Archive for the ‘Animated’ Category

As a young child, Kubo was under the protection of his mother from evil spirits. She gave her life to save him and he was left to fend for himself. He ran for his life but found himself stranded in a frozen tundra. Meeting up with a monkey and a beetle warrior, he began his search for ancient relics. While searching for the relics, they were attacked by enormous creatures and magical beasts. The magical relics make up an armor, which serves as the only protection against the havoc created by the evil gods.

Epic Love: While Kubo proved to be a great hero himself, it was the love and support of his parents that supported his ability to do so. As a young child, his parents guarded him against the evil gods, with his father giving his life while his mother was left drained of her strength. Kubo’s ability to support his mother in the cave helped him build the strength to go on the great journey. Monkey and Beetle had a deep connection with Kubo, which supported his ability to press on and challenge the gods.

Dealing with Loss: Not since Disney’s Up has an animated film tackled loss the way this one did. Rather than a couple going through life together but parting before reaching the end, a young boy has to grow up in a world where he loses both parents at a young age. His father fell out of the picture before they even got to truly know each other, while his mother struggled to protect her son from evil. While they seemingly left him too early, their spirits lived on and supported his rise as a hero.

Amazing Animation: While digital technology certainly helped to fill in the environments, animatronics and stop-motion animation brought the story to life. It takes dedication to create a film with stop-motion in an age where computer technology can animate at a quicker speed. It gave the film a grittiness that exemplified the raw emotion of its characters and the imagination of the production team.

Final Verdict: Kubo and the Two Strings was an animated feature that was missed by a number of movie-goers even though it was fantastic. The creative and imaginative story was different than most and deserves another look if you missed it the first time around.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5


Moana (2016): The Ocean is Calling

Posted: November 28, 2016 in Adventure, Animated, Comedy

Te Fiti, the island goddess, has long been missing. After having her heart stone stolen by the demigod Maui, a darkness spread over the ocean and began to engulf island after island. On a distant island many years later, Moana and her people live a secluded and safe life living off of the land and the surrounding seas. While she is destined to become the chief after her father retires, she feels a calling coming from the ocean. Even when she is about to accept her role on the island, Gramma Tala refuses to let her forget about her dreams. As the darkness creeps onto the island, she sees no other way save her people other than venturing out to find Maui and restore the heart stone to its rightful place.

Disney Scores with Song: If there is something that Disney continues to do extremely well, it is putting together an amazing and emotional score. They were certainly helped by the presence of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Among the best of the songs is How Far I’ll Go. The movie version is actually better than the Alessia Cara’s version, as Auli’i Cravalho performs the song beautifully. The Hawaiian themes are strong and provide a beat that you want to get up and dance to (or at least bob your head). Even Dwayne Johnson’s You’re Welcome combines humor and a solid beat that truly highlights his personality.

Having Fun with Itself: Disney films are certainly known themes and stereotypes in the development of their stories, but they also know how to throw easter eggs and levity to their films. One great example was the Kakamora whose faceprint was in the design of Baymax or how the entire sequence represented the villains in Mad Max. Maui has a line where he pokes at Moana for being a princess, as she wears a “dress” and is the chief’s daughter. Even as the hero, Moana has an animal sidekick and requires a male hero to assist her in staving off the darkness. The easter egg at the end with Tamatoa was a nice kick as well.

Reversing the Story of the Little Mermaid: Interestingly enough, there is a fun reversal in how this movie is both similar to and the opposite of Disney’s The Little Mermaid. While Ariel was a mermaid trying to find her way onto dry land, Moana wanted to escape the island to get out onto the open sea. Both fathers between the two films struggled with letting their daughters out of their homes, but one story was about searching for love while the other was about searching for life.

Final Verdict: While I spoke very little about the actual details of the film above, I want to say that it was one of the best animated features of the past few years. It has heart and positive themes for viewers to take away from the experience. If you are not singing one of the songs when you walk out of the theater, I would be surprised.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

At a young age, Owen seemed like a healthy, growing boy. Suddenly, at the age of 3, something dramatic changed. Owen became listless and seemed to lose his ability to speak. After getting tested, it was discovered that he had autism. While the doctors believed there was a chance his vocal abilities would never develop, his parents maintained hope. While watching The Little Mermaid, he spoke something that could have been gibberish but could have been an attempt to speak up. While it produced another spark of hope, it was not until his brother’s 9th birthday that Owen finally spoke up. The journey ahead was not going to be easy, but Owen’s family believed they could give him the great life he deserved.

The Power of Disney: While there were many factors that led to his growth and ability to overcome his disability, the animated films of Disney provided a context to connect with the world around him. Starting with the recitation of dialogue from the films, Owen used the themes and lessons from the films to express his feelings and communicate with his family. When he felt sad, Bambi’s mother or Mufasa and the canyon let him express his sadness to his parents. Iago was the sidekick he needed when he felt alone and bullied at school. Disney continues to be a bridge he uses to survive and find his happiness.

