Movie Review: Sleeping Beauty (1959)


Title: Sleeping Beauty
Release Date: January 29, 1959
Director: Clyde Geronimi
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

In the public imagination, Sleeping Beauty is what people imagine Disney films are like (or at least they did until more recent years): a fairy tale story where a princess survives dangers to find true love with her prince.  Sleeping Beauty Castle was even given prime real estate in Disneyland (which opened four years before the movie was released!). The reality is that after this movie performed poorly at the box office, Disney waited a whole 30 years before making a fairy tale princess movie again with The Little Mermaid. The Disney Princess marketing angle wasn’t even introduced until the 2000s!

The movie is good enough and competently-made but nothing jumps out as exciting.  While the characters and their movement are excellently animated, it strikes me as odd that the movie relies on rather flat backdrops which make it look cheaply-made.  Although there are moments when the characters are frozen against those backgrounds that look like woodcuts, so maybe that was what they were going for.

Despite being referred to in the title, Princess Aurora (alternately Briar Rose) is not the main character of the movie.  The protagonists are the good fairies Flora, Fauna and Merryweather who are responsible for just about every action in the movie, or at least reactions to the villain Maleficent.  Even when Prince Phillip is charged with rescuing Aurora, it is the fairies who are helping out along the way.  So let’s have a Disney live action remake called The Good Fairies that focuses on their stories.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (1977)


Title: The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Release Date: March 11, 1977
Director: John Lounsbery & Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

I’m surprised that I’ve never reviewed this movie before because I put it on a lot for the kids when they were little.  Granted, I did often use that time to take a nap on the couch, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love the adventures of Pooh and his friends.  I’m a fan of A.A. Milne’s classic books and the movie is not exactly a great adaptation.  And yet it ends up being great in it’s own way, even with the parts that are “not in the book.’

I love the voice work of Sterling Holloway and Paul Winchell.  I love the songs by the Sherman Brothers. I love the way the characters interact with the pages of the book.  I love the way that Owl’s house sways in the wind.  I love the drug trip of “Heffalumps and Woozles.”  I love the bee that laughs at Pooh.

It’s amazing that one of Disney’s most consistent films is actually an anthology consisting of three shorts made over the course of a decade.

Rating: *****

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Movie Review: Finding Dory (2016)


Title: Finding Dory
Release Date: June 17, 2016
Director: Andrew Stanton
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

I know I watched Finding Dory, but for some reason I didn’t review it on this blog.  Watching it again there were big parts of the movie I didn’t remember at all (I know, ironic, considering Dory’s condition) especially the conclusion when Hank the Septopus (Ed O’Neill) is driving a truck and crashes while a Louis Armstrong tune.  Did I not review this movie because I didn’t finish watching this movie? Did I fall asleep?  I hope not.

Anyhow, I’m glad I got to rewatch this sweet gem.  Dory (Ellen Degeneres) works through her short-term memory loss by trying to find her parents. The search leads her the fictional Marine Life Institute on the coast of California. There she meets and is helped by cranky Hank, Destiny the Whale Shark (Kaitlin Olson) and Bailey the Beluga Whale (Ty Burrell).  Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) follow along and try to catch up to their friend Dory, learning to be more like Dory in the process. And we meet Dory’s parents, voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy.

This movie is more of spinoff than a sequel to Finding Nemo, and it makes good use of the undersea universe to tell a fresh, funny, and heartwarming story.  I especially like that Dory and most of the animals at the Marine Life Institute have a disability and the movie serves as a metaphor of how people live good lives with disabilities without being heavy-handed about it.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Reviews: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)


Title: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Release Date: June 11, 1982
Director: Steven Spielberg
Production Company: Universal Studios | Amblin Entertainment
Summary/Review:

E.T. was a huge monster hit right at the time when I was the target demographic for this story of an alien botanist stranded on earth and his friendship with a young boy.  And I didn’t really like it.  Watching this movie again for the first time in decades, I found myself far more moved by it than I did when I was 8.

I do remember seeing this in the theater with my family and my sister and I were allowed to go up to the balcony on our own.  Except that I found the movie too scary and forced my sister to go back downstairs to sit with our parents.  Well, it turns out, the first 20 minutes or so of this movie are pretty creepy from John Williams’ music to the slasher film perspective of E.T. running through the woods.  Later in the movie, when a bleached-out E.T. is discovered in a ravine and then the government agents invade the house are also creepy and scary moments.

