The Grinch (2018)

   Director: Yarrow Cheney & Scott Mosier With: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Cameron Seely, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, Ramone Hamilton, Sam Lavagnino, & Scarlett Estevez. Release: Nov 9, 2018 PG. 1 hr. 30 min.

Director: Yarrow Cheney & Scott Mosier
With: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Cameron Seely, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury, Pharrell Williams, Ramone Hamilton, Sam Lavagnino, & Scarlett Estevez.
Release: Nov 9, 2018
PG. 1 hr. 30 min.

 

Two of the more notable Christmas figures aren’t exactly big fans of the holiday. Dickens offered us Ebenezer Scrooge, a man that oozes greed and disdain for those who bear an affinity for the Christmas season. The story is about reflecting a man’s loneliness, a man’s absence of humanity, as the core cause for his insignificant life. How no one will remember him, because no one knew him. The hardening of his heart is designed to melt, as is Dr. Seuss’ (Theodor Geisel) furry, green, and charmingly vile figure “The Grinch.”

A classic since its publication in 1958, the book inspired its fair share of adaptations. However, the mimicking of Seuss’ aggravating rhymes and symmetrical storytelling has always been something of a nuisance for myself. I know that it is an epochal trait of Seuss’ style or form as a children’s novelist, but it's a formalization of narrative that only feels quintessential for the youthful reader. It’s more of a bolstering blister for the adults in the room, which is how Scott Mosier (acclaimed Kevin Smith producer) and Yarrow Cheney (co-director of “The Secret Life of Pets”) fabricate the newest illustration of Seuss’ iconic holiday tale.

The backstory and the narrative itself are all-too-familiar, barely sketching diverging pathways for previously acquainted audiences. The differences in the story are slight, hardly noticeable. In fairness, the adaptation of a story (especially one as beloved as this one) is a challenging feat. Maintaining a native resemblance to the original and a nuanced form for the next generation, that’s not exactly a mixture of storytelling that arrives with ease. Nor is the blending of maturity and adolescent-targeted screenwriting, as the best of the family genre resides in that crux of genius. How a story like “Toy Story” can latch itself to both the whimsical nature of kids and the reserved insecurity of adults, that’s something of a feat of higher-level thinking that “The Grinch” strays away from, which should come to no surprise.

“Despicable Me” was a film only as good as it's childlike entertainment values, never competing with the likes of “Inside Out,” “Finding Nemo,” or any of the other peaks of the American animation cinema. Illumination has never attempted to breach that barrier, choosing to remain reserved and predominantly careful with their films. Targeting an audience, and one audience only, “The Grinch” remains grounded by its lack of maturation or adult-like motifs and messages to be delivered through childhood wonder.

That said, there are some lunges in diversity that are welcomed. The idea of a strong-mother storyline in which Cindy Lou (Cameron Seely) hopes to have one gift, and one gift only, for her year-long benevolence. It’s not for her, but for her double-shift working, exhausted, and continuously devoted mother (Rashida Jones). Watching her lead a gang of hoodlums and pranksters is a joy to see, as is the amusing recapturing of Seuss’ infamous main-character.

First depicted, at least filmatically, by Boris Karloff in the 1966 television featurette, and most recently portrayed by Jim Carrey in the 2000 live-action picture, directed by Ron Howard; “The Grinch” is a character that has shredded many green fur coats, and now Illumination has quite possibly upstaged them all. Now, Karloff’s 1966 version is incomparable in many ways, seemingly unable to be overshadowed for its prominence as the original film debut for the character. However, Benedict Cumberbatch most certainly levels that of his contemporary Jim Carrey. Jim’s performance always walked the tightrope between Carrey’s improvisational brilliance and an authentic enlivening of the grassy, grizzly Skrooge. At times, he leans far too much into Carrey’s comedic genius, straying away from the character itself and masquerading the Grinch beneath the presence of the immaculacy that is Jim Carrey.

Cumberbatch, though performing through voice-over, encapsulates the character’s childlike freight, while maintaining a warm, fuzzy sense of a lonely man looking for someone to accompany him on these destructive adventures. He strays away from his well-known captivating techniques, choosing to invoke an American accent to veil his identity beneath the pixelated animation. It’s not great enough to surpass Karloff’s iconic depiction, but it certainly outdoes Carrey’s spontaneity.

