The Death of Superman (2018)

   Director: Jake Castorena & Sam Liu. With: Jerry O'Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Nyambi Nyambi, & Jason O'Mara.  Release: July 24, 2018 PG-13. 1 hr. 21 min.  

Director: Jake Castorena & Sam Liu.
With: Jerry O'Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Nyambi Nyambi, & Jason O'Mara. 
Release: July 24, 2018
PG-13. 1 hr. 21 min.  

 

The DC animated universe doesn’t share the same glitz and glamour as it's live action counterpart, but it does maintain that darker edge. The films themselves have balanced that of levity with that of conflict, constantly waging a battle against the forces of evil, both internally and externally. It’s what makes these films kind of awesome to watch, not only as a comic book reader, but as someone who's become engulfed with frustration towards DC's recent outings, these animated tales don't just match their live-action older brothers, they surpass them. 

Following the story created by Dan Jurgens, Louise Simmons, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Karl Kesel, and others, during the 1993 multi-issue series that was designed to increase comic sales and show readers that the character was not invincible. It revolved around the monster known as Doomsday, an incredibly powerful monster with regenerative abilities that allow him to come back from death, unable to be killed in the same previous manner. He’s strong, fast, and immensely terrifying due to his lack of cerebral conception. It’s like Superman, but without his morality, that’s why he poses such a threat to the man of steel. 

Comics-wise, it becomes incredibly noticeable that this monster provides a formidable contest for our hero, but not in a way that is overwhelming, at least not at first. When their battle begins, Doomsday hits Superman, and with no avail to that first attack, he then kicks him through Anderson’s home. Jake Castorena and Sam Liu’s “Death of Superman” is a version of that same story that carries the universe's past subplots along with its new one. The story also manifests a Doomsday that is far more overwhelming and destructive than the one from the comics. He merely overpowers and destroys the Justice League, powering through the shield of the Hal’s (Nathan Fillion) ring, and catching the Flash (Christopher Gorham) in mid-stride. 

Then a battle with Diana (Rosario Dawson) ensues, one of the highpoints of the action in the movie. It’s bloody and mimics to that tale of man versus beast, but it's a badass woman this time, one that puts up an admirable fight. Speaking of the action, the film never shies away from brutality, displaying it front and center for the world to see. There’s blood, broken bones, and graphical visuals that are sure to scar some of the younger audience members. 

The movie has more to it than just a battle between heroes and monsters, Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson) is apart of that as a man hoping to fight against the alien God the world has dubbed a hero. He believes in representing humanity with a hero who shares their morality. That fascinating character arc remains intact for this film, and even more so, it becomes an ultimate weapon in creating an arc that shows the difference between our caped hero and the others in the Justice League. A man with every power, who chooses to save those who don’t share that immense power. He’s not forced, no tragic backstory that psychological fabricated him into a hero, he’s the one hero who is not only the most powerful, but chooses to save instead of destroying. He appoints himself, instead of being elected by others. 

It’s one of the many things that Peter Tomasi’s screenplay does far better than Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s story in “Batman V. Superman.” Exhuming the ideas of what makes this hero special, instead of displaying him as a god amongst mortals. He’s a god attempting to be mortal, not the other way around. 

The story can become tedious with that of its use of the heroes, in that of Batman or any of these heroes surviving the battle by the skin of their teeth. It’s incredibly convenient that something always pulls them out of the fire. The romance in the story between Lois (Rebecca Romijn) and Clark (Jerry O’Connell) is a bit of a detractor in the screenplay. Providing another glimpse into what makes this alien a hero, his fears of including more people in his life, placing them in danger. It’s something all heroes share, but choose to do anyway. The film could go without it though; it's not the icing on the cake that the directors were hoping for. 

The animation isn’t something to behold either, it’s very formalized and staying in accordance with the last few films. It’s very digitalized and slim, painting the character in a much smaller version than the Justice League show from the mid-2000’s would have you believe. 

I’m not surprised by the lack of press this film is getting, most animation that isn’t Pixar or Dreamworks tends to go under the radar. It’s not something to behold, or that rivals the live action universe of heroes, but it's something worth watching to see how much potential DC has as a live action franchise. They should be competitive in a dogfight with Marvel Studios, but they remain at the back of the pack, even trailing behind Fox. It starts with how they don’t seem to get the mentality of what makes these heroes incredible. It’s not the abilities or the fights; it’s the ideologies they possess that makes them far better than we could ever be. 

