Movie Review: Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)


Title: Ralph Breaks the Internet
Release Date: November 21, 2018
Director: Rich Moore | Phil Johnston
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

The sequel to Wreck-It Ralph picks up the story 6 years later with Ralph content living his days predictably with his friend Vanellope, while Vanellope yearns to break the routine. When the steering wheel breaks on the Sugar Rush machine and the arcade owner decides that its too expensive to replace because the company that made it is defunct. So Ralph and Vanellope head into the newly installed wifi router to purchase a replacement wheel on eBay.  That is the first of many prominent product placements in the movie.

In order to pay for the new wheel, they take up jobs from spammers and Ralph becomes an online influencer by making lots of meme videos for likes.  Vanellope also spends sometime at the Disney social media website, visiting with her fellow Disney Princesses, a hillarious bit of self-satire.  The pair also enter a Grand Theft Auto-type game which terrifies Ralph but excites Vanellope with its unpredictable driving.  Vanellope wishes to stay leading Ralph to be insecure and possessive, and ultimate manifest as a Ralph-virus that is the nightmare fodder for the film.  Obviously, they work things out by the end, with some important messages about friendship.

A lot of the gags and satire of the internet are funny, but this movie is not going to make much sense outside of historical research in a few years.  Even a year after release, a lot of the gags seem dated.  The focus of the film isn’t very strong either as it seems mostly a plot to link together the various internet-related gags.  It’s entertaining but I don’t think it stands up as well as its predecessor.

Rating: ***

Movie Reviews: Saving Mr. Banks (2013)


Title: Saving Mr. Banks
Release Date: November 29, 2013
Director: John Lee Hancock
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | Ruby Films | Essential Media and Entertainment | BBC Films | Hopscotch Features
Summary/Review:

This movie dramatizes the two week period when author P.L. Travers travels from her home in London to Los Angeles to work on the Walt Disney Studios adaptation of her Mary Poppins’ books.  Since Travers is a British woman, Emma Thompson is, of course, cast to play her, while Walt Disney is obviously portrayed by American actor Tom Hanks.  I jest, they both do a great job, although its more of a challenge for Hanks because Disney is already well-known from his tv appearances.

Travers is cranky and dismissive of the whimsy and sentiment that is the cornerstone of the Disney empire, and basically hopes to sabotage the adaptation.  Disney comes off kind of creepy – a mansplainer who insists on calling her “Pam” when she asks to be called “Mrs. Travers” and acting as if Mary Poppins is his story as well.  Hanks’ Disney sees Travers standoffishness as a characteristic of her womanhood rather than recognizing her as a fellow artist who wants to protect her creation.

Working with screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and music composers Richard and Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak) stirs up memories of Travers childhood in a remote part of Australia when she was known by her birthname Helen “Ginty” Goff.  She is an imaginative child who looks up to her adventurous father (Colin Farrell) who takes greater interest in playing with her than his job as a bank manager.  It’s slowly revealed that he is an alcoholic and that he is in failing health.  An aunt who comes to help the family when he is bedridden is depicted as the firm and practical person who restores order to the household, and also the influence for Mary Poppins (albeit a surprisingly small part in this movie). Scenes in 1961 Los Angeles blend into flashbacks of the Australian outback in the early 1900s.

The movie is an excellent and emotionally-rewarding story.  It’s also largely lacking in historical accuracy.  But Hanks’ Disney states flatly that storytelling is creating the story we want to fix what happened in reality.

George Banks and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.

It’s up to the audience to decide if that is the correct use of imagination and creativity, or if something is lost in the artifice.

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)


Title: Solo: A Star Wars Story
Release Date: May 25, 2018
Director: Ron Howard
Production Company:Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures
Summary/Review:

Han Solo is one of the most beloved characters in movie history and in 4 movies (and a holiday special), he was portrayed by Harrison Ford, arguably the most popular actor of the past five decades.  A Han Solo movie without Harrison Ford is missing an essential element.  Not that Alden Ehrenreich can be blamed as he does an excellent job performing as a young Han, it’s just not possible for him to be the same character.

As one might expect from an origin story, a lot of familiar aspects of the Han Solo character are introduced here.  We see Han get his last name, meet Chewbacca(Joonas Suotamo) for the first time, get his blaster, meet Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), and acquire the Millenium Falcon.  The notorious Kessel Run is even part of the plot.  Many of the movies set pieces are generic  or derivative action-adventure tropes.  Early on, landspeeders are used in a classic car chase, then there’s a railroad heist, and finally scenes of the Falcon dodging asteroids and a space creature reminiscent of Empire Strikes Back.

