Tag Archives: Animation

“THE INCREDIBLES 2” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

One childhood later…

Can a good thing come too late? You tell me. Can a thief return your wallet after spending all of your money? Can a firetruck put out the fire after your house already burned down? Can a lover apologize after admitting to cheating on you? The answer is yes, a good thing can absolutely come too late. And like Syndrome once said a long time ago, Incredibles 2 came too late: 15 years too late.

In perhaps the most unnecessary sequel since Cars 2 (oh yeah, I went there), Incredibles 2 picks up right after the Incredibles encountered the Underminer at the end of the first movie (which is incredibly frustrating, since Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack haven’t aged a day, whereas I’m so old that I’ve grown a beard). Despite saving the day not once but twice, supers are still outlawed by the federal government and are still considered menaces to society, despite the good that they try to do.

Enter Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), a telecommunications CEO and super-fan that wants to legalize superheroes and bring them back into the spotlight. Pouring his investments into a massive PR campaign to make supers well-liked again, Deavor enlists in the help of Helen Parr, a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) to carry out missions and change the public perception of superheroes. With Elastigirl busy out superheroing, Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is left at home to watch over the kids, and despite being Mr. Incredible, he is certainly not the most incredible Mr. Mom.

First thing’s first: Incredibles 2 looks gorgeous. That’s to be expected of course, considering we waited a decade and a half for the bloody thing to come out. Regardless, the visual feats Incredibles 2 achieves are nothing short of spectacular. It not only deserves to be compared to its predecessor, but it demands to be seen as superior.

The action is much more proliferate in Incredibles 2, and that’s generally to be expected, considering how heavy a role the action played in the first Incredibles. Still, I was impressed at how unique and clever the spectacle was and how Pixar didn’t just repeat themselves from the first movie. In one exhilarating chase sequence, Elastigirl was chasing a runaway train on her Elasti-cycle, which separated into two halves, allowing her to make flexible leaps with her torso while driving. That was an incredibly inventive way to use Elastigirl’s abilities, and I caught myself being on the edge of my seat as I watched her leap on top of cars, railroads, and buildings chasing the train. My favorite scene from the film had to be when the adolescent Jack-Jack’s powers were emerging and he fought a raccoon rummaging through his trash in the backyard. No, this is not some special, super-powered raccoon. It’s just a super-baby fighting an everyday, average, frightened raccoon. Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy would have been mortified.

The visuals and the action were great in the the first Incredibles, and they’re just as fantastic to watch here. Where its sequel begins to falter is its plot. Unlike the first movie, where its writing was fresh, organic, and addressed real-life family issues and emotions, Incredibles 2 feels too generic for its own good; like it knows it has to churn out a sequel and just came up with the most basic concept it could just to save time on its production schedule. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting anything ground-breaking with Incredibles 2. Lord knows the movie could have been The Godfather of animated superhero sequels and still not be up-to-par with the first movie. Even with that expectation, however, I was disappointed at how unspectacular the film’s premise really felt.

Take for example the movie’s villain Screenslaver (Bill Wise). Simply put, he’s your average supervillain megolomaniac, a guy conjured up just to fight our heroes with nothing more to add to their personal stakes. Compared to Syndrome from the first movie, who had a traumatic childhood experience where he reasonably felt betrayed by his heroes, Screenslaver simply does not have the gusto to be a driving force behind this movie’s conflict. Yes, his powers are interesting and unique enough to control the supers against each other. So what? That doesn’t make him a compelling character, and his motivations for fighting the Incredibles are just plain weak. One of my best friends even turned to me in the theater and told me how he thought the movie was going to end. Sure enough, the film ticked on like clockwork, and my friend’s predictions almost happened word-for-word.

I’m not surprised by the simplicity of this film’s story. Quite honestly, I was expecting it. What I am surprised by is how long it took for writer-director Brad Bird to make this. It’s been 14 years since The Incredibles came out. Since then, Bird has released multiple stellar pictures, including the masterful and moving Ratatouille, the exciting and revitalizing Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and even the mediocre Tommorrowland was filled with vision and imagination. Time and time again, Bird has proved his worth as a creative storyteller. And you mean to tell me you waited half of my literal life span for the right inspiration???

Sorry, I’m not buying that. I was Dash’s age when the first Incredibles was released, and now here I am older than Violet, expected to feel the same way about it when I was younger. Real life doesn’t just pause like that. Even Toy Story 3, which also had a 10-year release gap between Toy Story 2, had the good sense to fast forward in time with its characters. That’s because as Andy grew, so did we. I was a little kid playing with my favorite toys when Toy Story 2 came out, and then I grew up, becoming a young adult by the time Toy Story 3 was released. I even graduated from high school the same year that Andy did. But with The Incredibles, there is no growth, no reflection that we’re supposed to look back on. I’m just an adult expected to go back in time to my youth so I can feel the same about The Incredibles as I did when I was 11. How is that reasonable? How is that fair?

I’m tasked with answering the most basic question here: Is Incredibles 2 good? The simple answer is yes, it is very good. Like the first movie, Incredibles 2 is fast-paced, funny, and exciting, further challenging the blurred lines between animated and live-action films and what they can accomplish for their audiences. The complicated answer is that its quality doesn’t matter. I’ve long left my childhood behind, just like millions of eager fans like myself have years ago. Time has passed. We’ve already grown up. And Incredibles 2 means less to us now than it would have if it were released seven or eight years ago.

