the two sisters are reunited for Elsa becoming queen, that’s when they have a hard time talking? Oh, and the dual “chocolate” thing is not a real connection. That’s like watching FANT4STIC (2015) and watching that montage scene with them eating Chinese food with no dialog and calling that chemistry. Yes, I’m really making the comparison because I believe both elements in question are lazy. I feel like Anna being a little more bitter about how her life has turned out and Elsa spending the movie trying to convince Anna that their separate lives was due to her love for her instead of the other way around as we ultimately got. So because the sisterly love isn’t properly explored in the film, I couldn’t connect to their relationship. They’re fine characters as themselves, but together, it feels contrived. So when Anna is frozen in the climax, I didn’t believe it was over. I knew Anna would come back somehow. TANGLED doesn’t have this problem. From the moment Flynn and Rapunzel meet to the end of the movie, you feel for them. They’re fun and energetic characters themselves, but together, you love seeing them interact and work off of each other. You love how their relationship develops, so when the unthinkable happens, your heart is crushed and really don’t know how it’s going to end. I cried in TANGLED, but I didn’t cry in FROZEN.

And seriously, OLAF ANNOYS THE CRAP OUT OF ME!!! In the name of- … Olaf is not funny. I find him to be my least favorite Disney character in the computer animation era. No joke lands. Josh Gad was funnier in PIXELS (2015) than he was in FROZEN. I can’t even remember Anna’s romantic interest’s name. Not talking about Hans, I’m talking about the other guy. Not Sven the reindeer… *IMDb search* Christoph! See? He didn’t leave a single impact on me, so I can’t even remember his name. Once again, TANGLED doesn’t have this problem. I love the side characters. Pascal, Maximus, the thugs from the pub, I remember the thugs from the Snuggly Duckling better than Christoph! What does that freakin’ tell you?! They made me laugh (except the short thug… he’s the only not funny element in the movie)! The comedy relief in FROZEN didn’t.

So, FROZEN has better animation and better music. But that’s all second fiddle compared to TANGLED, which has better characters, better laughs, and better emotional investment. In my opinion, of course. But again, I don’t dislike FROZEN. I don’t even think it’s okay. It’s a good film. A great film in some areas, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested or excited about the upcoming sequel (just please less Olaf… in the name of all that is holy and sacred, PLEASE less Olaf) but I’m definitely Team Tangled on this debate.

Overall, this still reigns supreme as my favorite computer animated Disney film of the 2010s. For a first outing in computer animation, it’s a stroke of greatness. Does it have its flaws, they’re certainly there and it’s hard for me to deny it. But just like I did seven years ago, I cried, I laughed, the hallmarks of a great movie. Magic, romance, adventure, comedy, wonderful visuals, I’m still seeing the light.

My honest rating for TANGLED: a strong 4/5

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THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE quick review

The LEGO legacy continues. I’m not complaining. Are you?

I can’t say that I’m familiar with the straight to TV movies or shows that have come from LEGO before THE LEGO MOVIE (2014), but if both I can guess they’re bad, and a little girl telling me that they’re bad, then it’s a safe bet that they’re bad outings. Thankfully, everything cinematic has been golden. I loved LEGO BATMAN (2017), and since this latest installment is by the same creators, I’m more than happy to visit this in theaters.

Having said that, I have a particular fear that this is where the films will find themselves in a decline. Why do I think that? Consider this for a moment. The LEGO movies have one common theme: family relationships. The whole point of the first film was a kid trying to have fun and connect with his father, and LEGO BATMAN is about Batman learning to get over his parents and embracing his new family. This movie looks like it’s about a son connecting with his father again, except far less subtle. Of course, the concept of family problems being addressed and resolved isn’t inherently bad, but how many times can you tackle the same subject before it gets tired? The first movie had the advantage of having a great story, some great jokes, and wonderful visuals. LEGO BATMAN got by on being a loving satire of every Batman film that has ever come out. Plus, everyone knows and loves Batman. But what does this one really have? In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t be so worried. If nothing else, there’s a reason the creators picked this source material and knew how to make it both marketable, funny, and endearing. So I’ll still go in with high expectations.