In Whedon and Snyder’s “Justice League,” Bruce describes Clark as someone more human than him. A better version of this emotional interaction takes place in Tom King’s latest run on the Caped Crusader, in which in issue #36 of DC Universe’s “Batman,” he and Selina discuss why he is not the hero that Clark is, while Clark and Lois do the opposite. 

Both of them exchange their reasons for not being as good as the other, Clark describing Bruce as a man without powers, but can overcome with his will and his wit. Bruce illustrates Clark as the last remnant of a genocide and one who chooses to be a hero, a choice that he didn’t have. This interaction is what makes these heroes unique, not the capes and powers, but the emotions behind them, a note that Warner Bros needs to take note of with their live action films. 

Incredibles 2 (2018)

   Director: Brad Bird  With: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Bill Wise, Isabella Rossellini, & Barry Bostwick.  Release: Jun 15, 2018 PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

Director: Brad Bird
With: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Brad Bird, Bill Wise, Isabella Rossellini, & Barry Bostwick. 
Release: Jun 15, 2018
PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

 

Pixar has always been about originality, minus the “Cars” franchise, but sequels have become a dime a dozen with 2016’s “Finding Dory” and the impending “Toy Story 4.” Now, fourteen years removed from the first film, Pixar has brought back the team of supers, but they don’t feel fourteen years older. We leave right where we left off with that same jazzy score and the sixties stylized heroes that speak with a societally focused message that is loud and received with ease. 

Written by Bird once again, it picks up where the first film left off, as I stated, with the underminer merging from the undergrounds of the city to launch an attack on the bank. These heroes jump into action though, not fearing the repercussions of breaking the law for enacting themselves into the scene. 

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) run in head first, leaving Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) to be watched by both Dash (Huck Milner) and Violet (Sarah Vowell). The two kids fight over babysitter duty while the adults attempt to stop the crazed mole of a man. He inevitably gets away though, and the mining vehicle turns into a vehicular weapon designated on destruction. 

But our heroes save the day, only to be held at gunpoint as their escorted to the police station and warned to stay out of the light. Their governmental ally, Krushauer (Phil LaMarr), attempts to do what he can before he retires, but politicians don't understand those who desire to do good. They just needed an excuse to keep these heroes dead for good it seems. Given two weeks stay at a local motel, these heroes have a brash spurt of dialogue about subjects such as governmental treatment, fair laws, and the societal effects of legislation. 

It’s all done without a beat missed though, an exceptional feat to consider from a kids movies about superheroes. Not to mention the spellbinding attention to detail from the visual team of Pixar, from the wrinkles in Bob’s (Craig T. Nelson) robe to the use of shadows and lighting to the strands of hair to be found in Elastigirl’s (Holly Hunter) hair. Pixar is always top notch with its animation, and this is just another feather to add in their cap. 

The heroes find themselves at rock bottom with Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) discussing who should take the brunt of the load this time around, seeing as Bob (Craig T. Nelson) worked at a miserable Insurance firm for twenty years. To their surprise, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) was approached by someone after the heroic events of the day, someone with a lot of money and an extreme passion for superheroes. 

Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) is that man; he comes from a background that formulates him like that of a renaissance man. Aimed at bringing back the bright and bold past of heroism, Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister, Evelyn Deavor (Catherine Keener), are two kids who took their father’s business and personal ideals to manifest a fantastic opportunity for heroes to return to saving the day. He doesn’t choose the big and robust Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to lead the way though, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) is their elected leader since her calamity costs seem to be the lowest. This comes to the surprise of Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), attempting to cope with someone being chosen over him, and being happy for his wife at the same time. He’s internally conflicted in that way, but he decides to be brave and become the stay at home father while mom brings home the bacon. 

This is something that Brad Bird’s screenplay exemplifies with flying colors. He examines this constant fret of manhood under attack from women being the ones responsible for making money, something that has been examined before, but continuously seems to be abnormal for our society. It’s rare to see women in the front, especially when their husband casts a long shadow that they’ve been buried underneath continuously. Bird recognized that ideal in the first film, making Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) the calm and far more achievable hero of the pair, he carries that notion to new heights with the sequel. He takes her character to the point of legitimacy that examines that internal conflict that men seem to face, in which they seem to confuse the idea of leadership with an occupation. 

