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: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018)


Title: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Release Date: November 16, 2018
Director: David Yates
Production Company: Warner Bros. Pictures | Heyday Films
Summary/Review:

This sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them reunites Newt Scamander with his friends Tina, Queenie, and Jacob for a new adventure largely based in Paris.  While the first movie was mostly a romp with unsettling danger bubbling in the background of the wizarding world, this movie foregrounds the growing conflict of Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and the wizards who wish to stop him.  A young Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) recruits Newt (Eddie Redmayne) to go to Paris to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller). Queenie (Alison Sudol) and Jacob (Dan Fogler) join in to catch up with Tina (Katherine Waterston) who is already in Paris looking for Creedence.

What follows is a jumbled mess.  The storytelling is very poor here, as the film throws in some interesting fan service (an appearance by the 600-year-old Nicolas Flamel, a flashback to Newt’s days at Hogwarts), but really makes no effort to tie it into a sensible plot.  Depp mails it in as a boring Grindelwald, Zoe Kravitz is wasted in an underdeveloped role as Leta Lestrange, and worst of all the returning characters are poorly used.  Tina and Jacob are minimized in their roles, and Queenie – one of the most delightful and loving characters in the first film – becomes evil? Early in the movie she puts a love charm on Jacob and later she joins Grindelwald, all so that she can marry a No-Maj, even though Grindelwald is vehemently racist against non-magical peoples. I get the point is that good people support autocracy when they’re desperate, but her motivations here are nonsensical.

There are some big twists at the end of the movie that don’t help make this mess of a movie any better.  There are more Fantastic Beasts movies to come, but I’m not looking forward to them.

Rating: *1/2

Movie Review: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)


TitleThe Emperor’s New Groove
Release Date: December 15, 2000
Director: Mark Dindal
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

The Emperor’s New Groove is the very strange story of an arrogant and selfish Incan emperor turned into a llama by his advisor and aided by a kindhearted peasant. Unlike any other Disney animated feature I’ve seen before, The Emperor’s New Groove is straight-up comedy akin to Looney Tunes rather than the typical Disney style.  The movie is basically a long sequence of slapstick gags, many of which are funny, tied together with a thin plot.  I particularly like a completely bonkers scene in which a squirrel creates a balloon animal and then pops it to wake a shadow of jaguars. (Note: if you’re like me and thought that squirrels were a North American animal, I verified that there are several species of squirrel indigenous to Peru).

Unfortunately, this movie was created in the 1990s and is incredibly dated by much of the edgy, irreverent humor style of that decade.  The film also looks out of touch compared with more recent Disney films like Moana, where they made a conscientious effort to incorporate Polynesian culture into the story and cast voice actors with Polynesian heritage.  The Emperor’s New Groove, by contrast, has no real reason to be a story about pre-Columbian Incans, and none of the main cast is South American, to my knowledge.  The setting does supply a good excuse to animate some intricately animated Incan design elements and a funny llama, though.

David Spade stars as Kuzco, the emperor turned llama. Spade is the paragon of that edgy, irreverent 90’s humor style I referred to earlier, and he’s annoying in small doses, so it’s a challenge to sit through an entire feature film of his act.  Thankfully the rest of the cast is excellent.  John Goodman plays the kind peasant Pacha, and brings out the best of Spade in their scenes together, although its weird to hear Sulley’s voice coming from another character.  Earth Kitt plays Yzma, the adviser Kuzco fires early in the film, and is drawn as kind of a manic combination of Cruella De Vil and a serpent.  But the real scene stealer is Patrick Warburton as Yzma’s kind-hearted henchman Kronk, who is the real comedy MVP of this movie.  Seriously, I like Kronk so much I’m considering watching the direct-to-video spinoff Kronk’s New Groove.

Rating: **1/2

Movie Review: Bambi (1942)


Title: Bambi
Release Date: August 21, 1942
Director: David Hand
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

When I was just about 2-years-old, my costume for Halloween was Bambi.  Not coincidentally, I learned that Bambi was re-released to theaters that same year.  I’m not sure if I saw the movie at the time, but I was familiar with the characters, and remember really liking Thumper and Flower.

