Tag Archives: Disney

The Little Mermaid

This year for Halloween, Gertie dressed up as Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

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As you can see, she absolutely killed it, even if she did completely hate the wig. But her very convincing Ariel did reveal one shocking fact: Sean had never seen The Little Mermaid. So of course I needed to remedy that oversight, which means we both watched it and to be honest, I have some concerns.

First, was this movie always so racist? I mean, Sebastian (the crab) has an accent that he shouldn’t have. I mean, I’ll describe it as “Caribbean” …possibly Jamaican. The story seems to take place off the coast of some European country, probably Denmark. That’s a pretty far swim for a crab. Voiced by Samuel E. Wright, a black man born in South Carolina, I obviously have to question Sebastian’s provenance. And why does the only “black” (I mean actually he’s red) character in the film sing mermaidracist2about how good it is to be unemployed underwater? He literally calls the land lubbers slaves. But excuse me, there is one other black character, a “black fish” who sings. She is literally panned to for less than a second – blink and you’ll miss her.

So of course while I’m researching this, I’ve come across some other interesting food for thought.

  1. Flounder is not actually a flounder. I mean, I realize I’m not actually a Jay Flounder-The-Little-Mermaideither but I find this way more misleading in a children’s movie [possibly my name is also confusing to children: my adorable and super-smart niece Ella, a year and a half old, isFlounder-31-2-640__14096.1414776694.600.600 still refusing to say my one-syllable name and says instead “I no can do that” just to prove that she’s perfectly capable of complex sentences and is just  happiest when she’s spiting me].
  2. How did Flounder get the statue of Eric into Ariel’s grotto? This is Sean’s question of course. Flounder is an overweight fish with tiny little fins for arms. The statue is more than human-sized and made of concrete. What the heck?
  3. Ursula is a Cecaelia (half human, half octopus)…but is she actually an octopus? Ursula_transparentShe technically only has 6 tentacles (it was cheaper than animating 8) but since she has 2 arms, I guess we’ll call it a draw. Octopus tentacles are distributed as 6 arms and 2 legs, but whatever. The team at Disney created Ursula with a drag queen named Divine in mind; unfortunately, 5524736bbf741a40e9bac73206a516b2--phil-morris-john-watersDivine died before voice recording. I kind of love Ursula though. I love that she flaunts her curves and is always wearing a perfectly made up face. She’s got a soft spot for her pets (or sidekicks? henchmen?) Flotsam and Jetsam and a penchant for musical numbers and dramatics. My god, is Ursula ME? I do look hot in purple.
  4. Why doesn’t Eric’s dog Max talk? Most of the characters in this movie are animals and they all talk (and sing and dance) except for poor Max. And while I’m at it, why doesn’t Ariel write? She has no voice with which to enchant Eric so she should just write him a damn letter instead of pathetically miming things and letting a crab try to establish a sense of intimacy. We know she CAN write – she signs her damn name to Ursula’s contract. So she’s just being obstinate.
  5. Okay, Ariel is worse than just obstinate. She’s kind of a bitch. Granted she’s only 16 so probably can’t help it, but damn, why do we even like this girl? She’s chronically late and disrespectful of everyone else. She shames Flounder into doing naughty things. And then she pathetically throws herself at practically the only man she’s ever seen and falls in love with him for no reason whatsoever and even mutilates her own body in order to earn his acceptance. Plus she likes puffy sleeves.
  6. It seems like Ursula actually tried to murder Ariel right off the bat. Their deal is: Ariel gives up her voice to become a human. She becomes human on the spot, and the spot, let’s remember, is miles underwater. She no longer has a tail so she can’t swim, and hello, nor can she breathe. Neither she nor Ursula knew that Flounder and Sebastian were conveniently hiding nearby, so ostensibly Ariel should have drowned on the spot. Good thing her fat fish friend saved her life and got no thanks at all!
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Cars 3

Pixar doesn’t have many missteps in its catalogue, but for me, the Cars franchise just never had any traction. I was only just recently able to watch the films straight through, and it made me want to put the Pixar crew on suicide watch. Thanks to films like Toy Story, I already knew Pixar had a real nostalgia fixation, but Cars crystallizes that notion. MV5BZDRiYmQ1MjgtNmNiOS00YTNhLTkwNWMtMjliNWFkYmFkMDc2XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjk2MjI2NTY@._V1_The Pixar animators are living for the past. But for the first time, I could also watch the film through the eyes of my  5 year old nephew. He and his younger brother adore the franchise. They have every iteration of every car that got even a fraction of a second’s worth of screen time. Last year for his birthday, I made him a Cars racetrack cake. So even before I’d truly seen the film, I had a kinship with it.

