Tag Archives: Walt Disney

“CHRISTOPHER ROBIN” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

And a bear of very big heart.

There is a moment in Christopher Robin where Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings) tells his old friend “They say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing everyday.” Now obviously Pooh misquoted the phrase, but in his own silly way he got the meaning behind it exactly right. We often imagine our dreams as euphoric, illusive fantasies: a lifelong goal that is impossible to reach. That’s what the elder Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) thinks after all, as he tirelessly works through the weekdays and weekends away from his family. Pooh Bear, meanwhile, is content with believing that happiness comes naturally: like the blustery winds, naptime, and hunny.

There was a time where Christopher Robin believed this too, as we all do when we were as young and naive as he was. But then the most heartbreaking thing happens to Christopher Robin: he grows up. He goes to boarding school. He goes to war. Get’s a job. Falls in love. Marries. Has a child. And he’s eventually thrusted into a business where he is forced to choose profits over people. It’s a sad, dreary existence, and it is a reality every child has to face as they grow out of adolescence and into adulthood.

Watching the opening slides of Christopher Robin, I caught myself crying as the montages flipped through Christopher Robin’s life like the pages in a children’s book. But not because he left behind his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood; because he left his old self behind.

When I was growing up like Christopher Robin did, my exposure to the world’s harsh realities changed me and made me different from the naïve, simple-minded, carefree child that I once was. You learn things about society you wish you never knew. You learn about history, war, violence, and death. You learn about the political forces that are pulling at the planet like a malicious game of tug-of-war. You learn about third world countries where people are dying of starvation and thirst, where parents abandon their children and people mourn for the loved ones they’ve lost. You learn all of these things and it drains you to the point where you are no longer the same happy, lovable kid you used to be. Now you’re just another sour-faced, grouchy old adult, and you carry the world’s problems on your shoulder just like every other person does.

I say all this to emphasize that Christopher Robin experiences these same things and changes too as a result of them, just like any other human being would. To me, watching Christopher Robin grow up was one of the most painful things to experience in the theater. I had always imagined Christopher Robin as one of those staple, never-aging characters: like Micky Mouse, Bugs Bunny, or Superman. Seeing him brought down to my level struggling with the same issues and nightmares as I did was an emotional shock that I was not ready for. It really put into perspective how Christopher Robin changed from his old days in the Hundred Acre Wood, and what’s really at stake for himself during his journey.

Speaking of the Hundred Acre Wood, Pooh and his friends are among the best things that stand out in this picture. I was absolutely overjoyed every time I saw Pooh on the screen with his tummy rumbling, or Eeyore pouting again, or Tigger bouncing, or Piglet going “Oh, D-d-d-d-dear!” The graphics and animation is convincing as the visual effects team brings these stuffed animals to life. Their movements and interactions are so believable that they felt like a kid was moving them, playing pretend with them in their bedroom.

The voice work, however, easily stands out the most in bringing these characters to life. No surprise there as Jim Cummings has voiced both Pooh Bear and Tigger for well over 30 years now. I’m more impressed with the performances that aren’t as notable as Cummings and McGregor are. For instance, did you know that Brad Garrett voiced Eeyore in this movie? Who would have known that Raymond’s passive-aggressive older brother in “Everybody Loves Raymond” would make the best sourpuss out of the entire Hundred Acre Wood?

The film is directed by Marc Forster, whose career has motioned him to tackle numerous productions, all starkly different from each other. The 2001 drama Monster’s Ball was a big hit for Halle Berry and won her an Oscar for best actress. The 2006 meta-comedy Stranger Than Fiction took a guy’s life and literally put it on the page of a book. And don’t get me started on his action repertoire, which ranges from James Bond’s Quantum of Solace to Machine Gun Preacher and World War Z.

