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: 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: 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. 

 

Magical Movies Tour: Bolt

Full disclosure, I watched Bolt with a pretty open heart, since it comes from a storytelling tradition I like out of Disney, and the lead is voiced by John Travolta and I watched it the day after Kelly Preston died, so I was disposed to treat him kindly.

That said, Bolt is a sweet little flick in the tradition of Lady And The Tramp, 101 Dalmations and Oliver And Company. It isn’t as good as those, by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t disgrace the tropes either.

Bolt is an adorable doggie actor, the star of his own TV show and he’s spent his whole life being trained to believe he’s the character he plays on TV is who he really is, and his co-star, a child actor named Olivia, is actually Penny, his owner on the show. (She’s also voiced by Miley Cyrus, and they sing a duet together, and I just thought, “MAN, it’s nice that those two charismatic dummies with excellent singing voices got to sing a song together.” I have opinions.)

They’re separated due to shenanigans and Bolt races across the country to get back to his human, while Olivia worries about him and the grown ups around her pressure her to accept his replacement.

On his cross country journey, Bolt makes a reluctant ally in Mittens, an abandoned cat and Rhino, a stuck in his ball hamster who ADORES the show. There are running gags about pigeons as regional locals, which hit the nail in the perfect way.

The jump animation-wise between Meet The Robinsons and this is exceptional, the hair on the animals is well animated, and the character expressions more nuanced. It’s impressive. The movie isn’t as good, but it’s worth a watch if you want something cute. I wish it were a bit more of tear jerker, frankly.

It is an interesting thing that happens sometimes in Disney Movies, where they criticize a major portion of their bussiness model. It is made clear that being a child star sucks, Olivia is miserable. As Miley herself has talked about a lot as she’s become an adult, she hated being Hannah Montana, really hated it.

Next time the new era of greatness truly begins, it’s time head down to New Orleans with The Princess And The Frog

Star Trek: Lower Decks And The Healing Power of Silly

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately that I’m trying to break out of. This isn’t as bad as the actual depression hit I got back in April, but just, a low level blah and lack of motivation, and numbness.

So, I’m trying to get out of it, with my usual stuff, yoga, changing up my diet, abstaining from alcohol, tracking how much water I drink, rearranging my furniture (I bought a new couch! I’m very excited about it!) and, getting out of the rewatch loop.

I decided, since I purchased a year of access to CBS All Access, and there’s a new show that is just the part of Star Trek that’s my favorite, ie, the silly, dopey, jokey parts, I decided to give Lower Decks a whirl.

I was immediately enamored of the show’s sense of humor and of my adorable tiny space dorks. Let’s run down our main cast:

Ensign Brad Boimler: A try hard, rule follower who thinks that Star Fleet is the absolute greatest. He wants to be like the TNG bridge crew, but he’s not really up to that kind of thing.

Ensign Beckett Mariner: Mariner is actually a really talented Star Fleet officer. She’s also the daughter of two high ranking captains and thinks that the rules are bullshit. As a result, she’s been demoted and shifted around and is now stuck on her mother’s ship and it is not going well.

Ensign Sam Rutherford: He’s a big engineering dork who just became a cyborg and is working on that. He’s also super awkward.

Ensign D’Vana Tendi: A new medical recruit. She’s just very bright and shiny and happy to be here.

There’s also the standard Trek bridge crew, who are around, but they’re basically in the same position as these kids are in a standard show, popping in and out of stories as useful.

I’m mostly happy about this show because it is so delightfully silly. It’s not a smart show, it’s stupid in the best way and every one is just a goofy dork and I want them to succeed and be protected. Protect my tiny space dorks! It was exactly what I needed when I needed it and I’m therefore very happy to have it. It also reminded me that I’d watched the first season and a half of Star Trek: Voyager and I’ve now fallen down that hole and will be continuing it and finishing it and writing  up a Nerd Homework (remember those? Remember when I wrote about stuff that wasn’t Disney movies?)

Anyway, if you have CBS All Access, it’s worth checking out the show. Or waiting until it completes and doing a free month and binging the whole thing, which I would definitely recommend over forking over your money for this stupid disappointing platform. (I would like to remind everyone that when I signed up, I didn’t think we’d enter a terrifying pandemic and that I wouldn’t want to even think about, let alone reread and then watch an adaptation of The Stand.)

Magical Movies Tour:Lilo & Stitch

Much like The Emperor’s New Groove there’s a certain stripe and age of Disney Fan for whom Lilo & Stitch is the be all end all. Unlike New Groove, it’s footprint is bigger, and I don’t like it that much.

It has it’s charms and as a grown quirky imaginative kid, I appreciate that kids like me a little younger had Lilo to look to. Not to mention non nuclear families and people of Polynesian decent. Stitch is a fun character too, and probably the reason why the film left a bigger footprint than the rest of the ones from this era.

As a Disney parks fan, escaping Stitch is impossible. He is fracking everywhere at Walt Disney World and has been pretty much since the movie came out. And again, I see the appeal, Stitch is little kid Id writ large, running around causing mayhem and being only lightly corrected. That kind of energy is very at home in a theme park setting.

