Tag Archives: animated movies

Missing Link

Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is an investigator of myths and monsters but his charismatic exploits have failed to yield any actual proof. There’s a boy’s club of pompous explorers Frost would kill to be a part of, but they won’t have him. In fact, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) would kill to keep him out – and unfortunately, he means that a little more literally than does Frost. Frost feels like his best and last chance is to go to America to find the elusive Sasquatch, and Lord Piggot-Dunceby sends Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to make sure he doesn’t.

Frost does indeed meet the Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis), who turns out to be rather a MV5BNDFmMjlmNjEtN2RhNS00NWNhLWFjODgtN2IxYTY1NzExYWZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODEwMTc2ODQ@._V1_pathetic figure. The last of his kind, “Mr. Link” is lonely, and hopes Frost will help him find long-lost cousins, Yeti said to live in the Himalayas. With the help of Frost’s friend Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana), who hikes the mother fucking Himalayas in heels, they have an adventure worthy of even the greatest explorer, facing adversity bigger than even Big Foot himself.

Laika’s last effort, Kubo and the Two Strings, is an absolutely incredible feat of animation and story-telling. It looks and feels like something truly special, almost magical. Missing Link, while quite charming, is no Kubo. Which is not to say it’s bad, not at all. It’s sweet, actually, and its straight-forward plotting is kid-friendly and accessible. The animation is what we’ve come to expect from over-achieving Laika, and the voice work is first-rate. The film manages to be funny and heart-warming throughout. But it doesn’t have that edge, that sliver of darkness I’ve come to expect from Laika.

Missing Link is a nice movie, a genuinely nice movie, but it’s less sophisticated, less complex than Laika’s usual fare, so for me it fell short of the high bar set by Kubo.

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Space Jam

It’s fitting that LeBron James is taking the Space Jam reins from Michael Jordan, since last week James passed Jordan in career points scored and the two have always been compared since James was in high school.  Jordan would have scored many more points if only he hadn’t taken two years off in his prime to try his hand at baseball.  Rumour has always held that Jordan went to play baseball in order to avoid a gambling suspension, mainly because it made no sense at all for the notoriously competitive Jordan to have “retired” at age 30 (Jordan would retire twice more before his basketball career was over).

Jordan’s baseball career features prominently in Space Jam’s loose plot, as if he had been playing basketball at the time, the evil aliens from the Moron Mountain amusement park would have taken Jordan’s skills and he never would have been able to help the Looney Tunes gang.  But because Jordan was retired, the aliens had to steal other NBA players’ talent, space-jam-bill-murrayincluding Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Larry Johnson, Muggsy Bogues and Shawn Bradley.  Jordan is then recruited by Bugs Bunny to play with a bunch of other cartoon characters, with some help from Bill Murray and no help at all from Wayne Knight, as the cartoons take on the aliens in a basketball game to determine whether the aliens will enslave those loony ‘toons as an amusement park attraction.

This movie was probably never any good but it has been made worse with age.  The animation is dated, the green screen work is horrible, and worst of all, the “stars” involved in this movie, other than the great Charles Barkley, have been forgotten by all but the most attentive New York Knicks fans (who would punch me in the face for saying anything bad about Ewing and who will never forget LJ hitting a clutch four-point play against the Pacers in 1999’s Eastern Conference Finals).  Space Jam also really highlights how much the Looney Tunes feel like variations of one another (cat/duck and man/pig in particular) and pale imitations of their Disney counterparts.

Even with only a 90 minute run-time, a significant part of the movie feels like filler, including an opening scene with a 1- year old Jordan, about 5 minutes of Jordan highlights during the opening credits, and a subplot of sorts that features some really terrible acting by the three kids playing Jordan’s family (like so bad that you figure they have to be Jordan’s real kids, but they’re totally not – I checked).

lebron-vs-mjIf LeBron’s career arc is any indication, the next Space Jam is destined to be technically superior to Jordan’s original but lacking the same emotional core.  That doesn’t bode well for the reboot when there was no substance or emotion to the first Space Jam at all.  Watching it again only makes one wonder why anyone bothered to make it in the first place, as well as why James would want to invite any more comparisons to Jordan’s six for six NBA Finals record against LeBron’s three wins and six losses in his attempts (which I don’t begrudge but I’m in the minority on that point).  On the other hand, since the original Space Jam has nothing to offer, the reboot can’t possibly be worse!