In either case, be on the lookout for Incredibles 3 in the future, where it will undoubtedly come out when I turn 60.

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“KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS” Review (✫✫✫1/2)


The kid’s a great musician AND origami artist.

Kubo and the Two Strings is not only better than most of today’s animated movies: it’s also better than most of its live-action ones. That’s because it fully believes in its vision and purpose, giving genuine, real life to these characters that we perceive as fictional and adding weight to the adventures that they go through. Kubo and the Two Strings fully believes that everything going on in this movie is real, even though none of it is real.

Or is it? When you were told stories as a child, were your first instincts to question how true any of it was? Did you ask if Arthur really did pull the sword out of the stone, if David truly beat the Goliath, or if Jack really did climb up a beanstalk? Of course you didn’t, because you didn’t need to ask. We already believed that they were real. Any validation beyond that would have taken away from our enjoyment of the amazing stories we were told.

Kubo and the Two Strings is yet another amazing story to tell, a movie about a boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson) who is on the run, protecting his mother from the clutches of his evil grandfather, the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes). Kubo has two friends accompanying him on this journey: Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey), who is the most dysfunctional pair of animals that have ever gone on any journey. Monkey is the type A protective companion who will stop at nothing to make sure Kubo is safe. Beetle is more laid back, relaxed, and is more prone to dreaming rather than fighting. Together, these three embark on an adventure to defeat the Moon King and free Kubo from his clutches forever.

Right off of the bat, I need to praise the visual style of this project. Filmed using stop-motion animation, Kubo and the Two Strings feels and breathes like ancient Japanese mythology, its characters talking, fighting, flipping, and moving like the origami figures Kubo loves to craft in his spare time. The fourth film to be produced by animation studio Laika, Kubo mimics the claymation style of its predecessors, including Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls, and it stands strong alongside them.

Yet, Kubo stands out even among these films, not only being a stellar and entertaining animated film, but also an exciting and thrilling action film as well. In one sequence, Monkey is fighting one of the Moon King’s underlings on a boat made out of autumn leaves during a violent sea storm. The choreography in this fight looked incredible, with Monkey flipping around using all four of her limbs, her enemy swiping at her with her hand blades, their swords colliding and sparking during the loud crashing of waves and lightning.

I want to assert that this sequence, like every other frame of this film, was animated. Yet, it featured action on-par with most of today’s live-action films. More than the highway sequence in Deadpool, more than the titular fight in Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the action in this sequence impressed me. It impressed me with its fast-paced energy and lightning-quick reflexes of its characters. It impressed me with its use of environment and how they bounced and deflected attacks off of each other into the sail and deck. Even though this sequence was animated, it impressed me how exciting and thrilling it was compared to most of this year’s summer blockbusters.

The rest of the film does not let up on the action or the excitement. Besides it’s incredible display of visual and technical prowess, the film also has an incredible story to get wrapped up into. With a story by “Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends” animator Shannon Tindle and a screenplay by Paranorman scribe Chris Butler and Marc Haimes, Kubo and the Two Strings is confident in its lore and mythology, so much so that not only are spin-offs and sequels encouraged: I think it’s even necessary. This is a deep, complex narrative on display, and the movie demonstrates a strong understanding of its characters and how they affect each other. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a sequel to Kubo and the Two Strings in the near future, and I would welcome it with excitement and anticipation.

There is one plot twist in the movie that doesn’t fit with the overall plot and creates more problems rather than solves them. Besides that, this is a flawless movie. Like Akira and Spirited Away, this is a movie that challenges animated movies and what they can accomplish. And at the heart of it all is a brave young boy, trying to live his life without the things that he needed most.

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“THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS” Review (✫)


It should stay a secret.

There were two things I liked about The Secret Life of Pets: the minions and Kevin Hart. That’s it. Those are the only two things I enjoyed from 90 minutes of annoyance and monotony. The minions were only in the short featurette before the movie started, so you can already cross them right off of the list. That leaves Hart as the only positive, who admittedly does provide the movie’s funnier and more unique moments. Everything else belongs in the kitty litter.

In what is perhaps his most boring role to date, Louis C.K. plays as Max, a Jack Russel terrier who lives happily with his owner, Katie (Ellie Kemper). They play all day together, but when Katie leaves, Max lays defeatedly on the floor, waiting for her to come back home.

One day, she comes home with a surprise: another dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), who she says is going to be Max’s new brother. Frustrated and intimidated by this new dog, Max forms a rivalry with Duke on who will be the top dog of the house.

Does this premise sound familiar to you? An animated movie about characters that live secret lives unbeknownst to their owners, then become jealous as a new neighbor moves in and sets out to sabotage their stay? Where have we seen this before? Where could we have possibly gotten this oh-so-original idea from?

Oh. That’s right. It’s the same plot as Toy Story. How creative.