It takes Bob (Craig T. Nelson) a while before he makes this distinction, as well as the importance of it. He seemingly forgot how great it is to be a dad, and he faces far more extreme hardships than most fathers when he learns Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) has not one, but seventeen powers, and counting. He’s a character that seems to be more powerful than anyone and everyone as if he’s the Matt Malroy of the “Incredibles” universe. Luckily Edna Mole (Brad Bird) assists in fabricating something to make babysitting this omega level mutant-like child a bit smoother. 

This fatherhood challenge leads to some of the film’s most enchanting moments, like a conversation between Violett (Sarah Vowell) and Bob (Craig T. Nelson) in which he apologizes for his actions involving the boy she’s crushing on and admits how he wants to be a good father. With the look of a man that feels as if he’s failed at that role, his daughter reminds him of the love she has for him. It’s a heartwarming moment that evoked the most emotion from myself and the audience around me during my screening this morning. 

The emotion isn’t the only benefit of the screenplay; there is also some fantastic action and superhero fun to be had. With a villain known as Screenslaver, who hacks into anyone’s screen and hypnotizes them with a white and black circulating loop. Forcing people to forget how to fly helicopters and taking over broadcasters to get across his message, it's all so predictable though. From the get-go, you can spot out the villain behind the mask; it’s almost worth spoiling for just how obvious it seems to be. 

The narrative doesn’t rely on that action-packed story as much as it does it's emotional investigation of fatherhood though, the visuality of it all doesn’t hurt either, maintaining that sixtyish, bond-like, and Kirby comic book style that the original film excelled with. Bird designs the film to look so bracingly out of a Stan Lee/Jack Kirby comic book, as well as a Sean Connery style Bond film, but there's no womanizing to be had. The film treats all of its characters with a sheer amount of integrity and authenticity, not only with Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) but Violet (Sarah Vowell) and newcomers like Voyd (Sophia Bush) as well. 

Bird doesn’t treat the men wrongfully either; they stand in the spotlight just as much as the ladies. Working together to save the day, which is something that the “Incredibles” franchise continues to excel at. Displaying unity, bravery, and societal relevance at a cinematic rigorousness that deserves a trilogy or a tv show or whatever Pixar wants to do with it. 

I do have one recommendation though, keep Brad Bird at the helm of their story. He patiently waited to return to his toy box, a toy box he made famous 14 years ago. These are his toys though, allow him to choose who gets to play with them next. 

The Incredibles (2004)

   Director: Brad Bird With: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee Dominique Louis, Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews, Spencer Fox, & Sarah Vowell. Release: November 5, 2004 PG. 1 hr. 55 min. 

Director: Brad Bird
With: Craig T. Nelson, Samuel L. Jackson, Holly Hunter, Jason Lee
Dominique Louis, Eli Fucile, Maeve Andrews, Spencer Fox, & Sarah Vowell.
Release: November 5, 2004
PG. 1 hr. 55 min. 

4_4 stars.png
 

Pixar is a studio that always seems to do no wrong, and they always seem to remain ahead of the curve. Brad Bird’s “The Incredibles” is a prime example of that, a film that exemplifies a level of maturity and sincerity while exhuming the entertainment and sheer fun that a family of superheroes inherently possesses. So the film does no wrong, but it also showcases Pixar’s ability to stays ahead of the curve in that many think the sequel that will hit theaters in a matter of days is a movie that feeds of the recent sweeping movements of female prosperity in both film and society. 

That is not the case, Brad Bird’s screenplay is one that follows superheroes in the traditional 1950’s mold that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made famous during the golden age of comics. These are heroes seemingly existing in the same time frame as the civil rights movements, and a time period that presets the women and peace movements of the 1970’s. It’s a film that parodies the age of heroism and patriotism coexisting with one another while supporting that notion in the most progressive of mannerisms. 

It focuses on one man, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson). He’s the prime example of that kind of superhero; he’s brave, super strong, and dashingly handsome. The film opens with him, Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) being interviewed on what it's like to be a superhero, being asked questions like: "do you reveal your secret identity to other heroes, or do you keep it secret?"  That kind of questioning that is meant to be more fun than anything else, as Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) delivers the most charismatic interview of the rest, because he’s that guy, until one day he’s not. 

