Tag Archives: family movies

Toy Story 3

Time and again, we have been told that a toy’s only intrinsic value is to be useful. And when that toy ceases to be useful – either it gets broken, or a kid stops playing with it – well, that toy has met the end of its life. Yikes. Woody and friends have occasionally had the chance to grab at immortality but have always convinced themselves that to be Andy’s toy is the highest possible achievement. There is no better thing, therefore it is okay to accept the eventual certainty of death. One day, Andy WILL grow up, will leave for college, will leave them behind.

That day has come.

Andy is indeed off to college. Toy Story 3 was released in 2010, 15 years after the first one, so by any accurate count, Woody and the gang have had some bonus years. But their luck has run out. Andy is packing up his room – putting aside a few things to store in his mother’s attic, a few essentials to bring along with him, and the rest will be marked for garbage. Andy’s sentimental side has him setting aside Woody for college, and bagging the rest of his old pals for storage, but a misunderstanding leads both his mother and the toys themselves to think that they’re meant for the trash. The toys manage to save themselves from the metallic maw of the garbage truck, and they throw themselves into a donation pile destined for Sunnyside Daycare.

The toys are sad to leave Andy, but thrilled that they might once again be played with. Until now, the toys have spent their lives caring solely for Andy, wanting nothing but his happiness. Their own needs have occasionally gone unmet in this quest, especially in these last few years, with Andy the teenager no longer having time for them. The toys, and Woody in particular, have often seemed parental in their concern for him, and in fact, with Andy’s dad curiously absent and unremarked upon, Woody seems to have stepped into that of father figure. But parents too must say goodbye to their children eventually, and when they grow to become useless, they too will be placed in an institution. The toys are optimistic about the daycare centre, but it’s easy to read it as relegation to retirement living, being put out to pasture (Buzz even gets lobotomized, like a dementia patient). There’s always been this double read to Toy Story, one that often leaves us choked up. Thanks a lot, internet. I thought the well had finally run dry, and now I’m flooding my keyboard with tears.

But that’s not even the sad part! Toy Story 3’s genius has the toys not just facing oblivion and meaninglessness without a kid to serve, but it has them facing actual death. When the daycare turns out to be a pretty awful, tyrannical living situation, they find themselves embracing death. This is possibly this decade’s most traumatic and touching scene: with death mere moments away, the toys stop their futile efforts to save themselves, and hold hands to face it bravely together. Luckily, Pixar thinks better of killing off their revered heroes, and they do get a last minute reprieve and a second chance at life with Bonnie, a little girl just down the street from Andy. Even Woody, who was meant to accompany Andy to college, gets reassigned, and frankly, it’s with a sigh of relief that we find he will remain with his friends. Because for me at least, it wasn’t actually death that seemed the worst of it, it was thinking of Woody and Buzz, best buds and life partners, being separated in their twilight years. Is anyone not thinking of their grandparents, and who will die first, leaving the other to face those bleak years alone?

Toy Story 3 improves upon its predecessors in my ways. In 11 years, the animation has of course improved by big heaping gobs. In the first film, we briefly see a teddy bear that’s been relegated to the shelf; they chose not to make him part of the gang because fur was just too hard to get right. In this film, Lotso the bear is made a proper villain, and he looks glorious. Not only are the colours and textures perfect, but the animators find ways to show proper wear and tear on the toys as well. The animation is vivid and astonishing. The expressions on the toys’ faces are often so realistic that you have to pinch yourself to remember it’s just a cartoon (Woody has 229 animation points of movement in his face alone). In Toy Story 3, the Pixar animators are fearless. Whereas before they struggled to get clothes right, in this film they embrace them, with Ken making over 20 costume changes alone (and all of them fabulous). Hair swings. Fibers are differentiated. But they’re not just improving, they’re innovating. Believe it or not, in this film, the real challenge was the trash bag. They have properties that apparently you and I take for granted, but the animators truly struggled with.

But we don’t keep coming back to this franchise for the richly drawn cartoons, we come back because these characters are our friends, and the excellent story-writing has made us care. And boy did we line up in droves to see this film, even if it had been more than a decade since the last installment: it was the first animated film to make a billion dollars worldwide, which it did in just over 2 months at the box office. It was also one of only 3 animated films to score an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (Beauty and the Beast and Up were the other 2), and it did it without any of its predecessors being nominated. Toy Story has continued to surprise fans because it actually feels that each sequel is better than the last, while Hollywood of course has led us to expect exactly the opposite. Although, it should be noted: while the first and second films both had 100% ratings on Spoiled Red Fruit, this one had a mere 99.

