Incredibles 2 (Full Review)

The wait is finally over! It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since Brad Bird directed the Disney/Pixar classic. Most of the Pixar films are brilliant, but The Incredibles is my all time favorite. But not all Pixar sequels are created equal. So despite deep excitement, Incredibles 2 had to live up to lofty expectations of being more like Finding Dory than Cars 2.

The_Incredibles_2Super strong Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), his super stretching wife Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), his speedster son Dash (Huck Milner), his force field creating daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), and his best friend Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) jump back into action to save the city from the evil Underminor (John Ratzenberger). But their destructive heroics are unfortunately met with more government scrutiny that forces them back into hiding. Luckily for them, Elastigirl is approached by a pair of siblings (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) who want to use their Telecommunications company to prove to the world that superheroes are still necessary. While she battles a new villain called the Screenslaver, Mr. Incredible has to handle the equally arduous tasks of helping Dash with his homework, dealing with Violet’s teenage angst, and figuring out baby Jack Jack’s unhinged new powers.

The film’s plot isn’t as concise and its biggest flaw is its villain. The “twist” can be seen a mile away by any viewer who isn’t in grade school and the horde of new characters never make their mark outside of showcasing some visually appealing superpowers. Thus, Incredibles 2 never quite comes together as well as its predecessor. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an absolute fun, family film.

The action, which is more plentiful this time around, is absolutely stellar. Elastigirl being at the forefront creates several exhilarating moments. Her powers are far more interesting than Mr. Incredible’s, so we are treated to some very creative sequences like a fantastic motorcycle chase scene. There are also plenty of laughs. Baby Jack Jack gets more screen time and absolutely steals the show. His interaction with Edna Mode (Brad Bird), the hilarious superhero fashion designer from the first film, is one of the funniest scenes in either movie.

It’s no shame not living up to a transcendent previous film, so don’t feel too disappointed if Incredibles 2 isn’t quite a homerun. Maybe a decade from now when they greenlight Incredibles 3, we’ll get a story that resonates a little more. But, if great humor and eye-popping action with endearing characters is all we get out of this long awaited sequel, we should count ourselves lucky for the experience.

FINAL GRADE: B

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A Wrinkle in Time (Full Review)

A Wrinkle in Time, published in 1962 by author Madeleine L’Engle, is one of the most beloved children’s novels ever written.  Who better to adapt this sci-fi fantasy for the big screen than Disney? The studio has decades of successful films that have dazzled young and old audiences. Tabbing Ava DuVernay (Selma) to direct an impressive cast of well-known actors and fresh faces, this adaptation had the ingredients to be something exciting and fun.

AWrinkleInTimeTeaserNewcomer Storm Reid plays 13-year-old Meg Murry, a feisty middle school loner who lives with her scientist mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her genius kid brother Charles Wallace Murry (Deric McCabe). Her father (Chris Pine) has been missing for four years, disappearing after working on a device known as the tesseract that could theoretically transport people through time and space. One day, Charles Wallace introduces her to three strange witches (Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, and Reese Witherspoon), who recruit Meg and her smitten classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) on a mission to rescue her father from darkness that is spreading throughout the universe.

Let’s start with what this film does well. Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning and works beautifully with 3D technology. From the costumes to the environments, this adaptation brings L’Engle’s fictional worlds to life like no other. The movie also strikes the right cord for any wide-eyed youngster, especially young girls who can relate to Meg’s journey to find her identity and embrace her own individuality.

But it’s hard for adults watching the film to not feel bored. The story feels almost too simplistic, with events happening so quickly that the entirety of the film could be explained in a few brief sentences. The first planet visited in the film seems to only be there to look pretty and there are only two real perilous moments, making it hard to fully categorize the movie as an adventure.

Not helping matters is the lightweight performances and cheesy dialogue. Zach Galifianakis is the perfect brand of quirky in a brief appearance and Reese Witherspoon brings wit to her role as snarky Mrs. Whatsit. But Mindy Kaling leaves a lot to be desired as the constantly quoting Mrs. Who. She recites her lines so awkwardly bland that it leaves her character void of any charm. Storm Reid is admirable in the lead role, but her younger counterparts don’t seem ready for such large screentime. As for Oprah, she basically plays herself, while the dialogue from Mbatha-Raw and many of the teachers in the movie comes off as wooden and unrealistic.