Where Solo works best is around the edges, where we see the people and events that shape Han Solo into becoming both cynical and self-interested and having a big heart with a weakness for the underdog.  The former is demonstrated by Han’s mentor/antagonist Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who repeatedly instructs Han to not trust anyone.  Another important figure is Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), Han’s childhood sweetheart.  At the start of the film, we see them both trying to escape their home planet of Corellia, but Qi’ra is captured at a checkpoint.  Han serves in the Imperial Navy for three years with plans to go back to rescue her, but when they meet again, she has found her own way out, and it’s strongly implied that she’s done some unsavory things in the process.

Han’s heart is shown again and again.  He’s placed in a pit to fight Chewbacca to the death, but realizes that they are both prisoners and finds a way for both of them to escape.  A big twist in the film involves another antagonist Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman), and Han’s response to new knowledge is very telling.  Even Han’s final confrontation with Tobias is one that’s filled with tears, rather than celebration.

Solo has a lot in common with the other Star Wars Story, Rogue One, in that it shows the People’s perspective of the galaxy rather than one of royals, knights, and generals.  Imperial officers are typically unquestionably evil, but the one who recruits Han has a tender moment where he calls Han “son.”  Of course he also promises Han that he’ll be flying starships, so it’s very telling when the movie jumps ahead three years to show Han in a battle, on foot.  Deconstructing the myth of Imperial efficiency, the battle is depicted as a mess with no clear objectives and the officers having nothing more to offer than catchphrases.  Also like Rogue One, one of the best characters is a droid.  In this case Lando’s companion Elthree (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) who speaks the truth that has been evident through all the Star Wars movies: droids are treated as slaves and need to be liberated.

The movie never seems to decide whether it wants to be a romp or to delve into the more serious undertones of poverty in the Empire and what that drives people to do.  As a result the movie is a bit uneven and not as good as it could be.  Nevertheless, the acting is strong, the humor is sharp, and Solo is generally an entertaining movie.  It’s a worthy addition to the Star Wars saga (and certainly better than any of the prequels).

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Christopher Robin (2018)


Title: Christopher Robin
Release Date: August 3, 2018
Director: Marc Forster
Production Company: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Summary/Review:

Out of a love of Pooh and a curious nature, I decided to watch Disney’s latest cash grab loving live-action tribute to the classic animated Winnie the Pooh films.  Here is a story of a beloved character from a children’s story growing up and finding himself so entangled in the adult responsibilities of work that he is unable to form a relationship with his child.  That is, until the beloved – seemingly imaginary – characters of his childhood enter his real life and help him rediscover joy in life and connect with his own child.  Yes, this is the plot of the 1991 blockbuster Hook.

To be fair, while I hated Hook, and it rankles me that the creators of Christopher Robin couldn’t come up with a different and better plot, I find it a relatively more enjoyable film.  While Hook was abrasive in its winking references, Christophe Robin is sweet and gentle, as it should be. And to be fair to Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), he’s working too hard not because he’s an egotistical workaholic but because his lazy, affluent boss (Mark Gattis, who seems to be typecast in these roles) will fire all the employees if Robin can’t find a way to balance the budget.

The movie’s tone is very melancholy, and even the color palette seems drained. The filmmakers even cast the great Hayley Atwell as Christopher’s wife and then hardly used her, which feels wasteful. Pooh and friends are the best part of the movie, and while this is “live-action,”  they are animated with CGI.  You wouldn’t know it though, as they look like they could be puppets right down to detail of their fuzzy fur (Owl & Rabbit, who are not based on toys, are depicted as anthropomorphic versions of a real owl and rabbit).  McGregor plays the surreal scenes of interacting with toys and animals in the 100 Acres Wood well.  And it’s cute that Pooh & Co. not only bring Robin closer his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), but they also solve his problem at work.

It’s just a shame that this slight, charming film couldn’t have been truer to the spirit of its source material. It could’ve been so much more.

Rating: **

Movie Review: Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “W” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “W” documentaries I’ve reviewed are WattstaxWhat Happened, Miss Simone?, Wild AfricaThe Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, and Word Wars.

TitleWaking Sleeping Beauty
Release Date: September 6, 2009
Director: Don Hahn
Production Company: Stone Circle Pictures
Summary/Review:

Waking Sleeping Beauty is the behind-the-scenes story of the Walt Disney Animation Studios from 1984 to 1994, a period known as the Disney Renaissance. At the beginning of this time period, Disney animated films were commercial and critical flops, budgets for new movies were slashed, and the animation division had fewer than 200 employees, and the animation division was even kicked out of their traditional building at the studios. There was an uncomfortable divide between a few older animators left from the time of Walt Disney himself, younger recent graduates of the Cal Arts program who wanted to try new things, and lingering effects of Don Bluth leaving and taking several animators with him to create a competing studio. There was talk of closing the animation division for good, which may have also signaled an end to animated feature films throughout the industry.