Right out of the gate, the most detrimental element of this movie is its half-effort of a premise. It is utterly, disappointingly dull. Every single note of The Secret Life of Pets is corny, obvious, and exaggerated, with not one single piece of it sticking with you. All of the jokes, the emotions, the so-called “twists”, none of it is surprising and every bit of it is mind-numbingly, sickeningly predictable.

That’s to be expected with most animated movies though, right? Our culture is so saturated with feel-good emotions and brightly-colored characters that surely their stories are also familiar to us by now. It sometimes seems like they can write themselves. Zootopia was a cute and fun movie, but its twists were too obvious for its own good. So was Big Hero 6’s as it essentially repeated the superhero action formula, but in animation. Even Illumination’s own Despicable Me is so on-the-nose that you knew Gru couldn’t stay a bad guy. Most movies nowadays are predictable, and animated movies are definitely no exception.

All the same, while most animated movies are predictable, that doesn’t automatically mean that they are bad. I can forgive familiarity. What I can’t forgive is mediocrity. I can’t forgive something that feels so bland and tasteless, so ignorant to its own production that it forgets to be funny, touching, or even remotely relevant while copying someone else’s idea. This movie is so by-the-books that it becomes incessantly boring to watch. There is not a shred of integrity to it, nothing to make you care about its characters or the stupidly cartoonish situations happening to them.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s one redeeming character in Snowball, a hilarious white rabbit voiced by Kevin Hart. He’s wacky and over-the-top in every sense of the word, a violent little cretin that blurts out long-winded rants against humanity like a radical activist or a disillusioned rebel leader. Out of all of the characters, casting Hart as this bunny gone bananas is sheer genius. His accentuated, ecstatic voice perfectly matches the crazy nature of Snowball, easily making him the most fun character out of the movie.

All the same, one fun character doesn’t replace 15 boring ones. Can I stress how much I don’t care about these characters? I don’t care about Max. I don’t care about Duke. I don’t care about the pets. I don’t care about their voice actors. I don’t care about the less-than-paper-thin plot that they’re forced through. I don’t care about the recycled animation, the unfunny humor, the artificial optimism, the relentless cheese, and the completely random music number inserted awkwardly halfway through the movie. Do you understand what I’m saying? I. Don’t. Care.

This is from Illumination Entertainment and director Chris Renaud, who up until now have both had pretty steady careers. The first two Despicable Me movies were good, whole-hearted fun, while The Lorax was well-intentioned and meaningful, albeit a little heavy-handed. Later this year, they’re releasing Sing, a musical comedy about animals participating in a singing competition. Hopefully they will knock it out of the park and sell out the theater. The Secret Life of Pets deserves to be booed off of the stage.

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“FINDING DORY” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Just keep swimming.

There is absolutely no reason why a movie called Finding Dory should be this good. Absolutely no reason. The last time Pixar attempted a sequel/spinoff, we got Cars 2, a cheeky and unnecessary addition to the Pixar universe. Finding Dory is equally unnecessary, but the good news is that it knows that. So instead of trying to follow up from its first film, it chooses to focuses on telling its own story rather than trying to expand upon another one. What we get is something truly rare: an animated sequel that is every bit as good as its predecessor. Considering that’s Finding Nemo, I think this is the best possible movie you could have gotten from Finding Dory.

Years before Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) met Marlin (Albert Brooks), Dory was just a baby fish happily playing with her parents. Just as forgetful and funny as her older self is, Dory was trained by her parents to say 10 words to any new fish she meets: “Hi, I’m Dory, and I have short-term memory loss.” (Or “reromry”, as she likes to pronounce it). Happy and comforted around her parents, baby Dory is afraid what might happen if she was ever separated from them, or worse, if she even forgot them.

Fast forward many years later, after the events of Finding Nemo. Dory suddenly remembers her parents and her life before meeting Marlin and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Now determined to find her parents and be reunited again after all these years, Dory, Marlin, and Nemo embark on yet another journey across the ocean to find Dory’s family.

The first time I watched Finding Nemo, I was completely entranced by everything about it. The characters, story, animation, colors, and environments immediately swept me from my theater seat and plunged me 100 feet in the ocean to witness this story about a father and his son. At originally hearing about Finding Dory, all I felt was concern. Minus the Toy Story franchise, Pixar hadn’t handled its sequels as well as its first entries. I was really worried they were about to turn Finding Nemo into a cash-grabber, something that Finding Nemo is worth much more than.

Turns out I had no reason to be worried. Finding Dory is not only a smart homage to its origins, but also a funny, unique, and emotional roller coaster of a film that stands very well on its own two feet (well, fins). The screenplay, co-written by director Andrew Stanton, displays a fine understanding of everyone’s favorite forgetful fish. So fine, in fact, that this movie truly stands on its own, needing almost no support from its previous entry.

Watch the first scenes of Finding Dory closely. Like Finding Nemo, they pull you into the character’s reality and establish an almost immediate connection with your subject. In Finding Nemo, we watched as Marlin lost his wife and most of his children in one of the most tragic openings ever. In Finding Dory, we witness the opposite as a child loses her parents, although not in the same way. The same feeling is established in both cases: a deepened sense of loss, confusion, and grief. You look at baby Dory swimming around aimlessly in the ocean, and you can’t help but feel a deep sense of sympathy for this poor baby fish, alone and with no sense of direction or security.

