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.

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: 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. 

Magical Movies Tour: Meet The Robinsons

I was so excited to watch Meet The Robinsons again. A movie I saw in movie theaters several times. (I went to the movies a lot in college, and this played for a while.)

There’s just so much that I love wrapped up in this movie. Retro-futurism. Time Travel. Eccentric Wealthy Family Shenanigans. A dinosaur. Conflict Solved Through Compassion. Utter Silliness. Lounge Singing Frogs.

I just love it so much. The animation is still a little wonky, but it’s leaps and bounds better than Chicken Little, and the environments are clever and the characters are distinct and well performed, and there’s no atrocious Spice Girls Covers.

Plus the Bowler Hat Man/Goob is one of the most brilliant comedic villains ever.

I could also quote this movie all day long.

“Everyone will tell you to let it go! DON’T LET IT GO!”

“I have a big head, and little arms. I don’t think this plan was very well thought out, Master.”

“You think I’m crazy, too!”

“Hey Goob, cool binder!” “Want to come over to my house today Goob?” “They all hated me.”

There’s also just a ton of delightful comedic anarchy in this movie and heaping ton of heart. I spend a lot of time thinking about this movie, and how much fun it is and how underrated. Silly doesn’t get enough credit in this world, and it’s a damn shame, because silliness is sublime when applied correctly. (Later this week, we shall dive deeper into this, when I finally get around to writing about my new favorite show, Star Trek: Lower Decks)

And Meet The Robinsons applies that silliness almost perfectly. It also has a classic, almost out of nowhere Disney Scary Scene, where Doris, the evil Bowler hat. (seriously this movie is the best) creates a bowler hat centric apocalypse where humans are slaves to her whims.

Orphaned Lewis and his future son Wilbur Robinson are also delightful kid protagonists, all full of energy and brightness, not whiny or too cool for school, and behave like young teens. (This has become a new hill to die on for me, kids that are written age appropriate. They are often written to old or too young.)

There’s also just the whole retro-future design of the thing, which I don’t know enough about, but I just absolutely love to look at. And there’s the fact that the whole ethos of the movie, “Keep Moving Forward” is an actual Walt Disney quote and the general idea behind Imagineering.

Next time we re-enter a secret animal world with Bolt, which is another new one for me.

Magical Movies Tour: Treasure Planet

In the great “Ninjas or Pirates” debates of the early internet I always landed squarely on the pirate side. (Daredevil and Batman aside) This was largely because of Disney stuff. Disney fricking loves pirates and I grew up loving them too. I think the company has adapted Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate novel Treasure Island 3 times, if you count Muppet Treasure Island (and you should because it is a delight).

For all it’s steam punk and sci-fi trappings, Treasure Planet is a very straightforward adaptation of the story which is actually a smart decision. And it’s also proof that if you’re going to go back to the well, the best way to do it is in spectacular fashion, or straight back to basics.

Treasure Planet somehow manages to do both, and it’s a really special movie for that. The animation is spectacular and smooth, the characters are memorable. Although I could really do without giving Jim Hawkins that early 2000s “You’re not my dad!” energy. He’s supposed to just be a sweet kid who wants to go on adventures, what’s wrong with that. (I love Treasure Island and have many opinions about it.) This sticks to the Tarzan, “Soundtrack not musical number” style, although this time the songs are by John Rzenick of The Goo Goo Dolls, which is, a choice. It feels like a dated choice even for 2002, when the flick hit, The Goos are kind of a 96-98-ish phenomenon.

Unlike Atlantis, which definitely shares some DNA with this movie, I 100% can see why this didn’t hit. It is super niche. But if you’re the kind of person who is very into Emma Thompson voicing a sexy cat lady pirate (and I think by this time y’all should know that I am) then you will probably be on board for the rest of what’s going on here. Long John Silver as a cyborg, the parrot replaced by a shape shifting alien, a whacky robot instead of a marooned former sailor, I loved every bit of it.

Next week, we discover our true selves with Brother Bear.

Magical Movies Tour: The Emperor’s New Groove

There are no other Disney Animated Movies, and few movies period as gloriously and delightfully and wonderfully silly as The Emperor’s New Groove.

I admit we’re currently in a stretch that if I saw the movies at all, it was likely on a bus on a field trip or a plane or something. I was a little too busy being in middle and high school and thus being in rehearsal every night of my life while all of this was going on and these movies weren’t even musicals so like, who gives a crap?

(I missed out on some cool shit with that thought process, let me tell you.)