At the end of this period, Walt Disney Animation Studios had released a string of commercially and critically successful films that equalled, and perhaps even surpassed, anything produced during Disney’s lifetime.  These movies include The Little Mermaid, Beauty and Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  Music from these Broadway-style movies became part of the American songbook, awards were received, and Beauty and the Beast became the first animated feature nominated for a best picture Oscar. The animation division grew to five times as many employees, got a brand new building, and satellite studios opened in Florida and Europe.  Animated feature films were once again recognized as culturally and fiscally viable for wide audiences.

Waking Sleeping Beauty documents these changes relying on archival footage, especially home videos the animators made while working in the studios.  The film is also illustrated with caricatures that the animators drew of their bosses at the time, which provide a comical and insightful view of what they thought of tensions within the studio at the time.  Don Hahn, who produced many successful Disney Renaissance films, directs and narrates the documentary and Hahn co-produces Waking Sleeping Beauty with Peter Schneider, who was president of Walt Disney Feature Animation from 1985 to 1999.

Key figures featured in the film include Roy E. Disney (son of Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney and Walt’s nephew who served as  vice chairman and chairman of the animation department during this period), who sought to fend of corporate takeovers of Disney by bringing in Frank Wells from Warner Brothers as President, and Michael Eisner from Paramount as CEO.  Eisner also brought Jeffrey Katzenberg with him from Paramount to take over the motion pictures division.  Over the years tensions grew as Roy E. Disney saw Katzenberg as taking too much credit for Disney’s success, and Eisner and Katzenberg’s relationship also became strained.  Wells was the peacemaker, but died in a tragic helicopter crash in 1994, and Katzenberg left Disney when Eisner refused to promote him to Wells’ position.  This signaled the end of the Disney Renaissance.

The movie focuses Howard Ashman and Alan Menken who composed and wrote the music that was a key factor to the success of the Disney Renaissance film’s reinvention of animated features in the Broadway musical style.  Ashman’s death from AIDS in 1991 is also a solemn and tragic moment during the film.  While The Little Mermaid, Beauty and Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King are the key movies of the Disney Renaissance, other films in the period are documented for their importance to the studio’s revival.  Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is recognized for its innovative hybrid of animation and live action (and also was a big money-maker).  The Rescuers Down Under, while not commercially successful, introduced the new CAPS system, making it the first fully computer animated feature, and the first time Disney worked with Pixar.  Tim Burton, seen as a young animator at Disney early in this movie, returns to collaborate with Walt Disney Studios on his stop-motion animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

While not in-depth, this is an interesting glimpse into the animation process.  One particularly poignant scene discusses the effects of working on hand-animated films, with Disney animators dedicating long hours to drawing, and developing carpal tunnel and other injuries.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

The most obvious thing to do is watch a Walt Disney Animated Feature! Or several!

Source: Hoopla


 

2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Book Review: Designing Disney by John Hench


Author: John Hench
Title: Designing Disney: Imagineering and the Art of the Show 
Publication Info: Disney Editions (2009)
Summary/Review:

John Hench joined the Walt Disney Studios animation department in 1939, became an Imagineer in 1954, and continued working up until a few days before his death in 2004.  So there’s no one better to write about how Disney Parks are designed with an emphasis on detail and drawing the viewer in as an active participant.  I particularly like how he talked about a three-dimensional cross-disolve, using a film term to describe the ways in Disney Imagineers design transitions between different lands and attractions.  Hench also goes into great detail about how different colors are used, and how he gave a lot of thought to the color of the sky in Anaheim, Orlando, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong.  This is a nice, richly illustrated dive into the world of imagineering, although I admit I’m still looking for the book that will really get into the nitty-gritty.

Recommended books: Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look At Making the Magic Real by The Imagineers and The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey
Rating: ***1/2

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: Beauty and the Beast (1991)


Title: Beauty and the Beast
Release Date: November 22, 1991
Director: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

After our visit to Walt Disney World, my daughter said she wanted to watch Beauty and the Beast, although she left the room for the scary parts.  My son also watched parts of the film because he enjoyed mocking how everyone kept singing.  So there’s something for everyone!

This was my first time watching the movie in 25+ odd years and its held up well.  It is definitely the most Broadway of all the Disney animated films.  The best musical number is “Be Our Guest” which seamlessly blends the animation style of the Disney golden era with new digital effects that still can wow almost 30 years later. “Gaston” is also a great musical number because it is stupid funny.