Nevertheless, it’s most likely that at the age of 45, I’ve just watched Bambi for the first time.  Bambi is an episodic film featuring vignettes of Bambi’s first year or so of life, as he learns to walk, makes friends, and learns to do things deer do like find food.  More seriously, he has to deal with the threats of Man which come in the forms of gunshots, packs of hunting dogs, and wildfire.

It’s an endearingly sweet film with some notably tear-inducing heartbreak.  And while the animals may be too anthropomorphized to be lifelike, I think the creators of this film really did capture the essence of human toddlers in the actions of Bambi and his friends.  The animation is beautiful, with backgrounds that look like oil pointings, albeit they are also too static to represent a real wilderness.

Anyhow, Bambi is a classic for a reason.  Don’t wait too long to watch it.  And keep some tissues handy.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Brave (2012)


TitleBrave
Release Date: June 22, 2012
Director: Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman
Production Company: Walt Disney Picture / Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

Pixar’s story of a rebellious Scottish princess is another instant classic.  Merida enjoys a life where she can spend her time on horse riding and archery and has no interest in her parents’ expectations that she marry a suitor from of the kingdom’s three clans.  The story is very familiar, and one true to life to feudal societies, but it is all a frame to the much more relatable struggles of a her girl with her mother.

Seeking to change Queen Elinor’s mind, Merida asks the help of a hilarious witch – er, wood carver – whose tricky solution is to literally transform Elinor into a bear.  Girl and bear then must face various challenges together that bring them closer together and better understand the other’s point of view.

In addition to a satisfying story, this movie also has a ton of humor, including the comical body movements of characters like King Fergus, Merida’s mischievous triplet brothers, the aforementioned witch, and Elinor’s efforts to learn to be a bear.  It’s also beautifully animated and I was stunned when freezing the movie how lifelike the scene appeared.

If you are like me and haven’t seen Brave up until now, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: A Christmas Story (1983)


TitleA Christmas Story
Release Date: November 18, 1983
Director: Bob Clark
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

I watched A Christmas Story for the first time not long after it was released in my 5th grade classroom (those days before Christmas when the teachers just put on a video to watch as a special treat because the kids are too pepped up to learn anything).  I’ve seen it many times since, and even read Jean Sheppard’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash while I was in high school. But I haven’t watched in a long time, at least 15 years, maybe more!.

Well, it holds up well.  The key to this movie is that it’s honest about childhood – from the genuine terror of visiting Santa, to flipping out and striking back at a bully, to the lengths a kid goes to get the gift their heart desires.  It’s also honest about the parents as we see both the usually strict mother and father having their moments of softening up for Ralphie. Honestly, these days I find myself relating to The Old Man, especially on Christmas morning, when he just wanted to sleep.  Some things I’ve never noticed in the movie before: The Old Man skipping with The Wizard of Oz characters in the Higbees store, the freighters in the background when they’re changing the flat tire. and that Darren McGavin was 60-years-old when this was made (so he was a really Old Man).

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: The Peanuts Movie (2015)


TitleThe Peanuts Movie
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Director: Steve Martino
Production Company: Blue Sky Studios
Summary/Review:

My initial thoughts on The Peanuts Movie – a 3-D computer animated reboot of Peanuts made 15 years after Charles M. Schulz’s passing, who needs that? But after watching it with my family, I can say it actually has a lot of the same heart & humor of the classic Peanuts tv specials.  Vince Guaraldi’s classic tunes appear in the soundtrack (along with contemporary soft rock by Megan Trainor) and the characters are voiced by child actors who sounds very similar to earlier iterations. The 3-D animation does allow for some visually stunning moments when Snoopy imagines himself a WWI fighting ace, but largely it sticks to tradition as well.  And Charlie Brown even gets a moment of success!  There are some odd decisions such as having all of the Peanuts gang in the same class (including Peppermint Patty & Marcie, canonically at a different school, and Linus & Lucy, who are several years apart in age), but nothing too jarring.  Is The Peanuts Movie a classic alongside the tv specials of the last century? No, but it is a good 90 minutes of family entertainment.

