I forget sometimes that I speak French. Well, maybe not forget so much as don’t think about it. Much like I don’t specifically think about speaking English. I just do. If I hear or see French, my brain understands without me having to engage anything in particular. It’s just effortless. Growing up we spoke both at home, both at the same time, every sentence seasoned with both languages, choosing whichever words or expressions suited us most. So when I started watching this French film on Netflix, I listened without thinking, and since I was also doing work on my laptop, I didn’t even realize there were subtitles, and may not have consciously realized it was French until I glanced up and my brain shuddered: the subtitle had a mother calling her son “sweet pea” when in fact what she called him was a “soft caramel.” Soft caramel isn’t really a thing in English. I mean, it’s a thing you can eat, but it’s not a term of endearment. So the subtitles substituted for something that made more sense but wasn’t a direct translation. This happens all the time of course, sometimes with hilarious results, but when you’re understanding both at the same time, it can be a little jarring. I’m positive Netflix must have an option for turning off the captions but I’m also positive that about 4 minutes of bumbling through buttons netted no results.
So here I am, watching an animated movie with two tracks, basically: spoken French and written English, and the two are in basic agreement. It’s about a little boy named Naoufel who dreams of becoming a concert pianist and an astronaut. And about the same young man, grown up, who is a pizza delivery guy. Which I feel is supposed to be some sort of humbling come down, but what has an astronaut ever done for me? And yet the pizza guy routine brings joy, hot and cheesy, to my front door. My life would be worse without him. Anyway, Naoufel isn’t exactly the most exemplary of deliverymen, and one night when he’s struggling even more than usual, he just gives up, gives in, sits down in an apartment lobby talking to a woman on the intercom while he eats her undeliverable pizza. He falls in love and devises an elaborate scheme for stalking/wooing her.
Meanwhile, across town, a disembodied hand escapes from a laboratory fridge. The hand goes on an epic Parisian journey through the city’s gutters, fending off pigeons and rats. The hand is sad, I think.
Yeah, it’s weird. That might be the weirdest sentence I’ve ever written here. It’s damn weird to have a stalker love story be intercut by a dirty roaming hand. And all the dirty, greedy flies who follow it. And yet it is strangely beautiful, poetic, almost hypnotizing. The animation is soft, subtle. The story is intimate and sad, truly something unique and unforgettable.
In nearly every church staging of the nativity story, some beatific, well-behaved little girl is cast as Mary, some lucky boy as her Joseph, and then about 30 of their friends as various sheep and camels and goats and whatnot (in Love Actually, Emma Thompson is surprised to learn there was not just one lobster but several, plus an octopus and a Spider-Man) – the point is, there are lots of kids and very few roles, so they’ve always been padded out with the animal brethren likely to be hanging around a manger.
In this particular retelling of the nativity story, the humans take a back seat to the animals; for once, they’re the stars, especially a brave young miniature donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun). Bo dreams about being in the royal caravan but in fact is locked up in a mill grinding grain all day. His buddy Dave, a dove (Keegan-Michael Key), eggs him on.
Meanwhile, Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) are celebrating their wedding feast and about to have a VERY awkward conversation. Boy is she relieved when a wayward runaway donkey crashes the party and gives her a few minutes’ reprieve. Anyway, eventually she and Joseph start their trek to Bethlehem and Bo and Dave find a helpful sheep named Ruth (Aidy Bryant) to lead the way and help Bo with a Lassie moment.
Meanwhile, a trio camels (Tyler Perry, Oprah, Tracy Morgan) belonging to the three wisemen are also having a moment trying to get their human cargo to a baby foretold by the stars.
Every nativity scene you’ve ever seen has a donkey. Now you’ll actually appreciate him.
The Star is actually a charming little movie full of big voice talent and quirky little moments to make your season bright.
As it happens, the morning after I happened to meet ‘Enchanted Christmas’ Belle at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, my 3 year old niece was watching the movie at home. I’d never seen it myself, somewhat miraculously because my sisters seemed to watch it religiously when we were small. It’s nice to see that they’re indoctrinating their offspring on straight-to-video sequels so young.
