Movie Review: Wolfwalkers (2020) #AtoZChallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter W

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

I couldn’t find a “W” movie to watch from these lists so I’m watching a highly-regarded recent release instead.

Title:Wolfwalkers 
Release Date: December 2, 2020
Director: Tomm Moore | Ross Stewart
Production Company: Cartoon Saloon | Mélusine
Summary/Review:

Kilkenny, Ireland – 1650.  The town faces the threat of a pack of wolves outside its walls, and the draconian rule of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell (Simon McBurney) within.  Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) is an English hunter charged with eliminating the wolf problem while raising and protecting his adventurous young daughter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey).  Naturally, Robyn makes her way into the forest where she discovers the secret of the wolfwalkers, people who are human when they are awake and wolves when they are asleep, living among the wolfpack.

Robyn befriends the young Mebh Óg MacTíre (Eva Whitaker) and they join together to try and find Mebh’s missing mother and help save the wolf pack.  It’s a wonderful adventure full of great imagination, action, and camaraderie. The animation is absolutely beautiful and effortlessly melds together the historical with the fantastical.  Computer-animated films are getting better and better, but it is also really lovely to see a traditionally animated film like this one again.

Tomm Moore also directed The Secret of Kells which I also loved so now I need to seek out the rest of his films.  In the meantime, I highly recommend this as a great film for the whole family.

Rating: *****

Classic Movie Review: Grave of the Fireflies (1988) #atozchallenge



#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter G

Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.

Today’s film is not on any of these lists, but it is highly regarded and in my opinion is an all-time classic film.

Title: Grave of the Fireflies
Release Date: April 16, 1988
Director: Isao Takahata
Production Company: Studio Ghibli
Summary/Review:

I have very limited experience watching anime and associate the genre with fantasy film so was surprised to learn that Grave of the Fireflies is an historical drama set in Kobe, Japan in the final months of World War II.  It tells the story of two children struggling to survive on their own after their mother is killed in by American firebombing raid and their father is away serving in the Japanese Navy.  Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi) is a young teenager who takes on the responsibility of raising his four-year-old sister Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi).  The film depicts him as hard-working and devoted but nevertheless still a child himself and limited in what he can do.  Setsuko is the sweetest and an accurate depiction of a very young child.

The movie is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.  Heartwarming in that is a love story between the siblings who care for one another when there is no one else to do so.  Heartbreaking in that it depicts the suffering and poverty of child refugees that is a constant outcome of war.  This film could easily be updated today and be set in Syria, Yemen, or Myanmar, and that’s terrible.  The movie is also beautiful with the bucolic setting of their pondside shelter and a trip to the beach contrasted with the devastation of war.  It’s clearly a deliberate choice by the filmmakers to draw the titular fireflies in the same style as the incendiary devices falling from American bombers.

Grave of the Fireflies is among the saddest films I’ve ever watched but it’s also one of the best.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)


Title: Raya and the Last Dragon
Release Date: March 5, 2021
Director: Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Kumandra is an imaginary world based in Southeast Asian mythology and iconography, where humans are protected by dragons. Centuries prior to the events of the film, Kumandra is beset by the Druun, a kind of malevolent virus that turns people and dragons to stone.  The dragons put all their magic into a gem to help defeat the Druun and unfreeze the people, but the dragons remain frozen.  The people fight over the gem and form five warring nations named for parts of a dragon: Heart, Fang, Spine, Tail, and Talon.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is raised by her father, Chief Benja (Daniel Dae Kim) of Heart, to protect the dragon gem.  Benja also dreams of reuniting Kumandra and hosts a summit of all five tribes in Heart.  Raya befriends the daughter of the Fang chief, Namaari (Gemma Chan), but is betrayed as Namaari only sought to gain her trust to gain access to the gem.  In the tussle over the gem, it breaks into five pieces and the Druun reemerge, turning many people to stone, including Benja.

It is up to Raya to find the last dragon and reunite the five pieces of the gem. She finds the dragon, Sisu (Awkwafina), early on in the film, who ends up being goofier and perhaps not quite as heroic as than the legends written about her.  Along their journey through the five lands, Raya and Sisu pick up a crew of misfits from each tribe, who work together to find all the pieces.  I’m particularly fond of Little Noi, the con baby (Thalia Tran).