Here’s the voice talent. Starring, we have Dave Franco (THE LITTLE HOURS [2017], 21 JUMP STREET [2012], SUPERBAD [2007], and the upcoming THE DISASTER ARTIST [2017]), Justin Theroux (THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN [2016], MIAMI VICE [2006], AMERICAN PSYCHO [2000], and THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME [2018]), and Jackie Chan (THE NUT JOB 2 [2017], RUSH HOUR 3 [2007], THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER [1994], and the upcoming THE FOREIGNER [2017]). In support, we have Michael Peña (CHIPS [2017], BATTLE LOS ANGELES [2011], CRASH [2004], and upcoming films MY LITTLE PONY: THE MOVIE [2017] and A WRINKLE IN TIME [2018]), Abbi Jacobson (PERSON TO PERSON [2017], NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY ROW [2016], and TV show BROAD CITY [2014 – ongoing]), Kumail Nanjiani (THE BIG SICK [2017], FIST FIGHT [2017], video game MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA [2017], and the upcoming video game MIDDLE-EARTH: SHADOW OF WAR [2017]), Olivia Munn (OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY [2016], MAGIC MIKE [2012], BIG STAN [2007], and upcoming films THE PREDATOR [2018] and X-MEN: DARK PHOENIX [2018]), and Fred Armisen (THE LITTLE HOURS, BAND AID [2017], and TV show PORTLANDIA [2011 – ongoing]).

Now for the crew. There are a grand total of three directors. Two of them co-wrote the movie: Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, both making their directorial and writing debuts (Congrats, gentlemen). The other didn’t: Charlie Bean, known for TV show TRON: UPRISING (2012 – 2013). As for the other writers, RED FLAGS!!! Four additional writers, making a grand total of six working on this movie: William Wheeler (GHOST IN THE SHELL [2017], QUEEN OF KATWE [2016], and THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST [2012]), Tom Wheeler (PUSS IN BOOTS [2011], TV show THE CAPE [2011], and the upcoming B.O.O.: BUREAU OF OTHERWORLDLY OPERATIONS, no release date announced), Jared Stern (LEGO BATMAN, THE INTERNSHIP [2013], and MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS [2011]), and John Whittington (LEGO BATMAN). Finally, composing the score is Mark Mothersbaugh, known for BEATRIZ AT DINNER (2017), NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST (2008), video game CRASH BANDICOOT 2: CORTEX STRIKES BACK (1997), and upcoming films BRAD’S STATUS (2017) and THOR: RAGNAROK (2017).

Overall, I was excited until I saw six writers on this movie. Oh dear lord. Well, LEGO BATMAN had five writers and that turned out wonderfully… maybe this will be too. Fingers crossed.

This is my honest opinion of: THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE

(SUMMARY)

The city of Ninjago is constantly under attack by the evil warlord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux). But his efforts are constantly thwarted by a group of young ninja students, one of them being Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco), his own son, and doesn’t even know it. But one day, Garmadon unleashes his greatest weapon, a giant cat, and after failing to stop, Lloyd, his fellow ninjas, and their master Wu (voiced by Jackie Chan) must venture out to seek the ultimate Ultimate weapon and stop Garmadon once and for all.

(QUICK REVIEW)

Aww man… I really wanted this to be good, but it wasn’t. Oh okay, it wasn’t bad, but… man, kind of disappointing.

I think first and foremost, it’s not really all that funny. I mean, it’s not devoid of comedy, but where LEGO MOVIE and LEGO BATMAN has me rolling in the aisles, this only offered chuckles, and not very many. Michael Strahan and Robin Roberts cameos are humorous one offs, but when the movie hammers in the jokes without having them say or do anything all that funny, it gets a little grating. The characters also didn’t feel particularly. All I remembered was Lloyd, the girl, and the timid one. I don’t remember names. defined and it still kind of confuses me why there was a robot ninja in the group. The story also hits a few too many clichés. The father and son bonding by playing catch in a weird quirky way (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY PART 2 [2017]), weird plot points that basically tell you not to be invested, but still treat it like you should, and it’s not even a very good joke, if that’s what it was going for, and much of the film doesn’t have the cool machines that the advertising showcased. They’re only in the first twenty minutes or so. Also, the giant cat got old, and the live-action stuff felt unnecessary. I’m also not entirely sure what the point was in making Garmadon and Wu brothers. They don’t really act like it, and Wu doesn’t really act like Lloyd’s uncle. Just another student. So as much as family looks like it’d be a central theme, the family doesn’t much interact like one outside of the obvious.