Perhaps the movie that shares the most similarities to Christopher Robin is 2004’s Finding Neverland, which tells the story of writer J.M. Barrie and his relationship with a family who served as the primary inspiration for his play Peter Pan. In many ways, Finding Neverland and Christopher Robin are essentially the same film. Both are centered on adults who have lost their way and are seeking to regain something they lost in their childhood. Both find themselves again through the young at heart and the imagination these kids inspire them. And they both learn that even though their bodies grow older, their ambition does not and their dreams extend beyond what you learn in boarding school or the work force.

It’s true, I grew up with Winnie the Pooh and have many fond memories of playing with Pooh and his friends in my room, just as I’m sure Christopher Robin did in his own room. But I don’t believe my personal experiences impacted my infatuation with this picture. Many films about Winnie the Pooh have been theatrically released before, and none of them were as profound or thoughtful as this one. Even Pooh’s last cinematic outing in 2011 was just an anthology of random, unrelated stories bow-tied together, despite how charming and lighthearted they were regardless. Christopher Robin is different. Yes it possesses the fun, the silliness, and the joy that Pooh and his friends brought us when we were younger. But it also possess the adult perspective as well, how our experiences impact the person we were and molds us into the person we become.

The magic in Christopher Robin is that Pooh finds happiness in simple, every day things; as if the things that bring us the most joy are not extraordinary, but rather quite ordinary albeit special to ourselves. I find it refreshing that in Pooh’s and Robin’s last exchange, they don’t say anything incredibly profound or philosophical, but are rather simply talking through life’s greatest mysteries as two friends going through it together. The moment from the film that touched me the most was when Christopher Robin confesses to Winnie the Pooh how lost he truly was. “Good thing I found you,” Pooh replies in his own simple-minded way. Silly old bear.

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“THE INCREDIBLES” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Buena Vista Pictures

Mister and Misses (Plus the kids)

I’ve never seen a film like The Incredibles before, and I doubt I will ever see another one like it again. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty of my fair share of superhero movies before, including more recently X2 and Spider-Man 2. But The Incredibles in particular is special even compared to those movies. Like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo, The Incredibles challenges the visual and emotional capability of the animated motion picture and asserts it as equal to its live-action peers, and so it is. The Incredibles has earned every right to be compared to the likes of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and the many others that will come after it.

Taking place in a world where Supers are as common as regular folks are, The Incredibles follows one super-heroic family trying to re-accommodate into normal American life. Bob Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is the super-strength super-dad of the family going through a mid-life crisis of sorts, while his wife Helen a.k.a. Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is just trying her best to be a good housewife and mother for her kids. Speaking of the kids, they’re facing adolescent issues of their own, with the force-field wielding Violet (Sarah Vowell) struggling with her shyness around a school crush, the speedster Dash (Spencer Fox) frustrated that he isn’t allowed to participate in school sports, and the baby Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile)… well, everything and anything that can go wrong with being a super-baby.

One day, Bob gets a secret message enticing him back into superhero work, despite it being outlawed by the federal government. Reminiscent of the old days of superheroing and wanting to give it one last go, Bob suits up as Mr. Incredible and sets off for one incredible adventure with his family.

The visuals are nothing short of astounding in this movie. Just like with Toy Story and Finding Nemo, The Incredibles is a colorful, vibrant adventure beaming with impressive detail and saturation. Yet, even by Pixar’s already impressive standards, The Incredibles still manages to stand out. How? Simple: the speed and motion of character’s animation is fast-paced and exciting, on-par with other superhero fan-fares that features similar exhilarating action.

It doesn’t take long for us to notice this. In fact, in the first 10 minutes alone, Mr. Incredible 1) Saves a cat from a tree, 2) Stops a high-speed car chase, 3) Interrupts a rooftop robbery, 4) Saves a citizen from leaping off of a building, 5) Fights a super villain in the middle of a bank heist, 6) Saves a child from a bomb attached to himself, 7) Stops a train from derailing off of its tracks, and 8) Makes it just in the knick of time for his own wedding. When I say this movie feels like the Spider-Man, X-Men, or Superman movies, I mean it. This movie is so exciting to watch that you feel like it can compete with most action movies, let alone animated ones as well.