This sympathy lasts throughout the entire movie, and that’s because Stanton has a clear understanding of Dory and how to get us to care about her. We don’t see Dory as a supporting character in Finding Dory, and we shouldn’t either. This is truly her story, and she appropriately takes center stage as we’re wrapped into her journey and emotions.

I have absolutely no gripes with this film. No criticisms. No recommendations to improve it any further from where it already is now. If we had to compare, then Finding Nemo is clearly superior, but that’s only because we’ve had more time to appreciate it. If Finding Nemo never happened, Finding Dory not only makes sense without it: it stands on its own and functions as its own entry. That’s because Stanton knows how to masterfully guide his audience without manipulating them, and we get caught up into Dory’s story not because we have to, but because we want to.

What we have left is an unchallenged successor to Finding Nemo: a movie that replicates the same appeal of characters, animation, wonder, and amazement as we’re completely engrossed into this story, not once feeling like it’s artificial or incomplete. When Pixar prepares to make the third entry, I officially now want it to be titled Finding Marlin. I trust Pixar enough that they’ll take it in the right direction.

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“FINDING NEMO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Fish are friends, not food.

Reviewing a film like Finding Nemo is an impossible task, because it isn’t meant to be reviewed. It’s meant to be experienced. Like Pixar’s other masterpieces, Finding Nemo finds joy and adventure in seemingly ordinary environments. Toy Story found theirs in a toy box, and A Bug’s Life found theirs in an anthill. Now Finding Nemo plunges into the ocean to tell us a story about family, fatherhood, and friendship. The resulting film is nothing short of Pixar’s best: iconic, entertaining, and meaningful.

After viewing what is perhaps the most heartbreaking opening I’ve ever seen in an animated movie, we are introduced to the film’s key characters. Marlin (Albert Brooks), a deep-sea clownfish, is the single father of Nemo (Alexander Gould), his son who suffers from a short, defective fin. He’s very protective of his son: so much so, that he will hide him away in his anemone, away from the rest of the ocean.

One day, Marlon goes through any parent’s worst nightmare: he sees his son kidnapped by human divers swimming out in the ocean. Now accompanied only by a short-minded regal tang named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), they set off across the ocean to save Marlin’s son.

The first thing you notice in any Pixar movie is its animation. Vibrant, elegant, and beaming with life, the one thing you can always appreciate about their films is the vivid details of their animation. With Finding Nemo, however, I’d argue that it is the most refined out of Pixar’s other films. This is the fifth film Pixar has produced now, and the fifth time that they’ve captured me with their ambient motions, intricate details, and complex characters. The colors are bright and saturated, reaching out to you in all of its eye-catching graphics and details. The fish feel fresh and alive, briskly swimming through the ocean as if they were real animals. The ocean itself breathes with just as much life as the fish do. Its plants flow in synchronization with the ocean streams, its currents moving like breaths in the ocean. This is easily Pixar’s most visually pleasing film yet, not just because of the colors and motions, but because of how real entire environments feel. This isn’t just an animated ocean: it is the ocean. That’s how authentic it feels and moves.

But the animation isn’t the only beautiful thing about Finding Nemo. Its story is equally breathtaking; simple and straightforward, yet creative and complex. On the surface, we have this father-son dynamic going on in between Marlin and Nemo, which serves as the emotional focal point of the film. In deeper insight, this is a movie about environment conservation and the effect our race is having on fish life.

Take Nemo’s plight as the most pure example of this. After being kidnapped, Nemo is dropped into a dentist’s fish tank with a collection of other fish, all of whom are terrified of the dentist’s reckless niece. It is in this tank where you see very simply that fish are not viewed as living creatures to these humans, but rather as objects, property, gifts. Seeing how poorly the fish are treated in this movie reflects a very sad truth under its layers of fun and humor, and it makes me ponder on how much of a threat we truly pose on the environments of the real clownfish, regal tangs, sharks, sea turtles, and the rest of the fish in the ocean.

None of this takes away from the fact that this is at heart a kids movie: a fun, colorful, and unique one at that. Yet this is a rare picture even among children’s films, an animated movie parents can enjoy just as much as their kids do. Perhaps that is because the main character is a parent himself, and it is easy to relate to his joy, his fears, and his solace as a father, and as someone who cares for something much bigger than himself. Animated films nowadays are like the ocean: vast, wide, never-ending, and impossible to predict. Finding Nemo is the pearl you find in it: small, hard to find, yet immensely valuable, just like its small-finned star.

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“THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967)” Review (✫✫1/2)

Talk about bare necessities. 

In a 2012 TED talk titled “The Clues To A Great Story“, Pixar animator Andrew Stanton gave some fast facts about Pixar’s successes while creating Toy Story. The essence of his pitch laid in five tips: No songs, no “I want” moments, no happy village, no love story, and make me care. That last part is perhaps the most pertinent.

Well, in 1966’s Disney movie The Jungle Book, there’s a plethora of songs, one of them titled “I Wanna Be Like You”, a happy village, and a romance that’s rushed at the end of the movie. Oh, and it didn’t make me care about Mowgli, Baloo, Bageera, Kaa, Shere Kahn, or any of other jungle animals in this predictable, by-the-books story. Removing me from the experience was perhaps the movie’s biggest violation.