But it’s not all bad. Chan is humorous as always and makes for a welcomed appearance. Theroux is surprisingly humorous as Garmadon, even though his voice is obviously a Batman rip-off. The characters, as unmemorable as they are, are at the very least likable. The visuals are still pretty nice and as much as the live-action cat got overused, it’s integrated well enough.

I can’t honestly find too many good things to say. It’s a pretty heavy letdown from how good the previous movies are. But I guess Warner Animation Group’s feet are indeed made of clay. And for all intents and purposes, the movie’s not awful. If your kids are bugging you to go see it, it’s harmless. But if you’re an adult who liked the previous films… viewer beware. Save it for a discount day at the theaters, or a rental. But I don’t recommend full price.

My honest rating for THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE: 3/5

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NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984) review

For those of you not in the know, I’m generally not an anime fan. Not because I have something against the artform or anything, but rather it was just something I wasn’t quite into as a kid. Sure, I enjoyed me some DRAGONBALL Z (1996 – 2003), ROROUNI KENSHIN (1996 – 1998), Pokemon (1997 – ongoing), a little bit of YU YU KAKUSHO (1992 – 1995), but very little beyond them. So with this in mind, it’s a safe bet to assume that I’m not the biggest Studio Ghibli fan. In fact, the only one I’ve ever seen was MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988). Nope, I’ve never seen PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), or SPIRITED AWAY (2001), none of them. But ever since watching Youtube’s Nostalgia Critic dedicating a month of expressing his opinions of Ghibli’s work, I’ve been more than interested in hopping onto the band wagon, if only because their films are so celebrated among the animation-junkie community.

As for this current film, it seems like this is somewhat a slightly debated film over whether or not it’s truly a Ghibli film. Why? As I understand it, Ghibli was established in 1985, but NAUSICAÄ came out in ‘84. But if I had a guess, this film still had the same artists attached, specifically Hayao Miyazaki, considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest anime artists of all time, so even if it’s not technically a Ghibli film, it’s still considered one.

The story of NAUSICAÄ looks like it’s about this young girl in the middle of a war between humans and giant insects vying for control over the last of this post-apocalyptic world’s last remaining natural resources and she’s trying to put a stop to the carnage. If I were to hazard a guess, it’s a take on the whole “appearances can be deceiving” type of story, making the insects look like monsters, but learning that they’re just beings trying to making their own way in the world, and the humans are the real enemies. Or because of this being a Ghibli production, maybe there won’t be specific villains. I don’t know, but it looks like it could be pretty good.

Directing and writing the film is the legendary champion of animation himself, Hayao Miyazaki, also known for THE WIND RISES (2013), PRINCESS MONONOKE (1997), and THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (1979).

Overall, bring it on. Show me something great, y’all. I’m ready!

This is my honest opinion of: NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984)

(SUMMARY)

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, 1,000 in the future, covered in the wasteland known as the Sea of Decay. Nausicaä (voiced by Sumi Shimamoto) is the young Princess of the Valley of the Wind, a small, but peaceful land of farmers just trying to get by in their world. But the peace doesn’t last long when a Tolmekian aircraft, a neighboring militaristic land, crashes, holding the fleshy pod of a developing Giant Warrior, a long dead ancient race believed to be one of the major causes of the end of the world. But the Tolmekian Princess Kushana (voiced by Yoshiko Sakakibara) and her army invades the Valley of the Wind for control of the Giant Warrior and intend to use its great power to wipe out the giant insects that live in the Sea of Decay and restore life to it’s former beauty.

(REVIEW)

This was an impressive film and I really liked it. I can’t say that I love it, but I am so happy I got to see this.

Already, this movie had me at hello. I’m a general sucker for post-apocalyptic stories. Even though this is a pretty… pretty apocalypse… weird, but whatever. If I give this movie any credit is that its beauty is worth the price of admission alone. The movie’s animation is stunning, particularly the scenes when Nausicaä is flying on her glider, those are particularly breath-taking and fun to watch. It’s kind of like watching the precursor to HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON’s flying scenes. You just feel the speed and your heart drops like the sheer velocity is pressing into your chest, it’s fantastic. Although, I might argue that this is more impressive because it’s still hand-drawn animation rather than computers. Major credit for animation department.