Affluence & Managing the Challenge: One of the criticisms that could be brought up about this story was the fact that the Suskinds had the means to be able to provide support for Owen’s therapy and schooling. He was even able to get an assisted-living apartment without a full-time job. The reality is that autism is a challenge for any family regardless of their means. They did not have control over the bullying at school or his heart being broken by his girlfriend. Unable to fully comprehend these challenges, it was still a major struggle to overcome those obstacles.

Life Through Storytelling: While the film’s title makes mention of the animated elements of the story, the actual story itself was crafted from Owen’s writing. For him, the sidekicks of Disney films provided motivation to show bravery, care, and compassion. His story focused on a young boy being chased by doubt and disconnect. The filmmakers took his story and animated his thoughts. Just like the greater film, it helped to exemplify the struggles of feeling lost and out of place, but it also promoted inner strength to fight for a connection to everything he cared about.

Final Thoughts: I truly loved this film. It was emotionally strong and promoted an image of autism many have never experienced. The strength of the family and of Owen individually was truly a sight to see. Watching him give the speech at the conference and experience love, loss, and recovery was truly inspiring. I believe this is a must-see film.

Dan’s Rating: 5.0/5

Max and his owner have the best relationship. She fell in love with him from the moment she found him on the street. When she leaves the apartment, he waits all day for her to return. While they seem to be the perfect pair, she chooses one day to bring home another dog from the pound. Max and Duke have quite the rough start, as they both try to assert their dominance and fight for their master’s attention and love. While at the park, Duke sees a perfect opportunity to take out the competition, but his efforts leave them both lost in the big city and at the mercy of a gang go strays. Only Gidget and Max’s other friends can come to his rescue and return him home.

What Our Pets Really Do: The start of the film was more about the life of a pet when their owner is away. While Max was focused on his owner’s return, many of the pets indulged in human activities. Chloe preferred to skip her cat food for whatever she could find in the fridge. Leonard would immediately switch his classical music to heavy metal. Gidget remained focused on her unrequited love and would watch soap operas to feed her romantic nature. Buddy would give himself a massage using the mixer in the kitchen. All of these activities would go unnoticed by their owners, including the large gatherings in Leonard’s apartment.

The Underbelly and the Strays: Two significant groups of strays were highlighted in this film. The first were the alley cats living off of the scraps and trash of the humans. They lived above the surface, unlike their counterparts, but remained feral and hostile toward domestics. The strays of the sewers were a hodgepodge group of animals neglected by owners or saved from captivity. They had a grudge against the humans and were plotting to enact their revenge through the leadership of deranged bunny named Snowball.

Appreciation: One of the most significant themes of the story was the sense of appreciation. Max loved his relationship with Katie, but he never knew how good he had it until he met Duke. While the two continued to argue throughout much of the film, their conflict allowed Max to recognize that there was a greater world out there and other animals that deserved attention. Gidget was ready to give everything she had for Max, but he hardly ever even noticed her. As max goes on his adventure, he began to realize that there was much to appreciate about his life and the opportunity to share that happiness with others.

Final Verdict: This was one of Dreamwork’s better films. The pacing was a little off at times and much of the bookends of the movie were used as promotion material in the previews, but the comedy was definitely there and the characters were quite memorable. This was a great film and would be appropriate for kids of all ages.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

Judy Hopps aspires to do more than work with her family’s carrot farm. Graduating at the top of her class, she sets off for Zootopia, a metropolis where animals of all backgrounds live together in harmony outside of the traditional predator-prey relationship. As the first rabbit police officer, she believes she will be treated as an equal. Instead, she is reduced to the role of a meter maid. Though she gets caught up with a mischievous fox, it is a series of reports of feral animals that present an opportunity to rise to something more. The only problem is that the case may lead her to the awful truth about predators and prey.

Disney Wins Again: While it was not one of the Pixar features, the proven formula for Disney films continues to breed successful additions to their library. Anthropomorphic animals tend to be hits with all audiences, but the thought and care into the environments was just as important as the characters themselves. Creating a metropolis that engages animals from all walks of life took some true planning and thoughtfulness. All of the themed animal puns and connections did not hurt either.

Social Justice on a Different Level: This film tackled some interesting social justice themes. The elimination of predator-prey relationships was meant to be a move toward social equality, but fear of the predators falling back into their violent ways could have been interpreted in several different ways. It could have been a representation of hidden bigotry being ingrained and something that has to be overcome. It could have been related to a sense of being unable to fight one’s primitive ways, though this is overcome in the end. Judy’s and Nick’s stories challenged those perceptions as both worked through their ingrained fears. The odd twist in this case was that the story focused on the prey holding prejudice against the predators, distrusting the predators’ ability to overcome base instincts.