My other sister’s kids were not so well versed on Beauty and the Beast lore, perhaps because they are boys. When we were at Disney with them back in February, we had a dinner reservation at the very hard-to-get Be Our Guest restaurant inside the Beast’s castle. The boys were nonplussed until Hollywood Studios generously put on their Beauty and the Beast musical and sped them up on the essentials – though I do stress essentials. It’s a lovely little stage show but it’s quite stripped down. Belle’s father Maurice is completely written out, and the Beast’s transition is so hasty that it seemed to go unnoticed by our two boys. Little Jack, who was teetering between 4 and 5 years old at the time, worried about our upcoming dinner with the Beast. “Does he know we’re coming?” he asked, worriedly. “Will he be mad?” “No, no,” I assured him, “now that he’s married he’s very domesticated, very calm and inviting, just like your dad when he makes spaghetti.” Once there, the Beast is in fact very much the gentleman, and the kids realized there was nothing to fear.
Meeting Enchanted Belle helped me to complete my Belle trilogy – blue dress, yellow dress, holiday dress. If you want to shower me with special prizes, go ahead. I’ve also met the Beast of course, and Gaston, who made me feel very much an old lady by being a young lad himself. In my mind, Gaston has always been, well, a man. But standing beside him made me think that perhaps I’m now…in my Maurice years? Dear god.
[Why does Gaston look like he’s trying to punch me in the tit?]
[When Matt told Gaston it was nice to meet him, Gaston, true to nature, replied “I know.”]
Anyway, shall we talk about the movie, perhaps?
At the end of Beauty & The Beast, the Beast has turned back into Prince Adam and the teapot and candlestick and so forth have all taken human form once again as well. However, to re-live the glory days (according to Disney’s pocketbooks – likely the servants who spent years as household objects would say otherwise), this movie flashes back to the Christmas they all spent together still under the spell. So Belle was still technically a prisoner with an on-again, off-again case of Stockholm Syndrome, and the furniture/servants hadn’t celebrated the holidays in years because the Beast had “forbidden” it.
Sadly Gaston does not appear as the antagonist; the part of “villain” is played by – and this is going to be as hard to hear as it is for me to write – an organ. An organ who takes credit for writing ‘Deck the Halls.’
So…not quite as beloved as the first, shall we say? That seems diplomatic. And perhaps so terrible an understatement as to be blatantly unfactual. Factually speaking. But, um, it was an honour to meet her in person!
Reviews for Frozen 2 were a bit mixed and I confess I didn’t exactly love the first one (was I the only one on the entire planet not to?). I didn’t hate it, but it was just okay for me. I didn’t even love the song. On our recent trip to Disney World, we met pretty much the whole Frozen crew but needed to attend a sing-along (where people definitely, enthusiastically sang along) to even remember some pretty big plot points from the movie, which came out in 2013 (for example, not one of us remembered trolls). Still, we dutifully brought back an Elsa dress for our 3 year old niece, who has caught Elsa fever (not the kind that produces snow boogies) like pretty much every little girl under 10 has at one time or another.
So of course we went to the see the film. The trailers looked…well, astonishing, frankly, real marvels of computer animation, if a little light on story. We tempered our expectations and emptied our bladders (it’s not really that long, just long for kids – nearly 2 hours with previews) and took our seats in a theatre packed with kids.
And you know what? I can’t speak for the kids, but I freaking loved it. Yes, the animation is, well, staggering. There was more than one moment when I had to convince my eyes that they were looking at cartoons, not real life. The cinematography is top-tier; the light design is dazzling. But, okay, throw all that aside: what about the story? You may have heard that it doesn’t reach the heights of its predecessor, that it lacks drama because it doesn’t have a distinct villain. That the songs are a bit on the forgettable side. I think that’s all a bunch of hogwash.
Frozen II is more interesting, more complex, and more satisfying than the first one, perhaps because its themes are more mature, perhaps because instead of battling a bad guy, it turns inward, introspective. An enchanted forest is calling to Elsa, and though everyone fears what will happen if she opens Pandora’s box, she opens it anyway, exuberantly, after obsessing over it. Though she and Anna vow to go forth together, as a team, they inevitably part ways and both will be tested.
