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The film is gorgeous. Often jaw-droppingly.
The first indicator that Pete’s Dragon had the potential to be something special was the hiring of David Lowery, whose previous film Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a moody, slow, and Malickian drama that was critically acclaimed and underseen. I saw it just prior to seeing this, and the contrast reminded me of Spike Jonze and his masterpiece, Where the Wild Things Are. I don’t know if Pete’s Dragon is as sophisticated and singular as that film, but it’s definitely just as powerful and perhaps more so for its accessibility. Though it never talks down to kids and deals with some very difficult subject matter, Pete’s Dragon maintains a safer overall approach. But I was reminded of the way Where the Wild Things Are, which to me is the gold standard for sophisticated movies about and for kids, weaves wonder and drama together into a relatively daring emotional core.
I dare you to feel nothing in the opening minutes of Pete’s Dragon. This is a movie, like the kids movies I grew up with (Land Before Time and The Neverending Story come to mind), that is unafraid to be as sad as it is happy. Whenever the movie could veer into a bouncy, safe, and condescendingly “kiddie” version of a sequence, it refrains. Lowery keeps the movie grounded even when you’re watching a giant CG dragon splashing in a stream. These scenes definitely owe a debt to How to Train Your Dragon but the association is a positive one, helping the audience to completely buy Elliot and his puppy-like behavior. This is key because where many films of this kind would under-utilize the “fantastic” elements, like big green dragons, and focus instead of human drama and safer, more familiar scenes and characterizations, Pete’s Dragon spends only the amount of time on that stuff as is needed to serve the story and its emotional, thematic beats. If anything, some characters could have used more time, but overall it’s a good thing that the film keeps its focus centered on the dragon and his boy.
SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW. PLEASE SEE THIS MOVIE, THOUGH.
Feels: the Motion Picture.
Disney is on a fucking roll. 2014 seems to be their year in cinema, dominating pretty much every quarter with offerings that bring out the best in their (recaptured) alchemy of commercial product and great storytelling. Since Wreck-It Ralph, it seems like Disney has been determined to learn from the Pixars and Dreamworks of the world and produce a great story where it’s abundantly obvious, in spite of flaws (and I still maintain that Ralph is a thematically troubled film), that they really do give a shit. If Ralph was about self-acceptance in an indifferent world, and Frozen about reconciliation and estrangement, then Big Hero 6 is about the importance of support when healing from loss. And it’s not just about the catharsis of healing, but a mature emotional understanding of the futility of revenge and the need for connection and empathy with others, even balloon robots.
That’s weighty stuff for a “kids’ movie”. It seems like Disney isn’t happy to just synthesize storytelling and commercialism, but want to transcend the limitations of other kinds of labels while they’re at it. It seems improper to call Big Hero 6 a “kids’ movie” in the sense that we use that label to dismiss a thing as being for a select audience, as being emotionally and intellectually fulfilling only to the extent that a kid can “handle it”. I’m pretty skeptical of that mentality to begin with, but I know it exists. Big Hero 6 is really the kind of thing people mean when they use the vague, frustrating, and cloying label of “all ages”. Anyway, lest this review become a tirade about labels, let’s leave it at the idea that such things don’t serve a movie like this very well. While people have become more open-minded about entertainment in recent years, we still live in a world where there will be people who dismiss Big Hero 6 because it’s “for kids” or, worse, because it’s animated. I know I bring this shit up almost every other review I do for an animated film, but let me say again that you should not let that shit stop you. The time to broaden your damn horizons is now!
You’ll be missing out on one of the year’s best films if you don’t. Not just as a great, moving story about dealing with loss but also one of the greatest science fiction movies of the year. Big Hero 6 is so pro-science, so pro-technology, that the joy of this world of technical invention that we’re inheriting and creating is palpable in a way that you don’t really get outside of the choir, or outside of stuff like Cosmo that is pretty much preaching to it. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, then maybe the fact that Big Hero 6 is as kick-ass a superhero movie as any other Marvel (it’s loosely based on a Marvel comic) offering will interest you.
That and this is the closest thing to a sequel of The Incredibles that we’ll probably ever get. Hopefully I eat those words in 3-5 years but I feel comfortable with them now.
Getting over estrangement isn’t easy!
Frozen is both surprising and a film that makes perfect sense. Disney is on a tear lately, and Frozen belongs to a new and proud generation of “Princess” movies that are not afraid to indulge a little self-awareness, trope-busting, and progressive themes. Its companions are Brave and Tangled, with both of those films functioning nicely alongside this one as the new breed of animated films featuring female characters that are not dominated nor defined by childishness, vapidness, the institution of marriage, or their relationships to men.
Co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck may not have known what they had on their hands, but Frozen is a smash success and the type of movie I’m very happy exists. I pride myself on being as manly as the next man, by any sane and emotionally healthy definition, but Frozen made me choke up and just the chorus of stand-out song “Let It Go” gives me the big feels. Lee had no previous animation experience, by the way, and was brought on to make sure the story and characters had depth and complexity. This is a big deal. This is maybe a sea-change in how the business of making these frankly very commercial movies is done. Disney has long done above-average work in the kids’ and animated genres, especially since linking up with Pixar. I hope the quality of Frozen, and the returns it is deservedly enjoying are a lesson to other creatives and executives in the industry.
