Movie Review: Robin Hood (1973)


TitleRobin Hood
Release Date: November 8, 1973
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

Robin Hood is a strange movie.  The English legend is loosely adapted with all the characters portrayed as anthropomorphic animals, which is an interesting touch.  Doubly odd, despite the English setting, the music has a country twang and some – but not all – of the characters have a drawl rather than an English accent (I do like the music by Roger Miller, even if it doesn’t seem to fit). Although the movie was made in 1973 (in fact, it was the #1 movie in the United States the week of my birth!), it feels much older.  The animation is limited and lacks the artistry of earlier Disney films.  Dance sequences were recycled from earlier Disney animated features, and other elements feel derivative, like Little John essentially being the same as Baloo from The Jungle Book.  The movie is episodic with each sequence generally being different ways that Robin Hood & co can humiliate Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham.  While Robin Hood has its charms, I did find myself wondering when it was going end, which is not a good sign for a movie that is only 80 minutes long.

Rating: **

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Movie Review: Tangled (2010)


TitleTangled
Release Date: November 24, 2010
Director: Nathan Greno & Byron Howard
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Disney’s take on the fairy tale Rapunzel, is loosely tied to the original story (basically the long hair and a tower).  As any good contemporary adaptation should do, Rapunzel has far more agency and assertiveness than the original character (or princesses in early Disney films).  In this story she is a “lost princess” (one day Disney will create an anti-monarchical heroine)held captive in a tower by the witch Mother Gothel, who kidnaps Rapunzel as a baby, because the magic hair keeps her young. Instead of being rescued by a prince, Rapunzel essentially accosts the swashbuckling thief Flynn Rider and forces him to take her on a journey, although of course they grow to become friends and then fall in love.

There’s a great mix of humor and adventure, with cheerful songs sung by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi in the lead roles. Visually, the film is enticing and the animators never cease to impress with gags based on Rapunzel’s long hair.  My 11 y.o. son said “this is weird,” but he did like the animals in the movie, the martial horse Maximus, and Rapunzel’s chameleon sidekick Pascal.  I like them too.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: The Incredibles 2 (2018)


Title: The Incredibles 2
Release Date: June 15, 2018
Director: Brad Bird
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios
Summary/Review:

14 years after the original movie, The Incredibles return with a sequel, which is an incredible display of restraint in these sequel-happy times.  Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be long enough to come up with some original ideas, as the second film shares several plotlines with the original.  This time it’s Elastigirl who is recruited to do superhero work by mysterious rich people, while Mr. Incredible stays home with the kids.  And the kids, having demonstrated their value as supers in the first movie, once again have to demonstrate their value to their parents.  Also, this movie uses trope of the father being incompetent at caring for children on his own, which is irritating, although it could’ve been worse.

What this movie does have is Jack-Jack, a very cute baby who is demonstrating that he has superpowers for the first time.  And he has lots of different superpowers but as a toddler cannot really control them.  Jack-Jack is the comic lifeline of this movie, and I particularly enjoy when he wrestles with a raccoon.

When I reviewed The Incredibles last year, I noted how it preceded the massive explosion of superhero movies of recent years, and how it influenced how the MCU, DCU, et al are tying in interpersonal relationships with action-adventure.  Now the influence is going the other way as the action sequences in Incredibles 2 are inspired by what you might see in an Avengers movie.

Final thoughts: a fun and entertaining sequel, but Pixar and Brad Bird can do better than this.

Rating: ***

 

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: Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl


TitlePirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Release Date: July 9, 2003
Director: Gore Verbinski
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

The first – and only other – time I watched this movies was when it was first released in the theaters.  Expectations were low for a movie based on a theme park attraction and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, of all people.  But early reviews were good, so some friends and I went to see it and it was … fun!  Johnny Depp’s quirky take on Keith Richards as a pirate is of course the most memorable thing about this movie.  But on rewatching, it’s clear the other actors are doing a good job too.  Keira Knightley portrays Elizabeth Swann as a natural leader and Orlando Bloom realizes that playing the straight man doesn’t mean being dull.  I also notice that the many action set pieces are not only entertaining but they all also advanced the plot or character development.  So this movie does everything that a big budget cash-in on a theme park ride produced by Jerry Bruckheimer shouldn’t and remains a classic.