But if there’s anything that truly blew me away was the titular character herself, Nausicaä, herself. This is how you write a great character. She’s interesting, she’s sympathetic, and she’s bad-ass. To top it all off, she’s a princess. Why does that matter? Far too often, I see princesses hold the title, but do very little with it, making the title utterly pointless. But Nausicaä, she’s active like it’s nobody’s business. Her opening sequence, when you really think about it, gives you a wonderful sense of her bravery right there and then. She’s venturing into the Sea of Decay, collecting plant samples. By the way, I totally see it now, Rey’s introduction in STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) was totally inspired by Nausicaä’s intro here. Masked, alone, venturing in a dangerous environment in the name of survival, though I think I prefer Rey’s intro much better. Either way, that doesn’t mean Nausicaä’s is bad.

But back on track, she also collects pieces of Ohm shells for her village to use, and then almost immediately gets sucked into an action scene. An Ohm is chasing a wandering man and she’s doesn’t try to kill the Ohm. Rather, she tries to calm it down and give it incentive to go back to its forest and succeeds. While I can see some argue that she’s a little too perfect because she loves everything, I think that’s one of her most endearing aspects and what makes her journey all the more engaging and even heart-breaking. And when I say she loves everything, I mean everything. People, plants, animals, she loves and cherishes all of them, no matter how grotesque and monstrous they look, and yeah, these Ohms and other insects are freaky as all hell. Personally, I’d have killed them with violence without batting an eyelash, but that’s why I’m not the star of a movie, or a particularly interesting character.

Having said how much she values all life, she’s not an annoying pacifist either. Early on, Tolmekian soldiers invade her family castle and kill her father, the king, and she naturally goes into a rage and fights quite a few soldiers in her way. And she isn’t really bested in combat either. They take their swings, but Nausicaä proves that she’s a capable warrior herself. The only reason she stops is because her dear family friend Lord Yupa (voiced by Gorô Naya) stops the opposing sides from fighting, and later on, we learn how Nausicaä regrets fighting back, having let her rage get the better of her. And she never loses her determination or integrity as the story progresses. Even when Kushana forces Nausicaä and a handful of her people to be hostages… not quite sure I understood this subplot much… come under attack by an enemy gunship and their aircraft is going down in flames, Nausicaä refuses to let Kushana die and saves her life, even if it’s against her better judgment.

And to cap off my gushing over her, Nausicaä is so quick thinking that no matter what situation she’s in, she finds a way to either escape, or diffuse the danger. A couple times in the beginning, she manages to calm down several insects from attacking and creating a situation worse for everyone. But later on, her ability to survive several perilous situations is always awesome to watch. Several aircrafts go down with her on them and she barely gets hurt ever. Or, she’s directing people to find shelter, never giving herself a second to figure out what’s going on, she just commands people to go to safety and heads straight into danger. She’s sure reckless, but it works for her character and it’s hard to argue results when she comes out alive. Nausicaä might just be my favorite princess of all time. Hey, since Disney re-released Miyazaki’s films with English dubs, does that make her a Disney princess? Because then I’m calling her my favorite Disney princess! I love her iron-will, her connection to everything and everyone around her, and I love her heart.

And the structure of the story, by God, this was beyond refreshing. Leave it to foreign cinema to school American storytelling in how to make a story that you can’t predict. I mean, usually when I watch a movie, the story can be good enough to distract me from acting like a prophet and predicting how the scenes will go, even if it may be obvious if you took a few seconds to think about it. But this movie… I really had no idea what was going to happen. Who was going to die, what the world would reveal, what the characters were going to choose, this movie is beyond wow in that regard.

One of my favorite subtle things that I noticed was how many of the airships in the movie look like the flying insects of the world. I guess that makes sense since you don’t see any birds in the movie, but… I gotta ask, why aren’t they modeled after birds? They tend to be an insect’s natural predator and they do reference birds in passing conversation, so… question mark, but whatever, still liked it. And speaking of designs, I kind of enjoyed the costumes the people wore. They seemed pretty reminiscent of medieval garbs and cloaks. I guess that makes sense. Princesses, kings, castles, I probably shouldn’t be surprised.

Oh, and I want a fox-squirrel for a pet. If we can clone a sheep, we can splice the genes of a fox and a squirrel. Get on it, science! I has demands that must be met!

