Tag Archives: Disney

Dolphin Reef

Last week we were discussing Elephant, a brand new nature documentary released on Disney+. Disneynature films are perhaps not the most scientific among documentaries but they are beautifully photographed and extremely family-friendly. During these difficult days of self-quarantine, parents struggling to home-school their children or even just provide for some less junky screen time may want to turn to Disney+ for this not inconsiderable benefit. In fact, Disney+ is also home to National Geographic programs as well, perhaps better suited to older students. In any case, you can get a free one month trial from the streaming service and it’s hard to imagine a better time than now to use in.

Dolphin Reef is another incredible offering from Disneynature. This one dives under the waves near the Polynesian Islands in the Pacific Ocean to explore a colourful and diverse environment on the ocean’s floor. Dolphins have long been fascinating to we bipedal, air-breathing, earth-walkers. They are smart and engaging. They communicate and express emotion. They are playful and have close family bonds.

Echo is a young bottlenose dolphin who, at the age of 3, is struggling with the notion of growing up. His mom is devotedly and determinedly trying to teach him the ways of the reef but Echo keeps giving in to his silly side. But despite his playfulness, dolphin society is tricky, and survival depends on skill and preparedness.

As if Echo isn’t enough, we’ll also meet a mother-daughter humpback whale duo and learn some of the parallel trials and tribulations of growing up whale. In fact, there’s an entire ocean filled with orcas, sea turtles, and cuttlefish, and we’ll get the most amazing front row seats to it all.

What distinguishes a Disney nature documentary from others is that they write a narrative to go along with the pictures so kids get to know the animals personally. Each one becomes a character we can not only learn about, but root for. A few liberties are taken but on the whole the story fits accurately within the animal kingdom and the result is an exciting and engaging watch.

For me, even besides the dolphin and whale families we’ll get to know intimately, I just love trolling along the sandy bottom and discovering the bright and beautiful life that lives there. Lots of people look to the stars and imagine what alien life might exist, but I’ve always preferred plunging below the sea and exploring those unfathomable depths. There are creatures living on our own planet that defy our understanding. This documentary explores fairly shallow waters and still encounters fascinating species to capture the imagination.

Narrated by a very excited Natalie Portman, Dolphin Reef is an adventure worth taking.

The Muppet Movie (1979)

Is it fair to say that the best use of the Muppet Movie (1979) may be as palate cleanser?  We found it on Disney+ while in need of something easy, after slogging through The Platform.  Instead of three Care Bears seasons, as recommended by Dr. Jay, we opted for one dose of classic Muppets silliness. The medicine worked well enough; it just tasted a little stale.2004_WC_TheMuppets

The Muppet Movie (1979) tells the origin story of the Muppets, though Kermit the Frog readily admits at the outset that some liberties have been taken. Kermit is discovered singing in a swamp (The Rainbow Connection, naturally) by a big Hollywood agent (Dom DeLuise) who has rowed the wrong way.  Turns out, Hollywood is in dire need of frog talent. After a few seconds of deep thought, Kermit decides to move right along to the West Coast to try his luck at stardom, but Doc Hopper (Charles Durning), a local purveyor of frog legs, is set on having Kermit be the face of his restaurant chain, dead or alive. As he tries to stay one step ahead of Hopper, Kermit happens upon all your favourite Muppets, who join up with Kermit on his journey, and ultimately make it big enough in Hollywood to star in the very biopic you’re watching.

I am sure the long list of celebrity cameos was top-notch in 1979, as the Muppets have always excelled at drawing other stars into their orbit, and any movie that includes Bob Hope, Richard Pryor and Steve Martin is doing something right. But most of the faces were not familiar to me, and I know they were expected to be (I certainly recognized most of the names once the credits rolled). Admittedly, I am only a few years older than this film, so your mileage may vary, but the Muppets Movie (1979) felt dated for me because so many of the cameos went over my head.

Still, the Muppets have lots to offer on their own, sight gags, silly banter, and especially a great soundtrack that literally propels them on their journey (I dare you to find me a more aptly titled song than Movin’ Right Along). The Muppets Movie (1979) remains an entertaining kids’ movie, but it has lost some of its lustre with age.