The modernizing of animation lends a helping hand as well, manufacturing a level of world building that is brilliantly intricate and imaginatively festive. It’s delightfully Seussian, slanting and curving through the wondrous world of Whoville. The festivity is animated with splendor, fabricating captivatingly illustrative gingerbread villages, mitten-shaped windows, and snow-enriched environments that encapsulates the aesthetical gala of the Christmas season. The Grinch’s monstrous cave is drenched in child-like curiosity, stretching far and wide in solidarity and isolation like that of the devious smile of the frivolous Grinch.

The gadgets and equipment the Grinch creates are devilishly clever, the action scenes are slapstick and energetic, and the music, is livelily reimagined by Danny Elfman, but trespasses the pop-ridden modernizing with a propped up version of Thurl Ravenscroft’s classic “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” by Tyler the Creator. A lot of it feels that way though, teetering between ridiculously renovated and sharply adapted.

“The Grinch” is a welcomed treat nonetheless, a warm enough illustration of the famous Christmas tale that will thaw the coldest of hearts. It’s charming and cute, never losing that fantastical juvenile mischief; able to firmly plant itself in the thickness of the snow and provide enough heart-warming cheer to make even the most cynical man cry.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018)

   Director: Ari Sandel With: Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jack Black, Caleel Harris, Chris Parnell, & Ken Jeong. Release: Oct 12, 2018 PG. 1 hr. 30 min.

Director: Ari Sandel
With: Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jack Black, Caleel Harris, Chris Parnell, & Ken Jeong.
Release: Oct 12, 2018
PG. 1 hr. 30 min.

 

It’s Halloween night, and two middle school boys are combating monsters in an attempt to save their mother from an evil ventriloquist dummy; how fun does that sound? If you're a nineties kid, like me, then the name R.L. Stine is as synonymous with your childhood as “Batman: The Animated Series” or “Dora: The Explorer.” The real-life author of 62 spook-tastic books for tweens that sold millions of copies makes his next entrance to the big screen. While some of us branched out from his child-like adventures to that of Stephen King's matured terror, R.L. Stine remains one of the more notable authors for a generation of kids that spent their nights reading and skipping through the pages of novel like that of “Night of the Living Dummy” or “Monster Blood.”

Looking back, I can recognize the dust-ridden bookshelves of novellas as the allegorical manifestations of children confronting adulthood; how they combat that of responsibility and maturity. A similar feat occurs in Ari Sandel’s “Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween,” a delightful spook-fest for the Halloween soul. Rob Letterman’s “Goosebumps” was a blunder of adventure and scare, one that received praise from both critics and families alike. It was a fun, deliciously-eerie watch that in its follow-up swing has only squandered by that of a few notches.

Opening the film with that of the word “Fear,” as Sarah (Madison Iseman) types out loud into her laptop as she composes her college entry essay into Columbia University. The question asks about fear or a challenge she has overcome and how did it define who she is today; although currently, the only challenge she’s encountering is the horror of a blank page. A self-described creative writer, Sarah (Madison Iseman), like most of us so-called "aspiring writers," has seemingly encountered that ever-so dreadful and plagueful terror of “writer’s block.” However, she’s startled by the appearance of her boyfriend as he sneaks in through her bedroom window to drop off a care package for his mentally conflicting girlfriend. It’s a predictable fake-out scare moment, but what follows is surprisingly subverting of expectation as the mother catches the intruder before a make-out session ensues. Sarah’s single mother Kathy (Wendi McLendon-Covey) swiftly sends him away in a hilarious moment of lecturing as she pokes fun at just how loud teenagers are today, mockingly repeating his dialogue in what is a well-written and devilishly clever start to the children adventure.

The next morning, Sarah attempts to apologize to her mother. While that of her little brother Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and his best friend Sam (Caleel Harris), who is staying with them for the weekend, post an advertisement at the convenience store for their start-up dumpster-diving business. Sarah confides in her mother, and Kathy attempts to provide advice to her struggling writer of a daughter, but she also asks for her to babysit while she works double shift at the nursing home.

