Magical Movies Tour: Zootopia

It’s kind of amazing that Disney manged to make a movie like Zootopia that is an entertaining mystery, features adorable and interesting animal characters, and is someone how a very effective fable about the dangers of both personal prejudice and institutional other-ing.

Also, Shakira plays a Gazelle.

I really quite enjoyed watching Zootopia again, especially in light of the…well, everything, lately, and I think it hold up pretty well, despit being a little on the naive and simple side. (But I mean, this is a movie where Jason Bateman voices a fox in a Hawaiian shirt, so we can only expect so much of it right?) I also appreciate that pop culture references, which aren’t totally glaring and feel relatively timeless.

What’s even more exceptional is the absolutely perfect voice casting, even using almost entirely celebrities. Ginnifer Goodwin and Bateman do excellent work as our leads, Judy Hopps and Nick Wylde, and I especially like Jenny Slate as the villainous Mayer Bellwether.

I also appreciate the way the animation and environments look, Zootopia doesn’t really look like any other movie and the animals are uniquely designed and adorable. I particularly like Judy, who really manages to stand out from the crowd with relative teeniness and grey and blue color pallet.

And did I mention that Shakira plays a Gazelle, because that happens and it’s pretty wonderful.

Next time there’s just no telling how far we’ll go with Moana.

Magical Movies Tour: Big Hero Six

It’s funny what watching these movies all in a row have done for thinking about the context of what the studio was trying to do with the movies as the came out. If Frozen is the old formula coming back stronger than every, I feel like Big Hero Six is something they’d tried to get traction on ten years before finally working.

That is, if Frozen is the musical beginning of the Disney Renaissance coming back, Big Hero Six is the stuff thank tanked it finally coming back. It’s of a piece with Atlantis and Treasure Planet and even Meet The Robinsons in a way. It’s really interesting.

I also happen to just really love it. It’s a fun superhero origin, completely reinterpreting an obscure, and not particularly popular comic story line, and provide a diverse and fun team.

I’m also a big fan of stories where love besides romantic love is given weight, and we’re in the middle of three movies that highlight that very much. (Frozen, Big Hero Six and Zootopia) It’s a pretty cool trend they went for there. I wouldn’t mind another love story though, because I’m a sucker.

I feel like I’m being vague in talking about Big Hero Six itself, and it might be because it just didn’t make much of an impression on this particular watch. Perhaps it’s because I spent so much of the past six months in Superhero stuff. (Rewatching the Arrowverse, and lately diving back into Young Justice.) Big Hero Six does a great job with telling a straightforward super hero story, and also has a big cuddly robot.

I’m a fan, but there’s not a whole lot to dissect here. (also we’ve now hit the point where I was watching and reviewing these movies in the theater, crazy!) It’s a well made, fun bit of action movie, with a sweet heart and some killer voice acting. I really enjoyed it.

Next week we want to try everything, with Zootopia.

Magical Movies Tour: Frozen

There have been so many inches of digital ink already handed over to why Frozen managed to become a phenomenon, but why not spend a few more?

For my money it’s an odd combination of things, but most especially, it is a case of the formula clicking back into place. Adaptation of a fairy tale? CHECK. Songs Written By A Top Tier Broadway Talent that Broadway isn’t exactly sure what to do with? CHECK. Innovating and exciting animation sequences? CHECK. Memorable characters voiced by top tier talent? CHECKARONI!

Frozen managed to scratch an itch that a lot of people, especially the parents of young girls, and those young girls themselves, didn’t realize they had. I also happen to love it because it’s message of finding your place in the mess and sisterly love came around at a time that I really needed both of those things. Also it was the year I fell back in love with Disney World, so that didn’t hurt.

My own experience is so marginal though, because this movie belongs so thoroughly to the kids that fell in love with it on sight, the way people my age did with The Little Mermaid. There’s just something endearingly special about it, the kind of alchemy of right place and time that really creates something magical and special and of it’s moment.

I mean, it also doesn’t hurt to have a knock down, drag out show stopping musical number performed by a world class, unique talent. I am of course speaking of Jonathan Groff’s timeless rendition of “Reindeers Are Better Than People.”

I’m kidding, obviously, “Let It Go,” is an exceptional musical theater song performed by one of the all time greats, Idina Menzel. I’ve always been impressed by the way Robert and Kristen Lopez utilized her voice in the song, somehow managing to take the incredible range she showed in “Defying Gravity,” and the attitude in “Take Me Or Leave Me,” to create a signature song worthy of the title.

Frozen is just really special, it’s hard to quantify. It isn’t exactly perfect, the story is clumsy and jumps around. Anna and Elsa as duel protagonists are underserved and undeveloped a little bit. The Hans twist seems to come out of nowhere. What’s the deal with the trolls? And Olaf is juuuussst over the line into annoying. But it as shaggy as it all is, it manages to hold together and be just wonderful.