Belle is a well-developed character and perhaps the most interesting Disney heroine (well, at least until Moana).  The shift in feelings between Belle and the Beast feel rushed, but I guess that padding the film wouldn’t make it any more believable.  And I may be in the minority here, but I think the Beast is more handsome than his human prince form.

Rating: ****

As an added bonus, here’s a short video of Paige O’Hara, the voice of Belle, dancing with the handsome Beast on Valentine’s Day.

Walt Disney Animated Features


With plans to visit Walt Disney World for winter break, I decided to see how many Walt Disney theatrical animated features I could watch that I hadn’t seen before.  I made a list which included every movie from the Walt Disney Animation Studios from 1937 to present, as well as every Pixar Animation Studios movie from 1995 to present.  I did not include Disneytoons (mostly direct-to-video sequels but also some theatrical releases), films co-produced with other studios (like Studio Ghibli and Tim Burton), and hybrid live-action/animated films (such as Song of the South, Mary Poppins, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?).

My list is below, with movies I’ve seen at least once in bold, and if I’ve written a review for this blog, I’ve included a link and a star rating. One day I will complete this list, but I’m going to take a breather for now.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Pinocchio ***1/2
Fantasia
Dumbo – ***
Bambi – ***1/2
Saludos Amigos
The Three Caballeros
Make Mine Music
Fun and Fancy Free
Melody Time
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
Cinderella
Alice in Wonderland – **
Peter Pan
Lady and the Tramp – ***
Sleeping Beauty
One Hundred and One Dalmatians – ****1/2
The Sword in the Stone
The Jungle Book
The Aristocats
Robin Hood – **
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
The Rescuers – ****
The Fox and the Hound ****
The Black Cauldron
The Great Mouse Detective
Oliver & Company
The Little Mermaid
The Rescuers Down Under – **1/2
Beauty and the Beast ****
Aladdin
The Lion King
Pocahontas – **
Toy Story
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Hercules – ***
Mulan – ***
A Bug’s Life
Tarzan – ***
Toy Story 2
Fantasia 2000
Dinosaur
The Emperor’s New Groove**1/2
Atlantis: The Lost Empire**
Monsters, Inc. – *****
Lilo & Stitch ****1/2
Treasure Planet
Finding Nemo – *****
Brother Bear
Home on the Range
The Incredibles – ****
Chicken Little
Cars
Meet the Robinsons
Ratatouille – ****
WALL-E ****
Bolt***1/2
Up – *****
The Princess and the Frog – ***
Toy Story 3
Tangled – ****
Cars 2 **1/2
Winnie the Pooh – ***1/2
Brave – ****1/2
Wreck-It Ralph***1/2
Monsters University – **1/2
Frozen – ****
Big Hero 6 – ****
Inside Out – ****
The Good Dinosaur
Zootopia – ****
Finding Dory
Moana – ****
Cars 3
Coco – ****
Incredibles 2 – ***
Ralph Breaks the Internet

Toy Story 4
Frozen 2

 

Movie Review: The Rescuers Down Under (1990)


TitleThe Rescuers Down Under
Release Date: November 16, 1990
Director:  Hendel Butoy and Mike Gabriel
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Summary/Review:

There are a lot of interesting facts about The Rescuers Down Under:

  • it’s the first animated theatrical film sequel produced by Disney
  • it was released right in the midst of the Disney Renaissance but harkens back to the previous era
  • it was the first Disney film to be completed completely digitally without using a camera
  • part of the digital effects involved bringing Pixar, the first time Pixar and Disney collaborated

Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly engaging movie and doesn’t stand up well next to The Rescuers.  The animation is distinctly different and one of the movie’s strongest points, especially the opening tracking shot and the scenes of Cody flying on the back of Marahuté. Cody is kind of an Australian Christopher Robin who can organize groups of animals but isn’t a particularly compelling character.  The villainous poacher McLeach is another over-the-top Disney villain whose role is to be the scapegoat for humanity’s villainy in the film’s environmental message.  At least his pet monitor lizard Joanna is funny and entertaining.

There isn’t much story here and the movie goes off on odd tangents.  John Candy’s albatross character Wilbur is featured in a lengthy scene where is he trapped in a hospital run by mice who want to perform surgery on him without consent.  It’s a weird and annoying scene.  Another long scene shows Cody leading a team of imprisoned animals to get the keys to their escape, but this scene goes nowhere, and then we never see the other animals again (it feels like a later scene must’ve been cut).

The biggest flaw is that we just don’t get to spend much time with Bernard and Miss Bianca.  The scenes where they are onscreen are the strongest, with Bob Newhart and Eva Gabor showing great chemistry, but these scenes are few and far between.

Rating: **1/2