If you are the parent to young girls, by all means bring them out to enjoy this film. Several bad movies I saw as a kid were some of my favorites, so younger viewers likely won’t be bothered by the film’s flaws. But if I were to recruit someone like Maya Angelou to write a children’s story, I’d expect some nuance to her tale that would make it enlightening for people of all ages. With such an impressive cast, and such an intelligent director, it just feels like this product is shallow and rushed.  Comparing it to book adaptations like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, this version of A Wrinkle in Time may be nice and wholesome, but it skimps on intrigue and is relatively forgettable as a narrative.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

My Top 15 Favorite Film Musicals

Almost everyone, at some point in time, loved a musical. As children, musicals are one of the first genres we are exposed to thanks in large part to the Disney Renaissance of the late 80’s and 90’s. As a film buff who was also exposed to theater in college and has a sibling who is a dancer, the genre has always been one of my favorites (when done correctly). So here is the list of my Top 15 musical films of all time. There have been plenty of sensational musicals on Broadway over the years (*cough* Hamilton), but this is a movie blog so every movie on this list will be ranked based on the quality of the film as well as the music. Enjoy!

15. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)

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It only makes sense to start with a musical classic. Singin’ in the Rain is a staple of old Hollywood cinema and features vibrant set pieces and some fun choreography performed by an iconic cast. For all intents and purposes, it is the first film that comes to my mind when I think of classic musical films.

FAVORITE SONG: “Singin’ in the Rain” of course. It has a wonderful jazzy feel to it.

 

14. INTO THE WOODS (2014)

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This movie had great potential until its somewhat jarring and poorly fitting final act. But that doesn’t change the fact that this blending of classic fairy tales set to music by iconic composer Stephen Sondheim is an overall fun film with a great cast.

FAVORITE SONG: “Agony” is not only a great song, but seeing the two pompous princes (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen) perform it is the funniest part in the movie.

 

13. THE WIZ (1978)

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The Motown re-imagining of L.Frank Baum’s classic novel doesn’t get enough credit. The set pieces and costumes are gorgeous. And you can’t go wrong musically with the likes of Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.

FAVORITE SONG: Young Michael Jackson’s soulful rendition of “You can’t win” will always be my favorite.

 

12. LES MISERABLES (2013)

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This would be much higher on the list if I actually enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed the stage performance. Casting Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried was almost an insult to the incredible music created by French composer Claude-Michel Schonberg. I was also not a fan of having the actors sing live rather than having the songs dubbed like most musicals. But Hugh Jackman was amicable as Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, and Samantha Barks all give sensational performances.

FAVORITE SONG: Not even Russell Crowe and Amanda Seyfried’s lackluster vocals can spoil “One Day More”.

 

11. THE LAST FIVE YEARS (2014)

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This film is undoubtedly the least known as it was essentially only released On-Demand. But if you’re a fan of musicals or romantic comedies, I suggest you check it out. The film chronicles the relationship between a struggling actress (Anna Kendrick) and a successful writer (Jeremy Jordan). It earns points for its unique non-linear narrative along with a great soundtrack.

FAVORITE SONG: The song “A Part of That” shows off Kendrick’s enchanting vocals and also personifies her character’s inner struggle with the success of her significant other while her career sputters.

 

10. DREAMGIRLS (2006)

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This film featured an all star cast that included Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé, Eddie Murphy, Anika Noni Rose, and famously won Jennifer Hudson a much deserved Academy Award. It does get a bit lengthy, but what Broadway musical turned film doesn’t?

FAVORITE SONG: While I love the song “Heavy”, because it has a Destiny’s Child vibe to it, it’s only about a minute and a half long, I’ll go with the obvious choice in “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” which was powerfully performed by Hudson.