Cartoon Buddy Cop Comedy: While there are plenty of buddy cop comedies out there, few star a rabbit and a fox. Their personalities could not be anymore different from each other. Judy represented a someone focused and determined to achieve great things. She focused on honesty and hard work. Nick was more like his animal namesake. Sly and shifty, he was focused on skirting the law to earn money and cheat the system. They only found themselves stuck together when Judy realized that she needed someone who could help her solve the disappearing citizens case and she could exploit his many misdeeds to lock him in as a partner. Their understanding and respect for each other grew over time, as one would expect from a Disney film.

Final Verdict: Rich with content, story, and atmosphere, Zootopia is another strong showing from Disney. While it may have not surpassed the phenomenon of Frozen, its deeper story and thought-provoking themes make for a stronger overall film. This may be a dark horse to sneak its way into Oscar status, even with other major releases like Finding Dory and Secret Life of Pets in the mix.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

Having lived with Marlin and Nemo for the past year, Dori has gotten into a routine living on the reef. A flash of a memory passes through her, causing a panic of emotions about losing her parents. After some convincing, Dori is able to get Marlin and Nemo to join her on the journey going from the Great Barrier Reef to the California coast. Finding her parents will not be be easy considering her short-term memory challenges and having lost them so many years ago. Regardless, she is determined to find them regardless of how difficult it may appear.

Expected but Effective Emotions: One of the things that Pixar is well known for is their ability to get movie-goers to feel what they want them to feel. As with the first film, the story of Marlin, Nemo, and Dori was one with a lot of fearing for safety and loss. Even if the end result is a predictable ending, the journey was still filled with everything from strained friendships to scary encounters to joy-filled reunions.

If Only She Could Remember: In both of the films, the conflict and the journey have been defined by Dori’s inability to clearly remember details. While it was an address in the first film, this second story was defined less by the main location and more by their navigation of the facility. It seemed insurmountable to be able to traverse an area with gaps in areas of water, but the small fish keep finding a way and somehow always connect with the necessary resources to just keep swimming.

Magical Animation: If it is not the emotions that Pixar maximizes, it is the imagery. This film took place in two main locations: the reef and the marine center. As Dori, Marlin, and Nemo search the facility, each of the areas include their own sense of personality. The danger of the interactive exhibit feels real. The dreariness of the algae covered pipes and the kelp forest give a sense of hopelessness. Meanwhile, the reef and the great sea exhibit have a brightness that provide an image of hope.

Final Verdict: Finding Dory has all of the great elements of Pixar classics but it also does feel a little too similar to the story of the first film. Regardless of how similar everything is and how predictable it is, the film still maintains a lot of heart and will still be one of the best animated films of the year.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

mns_scarlet1sht_rgb_0126_1_0Back at the beginning, the Minions always looked for a master to serve. Whether it was a caveman, dinosaur, or evil dictator, they were incomplete without a leader. After being on their own for a period of time, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob set out to try to find that perfect new person to serve. After a long hike and an eventful hitchhiking trip, the Minions find themselves at Villain Con. A series of events leads them to following back super villain Scarlett Overkill back to London and into a plot to steal the Queen’s crown. While the rest of the Minions wait to hear the good news, Kevin, Stuart, and Bob try their best not to disappoint their new master.

Review: After the previous success of the Despicable Me films, it was only a matter of time before this story was told. Unfortunately, there was a bit too much of it told in the previews to make the actual film enjoyable to watch. The cast was definitely filled with some serious stars. Sandra Bullock played Scarlett Overkill and was assisted by Jon Hamm as Herb. The combo seemed to work well for the story but also felt somewhat familiar with the characters from the first Despicable Me film. The more interesting combination was actually Michael Keaton and Allison Janney as the Nelsons. While a little extra creepy, there seemed to be more to their development than the main villains. Pierre Coffin supplied the voice of the Minions.

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Back to the original point, the preview truly did ruin the excitement of the film. The entire opening set of scenes to display the progression of the Minions’ movement from one leader to another was fully on display in the preview. There was not a single leader left out, and the abominable snowman and his yetis were ruined as well. There was not much more to the plot than the Minions finding Scarlett and stealing the crown. While there was a little more to the story, the buildup just seemed incomplete. There are mixed feelings about having a large portion of the dialogue sounding like gibberish, but the truth is that the laziness of the script and the familiarity of the plot led to the staleness of this spinoff.

Minions could have been a more significant player during a summer of other sequels, reboots, and spinoffs. Instead, it felt like nothing new was added to the Despicable Me universe.

Dan’s Rating: 2.0/5