And missing out on something as good as The Emperor’s New Groove until some uhhh…chemically altered viewings in college was a huge bummer. (But seriously, this is a fun movie to watch with a bunch of nerds who are stoned. If you’re wondering.)

The Looney Tunes style slapstick is perfectly executed with a fun character style and really game vocal performances by David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt and Patrick Wharburton.

Especially Wharburton. Kronk is definitely the breakout character, a loveable and vain lug who fell in with Yzma (Kitt), but actually wants to do the right thing. That’s not to say that Kuzco and Pacha (Spade and Goodman, respectively) and their odd couple buddy adventure isn’t spectacular, because it totally is, just everytime Kronk does something completely lunkheaded Wharburton’s dopey barritone compliments everything perfectly.

I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy this as much this go round (sans Cannabis) it’s just a delightful romp, with excellent gag after excellent gag.

Next week we get to the adventuring with Atlantis: The Lost Empire 

Magical Movies Tour: Tarzan

Tarzan has a weird distinction for me as a movie that I like perfectly fine but I know a ton about the production process of, even before I started tracking that sort of thing because it was released in the summer of 1999 and that was the first summer that my family had The Disney Channel.

The cable station had been around forever but that year our cable company shifted the package around so we finally had access to it. As life long Disney nuts, and you know, a ten and twelve year old girl, Mary and I were glued to it. Disney Channel was our default, “what do you want to watch?” choice. And because of that, we saw just about every “making of” clip available for Tarzan. We knew every song by heart before the movie came out, we knew that Phil Collins had the idea for “You’ll Be In My Heart” before he even started working on the movie, (He was writing about his daughter), and we knew that Tarzan’s movements were modeled after extreme athletes (skateboarders, snowboarders and surfers).

Outside of all that intimate knowledge was really loving the music. I think our transformation from pop loving giggling girls to prog rock teens is definitely marked here. (Obviously the Tarzan soundtrack is not actually Prog, but Phil Collins, as a former member of Genesis has that in his musical DNA). Also, we were in choir. If you were in choir from 1999 to 2010 you probably had to learn “Trashin’ The Camp” at some point. “You’ll Be In My Hear” got the Oscar, but I’ve always felt like “Son Of Man” is the really standout song of the pack. I’ve also always loved that they used the music as a soundtrack rather than a Broadway style cast album, (Except for “Trashin’ The Camp” which gives Rosie O’Donnell a stand out moment.) because it helps the episodic feel of the movie. It’s like a series of beautifully animated music videos, rather than a straight musical, kind of cool and creative.

My real affection for the music though, does not take away from the fact that Tarzan is pretty forgettable as a movie. It’s fun enough, the animation is clear and creative, but it’s just kind of there. It doesn’t do much of anything new with the Tarzan mythos, the characters aren’t particularly distinct (compare this to The Jungle Book, which is perhaps unfair, but you remember something about each animal Mowgli encounters.) and everyone feels like they’re just caught up in the story beats that they have go through in order to make a Tarzan movie. It actually made me think of the when I saw Spectre and Aless and I walked out going, “Well, that sure was a Bond movie, alright.” Nothing wrong with it, just nothing particularly right with it either.

I’m trying not to get to hyped about next week when we take on Fantasia 2000, because, I know it’s been a little while, but do you guys remember how fucking much I loved Fantasia? 

Magical Movies Tour: Mulan

I know last week I WENT OFF about how Hercules is my favorite of this run, but that was of course before I watched Mulan again which is as different from Hercules as could possibly be, and also might be my favorite?

Mulan is a really special movie for so many reasons. I do really love the “girl disguises herself to go to war” trope, which of course started likely with the Ballad of Hua Mulan, (though my Western Catholic example was always Jeanne D’Arc.) and Disney’s version of the tale is remarkable for a few reasons.

First of all, there are several truly incredible animation sequences. The battle with the Huns on the mountain side, and the final battle at the Imperial Palace have always been stand outs, but this time, I was really moved by the montage of Mulan getting ready to leave home.

It’s moody and epic and a little bit foreboding. The music helps that but the images in that sequence are just absolutely incredible. Mulan sitting on the Great Stone Dragon, seeing her parents in silhouette, and the lightning crashing as she makes her choice.  I was really moved by it.

I also was super moved by the ending when all of the city bows to Mulan after the emperor, but I think that’s just because I watched The Return Of The King the week before I watched it and had a bit of an emotional hangover.