 

9. IDLEWILD (2006)

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This film is highly underrated and features incredible Hip Hop duo Outkast in their musical production debut. It also helped launch the career of Paula Patton. A unique hip hop musical before the likes of Hamilton, this film features some great cinematography (albeit a bit jarring at times) as well as a soundtrack that’s basically just another Outkast album.

FAVORITE SONG: “Movin’ Cool” (which ironically isn’t on the official soundtrack) is a wonderful duet that also marks one of the most endearing moments in the film when Andre 3000’s Percival helps Patton’s Sally B. Shelly become the actual star she had been posing as.

 

8. ALADDIN (1992)

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You didn’t think this was going to be a list of greatest musicals and not include Disney films, did you? Well get ready, because they’re about to come in droves. This film is an animated classic and features a ton of iconic songs as well as some great characters like The Genie.

FAVORITE SONG: “A Whole New World” is easily the best romantic ballad in all of Disney history.

 

7. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)

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The most underappreciated Disney film of all time. The characters were fun and endearing, but what won me over was the music which carries a beautiful touch of New Orleans jazz that is fitting and unique.

FAVORITE SONG: “Friends on the Other Side” is my all time favorite villain song and the scene probably would’ve given me nightmares if I wasn’t 21 years old when I first saw it.

 

6. THE PRINCE OF EGYPT (1998)

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Take notes Ridley Scott. THIS is how you tell the story of Moses. This is still the greatest non-Disney animated musical ever made. The animation is vibrant and pays homage to the art of the era and the music (written by Stephen Schwartz and Hans Zimmer) is nothing short of breathtaking.

FAVORITE SONG: Choosing the late Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey’s rendition of “When You Believe” would be a cop out since it isn’t in the actual movie until the end credits, so I’ll go with the hauntingly beautiful “The Plagues” which features a duet between Moses (performed by Amick Byram) and his brother turned enemy, Rameses (Ralph Fiennes).

 

5. LA LA LAND (2016)

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I knew there was a reason I had waited to post my list of favorite musicals. La La Land was one of my favorite films of 2016 and it featured captivating performances by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as well as some excellent jazz music fused with the style of old Hollywood.

FAVORITE SONG: “Someone In the Crowd” is a great toe tapping arrangement and the scene features some sensational cinematography.

4. THE LION KING (1992)

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I originally had this higher on my totem pole until I realized I loved the story and characters more than the music itself. But that’s not to say the music isn’t great as well. Lion King still has the best intro song of any Disney musical and all of the songs are memorable.

FAVORITE SONG: “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” arranged by Elton John, comes in a close second. But my favorite is “Hakuna Matata”… duh. It means no worries. Who knew the safari was so hip to jazz music?

 

3. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)

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Emphasis on the 1991 version. The remake was fine, but Emma Watson doesn’t have the vocal range of Paige O’Hara. This film features one of the most angelic compositions in any movie to date and it helps that the story itself is full of memorable characters.

FAVORITE SONG: The title song, performed by the great Angela Lansbury, is a fan favorite. But my actual favorite song from the film is the opening number titled “Belle”.

 

2. SWEENEY TODD (2007)

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Tim Burton’s grungy, wonderfully gory and gothic, musical horror film adaptation is not actually as great as the musical stage play I once saw in person at my alma mater (UNCG), but it’s still excellent. Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and the late Alan Rickman deserve credit for holding their own musically and not spoiling Stephen Sondheim’s vivacious soundtrack. If the movie had true vocalists, this would actually be #1 on my list as it is my favorite musical (excluding Hamilton).

FAVORITE SONG: As a fun and exciting duet that is ironically vibrant and boisterous despite being the prelude of attempted murder, “Pretty Women” is the epitome of the overall tone of the film.

 

1. MULAN (1998)

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One of my favorite animated films features a soundtrack that I believe is flawless. The empowering story is also great so this film is in this spot simply because it is the ultimate combination of wonderful music infused with the culture of its setting and a movie worth watching even without the music.

FAVORITE SONG: Let’s get down to business, to defeat the Hun. Did they send me daughters, when I asked for sons? You’re the saddest bunch I’ve ever met, but you can bet before we’re through… mister “I’ll Make a Man Out of You!” Yes… I wrote that without looking up the lyrics. Judge away.

