Tag Archives: Disney+

Muppets Haunted Mansion

Among the new crop of family-oriented Halloween fare on Disney Plus is this little piece of amusement park magic.

Now, if you’re any kind of Disney World fan, you already know that the Haunted Mansion is not just a beloved, 51 year old ride at Magic Kingdom, it’s got its own cult following. In the gift shops, you can find souvenirs and momentos from all the Disney movies you love, and all your favourite characters of course, but also your favourite rides, of which Haunted Mansion is arguably number one. You can buy t-shirts with the same damask pattern as the mansion’s wallpaper, pieces featuring the hitchhiking ghosts, mouse ears with the famed cameo pin on the bow, many tributes to fan fave Madame Leota, the floating head in the crystal ball, replica maid outfits similar to the ones worn by cast members working the ride, and even merchandise featuring the singing busts, which are not actually on the ride itself, but a sight to see and enjoy outside the mansion while you wait in line. It’s such a popular ride that Disney already made a movie out of it back in 2003 starring Eddie Murphy (the same year as they released another ride-inspired film, Pirates of the Caribbean). It wasn’t great, but that just leaves the door open to do better, which Disney will attempt to do next year, with Justin Simien helming the remake, set to star Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, and LaKeith Stanfield. THIS is not that movie. This is a movie starring the Muppets, and involving the ride. It is sure to please fans of the Muppets, fans of the ride, and families looking for not-scary Halloween fare. It’s hard to lose!

On Halloween night, Gonzo is challenged to spend one night in The Haunted Mansion. Obviously Gonzo is known for his bravery as the resident daredevil, so this should be a piece of cake for him (a piece of wedding cake, perhaps? Around this time of year, Disney sells tiny wedding cakes in the park in reference to the one on the ride). The Great Gonzo (voiced by Dave Goelz) brings along his pal Pepe (Bill Barretta), the King Prawn (do NOT call him a shrimp!), because what else are friends for?

Gonzo and Pepe encounter the entire Haunted Mansion gamut, including the caretaker (Darren Criss), the host (Will Arnett), and of course the bride (Taraji P. Henson), who is so gosh darn good she can pronounce king prawn in just such a way as to give you instant wood. Pepe is enchanted, and agrees to marry her, which would trap him inside the mansion for all of eternity. Which, as fans of the ride will tell you, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve visited the Haunted Mansion less than a handful of times but I can see its charms, and this movie is careful to pay tribute to as many as possible within 52 minutes (that’s brisk, baby!). You got your 999 ghosts; Statler and Waldorf in a doom buggy, Constance Hatchaway with her beating red heart and suspiciously high number of dead husbands; a stretching room with magic paintings; even the obligatory photo op at the end, complete with creepy uninvited guests.

The ride’s wide appeal is thanks to its signature Disney finesse with the details and its playful approach to the classic horror haunted house. It’s a ride fit for the whole family, as is this newest Muppet oeuvre on Disney Plus.

Under Wraps

Marshall (Malachi Barton) and Gilbert (Christian J. Simon) are best friends who couldn’t be more unalike: Marshall’s a devoted horror fan, and Gilbert’s a big fat chicken! It gives him asthma! That’s why Marshall still hasn’t seen the end of Warthead IV. On a class trip to the museum’s new Egyptian exhibit, Marshall and Gilbert make friends with the new girl Amy (Sophia Hammons), improbably also a big fan of horror movies, and pretty enthusiastic about Warthead’s surprisingly gory ending – but no worries, she doesn’t spoil it for Marshall because that’s what true friendship is all about. And also they get sorta busy because an incident at the museum that the title dutifully references with a terrible pun.