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

With two feature films and countless Netflix series under their belts, the creative team behind the How to Train Your Dragon franchise is very comfortable. They are content to spend as much time as they need on their story, resulting in what may be the world’s first dragon-centric rom-com.

Toothless, the black dragon from the first two films, is back and gets his own story thread, as he meets a lovely white dragon and is instantly smitten. She’s not so sure about him at first, and his courtship attempts are more than a little awkward, but we all know he’s going to win her over eventually. The outcome of that romance is also obvious to his best human friend, Hiccup, the leader of the dragon-how-to-train-your-dragon-3-headerriding Vikings that live in the island village of Berk, and that’s where things get interesting.

In addition to figuring out how to deal with his dragon’s dating, Hiccup and his Vikings have their own problems. They’re being pursued by the drsgon hunter Grimmel and his massive fleet. Against some resistance, Hiccup decides that the Vikings’ best chance to survive is to find the hidden dragon world located beyond the edge of the world.

Hiccup and Toothless have both grown up a lot over the course of the trilogy, and they grapple with some fairly complex relationship-related issues in this third instalment. The result is an emotional third act as life pulls Hiccup and Toothless in very different directions and they have some hard choices to make.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World shows that we are still in the midst of a golden age for animation. The Hidden World is full of beautifully animated scenes, with particularly amazing lighting effects, but more importantly, it’s a story that my 40-something self could relate to, engage with, and be moved by. It’s a satisfying conclusion to a very enjoyable series.

 

Virus Tropical

Virus Tropical is a black and white animated film celebrating the coming of age of a young Colombian-Ecuadorian girl in a close-knit family.

Paola’s conception is near-miraculous; her mother had her tubes tied and her pregnancy was initially diagnosed as a tropical virus of some sort. Nine months later, a third daughter was added to the family. Paola’s oldest sister is adoring and the middle sister is instantly jealous, having been so firmly bumped out of the baby position. Paola’s father is a former Catholic priest with many of the religious tendencies still intact, and her mother is a domino-reading fortune teller favoured by the president. It’s a mystical-sounding childhood that in fact turns out to be quite ordinary.

Paola is a kid like any other, struggling to be accepted by her peer group, finding her place among her sisters, rebelling against her parents. The film, based on Paola Gaviria’s (aka Power Paola’s) graphic novel of the same name, belongs in the bosom of the family, and rarely looks out toward larger social or cultural contexts. But even the mundane events are recounted with such attention to detail that they’re fully absorbing, the story rich and brimming with life.

The black and white line drawings are surprisingly effective, and director Santiago Caicedo has a knack for drawing in the eye with relatively simple art. The story itself is rather episodic, and the transitions between them aren’t always smooth, but I was pleasantly surprised by how watchable it felt, and how connected I felt to Paola and her family of strong-willed women. The film doesn’t aspire to make larger connections so you’ll have to be content with diary-style recounting rather than introspection; Virus Tropical is pleasant and interesting, but it isn’t particularly deep.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

As you might have guessed, we’ve been so busy at Disney World lately that our movie nights have been few and far between. But now that we’re back from Florida, we are trying to catch up as best we can!

The-LEGO-Movie-2-The-Second-Part-Official-Trailer-2The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is a movie I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Picking up right where The LEGO Movie left off, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part follows Emmet (Chris Pratt), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and the rest of the Bricksburg gang (Will Arnett, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman and Alison Brie) as they battle against the DUPLO invaders. After five years of war, Bricksburg has become an apocalyptic wasteland (and aptly renamed Apocalypseburg). When a new type of invader drops out of the sky and kidnaps Emmet’s friends, Emmet blasts off to the Systar system in hot pursuit.