In this third installment, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) hits the racing circuit once again, but it’s been 11 years since the first film made its debut. McQueen isn’t the hot shot rookie anymore, he’s a veteran being challenged by faster, sleeker next generation race cars. Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer) is the fiercest of these new competitors, but McQueen isn’t ready to be counted out. Unfortunately, McQueen’s best efforts result in a terrible crash that many believe spells his retirement. You may remember from the first film that his old friend Doc (Paul Newman) suffered a similar fate: by the time he’d healed up\gotten road-worthy again, the racing world had moved on without him, ultimately forcing him into retirement before he was ready.

Two things about what I’ve just written: One, that crash was spectacularly animated. Disney-Pixar’s animation technology has clearly improved by leaps and bounds over the past decade. They work hard to keep the cars we know and love looking like themselves MV5BZGYxZDVjM2EtMWRiMi00MWNlLWE3YWItZTYyNDcwMjQ4NjY3XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc3Mzk1NTk@._V1_while still improving the overall quality of the animation. The crash scene is a show-stopper. But, second, so too are flash-back scenes of McQueen and his friend Doc, in a different, more emotional way. Paul Newman, who voiced him, passed away in 2008, and so did the character by the time the sequel came out. But Doc was a formative figure in McQueen’s career, and Cars 3 pays tribute to both the character and the actor in a very satisfying way.

Cars 3 focuses on McQueen’s relationship with a new trainer, Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo), who is well-versed in all the newest techniques. Old school clashes with new school. In fact, watching it, I wondered if McQueen’s mid-life crisis would resonate with the kids watching it. My nephew certainly enjoyed it, though I don’t think he picked up on McQueen’s fear of being aged out\replaced. What he did like were the repetitive race track scenes, many of which I could have done without. I guess what it boils down to is: Cars 3 panders to its audience. It does not reach the heights we adults have come to expect from Pixar’s best work, but it’s exceptionally talented at marketing toys to children. There are dozens of new characters (65 to be exact) to be bought for Christmas. Is that cynical of me? Sure. Here’s the thing: I admit I was charmed by the ending, glad old McQueen had it in him. If this is the end of the franchise, it’s a pretty noble note to go out on. But as a cynical, toy-buying aunt, I can’t help but feel that this Cruz character has the whiff of spin-off to her, and I’m not convinced that Cars 3 bought into its own message of retiring with dignity.

Cars, Cars 2, and Ultimate Lightning McQueen

My nephews love Lightning McQueen and have about a thousand toys bearing his likeness.  So when I learned about the Ultimate Lightning McQueen, I had to get it, even though I had never seen Cars (or Cars 2 for that matter).  For those who aren’t on Sphero’s mailing list, Ultimate Lightning McQueen is a remote controlled car that costs US$300, and here’s why it costs so much money:

Ultimate Lightning McQueen is not just an RC car.  This is a robot that has animated eyes and mouth, reacts to touch, and can recite tons of lines from the movies either randomly or in pre-programmed scripts.  Basically, it’s the toy robot that little Sean always dreamed of.

With the toy on the way (it arrived last night!), I felt like I should finally watch Cars beforehand so that I knew the basics about Lightning.  So that’s what we did, and it turns out that Lightning is a real jerk.  Like so much of a jerk that he doesn’t have a pit crew because he can win on his own.  So much of a jerk that he doesn’t change his tires, which naturally givecars-movie-disney-pixar_large out on the last lap and cost him a win.  So much of a jerk that when he gets lost in a small town and is pursued for speeding he wrecks the whole main street.

