Coco (Full Review)

No one brings grown men to tears like Pixar. Up, WALL-E, Inside Out, any Toy Story movie… those are just a few of the instant classic films that the Disney owned studio has created. Their newest film, Coco, is another example of their ability to create emotional, yet fun animated, family entertainment.

Coco_(2017_film)_posterCoco is the story of a young Mexican boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) who loves music and has dreams of becoming a famous musician. But Miguel is forbidden to play or even listen to music due to his great great grandfather walking out on the family to pursue life as a musician. So, his great great grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) instilled a generational hatred for music that keeps Miguel from following his dreams.

But on Dia De Muertos, a holiday when deceased ancestors visit their living relatives, Miguel discovers that his great great grandfather was a famous musician named Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and decides to sneak into his grave site and steal his unique guitar to perform at a talent show. The act of thievery traps him in the land of the dead where he must travel to find Ernesto before the holiday is over or be trapped forever. Helping him on his journey, is a trickster named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) who needs Miguel’s help to preserve his memory in the living world less he cease to exist.

Coco is nothing short of a marvel of storytelling. Like many of the Pixar films, the story is a brilliantly paced adventure with the appropriate touch of heart and Disney fairy tale magic. Though as hard headed as he is brave, Miguel is a character that is easy for audiences to gravitate toward and his companion Hector is charismatic and holds a backstory that is equally heartwarming. What stands out most about the perfectly crafted script, is that it allows each of its characters to grow so that by the end, Miguel learns the value of family, and the family feels genuinely apologetic about holding him back.

One of the greatest hallmarks of Pixar isn’t just its intricate storytelling, but also its attention to detail. Coco is even more visually stunning than Pixar’s greatest creations. The animators craft the land of the dead as a marvelous spectacle of light and sound. Little details like the texture of objects, the flowing of water, and the complex movements of fingers along a guitar make the environment feel as real as a live action film.

As a children’s film, it may not be as splendid for the youngest of viewers. There are a few eerie and dark aspects to the film, like murder, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise from a studio that has never shied away from the concept of sudden death before. There also aren’t as many heavy and memorable comedic moments as you’d find in some of the Pixar classics, but holding Coco to the standard of family films rather than Pixar greats makes it a sensational creation none the less. Coco succeeds in delivering its message with near tear inducing effectiveness and also deserves the utmost credit for being true to the heritage and culture of its setting.

FINAL GRADE: A

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Cars 3 (Full Review)

Cars has always been the black sheep of the Disney Pixar family. The first film is pretty good, but its unwarranted sequel is the only purely bad film in the studio’s illustrious gallery. And yet, thanks to the magic of merchandising revenue, the sequel no one liked has begat the sequel no one asked for in Cars 3.

Cars_3_posterOwen Wilson returns to voice Lightning McQueen, the famed champion of racing in this world where vehicles replace people as living beings. When a sleeker, more dominant young racer named Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) threatens to force him into retirement, McQueen decides to work with a spunky young trainer named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) in hopes of proving that his best days aren’t behind him. Larry the Cable Guy reprises his role as McQueen’s best friend Mater and Bonny Hunt returns as McQueen’s girlfriend Sally.

Cars 3 is as wholesome as ever, for better and worse. ‘G’ rated films have become increasingly rare, as more and more animated family films try to keep things as interesting as possible for older audiences while still remaining kid friendly. Thus, Cars 3 feels like the Nick Jr. to the rest of the animated world’s Nickelodeon. The jokes are pretty simple which makes things delightful enough to warrant a smile but never anything heavier than that. The story might also fail to interest any non-toddler as it lulls in the middle before finally becoming exciting in its final act.

While it is by no means on par with any of Pixar’s masterpieces, Cars 3 does deserve points for being far more necessary than its predecessor. It is undoubtedly a fun film for youngsters, even if their parents might dose off once or twice. And if you are a childless adult who scoffs at the idea that Pixar movies are only for kids, I suggest you pass on Cars 3.