Sarah, apparently upset, plans to sneak out. In the meanwhile, Sonny is trying to finish his science project on Tesla, but Sam gets them their first job in which they are tasked with cleaning out an old house, but whatever they find they get to keep. This just so happens to be an old-residence for the once-popular child-horror author, as they soon discover a secret passage and a treasure chest locked away. They open it up and find a book. They open it of course as Slappy the Dummy suddenly appears with that latin card in his suit pocket. Sonny reads it aloud of course, and Slappy is brought to life. However, before he begins to terrorize the neighborhood, Sonny and Sam are confronted by that of Tommy, the local bully (Peyton Wich from “Stranger Things”), and Slappy comes in handy. He pulls down his pants and telepathically abuses the crew of neighborhood bullies, but later on, his niceness fades and the evil within begins to reveal itself.

The kids band together in some surprisingly deftly scenery that like the first film is brought to life through top-notch VFX work. Everyone involved begins to play a role in the story, even that of the next door neighbor, a Halloween enthusiast depicted by Ken Jeong from “Hangover” prominence. He goes overboard in decoration, producing a line to the sidewalk on Halloween night. But when Slappy begins to transform Halloween costumes into real-life monsters and ghouls, Jeong’s house becomes a grease-fire of fright. The enormous purple balloon spide is brought to gruesome life, stomping it's eights legs around the neighborhood and chattering its jaws.

These are the surprises of fear that come in handy when creating such a fun ride, as screenwriters Darren Lemke (“Goosebumps”) and Rob Lieger (“Peter Rabbit”) and Oscar-winning best short-film director Ari Sandel (“The Duff”) maintain a sense of unpredictability and rambunctious imagination to their adventure. Watching and cutting to everything and anything that has sparked into sentience, as at one point, hundreds of gummy bears begin to merge and gnash their gummy teeth as they attack and terrorize our youthful heroes.

That is ingenuity at work. But McLendon-Covey and Jack Black become underused talent pools, and Sarah and the boys are so thinly and haphazardly written that it's difficult to conjure up resonation for them amongst their battles with ghosts and headless equestrians. It’s missing vital components for a good allegory to reign true, but the few jokes provided to them and the glimpses of character attributes are entertaining enough to keep you focused on the journey at hand.

Black, has one of the film’s best jokes in which he arrives onto the mayhem of this Frankenstein-Halloween event and notices that of a solemn floating red balloon as he points and exclaims “Aha! I knew I came up with that first!” It’s a quick jab at the prominent King of horror as R.L. Stine once told King “ You know Steve, one magazine once called me a literary training bra for you." Steve replied: "Yes, I know." That same self-awareness that Stine exhibited to King is on grand-display by Ari Sandel. This is not a film about developing memorable characters or lessons to learn, but merely an encapsulated spook-filled adventure for families to enjoy. It’s not as bright or as compelling as the first film, but it strikes the perfect balance of silliness and creep-filled terror. The talent is in short supply both in front and behind the camera, but the remnants of inventiveness that make their way to the screen are worthwhile; sure enough, to make even the more cynical of trick-or-treaters leave the theater in the spirit for chills and thrills.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)

   Director: Eli Roth With: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Colleen Camp, Lorenza Izzo, & Kyle MacLachlan. Release: Sep 21, 2018 PG. 1 hr. 44 min.

Director: Eli Roth
With: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Colleen Camp, Lorenza Izzo, & Kyle MacLachlan.
Release: Sep 21, 2018
PG. 1 hr. 44 min.

 

“The House with a Clock In Its Walls,” admittedly, is reminiscent of a basic, but delightful, adaptation of one R.L. Stine’s kiddy horror “Goosebumps” books. It's inherent familiar of the child fantasy pictures of old, something we never get that much of in today’s superhero and universal cinematic climate. It’s a kid-friendly horror-fantasy in the simplest of formats, becoming an elemental, but a watchable piece of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” level sorcery.