If the nostalgia attached to vintage toys and TV shows and lunchboxes isn’t enough for you, I find it kind of neat that Toy Story has managed to keep the same guy, John Morris, as Andy’s voice for its entire run (there was an 11 year gap between this film and the one before it – the producers had no idea if adult Morris would at all be suitable, but they called him up and his voicemail convinced them on the spot). And Laurie Metcalf as his mom; Roseanne was still on network TV when the first film premiered, and now I suppose it’s kind of on again. Of course, we’ve lost some voice actors along the way: Jim Varney (Slinky) was replaced by his friend Blake Clark. And Don Rickles (Mr. Potato Head) will appear in the latest film via archival audio. But we’ve also seen some great additions. Toy Story 3 introduces Ned Beatty (Lotso), Michael Keaton (Ken), Jodi Benson (Barbie – but most famous as the voice of Ariel, of course), Timothy Dalton (Mr. Pricklepants), Kristen Schaal (Trixie), Bonnie Hunt (Dolly), and the list goes on. Toy Story 3 has over 300 characters, which is a lot for any movie, never mind one in which each needs to be rendered from scratch!

Toy Story 3 earned a place in our hearts with scenes that register both pleasure and pain – bittersweet, like life. It taps into our primal fears (uselessness, loneliness, death) but ends with a hopeful note. Toy Story 3 was the perfect way to end a beloved franchise: Andy says goodbye to his toys, and so do we. We know they’re safe and happy in their after(Andy)life, with the final scene panning up into white fluffy cloud, reminiscent of Andy’s wallpaper, but also a sure symbol of heaven. But this franchise has again proved irresistible and Disney-Pixar just couldn’t stay away: a fourth installment hits theatres this weekend, so if you’re curious what life has been like for the toys in their new home, you’re in luck. Just pray that this one holds up to the rest.

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Toy Story 2

Minutes from departing for cowboy camp, Woody (Tom Hanks) suffers a rip to his arm seam that shelves him. Up there, in the dusty recesses of Andy’s room, Woody has an existential crisis. If he is a broken toy, what value does he have? Is he to be forgotten forever? Has his time as Andy’s toy come to an end? It doesn’t help when he meets an old friend up there, Wheezy the penguin, who was shelved months ago due to a broken squeaker. Even worse, an impending yard sale is a serious threat to all and any toys who may not have been recently played with – especially when a declutter-happy mom (Laurie Metcalf) is allowed to make cuts while Andy’s still at camp.

Woody gets a little too close to the yard sale and an eagle-eyed toy collector, Al, from Al’s Toy Barn (Wayne Knight), refuses to take no for an answer. He steals Woody, to the toys’ horror. Turns out, Woody is the valuable central piece in a collector’s set of retro toys. Woody meets the other toys in the set: yodeling cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), Woody’s sidekick and noble steed, Bullseye, and the prospector, Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). True to his nature, Woody is at first concerned with returning to Andy, but as he contemplates his fate as the broken toy of a growing boy versus the intoxication of a full restoration by Al in order to be sold to a toy collector in Japan, he can’t help but weigh his options. And his new friends have a vested interest in Woody’s sticking with them: without him to complete their set, they’ll go back into storage. Without him, they’re worthless.

I moaned on and on about how cleverly the characters were built in the last movie, and once again, I can’t help but admire what they’ve done with the new toys. Jessie wants very much to convince Woody to stay, but as a former toy herself, she remembers the heady feeling of being someone’s beloved. Pete, on the other hand, is mint in the box. He’s never been played with. Together they sow the seeds of doubt.

But if the first Toy Story was a buddy comedy of sorts, all of the films in the franchise are a testament to friendship. Woody’s friends at home once again launch a rescue mission, and it’s adorable the lengths they’ll go to in order to reunite their friend with his owner. But will Woody go?

At its heart, this film is once again more contemplative and nihilistic than your typical children’s movie. Heck, than most movies, period. Being loved by a child is the thing that gives a toy’s life meaning. But accepting that means that one day you will be rendered useless, which is worse than death. It means a brief period of being adored followed by an eternity of nothingness. But this toy museum in Japan offers Woody another option: immortality. He may not be loved by anyone, but he’ll be appreciated, not forgotten. And Jessie really drives that home with her heart breaking flashback wherein she remembers being loved, and then being abandoned. Because all children grow up, and all toys are eventually discarded.