Lightning eventually does redeem himself in a very weird way, but here’s the thing: my nephews have such short attention spans that I guarantee they have not ever watched this movie past the opening race.  They will have watched that race a thousand times but probably have no idea that Lightning ever becomes less self-involved or that he ever needed help.  So it is a good thing that Ultimate Lightning can say so many lines, because I am going to be choosy with my catchphrases.  That way, maybe I can redeem Lightning in real time and teach my nephews that they do indeed need a pit crew (/more applicable sports metaphor), just like Lightning eventually figures out.

For good measure, we also watched Cars 2, which is more Mater’s story than Lightning’s (though Lightning doesn’t miss the chance to be a jerk to Mater in the sequel).  Just like in the first movie, Lightning wins with the help of his friends.  It would be a mycars-2-02172012stery why he is so loved, except that he is definitely the coolest looking racecar in the movies and that’s really all the explanation required, isn’t it?

And now, we have Cars 3 to “look forward to”.  My hopes are not high, because these movies definitely aren’t Pixar’s best work.  Still, it’s something I know our nephews will love and now that they’re old enough to go to the movies, something that we’ll probably get to enjoy with them, and that’s good enough to make me genuinely excited about Cars 3 even though I thought the first two movies were entirely forgettable.

It also makes a US$300 Lightning McQueen toy feel like a bargain, because I know our nephews are going to lose their little minds when they see it in action.  Ultimate Lightning McQueen is everything I could have expected – it blinks, it looks around, and moves as though it is alive.  It is truly animated in every sense of the word.  As a bonus, it is a powerful little car that is really responsive, does donuts on command, and has a turbo button.  Because who doesn’t love a turbo button?  Having tried it out, I am even more excited to show off Ultimate Lightning McQueen to Lightning’s three biggest fans!

Beauty & The Beast

One word: underwhelming.

This movie is production-designed within an inch of its life. Like, literally it’s clogged with lustre and decadence. I find no fault with how it looks; a good faith effort was made to pay tribute to the original, to remind us of the classic animated movie from 1991, while still forging its own little identity, diverging enough from the already-trodden path to inject it with a life of its own.

Unfortunately, none of the new material really lands. Is this just me, loyal to the film of my childhood? Sadly not. But it does pale in comparison. No matter what Bill Condon does, this film inevitably fails to capture the magic of the first.  This is hardly surprising since it beautyandthebeast-beast-windoweschews the magic of animation. Well, traditional animation. The truth is, “live action” or not, Belle is the only human being in that castle. Yes, Ewan McGregor danced around in a motion capture suit to play Lumiere, and Dan Stevens waltzed in steel-toed 10-inch stilts for the ballroom scene, but they’re both playing CGI characters. Why hire greats like Emma Thompson, Ian McKellan, and Audra McDonald, only to hide them behind computer graphics, appearing “live” only in the last 20 seconds of the film? It seems a waste. I rather liked the live action remake of Cinderella, but then, that was always a story about humans, wasn’t it? Jungle Book  (which already has been) and Lion King (which is about to be) turned into “live action” films have little to no humans in them, so what’s the point? They were MADE for animation. Let’s leave them be.

Emma Watson, as Belle, is brilliant casting. She was originally cast in La La Land but left the project to do this instead. I think it was the right choice for her. Her voice is lovely and pure, and she reminds us that Belle isn’t just beautiful, but also smart and brave. Ryan Gosling was originally cast as the Beast and left this movie to do La La Land, and I think that was the right choice for him. Dan Stevens took over the role of the beast, and he’s okay. Director Bill Condon had hoped to create a beast look out of prosthetics, and he did film it that way, but in the end he was overruled and a CGI beast face was superimposed. Kevin Kline as Belle’s father, Maurice, is a wise choice. He’s older and less of a buffoon than in the animated film, but they don’t quite make sense of the character despite adding some back story. Luke Evans has the pleasure of playing everyone’s favourite cartoon narcissist, Gaston. No longer roughly the size of a barn, he’s still the cocky, selfsure Gaston we remember. It’s his sidekick who’s less recognizable.