Rating: ****1/2

Movie Review: The Wizard of Oz (1939)


Title: The Wizard of Oz
Release Date: August 25, 1939
Director: Victor Fleming
King Vidor
George Cukor
Richard Thorpe
Norman Taurog
Production Company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Summary/Review:

I watched this movie for the first time in a long time, and well, it’s basically just as I remembered it, which is a good thing.  It’s an adventure, it’s a symbolic journey of self-discovery, it’s a musical, it’s funny, it’s scary.  It looks really fake, but to the point that the painted sets and props are weirdly effective works of arts in their own right.  I was born long after color film was standard but the transition from the sepia of Kansas to the majestic colors of Oz is still astounding. Watching as an older adult, I am also impressed at how the young Judy Garland handles being central to almost every scene. About the only thing that is not good about this movie is that it’s not a good adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book which I also love.  One day, I’d like to see a faithful film adaptation of the movie made too, but this version will always stand alone as its own great thing.

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Tommorowland (2015)


Title: Tommorowland
Release Date: May 22, 2015
Director: Brad Bird
Production Company:Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Brad Bird, writer and director of animated films like the Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille, brings his utopian vision to live action films. The basic gist is that a group of creative geniuses make an alternative reality called Tomorrowland which is an amalgam of the optimistic views of a space age future that were common in culture circa the 1950s-1980s (it’s never explained how this alternative universe works).  The major characters are George Clooney as an older man who has been exiled from Tomorrowland, Britt Robertson as a teenage scientific enthusiast who is the latest recruit for Tommorrowland, Raffey Cassidy as the Audio-Animatronic who recruits new members, and Hugh Laurie as the villain who desires to make Tommorowland exclusive, and ultimately destroy the real world.

The movie is full of fantastic visuals and great ideas.  But ultimately, it feels hollow at the heart of it.  There’s a preachy vein that we should feel bad about giving up on our optimistic vision of tomorrow, but never gives a reason why, especially since the effort to get to Tommorrowland is full of violence and a Libertarian idea of some people being naturally better than others.  There’s a lot that’s good about this movie, from the acting to the visuals, that it’s doubly disappointing that it misses the mark by so much.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)


TitleBig Hero 6 
Release Date: November 7, 2014
Director: Don Hall & Chris Williams
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

Hiro Hamada is a teenage robotics prodigy who isn’t interested in much beyond competing in illegal robot fights until his older brother Tadashi mentors him and convinces him to enroll in a university robotics program. Hiro succeeds in his presentation of microbots to gain entry to the school, but shortly afterward, Tadashi dies in a fire.  This sends Hiro into a depressive state that begins to be healed when he finds Tadashi’s inflatable healthcare companion robot, Baymax.

With Baymax and a group of Tadahsi’s nerdy friends, Hiro begins to investigate who was behind the fire that killed Tadashi and the mystery of his missing microbots.  What’s great about this movie is that Baymax is not your typical science-fiction revenge fantasy hero.  Designed to care for the sick, Baymax is gentle and encouraging, and even when Hiro retrains it to fight, Baymax retains the programming that prioritizes healing.

In addition to this wonderful central message, and a sweet, cuddly hero, the movie has a lot of spectacular visuals. The setting of San Fransokyo is particularly wonderful, combining elements of those two great cities in a futuristic world.  This a great family film, heartfelt and funny, and much better than expected.

Rating: ****

Movie Review: Ant-Man and Wasp (2018)


TitleAnt-Man and Wasp
Release Date: July 6, 2018
Director: Peyton Reed
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The second Ant-Man film and part 20 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe sees Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) making the best of his house arrest with much improved relations with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson), as well as his ex-wife and her new husband.  With three days left until his release, Lang is pulled into a plot by Hank Pym (Michael Douglass) and Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly with a better haircut) to help rescue Janet van Dyne (the original Wasp, played by Michelle Pfeiffer) from the quantum realm.  In a madcap series of adventures the trio find their plans foiled by a series of foes including mobster Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins), another of Pym’s former colleagues Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne), a woman who can phase through objects called Ghost (aka Ava Starr, played by Hannah John-Karmen), and FBI agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park).  Any one of these antagonists would’ve been boring and cliched in a typical MCU film, but rotating through them so that our heroes are constantly on their toes is done very effectively.

The ending is foreshadowed well enough in advance to not be a surprise (spoiler: they rescue Janet and Janet heals Ghost), so the fun is seeing how they get to that point in a series of hijinks and chase scenes, using the Pym particle devices.  I’m reminded of visiting San Francisco with my father as a child and him telling me that they like to film car chases there because of the hills, used effectively in the movie.  But the key to Ant-Man and Wasp is the humor which is laugh out loud funny.  The MVP here is Michael Peña as Luis, Scott’s friend and business partner who brings the laughs and save everyone’s butts.

Rating: ***1/2

Previous MCU Films:

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: ***