Onward

Every geek dreams of being able to apply their obscure knowledge to a real world situation.  It hasn’t happened for me yet, but Barley Lightfoot (Chris Pratt) is about to get his chance. See, Barley and his brother Ian (Tom Holland) live in a fantastic world where magic is real, or at least was real before technology took its place.

As a result, Barley’s favourite fantasy role playing game is not just fiction. Instead, it’s based on historical events, and Barley960x0‘s knowledge of those obscure facts really comes in handy as Ian and Barley embark on a quest to find a Phoenix Stone to power their father’s magic wand which will allow them to bring their dead dad back to life for 24 hours. If those stakes weren’t high enough, Ian and Barley have accidentally brought back their dad’s legs so the clock’s ticking!

What might have been a paint-by-numbers fetch quest in lesser hands is an epic adventure imbued with magic and wonder from Disney-Pixar. The extraordinary attention to detail makes Onward’s world feel authentic and exciting as we follow Barley, Ian and their half-a-dad on their epic adventure. Along the way, their efforts revitalize the world around them and bring back some of the magic that’s been forgotten. By the time we arrive at the final battle, everything has come together just as the prophecy foretold (truth be told, there is no explicit prophecy mentioned but this adventure is clearly the stuff of destiny). It’s a lot of fun to see it take shape.

Onward is more pure cinematic magic from Disney-Pixar. Even though Onward may not quite hit the heights of the studio’s very best, it’s a worthy addition to the catalogue and it will be especially enjoyable for anyone who has slayed dragons as an elf, troll or wizard in their basement (whether in modern digital form, the classic tabletop and 20-sided-die variety, or both).

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure has a misleading name, because he’s anything but. He may be young (11), but he’s the best detective in town (Portland). He and his partner, an imaginary 1500lb polar bear named Total, run the agency, called Total Failures, together. This may have been Timmy’s first mistake. Total is not the diligent and responsible polar bear he first appeared to be.

Timmy (Winslow Fegley), easily identified by his mullet and his red scarf (if not by his polar bear partner), roams the mean streets of Portland on the failure mobile, which looks suspiciously like a segway. But his case of the missing backpack is usurped by the case of the missing segway (eep!) which is in turn usurped by just trying to survive the 5th grade, his mom’s new boyfriend, his school’s rigid anti-bear policy, and the Russian spies overtaking his city. Gulp.

Winslow Fegley is a delightfully odd kid who pulls off charming and quirky in equal measure, exactly the kind of weirdo who’s a pleasure to watch. The whole cast, largely unknown, and largely children, are surprisingly talented and likable. It’s a good fit for a script that excels at being offbeat. Even the polar bear sidekick looks terrific, a visual witticism crashing about on screen. Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made is almost like a Wes Anderson starter movie, tonally odd but in a way I quickly became addicted to. I imagine this is the kind of movie the whole family can actually enjoy, its clever moments more than enough to keep adults entertained and the protagonist’s wacky antics enthralling for all ages.

Timmy Failure is a great piece of original programming for Disney+ and I wouldn’t mind a bit if there was more just like it (sequel?) on the way.

Oscar-nominated shorts 2020

Hair Love: nominated for short film (animated), directed by Matthew Cherry, Everett Downing Jr. & Bruce Smith

A father does his daughter’s hair. Normally I’d be extremely dismissive – these types of videos go viral all the time, the world falls over itself to applaud dads for attempting the things mothers are expected to do on a daily basis. HOWEVER. Hair Love is not really about a father patting himself on the back, it’s about a little black girl named Zuri who wakes up wanting to look extra nice on this special day. She follows an online tutorial from her absent mother’s hair blog, but wrangling her hair is challenging and things don’t go well for Zuri or her dad. A black woman’s hair is a special thing indeed, tied up in her identity and her culture, a symbol of her status, perhaps fraught with difficulty. But Zuri just wants to honour her mother; she already knows that hair does not make the woman. Inspirational and sweetly animated.

Kitbull: nominated for short film (animated), directed by Rosana Sullivan

A scrappy young street cat (well, kitten) and a pit bull trained to be vicious form an unlikely bond and experience friendship together for the first time. It brought a tear to my eye. Though it’s by Pixar (SparkShorts), the 8 minute film is 2D, every frame hand-drawn and hand-painted. Available now on Disney+.