Oh, I admit there’s a lot going on in The Jungle Book. Based on a collection of short stories of the same name by Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli (Bruce Reitherman), a human orphan who was adopted by the jungle animals and taken care of throughout his youth. One day, the jungle wolves find out that Shere Kahn (George Sanders), a vicious tiger who has a intense hatred of human beings, has returned to the jungle and wants to kill Mowgli. In an effort to protect the boy and save him from Shere Kahn, Mowlgi and his friends Baloo the bear (Phil Harris) and Bageera the black panther (Sebastian Cabot) travel throughout the jungle to return Mowgli to the man village, where he will be reunited with his kind once again.

Back to the TED talk. When Stanton gave his presentation, he gave it knowing the genre’s conventions and with what audiences are used to seeing. Case in point, the singing, the on-the-nose “I want” moments, the happy villages, and the love stories. How many times have we seen each of these? Indeed, how many times have we seen it in most of the Disney movies, dating all the way back to Walt Disney’s first animated feature Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs in 1937?

Disney has used and reused these elements over and over again through the likes of Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp, and Sleeping Beauty, and seeing those elements repeat again in The Jungle Book definitely doesn’t help in its representation. The film’s premise is not the worst in the world. It had good ideas of man versus nature that it could have been explored very well, and might have even stood out in a long line of conventional Disney pictures.

The problem is The Jungle Book is incredibly rushed, and character’s motivations are not explored much deeper beyond their surface value. Mowgli, for instance, wants to remain in the jungle instead of traveling to live in the man village, but we’re never told why. We assume its because the jungle is where his wolf pack family lives, but since they only appear in the first 15 minutes of the film and are never referred to again, that reasoning quickly diminishes. Baloo is a laid back and easygoing bear that wants to raise Mowgli as his cub, which is not only creepy and silly, but also just plain nonsensical. Why does Baloo want to raise Mowgli as his cub after mere minutes of just meeting him? Why does Mowgli trust this big, brutish bear that could eat him in a heartbeat to be his bear dad? Why are they more concerned about relaxing and chilling in the jungle when they both know that a man-eating tiger is after them?

Which brings me to Shere Kahn. He is perhaps the most underdeveloped of any of the characters, which is the most frustrating to me because he has the most potential for development out of any of the other characters. We’re told that he is a tiger that hates human beings. Okay, why is that? Was there some deep, traumatizing experience where mankind crippled him for life? Did he lose his tiger family to a human tribe? Did mankind kill and take his food supply? Why does Shere Kahn hate mankind?

We’re never given a reason. Shere Kahn just hates man, and Mowgli is a man, and that’s supposed to be it. There’s no complexion to their relationship, just typical archetypes that could be written by any screenwriter that has a thought in their brain and a head on their shoulders.

I acknowledge that the movie is fun, that is without exception. The characters, while flat and thinly written, do have interesting and unique personalities, with the most memorable character being an ecstatic orangutan named King Louie (Louis Prima). The musical numbers are the opportunities where character’s personalities shine the most, and their silly, wacky, and fun energy takes over the screen like an Elephant herd stampeding through the jungle. While the movie is definitely too conventional for its own good, I must admit that I had fun with the music and I especially liked seeing the characters sing along to them. It’s the parts in between where the movie slows down to a crawl.

I look at this movie, and I think of how many Walt Disney pictures came before that did so much better at involving its audience than The Jungle Book did. Look at Pinnocchio. Look at FantasiaDumbo. BambiPeter Pan. Look at all the wonder, the excitement, the feeling of adventure that those movies provoked. Look at those characters, their ambitions, and their reasons for having those ambitions. Look at the magic they instill, the sense of creativity and imagination in their journeys. Yes, those characters had songs, wants, happy villages, and love stories in their movies, but they all did one very important thing that The Jungle Book forgot to do: they made me care.

When Baloo sang “Bare Necessities” to Mowgli, I didn’t know the audience was supposed to take it literally. Walt Disney certainly did.

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“ZOOTOPIA” Review (✫✫✫)

And don’t forget the Zoopocalypse.

Zootopia is a movie just about as good as a movie titled Zootopia can be. There’s animals, a cute bunny protagonist (although she doesn’t like to be called “cute”), an underdog story for her to go through, and a colorful city, of which the title derives its name from. Kids will love it, adults not as much. But Zootopia has enough uniqueness to distance itself from the rest of the competition, and make itself stand out in a long line of successful Disney movies.

The plot takes place in an alternate reality where animals have evolved from their primitive, savage states into civilized, anthropomorphic beings, allowing predators and prey to coexist peacefully in the same society. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young rabbit who’s wanted to be a police officer ever since she was a kid, dreams of going to Zootopia, the heart of this new co-existing world. But as she soon finds out, Zootopia is not the city of paradise and tolerance that she had hoped. She quickly discovers that the big guys overpower the little ones on almost every block and street, and considering she’s just a wee rabbit, she quickly gets slapped onto parking duty in her district.

Enter Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sniveling fox that is so coy in his craft that he could give Gordon Gecko a run for his money. Wilde becomes a witness to a kidnapping that Hopps is suddenly thrown into investigating. As this unlikely duo burrows deeper and deeper into the investigation, they discover a secret that may impact the future of Zootopia forever.