After he rescues a man attempting to commit suicide by catching him mid-air and spearing him through a building window, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself on the end of a hefty lawsuit. One that blames him for saving someone that didn’t want to be saved, whose rescuing attempt led to this man being broken physically. This act inspired many others to go after superheroes, blaming them for unlawful rescuing and inadvertent damages, costing the government millions, and sending every hero into the superhero relocation program. 

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), now going around as Bob, finds himself living in the suburbs, working at an insurance agency. He married fellow superhero Elastigirl/Helen (Holly Hunter) and had two superpowered children and a newborn: Dashiell (Spencer Fox) who can run fast, and Violet (Sarah Vowell) who can turn invisible and manifest force fields, and Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) whose superpowers haven't revealed themselves just yet. They attempt to blend in with everyday citizens by going to school, showing up to work every day, and continually keeping their powers hidden away from the public.

Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) is someone who feels the weight of that burden, emotionally. He’s a metaphorical representation of the dad who’s lost himself to boredom and unfulfillment; he misses the glory days of heroism. He does what he can here and there, teaching his clients the in’s and outs of insurance policies, providing them with every loophole possible. 

That’s not enough though, he and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) go out on Wednesday nights and listen to the police scanner to find somewhere to intervene, to relive the glory days and do some low-profile superhero work. Placing a lot of hardships on his wife, who stays at home and takes care of the kids. She’s continuously burdened with the responsibility of cleaning, cooking, and parenting more often than her husband. Everything seems to be a struggle to fit in until Bob (Craig T. Nelson) is brought back into the life by a woman named Mirage (Elizabeth Pena), who gives him a mission to stop a massive, self-thinking, and an impenetrable robot named Omnidroid 7. 

After this successful venture, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself with a gig that pays lots of money, forces him back into shape, and towards the life he once knew. All of this is unbeknownst to his wife though; she’s kept in the dark, fearing that her husband is having an affair. Bird’s screenplay sets up that family dynamic brilliantly, in which Violet (Sarah Vowell) is a girl struggling to be a superhero going through puberty. She wants to be normal, but how can you be ordinary when you can make your head disappear? Dash (Spencer Fox) wants to play sports but knows he could beat everyone without even trying, but he doesn’t care, he just wants to be apart of something.  

Which seems to be the core theme of these children’s admirations, they want to be apart of something. Someone who wanted that same thing as a kid was Syndrome (Jason Lee) who, as a boy, would follow around Mr.Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) attempting to become his sidekick, dubbing himself with the name “Incrediboy.” He just wanted to be apart of the club of heroes, but he wasn’t gifted with superpowers, and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) wanted nothing to do with him because he works alone. All of this comes to ahead when Helen (Holly Hunter) learns everything that has taken place, and Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) finds himself tricked by this child turned supervillain. 

His past is no longer something he looks on with benevolence, but now with great regret, because he inadvertently fabricated a villain who has spent his life creating weapons and killing off every superhero. His plan? To bring superheroes back to their glory by fooling everyone into thinking he is one of them. He plans on accomplishing this by fighting off a robot that he constructed himself, and with no superheroes left to stop him, he’ll teach everyone that you don’t have to be super to be a hero. Everyone can be a superhero after that, making superheroes unnecessary. It’s a plan that you understand and get behind, and one that argues the core message of Bird’s screenplay. 

Exteriorly, “The Incredibles” is a satire of superhero comics. Underneath that, Bird is critiquing the reality of American uniformity, which back in 2004, was as prevalent as ever. He’s arguing against that notion that we’re all equally special, which as Dash says at one point “that just another way of saying no one is.” It’s arguing against a society that “celebrates mediocrity” as Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) states. It’s not that no one’s unique, but some of us are more special than others, which shouldn’t spark a negative feeling, it should inspire us to try harder. 

Visually, he borrows much more from the Bond films of the sixties and the comic book panels of the fifties. There are secret entrances, giant robots, and flying jets that look like something out of a detective comics book panel. Everything has that touch of a time we’ve all seen before, and one that echoes with the vibrancy and energy of that time, a time where life was always on the brink of change it seems. The red matching suits are also something fun to watch as well and look a little tight to fit in to.  