The movie strikes a good balance of humor, drama, and action. Unlike many Walt Disney Animation Studios productions, Raya and the Last Dragon is neither a musical, nor a romance (although if anyone is writing Raya/Namaari fan fiction right now, they would have a good basis to do so).  I think this is the studio’s first attempt at High Fantasy since The Black Cauldron, and much better executed. If the tropes of High Fantasy are familiar and predictable, they are at least deployed in an interesting way. The animation is absolutely gorgeous and the imagination that goes into the world-building and creatures is terrific.  The message of learning to trust others can get heavy-handed at times, but also something we all need to be reminded of.

Raya and the Last Dragon is a worthy addition to the Disney animation canon.

Rating: ****

Every Walt Disney and Pixar Animated Feature Film, Ranked


The past three years I’ve been working to watch every animated feature film released by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios.  With that project complete as of December, I have now put together a ranking of these movies for your review.

This list includes all 58 animated films from Walt Disney Animation Studios and all 23 animated films from Pixar Animation Studios released theatrically to date.  It does not include:

  • animated shorts
  • live-action films
  • hybrid live-action and animation (ex. Mary Poppins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit)
  •  animated features made as partnerships with other studios (ex. The Nightmare Before Christmas, Studio Ghibli films)
  • direct-to-video/direct-to-streaming/tv movies (ex. Disneytoon Studios productions)

This list is certain to court controversy, so share your feelings (politely) in the comments.  If your favorite movie appears to be ranked too low for your tastes, keep in mind that I’d recommend any of the top 70 movies as being worth watching, and at least the top 50 movies can be considered classics.  So there’s a lot of quality here, despite the rankings.

Here’s the ranking.  The title of each movie will link to my review.

82. Peter Pan

81. Make Mine Music 

80. A Bug’s Life

79. Chicken Little

78. Fantasia 2000

77. Fun and Fancy Free

76. Home on the Range

75. Meet the Robinsons

74. The Good Dinosaur

73. Atlantis: The Lost Empire

72. Pocahontas

71. Robin Hood

70. The Three Caballeros

69. Cars 2

68. Alice in Wonderland

67. The Emperor’s New Groove

66. Treasure Planet

65. The Black Cauldron

64. Monsters University

63. The Aristocats

62. The Rescuers Down Under

61. Oliver & Company

60. Ralph Breaks the Internet

59. Melody Time

58. Dinosaur

57. Tarzan

56. Cars 3

55. Saludos Amigos

54. Incredibles 2 

53. Cars

52. Lady and the Tramp 

51. Dumbo 

50. The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad

49. The Great Mouse Detective

48. The Sword in the Stone 

47. Sleeping Beauty

46. Hercules

45. Toy Story 2

44. Cinderella

43. Mulan

42. The Princess and the Frog

41. Toy Story 4

40. Finding Dory

39. Frozen 2 

38. Winnie the Pooh

37. Bolt

36. Brother Bear

35. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

34. Pinocchio

33. The Jungle Book

32. Wreck-It Ralph

31. Bambi 

30. Onward 

29. Soul

28. Big Hero 6

27. The Fox and the Hound

26. Raya and the Last Dragon

25. The Incredibles

24. Coco 

23. Fantasia

22. Tangled 

21. The Rescuers

20. Aladdin

19. Beauty and the Beast

18.WALL-E 

17. Moana

16. Zootopia

15. Ratatouille

14. Frozen

13. Brave

12. Toy Story 3

11. Inside Out

10. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

9. The Little Mermaid

8. One Hundred and One Dalmatians

7. Lilo & Stitch

6. The Lion King

5. Finding Nemo

4. Monsters, Inc.

3. Up

2. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

1. Toy Story

So what are YOUR favorite Disney/Pixar animated features? Let me know in the comments.

Recent Movie Marathon: Soul


Title: Soul
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Director: Pete Docter & Kemp Powers
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

The latest film from Pixar continues the studio’s exploration of the liminal space between life and other planes of existence begun in Coco and Onward. The movie is the story of Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), a jazz musician who works as a high school band teacher in New York City to pay the bills until he gets his big break. On the very day that break comes, the opportunity to back jazz star Dorothea Williams (Angela Bassett) at a gig, he falls to his death. Finding himself as a soul heading up on an escalator to “the great beyond,” he runs away and ends up in “the great before,” where souls are prepared for their life on earth.