But as much as I can gush about this film, there are unfortunately some issues I take with it. Many consider this this one of the anime films you show someone who thinks that anime is just another cartoon for kids. And while I mostly agree with that, this movie is mature, dark, and intense, there are sadly a couple elements that work against that statement. It’s probably not a good thing to dwell on them, but they stick out like a sore thumb to me: there’s some obvious over-explainy dialog in the beginning and end of the film. In the beginning, when Nausicaä is in that cave with the Ohm shell, collecting the plant samples, and ripping out that eye socket thing, she has a line when she’s talking to herself that goes something like, “The pollen is poisonous; would kill anyone in seconds without a mask.” Um… I know she’s just talking to herself, but it’s not her first venture out into the Sea, so there’s no reason to say that to herself. It’s meant for the audience, yeah I know, but she’s not talking to the audience, she talking to no one. And besides, the mask sort of gives the impression that anything in the Sea is deadly, including the pollen. So… not necessary to narrate out loud. I’ll get to the ending bit that bugged me in the spoiler section.

And gunships are way overpowered in this world. I mean seriously, one tiny gunship manages to take down a huge airship, peppering it with very little ammo, jeez. I mean, sure, I give a single X-Wing fighter can take down the Death Star a huge pass, but then again, the Death Star had a weakness. A lame weakness, but a weakness. These airships don’t.

***SPOILERS***

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And in the end, when Nausicaä is brought back to life by the Ohm, and Obaba (voice by Hisako Kyôda) watching it happen, she says something like, “The friendship, the connection they share, oh it’s so beautiful.” Ugh, come on! My eyes work, yo! I can see the beauty of her actions and what they meant to the Ohm. I didn’t need that spelled out!

Oh, and that damned Giant Warrior. For such a huge build up for its awesome power, probably one of the major reasons why the world ended, and everyone’s actions revolving around releasing it upon the Sea or leaving it dormant in its pod, this is probably the biggest letdown of the film. When Kushana unleashes it on the stampeding Ohms, the Giant fires two death blasts and then melts away. It probably has a grand total of five minutes worth of screen time. You could literally cut this out from the entire movie and it would have flowed much better. Leave it as some ambiguous part of the world’s mythos, or save it for a sequel. The angry Ohms, the Tolmekian brutality, the film’s enemies seem pretty well-defined without the use of a giant monster that ultimately serves no purpose.

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, this was a fantastic film. For Miyazaki’s second film, this was ambitious and it pays off huge. Consider me a fan because I would love to see more of his work in the future. Fathom Events, don’t fail me now. I want more. There’s a few problems that I have with this movie here and there, but they don’t cripple it too badly. I think if you’ve been averted from seeing anime films, give this a watch. Maybe it’ll change your mind, maybe it won’t, but it’ll leave you with the impression that there’s more to anime than stuff like Pokemon and Hello Kitty. It sure is a wonder to behold. Beautiful animation, a great protagonist, its giant scale, it’s one for the ages and I couldn’t recommend it more.

My honest rating for NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (1984): a strong 4/5

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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991) review

Well I guess this was somewhat inevitable. What with the mixed bag that was the live-action remake, I guess someone wanted to save a little face. Can’t blame ’em, really.

In any case, wow, considering how many times I go to the cinemas, I don’t know if I ever expected this to ever make a reappearance. Am I utterly shocked? No, but I am pleasantly surprised. Is it some kind of anniversary? I don’t know. All I know is, I was two years old when this was released in theaters, hence, I never got the chance to see it on the big screen. Now I get that opportunity and I intend to take full advantage.

I wager most people know the back story behind this film, but for those few that don’t, I’ll do it for their knowledge. The story of Beauty and the Beast was originally a French fairy tale novel way back since 1740. Version after version exists, even today, but many consider the 1991 Disney classic to be the most popular version and for good reason. In fact, it was so good for it’s time, it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. Not “Best Animated Film,” no, Best… Picture. Wrap your mind around that, y’all. Best Animation didn’t even exist yet. That’s a serious testament to Disney and it’s criminal that animated films don’t get that kind of recognition from award ceremonies of that caliber anymore. Criminal, if you ask me. While I can’t say where this movie falls in my list of “favorite Disney films.” Before seeing the live-action remake this year, I can’t say that I remembered much about the original. But I do remember this being significantly more impressive than the remake.