Of course, the whole movie isn’t creepy.  It’s actually very sweet and a remarkably well-written (by screen written Melissa Mathison) story that balances the humor, drama, and pathos of a realistic childhood friendship (in a Sci-Fi setting, of course). It helps that the movie stars some terrific child actors in Henry Thomas as Elliot and Drew Barrymore as his little sister Gertie. All in all, this movie is much better than I remembered although it does tend to get overly manipulative of the emotions towards the end.  While I wouldn’t put it on my favorite movies of all time list, it is definitely worth watching.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Muppet Treasure Island (1996)


Welcome to Muppet Mondays! Over the next several Mondays I will be working my way through the various movies in the Muppets and Jim Henson oeuvre.

Title: Muppet Treasure Island
Release Date: February 16, 1996
Director: Brian Henson
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Jim Henson Productions
Summary/Review:

Muppet Treasure Island follows the same formula as The Muppet Christmas Carol: Adapt a 19th-century British literary work, cast a veteran English actor in the starring role, have Gonzo (Dave Goelz) and Rizzo (Steve Whitmire) as the audience identification Muppets, and have the rest of the Muppets portray supporting characters and the chorus. I remember seeing this movie in the theater and was a bit underwhelmed, but on rewatch Muppet Treasure Island proves to be the rare movie that ends up being better than I remembered.

Much more so than the often somber A Christmas Carol, a pirate story plays to the Muppets’ anarchic strengths.  Tim Curry brings roguish charm to Long John Silver, and Kevin Bishop is a a good-natured Jim Hawkins with a nice singing voice.  Kermit (Whitmire) is perfect in the role of Captain Smollet. The music numbers are enjoyable, especially the bonkers setpiece “Cabin Fever”. I also love the running gag of rats going on a cruise.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Meet the Robinsons (2007)


Title: Meet the Robinsons
Release Date:
March 23, 2007
Director:
Stephen Anderson
Production Company:
Walt Disney Pictures | Walt Disney Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Lewis (Jordan Fry), a 12-year-old orphan with a talent for inventing, creates a device that scans the mind for lost memories. After the memory scanner seemingly fails at a science fair, a 13-year-old time traveler from the future named Wilbur Robinson (Wesley Singerman) tells Lewis he needs to protect the device from the Bowler Hat Guy (Steve Anderson), a literal cartoon villain with a twisted mustache. They travel to the future where Lewis meets Wilbur’s large and eccentric family while continuing to fight against the Bowler Hat Guy. Lewis finds himself with a feeling of belonging for the first time ever with the Robinsons, although naturally he cannot stay in the future.

There are a number of fairly obvious twists in the plot and some dark moments involving the sentient bowler hat.  The movie tries hard to be clever but it often misses the mark, and I found myself groaning more often than laughing. The whole film seems like a failed attempt by Disney to make a Dreamworks-style animated film. The whole thing stinks of self-congratulatory mediocrity.

Rating: **

Movie Review: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)


Welcome to Muppet Mondays! Over the next several Mondays I will be working my way through the various movies in the Muppets and Jim Henson oeuvre.

Title: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Release Date: December 11, 1992
Director: Brian Henson
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Jim Henson Productions
Summary/Review:

The first Muppets movie made after the death of Jim Henson offers some big changes from the earlier films in the franchise.  First of all, it adapts a well-known story to be told with popular Muppets playing most of the characters, and many other Muppets acting as a chorus. Second, the trio of Kermit (Steve Whitmire), Fozzie (Frank Oz), and Miss Piggy (Oz, again) are no longer the lead Muppet characters, but instead Gonzo (Dave Goelz) narrates the film as Charles Dickens with Rizzo the Rat (Whitmire) as his sidekick. My guess is with Henson deceased and Oz pursuing lot of projects outside the Muppets, that Goelz and Whitmire now had seniority among Muppet performers, and I like the approach they took foregrounding their characters rather than trying to recreate the work of Henson and Oz. The final big change is that the star of the movie is not a Muppet at all, but the very human actor Michael Caine playing Ebeneezer Scrooge.