Through a series of misadventures, Joe ends up as a mentor for the recalcitrant Soul 22 (Tina Fey). Further misadventures result in Joe and Soul 22 on Earth, although not in the way they expected. This portion of the film has some hilarious hijinks but also the opportunity for Joe and Soul 22 to teach one another about the meaning of life. As you might expect from a Pixar film, the finale is tear-inducing in its honesty and beauty.

The movie has been criticized for its depiction of Black man not actually inhabiting his body for most of the movie (and that a white woman occupies that Black body for a good portion of the film). This criticism should not be overlooked especially considering that this is the first Pixar film ever with a Black lead character, but it also does not mean that one cannot enjoy this movie. Soul is a thoughtful, funny, and inspirational film that is a small story on the surface but it resonates deeply.

Rating: ****

Holiday Movie Marathon: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)


Title: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Release Date: December 9, 1965
Director: Bill Melendez
Production Company: Lee Mendelson Films
Summary/Review:

It’s not the nostalgia talking, this show is really just great. This groundbreaking tv special deals with seasonal depression, crass consumerism, and even made aluminum Christmas trees go out of style. Add to that a banging jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi. And it does all this in a story about kids putting on a Christmas play in limited animation by the Graphic Blandishment team.

Rating: *****

Holiday Movie Marathon: The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (2020)


Merry Christmas! Today I will be posting my reviews of my binge-watch of holiday movies. Enjoy!

Title: The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special
Release Date: November 17, 2020
Director: Ken Cunningham
Production Company: Atomic Cartoons | Lucasfilm |The LEGO Group
Summary/Review:

This animated, LEGO-fied Disney + special is a funny take on the Star Wars universe, holidays specials, and the notorious Star Wars Holiday Special of 1977. Set after Rise of Skywalker, Poe is eager to celebrate Life Day with the Wookiees on Kashyyyk, while Rey looks for some wisdom to make her better at training Finn to use the force. Her journey leads her to find an Jedi artifact that opens portals through time so she can travel through time and witness Jedi masters training their apprentices. Things go wrong and soon characters from throughout the Star Wars timeline are mingled together, leading to some great gags such as Kylo Ren meeting his hero Darth Vader and the Emperor, and three different versions of Obi-Wan Kenonbi greeting one another with “Hello there!” It’s a good laugh for Star Wars fans who have a sense of humor.


Rating: ***

Book Review: The Queens of Animation by Nathalia Holt


Author: Nathalia Holt
Title: The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Publication Info: Hachette Book Group, 2019
Other Books Read By the Same Author: Rise of the Rocket Girls
Summary/Review:

Walt Disney’s animation studio was famed for making feature films about the lives of princesses and fairies, but especially in its early decades it was an all-boys club. The hiring practices at Disney were not at all subtle about not wanting to hire women, and the few women who did work at the studio met with great resentment from their male colleagues. Nathalia Holt sets the record straight on five women who left their mark on the Disney’s style and success, even if there names were not always credited: Bianca Majolie, Grace Huntington, Sylvia Holland, Retta Scott, and Mary Blair.

Blair is probably the most well-known of these artists with her concept art significantly influencing the style of Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, and her work on it’s a small world and the mural at Walt Disney’s World’s Contemporary Resort still persisting. Her personal life is marred by an abusive husband (also a Disney artist) and alcoholism that is the antithesis of her sunny art work. Majolie was the first storyboard artist and developed the stories for Pinocchio, Cinderella, and Peter Pan. She also discovered a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite – virtually unknown in the US at the time – and used it is a basis for a segment of Fantasia and thus popularizing the music and the ballet.

Grace Huntington was the second women to work as a story artist, but fascinatingly she was also an experienced aviator who set solo altitude records despite test piloting also being a restricted career for women. Holland, another storyboard artist with a musical background, used her experience to inform “The Pastoral Symphony” segment of Fantasia, the “Little April Shower” sequence of Bambi, and “Two Silhouettes” in Make Mine Music. Scott was the first woman to be promoted from ink and paint (a laborious task where most women at the studio worked) to a full animator, and contributed her art to Bambi, Fantasia, and Dumbo.