 

Honorable Mention: West Side Story (1961), Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), Hairspray (2007), Chicago (2002), Lady and the Tramp (1955), Pocahontas (1995), Tangled (2007), Moana (2016)

Think I left something off of my list? Feel free to comment and share! And if you have any suggestions for other lists, feel free to comment them below! Thanks for reading!

Beauty and the Beast (Full Review)

Disney’s 1991 animated Beauty and the Beast is in the pantheon of classic animated films along with the likes of Aladdin and Lion King. As such, it isn’t really a story that begs retelling. But Disney has already proven that it can turn its animated properties into worthwhile live action films with 2014’s Cinderella and last year’s Jungle Book. With a star studded cast and a bit of CGI magic, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls) looks to make Beauty and the Beast into a refreshing take for a new generation.

Beauty_and_the_Beast_2017_posterIn case you’ve lived under a rock and don’t know the story: Beauty and the Beast is the tale of a shallow prince (Dan Stevens) who is turned into a beast by a sorceress and his servants all turned into objects. Only the affection of someone who recognizes his inner beauty can end their curse. Emma Watson stars as Belle, the humble daughter of a widowed craftsman (Kevin Kline) who defies the norms of 18th century French girls by reading in her spare time and has the unwanted affection of a pompous soldier named Gaston (Luke Evans). When her father is kidnapped by the beast, Belle takes his place as the Beast’s prisoner.

Jokes of Stockholm syndrome aside, Beauty and the Beast, while dated, is an enchanting story with a valuable lesson that life is happier when you aren’t an a-hole. The animated version was full of charm and the impressive cast does a solid job carrying the torch. Ewan McGregor and Ian McKellen have fun, effective chemistry as Lumiere the talking candle and Cogsworth the talking clock. And while she isn’t quite Angela Lansbury, Emma Thompson manages to bring a similar wholesome vibe to the role of Mrs. Potts the talking teapot. Several of the characters even have a bit more weight than they did in the animated version. Josh Gad, bringing a solid dose of bumbling comic relief as Gaston’s flamboyant sidekick Lefou, is a perfect example of this.

Because no one in the cast drops the ball in their roles, the film succeeds in bringing a bright burst of nostalgia to anyone who is a fan of the 1991 version. If only they could sing as well, because the music is essentially the same and all of the songs are back but noticeably underperformed. A few new songs are also added, some welcomed, and some that feel completely unnecessary which becomes a trend for the entire narrative. While some of the changes from the animated version add depth to the story and characters, many of the additions and changed scenes serve little to no purpose and make the movie drag a bit.

Visually the movie is also a bit inconsistent. Look no further than the Beast and the enchanted objects, who at times look strikingly real and at other times look clunky and underdeveloped. The gorgeous scenery, costumes and set pieces, however, don’t disappoint and bring an added dose of French culture that pay homage to the era better than any animated film ever could.

As a musical, the vocals all being a noticeable step downward is a bit of a crutch that is hard to overcome when you’re attempting to remake a beloved classic. With an updated narrative that is more in depth but also more cluttered, it’s difficult to consider this version better, as good, or even inherently necessary aside from a pleasant dose of diversity to its cast. Beauty and the Beast ends up being a fun trip down memory lane that is at times visually captivating, but if you’re looking for the definitive version of this classic fairy tale, look up the 1991 version.

FINAL GRADE: B

Moana (Full Review)

Back in 2010 Disney’s Tangled wound up being a surprise hit and thankfully resurrected the animated musical. Then in 2013, Frozen took the world by storm and fully solidified the return of the genre. Now that the animated musical’s swagger is back, the family juggernaut that is Disney is free to explore realms outside of the common fairy tale, like the story of a Polynesian princess for instance.

moana_teaser_posterMoana tells the story of the young daughter of an island chief. While her father wants her to accept the structured lifestyle of a future leader, Moana (voiced by newcomer Auil’i Cravalho) just wants to explore the wonders of the sea. When darkness starts to fall on their island, killing vegetation and scaring away their supply of fish, Moana’s quirky grandmother (Rachel House) inspires her to follow her dreams and search for the shapeshifting demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) who they believe can restore a magic gem to a legendary island and save their home.