That’s not a juxtaposition with the childhood brilliance Columbus adapted from J.K. Rowling, rather a reference to how smooth and transparent “The House with a Clock In Its Walls” can be. The plot sums it up, we meet Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), a newly orphaned pre-teen who is adopted by his magical uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). From that logline alone, you can tell where this is going. It's treated as such by Eli Roth, former horror director, who’s scene-to-scene pacing establishes the characters, but fails to encapsulate the magical qualities/potential of the world they inhabit. He skips past those moments, the giggling snippets of a kid learning how to accomplish basic spells, the moment that fabricate not only the charm for the character, but also produce that ever-so-necessary world building. Teaching us spells along the way, as the boy begins to embrace that of the Warlock skill trait.

No, those moments are reserved for the Blu-ray, I’m guessing. That’s not to say that Roth fails to manifest a world worth visiting, because he does just that. Talking dummies, a timbering household filled with creeks and irks in its walls, a mystery that, while fundamental, is investing. On top of that, he got hold of a stellar cast ranging from Jack Black to Cate Blanchett, “The House with a Clock In Its Walls” should be an undeniable, family-friendly hit.

To be fair, in some ways it accomplishes what it sets out to do, entertaining the family audience. It has everything the family could ask for, cutesy creatures, scares and thrills, and adult-ish banter that is sure to crack a grin at least once. It’s a film that reaches back into the past, pulling back those nostalgic trips of potty humor and childhood adventure, where we witness that rote story about a pre-teen misfit finding his place in the world. Struggling to make friends, learning the life lesson of standing out instead of blending in; we’ve seen it before, but not in a good while. These kinds of tales feel in short supply these days, and maybe for a good reason.

Sure, some of the jokes are quippingly good, and the trip down nostalgic lane can always produce a good time, if only it lasted longer than the thirty-minute tenure. It’s short-lived magic, where eventually we have to start asking “where is the new stuff?” Familiarity is a great asset when crafting a film, but, ultimately, you got to do something on your own, and Roth and screenwriter Eric Kripke seem unable to do so.

The longer the film goes on, the more and more predictable it becomes. With that said, you might be asking why there is a positive grade above, and to be honest, it stems from the fact the film is quite pleasant. Yes, it's ever-so-easy to guess where the story is going when Jack Black turns to the screen and tells the kid not to open his secret bookcase. Spoiler: He opens it. We know these things are going to happen, it's accustomed, it's a reliable magic trick, like that of pulling a quarter out one’s ear. When you figure out the secret behind the trick though, it becomes something of a party favor more than that of magic, but hey, it's still a party favor.

The worst of “The House with a Clock In Its Walls” doesn’t stem from the writer of “Supernatural” though, (seeing what he's written, does it come to much of a shock that the movie is predictable) it stems from that of Jack Black. He’s the one thing keeping this film going at times. There is a mediocre, but pre-cursing performance from Sunny Suljic who I can’t wait to see later this year in Jonah Hill’s directorial debut feature “Mid-90s.” Cate Blanchett struggles to maintain the energy needed to deliver her flat one-liners, but her soft-spoken charm makes her a warming side-show. It was nice to see her be the smoking gun of the show though, nothing like seeing a woman in charge on the big screen.

Owen Vaccaro delivers in highs and lows, showing potential to be a great actor, while also needing to learn still a few lessons of the trade that he hasn’t quite captured the grasp of just yet. Jack Black though, he was the locomotive behind this engine, he could have been the driving force, the one steering the car. “Could have.”

He has his quips and adult-ish banter with Blanchett, but as he showed last year in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” he has much more to offer than one-liners and funny voices. Everything is drawn up for him too; the one-man-show-style performance seems to belong to a character like Jonathan, an oddball who often seems to live in a world of his own, merely sharing it with someone else. It’s both his fault for not winding up enough, and the script he’s given for not being precisely easy to work with.

It’s a shame too, to watch Vaccaro struggle to find the right pitch at times, it would have been great to have a veteran like Black show him a lesson or two. But, it seems more like Vaccaro is teaching the lessons instead of Black, a charming but backward facing turn of events.

Christopher Robin (2018)

   Director: Marc Forster  With: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael,  Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings,  Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen, & Toby Jones.  Release: Aug 3, 2018 PG. 1 hr. 43 min. 

Director: Marc Forster
With: Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Bronte Carmichael,  Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings,  Brad Garrett, Nick Mohammed, Peter Capaldi, Sophie Okonedo, Sara Sheen, & Toby Jones. 
Release: Aug 3, 2018
PG. 1 hr. 43 min. 