Brotherhood: nominated for short film (live action), directed by Meryam Joobeur

Mohamed, a shepherd, is deeply shaken and a little suspicious when his estranged eldest son Malek returns home from Syria to rural Tunisia with a mysterious young wife in tow. The black sheep of the family returns on the same day as an actual sheep is found slaughtered. Families are tough things to navigate and Mohamed’s is no different. He is mistrustful of this new woman, covered head to toe in a niqab, and even of his son, one of 3 red-headed brothers played by real-life red-headed brothers, a jarring sight out in this hard-scrabbled land. He doesn’t approve of Malek’s decision to fight in Syria but it’s clear their relationship has always been fraught. Brotherhood has stunning cinematography and a meaty script but neither will soften the blow when Mohamed learns how costly assumptions can be.

Walk Run Cha-Cha: nominated for documentary (short subject), directed by Laura Nix

Paul and Millie recall their youth in Vietnam, where ‘foreign music’ was so romantic and sexy, and dance parties at home were illegal. They fell in love but were separated when Paul’s family fled the communists. They lost their youth and their young love to the aftermath of the Vietnam war, but 40 years later they have reunited in California and are rekindling their romance on the dance floor. Through one couple’s love story, Laura Nix teaches us about the immigration process and what it takes to relearn the language of love and make up for lost time. In their golden years, Paul and Millie finally have the time, energy, safety and security to learn what it means to enjoy life.

Nefta Football Club: nominated for short film (live action), directed by Yves Piat

In the south of Tunisia (again with Tunisia!), two young brothers and ardent football fan brothers bump into a donkey just chilling out in the middle of the desert on the border of Algeria. Oddly, the donkey is wearing red headphones (and yes, listening to music). The donkey is carrying bags of white powder (flour, they wonder? laundry detergent?) – they ditch the donkey and bring the powder back to their village, where their friends are playing football.

The Neighbors’ Window: nominated for short film (live action), directed by Marshall Curry

Exhausted, frazzled, middle-aged parents Alli and Jacob are mesmerized by their curtainless neighbours in the next building. While they breastfeed and wipe up poop and serve up meals that don’t get eaten, the two pine for their youth by spying on their young, horny neighbours across the street. This film is about envy more than voyeurism, well-acted and slick as hell, two people who are so busy that they’ve forgotten the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. This is Curry’s third nomination so it seems unwise to discount him.

Life Overtakes Me: nominated for documentary (short subject), directed by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson

Over the last 15 years, hundreds of traumatized refugee children in Sweden have become afflicted with Resignation Syndrome. Life is so hard they withdraw into a coma-like state, unresponsive, sometimes for years. It’s like their little bodies can only take so much. Children need security, not uncertainty, to recover after a trauma, but for refugees, security is a long time coming. Watching these kids waste away is tragic. What is happening here? And the scariest part is that their families are still facing deportation. Imagine caring for a comatose child as a refugee? Those kids are frankly not likely to survive. But with anti-immigration sentiment growing in Sweden, and asylum laws getting stricter, the outlook isn’t positive. This documentary had me asking questions I’d never even thought of before, and combing the internet for answers. Stirring and urgent, Life Overtakes Me is available on Netflix.

Some of these are available to watch on Youtube, legally and for free – check out my Oscar-nominated films playlist.

The Rocketeer

Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) is a crack pilot training for the air racing nationals who has a bad case of the wrong place/wrong times. When testing out his plane, he flies over a shootout between mobsters and G-Men. In the end, his plane gets trashed, he is on the hook to pay for an exploded fuel truck, and he’ll have to put on a clown costume to earn enough money to settle his debts. But wait, what’s that underneath his plane’s seat? Why it’s Howard Hughes’s jetpack superweapon that the Nazis will do anything to get their hands on, and the FBI is racing to track it down first.

Naturally, Cliff takes to the skies and becomes a superhMV5BYzM3Mjk5MTktNzcyZC00MWVlLWEwNzEtOTkyNDYxNjRiNWNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTEwODg2MDY@._V1_ero, with the help of his engineer Peevy (Alan Arkin). But in doing so, Cliff attracts the attention of the Nazis and mobsters, and before you know it Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) needs rescuing. It’s up to Cliff to hold onto his jetpack long enough to save Jenny and, I guess, also save America.