So yeah, there are some dark ass themes in this movie, but they’re told with boldly coloured characters that make the whole thing just so gosh darned palatable. Woody is still the rootinest, tootinest cowpoke we know, but there’s an edge to him, a darkness. Woody’s been through some shit. Is there a single soul who watched this movie who didn’t, at least for a split second, experience dread over the treatment and neglect of their own childhood friends? I wager there is not.

The first Toy Story was ground-breaking in its animation, but this sequel, which came out just 4 years later in 1999, is already lightyears beyond it. They’re better at animating hair; Andy’s mom has her hair down in this film whereas she had to keep it in a ponytail during the first because of animation limitations. Everything’s gone up a notch. Bo Peep, who Andy uses as a toy, is actually a detachable porcelain figurine who belongs on his little sister’s lamp. In this movie, we can actually SEE that she’s porcelain; she has a particular sheen to her that the plastic toys do not. Pixar was motivated to keep its reputation as an innovator, so they didn’t just recycle stuff from the first film, they went in and upgraded character models, created new locations, and utilized more complicated camera shots that weren’t possible in the first. But they were careful not to let the look evolve too much from the first, wanting to keep the films looking cohesive. Perhaps their greatest technical achievement was up on that dusty shelf where a broken Woody reunites with Wheezy the Penguin. Turns out, dust motes are frustratingly complex to animate. Pixar animated 2 million of them – a major feat since this sequel was originally planned as a direct-to-video release which got bumped up at the last minute, leaving animators scrambling, and fully a third of them with some sort of repetitive strain injury (like carpel tunnel) by the time animation was complete. In a perfect world, making movies wouldn’t result in injuries, but this isn’t a perfect world. It is, however, a perfect sequel. A perfect movie, in fact. I wouldn’t dare tell anyone their injuries were “worth it” but Toy Story 2 achieves even more than its predecessor. It capitalizes on what made the first film great but it doesn’t recycle its success. The story works harder, the characters dig deeper. Though the toys are often out of their element, we are firmly in their universe, a universe that is clever and expansive and shockingly complete.

Pixar establishes itself as a studio that animates adventures that kids will love but writes stories that speak directly to the adults in the audience. It even has an erection joke that’s cloaked in Pixar’s special camouflage – obvious to adults, unnoticed by kids. That’s a rare and unique talent from a studio that keeps the boundaries on what we’ve come to expect from an animated film.

Toy Story (1995) (1995?) (1995!)

You can blame John Wick for this review. As the lights were dimming in our theatre I suddenly thought – should I have rewatched the previous films? The answer was yes, but I hadn’t. I am a learner of lessons. More or less. Occasionally. When the lesson means watching movies instead of doing work. I did rewatch the incredibly complex The Secret Life of Pets in order to fully appreciate the nuances of its sequel. Now I shall do the same for a much better franchise of movies, one that has more than earned a spot on this site anyway – Toy Story.

As you can likely tell from the title, I was taken aback by the year of its release. Intellectually I probably could have told you the year, but emotionally I just wasn’t prepared to face the consequences. This movie is dang near 25 years old. I was a kid when it came out and don’t remember if I saw it at the cinema. In fact, I don’t remember seeing it for the first time at all, which is strange for such a defining moment in animation (and I’m sure I called it such when I reviewed it on the playground).

Toy Story introduces us to a little boy named Andy and his most beloved toy, a cowboy with a pull-string and a snake in his boot but no gun in his holster named Woody. Woody is the natural leader of Andy’s toys, of which there are many: an etch-a-sketch, a Mr. Potato Head, a dinosaur named Rex, a slinky dog, Little Bo Peep, a pig-shaped piggy bank named Hamm, green army guys galore. But Woody is Andy’s absolute favouritest toy, and we see them at play in Andy’s cloud-wallpapered room, and tucked into bed together at night, under a Sheriff Woody duvet. But Andy’s birthday brings a plethora of new toys as birthdays often do, but only one toy competes for Andy’s prime affection: a space ranger named Buzz Lightyear. The interesting thing about Buzz, other than his quest to save the universe from Emperor Zurg, is that Buzz doesn’t know he’s a toy. He believes he’s the actual hero, and that the galaxy depends on him.

