Tag Archives: Walt Disney Pictures

“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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“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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“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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“MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO” Review (✫✫✫✫)

My name isn’t Totoro, kids.  It’s Hayao Miyazaki. 

Now this is what we’re supposed to get when we go in to see an animation picture.  My Neighbor Totoro is everything you expect it to be, and equally as much everything you don’t expect it to be.  This is definitely a kids movie, intended to fulfill the needs of the most innocent and simple-minded of younger viewers.  But this is a rare treasure for adults too, a film that is equally fulfilling and emotionally appealing to older audiences as it is upbeat and joyous for the younger ones.

Taking place in 1950’s Japan, My Neighbor Totoro follows the story of two young sisters named Satsuki and Mei (English dub by Dakota and Elle Fanning), who are moving into their new home with their father Tatsuo (Tim Daly) in order to be closer to their mother in the hospital, Yasuko (Lea Salonga).  Their mother has been sick with an unknown disease for quite some time, and it really concerns the girls because they can’t even get her home for a visit.  Most affected is Satsuki, because her father is always busy, Mei is painstakingly afraid that her mother will leave them, and Satsuki is forced to be the strong one during this time of hardship.

Deep in the forest though, the girls encounter strange beasts of wonder and splendor.  There are these small, darkly black fuzz balls called soot spirits, who hibernate from one dark spot to another.  There are two bunny-like creatures, one white young one who can phase through objects like a ghost, and an older blue one who carries a knapsack of acorns with her everywhere.  Most fascinating though, is a giant, loud, gray beast called Totoro (Frank Welker), a gentle-hearted forest spirit who loves nothing more but to sleep and play on his flute in the silence of the night.  The girls are at first afraid of Totoro’s large, intimidating appearance, but through his gentle, kind-hearted spirit, learn to appreciate him and become friends with Totoro and the forest creatures.

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro is a rare animated film where the characters are as vibrant and colorful as the beautiful animation that is being expressed on screen.  You really just need to see these little girls in action: they’re one of the most energetic, emotional, endearing, and inspiring little characters I’ve ever seen.  I knew from the first moment I saw them that I would like them: they are these little oddballs of energy, two cute girls who are literally exploding with energy and enthusiasm as they run across the front lawn, or explore the mysteries of their upstairs attic.

The best moments, however, come from when the little girls encounter Totoro.  Looking from a straightforward perspective at Totoro, its a case of what you see is what you get.  He’s a big, fluffy creature who loves to eat, dance, fly, talk (and by talk, I mean roar loudly), and more than anything else, sleep.  If this were any other animated film, I would say the character was another interpretation of Garfield.

I, however, think Totoro is required for more fervent analysis.  I can’t help but look at Totoro like an emotional recompense for the girls, almost like an imaginary friend to distract them from the pain they experience everyday through their sick mother.  Kids with only one parent will know what I’m talking about: when the one you love is in pain or worse, they want everything in the world to distract them from the reality of what they are experiencing.  Its simply too painful for them to take in all at once.  They need something to distract them, to divert them from reality, and so the younger ones try to focus on something fictional that will put their mind at ease, like an imaginary friend for them to talk with.

Totoro reminds me of that imaginary friend.  Unlike an imaginary friend, however, Totoro is real, and this is proven through the interactions he has with the girls.  He is not just a simple-minded, unintelligent forest animal.  He is considerate towards the girls.  He cares for them.  He expresses real and genuine affection for the girls, and he shows this by dancing with them in the middle of the night, growing trees with them in their backyard, or by letting them ride his Cat Bus in cases of emergency.  Even though Totoro is fictional, he’s the most real thing in the movie, taking the girls story filled with hardship and tragedy and filling it with energy, enthusiasm, and life that cannot be faked in a movie.

Every single fiber of me wants to look at this movie and say it is a perfect film, but something stops me.  What is it?  It certainly isn’t the characters, the animation, the story, or the emotion being expressed on screen.  What is it then, if its none of the above?

Of course, I think.  Accessibility.  The weakness with this film, much like the stark foreign language films and the ancient black-and-white silent films, is that it strictly appeals to a certain audience.  You know what I’m talking about: what is the typical american viewer going to see, a boisterous and explosive action movie with big name actors starring in it, or some independent animated film made by some guy whose name they can’t even pronounce?  The weakness here is this: people who don’t like anime won’t like it, and probably shouldn’t see it, because this film mainly appeals to that same audience and culture through its story and through its execution.  Because of that, Totoro will lose some viewers in its audience.

But even then, is that the fault of the filmmaker for not conforming to their tastes, or the audiences for not being open about it?  Regardless of what you think, My Neighbor Totoro is a magical little film, an uplifting and wonderful fantasy that taps into the inner child in all of us, and in many ways reflects the behavior of children: animate, lifelike, endearing, sincere, and visually expressive.  It’s a movie whose characters are so precious and lifelike that a live-action portrayal couldn’t have been as real as this.  It’s a film that allows us to believe in miracles, even if we don’t necessarily believe in them.  And at the heart of it all is Totoro, a warm, fluffy forest spirit that only loves children more than he does sleeping on his favorite moss bed.

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