There’s some of the Aladdin formula at work here as well, and it’s really the only one after that where it works. Eddie Murphy’s performance as Mushu is a delight of comic relief, the antics of the cricket are also fun, and the ancestors as a kind of comedic Greek chorus make for a nice bit of business too.

There’s still a steep drop off in quality this run from The Lion King, but it’s also not nearly as pronounced as I remembered. Pocahontas is a stinker, but everything after that is actually pretty good to great. (Mulan and Hercules)

Next time, that “pretty good” streak continues with the Tarzan. 

She’s Inside Of It, She Can’t See

Happy Movie Season 2020!

I’m kidding of course. There is no Movie Season 2020, something I decided last year, using Endgame and The Rise Of Skywalker as excellent signs that both big budget cinema and my particular obsession around it were moving on.

Plus I wanted to be more free and thoughtful with what I was reviewing and when. I still planned to go to the movies a whole lot.

Then you know, “The whole situation” (as my repressed preppy family calls it) occurred and I was suddenly really grateful I’d decided not to because it would have been another thing I needed to mourn and get all anxious over.

BUT, this past week, a new comic book movie, The Old Guard dropped on Netflix, so I decided to take Thursday night (my usual movie night), and recreate a home based Movie Season Evening. I made a shrimp roll (recipe will go up on Tuesday) and some moscow mules, and ate them while watching Cracked After Hours (to simulate the pop culture conversations of Aless, Kristi and I at PJ Clarke’s) while I waited for it do get dark outside enough to watch the movie theater style.

The Old Guard is really special. The idea is that some outside force, God maybe? has blessed a group of warriors across time with immortality. The are lead by Andromeda Schythia, played by Charlize Theron with the exact silent badassary she always applies to these roles. Throughout time they’ve fought as mercenaries against injustice.

When they find a new immortal, they also realize their lives are in danger by an evil medical corporation that wants to harness their power. It ends on an excellent sequel set up and I don’t want to spoil too much, because that’s part of the fun. The movie is quieter and more contemplative than I expected, which isn’t to say that the action is fabulous because it is, each set piece is perfect and brutal.

The cast is great, plenty diverse and it was just a whole lot of fun to tune in to a new movie for a change. I’ve been rewatching a lot, and not watching many movies. I miss the movies, but I was able to get something resembling it. I’ve also been doing Drive-In, with the family, which has been a whole different kind of fun. But something new.

Magical Movie Tours: The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

I’ve never read Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame De Paris from which all the adaptations of The Hunchback of Notre Dame stem. I always figured if I was going to muddle through thousands of pages about Paris architecture and Hugo’s penchant for excruciating detail and bloated casts it should be for the story that I’ve been obsessed with since I was a child.

Which is why I’ve read Les Miserables like 4 ish times (sometimes I start and get frustrated, other times I just skip to the good stuff, but I’ve read the whole thing front to back 3 times), but I’ve never bothered with Notre Dame.

When The Hunchback Of Notre Dame came out I was a little too old for being fully into Disney and not quite the Broadway musical obsessed teenager I would become. It was firmly in my preteen attempts at being a normal person. I regret those years mightily. (This instinct would rear it’s ugly head and lead to misery my sophomore year of college as well). So it just hasn’t imprinted on me the way it has a lot of other people. The music though, once I did become that Broadway musical obsessed teenager, did work it’s way into my heart. “The Bells Of Notre Dame,” and “Out There,” and “God Help The Outcasts” are just absolutely stunning works of musical theater music. It’s some of Alan Menken’s strongest work, all dreamy strings and triumphant horns, and Steven Schwartz’s lyrics are deep and strong and moving.

The art is once again incredible, capturing a time and place so mythic and golden that it shines with God’s love, and yet corrupted and foul with hypocrisy and obsession.

Speaking of “obsession,” having not read the novel, I assume if Frollo is at all faithful Hugo had a bug up his butt about hypocritical sticklers, huh? “Hellfire” is a terrifying song (even if it’s a little bit stolen from Sweeny Todd, Alan and Steve? I see you.) and his determination to burn Paris to “cleanse his own sin” is horrible and really cool.

I get why people love this movie, I really do, I see it. I just, don’t love it. It’s not in my heart, I appreciate it tremendously and love things that it’s given us. (Seriously, that music, just heavenly.) (There was also a time when wandering around Epcot that Mary and I tripped over Esmerelda and she taught us a dance and it was easily one of my favorite character interactions ever, I think I was 12?)

Next we get into the movie from this era that did get into my heart, and that’s Hercules.