They seem to be latex fabricated tights, created by their very own fashion designer, Edna Mode who’s voiced by Brad Bird himself. She lectures Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) on why capes lead to accidents far more often than acts of heroism, and she hilariously inspires Helen (Holly Hunter) to find her husband later on in the movie. 

She’s that one essential character to make a Pixar movie feel right, like a Marvel movie with its levity. Alongside the talented ensemble, Bird brings these animated figures to life, whose animated texture has not aged near as badly as I would’ve thought. 

In the end, Helen (Holly Hunter) has to come to save her husband, even doing the whole hero thing better than he did, which wasn’t something done on accident I think. 

She was purposefully designed to say that women can do whatever the man can do, even saying at the beginning of the film when she’s asked if she’d ever considered settling down she responds: “Settle down, are you kidding? I'm at the top of my game! I'm right up there with the big dogs! Girls, come on. Leave the saving of the world to the men? I don't think so.” So, her saving the world alone, while the super strong man stays at home should be nothing surprising. She’s been wearing the pants in this family since the beginning. 

It shouldn’t be surprising to see a Pixar movie that does that, with films like “COCO,” “Inside Out,” and “Up” residing on their resume, it should come to no surprise that Pixar created a film that underlies societal relevance and forward thinking with the entertaining spectacle of superheroes, which was kind of ahead of the curve as well. It begs the question, did Pixar foresee the superhero golden age that we reside in today? If so, what will Pixar do next? How do they stay so far ahead of everyone else?
 

Zootopia (2016)

   Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, & Jared Bush With: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Raymond Persi, Katie Lowes, Jesse Corti, & John DiMaggio. Release: Mar 4, 2016 PG. 1 hr. 48 min. 

Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, & Jared Bush
With: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Shakira, Idris Elba, J.K. Simmons, Nate Torrence, Jenny Slate, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Alan Tudyk, Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Raymond Persi, Katie Lowes, Jesse Corti, & John DiMaggio.
Release: Mar 4, 2016
PG. 1 hr. 48 min. 

 

Movies that direct their stories toward kids, tend to save something savvy for the adults, at least the good ones do. Pixar and Studio Ghibli are notorious for this, providing animated dream-like films that are both empowering for children and insightful for adults. It’s what makes an animated movie fantastic, centering a story around something hopeful and enigmatic for children to see, while also detailing reflective subverting aspects for the adults. 

Pixar’s newest addition, “Zootopia,” attempts to blend itself into this frame. Trying to make a film centering around a bunny cop and a sly fox working together, while simultaneously symbolizing the intricacies of our current socio-political climate. Using the imagery of predators to reference the inherent distrust towards black people, labeling them at their worst representation. Painting the prey folk as people whose fear persuades them to separate themselves from the predators, at least I think that’s what Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush, and the four other writers are attempting to manifest from a film about a utopia land of animals living together. 

It’s called “Zootopia,” a fun-designed, extensively climate world where predators and prey live together. Evolved past their primal instincts, they wear clothes, walk on two legs, and express themselves adequately. Everyone has their stereotypical role in this animalistic society, bunnies are farmers with more than a few children, the strongest animals are cops, a moose is an anchorman (because media controls our ideology and a moose is one of the most dangerous animals, at least I think that’s what’s going on there), a Shrew referencing "The Godfather," foxes who are conmen, bodyguard wolves who howl, and slow sloths who work at the DMV. 

Moore and his fellow writers work together through a large divulge of zoology to manifest reality-based character traits that breathe believability into a world where animals have become the evolved version of us, which, like “Cars,” there is no explanation for our absence. Despite that, the world itself grounds itself around Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin), one of the two hundred and eighty children from the happy carrot farming couple of Stu (Don Lake) and Bonnie Hopps (Bonnie Hunt). 

We first see her in a stage play, providing the necessary exposition needed for us to walk into this world with the fewest questions possible, in an amusing fashion as well. She, along with her classmates, reveal their ambitions for their own lives. Who they want to become when they grow up, one chooses to be an astronaut, another wants to be an actuary, and our heroine lands upon the occupation of a police officer, something that would be a historic first for “Zootopia.” 