Here’s the voice talent. Starring, we have Paige O’Hara (ENCHANTED [2007], BELLE’S MAGICAL WORLD [1998], BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: THE ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS [1997], and the upcoming RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 [2018]) and Robby Benson (TV show AMERICAN DREAMS [2002 – 2005], and video games KINGDOM HEARTS II [2005] and KINGDOM HEARTS [2002]). In support, we have Richard White (TV show HOUSE OF MOUSE [2001 – 2002] and video game KING’S QUEST [2015]), Jesse Corti (ZOOTOPIA [2016], FROZEN [2013], and TV show THE BATMAN [2004 – 2008]), Rex Everhart (FRIDAY THE 13TH [1980] and SUPERMAN [1978]), Bradley Pierce (PETER PAN II: RETURN TO NEVERLAND [2002], THE BORROWERS [1997], JUMANJI [1995]), and Angela Lansbury (MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS [2011], THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE [1962], TV show MURDER, SHE WROTE [1984 – 1996], and the upcoming MARY POPPINS RETURNS [2018]).

Now for the crew. Co-directing, we have Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise, both known for ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE (2001) and THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996). Penning the screenplay is Linda Woolverton, known for ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (2016), THE LION KING (1994), and TV show DENNIS THE MENACE (1986 – 1988). Finally, the composer is Alan Menken, known for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017), SAUSAGE PARTY (2016), THE LITTLE MERMAID (1989), and upcoming films ALADDIN (2019) and THE LITTLE MERMAID, no release date announced.

Overall, I’m pretty excited for this. It’s been years since I’ve seen it, or… just a few months, depending on how much of this the remake copied and pasted.

This is my honest opinion of the tale as old as time: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

(SUMMARY)

Long ago, the cruel prince of a castle was turned into a beast (voiced by Robby Benson) for his actions. The only way to break his curse is if he falls in love and that love is returned before his enchanted rose’s petals all break off. But he became reclusive and has since faded from memory. Today, Belle (voiced by Paige O’Hara) lives in a small village as an outcast who loves to read. One day, her inventor father Maurice (voiced by Rex Everhart) ventures off into the woods, but gets horribly lost. Evading a pack of rabid wolves, he seeks shelter in the very castle the beast resides in, resulting in angering the beast and locking him away. Belle learns of this and sets out to find her father, agreeing to take his place as the beast’s prisoner and the two grow to realize that there’s more to each other than their initial impressions.

(REVIEW)

While some aspects of the story and characters don’t quite hold up for me as an adult, this is still one of the most beautifully animated Disney films of its era and arguably of all time.

Let’s start with what doesn’t work for me, since I’m sure people are hanging on that statement more than anything, and I admit thoroughly that I shouldn’t be so critical of a kids fairy tale movie, but this was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, so… I’ma be critical. I feel like Beast is a bit bipolar, or he’s built up inconsistently. The whole point of his backstory is that he was a jerk. He was above everyone, hence turning away the old woman slash beautiful enchantress. When he’s finally revealed, he’s a jerk to Maurice, who only wanted shelter from the storm and wolves. He couldn’t be more sensible and just send him on his way? Locking him in the dungeon was the only logical conclusion? Maybe if Maurice did something a little more insulting or careless, like broke an old vase of sentimental value, then his reaction would be understandable. As is, it’s just really forcing that he’s a grade-A jerkwad.

But this could be a small problem if the rest of his intro to everyone was consistent. When Belle shows up, he’s a jerk to her too. But once the prisoner exchange is completed, the pacing of his hospitality is rushed like a mofo. As soon as Maurice is gone, Lumiere manages to convince Beast rather easily and no effort to give her a nice room. How? She’s a prisoner? Prisoners aren’t treated with this much… respect. And after putting her in the room, he not only admits that she’s beautiful, which fine, comments on a person’s looks can be pointed out rather cheaply, but trying to make a good first impression at dinner? At the dinner table? Someone explain why this is. I doubt Maurice was going to get the full buffet option. I feel like more time should have been spent developing his softness toward Belle and letting her eat like a civilized person. Granted, this could have extended the movie’s runtime an extra ten minutes, but it would have felt more realistic. Weird how I’m saying that about a fantasy story involving a person with a bison’s head, but I stand by it.

Also, the west wing fiasco. First off, instead of simply telling Belle that “it’s forbidden,” how about lying. Say something like… it’s his deceased family’s private quarters. Rare treasures, priceless stuff, which kind of happens to be the case anyway, so she has more incentive to respect his wishes to stay out of there. By that point, if Belle went in that wing with that foreknowledge, then she’d be an inconsiderate jerk as well and just poking around taking advantage of her jailer’s hospitality. This could also apply to Lumiere and Cogsworth when giving her the tour of the castle, giving a proper excuse of what’s up there. Of course when you say that there’s nothing up there, the curiosity will set in and she’ll sneak up there.