I wondered why this movie felt so different compared to the rest of the animated genre? It doesn’t feel like its aimed at children, after all. What with its highly-stylized action violence, explosive spectacle, and more darker, mature moments, I wondered why this felt so adult-oriented despite its PG rating? Then I remembered: this film was directed by Brad Bird, who also helmed the animated science-fiction film The Iron Giant years ago. Like The Iron Giant, The Incredibles is a movie filled with ambitious vision; daring in its visual art and far-reaching in its emotional range. In many ways, they’re both very similar films. They both portray the modern American family robbed by normalcy and dysfunction. They are both thrown into extraordinary circumstances that they find mesmerizing and fascinating. And ultimately, they pull themselves out of their dire situations through the greatest superpower of all: family.

You’ll also notice how the movie has an aesthetic that satires 90’s spy movies such as James Bond and Mission Impossible. I wasn’t sure how exactly that was going to work for an animated superhero movie like The Incredibles, but it works beautifully. The scenery evokes the feel and grandeur of MI6 headquarters, while the Incredibles’ gadgets are reminiscent of the toys that Q provides Bond to bring with him on his missions. Speaking of Q, there’s a spoof of the character here named Edna Mode, who’s hilariously voiced by Brad Bird himself, and she provides a personality so melodramatic and overbearing that she couldn’t help but remind me of those high-strung fashionites not unlike Edith Head or Anna Wintour. And the music by Michal Giacchino is especially sleek and snazzy, with its jazz horns blaring and its drums beating like those smooth spy jams you listened to growing up.

Go and see The Incredibles. My review cannot get much simpler than that. It’s an exciting, action-packed, suspenseful, funny, and wildly entertaining thrill ride that not only blows most of its animated competition out of the water, but also most of its live-action superhero counterparts as well. To put it in one word, the movie is simply… incredible.

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Avengers Assemble: Top 10 Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies

If you had told me in 2008 that Iron Man would propel a cinematic franchise that’s made more money and movies than the Star Wars, Batman, and Harry Potter franchises, I would have laughed at you all the way to class. “How could that be?” I would’ve asked. “Marvel doesn’t even own the rights to its most popular character, Spider-Man!” A decade later, I’m eating my words, and I couldn’t be happier for it.

It’s amazing to see how far Marvel has come since then. Avengers: Infinity War is the 19th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and later this year, Ant-Man & The Wasp will be the 20th. That means Marvel has pumped out an average of two films every year since Iron Man’s release. The fact that Marvel has pushed out that many movies is impressive enough on its own. The fact that nearly all of them were as financially and critically successful as they were makes their feats all the more impressive. Before Marvel, Star Wars was the highest-grossing film franchise at $8 billion. The MCU has blown that away with a whopping $15 billion.

To say that Marvel has become successful at the movie business would be a severe understatement. It became successful, stacked billions of billions of dollars on top of it, threw on a cosplay, then break-danced in front of the movie theater like it was Flash Gordon. I would go so far as to say it’s the only considerable force at the box office. Even when you include Star Wars as competition, Walt Disney still owns both of those properties. So who else is there to offer serious cinematic competition at the likes of Disney?

With Avengers: Infinity War releasing past week and quickly on its way to grossing one billion dollars at the box office, it’s worth taking a look back at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best. So without further adieu, here are my Top 10 films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

– David Dunn

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“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017)” Review (✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

A tale as old as 20 years ago.

I’m going to be ostracized no matter what, so I may as well just come out with it: I didn’t like Beauty and the Beast. I really wanted to. I was a big fan of the original, I was really excited for this movie’s new look with updated visual effects, and I was especially looking forward to Emma Watson as everyone’s favorite book-loving heroine. Ultimately though, I felt as though this movie didn’t live up to its expectation as a remake of the iconic Disney classic. Then again though, who in their right mind would want to remake Beauty and the Beast anyway?