Up next, let me know if you’re satisfied with your care, when we talk about Big Hero 6.

Magical Movies Tour: Wreck-It Ralph

My God, this movie is chock full of creativity. The fact that they created three fully realized video game worlds that felt like they belonged, used well recognized IP without over-relying on it, and used one of the best deployed voice casts of the century is no small feat, and that’s just the trimmings on the greatness of Wreck-It Ralph.

Because what really makes it great is that this movie has a big beating soft heart. It’s a movie about misfits who want to fit in. Ralph and Vanellope are kind, determined and loveable, but they just can’t seem to get those around them to see it. This was smack dab in the middle of the “Pixar the cry factory” era, but Ralph sacrificing himself while reciting the “Villain Oath” is as tear jerking as Bing-Bongs disappearance from memory.

It also manages to bring about some truly fun new characters. King Candy is a wonderful villain and the twist is well set up and still surprising. I’m also just a huge fan of Vanellope. I think Sarah Silverman does a great job with her. She’s so endearing in that weird little kid way without slipping over into annoying and that’s as much a triumph of performance as it is of writing.

It also helps that I’m not much of a gamer, but the stuff I do love is arcade games. I love arcades and arcade games to this day. I do not live near a good barcade and it’s such a bummer to me. (I mean, not right now, because of the ‘Rona, but in precedented times.) So this movie, with it’s deep affection for that era and kind of gaming is just such a treat for me to go back to occasionally and spot things that I missed. It’s so much fun to watch.

Well, up next, y’all know what’s up next right? It’s time to Let It Go, and head off to Arrendelle and watch Frozen.

 

Movie Review: The Personal History Of David Copperfield

Of all the things that I miss about life in the before times, I was missing my weekly trips to the multiplex the most. I miss brunch, and bars and going out dancing, and hugging my friends.

But I missed the movies so much, that I actually danced for joy when Governor Phil Murphy announced that the state of NJ was going to allow 40% capacity in movie theaters starting on September 4th.

I was at the shore when I found out and sitting out on a patio drinking Chardonnay with some family friends, one of them asked me what the first movie I would go see was.

I exhaled. I’d given it some thought. I miss superheros so I was psyched for New Mutants, and it’s always exciting to see what’s going on in Christopher Nolan’s weird brain, so Tenet was also in the mix. But honestly? Bookending my COVID based cinema gap with interesting and exciting adaptations of classic novels seemed correct.

So I went to go see David Copperfield, which, if you read everything I’ve ever written you might remember is a novel I did not care for, despite usually liking Charles Dickens quite a bit. (Part of that is finding David himself insufferably virtuous.) I did however really enjoy this movie. My issue with the narrator was solved by him being played by the impossible not to love Dev Patel. And my issues with the narrative, that it leans into the worst of Dickens’s quirks with coincidence and black and white elements of virtue, vice, reward and punishment, are solved by the sharp and cynical eyes of it’s co writer and director Armondo Ianucci.

There was no way that the man behind Veep was going to fall into the sinking pit of melancoly and sentimentality that is so easy to fall into with David Copperfield. And indeed he did not.

I am here for this new trend where we adapt classic novels and actually lean into their comedy. I was cackling at the performances in this movie, Darren Boyd and Gwedolyn Christie play the wicked Murdstone siblings that sweeping ghosts. The flight but loving Micawbers are magically and affectionally played by Peter Capaldi & Bronagh Gallagher (A Doctor and a Commitment? DELIGHTFUL) but the true triump are Hugh Laurie and Tilda Swinton as David’s loving a loving but eccentric relations. (Ben Winshaw is also great as sleazy and villainous Uriah Heap)

What’s most fascinating about the film, to me though, is how it feels like play. Most of the characters have only one costume, the performances and broad and straight faced, and with the exception of Jairaj Varsani as young David, no one is aged, despite the story taking place over a lifetime.

Overall, I was extremely impressed and I think I made the right choice for my triumphant return to seeing movies out in the world.

Magical Movies Tour: Winnie The Pooh

Literally the only thing I remembered about this Winnie The Pooh movie was that it was released the same weekend as Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part II, and the marketing campaign was therefore highly engaged in the concept of holding on to childhood as counterprogramming to Deathly Hallows, “And now childhood ends,” approach, and I thought that was absolutely genius at the time. Still do, in fact.

That said, I think the reason that I didn’t particularly remember this one is that it isn’t particularly memorable.

It’s a nice little Hundred Acre Wood story, where Christopher Robin arranges a contest to get Eeyore a new tail, the prize being a pot of honey. Pooh Bear needs that honey, obviously, though he doesn’t win initially, he does in the end. There’s also a digression where the animals fuss over Christopher Robin being kidnapped when he was just off at school for the day, which is terribly sweet.