And why isn’t the room with the enchanted rose locked? You’d think with strangers in the castle who is free to mosey about as she pleases would take a little extra precautions. Of course, you could always argue that it wasn’t locked because he was technically already in the room. So… fair enough.

Oh, and Chip’s kind of annoying.

Summed up, I think the pacing from Belle’s arrival to the castle and the wolf attack after she runs away is all pretty rushed and not handled very well. Some more time with the characters and their motivations and emotions, and smarter writing would have been appreciated.

But enough of the bashing. Time to gush.

This is arguably one of Disney’s most gorgeous films. I don’t think it was their first foray into this, but the incorporation of both hand-drawn animation and computer effects was in perfect taste. It was a beautiful prelude to where Disney would eventually go, arguably making this more impressive than their current products. Not that I’m ragging on the 3D animated style of TANGLED (2010) and everything after, I like the current films just fine, but there’s something special about hand-drawn animation and such a shame that the market for it is considered irrelevant. I wish Disney would still make one once in awhile for old times sake. But this is the direction they’ve gone in and it’s not at all bad, so I’m not complaining too much. It’s still Disney.

By the way, “Be Our Guest” is still breathtaking to look at and certainly leaves a bigger impression than the remake. Same goes for the climactic fight scene on the castle rooftops, and between the villagers and the servants. I will never stop cringing at the ax dude getting bashed in the face by the drawers. Ouch…

What else is there? I think Beast is much more impressive here than the remake. Perhaps it’s a testament to Benson’s voice, but I felt like Beasts voice has such range from being goofy, threatening, and compassionate. I look back on the remake, and while I maintain that Beast is still impressive to look at in live-action, he’s far more expressive in this and leaves a bigger impact.

Overall, this movie really takes me back and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to watch this in theaters. I don’t pretend to know why Disney is re-releasing their classics on the big screen, and I don’t much care. Reliving them is a wonderful experience and I encourage everyone to do the same. This film may not be my favorite Disney outing, but it’s undeniably one of their best.

My honest rating for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991): 4/5

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LEAP! review

Full disclosure, I actually did write a review for this, or at least had a healthy chunk of it written. However, for whatever reason, something glitched out and all my work was erased and I couldn’t get it back. So here I am, writing it again, mostly because I have a MoviePass card now and I’m playing around with it.

LEAP! if I remember correctly is a French animated film originally titled “Ballerina,” and was renamed “Leap!” for American audiences. To my understanding, BALLERINA was almost a different film than was presented here. My only source on this is a review of BALLERINA from Youtube’s Stoned Gremlin Productions, who seemed to have nice things to say about that, but didn’t see LEAP!. Anyway, initially, I thought this movie was going to be a pretty dull film. A standard “follow your dreams” story that’s been done to death thanks to Disney. Give Disney some credit, at least they make good movies. I have no idea what the story is here for the lack of originality.

Here’s the voice talent. Starring, we have Elle Fanning (THE BEGUILED [2017], THE NEON DEMON [2016], and I AM SAM [2001]), Carly Rae Jepsen (1 episode of CASTLE), and Nat Wolff (HOME AGAIN [2017], PAPER TOWNS [2015], and ADMISSION [2013]). In support, we have Maddie Ziegler (THE BOOK OF HENRY [2017]), Terence Scammell (HEAVY METAL 2000 [2000], and video games DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED [2016] and TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES [2007]), Kate McKinnon (ROUGH NIGHT [2017], MASTERMINDS [2016], GHOSTBUSTERS [2016], and upcoming film FERDINAND [2017] and TV revival THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS RIDES AGAIN [2017]), and Mel Brooks (HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 [2015], SPACEBALLS [1987], and BLAZING SADDLES [1974]).

Now for the crew. One of the writers, Laurent Zeitoun, is known for THE INTOUCHABLES (2011). The composer is Klaus Badelt, who is known for THE IDENTICAL (2014), ULTRAVIOLET (2006), PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003), and upcoming film CHRISTOPHER ROBIN, no release date announced. Finally, the cinematographer is Jericca Cleland, known for SPACE CHIMPS (2008).

Overall, I am not looking forward to see thing a second time.

This is my honest opinion of: LEAP!