2.5_4 stars.png
 

The Disney renaissance of the Disney renaissance continues to color itself to fruition, building upon creations from the past as we can expect a “Fantasia” remake any day now. Marc Foster’s “Christopher Robin” is the newest reinvention, a film honoring both the adults and children perspectives in the audience, carrying a familiar and gently warm-hearted touch that manifests an enjoyable theatrical experience. The rendition of A.A Milne’s classic character doesn’t arrive too the silver screen without its fair amount of criticisms though, from the “childhood nostalgia makes for a better adult” cliche to the evolution of the core programming behind the characters purpose. You'll find a film that is reminiscent of your time Hundred acre-wood, but not entirely the same experience you remember having. 

The tale is Disneyfied, simplifying itself around the character of Christopher Robin (Ewan Mcgregor) who finds himself as an adult now, with adult responsibilities. He’s a funds manager for a luggage company, tasked with discovering loops and holes in the paperwork and numbers of the finances so that he can lower costs while maintaining everyone’s employment with the company. The stress of that kind of occupation can become overwhelming, and it does as we see Christopher (Ewan Mcgregor) begin to carry out the same tiresome cliche of a man obsessed with work far more than he appreciates the ones who love him. 

Attempting to send his child, Madeleine (Bronte Carmichael) off to boarding school, and unable to carve out time for a weekend trip with his lovely wife, Evelyn (Hayley Atwell). He finds himself in desperate need of a reminder in what it is to enjoy life, luckily his silly old bear of a friend has found himself in a bit of a pickle as well. The entire gang as seemingly vanished, perhaps a "Hepahlump" has finally attacked hundred acre wood. In a wild time of need, the lifelong friends are reunited once more to save both the gang in hundred acre wood and the misleading path that Christopher Robin (Ewan Mcgregor) finds himself traveling upon. 

All of this sound just a tad bit familiar, doesn’t it? And it is, it's a whole lot of familiar paths that you're walking down, seeing the same footprints left before you by other storytellers, all of that is fine and dandy though. “Christopher Robin” strongest moments are those points where the child inside of you whispers “I remember that.” It's those sequences of discovering hidden treasures within your memory that form that lump in your throat, or that sniffle in your nose, or those goosebumps down your spine where you find yourself reconnecting with that childhood mindset we all once had. 

The trips back into Hundred Acre wood is one filled with triumph and heartwarming tenure, one that if you're like me and have been absent for a good while, will leave you buried in a mountain of tears. Where those tears dry up is the moments of familiarity in the storytelling, the cliches of it all, the Disney stoplights in this nostalgic traffic jam. 

Those scenes like the adult rediscovering his naive optimism once again, which Mcgregor does marvelously, all seem so empty of passion due to their lack of ingenuity. Not to mention the severe overreaction by his family, which seemingly berates him with workaholicism for merely trying to save people's livelihoods in a desperate time. The man isn’t addicted to his job. He’s addicted to being a good person, which makes the whole tale feel unnecessary as if it's all a mere figment of imagination scrounged up by a stressful mind in need of some appreciation. 

There is no comfort and admiration to be found at home though, his wife and daughter want all the attention or none of it which is a bit extreme. Leading to a carryover in which Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings), Tiger (Jim Cummings), Piglet (Nick Mohammed), and Eeyore (Brad Garrett) find themselves apart of the grungy streets of London, which is a bit of a precarious point where the storytelling starts picking apart it's source material. Seeing how these manifestations were meant to be just that, a representation of a boy’s imagination coming to life, not literally, but figuratively. Alex Ross Perry and the four fellow screenwriters decided to go and make these characters literal, which is a bit of spitting on the grave of A.A Milne. 

Dismantling the core detail of these characters which is perhaps the most significant drop off in cohesive quality made by Marc Foster, as the cinematography and VFX work is all as magical as the 2D animation, bringing to life the slight smirks and blissful wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (Jim Cummings). It can become a necessary experience for anyone looking to escape the misery of modern America, one that evokes emotional memoir of childhood. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve walked the beaten paths of a hundred acre wood, a long time indeed. Being back in the tall forest, crossing the Poohsticks bridge once more, and seeing the entirety of the community built by these beautiful characters was something of an endearingly enchanting ordeal. 