I laughed. I cried. I was surprised on several occasions by its bold and curious choices. There’s a musical number performed by Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) that inserts what I can only describe as a 1980s-style power ballad into the proceedings for no apparent reason. The number is done as if it’s an early MTV music video, all hokey and cheesy and wonderful because of it – clearly not aimed at children who will never know that the M in MTV once stood for music.
I felt that the first film espoused a fake kind of feminism – people applauded it while apparently failing to note that lots of male characters were still propping up the sisters. But in this film they simply do, and they do well, all by themselves, without anyone needing to point it out. You can tell the ladies are genuinely getting down to business because Elsa’s beautiful dress, already being marketed to little girls in stores, comes with slacks, making it easier for her to kick butt. Elsa seemed moody and bratty in the first, but here she’s a woman full of confidence, full of competence. And Anna knows her worth, magical powers or no.
Do any of the songs rival the powerhouse Let It Go? from the first film? How could they, really? Let It Go was an anomaly, one in a million. And then horribly overplayed and quite tedious. Still, several of the songs were quite good, if not quite as memorable, and performed by Broadway’s best, well, it’s nothing to sneeze at.
I don’t know what kids think of it (yet – my 5 year old nephew and 3 year old niece will see it tomorrow – and in 2 weeks, when that 3 year old niece turns 4, her aunt Jay will bring an Elsa cake to her birthday party) but I do know that I was impressed by it, entertained by it, moved by it. I said previously that the first Frozen felt more like a merchandising tool than a movie, destined to spawn straight-to-video sequels, so this is a rare occasion when I admit my mistake, and am humbled by it. Just a bit. 😉
This is my nephew Jack, who’s providing the kid perspective.
And my other nephew Ben.
It’s okay. You can tell me their reviews are better than mine. I know it. And I’m the proudest aunt.
Chicken Little has been shunned in his community ever since, you know, that incident. The one where he said the sky was falling but it wasn’t? Yeah, majorly embarrassing – they even made a movie about it, seemingly just to rub it in. Plus he’s bullied at school and things have been totally strained between him and his dad.
Chicken Little’s dad, Buck Cluck, was a very popular jock back in his day and he hardly knows how to cope with such a puny, disappointing son. Chicken Little (Zach Braff) decides the best way to win over his dad (Garry Marshall) is through sports, so he joins the baseball team and against all odds scores a game-winning run. Don’t worry, he doesn’t let it go to his head (yeah right). But you know what does go straight to his head? Another piece of the sky, which promptly falls on him. Chicken Little’s a little wiser this time – he knows sounding the alarm bells will only spell more mortification for him, so he keeps it to himself and a few trusted friends, namely Runt of the Litter (Steve Zahn) and Abby Mallard (Joan Cusack) (aka Ugly Duckling) (Abby Mallard, that is, not Joan Cusack; Cusack is a wonder and a delight, but I don’t think it should be used for poor Abby either). Turns out, Chicken Little ISN’T crazy, but nor is the sky falling. In fact, it’s pieces of wonky spaceship he keeps getting pelted with, and the whole thing boils down to: ALIEN INVASION!!!!
Truth is, I forgot about Chicken Little, which came out back in 2005, and I definitely forget to classify it as a Disney film, which it is. It came out just a year before Disney officially merged with Pixar, so it’s a weird hybrid where the animation is definitely trying to look more like Pixar but it lacks Pixar’s edge, their detailed world-building, their boundary-breaking story-telling. It’s only Disney’s second completely computer-generated animated film (after 2000’s Dinosaur) so it makes sense that they haven’t found a signature style yet.
Anyway, I was reminded about Chicken Little being a thing when I visited Disney World back in February because Chicken Little himself was just walking about the park as if he had nowhere better to be. His friend Abby Mallard was with him, and they both stopped to sign autographs for my 4 year old nephew who was delighted despite not knowing who the heck they were. Abby was in such a good mood that she grabbed my hand and started skipping down Main Street with me, toward Cinderella’s Castle. And that’s what you have to love about Disney. Those characters were unannounced, unscheduled extras. They were walking around making the day extra special for several kids, and several more kids at heart.