(SUMMARY)

Set in Paris, France, circa 1880s. The story follows Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning), a young orphan girl growing up in an orphanage with a penchant for dancing and for trying to escape to Paris. Along with her best friend Victor (voiced by Nat Wolff), they manage to finally do just that. The two friends get separated and Félicie finds a prestigious dance school, specifically ballet, which she isn’t trained in. So she ends up getting trained by Odette (voiced by Carly Rae Jepsen), who is a servant of a cruel woman, who is the mother to Félicie’s dance rival, Camille (Maddie Ziegler).

(REVIEW)

My experience is only slightly better.

Félicie is still a standard dreamer with very little personality. I swear, her dialog consists of nothing but, “I am a dancer!” “I’m going to be such a great dancer.” Jeez, get a side hobby, woman! Luckily, Fanning is a fantastic actor, so even if the dialog is beyond basic, her voice almost always matches the emotions of the character. Victor is still the annoying comic relief, subjected to the worst jokes in the movie, including poop jokes multiple times. To make matters worse, he’s kind of gross, sneezing in his hand, trying to kiss her with no indication that his night out with Félicie would go in that direction. And I will never understand how inconsistently written he is. For a character who is so smart that he can make a pair of functioning, wings that help him glide from tall places, he’ll call those wings “chicken wings” even though chickens can’t fly. To which his response will be, “But they have have wings. They must fly.” Wow… Wolff is a decent actor, but he is trying way too hard to be funny here. I can’t tell if it’s a result of him not knowing how to act with his voice, or if he was given awful direction. But the worst of the lot, Jepsen. Despite being a passable singer, she is not a good actress. She has no emotion in her voice at all. It’s like every line she reads, you can almost see her in the recording booth sounding uncomfortable. One has to ask, if they only use the best takes, how bad were the others?

In fact, the more I think about it, there isn’t any real reason for this to be an animated film. Dancing in real life is spectacle. It’s impressive because it’s real people who had real training. With animation, the dancing is just… cartoonish. You don’t see the real sweat, the strain, the fatigue. If done right, the audience should be able  it’s just not the same effect. The whole point of animation is to see something that real life can’t provide. But real dancers exist. If you want to see a more impressive dance movie involving ballet, watch the French film POLINA (2017). Ballet, modern dance, it’s far more all-encompassing than this and far more impressive to watch.

And what’s with the budding romance between Félicie and Rudy (voiced by Tamir Kapelian). That literally comes out of nowhere and ends up being exactly what you’d expect it to be. Félicie is only attracted to Rudy for his looks and manipulative charm, given little to no real personality, and ends up being a jerk. Gee, never seen that before in a movie.

Speaking of animation, it’s not… bad, per se. The expressions are pretty good, for the most part. The lighting, the colors, it all works visually. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking when you have subpar voice actors attached, distracting from the emotions and just grating to the ears. There’s some facial animations that are trying too hard to be comical, especially with Madam Regine (Kate McKinnon), who is so over the top evil that it really is comical. The textures are impressive. You can tell there was a lot of time dedicated to making the dirty places and things look dirty and the pretty things and places look pretty. But if there’s anything that’s done incredibly well, it’s the background work. Holy… it’s incredible and gorgeous to look at. Clearly, there is talent working on this, but who green lit the stuff that didn’t? And there is a good idea of exploring passion versus technique. Félicie is an inexperienced dancer with raw talent. Camille is classically trained and highly competitive, but she only does it because he mother makes her do it. Félicie has more than a few obstacles to overcome, but her determination and open-mindedness to learn how to move her body in ways that she’s not used to allows her to break through her limitations. But Camille, despite flawless performances, limits herself to what she knows and is capable of doing. It doesn’t help that her mother, who is a heartless wench, is raising her and probably saps out all ability to emote in her dancing. All of this is explored surprisingly well. As I understand it, the French and Canadian originals are different and seem like they’re better than the American cut. Maybe the American version couldn’t dumb down all the great stuff from the original.

Overall, I’d say this wasn’t as bad as my first experience, but it was still not great. The animation quality is inconsistent, ranging from great to awkward, the characters are horribly bland, poor writing, inconsistent quality in voice acting, it’s an atrociously messy flick. But at the end of the day, the movie is harmless. While I don’t think it’s worth taking your kids to see in theaters, it’s a rental at best, I also don’t think it’s worth seeing at all. There’s better animated films out there, but I guess if you wanted to show them something that wasn’t Disney, or Pixar, this isn’t the worst.

My honest rating for LEAP!: a weak 3/5

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