The Beauty and the Beast remake follows the original about as much as you expect, but with a few changes. There’s still Belle (Watson), there’s still Beast (Dan Stevens), there’s still that egotistical jock Gaston (Luke Evans) and his sidekick Le Fou (Josh Gad), as well as a slew of other characters. However, Disney thankfully updated their adaptation and made some changes to differ its live-action adaptation from its animated counterpart. Belle’s father Maurice (Kevin Kline) is a clockmaker instead of an inventor, Beast’s origin is visually portrayed in the introduction, and Le Fou is now a homosexual. Conservatives roar in upheaval.

Since the homosexual aspect has been covered non-stop in mainstream media, I’m going to get that controversy out of the way first so I can focus more on the rest of the film. First of all: no, I don’t mind that Le Fou is gay. Gay characters have inhabited films numerous times over now, from Dog Day Afternoon all the way to Moonlight. Even in animated movies, How To Train Your Dragon 2, Finding Dory and Zootopia all had gay characters in them, however small of roles they played. To get outraged about a gay character to the point of banning the film is just ridiculous and over the top. For parents who are unreasonably angry about this, I would remind you that this is in a movie whose main characters experience Stockholm syndrome and bestiality. Where exactly do your priorities lie?

That being said, the character’s homosexuality was being heavily forced in the picture. I’m not criticizing Josh Gad, who plays Le Fou upbeat with energy and enthusiasm. I’m criticizing director Bill Condon, who paints the character as so on-the-nose gay that the only way to make it more obvious would be to nail a sign on Gad’s forehead. His high-pitched voice matches that of the women around him, his swagger so feminine that it’s surprising he’s not walking down a runway. His body posture and movements are so flamboyant that he comes off as pompous rather than genuine. Compare this to the nuanced performances of Stanley Tucci or Trevante Rhodes in The Devil Wears Prada or Moonlight. These were gay characters, but they weren’t so on-the-nose to the point where it was hokey or silly. Those characters felt like real people. Le Fou feels like a stereotype.

Again, I don’t mind that Le Fou is gay, but I do mind how it is portrayed as a caricature instead of a characteristic. Agenda or no agenda, topics such as sexuality need to be done well in film, and Le Fou’s is one that needed more finessing.

The rest of the film is… fine, I guess. Nothing really reaches out to you in the way that the animated film does, despite the added story content. I wondered why this was the case? From a technical standpoint, this film was produced at a higher quality than that of the original. The costumes are intricate and elegant, acutely embodying the traditional garb and style of the 19th century. The visual effects are astounding, and the castle characters pop out to you more than they did in the original. And the music, which recruits original composer Alan Menken, rejuvenates Beauty and the Beast’s soundtrack with newfound vigor for a modern audience.

Beauty and the Beast does all of this well, yet it’s still lacking. Why? When I look back on it, I think it comes down to the performances, or more accurately how they are captured. Stevens has his breakout role here as the Beast, but he never really sticks out beyond his roars and coarse deep voice. It feels like the CGI is doing more of the performance than he is, while he more or less just moves in the background, never really taking presence on-screen. Considering how much he stood out in television shows such as “Downton Abbey” to independent flicks such as The Guest, it’s sad to see his talents diluted down here to basically a motion performance.

His co-star Watson is sadly an even bigger disappointment. Her performance was the part I was most excited about in the film, but while watching her, I noticed that she felt more stiff and wooden than even the castle characters did. Everytime she spoke a line that Paige O’Hara spoke in the original, it didn’t feel like it was Belle speaking. It felt like Watson was just reading from the page during a script read. The only actor to wholly embrace his role was Luke Evans as Gaston, who ironically enough is the most cartoonish character out of the whole cast.

I don’t even necessarily blame the actors for their awkward placement in this film. I think Condon just didn’t know how to direct them to their fullest potential. Among his credits include the last two Twilight films and The Fifth Estate. He didn’t know how to guide his cast in the right direction in those movies either. Why would he suddenly learn how to do it now?