After some debate over the idea with her parents, she finds herself saving her classmates from the town-bully/racist Gideon Grey (Phil Johnston). In a harsh sequence that may not be appropriate for children, we see a grand introduction to a world where racism/speciesism exists, which is where the metaphorical narrative begins to lose the confidence in its voice.

I'm not sure if the predators represent black people, if they are, is this a signifier of the potential of reverse racism. Later on in the film the roles are reversed, where you could argue that the prey represents the future of minorities which will outnumber white people by 2045 according to US census, they exchange that reverse racism to a biological fault as if white people will always be preying upon the weak. (Based upon our history, I can’t blame them) It begins to get more and more confusing the further down the rabbit hole you go, which is what starts to wear my praises thin. I’d rather you paint a clear picture for children to study, than one for them to confuse and enact in real-life situations. 

The story goes on to have a basic underdog detective story of this “cute” bunny (which represents a racial slur, I think) and a new friend she makes in Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). He’s a sly fox who does anything he can to survive the next day, revealing the inherent conflict that comes when placing diversity of animals together to Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin). When she catches the heels of a lead on a case, she hustles this slick con-man into assisting her to track down one of fourteen missing mammals. The case becomes tricky, exciting, and scary even, but the socio-political representation outweighs that story, which is admittedly familiar and straightforward. 

Yet, I find more resonation in that small story that the one where writers inconsistently represented these complex subjects, muddling the tone along the way. It feels as if there are too many cooks in the kitchen, each sharing a different mindset on these subjects, producing a story that struggles to gain traction from an adult-mindset. The childlike eyes that I desperately try to hold onto can spot out my favorite moments of the detective story and the sequences that are imaginatively brilliant. That’s where the Pixar magic kicks in I think, the animation becomes a main attraction, and the worldbuilding leads to some of the film’s funniest moments. 

The ensemble of voices are remarkable, Bateman and Goodwin stick out more than most, naturally, but the array of talents include but are not limited too: J.K Simmons, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk, Shakira, and a few of the writers who throw themselves into the middle of the action. 

I do wish they slowed down to break down their screenwriting though, which foils and flinders underneath this internal pressure to make an animated film that speaks as loudly to children as it does adults. It’s well-minded intentions, and heartfelt fluff that surround our underdog turned hero bunny allow the film to be more entertaining than you would expect from a movie that struggles to convey it's ideology successfully. 

It doesn’t all add up, but the equation is fun to put together nonetheless, making this raved about classic feel more like a middle of the road attempt at something in the vein of the masterpieces of Ghibli and Pixar’s past. I may be in the minority, but unlike “Zootopia,” I have a clear idea about what that means. 
 

Editor's Note: This review was originally published on Mar 5, 2016 to critiquingcinema.com and has been re-written for qualitative purposes. 

Only Yesterday (1991)

   Japanese Director: Isao Takahata | English Director: Jamie Simone With: (Jap Voices) Miki Imai, Toshirô Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Mayumi Izuka, Mei Oshitani, Megumi Komine, Yukiyo Takizawa, & Masashi Ishikawa. (Eng Voices) Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Alison Fernandez, Hope Levy, Stephanie Sheh, Ava Acres, Madeleine Yen, & Jaden Betts. U.S. Release: Feb 26, 2016 | Jap Release: July 20, 1991 PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

Japanese Director: Isao Takahata | English Director: Jamie Simone
With: (Jap Voices) Miki Imai, Toshirô Yanagiba, Yoko Honna, Mayumi Izuka, Mei Oshitani, Megumi Komine, Yukiyo Takizawa, & Masashi Ishikawa. (Eng Voices) Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Alison Fernandez, Hope Levy, Stephanie Sheh, Ava Acres, Madeleine Yen, & Jaden Betts.
U.S. Release: Feb 26, 2016 | Jap Release: July 20, 1991
PG. 1 hr. 58 min. 

 

“Only Yesterday” feels like a companion piece to Isao Takahata’s 2014 swan song, “The Tale of Princess Kaguya,” but it's actually one of the films that led to its manifestation. Arriving on American shores in 2016, “Only Yesterday” was originally released in Japan on July 1991. It’s a film that has been held back from U.S. soil due to its embracement of womanhood, but it's that unshameful welcoming of studying a woman’s maturity that leads to “Only Yesterday” being a delightful discovery for initial viewers and first-time observers of the English dub alike. 