It’s not exactly the way I remember it, Disney moved a few stones here and few trees there, but by the end of “Christopher Robin,” I am counting the minutes that I have been gone. Finding myself searching through my long-forgotten stashes of adventures with Pooh, Piglet, Roo, Kanga, Eeyore, Tiger, Rabbit, and Owl. It makes me want to recount the days I spent in those woods, which is perhaps the biggest compliment I can give to “Christopher Robin.” 
 

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?
 

The Boy and the Beast (2016)

   Director: Mamoru Hosoda With: (Jap Voices) Aoi Miyazaki, Shōta Sometani, Kōji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Sumire Morohoshi, Lily Franky, Yo Oizumi, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Haru Kuroki, & Masahiko Tsugawa. (Eng Voices) Luci Christia, Eric Vale, John Swasey, Bryn Apprill, Monica Rial, Alex Organ, Ian Sinclair, Sean Hennigan, & Steve Powell. Japanese Release: Jul 11, 2015 | U.S. Release: Feb 2, 2016 PG-13. 1 hr. 59 min. 

Director: Mamoru Hosoda
With: (Jap Voices) Aoi Miyazaki, Shōta Sometani, Kōji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Sumire Morohoshi, Lily Franky, Yo Oizumi, Kazuhiro Yamaji, Haru Kuroki, & Masahiko Tsugawa. (Eng Voices) Luci Christia, Eric Vale, John Swasey, Bryn Apprill, Monica Rial, Alex Organ, Ian Sinclair, Sean Hennigan, & Steve Powell.
Japanese Release: Jul 11, 2015 | U.S. Release: Feb 2, 2016
PG-13. 1 hr. 59 min. 

 

Mamoru Hosoda (“Wolf Children” & “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”) is rapidly climbing up my chart of animated filmmakers. He’s showcased his remarkable abilities as a storyteller on more than one occasion, and his latest film “The Boy and the Beast” is no different. 

Centering around a young boy whose parents recently divorced from one another. A tough pill to swallow, a tougher pill to take when you learn that his mother has recently passed away. The film begins with that heartbreak in which we see this estranged boy lost and scavenging around the streets of Shibuya, screaming “I Hate Everyone.” Soon he's confronted by a small, adorable, and furry creature which becomes the precursor to our introduction to the Beasts. One tall red, bearish-type looking animal named Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) and his monkeyish friend, Tatara (Yo Oizumi and Ian Sinclair). 

Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) turns to the boy demanding for him to speak, but our young orphan finds himself drowned in sorrow, unable to respond. Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) informs him of the apprentice that he requests. A challenge laid before him by the lord of the beast world, a challenge he must complete to become the lord's newest apprentice. It all makes sense when this child follows these beasts through the hidden doorways to find himself inside of an unfound world where animals walk on two legs, cook food, sell at food markets, and continuously surprise with their revitalized outlook on life. This is Jutengia. 

Arriving upon Kumatetsu’s (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) home, the boy is given a name after refusing to reveal his identity, Kyuta is that name, in reference to his age. We soon learn that these two strangers are star-crossed brothers, separated by neighboring worlds that display the similarities of ruggedness, stubbornness, and selfishness. 

It becomes clear to Kyuta (Aoi Miyazaki & Luci Christian) when he watches Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey) battle Iozen (Kazuhiro Yamaji and Sean Hennigan), a tough, centered, and leader of a beast that has learned the valuable lessons of raising another, being the father of two children. He’s a crowd favorite too, one that exhumes roars and cheers, while the group goes silent for Kumatetsu (Kōji Yakusho and John Swasey). Kyuta (Aoi Miyazaki & Luci Christian) notices and silently admits “No one’s cheering for him, he’s all alone.” 

This is where the similarities begin and where our magical journey begins to lend itself to a magical experience worth watching. The film never sticks with any specific theme or tone; it grows like that of Kyuta (Aoi Miyazaki & Luci Christian) who matures into a teenager depicted through the voices of Shōta Sometani and Eric Vale. The film evolves into an observance of his journey, ranging from how he catches up on the educational teachings he has missed, seeing as he’s been out of school for more than three years. 