The animated Le Fou is nothing more than a clown. In the 2017 version, Disney is proud to proclaim him their first openly-gay character, to which I say: hmm? This was maybe the movie’s biggest let down. Le Fou does not strike me as gay. He’s the kind of closeted gay that you only know about because it was issued in a Disney press release. What little humanity he shows already makes him too good for Gaston, but no real motivation is ever ascribed to him. It’s a Disney movie, so of course there is no real sexual tension, but nor is there even the slightest hint of romance or passion. There are more lingering glances between a young girl and a horned beast than there are between these two men. Nice try, Disney, but I’m not buying it. And it’s probably not the greatest idea to tout your first and only “gay character” as this bumbling idiot who languishes with an unrequited crush on a real prick, whom he helps to hook up with women. That’s pretty condescending.

But I take it back: Le Fou is not the most disappointing thing about the movie. In my little batb-02422r-2-a7172c76-a61b-423e-a41b-5965b3fef116girl heart, the biggest disappointment was The Dress. To me it looked cheap. And I’m sure it wasn’t: I’m sure that a dozen people toiled over its construction. I’ve heard it used 3,000 feet of thread, 2160 Swarovski crystals, and took over 12,000 designer hours to complete. Not worth it. The dress is disenchanting. In the original version, the dress is luminous, we believe it is not merely yellow, but spun gold. The one Emma Watson wears seems like a poor knock-off. It feels flat. And what’s with her shitty jewelry? In the cartoon, Belle’s ht_belle_beauty_beast_kb_150126_4x3_992neck is unadorned; why ruin a perfect neckline with even the most impressive of baubles? But Emma Watson’s Belle accessorizes her ballgown with a shitty pendant on a string. I can only assume this is blatant product placement and this cheap trinket will be sold en masse in a shopping mall near you, but it’s so incongruous it’s a distraction. For shame.

 

And for all the little changes this movie makes, tweaks to the back stories and the plausibility, one glaring detail remains pretty much the same. In the 1991 movie, the wicked witch condemns the prince to live as a beast until he can love and be loved in return; if he fails to do so before the last petal falls from the enchanted rose, he will remain a beast forever, and his household staff will remain household objects. In the animated classic, we know that the beast has until his 21st birthday to make this happen, and that this has been a period of 10 years. Therefore, the curse bestowed upon him befalls him at age 11, and for what? Because he didn’t let a stranger inside the house while his parents were away? He’s ELEVEN! And his servants are blameless. It always struck me as an extremely cruel not to mention unfair punishment. In this recent film, the role of the witch is expanded, but this only makes her motivations murkier. We see how harshly she has condemned a young prince, but she seems to overlook much worse transgressions. If this is hard for me to swallow, I imagine it must be even more unsettling for children who need to know that rules and punishments are meted out fairly, at least.

I could not have skipped this movie, the pull was too great. But there was no childhood here to be relived, just a fraudulent imitation that had lost its sparkle.

Lilo & Stitch

Lilo & Stitch is one of my favourite Disney movies, one that I think flew under a lot of people’s radars but deserves some special attention. It’s a fun watch that’s got some real jerks to the heartstrings, with its themes of family and inclusion.

Lilo is an orphaned 6 year old girl who is cared for by her older sister, Nani. Nani is struggling to fulfill the sudden role of parent and has social services breathing down her neck with the usual threats (Ving Rhames tumblr_mqjpzfpnac1rjxfbno1_500voices the social worker, although you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking the character bears a striking resemblance to the gangster he played in Pulp Fiction). Nani thinks that some joy and stability will be brought into the family if they adopt a dog, but the mutt they actually come home with is Stitch, not a puppy at all, but an alien genetic experiment who is so out of control he’s been banished to Earth.

Stitch does indeed wreak havoc in their lives, but he’s lovable and adorable and irresistible. So is Lilo, and if you give them a chance, this duo will definitely warm your heart.

The film takes place in Hawaii (on the island of Kauai, which is where Sean and I are today) and so of course it’s beautiful. The animated locations are real Hawaiian spots that I look forward to visiting. It looks so gorgeous because although it’s computer-coloured, it is indeed hand-drawn, and was the first Disney film since Dumbo to use watercolour-painted backgrounds. It was such a lost art that they had to train their artists in the technique, but the result is exactly what you’d want from a tropical paradise. The water scenes are particularly exceptional, and lots of their designs are consciously based on marine life, which keeps the subtle theme running throughout the film. Disney purposely wanted to make a throw-back film that would feel warm and old-fashioned (although it’s one of the rare Disney films that takes place in present day). You can see other shout-outs to bygone Disney traditions too – like some of Stitch’s fellow aliens, who look an awful lot like Piglet, and Tigger.