Woody, who up until now has assured all the other toys that just being Andy’s toy is an honour, is of course insanely jealous. And when he is kinda sorta responsible for Buzz “falling” out a window into the sadistic neighbour’s yard, the other toys are naturally upset with their old pal Woody and mount a rescue mission for new friend Buzz. In actuality, Buzz has all but saved himself, but our two heroes end up outside, essentially “lost toys” in the world, and they’ll have to rely on each other to get home safely. Andy’s family is moving in just 2 days so there’s no time to waste!

Toy Story was the first animated film to earn an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, and it’s well-deserved [It lost to The Usual Suspects. It also lost best original musical or comedy score to Pocahontas. There was no best animated film category in 1995, that didn’t happen until 2002, but John Lasseter was given a special achievement Oscar to commemorate the film’s ground-breaking success. Those are pretty rare; the only other one handed out in the past 25 years was in 2017 to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for his contribution to VR film Flesh and Sand.]

The characters are wonderful because the toys all manage to feel timeless. Buzz and Woody are created especially for the film and each is meant to be a character on a hit TV show (though Woody seems to be a relic, perhaps a toy handed down from Andy’s mom or dad). Buzz is newer, all plastic and flashing lights and fancy buttons compared to Woody’s stuffing and low-fi technology. But Andy’s other toys may be more recognizable. In fact, slinky dogs and potato heads and telephones saw a resurgence in popularity after each of the Toy Story films were released. The wonderful voice actors of course go a long way to help bring these toys to life. Tom Hanks (Woody) was drawn to the project because he too had as a child wondered what his toys were up to when he wasn’t looking. Tim Allen (Buzz) was drawn because his comedy idol, Chevy Chase, had been offered the role and turned it down (so had Billy Crystal, who was wise enough to regret it – when Lasseter came calling again, for 2001’s Monsters Inc, Crystal said yes before Lasseter got a single word out). Hanks recorded his lines in the early 90s, while filming Sleepless in Seattle and A League of Their Own – he wanted the voicework wrapped up before he started in on Philadelphia or Forrest Gump as he felt he’d be in the wrong frame of mind. Little Bo Peep is voiced by Annie Potts, but Bo almost didn’t make the film. Initially, Pixar had planned for her to be a Barbie, but Mattel was sure this movie would be a disaster and declined the role, rather fooolishly in hindsight. Similarly, Pixar was not able to use G.I. Joe’s name either; they rewrote the character as ‘Combat Carl.’ Rex the dinosaur, voiced to perfection by Wallace Shawn, is a particular favourite of mine because the idea of a neurotic dinosaur who suffers from self-esteem issues and extreme anxiety turns out to be a whole lotta fun. He’s got an inferiority complex and doesn’t do well with conflict, at odds with him being the biggest of the toys, and depicting a classically scary character. Hamm the piggy bank is voiced by Pixar fixture John Ratzenberger. He’s a board game enthusiast and seems to know the most about the outside world. His frequent board game opponent and best friend is Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), who covers his loneliness with sarcastic wise-cracking but he prays every birthday for a Mrs. Potato Head. Like all good dogs, Slink (Jim Varney) is very loyal to his pal Woody; he often manages to have a hang-dog look about him that’s incredibly sympathetic.

Toy Story was the world’s first computer-animated feature film, and it changed animation forever. To be honest, this film still looks good today because they were careful to avoid things they weren’t quite up to animating convincingly yet, like long hair and water droplets. Pixar has continuously astonished us with increasingly intricately-animated films, and by that standard, Toy Story is its worst. What a marvelous, beautiful worst.

All these toys work together to evoke childhood and warm feelings. Toy Story tickled our imaginations, reinvigorated the field of animation, and established Pixar as a giant in the genre.

Ballerina

Victor and Felicie look and sound like adults, but they act like children. They ARE children, supposedly. In fact, they’re orphans in an orphanage who manage to runaway to Paris – she, to be a ballerina, he, to be an inventor.

Once there, they immediately get separated in the most unimaginable way possible, and quickly make a pact to meet on the bridge the next day. Which is incredibly stupid since Paris is like 87% bridge. And yet they do manage to make their rendez-vous, and she’s already enrolled in in the dance academy (under false pretenses, sure), and he’s already met famed inventor Gustav Eiffel (his eponymous tower is visibly half-built).