Alice may have avoided her unfortunate tumble down the rabbit hole had her mother not been such a bore. She’s reading to her in a tree from a book that doesn’t even have any pictures. Practically a textbook. No wonder Alice resoundly rejects it, and the boring, logical world that it espouses. She’s positively ripe for following a charismatic leader, or tardy hare, into a world of nonsense and nonconformity.
Alice, as it turns out, is a self-pitying, impetuous crybaby. She is such a little deviant, in fact, I wonder if 1951 audiences figured her for a commie. Now, as an adult, I can see her for the petulant spoiled brat that she is, but as I kid I was blinded by her pristine blue pinafore and her perfect blonde hair. I writhed with jealousy when my mother cast my youngest sister as Alice in our school’s entry in the Christmas parade one year. The theme was story books and our float was Wonderland-themed. My mother, god bless her overachieving soul, was determined to make a costume for each and every kid in the school who wanted to participate (not quite as terrible as it sounds: we had less than 100 students). There were caterpillars and psychedelic flowers, the white rabbit of course, and a mad hatter. And dozens of people trailed the float as either story books of a different ilk, or members of the Queen of Hearts’ playing card army. The Queen was played by the school’s tiniest, most taciturn teacher – a part she was born to play, but I don’t know how my mother proposed the idea without being threatened with her own beheading. Meanwhile, as the eldest daughter who routinely ‘took one for the team’, I walked in front of the float, just me and my childhood crush carrying our school’s banner. We were dressed as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. I don’t remember which one I was, but pictures would prove clarifying as my little propeller hat identified me rather firmly. We lacked a proper costume from the neck down and were compelled to wear matching California Raisin costumes for uniformity, and perhaps just flat-out maximum humiliation. My mother must have WANTED me to hate my sister. She made it fairly impossible not to.
Anyway, if I sound bitter in this review, it’s because I am.
Drinking helps, which is fortunate, because Sean, Matt and I are in Disney World for the forseeable future, where we’ll have ample opportunity to meet Alice, should we want to. She hangs out by the teacups ride which is actually called the Mad Tea Party, and is often accompanied by a Mad Hatter at the very least. When I visited the park with my sister back in February (NOT the one who played Alice), she turned an alarming shade of green as her 4 year old son put an extra spin on our trip. But should we miss her in Magic Kingdom, she also hangs out in Epcot, in the U.K. pavilion, directly across from the Yorkshire County Fish Shop in The Tea Caddy Gardens. Mary Poppins can often be seen strolling about with a parasol on her arm in the U.K. portion of the World Showcase. Other countries have their own princesses: Belle in France, Anna and Elsa in Norway, Mulan in China, Jasmine in Morocco. There are no princesses in the Canadian pavilion, just a bunch of poutine and some maple-flavoured popcorn (though I sort of think Duke Caboom should hang out there, revving his motorcycle).
The World Showcase is fun in many ways, not least of all because you can literally drink your way around it, with each country providing many samples of their finest hooch. There are margaritas in Mexico and prosecco in Italy and Oktoberfest beers in Germany. Because I’m ambitious, and mean, I intend to subject Sean to this booze tour, so I’ll take the opportunity to suggest you visit our Twitter feed at @AssholeMovies because there are 11 countries and countless opportunities to get your drink on, including an alcoholic popsicle stand, and a Frozen-themed blue lemonade spiked with moonshine. I predict Sean will need propping up by the time we hit Japan.
Anyway, please pardon my little digression. Back to the movie. I’m still rather astounded at how much they got away with, stuff that feels like pretty blatant drug references to me, counterculture stuff that seems out of place in a Disney movie, especially one with a little girl for a protagonist. I mean, she literally eats mushrooms.
The Cheshire Cat sounds awfully familiar – like Winnie The Pooh really, without much embellishment. I check IMDB and I’m right: Sterling Holloway voiced both. He was also Mr. Stork, in Dumbo, adult Flower in Bambi, Kaa the snake in Jungle Book, and Roquefort in The Aristocats. Disney’s casting certainly was incestuous. Sean and I ate at the Cheshire cafe last time we were in Disney, and we can certainly recommend the Cat Tail, and the Wonderland slushy. This time we’ll be dining WITH Winnie the Pooh (can you stand the excitement?) – and his pal Tigger too!