The films features all of the things we’ve come to love about the best Disney films. The characters are all memorable and magnificent. Though not much different from other female Disney heroines in story arc, Moana is a loveable and feisty lead who still holds a warm vulnerability that makes her relatable to audiences. Dwayne Johnson’s Maui is a perfect counterpart. The character has a comedic brashness accentuated by a funny sentient upper body tattoo. Even minor characters, like Moana’s Grandma Tala and a dimwitted chicken are wonderful every second they are on screen.

The music, which was written by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, is mostly solid. The opening song is a catchy and beautiful chorus that sets the bar high but by the end some songs, like one performed by a giant hording crab (Jemaine Clement), are a bit forgettable. Nevertheless, the movie makes up for any lagging music or cliche story elements with dazzling animation and captivating visuals that perfectly capture the unique world and rich culture of Polynesia.

But what makes Moana the most unique are its endearing characters each with amiable flaws that allow for growth and great chemistry. Carried by strong voice acting and a fun story filled with humor and adventure, Disney has once again created another classic. It’s been a strong year for animated family films, maybe the strongest ever, and Moana manages to put itself on par with the best of the best.

FINAL GRADE: A

Disney’s Zootopia (Full Review)

There are a multitude of animated family films that come out each year. Most of the time, these films are filled with whimsical characters and goofy slapstick that are more than enough to entertain young children for an hour and a half. But at least two or three times a year, the producers of these family films like to bless us with a movie than transcends the simple entertainment factor of the genre to deliver stories that are both enjoyable for all ages as well as thought provoking. Zootopia, Disney’s newest animated feature, is one of those films.

ZootopiaZootopia takes place in a world where anthropomorphic animals live the lives of everyday humans. Small-town bunny, Judy Hopper (Ginnifer Goodwin) has dreams of being the world’s first bunny cop and refuses to let her size, her supportive but fearful parents, or her grumpy bison police chief (Idris Elba) stand in her way. When animals start disappearing in the big city of Zootopia, Judy takes it upon herself to crack the case. But to do so, she’ll need the help of  street hustling fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman).
The film’s animation is absolutely gorgeous, which should be no surprise for a Disney film. But the different environments, from the frozen tundra to the rainforests, are especially breathtaking in 3D. The film also manages to successfully strike the comedy chord. Goodwin and Bateman have phenomenal chemistry as Judy and Nick, while Nate Torrence is clumsily lovable as Zootopia Police desk attendant, Clawhauser.
But flawless animation coupled with sight gags and some clever, well timed movie references aren’t the reason Zootopia is an absolute must see. Instead, it is undoubtedly the timely references to racial prejudices. Throughout the film, the story manages to infuse this message within its comedic kid-like tone. There is no mention of black, white, asian, or hispanic. Instead, animals of Zootopia must learn to overcome their pre-conceived notions of smaller animals. But the lions and rhinos of Zootopia aren’t the only animals with prejudices to overcome. Tiny critters like Judy have to learn that being a fox doesn’t make someone sly or mischievous, and being a predator doesn’t make an animal vicious and cruel.
This important message is incredibly vital for all children as they navigate a constantly changing world. What better way than in a thrilling family mystery that manages to make audiences laugh as well as keep them guessing. Disney has hit the high mark too many times to count, but with Zootopia, they’ve managed to create an incredibly fun masterpiece that should stand the test of time as both entertainment and culturally relevant.
FINAL GRADE: A 

Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur (Full Review)

The_Good_Dinosaur_posterNo one knows how to get you in your feelings like Pixar. Andy saying his final goodbye to Woody and Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story 3, Marlin finally being reunited with his lost son in Finding Nemo, the entire opening sequence to Up… sometimes you have to have a heart of stone just to get through a Pixar movie without getting watery eyes. This summer’s Inside Out was no different, and it is this kind of emotional storytelling that has help make Disney/Pixar films a step above their competition.