The movie does what it does well, and balances it’s intergalactic adventure and family dramedy portions spectacularly, I’m also really into the soundtrack, a combination of new songs and a good selection of Elvis’s greatest hits, but I don’t know why I just can never get into it. I’ve tried a few times and it just never quite clicked with me.

I of course, am not made of stone so therefore, “Ohana means family, family means no one gets left behind or forgotten” and “This is my family, I found it all by myself, it’s little and broken but still good, yeah, still good,” make me weep like a baby.

Next time, we’ll blast off looking for Treasure Planet 

Magical Movies Tour: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

I think that if Titan AE didn’t exist, Atlantis: The Lost Empire would have a bit more of a cult following, but the type of people who’d love it, already gave their hearts to Titan AE, and didn’t have room for this.

Other people that would love this movie, The Firefly people. (I’m not a Firefly person, but most of my friends are. GUYS! WATCH ATLANTIS! YOU’RE GOING TO LIKE IT!)

The thing that stands out the most to me on this is the unique look. It doesn’t really look much like anything else. The characters are boxy and angular and the world of Atlantis itself is alien and beautiful and captivating. It’s also exceptionally fast. We’re on the road to Atlantis, dishing out exposition along the way, about 10 minutes in. It’s actually quite impressive how expediently it gets you into it’s world and on it’s wavelength.

I’m not a big “celebrity voices don’t belong in animation” person, but I will say that Michael J. Fox’s performance as Milo is both very good and super distracting. Maybe it’s because I’m a big fan of his, (I was a weird kid who was super into Spin City.) but I find his voice and style of delivery so distinct that hearing it come out of an animated character, even one that in his youth and when he was healthy, he could have easily played in live action, just feels eerie. (Odd that I don’t feel this way about Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy, but I don’t. I do a little bit about Kevin Kline as Phoebus in Hunchback.)

This sounds like the movie itself didn’t make an impression on me, but it really did. I think it’s a pretty fun movie that got buried somehow. I’m not sure how, I suppose it is that there’s nothing else quite like it, and it was also a time before everyone realized those 70’s and 80’s nerds who loved Superman and Star Wars had preteen and teen kids who they’d passed that nerdiness onto.

Next time we’re on that Hawaiin roller coaster ride with Lilo & Stitch. 

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: Dinosaur

Wow, Dinosaur is boring.

The thing it has going for it, the photo realistic dinosaurs are kind of cool, but their appeal is exhausted after the first twenty minutes. After that there’s still like an hour and a half of movie.

The plot, such as it is, involves a baby dinosaur who is orphaned and raised by monkeys, who one day finds a heard of his own kind who are escaping a comet and moving to their nesting grounds. His monkey guardians are psyched about this, because they were very worried their adopted dino son was never going to meet a nice girl and mate. Luckily, there is a nice girl dino of his own species. She’s got a dickhead brother though who’s stubborn belief that he’s right is going to get them eaten by a Carnosaur.

Anyway, then they walk to the valley and our lead dino and dino girl have babies of their own.

Look, this movie is visually stunning and is definitely a technilogical marvel, but it is so dull. There’s just nothing exciting or interesting that happens. Even the few chases involving the Carnosaur are over quickly and don’t hold much suspense.

This did inspire a fricking TERRIFYING ride at Animal Kingdom that I have vowed to never ride again.

Anyway, next week, we’ll enter the hilarious cartoon world of The Emperor’s New Groove

Magical Movies Tour: Fantasia 2000

Watching Fantasia woke up something inside of me. I think it’s an incredibly special piece of art, interesting and idiosyncratic and unique. It was also a deep financial failure for Disney Studios and despite years of trying, Walt’s desire for a sequel never got off the ground. When Roy Disney took over, it became his dream to chase and, based on the reading I’ve done this year, really bugged the crap out of everyone else at the company.

The result of that war (besides Michael Eisner losing his job and Bob Iger becoming a thing) is Fantasia 2000, which is an interesting beast, and nowhere near as lovely as it’s predecessor. Choosing a slate of new pieces and remastering “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” the film is presented much more like a splashy symphonic event concert, complete with celebrity introductions and projection screens.

It is nowhere near as charming and the work on display feels a good deal less magical.

I liked a few of the pieces more than others. Interpreting “Rhapsody in Blue” as a bustling day in 1930s New York, drawn in the style of Al Hirschfeld is inspired and the resulting piece is a lot of fun to watch. “The Firebird” is interesting if imperfect and “Pomp And Circumstance” is a lovely little fable that features my good friend Donald.

At the bottom of the barrel is probably “The Pines of Rome” where several blue whales migrate and jump out of the water. While I’m sure this sequence seemed really cool on Imax screens in 2000, now the CGI looks dated and there’s no majesty on my home tv.

The celebrity narrators are well chosen and acquit themselves well, but still feel, off, I guess?

Next week, we’re talking about Dinosaur, which I genuinely cannot remember if I’ve ever watched before.