I know this review will be divisive among passionate Disney fans, who perhaps will love the source material too much to see when it isn’t done well. The film remains to be brilliantly produced, visually stunning, and pleasing to the ears. It’s a for-sure lock for multiple technical awards at the Oscars, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it even won a few as well.

But Beauty and the Beast feels too much like it’s trying to replicate the emotions from its animated counterpart instead of trying to fill it with its own life. It’s sad, really. Disney took a bold step in remaking one of its most well-known properties, only to crumble underneath the sensationalism of it all. And people thought the gay character would be the movie’s biggest problem.

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“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)” Review (✫✫✫✫)

Beauty exists on the inside, not the outside.

The first time I watched Beauty and the Beast in theaters was nothing short of an enchanting experience. It was absolutely magical. The bright colors, the wondrous music, the dizzying animation, the brilliant voiceover work and the creative characters all combined into an experience that is ethereal, passionate, and everlasting. This is truly a standout among the Disney films, one that clearly demonstrates why animated film should be considered on equal footing to live-action.

In even the opening moments of the picture, we understand the scope of this movie and where exactly it wants to lead us. Sweeping through valleys, trees, and rivers until it arrives at a lone castle, we are told the story of an arrogant prince who refused to shelter an old woman from the cold. That woman, as it turns out, was an enchantress, and she placed a curse on this prince for his cruelty and his ego. The nails on his hands turned into claws like a lion. His smooth skin turned hairy like a wolf. And his human face was erased and replaced with the horns, teeth, and fur of an oxen. This prince was no longer royalty. He was now a Beast.

Enter Belle (Paige O’Hara), a village girl that lived a few miles away from the Beast and his castle. Belle isn’t seen as normal by her fellow villagers. She’s not dainty like the other girls are. She’s not interested in looking for a man, birthing children, or settling down to have a family. She’s more than content in living at home with her father the inventor and the occasional book she checks out from the local library. Her independence is seen as strange, even dangerous by her fellow villagers. But that’s the time that she lives in.

One day, her father ventures too far into the woods and is attacked by a pack of wolves. As Belle races to rescue her father, she runs into a creature that looks like an animal but talks like a human. That creature is the Beast, and thus begins their adventure as old as time.

One of the most prolific elements in any Disney movie is always the music. “When You Wish Upon A Star” in Pinnocchio. “Part of Your World” in The Little Mermaid. “Circle of Life” in Lion King. In most movies, the characters, the dialogue, and the action all make up the tone and feel of the film, while the music more or less rests in the background.

Not with Disney though. In their films, the music is elevated to the forefront as a form of expression for character’s moods and feelings, the lyrics expressing meaning and language much like the dialogue does. That rhythm and aesthetic is repeated masterfully here in Beauty and the Beast as composer Alan Menken takes us through an epic journey filled with upbeat melodies, climactic staccato, ominous foreshadowing, and beautiful voices that fill us with wonder and joy. This material would make for great opera if it hasn’t already in its animated form.

Seriously, the next time you watch Beauty and the Beast, close your eyes during one of the musical numbers and see if you can still follow what’s going on. I’m betting a 20 that you can. The conversation that characters carry while in movement, singing, and dancing carries the story in a way that flows just right while just slightly resisting the urge to be on-the-nose. Most musicals have that problem, in that they have to spell everything out like we’re second graders and can’t tell what’s going on unless it’s read to us like a bedtime story.

But Beauty and the Beast doesn’t ever fall into this mundane repetition of obviousness. Not once. Mostly because every scene comes alive with movement and energy, always moving on to the next scene, not slowing down to pause unless a scene calls for it. That’s because directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise have a clear understanding of pacing and build up, and how to make these elements work to escalate emotions in a film. Watch, for instance, how long they delay the reveal of the Beast. It’s at about the 30-minute mark when the Beast finally emerges from the shadows, and he doesn’t pop out like a Jack-in-the-box. His reveal is instead slow and ominous, ashamed by his ugly, animalistic appearance.