A question I wondered while watching Zootopia: where are all the humans? The animals have been on the Earth long enough to evolve into a more civilized state. Where did they learn to be civilized from? Did the animals overthrow the human race in an epic revolution? Did the humans become extinct as the animals evolved? I thought of all of these possibilities while Hopps stared in awe at Zootopia, which may or may not have been built on top of piles of human corpses. Of course, these are probably thoughts only I would think of, and a mystery I’ll have to be content with being unsolved, just like with what happened to the humans in Cars.

How do you expect Zootopia to play out? Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is yes, it plays out like that. Like every other animal-loving animated movie out there, Zootopia is filled with cute, cuddly creatures and colors that will liven up a child’s day. Are the beats too familiar for those who are experienced moviegoers? Of course they are, but at least we can still have fun with it.

Let’s run through the cast of characters, shall we? The rabbit is excited, energetic, and optimistic? Check. The fox is sly, slick, and wickedly sarcastic? Check. The Cape Buffalo is big, blunt, and a to-the-point, no-nonsense bovine? Check. Most of the animals you think of will fit their stereotypes, with one notable exception: Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), an obese cheetah who works as a police dispatcher and has an obvious obsession for donuts. See the irony here? The fastest animal alive, now being the fattest animal alive. There’s a self-awareness to his character that makes him fun to watch and laugh at. Watching him makes you wish there was as much self-awareness in the entire movie as there is with this one character.

Still though, there are elements to appreciate with this movie. There’s a good reason why kids will enjoy it: it’s because the animation is vivid, detailed, and colorful. Not much of a surprise, considering all of the colorful worlds we witness in Disney movies like Tangled, Frozen, and Wreck-It Ralph. But the other thing I like with this movie is the creativity of its premise, in how vast Zootopia itself is and how different cultures of animals interact with each other.

In the movie, there is a big divide between the animals that are natural predators and prey. Watching this conflict draw out reminded me of the Black Lives Matter movement in today’s world, and the sharp disagreements that sprout in between black communities and the police force. You might find it funny how an animated movie can demonstrate a message of equality, but it pulls it off with immediate relevance while not straying away from its family-friendly tones. There was one moment where an animal shouted at a leopard to “Go back to Africa.” The leopard replies in shock “I’m from Zootopia.” I sadly wondered how many Americans have to repeat a similar conversation on a daily basis.

In its whole scope, Zootopia is a fun movie that is even more fun for the kiddies. I enjoyed it, but I wish it could have escaped from some of its conventions, and even further explored some of the deep ideas that it was already exploring. I guess I’m thinking too much like an adult though and not enough like a kid. Adults already have FOX and CNN. The kids can have Zootopia.

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“INSIDE OUT” Review (✫✫✫✫)

A lot going on inside Riley’s head.

Pixar movies have a way of transcending fantasy and translating it into a form of reality. Does that make any sense? Of course it does, because you’ve seen many of Pixar’s masterpieces before. Up’s fantasy is about a man building a floating house about balloons, but the reality it’s portraying is an elder man dealing with personal loss and finding happiness in unexpected places. WALL-E’s fantasy is about a clumsy dumpster robot, but its reality is about discovering humanity and protecting our home and history. And Toy Story. Ooff. That’s a fantasy about one boy’s childhood with his toys and how they’ve impacted him into his adulthood. That is also its reality.

Here we have another colorful Pixar masterpiece that uses reality as its springboard for creativity and fantasy, using a human being as a setting, and her emotions as its characters. The human is Riley Anderson (Kaitlyn Dias), an 11-year-old girl who just recently moved from Minnesota to San Francisco. Her emotions are Joy (Amy Poehler), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Fear (Bill Hader), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Anger (Lewis Black), and their memories with her make up the core of Riley’s personality and how she reacts in different situations. After the move-in, Riley gets all shaken up from all of the new adjustments she has to get used to, from being the new kid at school, to moving in to a home smaller than her old one. It’s up to her vibrant and unique emotions to try and keep Riley together and make her new life a happy, sad, fearful, disgusted, and angry one.

Written and directed by Pete Docter, who also helmed Pixar’s Monsters Inc. and Up, Inside Out is a clever, original animated feature that uses the human psyche as its playground. The best thing about the movie is seeing how creative it is in re-creating the human brain for a child’s mind, and seeing children react to all of the colorful adventures going on in this infinite cranial wonderland.

The first thing you notice with the film is its animation: vibrant colors and character models reach out to you in vivid details, even more so without the dimmed effects of 3D. Memories come in the form of small bowling ball spheres, colored after the fashion of each of Riley’s emotions. Different parts of her life are modeled into vast theme-park-like islands, from Family Land all the way to Goofball Island. Each island is also jam-packed with its own sleek features and gadgets that make you feel like you’re in the wonderful landscape of Disney land. Be honest: you would love to ride the literal “Train of thought” if it existed, wouldn’t you?

The film’s creative landscape, though, is to be expected. We’ve seen dozens of vast, colorful settings from many of Pixar’s films before. Andy’s room in Toy Story. Paradise Falls in Up. The AXIOM in WALL-E. You can probably name one setting that struck your eye in each movie, from the world of self-aware automobiles in Cars to the anthill in A Bug’s Life. Pixar has never failed in creativity, and I doubt anyone expects them to start failing now.