The studio’s newest film, The Good Dinosaur seeks to carry on their rich tradition of fun, but emotional animated entertainment. Set in a world where dinosaurs never went extinct, it follows a young Apatosaurus named Arlo who lives with his two farmer parents and his rambunctious, but physically superior brother and sister. After a storm separates him from his family, Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) reluctantly befriends a wild human boy named Spot in hopes that he can help him find his way home.

It’ll be easy for audiences of all ages to sympathize with young Arlo as he embarks on his journey and faces common issues from the loss of a loved one to dealing with an inferiority complex, to learning how to overcome fears. But the real winning element in The Good Dinosaur is the relationship between Arlo and Spot. The film does a wonderful job building their relationship while creatively putting a new spin on the “man and his loyal pet” dynamic. Several other eclectic characters come and go, but none of them resonate as much Spot does.

The only thing keeping The Good Dinosaur from being an instant classic is the fact that it borrows so many elements from animated family films we’ve seen before. There are doses of Lion King, Finding Nemo, Up! and several others sprinkled in that, at times, make the movie feel unoriginal. Still, it’s hard to deny the film’s charm. And, it should go without saying, the animation is as flawless as anything I’ve ever seen. The Good Dinosaur is an emotional ride, but it is a valuable one. And while it may not match the iconic status of some of the studio’s classics, it is still another solid entry that further illustrates how Pixar can virtually do no wrong… except for Cars 2.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out (Full Review)

There are great computer animated movies not made by Pixar (Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Despicable Me, Wreck-it Ralph), but for two decades, Pixar has been the gold standard. This title goes beyond just making movies that entertain kids, because kids will pretty much enjoy anything animated. Pixar animation studios is the king of the industry because of their creativity and attention to detail. Sure, the studio had some off years (Cars 2)… but more times than not, Disney/Pixar has delivered animated classics: The Incredibles, A Bug’s Life, Up, Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Monsters Inc., The Toy Story Trilogy. And just when you think they can’t be anymore inventive, along comes Inside Out.

Inside_Out_(2015_film)_posterPixar’s newest film brings viewer’s into the world of the mind. In particular, the mind of an 11-year old girl moving from Minnesota to San Francisco. Guiding her every action inside of the headquarters in her mind, are her emotions: Sadness (Phyllis Smith), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kailing), Fear (Bill Hader), and the leader of them all, Joy (Amy Poehler). After a mishap following Riley’s disastrous first day at a new school, Joy and Sadness set out on an adventure to recover Riley’s core memories before she suffers an emotional breakdown.

There is so much more to this movie than meets the eye. Much like Wall-E and Monsters Inc., this film creates an intricate world that is fascinating from start to finish thanks to beautiful animation and a perfectly crafted story that gives each of its main cast a moment to shine. It is also filled with several hilarious, and surprisingly deep side characters like Bing Bong (Richard Kind), Riley’s pink imaginary friend. The film doesn’t quite have the memorable laughs like many Pixar films before it, but there’s still plenty to chuckle at. Much of the humor is marred in subtlety that will undoubtedly fly over a child’s head, but make every adult in the audience laugh out loud.

It’s that intelligence, that dry wit and cleverness, that sets Inside Out apart and makes it a classic. The children’s movie genre is filled with two hours of slapstick goofiness for kids (the Madagascar franchise), but it takes true creativity to make a film that is both humorous and enriching for children and the adults who have to pay for them to get in. And Inside Out is as enriching as they come. The beautiful lessons about the importance of every emotion, not just joy, will resonate with everyone who sees this film. Just when you think Pixar is out of ideas and hell bent on giving us unnecessary sequels (Toy Story 4), they remind us why they are, and will likely always be, the Kings of animated film.

FINAL GRADE: A

Big Hero 6 Review

Big_Hero_6_(film)_posterThis isn’t the first time Disney has tried their hand at the Superhero genre. Back in 2004, Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles (one of my personal favorites) created the perfect blend of superhero action and adventure with the warm heartfelt tone that accompanies all Disney animated features. But can Big Hero 6, stack up to that? Better yet… can it stack up to Disney’s most recent hits, Frozen and Wreck It-Ralph?