I find it interesting how the story parallels outward looks to inward personality, just like The Phantom of the Opera or Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. In many ways, Belle and the Beast are outsiders, their differences shamed by the people around them. Beast is an aggressive, angry individual who is just seeking love, but doesn’t know how to pursue it or even where to start. Belle is a compassionate and intelligent woman who is proud of her independence, but secretly yearns for something more. Both of these are character archetypes definitely, but they’re done with an energy and honesty here that feels original and vivid.

I was reminded of Pinocchio while watching this movie. They’re very similar in many ways, mostly because they pose the same questions. How do you define someone’s humanity? Where does real strength come from? And where does the concept of love fit into all of this? They go about these questions in different ways, but they arrive to the same conclusions. Humanity is honesty, strength comes from within, and love is the source to both of these.

It’s also interesting how screenwriter Linda Woolverton confronts gender stereotypes while defining concepts of masculinity and femininity. There’s a character in here named Gaston (Richard White), who’s filled with so much hot air that his character would make more sense if he were a balloon. Gaston embodies all of the characteristics in how society perceives masculinity. His muscles are bulging and his bones are strong. He loves to get into fights and show off in front of cute girls. He is cocky and arrogant. He lacks humility and humbleness. And he doesn’t have a willingness to learn or admit when he is wrong. If these characters existed in a woman, she would be shamed for being selfish and egotistical. Yet when they’re in a man, people shrug their shoulders and say “Eh, boys will be boys.”

Gaston is seen as a hero by the townspeople, when really he’s only interested in serving his own self interests. I find it interesting how in the more pressured moments, Gaston cowers in fear, whereas Belle and the Beast persevere through the struggles. Yet, Gaston is celebrated as the bravest man in town. Could anyone ever see the Beast as masculine, or would they be too scared by his appearance and call him a monster instead? And what about Belle? She’s braver than Gaston, yet she’s a woman. Do you call that masculine strength, or feminine strength?

As the first woman to write a script for Disney, I’m assuming Woolverton comes from a personal space while writing this. She shows very clearly that people don’t exist inside stereotypes even though we create them. We are our own person, unique and irreplaceable in our own ways. This is a movie that celebrates individuality, diversity, and gender equality. While men and women exhibit different strengths from one another, they are strengths nonetheless. Woolverton has done a masterful job in making this film immediately relevant to her audience. I presume that’s why she would continue a long writing relationship with Disney that includes credits such as The Lion King, Maleficent, and Alice in Wonderland.

I could go on and on about all the amazing things about this picture. The animation is crisp and clear and brings detail and life into every person, every scene, and every setting that it paints in our minds. The characters come alive and dance to the beat and tune of every exciting moment in this picture. And at the center of it all are these two star-crossed strangers, who have every reason to be afraid of each other, yet fall in love despite all the odds.

I’m trying to levy where exactly I would rank Beauty and the Beast in comparison to its fellow Disney companions. Pinocchio is definitely first for me, then Bambi. I think Beauty and the Beast would rank third for me, but that’s still no small feat to achieve. With generations of different characters, stories, and mythology at their fingertips, how does Disney keep improving upon their franchise? This is a film that is so well made that you could see it being translated into live-action, although I almost don’t want it to. There really isn’t another film quite like Beauty and the Beast, and I seriously doubt there will be another one like it in the future.

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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 (2016)” Review (✫✫✫)

Introducing the legend of Tarza– oops, I meant Mowgli.

What is it with Jon Favreau taking the most obscure ideas and actually making good movies out of them? In 2008 he brought us Iron Man, which initially seemed like a sub par idea for a superhero, but then he delivered one of the greatest superhero films of our generation. Then he made Cowboys & Aliens, which sounds stupid by the title alone, yet he still managed to make a unique blend of genres in one exciting and interesting sci-fi western. Now we have his answer to Walt Disney’s The Jungle Book, and even though it’s a remake, it’s remains to be one of the most original and compelling experiences you can have at the movies this weekend.