I hadn’t seen this movie since the 90s and what stuck with me after this recent viewing is how badly the Rocketeer’s effects have aged. They probably weren’t great even at the time but now they just look sad.

But in a way, the bad effects are kind of fitting, because this film’s whole raison d’être is nostalgia, and the clumsy effects feel like a remnant of that same bygone era. The COMICS-NAZISRocketeer is a throwback to that fabled time in America’s history where men were men, women were eye candy, the good guys always won, and even criminals were too patriotic to work for Nazis. It’s the cinematic version of Captain America punching Hitler in the face. Cue the flag waving and tears of pride.

Togo

I never meant to raise a pack of dogs, it just happened – one dog at a time. First there was Herbie, who was kind enough to allow Sean into the tribe. Herbie was such a swell dog that it seemed irresponsible not to want a second. Thus came Gertie, a tiny little ball of fluff who moved so preciously you might mistake her for an animatronic. Herbie was a good big brother, taking care of his little sister, tolerating her effusive affection. When we moved homes, we got a third, reasoning that Herbie and Gertie would just assume Fudgie came with the property. It would all be one big adjustment that came with more square footage, more land, and one more tiny wagging tail. Three dogs in three years. Fudgie was a quaking, anxiety-riddled mess with lots of kisses and an inexhaustible love of fetch. And then after a hiatus, Sean thought maybe we needed a fourth. And the thing is, nobody actually needs a fourth dog. It tips the scales toward madness. But I’d had a large surgery where basically by body was set on fire in an attempt to burn out the disease. It was painful, and I returned home a mass of fresh oozing wounds who’d wait at home for them to slowly turn into scar tissue. For some reason Sean thought I might need a little cheering up, and a puppy had never failed him yet. Bronx was the runt of his litter, a tiny guy who was immediately intiated into the pack by alpha Herbie, who licked him tip to tail, claiming him.

Togo immediately reminds us of Bronx. He too was the runt of his litter, but like Bronx, he grew up to be a big guy with an even bigger heart. Bronx is an utter sweetheart. He often gets into mischief but doesn’t have a single mischievous bone in his body; he’s simply a bit of a bonehead. He’s still playful like a puppy and he has a big sloppy kiss for every single person he meets. The baby of our 4, he likes having his brothers around him and frets when they are not. Gertie was at the hospital again today, and he cried until she came home.

Togo is a husky, but as the runt, his owner Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe) dismisses him. There’s no room on a serious Alaska team for a useless dog, so Leonhard tries to give the dog away, but Togo is also full of mischief, and finds a way to escape. Lucky for him Leonhard’s wife Constance (Julianne Nicholson) is a lighter touch. She has the tendency to treat Togo more like a pet than a working dog, a real hazard out in the Alaskan wilds, but soon Togo tugs at even Leonhard’s heart.

In 1925, Alaska was hit hard with diptheria. The children in Leonhard’s town were doomed to perish as the life-saving serum was hundreds of miles away, unreachable. But Leonhard decides to make the perilous trip with trusty Togo leading the way. This real-life journey lives in history books but for nearly a century, another dog, Balto, has taken all the credit. To be fair, Balto is just a dog; he isn’t the one who wrote the stories and stole the glory. But it was Togo who deserved the recognition. It was his run.

I have a friend who was born so far north it makes Alaska look like Vermont. She grew up with a team of dog sled Huskies. As working dogs integral to their way of life, the dogs were very well-treated. But they weren’t pets. When the dogs had stopped being useful, they were “recycled” into furs the family could wear. Nothing is ever wasted up north. Though she’s lived “in the south” for a number of years now, it’s still a surprise to her how dogs have a much different role in a family’s life down here.

Togo is a working dog who crossed the line into Leonhard’s heart. He didn’t care if statues were erected in his memory, he just wanted to be Leonhard’s best pal. That’s the wonderful thing about dogs. They live and breathe for you. They fill your life with love and light. Disney knows this, and they’ve made voluminous trade in the dog movie business – but they’re not the ones who animated the lie that was Balto. If you’re interested in correcting this particular piece of history, or if you’re simply looking for a movie about a verygoodboy, you can find it now on Disney+.