FINAL GRADE: C

 

 

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

Finding Dory (Full Review)

Pixar is the gold standard of animated family films. Among their many classics, few movies are as beloved as 2003’s Finding Nemo. The story about a father searching for his disabled son and learning not to be overprotective was highlighted by a cast of great characters. Ironically, the most unforgettable character was the one who couldn’t remember anything. And now, 13 years later, the Disney animation goliath brings us a much anticipated sequel that follows Dory on an all new adventure.

Finding_DoryPixar proved it can follow one of its classics with an equally fantastic film with the Toy Story trilogy. But before you go thinking Finding Dory is a lock to be a great follow up, I have two words for you… Cars 2. With Dory, the Pixar filmmakers had the challenge of making a movie with just as much heart, while maintaining a similar message about cherishing family and overcoming adversity that could easily feel repetitive. They manage to succeed, with flying colors.

Finding Dory picks up one year after Finding Nemo. Blue tang fish, Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) continues to suffer from short term memory loss and now lives with her best clownfish buddy Marlon (Albert Brooks) and his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolance). One day, a series of familiar phrases triggers her memories of her long lost parents (Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy) and Dory sets out on a mission to reunite with them. The journey may seem like a retread, but a fantastic set of characters make it feel like anything but.

Pixar’s ability to create memorable characters is often what sets their films apart. Well… that and flawless animation. Finding Dory is a magnificent follow up to a beloved classic mainly because of its large cast of new characters, each one hilarious and unique. There’s a near sighted whale shark (Kaitlin Olson), a beluga whale that thinks it’s sick (Ty Burrell), and a pair of lazy and bossy sea lions (Idris Elba and Dominic West). But perhaps no character is as critical to the movies fun and charisma as Hank (Ed O’Neil), a temperamental octopus trying to prevent being released from a safe and secure Marine hospital.

Sure, Ellen DeGeneres is once again endearing as Dory and Marlon and Nemo provide several laughs and valuable lessons, but without the new faces, the movie would feel like a good, but relatively unnecessary sequel. But these new characters make this heartwarming story about Dory overcoming her shortcomings and finding her family feel fresh and the missing piece we didn’t even realize we needed. I’ve always said, every movie doesn’t need a sequel, but sometimes… when the right people are behind it…. some movies most certainly do. And in the case of Finding Dory, despite being a bit more over the top than the original, it’s the sequel adults and kids have been waiting for.

FINAL GRADE: A+

Disney’s The Jungle Book (Full Review)

It seems as if we are now in full swing remake mode as Disney is now updating their animated classics with the live action treatment on a yearly basis. Last year’s Cinderella proved that, while redundant, this can still be a relatively pleasant experience for old and new audiences. With Beauty and the Beast on tap for next year, we’d better get used to seeing our childhood films recreated.
220px-The_Jungle_Book_(2016)The latest Disney classic to get the reboot treatment is the 1967 adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The story itself has seemingly been done to death over the past century, but the Disney animated version is hard to forget. The catchy songs and solid voice cast helped ingrain it in our minds, giving this new film some lofty expectations to live up to. Luckily, the film has a strong director at the helm (Jon Favreau) and a wonderful team of CGI artists to help make this new version just as memorable.

For anyone who’s been living under a rock, The Jungle Book tells the story of talking animals and Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a human boy found as a baby in the jungle by a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kinglsey) who entrusts him to a family of wolves. After a vicious tiger named Shere Khan (Idris Elba) threatens to kill the outsider, Bagheera and Mowgli’s wolf parents (Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o) decide it best to return Mowgli to a nearby village where he can be with other humans. On their journey, they encounter an easy going bear named Baloo (Bill Murray), a hypnotizing snake named Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), and sly monkey king, Louie (Christopher Walken), who wants the boy to teach him how to create fire.

While the story won’t feel new to anyone who isn’t in grade school, the film manages to feel refreshing from start to finish. This is due in part to a well crafted script that manages to make slight adjustments to make the story match the realness of its imagery. And the imagery is stunning, but this should be no surprise as Disney is known to spare no expense for their films. The animals are animated to look as real as possible, and the jungle scenery is breathtaking.