Lilo & Stitch was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animation but lost to Spirited Away, which is hard to argue. The same little girl who voiced Lilo (Daveigh Chase) also provided the dubbed voice in Spired Away. While Spirited Away is largely considered a modern day masterpiece that just happens to be animated, Lilo & Stitch is hands-down the one I’d rather rewatch, and a big part of that is the successful rawintegration of lots of Hawaiian culture into the film. Although it’s scored by Alan Silvestri, he collaborated with Mark Keali’i Ho’omalu, a veritable hula master. It’s no coincidence that I’ve always treasured the soundtrack. Hula plays an important part in the film. To accurately capture the dance, Disney took their animators to a halau (a hula school) where they studied the techniques. An introductory hula dance is modeled in the film, and I look forward to seeing the real thing live at a luau tonight. 

Moana

Moana is the daughter of a chief of an island nation, destined to one day be a chief herself. Her father keeps his people land-locked, afraid of the ocean and 03748b7cd1294b61233c6165a16cb68bits violence. But Moana is called by the sea, and encouraged by her water-loving grandmother, she discovers that her ancestors were once voyagers who travelled the ocean in impressive “canoes” to find new islands to inhabit. With this in mind, she takes off on a self-taught sailing adventure to find the demi-god Maui and set things right for her ailing homeland.

Moana is a simpler story than Zootopia. It’s about a young woman who defies her father and follows her calling in order to be the leader and hero of her people. I’ve heard some people critique it as having less of a social message than the latter, but let’s remember that while Zootopia does have a subversive message about race, Moana is a Disney princess who happens to be a person of colour, and maybe that’s an even bolder statement about diversity than any bunny could hope to make. Moana, animation-boat-demigod-disney-favim_com-4688729like Lilo & Stitch before it, should be celebrated for being a Hawaiian movie that actually features Hawaiian people (I’m looking at you, Aloha).

Moana looks incredible. The marine influences are everywhere, colourful and wonderfully animated. And the songs are an absolute delight. As you may know, the guy responsible for the raging success that is Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, is behind a lot of the lyrics and songs, but he shares credit with Opetaia Foa’i who provides a necessary and flavourful injection of Hawaiian influence that make Moana’s music distinctive and familiar. While perhaps not instantly hummable by 5 year olds the way Frozen was, I think Moana is a step up in terms of Disney’s moana3.jpgmusical ventures. Jemaine Clement, playing a oversized crab, sings a song called Shiny which sounds an awful lot like something Flight of the Conchords would have done, though it is indeed written by Miranda (and performed with a David Bowie flair by Clement). And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the little girl (14 at the time of recording) who voices Moana herself, Auli’i Cravalho, who has a powerhouse of a voice, rich and full, and sounds authentic in the role too. I’m very glad to report that Disney cast this movie using a plethora of Polynesian performers, and it really pays off.

Moana is a bit feminist in terms of Disney films: female wayfinders would have been extremely rare in the Polynesian culture since navigators typically read the swells of the ocean by sitting cross-legged on the bottom of their boat to feel the movement of the ocean in their balls. In the movie, she learns to moana-disney-princess-39692804-268-140read currents and measure the stars from the demi-god Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson. The animators do a really great job of bringing a few identifiable Johnson traits into Maui’s features, and Miranda carefully crafted a song that he could sing successfully, without having a traditional talent for singing (“You’re Welcome” is a heck of a song!). Maui’s body is covered in tattoos that represent acts of heroism, or particular challenges that he’s overcome. Unlike the rest of the computer-animated film, his tattoos are hand-drawn, and add an extra layer of fun to the story, as well as acting as his moral compass. Maui often pokes fun at tumblr_nzxjpmXSCt1u78wepo1_250.gifMoana’s insistence that she is “not a princess”, a self-aware bit of humour from a studio known for relying on certain formulas.