The film, based loosely on a Marvel comic of the same name, tells the story of two best friend brothers, Hiro and Tadashi, who live with their aunt (Maya Rudolph) and are both brilliant robotics experts. Older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) spends his time at a University, honing his skills with his four friends and developing his healthcare robot Baymax, while 14-year old prodigy Hiro (Ryan Potter) hustles people in illegal robot fights. After Tadashi encourages young Hiro to do more with his gifts, Hiro develops a clever invention that gets him a scholarship offer from famed robot professor Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell). But, after a freak accident, his invention is stolen, leading to Hiro, his friends, and loveable Baymax, to become a superhero team to stop the masked thief.

For starters, the movie should be called Big Hero 2. Most of the film is centered around the two brothers and most of the laughs come from their interactions with Baymax. The four aforementioned friends; Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.), Gogo (Jamie Chung), and Fred (T.J. Miller) have a few funny and exciting moments, but they are otherwise forgettable. But the biggest flaw with the film is not its lack of character development, but its lack of story.

Disney has become almost formulaic with its storytelling. At this point, we know some important character related to the main hero will die, so when it happens we feel some emotion, but its still feels predictable. Nothing that happens in Big Hero 6 feels like a revelation which, in a film meant to be cool more than laugh-out-loud funny, makes it a bit forgettable. Even the masked villain, who looks dastardly enough, seems to lack the ambition to be truly iconic.

The animation for this film is even more beautiful than usual. The location, a mixture between San Francisco and Tokyo, provides a unique backdrop that is awe-inspiring. The technology in the film is also exciting, but the action sequences aren’t quite as lively. The story itself, a.k.a. the most important element, isn’t as good as Wreck-It-Ralph or Frozen so while little kids may get a kick out of it and want to go out to buy Baymax action figures, you’ll just want to go home and pop in The Incredibles.

FINAL GRADE: C+

Frozen returns Disney to its musical roots

There was a time when at least once a year, Disney would release an animated feature that would captivate the hearts and minds of adults and children all over the world. I highlighted many of those films last month (Favorite Animated Films). Now, with recent films like Princess and The Frog and Tangled it appears as if Disney is trying to resurrect the classic animated movie styles of old. Frozen, loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen‘s fairy tale The Snow Queen, is Disney’s latest attempt.

ImageFrozen tells the story of two sisters. Older sister and future queen, Elsa (Idina Menzel) is born with enchanted powers that allow her to create ice and snow. Following the untimely death of the King and Queen (Disney sure loves killing parents in children’s movies), Elsa is sheltered from the kingdom as well as from her younger sister until she can learn to control her powers. After a spat with naïve younger sibling Anna (Kristen Bell) causes her to reveal her abilities to the world on the day of her coronation, Elsa flees and freezes the entire kingdom in perpetual winter. With the help of ice-cutter Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a magical snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna sets out to reconcile with her sister and save the kingdom.

The animated Disney films of old all seemed to follow a distinct formula to success: A courageous lead, a sinister yet charismatic villain, a plucky side-kick for comic relief, catchy songs, ground breaking animation, and a solid message. Frozen manages to triumph in some of these areas while falling incredibly short on the others. There is no courageous lead. Elsa is a noble, wise, and fierce character, but for most of the film she takes a backseat to Anna who, although sincere, is almost the complete opposite. There is no charismatic villain. In fact, there is barely even a real villain at all which makes the story feel a tad less lively than all of its predecessors. Then there’s the songs. Sure, some of them are catchy, but unlike previous Disney films the setting and era aren’t infused into the music (see Princess and the Frog, Mulan, Aladdin, Lion King) making it feel more like sing along TV than musical theater.

Luckily, the film does manage to hit everywhere else. The laughs come sturdy and the animation is as rich as ever, especially when it comes to Elsa’s magic. And as far as plucky side-kicks go, Olaf the Snowman is as loveable as any Disney character ever. The message about “true love”, which ironically pokes at Disney princess films of old, is perhaps the film’s biggest saving grace. So while the movie may not stack up to some of the Disney classics, it’s certainly worthy of a watch, especially for adults and children with no Y chromosome.

FINAL GRADE: B