The Egypt exhibit’s only half full: the princess mummy rests in peace is her sarcophagus but the lover with whom she was buried has been stolen. In a shocking twist of fate, the antiquities thief lives right in their neighbourhood, and in fact Marshall and Gilbert have already openly speculated that he might be evil due to his cobwebby house and his last night, which sounds suspiciously like Kill-bot to kids who still make up mean nicknames. As children do, these three friends take it upon themselves to investigate the black market to solve this crime themselves, starting with a warrant-less search of their #1 suspect’s (well, only suspect’s) basement, based purely on very circumstantial evidence, by first breaking, then entering. And they’re right in the way that only a movie can be right, finding the exact thing they’re looking for in the very first place they check. Letting the mummy out of his coffin, a beam of moonlight activates the mummy’s amulet and animates our 4000 year old friend. Now our little gang is not only babysitting a living mummy, they’re also concealing him from the criminals who stole him, and trying to return him to the museum, all by midnight on Halloween, a totally not-arbitrary date.

How will these children outrun and unsmart actual murdery criminals, especially with a slow, stumbly mummy in tow? How will they also thwart their mothers and their bedtimes and the fact that they don’t have driver’s licenses? How will they continually rescue their new bandaged friend from constant blunders with technology and other classic capers? This family-friendly mummy movie has such a goofy, dancey, good-hearted monster protagonist that you can classify this as more silly than scary. Under Wraps isn’t exactly good but it is benign, providing Halloween content without fueling any late night visits to mommy and daddy’s bed. Find it on Disney Plus.

Free Guy

This movie has been on Sean’s most-anticipated list since 2019 and we’ve been waiting impatiently for quite some time. Unfortunately, this film had a theatrical-only release this summer, which excludes the likes of myself, an immuno-suppressed, likely-to-die-of-COVID person who’s obsessed with movies but not quite willing to die for them. And also her husband, who Officially Cares Whether I Live Or Die. I knew he liked me! I made him a badge and everything, but he’s a little embarrassed to wear it. Anyway, I’ve been stalking the movie rental sites like a shark, ready to pounce the moment it dropped. Blood in the water, baby! So colour me surprised when I found it first on Disney Plus – for free. Hello!

Guy (Ryan Reynolds) lives a repetitive life: wake up, feed goldfish, don blue shirt, work as bank teller, get robbed, repeat. He’s surprisingly cheerful about it, considering all the laying on the floor, fearing for your life he does on a daily basis, but it’s all he knows, so he’s pretty content. Until one day he isn’t. Guy discovers he’s an NPC, a non-playing character, in an open-world video game, one of those guys that’s just walking around so that the real characters, navigated by human gamers, can feel their world is populated, or perhaps even interact with them, briefly. And then there’s this woman, Molotovgirl (Jodie Comer), who catches her eye; as an NPC he’s all but invisible to her but once he wears the sunglasses that identify him as a character, they strike up a friendship…for starters.

Interestingly, the movie leaps in and out of the game. When it’s not following Ryan Reynolds around inside the game, it’s sitting in with the game’s real-life creators and coders. Millie (also Comer) and Keys (Joe Keery) are the game’s true originators, but Big Gaming Company’s ruthless CEO Antwan (Taika Waititi) has stolen their code. Millie has left the company but Keys is still there, and he and partner Mouser (Utkarsh Ambudkar) are among the first to notice that an NPC in the game seems to have gone rogue. They assume some keener has simply hacked the NPC’s code, but there’s actually much more at play: Millie and Keys’ original code wasn’t just for some shoot ’em up game, but for AI that would become self-aware. It seems that Guy has somehow reached that state on his own. He’s not just a video game free guy anymore; he’s fully conscious, sentient artificial intelligence. And it just so happens that watching him level up through the game in order to win the heart of Molotovgirl (interestingly, Milie’s in-game avatar) is highly entertaining. People around the world stop playing the game in order to watch, a crazy phenomenon that doesn’t make the company any money. In fact, sales of the game’s sequel are slumping too, which makes Antwan everyone’s new enemy. His plan to erase the code for good threatens Millie and Keys’ livelihood but more importantly, robs the world of their scientifically significant invention, and it also of course threatens Guy’s very life, for he is a self-aware consciousness, but he only exists in the game.

