Movie Review: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)


Welcome to Harry Potter Week! My daughter became a huge fan of the Wizarding World this year so I’ve spent the past several months revisiting the books and watching the movies (some for the first time). I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the books and movies over the course of seven days.

Title: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Release Date: November 16, 2001
Director: Chris Columbus
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Summary/Review:

I revisited this movie for the first time in around 17 years. I was reminded that the movie series (as does the book) starts off with a fairly simple plot compared with the intricate world-building it would acquire later.  It was also a reminder that Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint were oh-so-little when this all started, and it was an impressive job of casting at that age to get actors who’d do so well over 8 movies and into their adult careers.  Chris Columbus takes a safe-but-boring approach to directing, I think some other directors are more creative and adventurous later in the series, but nevertheless the movie has its charms in bringing the books to life for the first time.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)


Title: Beauty and the Beast
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Director: Bill Condon
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

I’ve been uninterested in Disney’s spate of live-action remakes of animated classics, but since I recently rewatched the 1991 Beauty and the Beast, and the 2017 remake is leaving Netflix soon, I figured I give it a watch to compare and contrast.

Overall, the remake is extraordinarily faithful to the original, with similar shots and dialogue. Some changes include an explanation for why no one knows of the castle in the woods, why the household staff was cursed along with the Prince, and a more active recurring role for Agethe, the enchantress.  Le Fou, while still a fop and a toady, feels much more like a human than a charicature.  An unecessary flashback scene explains the absence of Belle’s mother and reason for moving to the provincial village.  Plus there are four new songs in addition to all the original songs by the legendary, late lyricist Howard Ashman.  Overall, this all makes the movie feel bloated and I think it would be more effective if it were trimmed by about 20 to 30 minutes.

The advantage of traditional animation is that there’s already a sense of unreality built in, so the dancing dishware of the “Be Our Guest” number fits in well with the real girl Belle enjoying the show.  By contrast, the CGI versions of Lumiere, Cogsworth, Mrs. Potts, et al seem to distract from the story and the development of Belle as a character.  Despite the additional 45 minutes, the romance of Belle and the Beast STILL feels rushed.

All this being said, I enjoyed the movie more than I expected.  Emma Watson is a terrific actor and I liked her take on Belle.  A diverse cast, which includes talented vocalists like Audra McDonald really built up the spectacle of the musical.  The Beast’s costume in this movie was reminiscent of the 1980s tv show so much that I thought for a moment that they got Ron Perlman to play the role.  The movie has a charm and style that is reminiscent of classic 1960s movie musicals like My Fair Lady, Oliver!, Mary Poppins, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Inside Out


TitleInside Out
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Director: Pete Docter
Production Company:

The premise of Inside Out is well-established from all the promotion for the movie.  Inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson are five personified emotions – Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust.  When Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco and she has to leave behind her home, friends, and hockey team, and deal with moving into a creaky, little house, a late moving van, and her parents’ distraction, Riley faces new stresses that throw the organized world of her emotions into disarray.

The story goes in places I didn’t expect.  Joy and Sadness are separated from the “control center” of the mind to the “memory banks” and have to find their way back in what is essentially a buddy film.  Joy – the self-appointed leader of the emotions – has never understood the purpose of Sadness and as Riley goes through what is essentially a depressive episode, Joy realizes that they can’t resolve the problem until she lets Sadness take control and allow Riley to express her feelings.

It’s a complicated concept, but it’s done well with a lot of humor and creative illustrations of the inner workings of the mind. It has the gags that will make the kids laugh, and the moments that will make the parents weep (as I did both when Riley’s imaginary friend fades away and at the climax when Riley finally tells her parents how she’s feeling, which lead to my son shouting “hey, you’re crying!).  My son also noted that the emotions display a lot of – well, emotions – leading him to conclude that there must by five smaller emotions within their minds, and so on.

Summary/Review: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Mulan (1998)


Title: Mulan
Release Date: June 19, 1998
Director: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Mulan is Disney’s interpretation of the classic Chinese ballad “Hua Mulan,” where a girl takes her aging father’s place when he’s conscripted to war against the Huns. Mulan is a misfit in her society’s traditional expectations of a woman, but with the help of the dragon Mushu – voiced by Eddie Murphy – she’s able to find her place in the military.The great part is that Mulan is able to use her smarts to figure out clever ways to defeat the Huns in battle and eventually save the Emperor.

The animation style that draws on Chinese watercolor rather than real world appearance is a nice touch.  It does feel that Disney didn’t bring in their Grade A composers for this movie, though, as the musical numbers are a resounding dud. While it’s a simple tale simply told, especially compared to the other Disney movies of the Renaissance era, but it is a decent movie about family, honor, friendship, and the capabilities of women in a patriarchal society.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Ratatouille (2007)


Title: Ratatouille
Release Date:  29 June 2007
Director: Brad Bird and Jan Pinkava
Production Company:  Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Remy, a rat with a heightened sense of small learns to appreciate fine foods and cooking from television programs and cookbooks of the famed chef Auguste Gusteau.  When circumstance bring Remy to Paris, a vision of the late Gusteau guides him to Gusteau’s restaurant where Remy begins to pursue the dream of becoming a cook.  Remy is paired with the restaurant’s young garbage boy Linguini, and learns that he can control his body like a marionette by pulling his hair (that sounds creepier than it appears in the movie) and together they make successful new dishes.

Though the stakes are low it touches on issues such as balancing commitments to family with pursuing one’s dreams, and expanding one’s perspectives.  It’s also surprisingly educational about both the bridage de cuising and colonies of rats.  One disappointment of the film is that almost all of the characters – rats and kitchen staff alike – are male, although the sole female character Colette comments on the difficulty of women making it in the culinary field, a seeming meta-commentary on the movie itself.  Overall, it’s a cute movie and beautifully animated and I enjoyed it.

Rating: ****