The book offers great insight into animation and Hollywood culture in the 30s, 40s, and 50s and the doors that were opened to women during that time and those that remained close. Holt does bring the story fully up-to-date with Jennifer Lee rising to the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation after the success of Frozen, and the much broader representation of women on-screen and behind the scenes at Disney in the present day. But the book is best and richest in detail on the early decades telling the fascinating stories of these pioneering women and their enduring legacies.

Rating: ***1/2

TV Review: Phineas and Ferb (2007-2020)


Title: Phineas and Ferb
Release Date: August 17, 2007 – June 12, 2015
Created By: Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh
Production Company: Disney Television Animation
Summary/Review:

You may wonder why I watched all four seasons of a children’s tv show. I will counter that it may be one of the best tv shows ever made. Clever humor, breaking the fourth wall, and catchy songs are just some of the features that appeal to both children and adults.

“Formulaic” is a word often used derisively when describing tv shows. Yet, Phineas and Ferb sticks to a formula for each episode and finds brilliance in subverting that formula. In every episode, the titular stepbrothers Phineas and Ferb make the most of their summer vacation by creating something outlandish and fantastic ranging from a city-wide roller coaster to a transporter to the moon. They are helped by their friends, the highly-capable scout Isabella, the nerdy Baljeet, and the bully Buford. Phineas and Ferb’s teenage sister is obsessed with busting the boys for their dangerous activities, doing everything she can to get the attention of their clueless mother.

Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb’s pet platypus, Perry, is actually a secret agent for an organization called O.W.C.A (Organization Without a Cool Acronym). Each day he disappears to go fight the evil scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, who builds elaborate machines called “Inators” in his attempt to become ruler of the Tri-State Area. Perry thwarts Doofenshmirtz’s plan in a way that inadvertently makes whatever the boys built that day disappear before Candace can get their mother to see it.

It may not seem like much when you read it, but somehow it remains hilarious over 222 episodes of the show. One thing I came to realize is that Candace, and to a lesser extent, Doofenshmirtz, are the protagonists of this show. They may be the “villains” but they are also very relatable.


Rating: *****


Title: Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension
Release Date: August 5, 2011
Director: Dan Povenmire and Robert F. Hughes
Production Company: Walt Disney Television Animation
Summary/Review:

This movie sees the cast travel to an alternate dimension where Doofenshmirtz has achieved his goal of ruling the Tri-State Area and thus creating a dystopian society. The movie is surprisingly dark as the usually affable Doofenshmirtz is seen as a cruel authoritarian with all that entails.


Rating: ***


Title: Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Candace Against the Universe
Release Date: August 28, 2020
Director: Bob Bowen
Production Company: Disney Television Animation
Summary/Review:

Released this summer, this movie kickstarted my family’s Phineas and Ferb binge-watch. It’s a clever sci-fi pastiche where Candace is abducted by aliens and her brothers, their friends and Doofenshmirtz must rescue her. It has some clever gags and great sing-a-long tunes.
Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Cinderella (1950)


Title: Cinderella
Release Date: March 4, 1950
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, & Wilfred Jackson
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

Well, I’ve gone and done it!  I’ve watched every single Walt Disney and Pixar animated feature film.  I saved one of the most famous for last. Cinderella essentially made the Walt Disney Company as we know it today (or as we’ve known it for most of the past 70 years because the company has changed considerably in just the past decade) inaugurating a new golden age of animated films, ventures into television, and ultimately theme parks.  Cinderella Castle towers over the Magic Kingdom in Florida to remind you of the film’s importance.

Cinderella may also be one of the best known fairy tales outside of the movies, so I figured I knew the basic plot.  What surprised me in the Disney version is that the movie is told largely from the perspective of two mice, Jaq and Gus.  The first 20 minutes of the movie is almost all about the exploits of the household mice with Cinderella as an incidental background character.  It’s both a daring storytelling choice but ultimately a bit off-putting.  I just kind of wanted the Cinderella’s story to get started already.

While I had no idea the movie so prominently featured mice, I was well aware of the Fairy Godmother and her famous song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”.  So I was surprised that the Fairy Godmother literally appears in just one scene and there’s really no explanation for her existence other than to get Cinderella to the ball.

The movie is well animated and the music is solid and the mice are cute, but something about Cinderella just feels off.  I think Sleeping Beauty, a movie considered less successful than Cinderella, did a much better job with mixing story, character, humor, and drama.

Rating: ***