Don’t worry. There’s no existential crisis here, no philosophical debate. This is a popcorn movie. Video game violence mixed with Reynolds’ trademark good guy vibes make Free Guy irresistible. Reynolds gets to do what he does best, playing a naïve, hapless guy who chuckles at life’s little foibles. Guy’s best friend Buddy (Lil Rel Howery) is just as guileless and gratified; together they’re the picture of perfect contentment until someone’s awakening starts to expose the cracks in their happy little lives.

Had Alexander Payne written/directed this, we’d have an introspective, meta exploration of the Life is a Game philosophy at its core, debating the rules, and how to win, and just who was the Great Gamer in the Sky operating the controller. And though I’d kind of like to see that movie, Free Guy, however, is in the hands of Shawn Levy, oh ye of Night at the Museum, Cheaper By the Dozen, The Internship, and Real Steel. Dude is guaranteed to keep this thing light. Super light. L-I-T-E lite, even. But that’s not a bad thing. It seems Levy has cured his habit of creating utter crap and found his stride, matching Reynolds’ sweetness and goofiness bit for bit. There’s an enthusiasm here that’s hard to beat, and Free Guy turns out to be exactly the kind of movie we need after 18 months of no movies. It’s endearing, entertaining, and energetic. Dumb, but fun. Dumb, but not brainless. Crowd-pleasing but not bland. Crowd-pleasing but not condescending. Caters to gamers with plenty of tongue-in-cheek Easter eggs, but doesn’t alienate anyone. It’s a rare family-friendly (PG-13), action-comedy-sci-fi hybrid that has something for everyone but still feels fresh and exciting. Good Great Gamer in the Sky, what more do you need?

Vacation Friends

Honestly, I hardly know what to make of this movie let alone tell you about it, but one thing’s for sure: it may be on Disney+, but it’s not for kids. R-rated for sex, drugs, and bad words, Vacation Friends is a raunchy comedy that I expected to hate and then kind of didn’t.

The Premise: Marcus (Lil Rel Howery) and Emily’s (Yvonne Orji) romantic, tropical vacation is on the brink of ruin, but in randomly befriending Ron (John Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), they agree to dispense with Marcus’ usual precision planning and go with the flow to save their getaway. Ron and Kyla are nothing like them – they’re rule-breaking, thrill-seeking party animals who manage to bring out an unknown wild side in both Marcus and Emily during their week in sunny Mexico. Emily and Marcus assume this friendship will dissolve upon return to their normal lives and are surprised – and not in the good way – to find months later that Ron and Kyla have arrived uninvited to their wedding. Ron and Kyla haven’t changed a bit, but Marcus and Emily are straight-laced as ever, in fact desperate to appear even more conservative in front of Emily’s judgmental family. What could possibly go wrong?

The Verdict: Everything goes wrong, naturally. I have a pretty serious dislike of John Cena, but my love for Lil Rel Howery overpowered it, and I managed to check this one out with a somewhat open mind but low expectations. In part, this is a very dumb, inherently dumb movie, with adults acting like kids, with hijinks so janky you can hardly forgive them. And yet I have to give it up to the writers (Tom Mullen, Tim Mullen, and Clay Tarver, who also directs), who somehow managed to incorporate several jokes that were startlingly funny. The story itself may have felt recycled, but the chemistry between the couples really helped the jokes land – sometimes even take you by surprise – and though the film is unapologetically raunchy, it never gets mean or negative, so the laughs are clean and easy. Vacation Friends isn’t winning any awards but if you’re willing to let loose the way Marcus and Emily do in Mexico, I think you’ll be pleased with the result.

Jungle Cruise

The Premise: Based on a beloved ride at Disney that’s 20% water ride and 80% dad jokes (now with less racism!), the film adaptation introduces us to Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), thwarted at every turn because of her gender, but dedicated enough to scientific pursuit to follow it all the way to the Amazon where she engages irascible skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to deliver her to the jungle.