Felicie (Elle Fanning) makes friends with a cleaner with a limp, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), which is how she earns her room and board. Odette is somewhat suppressed herself, by a real evil stepmother type (which describes her general attitude and cruelty, not her parentage). There are several Cinderella types, so I suppose it evens out, but the sheer volume of adults being cruel and hostile toward children is a little alarming. Meanwhile, Victor (Dane DeHaan) is working in Gustav’s atelier, where they’re hard at work on the Statue of Liberty. It defies incredulity that these two parentless waifs have managed to make their dreams come true in under 24 hours with no resources or connections or experience. But let’s sweep that under the carpet for now.

Ballerina, also known as Leap!, has some stunning animation where the dance scenes are concerned. But the story is too familiar. Lazy, in fact. I suppose some little girls who love ballet themselves may be enchanted, but there’s no crossover potential for adults , and little to entice other kids into giving this a passing chance. I found it boring, and I’m what might be described as a grown human adult person. The movie veers drunkenly from heavy-handedness to negligence, from unabashed cruelty to unmitigated forgiveness, both unearned. To call it inconsistent is to besmirch the word. And then there’s the not inconsequential fact that a mother tries to go all Tonya Harding on a kid with a sledge hammer. That’s dark, y’all. I’m glad I didn’t spend any money to see this movie, but I’m a little sad that my taxes went toward making it. Canada makes some truly beautiful films, but this isn’t one it’ll be remembered for.

The Secret Life of Pets 2

Let me ask you a question: are you a sack of shit? Yeah, I didn’t think so. In that case, it’s pretty safe to say you’ll find this movie enjoyable. Like the first one, it’s not going to rock your world. It’s not going to usher in a new era of animation. It’s not a story that will be passed down generation to generation. It’s a just-funny-enough, tug-on-the-old-heartstrings, relate to humans through their better counterparts kind of thing.

The best kinds of people are dogs. That is a FACT.

Max (this time voiced by Patton Oswalt rather than the sex offender Louis C,K.), the very good boy from the first film, is back again. He and his very good boy brudder Duke (Eric Stonestreet) are welcoming yet another new addition to their family: a human baby named Liam. Yes, owner Katie (Ellie Kemper) has met and married a human man and produced an heir. We still don’t know what it is that Katie does to afford her very nice Manhattan apartment, but her life is very full. And Max, initially quite ambivalent about human children, grows to love Liam very very much. The feeling is mutual. But just loving Liam is not enough; Max feels he must protect him from the world. Max, normally a happy-go-lucky dog, is now a bit of a nervous nelly. The behaviourist outfits him with a cone of shame, and then his owners pack him off to the farm. Oh gosh, not the proverbial farm, an actual farm, where he meets rough and tough farm dog Rooster (Harrison Ford), who is determined to cure him with tough love and hard work.

Meanwhile, back in the city, old friends are up to new tricks. Fuzzy bunny Snowball (Kevin Hart) is helping new pal Daisy (Tiffany Haddish) to, believe it or not, rescue a tiger from a circus. And sweet little fluffball Gidget (Jenny Slate) has her own little rescue mission going, and enlists Chloe the cat (Lake Bell) for her particular brand of expertise.

This movie caught me right in the feels on at least to parts: a) My sister had a lovely good boy, also named Max, who got a little “overprotective” during her pregnancy, and through the birth of her first child, and he had to go to the proverbial farm. We all miss him to this day. b) My own little Fudgie is himself a bit of a nervous nelly and is newly on anti-anxiety meds actually called Clomicalm. He is not yet calm, but he is definitely not unhappy. He mostly worries about stupid stuff like: am I posing with my toy in exactly the right way to impress Sean when he comes in? How about now? How bout now? Now? NOWWW????

And of course, as pet owners generally and dog lovers specifically, and people who are just plain old not monsters, you can’t help but melt a little when you recognize a bit of your own four legged friend up on the screen. When Daisy made her mad face, I saw my Herbie. And when Max learned how to howl, I heard my Bronx (though Bronx does more of an “Awuuuuu.”)

So no, it’s not a terrific film. But it’s a sweet film, a cute film, it’s the film I wanted to see tonight and I’m glad I did. Awuuuuuu.

The Dark Crystal

Although my sisters and I were massive fans of Labyrinth when we were kids (I was later shocked to find out that David Bowie was some kind of rock star!) and can still sing every word to ever song, The Dark Crystal was never on our radar. But it recently popped up on Netflix (not randomly: they’re actually making a series), so Sean and I thought we’d better give it a go.