Seeing movies like this one and Catching Fire in the same weekend, and knowing they are hugely successful in every way that matters, makes me very happy for the state of my favorite entertainment industry and hopeful for the future. Read the rest of this entry »
A new type of princess.
Pixar has done nothing for me since Up. I’ve never understood why people like the Toy Story movies as much as they do and the less said about Cars 2 the better. Now in what is a landmark moment that should have come a decade ago, Pixar decided to make a movie about women. Not only is Merida (Kelly MacDonald) the first female protagonist in a Pixar movie, this is the first time a Pixar film has focused on an exclusively female relationship: that of mother and daughter. Though destined to be a Disney Princess (another first for Pixar, getting a character into that vaunted club), Merida is a new breed. Gone is the tacit assurance that finding love and getting married is the apex of womanly existence. You have to hand it to Pixar: when they join a club, they aim to change it. Maybe this is because Brenda Chapman, getting credit both as a writer and director on the project, is a woman. She was the first woman to direct a major animated feature for a Hollywood studio (The Prince of Egypt). So there’s a lot of new ground being broken by Brave behind the scenes.
In terms of quality, well, Brave is every bit as good as the typical Pixar movie. It’s got the same beating heart beneath the action and comedy, the same simple but completely human themes running through its somewhat fantastic story. Above all, it’s really about relationships between people and strong emotions expressed through clear, confident storytelling. This is another one of those cases where they make it look easy over there. It’s got a little The Little Mermaid mixed into its DNA and I don’t just say that because half the characters are gingers. There’s the same narrative of the rebellious young woman only this time, it’s her mother and not her father she’s rebelling against. Add in some colorful secondary characters, a magic spell, and some danger and you’ve got a solid formula that, while not groundbreaking, allows everything about Brave that is groundbreaking to breathe. Read the rest of this entry »
The line of dialogue with which I title this review is ironic, as I often try to be when using this gimmick. The reason why it’s ironic will be obvious to most people who see this movie. For those who haven’t (or, y’know, don’t get irony) the reason is that there’s nothing new about John Carter. The problems this raises are manifold. First there’s that the movie is based on a series of books written like 100 years ago by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the guy who created Tarzan. Those books influenced generations of science fiction writers and that influence has appeared on screen before. This makes John Carter familiar in a way that is perfectly manageable, and may even be a boon as it allows some room for a fresh spin that will appeal to modern audiences. But this was apparently not a priority for the Pixar alums, spear-headed by Andrew Stanton (his entire Pixar resume can be summed up as movies that are good stories told well, the opposite of what John Carter is), who made this movie. Unfortunately, there’s also the influence of the “me too” McEpics that are churned out year after year. John Carter has all the same problems that plague similar movies like Clash of the Titans, Prince of Persia, or last year’s abysmal Conan the Barbarian remake and thus the familiarity takes on another, even more damning dimension.
What the above amounts to is that John Carter is an exceptionally boring movie. You’ve seen all this before and the only difference now is that we’re supposed to believe this is Mars and that the Na’Vi are now green and have four arms. I have to respect that mileage will vary in regards to the tolerance people are going to have for this shit. I know most people will suck this same pablum up over and over and never demand anything fresh or exciting from their McEpics. Even when you can get them to acknowledge that this shit is derived from a misfire of the imagination, and will in turn negatively impact the imaginations of the audience, they just suck that shit down some more. It’s maddening. Still, this is an Evan McCoy review and I’m going to get into more specific reasons why John Carter is the first truly awful movie I’ve seen in 2012. Read the rest of this entry »
All right so all of the reviews for this movie kind of make it out to be le suck. It wasn’t so bad, though. It was fairly entertaining with a neat take on magic as a kind of special science accessible by people with different brains. Basically, if you have “the gift”, you can affect molecular physics and create magical effects. Various tricks have catchy names that would make good band titles, like “Persian Quickrug” or “Hungarian Mirror Trap”. It’s pretty fucking “poof, magic!” in the end, in spite of the lip service to science (probably a holdover from an earlier version of the script which took five people to write apparently).
I have to admit that one of the main reasons I’m bothering to blog about this, aside from that hilarious picture, is the line I’m using as a title for the post. I mean, Jay Baruchel lets out that zinger while hurling plasma bolts like he’s Vegeta or something. He does this ridiculous crossing of his arms over his body then arcing them to his sides filled with energy. It’s supposes to look badass I’m sure, but it just looks like he’s LARPing!
Anyway the movie. Monica Belucci is barely in it, Alfred Molina is kind of funny, Nicolas Cage is being fairly straight in a role that could use his trademark eccentricity, and the female lead is super duper bland. Jay Baruchel is self-deprecating and weaselly as usual and it works all right, but not as good as How to Train Your Dragon or She’s Out of My League. This guy is going to be seriously over-exposed and he just doesn’t have the staying power of Seth Rogen or Will Farrel. Or Jonah Hill or Michael Cera for that matter.
In spite of the dismissal of most critics, Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a harmless and fun family-friendly flick. It’s predictable but has some decent, quotable quips. It also has a pretty great scene where Jay makes music with a tesla coil. Something that silly is bound to be great, too bad he uses it to recreate the same song that plays three times in the movie. I won’t even tell you what song it is because fuck that song.