This movie actually takes from Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (fun fact: I once saw a Looking Glass play in Stratford starring a young Sarah Polley, then known as Canada’s sweetheart for roles in Ramona and Road to Avonlea). Alice is here voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, who also voiced Wendy in Peter Pan, and continued to do so until her retirement in 2005 (reminder: this movie came out in 1951!). You can still hear Beaumont narrating the Mad Tea Party ride to this day in Disneyland. That’s her here, providing a live action reference for Disney animators.
And somewhere in the Disney parks, I am currently the live action reference for a grown woman having far too much fun.
[In fact, I believe today we are attempting to ‘Drink Around the World’ in Epcot. Epcot’s World Showcase has 11 country pavillions and we’ll be grabbing a drink in each one. Sounds like potential disaster! Why not keep tabs on us via Twitter – @AssholeMovies, and be sure to play along on the Disney Bingo card.]
Update: Watch the Assholes accept the Drink Around the World Epcot challenge – and watch us demolish it???
Jim Dear gives his wife Darling a hat box for Christmas, and inside she finds a beautiful golden cocker spaniel she names Lady. Better than a hat any day. This was taken from Walt Disney’s own life – having once forgotten a dinner date with his wife, he made it up to her with a puppy and was immediately forgiven. As you would be. Take note, Sean.
The story belongs to the dogs. We rarely seen the owners’ faces, and their home is mostly seen from a dog’s eye view. It is simply told and simply felt – simple, but awfully sweet.
Lady is a well cared for, sheltered dog who’s lived an indoor life having her coat brushed until it’s lustrous and shiny, her meals served on a china dish. When she meets the Tramp, he’s a street-wise mutt who’s seen some shit. They’re opposites, but after the obligatory initial turning up of the snouts, the two can’t help but sniff each other’s butts. Which in dog speak is hot hot heat. Instant dog lust.
Would I watch a reality-based dating show featuring dogs? I really might.
But I won’t have to, thanks to Disney+, a new streaming service to rival Netflix that will host movies but also lots of new episodic programming from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. Aside from the movies you’d expect, there will be lots of new comic book content, including Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, and shows that will get to know some of the lesser-known Avengers like WandaVision, which will star Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany), plus Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan in The Falcon and The Winter Soldier, and something or other about Loki (Tom Hiddleston). And Jon Favreau is overseeing an extremely big-budget Star Wars series called The Mandalorian, and you can expect a spin-off of Rogue One about Rebel Alliance freedom fighter Cassian Andor with Diego Luna and Alan Tudyk reprising their roles. And rather excitingly, Ewan McGregor will once again suit up as Obi-Wan Kenobi for a series that won’t begin shooting until next year.
You might also find yourself anticipating The World According to Jeff Goldblum, a reality show featuring you know who explaining different topics. Or maybe you’re more excited about the Toy Story 4 spin-off, Forky Asks a Question. Or the “short-form unscripted” (whatever that means) Muppets comedy series unimaginatively titled Muppets Now. Or the announced series remake of High Fidelity starring Zoe Kravitz.
Personally, though, I’m in it for the new movies. And just our luck, a Lady and The Tramp live-action remake is among the first, with voices by Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux (and Kiersey Clemons, Thomas Mann, Janelle Monae, and Sam Freaking Elliott) so you can fall in love with this movie all over again.
I’m talking about Lady and The Tramp today in particular because as you may have noticed, Matt, Sean and I are at Disney World and today we’re eating dinner at Tony’s, which just happens to be the restaurant where Lady and Tramp have their adorable spaghetti dinner date in the alley out back. As far as I know, we’ll get a table inside, but spaghetti IS on the menu, and if the three of us are feeling particularly romantic, we may just be nosing meat balls at each other and two-mouthing noodles to meet in the middle. Do tune in to Twitter @AssholeMovies to see the things you cannot unsee, and check out the new Lady and The Tramp on Disney+ November 12.