And honestly, my life would have been better off without it. I was almost instantly confused, and I was utterly unprepared to be confounded by the complexities of a muppet movie. I told Twitter about my problem, and of the 43 people up at 2am and willing to commiserate, plenty of them simply made fun of me for how high I was (though honestly: doesn’t it seem like the kind of movie IMPROVED by weed???), but lots of them declared that this was among their favourite movies. And I was like: what the heck???

First, a synopsis as told by a lady (me. I’m the lady.) who did not understand the movie for any five second stretch. Some dark crystal was damaged a long time ago and bad things have been happening ever since. For like 1000 years or something, so it’s weird they even remember the precipitating event at this point. Their little felt thumbs don’t look all that opposable but I guess they must be stellar record keepers. The Skeksis are so ugly you just know they’re the villains. They’ve been the evil overloads of their planet ever since. But our hero, Jen, has been raised by peaceful wizards. Jen is not like them though. He’s a Gelfling, the only one – or so he thought, until he meets a second, very pretty Gelfling named Kira, and she helps him on a quest to find the broken piece of the dark crystal, which would restore the universe’s balance.

Jim Henson clearly believed that being scared was a healthy emotion for kids to deal with. The Dark Crystal is a very dark fantasy, with little of Labyrinth’s signature levity. There’s a lot of peril encountered and a lot of responsibility on Jen’s shoulders, and let’s face it: there are lots of scary-looking creatures hatching evil plans. And there are also some drawn-out deaths, like depressing old age shit that most kids movies stay away from.

Conceptual designer Brian Froud dedicated 5 years of his life to the look and feel of this movie, and almost all of it, from the design of the creatures to the world they inhabit, stemmed from his mind. In fact, he ended up changing a major aspect of the film when he came back to Jim Henson with designs that left him perplexed. Henson had intended to call the film The Dark Chrysalis, but Froud misheard and had developed the The Dark Crystal instead, and Henson was so enamoured with those first concept designs that they just went with it.

This movie came out in 1982, the same weekend as E.T., in fact, and went on to be the highest grossing film of the year in both France and Japan. It obviously has its share of fans, and perhaps a bit of a cult following. And I do see the incredible world-building undertaken by Jim Henson and Frank Oz; the ingenuity evident in the different sets and the creativity poured into each creature’s development. I just find that the characters in Labyrinth are friendly entry points into their universe, while the laborious time spent with both the wizards and the villainous Skeksis felt more arduous and less compelling. The Dark Crystal is a fascinating tour of the creature workshop, but I didn’t feel invested in a single character, whereas Labyrinth still feels like a group of childhood friends.

Aside from the fact that I legitimately could not maintain a grasp on the story, The Dark Crystal just feels less colourful, less humourous, less memorable than its counterpart. I get that Henson wanted to just drop us into this strange land, and immerse us in it through showing rather than telling, but it made me feel alienated and cold. We hardly come to know the characters, except through what they’re doing. It just doesn’t speak to me or particularly engage me, but the one thing I’m impressed by is the lack of dumbing down for kids. Not a single fart joke in sight. Jim Henson really trusted his audience to make the leap along with him. Did you make the leap? Do you love the film? Help me understand why – leave comments down below.

The new Netflix series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, will be a prequel, focusing on a lost Gelfling civilization. It will look very familiar to fans of the original as Brian Froud is back, and he’s not a lone. A nifty detail: Brain met a puppet designer on the set of The Dark Crystal named Wendy. They married and had a son, Toby, who went on to play little baby brother Toby in Labyrinth. All three of them are credited in the series. It’s got a LOT of major voice talent: Alicia Vikander, Andy Samberg, Simon Pegg, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Keegan-Michael Key, Mark Hamill, Taron Egerton, and a lot more besides. It’ll be available on Netflix August 30.

Aladdin (2019)

Maybe it’s just time we admit that no remake, perhaps especially a live-action remake, will live up to the extremely high bar set by the animated films of our youth. Not only were these movies straight out of Disney’s renaissance, they are coated in the glittery gold of nostalgia, elevated by the place they had in our lives at the time, rendered flawless and important in our cherished memories. It’s an impossible standard, is what I’m saying. That said, Aladdin is probably among the better ones.