Rating: ***

Book Review: The Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy by Alexandra Bracken


AuthorAlexandra Bracken
TitleThe Princess, The Scoundrel, and The Farm Boy: An Original Retelling of Star Wars: A New Hope
Narrator: Rebecca Soler, Marc Thompson
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group , 2015
Summary/Review:

The is a new novelization of the  original Star Wars film adapted for younger audiences (albeit the original novelization is something I enjoyed as a kid and this is something I enjoy as an adult so those specifications are rather loose).  Bracken uses the movie script, the 1981 Star Wars radio drama, and her own imagination to retell Star Wars: A New Hope in three parts: first from Leia’s point of view from her capture by Vader to the destruction of Alderaan, the story picks up with Han from the cantina to their escape from the Death Star, and Luke holds the point of view for the final third of the movie.

Since everything is seen from the point of view of one of these three characters, scenes from the movie such as those involving R2-D2 and C-3PO and Darth Vader and other imperial leaders are left out, while the part of Luke’s story from the early part of the movie is only told in conversations and Luke’s memories.  But what is lost is made up for by the rich detail of each character’s inner life and perspectives, as well as scenes that aren’t in the movie (my favorite involves Luke going through an X-Wing simulator test with Wedge Antilles).

I can’t imagine that there are many people who would come to this book with no previous knowledge of Star Wars but I think it would be a treat for that reader, while stilling allowing a lot of surprises if they eventually see the movie.  The audiobook is enhanced by familiar John Williams music, sound effects, and voice acting by the narrators Soler and Thompson.  This would make an excellent accompaniment to a long family road trip.

Recommended books: Star Wars by George Lucas and Star Wars : Before the Awakening by George Rucka

Movie Review: Jumanji


Title: Jumanji
Release Date:December 15, 1995
Director: Joe Johnston
Production Company: Interscope Communications
Summary/Review:

I watched this for the first time with my son although the story felt very familiar due to cultural osmosis.  The basic plot begins in 1969 when a boy named Alan discovers the board game and begins playing with his friend Sarah, ending up sucked into the jungle within the game.  26 years later, the siblings Judy and Peter (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) discover the game in Alan’s former house and begin playing, releasing Alan from the jungle.  Alan (Robin Williams) is an adult now with experience in jungle survival but still emotionally a child.

Together they find Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) to finish the game and reverse the damaging effects, releasing on each roll of the dice wild animals, choking vines, an a sadistic Edwardian hunter, Van Pelt (perhaps the most draw-dropping moment of satire is how easily he acquires a semi-automatic weapon at a New Hampshire gun store). A subplot of the film focuses on the police officer Carl (David Alan Grier) who attempts to reign in the chaos engulfing the town while his new police cruiser is gradually demolished by the fauna and flora unleashed by the game.

I feel like the filmmakers could’ve have gone for an enjoyable, over-the-top spectacle, or they could’ve used the game to delve into deeper issues and development of the characters. What they made instead is an uncomfortable hybrid that feels very episodic.  They do focus on Alan’s struggles to connect with his father and Judy and Peter grieving their parents’ death, but those scenes don’t integrate well with the more madcap Jumanji adventure scenes.  I think it’s those problems that have made the movie merely memorable instead of the classic it could’ve been.

Rating: **1/2

 

Movie Review: Despicable Me (2010)


Title: Despicable Me
Release Date: 9 July 2010
Director: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud
Summary/Review:

By my daughter’s request, I caught up with popular culture by finally seeing this animated family film.  Gru is a supervillain who is embarrassed by a younger and more successful villain’s heist.  As part of a plot to get back on top, Gru adopts three orphan girls.  As would be expected in a family film, Gru develops paternal feelings for Margo, Edith, and Agnes that slowly usurp his supervillainous tendencies.  There are a great number of verbal and visual gags that keep the laughs coming, and this isn’t one of those “message” movies that make everything end up syrupy sweet.  I also like the little social commentary bits like the sign for the Bank of Evil saying “Formerly Lehman Brothers” or that Gru’s rival Vector is totally Bill Gates.
Rating: ***1/2