There’s a lot to like in Moana: she’s a plucky, courageous self-starter surrounded by a lush and magical world on which to feast your eyes. There’s even a tribute of sorts to Mad Max: Fury Road, if Imorten Joe’s army had been a lovely bunch of coconuts. That sounds odd, or impossible, but trust me. Moana doesn’t hold on to you the way a great movie might, but it’s sure to win over audiences this holiday season, and there’s not likely to be a better way to spend two hours with your family.

[Moana is preceded by a fun and vivacious Disney short called Inner Workings. It’ll remind you a little bit of Inside Out since it’s about one man’s struggle between head and heart. Inside Out was accompanied by a short called Lava, about an island volcano. Synergy! Read more about Inner Workings here.]

Queen of Katwe

I was leery of this movie – I was leery of a Disney version of Africa, which I didn’t have the heart to see. I was worried they would polish over the poverty and we’d get some “family friendly”, watered down version.

Luckily Mira Nair is sitting in the director’s seat, and I have great confidence in her ability to paint a portrait that is beautiful in its truth. And in fact, Queen of Katwe is beautiful, and it doesn’t shy away from the less desirable side of nullAfrica. The whole point of this film is rooted in poverty. A chess club is started in Katwe because of poverty – because mothers are too afraid of medical expenses should a child break a bone during soccer. So a board game is just more appealing. One of the big draws in getting the children to come in and learn the game is that the chess is served up with a free cup of porridge.

Phiona is poor even in comparison to these other Katwe kids in the chess club. She is being raised by a single mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and helps earn income by selling corn in the streets. But it turns out that Phiona might just be a prodigy – she’s certainly learning faster than anyone expected and quickly outpaces her other competitors, even her teacher. She lobbies for literacy just so she may read chess books in her spare time. Her mother sells possessions for a little extra lamp oil to burn at night so that Phiona may study.

The kids are enthusiastic about their first away tournament playing “city kids” until they get a look at them – poised, clean, well-dressed, book smart. The little Katwe kids are swiftly intimidated, many giving way to hives and hyperventilation. Their coach (David Oyelowo) knows how to steady them, and their superior chess skills carry the day. Phiona is particularly talented, good nullenough to represent Uganda internationally. As she begins to win, and to travel, she glimpses the life that could be hers if her chess game complies. But now that she’s playing not just to win, but to change her life, and support her family, it’s a lot of extra pressure any little girl’s shoulders.

Mira Nair does a wonderful job bringing Katwe to life. Even the slums are vividly rendered with colour and energy. Yes the story hits familiar beats but Nair bolster’s the film’s predictability with strong performances anchored to weighty characters.

Oyelowo as Coach Katende is as good as he always is, radiating a warmth with maybe a touch of twinkle in his eye, but he knows his role is to prop up the strong women in the cast. Lupita Nyong’o gives a heart-breakingly restrained performance as a young widow who knows her kids are sometimes going to bed hungry. She so carefully balances the fear of the unknown and a mother’s strong will to keep her kids safe with this siren call of a better life that she herself can’t comprehend. She refers to herself as an “uneducated woman” but that only serves to reinforce how fiercely smart she is, whether or not she can read. The film doesn’t talk down to or look down on anyone. Nyong’o is so sensitive in her portrayal it really elevates the whole film. Madina Nalwanga, though, is the revelation. She’s the unknown cast by Nair to star as Phiona. Despite having never acted, she clearly has the grace and poise to make this her career, and it has to help that though Madina escaped the slums with dance rather than chess, her story is eerily similar to Phiona’s.

Queen of Katwe would feel a lot like any other underdog tale, except for its setting. Nair makes sure that Africa comes alive. A small girl reduces chess to this: “a small one can become a big one.” Chess is still fairly boring to watch, on film and in person I’m sure, but when you give it such a strong parallel to their lives – where the small can become big, where the Queen is most powerful, it starts to strike a chord. Is it unabashedly feel-good? Yes, it is. But isn’t it nice to have such a positive story out of Africa for once?

Disney Short: Inner Workings

This past week at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, we were treated to something extra special. Not only did we get to see a preview screening of Disney’s upcoming short, Inner Workings, but we got to hear the director talk about its inspiration and production, start to finish.