The Verdict: While it achieves no great heights, it’s a decent action-adventure the whole family can enjoy. It relies heavily on the charm and chemistry between Blunt and Johnson, who are quite apparently enjoying themselves on screen. Emily Blunt is gorgeous, even in pants, Johnson is formidable wrestling a cheetah, Jack Whiteall stuns in a series of dinner jackets, Paul Giamatti looks like he was born to sport a gold tooth, and Jesse Plemons delivers a memorably villainous accent. A cross between Disney’s successful ride-based franchise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the more recent Dora the Explorer effort, Jungle Cruise is just fun enough, funny enough, interesting enough, and exciting enough, but with the excessive charisma oozing from our two leads, this is a worthwhile watch – in theatres, or on Disney Plus.

Raya and the Last Dragon

Once upon a time, in a kingdom called Kumandra, people lived peacefully alongside dragons, who brought them water and protected them. But when a sinister plague known as Druun threatened the land, turning its people to stone, the dragons pooled their power, sacrificing themselves to save humanity, leaving behind only a gem to represent their faith and trust in the people they’d saved.

500 years later, the realm of Kumandra is no more. This last drop of dragon magic proved too tempting, and factions broke off, each desperate to hold the gem themselves. An attempt to steal it breaks the gem into pieces, unleashing the Druun plague monster once again. Raya, a young warrior, goes on an adventure to retrieve the broken pieces of the gem and resurrect the last dragon. It’s going to take more than just magic to heal the world, but trust and cooperation might be even harder to come by.

This is Disney’s latest animated offering, available to stream (at a premium) on Disney+, and if Raya is their most recent addition to the Disney Princess lineup, she’s a good one. Raya (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) is courageous, and adventurous. She plots to save herself, and her people. Sisu (Awkwafina) the dragon also has beautiful female energy, more giving and trusting than Raya, who, though brave, is also flawed, making for a far more interesting protagonist and princess.

The realm of Kumandra may be fictional, but Disney animators were inspired by Southeast Asian countries of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Laos when establishing its unique culture and aesthetic. The film looks stunning, proving that Disney animation is back on top, with or without Pixar. The stellar voice cast includes Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, and Alan Tudyk, but the greatest interplay is between Kelly Marie Tran and Awkwafina, who share a wonderful, warm chemistry, emphasizing the film’s respect for female friendship.

The best part of Raya and The Last Dragon may be its subtle but timely message. Raya is a strong and skillful warrior, full of conviction and a sometimes impetuous desire to run straight into battle. Success in her mission, however, will depend more on conflict resolution; people who have long considered themselves enemies will have to put aside their differences in service of the goal they all have in common. Someone will need to be the first to cross partisan lines because the real threat is never the outside force, it’s the cracks sown between the people within. Raya’s fighting style is based on the Filipino martial art Kali but victory won’t require her weapons, she’ll need to arm herself with empathy and diplomacy instead.

Flora & Ulysses

Flora (Matilda Lawler) is a little girl who wants to believe the world is filled with wonder and magic, but experience has taught her to embrace cynicism instead. She may hope for the best but she prepares for the worst, reading disaster preparedness books alongside the comic books written by her father. Incandesto and his super hero friends are so familiar to her she can practically see them but her father George (Ben Schwartz) has had no luck selling them, and has recently left the family, bereft. Mom Phyllis (Alyson Hannigan) isn’t doing so hot either. A romance writer, Phyllis has been in a bit of a slump lately, and her new project isn’t very inspired either.

But don’t worry, folks, this isn’t some sad sack story, this is a super hero origin story, and the super hero is a squirrel named Ulysses. Ulysses gets sucked into a robot vacuum and once resuscitated, he’s got super powers! He’s super strong, and super fast, and super troublesome when Flora brings him into the house. He also writes poetry, but it’s unclear whether that’s actually a super power. Anyway, any squirrel in the house is likely to wreak havoc, but Ulysses is capable of so much destruction! All accidental, of course, but ask mom if she cares. She does not! But in the course of things, mean Miller (Danny Pudi) at animal control gets whiff of a potentially rabid squirrel and he’s on the case, pursuing the Buckman family, the boy next door, William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) who is temporarily hysterically blind, and their super squirrel Ulysses, stopping at nothing to euthanize super Ulysses, willing even to tranquilize humans in his quest to cage a furry little super hero.