As you know, Aladdin isn’t really about Aladdin. Oh sure, it’s ostensibly about a boy wooing and trying to be worthy of a princess. And about a greedy man who’ll stop at nothing to gain power. But really it’s about a genie trapped in a lamp, longing to be free. Robin Williams 110% stole the first movie. His ad-libbed sessions in the recording studio had Disney re-writing the script to accommodate all of his beautiful material. These were agl0580.pcomp_publicity.v02.1039_grd004.000000.0immense blue shoes to fill, so in a way, I admire the impulse to steer the ship in a different direction, as Will Smith IS a different direction – though not as different as I’d imagined. He makes the character his own, for better or worse, but the fact that this film is such a close remake means inevitably you’ll be comparing movies and this one will be coming up short. It can’t quite recapture the magic, especially when we know every word and anticipate every action. And Will Smith’s Genie is a dull cousin of Williams’. This is not entirely Smith’s fault – who among us could compete with the limitless freedom of a cartoon? Animated Genie is just that – animated. At all freaking times. Will Smith can’t even touch the manic energy of the original, and frankly, his songs leave a little to be desired. I’d heard that his remake of Friend Like Me would be largely hip-hop inspired, but I heard wrong. But it may have been the wiser choice; if you’re going to fail by comparison, then do something to distinguish yourself. The 2019 version is fairly faithful to the original – it has all the basics but none of the colour.

Well, I don’t meant that literally. In fact, that’s one of the things I liked best about the movie: the absolute riot of colour. Jewel tones abound! The colours of spice fill up the screen, sometimes metaphorically but sometimes quite literally. Jasmine’s costumes are the stuff little girls’ dreams are made of. In animation, it’s too expensive to have different outfits for characters, so they mostly wear just on the one thing, a cartoon uniform if you will. And Jasmine’s is no joke. But in the live-action remake, costumers have given themselves permission to create a wardrobe befitting a princess. It’s a feast for the eyes.

I mentioned before that the 2019 film is fairly faithful to the original and that’s true – but there are a few exceptions, and I’m glad that Jasmine is one of them. In the 1992 feature, Jasmine is a passive character. Yes, she’s 15, but she’s very much a damsel in distress. That’s not quite the character the writers meant to portray, but several scenes in which she was to exercise her voice were cut because they were simply too expensive to animate. That decision saved production budget but cost Jasmine something in character. In 2019, she’s a fuller version of herself. Of course, that’s partially because you’ll find her singing a song you don’t recognize (called Speechless – it’s Disney’s bid at an Oscar this year, as only original, written-for-this-movie songs qualify).

Speaking of which: Jasmine and Aladdin. I hereby give you permission to get your Aladdin thirst on. I mean, maybe you’ve always had a certain lustful feeling toward the MV5BZTc3NTA1YmEtZTkyNy00ZDMyLWJkMmItODFkYjU0MTc2N2I0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQxNjcxNQ@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1233,1000_AL_street rat with the not little nipple-less bod. Now he’s played by the very attractive Mena Massoud, who conveys all of his boyishness and charm. Jasmine, meanwhile, is portrayed by  the lovely Naomi Scott. Since cartoon Jasmine is 80% doe eyes, you might think she’d be difficult to replace. In fact, Scott is everything you could ever want in a Jasmine, now with 50% more agency. And unlike Will Smith’s renditions, everything Scott and Massoud sing sounds like the soundtrack of your childhood. You’ll find it difficult not to sing along. Why resist, really? Someone has to be the crazy lady in each and every movie theatre, and it may as well be you.

Director Guy Ritchie brings an energy to the film that’s quite unexpected. I mean, he’s made a career putting hustlers on the big screen, and who is Aladdin if not that? And those were Sean’s favourite scenes: Aladdin deftly avoiding arrest in the streets of Agrabah, streets he knows well, like the back of his hand. He  navigates those in the slight elevation above reality – quick, slick, agile. My favourite scenes, however, were the colourful spectacles I didn’t know Ritchie was capable of. Will Smith’s Genie introduces Prince Ali to Agrabah with fanfare that’s nothing short of visually stunning. It’s choreographed to within an inch of its life, with a rainbow of costumes and a riot of feathers and dancing girls and exotic animals.

Aladdin is a lot of fun if you let it be. It is not the Aladdin of your childhood, but there’s enough room for both of them. Now go be the crazy lady in your local cinema.