But it’s also just, there’s so much of this movie that is absolutely trapped in 2011. (The songs are sung by She & Him, for example!) That it loses the timeless quality that makes Winnie The Pooh and his group of friends really special. I do like the animation, which is strong and pretty, but strays too much from the classic feel, without reinventing enough.

I was just underwhelmed by the movie in general, I guess? It wasn’t charming enough and didn’t get the emotional moments right at all, even if all the delightful child logic of this world was on full display.

Next time, we go turbo with Wreck-It Ralph. 

Magical Movies Tour: Tangled

I fell in love with Tangled before I saw it.

I was watching the Oscars and Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi were performing, “I See The Light,” and I gasped. The song was wonderful, and so touchingly and lightly performed by these two actors.

Then I watched the movie, and I fell head over heels for it. I loved Rapunzel’s characterization, I loved Donna Murphy’s brilliant voice performance as Mother Gothel, and my god, Levi has never been better than he was as Flynn Ryder.

This was also the return of Alan Menken to the Disney fold, working this time with , and it’s some fine work, some of my favorite that’s not with Howard Ashman. I mentioned, “I See The Light,” but “When Will My Life Begin” is such a wonderful bit of ingenue introduction, and I mentioned Donna Murphy, yeah? “Mother Knows Best” is perfection in a villain song. It’s so full of gaslighting and abuse, and the melody is bouncy and menacing and I love it so much.

The other thing that Tangled has going for it, is that it is funny. It’s really, and honestly a great road trip comedy with fairy tale trappings, aided by Moore and Levi and of course the animators making Rapunzel and Flynn so very loveable and fun to follow.

I also love Rapunzel’s chameleon buddy Pascal, and Maximus a palace horse who acts like a bloodhound for some reason. I’ve never been sure why, but it’s a delightful gag.

Next time we’re back to that Silly Old Bear, and check out Winnie The Pooh. 

“Be Excellent To Each Other”

I had my doubts about Bill And Ted Face The Music. Late in the game sequels are rarely great, and comedy trilogies are very difficult to pull off. I’m not even much of a fan of Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey despite holding Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure as a low key fave.

That said, Bill And Ted Face The Music is lovely. Lowkey and bonkers, much more like the first movie than the second, (although there’s a brief interlude in Hell, and Death returns.) the movie details the now in their 40’s dudes, still searching for that perfect song that will unite humanity, and the way that quest has delayed and stunted their lives.

Helping along on the quest is their two daughters, Billie and Thea, who are wonderful, wonderful characters, breaths of fresh air. Bridget Lundie-Paul and Samara Weaving bring similar but not identical energy that Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter had in the original movie. goofy and kind and a little out of their depth.

There’s a basic lesson about life and love and connection, and being who you are instead of who you think you’re supposed to be. There’s also some pretty good old age makeup and Winter and Reeves both appear to be having a ball. It’s most certainly worth the rental, just a bit of summer fun and fluff to close out this season.

Party On Dude!

Magical Movies Tour: The Princess And The Frog

Isn’t it nice when the stars align and an important movie is also a good one?

The Princess And The Frog earns the first distinction, “important,” by being the last hand drawn animated feature from Walt Disney Animation and for it’s black, working class leading lady. Tiana is a waitress for New Orleans, who after being raised by a bus driver and seamstress, has worked her whole life to open her own restaurant.

She crosses paths with Prince Naveen who is transformed by the wicked Dr. Faccillier into a frog and then because they didn’t follow the rules explicitly (Tiana is not a princess) she turns into a frog rather than him turning back into a man.

It’s, more than a little convoluted when you write it out, but presented visually, Tiana and Naveen’s journey through 1920’s Louisiana is a delightful rom-com, opposites attract romp, punctuated by super fun character designs, and some catchy tunes by Randy Newman.

I really love this movie, and every time I watch it I’m only more enamored. There’s some stuff that I think could have used another pass. (There’s no real connection between Tiana and Dr. Facillier, for example, this feels like an odd error.) And as I get older and more interested in social justice narratives in popular culture, I am in awe of the decisions made with this film. Tiana is in complete control of her destiny from minute one, but this doesn’t prevent conflict or growth. There’s a variety of black faces and bodies on display, the music, that slow New Orleans style jazz is so much fun.

I’m generally on board with The Princess And The Frog getting more attention whenever possible, and am thus super excited for the upcoming retheme of Splash Mountain to a Princess And The Frog ride. I think it’s a brilliant decision that also means we’re going to get Louis Audio Animatronic, which I think fits into Imagineering’s sweet spot perfectly. Also, replacing an attraction based around something super racist, with something based around a strong and exciting Black female protagonist sends the right message.

Next time we continue down the path of magical princesses ,and see the light with Tangled.