Sequels are often hard to critique, and I assume even harder to create. Stay too close to the first film and you risk feeling stale. But stray too far from the original and you might lose the magic that drew your audience to you in the first place. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote the original, both return for The LEGO Movie 2 (bonus points to Lord for also writing the outstanding Into the Spider-Verse).  Lord and Miller chose to stay close to the original, and the result is a comfortable ride through familiar territory with a (very) few new characters joining the existing gang. I think it’s the right choice.

The unique feeling of the first movie can’t be replicated, because this is now the 4th LEGO-ish movie, and because I had high expectations coming into the sequel (instead of my zero expectations heading into the original). But the charm, the wit, and the warmth remain. It’s nice to spend more time in the LEGO Movie world, because it’s the world I used to play in with my LEGO as a kid. Except way more professional looking, of course, but the feeling remains exactly right, where adventures are everywhere and where your own creations are more important than the original police station from which most of the blue pieces came.

That bottled nostalgia is the best thing about The LEGO Movie 2. And that’s saying a lot because it’s also smartly written, beautifully animated, and just a whole lot of fun. Sure, it’s not as “fresh” as the first time, but if that’s the only bad thing to be said about this movie, that says a lot.

Brave

Merida may be a princess, but she’s no lady. After reluctantly performing her royal duties, she’s happiest riding her horse and shooting her bow and arrow – not feminine pursuits, according to her mother, but Merida is a daddy’s girl, and he indulges her. But even the King can’t save her when it’s time for each of Scotland’s clans to send forth a suitor to compete for her hand in marriage. It strikes Merida as almost as barbaric as it does you and I, but Merida’s mother has some very convincing myths to back up the obligation, and anyway, nobody really has any choice – for crown, for country, for glory and all that.

Anyway, Merida’s father, King Fergus (Billy Connolly) is a big beast of a man, whoMV5BMTYxNzE3NzA5MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQ4MTc3Nw@@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,740_AL_ loves to tell the story of how he lost his leg fighting Mor’du the bear at a family picnic, protecting his wife and baby daughter. The Queen, Elinor (Emma Thompson) tolerates his boastful storytelling, and only rolls her eyes a little when Merida (Kelly Macdonald) embellishes right along. But Elinor knows that this betrothal stuff is serious business.

And Pixar knows that to Disney, this princess stuff is serious business. Still, they challenge the notion of what a princess should be, with Merida mucking out a horse’s stall herself, her fiery, unruly hair streaming behind her, big ideas broiling in that red head of hers. When it comes time to compete, Merida competes for her own hand in marriage, ripping the seams of her dress in order to win the day. Does her mother find this an ingenious solution? She does not. Still, Merida is Disney’s first princess without a love interest (but not its last – hello, Elsa!). Anyway, mother and teenage daughter fight, predictably, only Merida has something most teenage daughters luckily do not: access to a witch (Julie Walters). She conjures up a special potion which, when fed to her mother, will “change her fate.” And indeed it does. By turning her mother into a bear.

Pixar, as always, gets a lot right: Merida’s hair is gloriously animated (they had to invent new software to properly render it), the sun dappling is gorgeous, and there’s this moment of goofy pride on the mother bear’s face that just warms the haggis in my heart. If we must life in a world full of princesses, may they be more like Merida – brave enough to stand up for themselves, to stand on their own, to pursue their own ends.

This week Sean and I are at Disney World with my sister and her husband and her two sweetie pie boys, who are probably running through the parks like adorable hooligans, leaving us adults gasping for breath. If we have a spare moment, we might even meet Merida herself. Aside from appearing with other characters from the film in one of Disney’s many parades, she meets and greets wee lads and lassies inside Fairytale Garden, where you can also try your hand at archery, colour your own tapestry, or a picture of her horse, Angus.

b3f42e8969b8336c2c6fcc907310b529Brave came out before either, or in fact any, of my nephews was born, so I’m not sure if we’ll stop to get a picture with her – although the pair are armed with autograph books, so who knows. When a “cast member” of the Disney parks becomes a princess, one of her most important duties is practicing her distinct signature. Merida’s looks appropriately auld. There might be dozens of women who play Merida at Disney World, but they will all sign her name exactly this way. Disney is rather strict about its magic.