Written by Isao Takahata and adapted for American audiences by David Freedman, “Only Yesterday” is a story based off of the “Memories Come Tumbling Down” manga from Hotaru Okamoto & Yuuko Tone, depicting that dreamlike essence of reminiscing. Specifically, a 27-year old woman’s hindsight of her childhood. The stories behind her first crush, her first time trying pineapple, her first period, and how all of these things influenced her maturity. In the present day, she’s a woman going back to the countryside of life, realizing that the city life may not be all it's cracked up to be, trying to relive that passion for life. 

She craves that spirit of hard work, but work that fulfills you. Something that makes you feel whole inside, tired from the effort you’ve given to something, pouring out your love for a task that you enjoy. It’s a story that examines how our immaturity and idealism that we inherently possess as children carries us to the adult that we eventually grow into, including our interactions with literal biological advancement, such as puberty. 

Takahata’s “Only Yesterday” falls in line with his mature stories that star children, such as his World War II survival story from the perspective of Japanese children in “Grave of the Fireflies,” or his empathetic study of women in Japanese society in “Kaguya.”

He, like his long-time collaborator and friend Hayao Miyazaki, is an artist who produces child-focused stories that teach adults as much as they enforce life lessons upon children. His aesthetic style is also something that continuously evolved throughout his career, from his brand and detailed hand-drawn animation of “Only Yesterday” to the minimalist and seemingly vibrant style of “Kaguya.” Isao Takahata is no stranger to the conversation of genius filmmaking, despite his stories being simplistically referred to as children’s cartoons by some. 

“Only Yesterday” is a film that exemplifies his extraordinary ability as a storyteller. Continuously transitioning between the present day and her adolescence, painting the past with this blurry outlined fade, replicating that real-life visual that we experience when looking back on our past. It’s hazy, slightly irregular, almost misconstrued, while remaining clear as day due to its impact on our lives, allowing us to watch a world that is partially regained by the senses. The saying “art imitating life” could never be so poetically attached to anything more than this animated coming of age dream of a film. 

The stories of the past are carried throughout the film, sometimes being placed in the backseat so that the present day narrative can take back the wheel. While it's dialogue-heavy and meandering and a bit detracting in comparison to the stories of her childhood, the adulthood perspective provides some of the film’s most enchanting moments that can roar the heart a beat or two. 

It’s because of the deep-rooted emotion that we almost instinctively assign to children that these stories carry far more weight than the ones stemming from her womanhood. They are charming and warm, while fundamentally depressing when we watch her deal with the mockery of popular girls, the belittlement of her voice due to her age, and her silenced individuality due to the persistent squashing of her dreams and hopes that eventually carry over to her adult seclusion feeling like an earned side effect of the trials she’s encountered. 

It’s a tale that feels inherently tender and tangible, that’s not to say there is no fantasy to be seen. A particular moment exemplifies her metaphorical translation of happiness from her interaction with her first crush, she flies through the air, soaring on cloud nine as a giant pink heart pops from the roof. These moments alongside the tragedies and the resonating aura we endure make the love letters to nature and paths of adulthood feel lackluster. We always seem to look back with reverberance and sentiment and look forward with pessimism and anxiety; it’s genuinely the passion that feels like it was “Only Yesterday,” while the tension of the world feels like it's apart of today. 

Isao Takahata exhumes the essence of that message with ease almost, the English-speaking voice talents of Daisy Ridley (with an outstanding American accent), Dev Patel, and Ashley Eckstein, and the Japanese-speaking voices of Miki Imai, Toshirô Yanagiba, and Yoko Honna add that extra amount of empathy to make this film something beautiful to experience inside a theater. 

It’s romantically swooping ending that broaches during the credits is tear-jerkingly flattering to watch, a rare feat to see in both modern-day animation and live-action filmmaking alike. The Pixars and Dreamworks of the world are always fantastic, but the magic of Studio Ghibli seems to breathe rarified air into the world of hand-drawn stories still, even when their more than twenty-five years late to the party. 

Editor's Note: This review was originally published on Mar 2, 2016 to critiquingcinema.com and has been re-written for qualitative purposes.