The movie has some good gags and I enjoy the Gonzo/Rizzo rapport.  Statler (Jerry Nelson) and Waldorf (Dave Goelz) as the ghosts of the Marley Brothers are also great. Paul Williams returns to provide music for the soundtrack, which works well within the film, but is not as classic as his work on The Muppet Movie.  Ultimately though, A Christmas Carol has been overdone and there’s not much The Muppets can add to it.  The movie is more of a really well-made tv special than a feature-length film.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Cars 3 (2017)


Title: Cars 3
Release Date: June 16, 2017
Director: Brian Fee
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Cars 3 basically pretends that Cars 2 never happened and goes back to the well with a story that follows up on Cars. Much of the movie is basically the Rocky III of the Cars franchise.  Lightning McQueen even races on a beach and there’s a character named Cal (not Carl) Weathers. After many years of success, Lightning finds himself challenged by fast and confident young cars like Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer).  After losing several races and crashing, Lightning must train to be competitive again, hoping to finish his racing career on his own terms.

Initially, Lightning trains in a high-tech facility with an energetic young trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo).  Failing to adapt to the virtual techniques, Lightning and Cruz head out to train on real dirt, much as his late  mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman) taught him. (I do wonder how a car “dies” in this universe, although it does make for another Rocky III parallel with Rocky losing his mentor Mickey). Eventually, Lightning and Cruz end up training with Doc Hudson’s former crew chief Smokey (Chris Cooper).

There’s a big twist in the final act that I won’t spoil (that is both corny and satisfying) that keeps the movie from being a total Rocky III remake. The animation has become more realistic since 2006 so the racing scenes are very intense.  There’s also a lot of good humor, especially when Lightning and Cruz end up in a demolition derby. I’m not sure if Cars is worthy of three whole movies, but this one like it’s predecessors is entertaining enough.

Rating: ***

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Movie Review: Cars (2006)


Title: Cars
Release Date: June 9, 2006
Director: John Lasseter
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

I watched Cars multiple times when my children were younger, but for some reason never wrote a review. Now that I’m trying to review every Disney and Pixar animated movie, I feel resentful that I didn’t write a review because now I have to watch the movie again. And after all, this is the movie where the magic of the Pixar formula became just too much formulaic. Isn’t the cocky racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) learning he needs to be part of a team to succeed just too predictable a plot? And a world where all animals have been replaced by sentient motor vehicles opens up so many uncomfortable questions.  Besides, in real life, I really detest cars.

Well, I guess it was good that I rewatched the movie because it’s not as bad as all that.  It’s actually rather charming. And it was good to hear voices of so many actors who died not long after this movie was released – Paul Newman, George Carlin, Tom Magliozzi, and Joe Ranft. This does seem to appeal to a younger crowd than a typical Pixar movie – because racecars – but then again, there are a lot more actual racecar drivers in the voice cast than I realized too.  So, Cars is no classic, and may be a weak entry by Pixar standards, but it is entertaining enough.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: The Dark Crystal (1982)


Welcome to Muppet Mondays! Over the next several Mondays I will be working my way through the various movies in the Muppets and Jim Henson oeuvre.

TitleThe Dark Crystal
Release Date: December 17, 1982
Director: Jim Henson & Frank Oz
Production Company: Henson Associates | ITC Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Technically, this is not a Muppets movie but it was the next step in Jim Henson’s vision to create an original live-action movie featuring only puppets and animatronics on screen. I remember watching this several times as a child (and imitating the Chamberlain’s “hmmms”) even though I didn’t like it much due it’s creepiness and the fact that I didn’t enjoy fantasy stories as child.

Rewatching this as an adult I still find a lot of the characters and scenes to be nightmare-fodder and now that I’m more well-versed in fantasy, I can tell that the plot is not at all original. It’s particularly disappointing that the gelfling Jen (voiced by Stephen Garlick, performed by Jim Henson) is a protagonist with no real character beyond being the one to heal the crystal.

With those reservations, The Dark Crystal is nevertheless an impressive work of film-making. The puppet and animatronic work is jaw-dropping and shows a clear progression from the innovations made for the two Muppet movies that preceded it.  The movements and facial characteristics of the Skeksis is particularly impressive.  The movie really creates a dream-like alternate world unlike anything else seen on film.

I can see why this movie was not received well at the time of its release and why it’s also become a cult classic.  It’s easy to miss the greatness of what The Dark Crystal is for the even greater possibilities of what it could’ve been.

Rating: ***