But the number one reason that this new version of The Jungle Book is an absolute triumph that now has me excited and eager for more animation remakes, is due to the awesome cast. Giancarlo Esposito, Lupita Nyong’o and Ben Kinglsey all bring a beautiful nobility to their roles as Mowgli’s guardians while Scarlett Johansson is fittingly hypnotic in limited screen time. Neel Sethi is perhaps the weakest link as Mowgli, but that is mainly due to the fact that he’s a child actor. Considering the fact that he’s essentially the only non-CGI character in the movie, he actually does a remarkable job as well.

There are two actors who unsurprisingly steal the show. Bill Murray manages to bring even more charm and charisma to the character of Baloo than we saw in the iconic 1967 animated version. As for Shere Khan, the best movies have the best villains, and Idris Elba owns every second the character is in. From the moment the imposing tiger enters the film, he brings an intimidating, yet captivating aura that makes you absolutely love him.

Yes, Hollywood needs to take chances on original ideas more. Pretty much every blockbuster is a sequel or a remake. But if Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book is any indication of the quality Disney is putting into these live action updates, then by all means keep them coming. Pretty much the only flaw to this movie is the shoe horned songs in the second half that turn the movie back into a musical all of a sudden. But even they work for nostalgia’s sake. I originally cringed at the idea of seeing my childhood favorites recreated, but after watching this movie, I honestly say bring on a CGI recreation of The Lion King next.

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

May 2015 Quick Reviews

Summer movie season is in full swing. Here are some quick thoughts on some of the films that capped the month of May…

San_Andreas_posterSAN ANDREAS Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as rescue pilot Chief Ray Gaines in this earth quake disaster film about the San Andreas fault (mainly encompassing California) ripping apart. The film is pretty much everything you’d expect a disaster movie with The Rock to be. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

San Andreas is stuffed full of nearly every disaster movie cliché imaginable: A scientist that no one listens to until it’s too late (Paul Giamatti), a significant other that the main character must reconcile with (Carla Gugino), an offspring that needs saving (Alexandra Daddario), and a character who turns full a-hole when everything starts to go south (Ioan Gruffudd). But it’s still fairly entertaining. The action sequences are no less (or more) interesting than the events in films like 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow, but the 3D is a nice added touch. And as far as leads go, Dwayne Johnson is right in his element here, when he isn’t trying to show too much emotional depth. All in all, the film is decent time spent, but don’t expect anything earth shatteringly original. Pun intended. FINAL GRADE: C+

Tomorrowland_posterTOMORROWLAND In this day and age when spoilers are released via on-set cell phone footage and each movie gets four trailers to show you all of the interesting parts, Tomorrowland is an absolute breath of fresh air. Kept relatively under wraps, the story revolves around an intelligent, young girl (Britt Robertson) who is recruited to save a futuristic world kept secret by history’s best and brightest. George Clooney co-stars as the former child genius turned cynical recluse who reluctantly aids her on her journey.

The cast, especially Clooney, deserves credit for strong, emotionally grounded performances. The only problem is that this adventurous build-up comes to a highly underwhelming climax that manages to weigh down the entire film. And, although highly relevant, the movie beats you over the head with its overarching message. Still, kudos to Disney and director Brad Bird for withholding all of their secrets to make this film feel wildly original. FINAL GRADE: B-

Aloha_posterALOHA Where do I start with this one? I guess I’ll begin with the overly convoluted plot. Yes, a romantic comedy has a complicated story. Anywho, Bradley Cooper stars as a contractor for the military who returns to his hometown in Hawaii to help a billionaire (Bill Murray) with a satellite launch. Yes, that’s actually the plot. Emma Stone co-stars as his Air Force watchdog who falls in love with him and Rachel McAdams as his now married ex-girlfriend.

If the military and NASA dribble involving secret missiles and land negotiations with Hawaiian natives doesn’t make this film feel droll enough, the lack of chemistry between the characters will. The film is filled with awkward moments, and not the entertaining kind of awkward that makes you laugh, but rather those moments where you just want the scene to end. The most enjoyable moments in the movie come from Rachel McAdams’ husband, played by John Krasinksi who communicates non-verbally for nearly the entire movie. He provides some snickers in spurts, but other than that, this film is neither endearing or humorous. FINAL GRADE: D+