Matilda Lawler is an insanely cute kid and a very capable actor. Much of the film’s charm emanates directly from her. Ben Schwartz harnesses a lot of his oddity and delivers straight up goofball as the affable, supportive dad. Their family adventure makes for excellent family viewing, and there’s no denying the soft, endearing fuzziness of Ulysses the poetry writing super squirrel. Director Lena Khan does an excellent job of translating the hijinks onto the big screen but keeping it grounded first and foremost in family values. The characters may be offbeat but the message is hopeful, the story is bright, and the squirrel is hard to resist. Flora & Ulysses has the makings of an excellent family movie night.

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Wandavision

Episode 9: The Series Finale

Episode 8: Previously On

Episode 7: Breaking the Fourth Wall

Episode 6: All New Halloween Spectacular

Episode 5: On A Very Special Episode

Episode 4: We Interrupt This Program

Episode 3 Now In Color

Episode 1 Filmed Before A Live Studio Audience &

Episode 2 Don’t Touch That Dial

The Shaggy Dog (1959)

Yesterday we watched The Ugly Dachshund mainly for its title and then ended up kind of charmed by it – except for the racist depictions of other cultures, for which Disney is truly sorry and even has a neat little disclaimer saying so. We checked for a disclaimer on this movie as well and found none, which Sean found a little unlikely but I reminded him that IF any other races or cultures were depicted in the film they surely would be horrible and racist but in 1959 it was even more likely that the film would just be homogenously white. Problem solved! Right? Well, it’s the kind of racism you don’t need a disclaimer for, a thought so disturbing we had to put a pin in it to debate some other time, though I do think the idea has value: the complete lack of diversity is also courtesy of racism, and it’s just as important to recognize racism by omission or lack of representation as the more “overt” kinds that may be easier to spot and condemn. Anyway, on to a very white 1959 indeed…

Wilson Daniels (Fred MacMurray) feels like some kind of freak, but he just doesn’t like dogs. Perhaps, as a former mail carrier, they’re just not meant to mix. His young son Moochie (Kevin Corcoran) wants a dog pretty badly anyway, but dad is adamant (and to be fair, also seems to have an allergy, despite his wife suggesting it may be psychosomatic). Perhaps a dog would have been a safer compromise, though, something to distract the kids because as it stands, teenage son Wilby (Tommy Kirk) is in the basement, about to blow the house up with a missile. Or an “issile interceptor”, mom Freeda (Jean Hagen) mistakenly supplies, because her female brain is clearly inferior, the poor, ignorant slut. In fact, the way Disney treats women in this film deserves its own disclaimer. And would definitely be picketed by PETA, while we’re airing all of Disney’s dirty laundry. That out of the way, back to the review.

Wilby goes and gets himself into yet more trouble, this time involving the girl next door. No, not THAT kind of trouble. This kind of trouble: he takes her to a museum where he clumsily knocks over an exhibit of ancient Egyptian artifacts and accidentally brings home a ring in the cuff of his pants that periodically turns him into a sheepdog. And that’s not even the crazy part! While nosing around a neighbour’s house, Wilby the sheepdog overhears a plot involving spies and stolen technology. He’ll have to convince brother Moochie, who knows his secret, to convince his father, who doesn’t know it yet, to flag the police. Dad is more distraught to learn that his son is (sometimes) a dog than he is about the whole secret agent theft thing. He can’t believe his own son is a dog, how terrible, how embarrassing, what will the neighbours think? He whines long enough that I start to wonder if this is a weird allegory for finding out your son is gay, but then I remember: 1959. Disney. That would be a whole other disclaimer.

No, the son is just a dog, and the dog will have to hop in a cop car and stop the criminals himself – and if he’s lucky, engage in an act of heroism along the way, which would break the dog curse. Fingers crossed.