2016-06-17-1466185874-8132255-inner1-thumbAs you may know, Pixar started the trend of releasing shorts before their films. It was a great way to showcase some stellar work that often gets overlooked. Disney has taken a page from the Pixar handbook and saw lots of success with its Frozen short, Frozen Fever, which aired before Cinderella. Inner Workings is slated to debut before their November release of Moana.

Inner Workings is going to take its place among the Disney\Pixar best. It’s a charming little short that nominally stars Paul, but really stars Paul’s brain, INNER-WORKINGS_first_look.jpgand his heart. From the moment he wakes up, we see the interplay between his two most boisterous organs, and the way they direct the others as well. The organs have been properly Disneyfied – they are cute, they are funny, but they are never gross or full of blood and guts. Paul is just a regular guy who’s got to get to work. His brain marches him toward the office while his heart is distracted by the many other tempting options. The pace is jaunty, the jokes are clever, the short is colourful.

Director Leo Matsuda and producer Sean Lurie followed up the screening with an in-depth look at the making of their little film. Matsudo was inspired by INNER WORKINGSthe encyclopedias he studied as a child, clear plastic pages holding the nervous system, circulatory system, etc of a man that could be overlaid on a body to see what fit where. Working at Disney as a storyboard artist, Leo along with many others, was invited to an open-pitch, where anyone could present their idea to John Lasseter and one would be chosen for production. Leo wrote his story with those encyclopedia images in mind. Spoiler alert: Leo won. Lurie mentioned that his deadpan pitched coupled with fanciful and humourous drawing really made his presentation stand out.

Matsuda discussed the influence of his Brazilian-Japanese background, the respect he has for the small team who quickly created his vision, the gratitude he feels at seeing his dream realized. We got to see the many iterations characters go through before their definitive look gets locked in, and the “cheats” they use in animation to create a small world as efficiently as possible, and the tiny little details in the drawings that all help to tell the story without words. Fascinating. Wish you could have been there.

 

Pete’s Dragon

Petes-Dragon-Featured-061320161I am old enough to feel like I should remember the original Pete’s Dragon (which was released in 1977). I know that I saw it as a kid but it definitely did not stick with me. Because of that, I would have had no expectations going into the 2016 version of Pete’s Dragon but for the very positive reviews it has been getting. The new Pete’s Dragon did not resonate with me to quite that degree, but it is a good family movie that I think kids will love. It also may make you wish you had a pet dragon.

Elliot the dragon is probably the best part of this movie and the reason I think kids will go head over heels for Pete’s Dragon. More dog than wild beast, he seems like the perfect companion if you’re stranded in the Pacific Northwest. Even if you’re only stranded metaphorically. Elliot can fly, he can turn invisible, and builds the best tree forts ever! What more could a kid ask for in a mythological friend?bigdragon.0

The human characters in Pete’s Dragon are far less compelling. All of them are one dimensional, existing only to contribute whatever is needed to move the story along.  Bryce Dallas Howard likes nature so she protects the dragon. BDH’s stepdaughter likes Pete so she helps. Karl Urban is BDH’s greedy and bored soon-to-be brother in law, who we know will learn a lesson by the end. Robert Redford is BDH’s father, the old guy who tells stories about the dragon and who fortunately can also drive an 18 wheeler. Wes Bentley is just kind of there because someone decided that BDH needed a fiance and the stepdaughter needed a father and Urban needed a brother.

I wanted more depth from these characters and maybe older kids will too. But ten-year-old me would not have cared one bit about character development when there’s a flying green dragon on display! A fantastic-looking, furry, CG dragon. The visuals in Pete’s Dragon are awesome, both when it comes to Elliot and when it comes to displaying the gorgeous forest/mountain vistas of the northern west coast. The combination of Elliot and the beautiful backdrops is more than enough to keep adults entertained, even with paper-thin characters at every turn.

petes-dragon-4Just don’t expect there to be a clear message. Lately, Disney (/Pixar) has been doing well at including big coherent themes in kids’s movies, from Inside Out to Zootopia to Finding Dory. There is no clear message here to be found.  There are environmental and family threads sewn but no coherent payoff is ever delivered.

Still, that’s not so much a complaint against Pete’s Dragon as a reminder that Disney (/Pixar) has given us some classics in the last year. Pete’s Dragon does not quite measure up to that high standard but it is still a good family movie and moreover, a movie that this childless adult greatly preferred to its polar opposite counterprogramming, the joyless Sausage Party.