 

 

Disney’s Mythic Princesses, Pocahontas & Mulan

Pocahontas, the Disney movie, is about Pocahontas, the daughter of a Chief, who makes first contact with a bunch of colonists who have come to her homeland in search of gold. tenorWith a soft spot for John Smith, she confronts their xenophobic beliefs and basically brokers peace between the her people and his when she throws herself between John Smith’s brains and the big stick that’s about to bash them in. In the ensuing scuffle, John Smith winds up with a gun shot wound (ie, friendly fire) that can only be treated by going back to England. He asks her to go back with him, but she chooses to stay with her people. She paints with all the colours of the wind and she has a cute raccoon sidekick. Voices include Irene Bedard, Christian Bale, Mel Gibson, Billy Connolly.

Pocahontas is the first Disney princess to have a tattoo, and the first to have an interracial relationship (what a hipster!). She is one of two to be American-born. Do you know the other one?

In real life, Pocahontas was indeed the (10 year old) daughter of a chief when she met John Smith. She often went to the Jamestown settlement to play with the boys there. When they were in danger of starving, she’d bring food and provisions. John Smith, in a letter to Queen Anne, wrote that, having been taken prisoner, Pocahontas risked her own life to save his, laying her head on his own to prevent her father from executing him. This is probably a made-up story told by Smith to curry favour. He did get a gun powder wound that took him back to England, and Pocahontas believed him to be dead. She likely married a Kokoum, a man in her tribe, and bore a daughter. But then she was kidnapped by the whites, and held captive for several years, during which time she married John Rolfe. Rolfe was a pious widow (his wife and daughter shipwrecked on the ride over), who worried about marrying a heathen, so Pocahontas converted to christianity and took the name Rebecca. They had a son, Thomas. The Peace of Pocahontas, 8 years of trade and friendly commerce between her tribe and the colonists, followed. The London Company then brought Mr. and Mrs. Rolfe to England to show Pocahontas off as the “tamed savage” they’d converted. Which is how she discovered that John Smith was alive and well in England. And then she died, overseas, age 20 or 21. No happy ending.

As for Mulan, the Disney version has her prepping for a match maker and hating every minute of it. But then life takes a serious turn as the Huns, led by Shan Yu, invade China by breaching the Great Wall. The emperor conscripts one man from each family to join the army, but Mulan’s family has only her elderly father Fa Zhou, already crippled by giphy (1)previous war experience. Worried for him, she dons her father’s old armor and, disguised as a man, takes his place in the army. Her ancestors send a little dragon named Mushu to be her guardian and watch over her. She makes a surprisingly good soldier, but there’s just one little catch – she falls in love with her platoon leader, which makes for some awkward chemistry, and when her drag is revealed, he’s going to feel awfully betrayed. Voices include  include Pat Morita, Eddie Murphy, Donny Osmond, George Takei, Ming-Na Wen.

Mulan is not a princess in the movie or in the legend, but she is nonetheless deemed a “Disney Princess”, one of only 2 who wear pants (can you guess the second one?). She is also only the second to have both parents alive and present during the movie (can you name the first?).

Mulan probably never existed in real life, but she is the stuff of legends. In the Ballad of Mulan, Hua Mulan, circa 420, is said to be a legendary warrior who took her father’s place (and her brother’s, who is just a child) in the army by dressing as a man. Already skilled in martial arts , sword fighting, and archery, she fought for 12 years and earned high praise but refused all rewards and simply asked for a camel to carry her home, where she retired, shocking her comrades when she finally reveals her true identity. Whether or not she ever existed, it’s pretty impressive that we’ve recounted her story for 1600 years, and I guess that’s about as happy an ending as real life often gets.

 

 

Tiana of The Princess and The Frog is the second American-born Princess.

Jasmine of Aladdin is the first Princess to wear pants.

Aurora of Sleeping Beauty was the first Princess to have both parents living; Rapunzel from Tangled was the third, and Merida of Brave the fourth.