What I’m most impressed with is how the film handles its vastly ambitious premise, even with the film’s somewhat purported flaws. For instance, in Riley’s mind, a lot of childish, silly things go on that might make adults go on “offline” mode while the kids laugh at the overt goofiness going on the screen, like double rainbows and processed boyfriend machines. The characters are mostly one-dimensional, and for a film that has five emotions in it, the movie primarily focuses on only two of them: Joy and Sadness.

In any other movie, these quote-unquote “flaws” would make the film a weaker experience for me. It didn’t here. Why? The film’s premise, setting, and execution constitutes a need for each of these elements, making them contributors to the plot instead of distractions degrading from the experience. I would knock the film for being really silly and goofy at times, but it’s taking place in a kid’s mind. What else would be in the ecstatic and excited mind of a child? Doom, gloom, and misery? The characters are mostly one-dimensional and go through little change in the motion picture, but isn’t that kind of expected? I mean, what emotions do you think characters named Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger are going to feel? Woe, Delight, Calm, Desire, and Peace? That would break their characters, and detract from the personalities and make them who they are. Finally, there’s the greater focus of using Joy and Sadness as the film’s key players instead of the others. There’s a specific reason for doing this. It’s because those are the core emotions any human being is going to experience: positive and negative.

In the film, Joy and Sadness conflict with each other with their contrasting personalities, each one trying to help Riley in the best ways that they can. Joy wants everything to be happy and optimistic, and for Riley to feel the enjoyment out of every situation. Sadness focuses on the reality of each situation and on the raw reactions one may feel from those that are less than happy. While both emotions conflict with each other in the ways they want to help Riley, they are ultimately the most essential for her. They allow her to express her emotions in their purest forms: in either pure Joy, or pure Sadness.

This is the ultimate meaning of the film, in that there are different things that make up each human being. Some has more anger in their bodies than others. Some may be filled with more Fear than others as well. But like the animated, wacky emotions in Riley’s curious little head, we’re all unique to each other and in the ways that we handle life’s problems. It’s how a baby will react differently to a traffic jam in how a taxi driver would. It’s how a fully-grown man will react differently to broccoli-covered pizza than a toddler would. It’s how a young, maturing boy will react differently to meeting a girl for the first time, and visa-versa.

As human beings, we are all made up of different emotions and personalities, but being different doesn’t mean being bad. Sometimes we need to experience the rawness of certain emotions for certain situations, and that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes, we need the help of Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger to get through life. How we express those emotions is what makes us who we are, and we end up being human beings as unique and diverse as Riley’s wonderful emotions are because of them.

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“THE LEGO MOVIE” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Bricks, businessmen, and Batman.

The last thing I expected from anything titled The Lego Movie was anything good. How could I? The trailer had the reeking stench of an advertisement, barely differentiating itself from the Lego set commercials that air on children’s cartoon networks. Believe me, I went into this movie expecting an artificial, brainless experience looking only to profit itself from the name of it’s toy line. Boy, do I love it when I am proved wrong.

Based in a colorful world full of Lego bricks, buildings, and set pieces, The Lego Movie follows Emmett (Chris Pratt), an average, regular, 100% ordinary minifigure who loves coffee, people, Taco Tuesdays, cats, cars, work, television, and just about everything else under the orange Lego-bricked sun. If any of the characters in the film knew that they were in a movie, none of them would expect Emmett to be the main character: he has the personality and the appearance of a background character if anything.

One day, while working at his construction job, Emmett comes into contact with a strange red object called “The Piece of Resistance”, and passes out. When he wakes up, he is recruited by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a punky and feisty master builder who tells Emmett that he is part of a prophecy that declares that a powerful being called “The Special” will find the Piece of Resistance and use it to overthrow Lord Business (Will Ferrell) and his plans to conquer the Lego-verse. As a result, Emmett gets catapulted into a decade-long conflict between wizards, robots, businessmen, DC superheroes, crazy cats, cyborg pirates, spacemen, and Batman.

Good God, where do I start with this? The Lego Movie is by every definition, a surprise; a fun and wacky little adventure that is just as original and audacious as it is clever and funny. Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the same guys who co-wrote and co-directed Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, these filmmakers worked to instill the same sense of energy, youth, and entertainment from that movie into this one. It’s surprising that the movie is not just good: it’s borderline great.

One of the things I love most about the movie is the animation. Like any great animated film, it reaches out to you in vivid, eye-catching detail, it’s beautiful colors and visuals striking out to you like a panel on a beautifully-crafted graphic novel. But it’s not just how the animation looks in itself: it’s also in how Lord and Miller achieved the effects they were going for. Nearly everything in the film was modeled from lego bricks and pieces, and I do mean everything. The buildings, the vehicles, the space stations: even seemingly trivial things such as the water, lava, and clouds are all made out of lego pieces, with explosions literally showing red-and-orange lego studs as they blow up. It would be so easy just to be cheap and give basic effects for the wind, the water, fire, sky, and everything else in the film, but Miller and Lord didn’t want to go that route. They wanted to make an authentic, accurate world jam-packed with lego pieces and objects. To put anything else in there would just cheapen the effects, and their persistence made for the best visual result that they could possibly have had.