Pete’s Dragon gets a score of seven fuzzy dragons out of ten.

 

The Jungle Book

I hate being right.

Haha, okay, no I don’t. I love it. I knew I’d hate this movie, I avoided it like I feared it might give me Zika, and when I finally did break down and watch (because it was the fare being offered on the first night of drive-in season), I hated it even more than I’d anticipated. That uptick is maybe partially your The-Jungle-book5fault. It’s received some fairly positive reviews so I had hope that it wasn’t as bad as my gut was telling me. But now I know the truth: either the movie-going public are idiots, or they talk up a bad movie in order to trick others into paying to see it too, thus assuaging their guilt and annoyance at having sat through it themselves.

Self-righteous, much? Yes, I enjoy being that too. But I truly did loathe this movie. I had little to no interest in seeing this movie and was relieved when Matt said he’d cover it for us (being a boy scout, he felt he had some personal connection to the material). But guess what? Matt never saw it, the chump, and he’s left it to me to attack people’s childhoods. I can only assume that’s what it’s about. I don’t have any warm fuzzy feelings attached to the 1967 animated version of this one. I could have hummed some of the bars of the more popular songs, but couldn’t have told you the plot. But the minute  I heard it was live-action, I was out. Forget it. Realistic-looking animals that still for some reason talk? I couldn’t fathom how this would be done well.

Neither could Jon Favreau, as it turns out. And the thing about realistic-lookingThe-Jungle-Book-Special-Shoot_SHERE-KHAN_max-620x600 animals is that they’re still cartoons. They’re very accurate, very expensive cartoons, but it’s just some fancy animation that makes it harder for me to anthropomorphize but doesn’t stop them from breaking out into song. The tiger is so menacing looking you can practically smell the rotting meat caught between his yellowed 3-inch teeth, yet he has the velvety smooth voice of Idris Elba. Bill Murray was a nice choice for the more playful Baloo, but let’s remember that Baloo is still a bear. A sloth bear, sure, but a bear’s a bear. Sloth bears are usually known to be docile for a bear, but they’ll still attack humans who encroach upon their living space, and Mowgli doesn’t just encroach, he fucking rides him! And thejunglebook56b918f52fcee+%25281%2529then there’s King Louie, the big-ass scary mother fucking ape. Modeled after Apocalypse Now’s Colonel Kurtz, King Louie is a gigantopithecus, an ancestor of the orangutan, who in real life would have been about 10 feet tall and over 1000lbs. He’s hostile AF but he’s oddly voiced by Christopher Walken. Now, I love Walken almost as much as his mother does, but it was a weird and jarring choice. King Louie is scary, but Walken’s voice is far from it. He’s got the voice of a stand-up comedian or a jazz band leader, it’s one of the most recognizable voices out there, and it didn’t belong to this ape. And then he breaks out into a show tune, which is NOT something Colonel Kurtz would be caught dead doing, so the tone of the movie just falls apart like the chain falling off of a bicycle, and the whole thing just stinks. Stinks! And not just because it’s a temple full of monkeys.

So why bother making a “live-action” version of the movie when there’s only a single live thing about it? Neel Sethi as little Mowgli is pretty charming, but he never met a single animal during the filming of The Jungle Book – which is a good thing, because seeing a small boy in the arms of how-the-beautiful-visual-reality-of-the-jungle-book-was-made-on-an-la-sound-stage-954479a black panther makes most adults want to scream “Run you little idiot!” In fact,  Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was brought in to make puppets for Sethi to act against, but those were completely replaced with CGI versions later. And as for the lush Indian landscape, it’s 100% phony too. The whole thing was filmed on a back lot in smoggy Los Angeles with a blue screen and some Styrofoam painted to look like jungle.

Tonnes of people loved this movie and I’m not one of them. If you’re going to maxresdefaultgive me talking animals, that’s fine, but they’d better also have careers and pants and fart jokes. If an animal looks real and normally eats people, I don’t want to see him dancing around with a man-cub. I have zero tolerance for this movie and as far as I’m concerned, King Louie can kiss my ass.