Anyone who is watching this movie already knows the story of The Jungle Book. There’s a jungle, an adventurous human child named Mowgli (Neel Sethi), his wolf pack family, a lazy, carefree bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), a black panther named Bageera (Ben Kingsley), and a vicious tiger named Shere Kahn (Idris Elba), who harbors an intense hatred of mankind. At learning about Mowgli’s presence in the jungle, Shere Kahn swears to find the child and maul him limb-from-limb. The jungle unites together to take Mowgli away to a human village and save him from Shere Kahn.

Those of you who frequently read my reviews will notice that I am not a big fan of remakes. I am also, surprisingly, not a big fan of the original Jungle Book, which I thought was thinly written despite some outstanding musical numbers. Yet, despite my negative outlook for both of these things, I found myself quite pleased with this movie, both as a remake and as an adaptation of The Jungle Book.

The first improvement Favreau makes over its predecessor is its characters. Yes, we liked Mowgli, Baloo, Bageera and others in the 1969 quote-unquote “classic”, but we didn’t really know them. We didn’t really understand them. We had their surface personalities to admire, but that’s it. Where did Mowgli come from? Why does Baloo want to adopt this man-cub straight for no reason whatsoever? Why does Shere Kahn hate mankind?

All of these are questions I had as a kid that 2016 provided me the answers to. This is a jungle fable that is fully fleshed out and realized, not unlike most of today’s modern fantasy epics. The characters of Mowgli, Baloo, Bageera, Shere Kahn, Kaa and others all have their place and function in the story, and their narrative flows as freely as the nile river. We come to relate to these characters not as Disney properties, but as personalities in their own right.

But the best thing about The Jungle Book is easily its visual effects. Yes, I know that’s a recycled compliment in today’s visually-dominated industry, but its a compliment that The Jungle Book is more than deserving in. Utilizing both motion capture from the voice actors and studying the motions and movements of real jungle animals, Favreau illustrates a smart attention to detail as these animals breathe, move, and feel like their real life counterparts, minus their speaking. Neel’s interactions with the environment, likewise, feel vivid and alert, as if he truly is swinging on vines, jumping into rivers, and running through the jungle, as opposed to acting in front of a green screen. For most other movies, it’s easy to say it’s visually stimulating because it has big explosions or large collateral damage. What makes The Jungle Book so praiseworthy is that it has none of these things, and yet, it has no evidence of being unreal despite being almost entirely computer-generated. This is easily an early contender for the visual effects Oscar at the Academy Awards, and even if it doesn’t win, it definitely deserves a nomination at the very least.

Neel is functional but not outstanding as Mowgli. What do you expect? The kid is 13 years old, barely enough to be in junior high. He’s not expected to demonstrate a bravura performance at his age, and he doesn’t. His performance centers mostly on his choreography and stuntwork, and that’s just about as far as his acting skills reach as well.

The key performance, however, doesn’t come from Neel. It comes from these jungle animals, captured so accurately on screen visually and aesthetically to its environment. It’s true, Neel isn’t that impressive on his own, but he doesn’t need to be. His interactions with the other animals is what makes this story believable and so easy to get wrapped up into.

The Jungle Book, of course, wraps its adventure up all nice and tidy, almost too much so in regards to my tastes with Disney. But the plain fact of the matter is that I was surprised. Surprised that I was actually invested in Mowgli and his jungle adventures. Surprised that when I saw the jungle and its inhabitants, my first instinct wasn’t to make fun of them, but to be absorbed by them. Surprised that when watching The Jungle Book, I was looking at it through the eyes of wonder and curiosity as a child, not the hardened, distrusting gaze of a critic.

Disney has plans to produce live-action remakes of many of their animated classics, among them including Pete’s Dragon and Beauty and the Beast. If they follow the pattern of The Jungle Book, Disney has a good road ahead of them.

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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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