Just as much though, I love the characters Lord and Miller wrote for this movie. Like the animation and lego bricks, they all have variety to them, and they all have colorful, unique personalities that make you want to relate to each character. You have Benny, a 1980’s space astronaut who is so obsessed with spaceships that he could build one from a pile of garbage bricks if you dared him to. You have UniKitty, a unicorn/kitten that has such a split sweet/violent personality that she would scare little children if they were locked in the same room with her. There’s Metal Beard, a pirate-turned-cyborg whose body literally blows up like a amalgam of lego bricks like a real lego mini figure. Also, Batman is in the movie.

The key character here, however, is Emmett, a sweet and charming little mini figure with intentions so pure, he at times can seem like a child with his quirky little antics. Emmett is the epitome of childhood in this movie: innocent, curious, creative, passionate, and at times a little too immature for his own good. His strengths and his flaws both make up for a very interesting character, a mini figure that we can all relate to because of his average nature and his desire to be greater than he already is. He may be made out of Lego pieces, but Emmett is more human than most of the live-action actors you’ve seen in motion pictures this year.

The movie does suffer from a slight drag in run time, and like it’s protagonist, the movie is at times too childish for it’s own good. That doesn’t change the fact that this movie is a clever, funny, original, and heartfelt take on childhood and what it means to be grown up, but always remain young at heart. The Lego Movie is much more than just a movie. It’s a celebration of creativity.

Post-script: Did I forget to mention that Batman is in the movie?

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“BIG HERO 6” Review (✫✫✫)

“Initiating fist bump.” 

You know there’s going to be some kid out there watching Big Hero 6 thinking “Wow! I want to build a tech super suit too!” Unfortunately, to be able to create something in the likes of Iron Man, you need to have a lot of brains, and that’s something I don’t really have. Intellectual, daring, or different? No, but Big Hero 6 is sure a heckuva lot of fun.

Based loosely off of the Marvel Comics creation of the same name, Big Hero 6 follows a 14 year old braniac named Hiro (Ryan Potter), who has the technical skills that would rival at the levels of Tony Stark’s ego. His brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) is a science wiz at a slightly lesser level than Hiro, but still brilliant enough to create Baymax (Scott Adsit), a giant, fluffy medical robot who introduces himself and asks you to rate your pain every time he boots up. In many ways, Tadashi inspires Hiro in everything he does, even convincing him to apply to the technology program at Tadashi’s university.

One day, however, the worst happens: a laboratory fire breaks out at the school, and Tadashi is killed in the midst of trying to rescue one of his professors. Grieved and hurt by his loss, Hiro becomes a recluse and tries to avoid his friends. Only by booting Baymax back up does Hiro learn that the fire was not an accident, and that someone had killed Tadashi in the midst of the chaos. Hiro bunkers down, suits up, and arms Baymax with any technology he can give him to go after this mysterious enemy and avenge his brother.

Man, does that synopsis sound like a Marvel property or what? The biggest worries with animated films like Big Hero 6  is that the filmmakers are going to cash in on their franchise’s name rather than actually work to tell a moving, involving story with the great characters they are already given. Isn’t that where movies like Rise of the Guardians and Shrek 3 fell flat? Animators nowadays aren’t concerned with such tedious things to them as interesting characters or a compelling story: they’re mostly concerned with just making sure things are looking bright and beautiful for the little kiddies rushing to the theaters to give them their weekly allowance.

Big Hero 6, luckily, will not waste any of your money, kiddos. One of the best things about this film is that it is a story first, and a franchise second. Hiro is a likeable and enthusiastic little hero, a young man who has some of that rebellious nature that all teenagers like to have going through puberty, but are still intent on doing the right thing regardless.

Even more than Hiro, however, I love Baymax. How is it that such a cute, wonderful, and buoyant robotic character can even exist? It’s rare to experience a character as literal, one-minded, and oblivious as Baymax and have him be so darn fun. There were scenes in the movie where Baymax literally had to scan and observe Hiro on how to do a fist bump, or where he mistakened a cat as a “hairy baby”. There are many times where characters take things so literally to the point where it is annoying, but I was never annoyed by Baymax’s antics. He’s so innocent, loveable and well-intentioned that I just want to hug his big fluffy body when he asks “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?

There are a few gripes to be had, of course, and they’re the same as they are with most animated films. The story is mostly predictable. The twists revealed aren’t really that shocking because they’ve been done in every other animated film before. The other characters don’t lend much to the story besides Hiro and Baymax, and are mostly just there so that the team can have six members. And especially, absolutely, does the film have to end in an overly long and exaggerated fight sequence. Why does every movie involving superheroes always feel that they have to do this?

Regardless, Big Hero 6 is both fun and fast-moving, with Hiro and Baymax’s humorous conversations to keep our attention until the next big fight scene. The fantasies of the superhero genre dares us to dream bigger and aim higher. Big Hero 6 is a wonderful fantasy to experience.

Note: Of course there’s needs to be an after-credits scene with a very popular cameo appearance. Guess who it is.

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