He finds himself meeting and connecting with a nerdish girl whose loneliness matches his own. Her name is Kaede (Suzu Hirose and Bryn Apprill). She becomes a tutor of his and a special person in his life like that of Tatara (Yo Oizumi and Ian Sinclair), who was there in the very beginning, and Hyakushubo (Lily Franky and Alex Organ), a piggish monk whose wise words become a constant source of exposition like most of our characters. Seemingly a recurring problem with anime films, they struggle to assert their meaning without literally stating them to the viewer. It becomes frustrating to watch, just as much as the slow beginning which in response to the buzz surrounding this film began to counter my hopes. 

Luckily, I would not leave the theater disappointed as “The Boy and the Beast” doesn’t just grow on you, it merely leeches itself upon you refusing to let you out of its imaginative grasps that capture you both visually and emotionally. It matures, as I said, growing from a joyous watch that aspires and elevates, to something that reflects both us and the character we've come to love. The hidden darkness lying within him and us, a study on morality you might say. 

Something you wouldn’t find in a Pixar film, but for anime, this is no groundbreaking achievement, but Mamoru Hosoda leaves behind a unique touch that utilizes it's hand-drawn, cell, animation to its fullest potential. The scraggles of fur, the vividity of the colors, the sheer breathtaking moments of magical wonder, it becomes something of a Spielberg experience in which your staring at the screen with your mouth agape, left with nothing but awe-inspired feelings of imagination. 

“The Boy and the Beast” delivers in both it's natural Japanese language, and it's dubbed English, with both voice cast's delivering on each occasion. Have I watched this movie twice already in its two days stay in the anime oblivious community of Lubbock? Yes, yes I have. It’s an anime film that pulls at the heartstrings as much as it plays them to their loudest harmonies of exhilaration. It’s a pure, escape-filled, journey of a story that reminds you of the magic that the undervalued sub-genre of anime can present.

It will be in and out of theaters in a flash, as American Funimation distributors are marketing this film to no one else but us crazed anime fanatics. Anime is not for native language speakers and genre-fetishists only though, “The Boy and the Beast” is one of 2016’s best. Bright, brilliant, and a baptizing-like event for those unfamiliar with the enchanting experience that anime can provide. It’s an experience worth your ten dollar ticket, don’t miss it. 

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.  

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. 

Inside Out (2015)

   Directors: Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen With: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, & Kyle MacLachlan. Release: June 19, 2015 PG. 1 hr. 35 min.

Directors: Pete Docter & Ronnie Del Carmen
With: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, & Kyle MacLachlan.
Release: June 19, 2015
PG. 1 hr. 35 min.

 

Famed sports figure Joe Valvano became infamous for saying "If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that's a full day. That's a heck of a day." If that’s the case, then Pixar’s newest animated feature “Inside Out” is a heck of a movie. A comedy-adventure set inside the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, “Inside Out” can become both mature and childish almost simultaneously. It’s, ironically, an emotional/thought-provoking ride through one’s mind. It’s not just any mind though; it's a child’s mind. We’ve all been there before, while maybe not deriving from the same nuclear-style family, “Inside Out” constructs itself to speak so particularly to almost everyone that sees it.

The bulk of the film is set inside the brain of Riley (Kaitlyn Davis), who is depressed about her parent’s recent decision to move away from their hometown in Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley’s (Kaitlyn Davis) emotions are established by that of five singular evocative “cartoonish” characters: Joy (Amy Poehler), a bright eyed and bushy tailed force of positivity; Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who’s blue, soft, hunched over, and sluggish; Fear (Bill Hader), a wimpy looking, purple, fidgety and skittish character; Disgust (Mindy Kaling), who’s rich green skin and angsty attitude invokes a “plastics” vibe (that’s a “Mean Girls” reference by the way); and Anger (Lewis Black), a flat-topped, explosive and fire-truck red character who’s attire reeks of an office cubicle workaholic. They are the embodiment of Riley (Kaitlyn Davis), responsible for her memories, dreams, and personality traits. Each of them color-coded, the emotions gather around every day to respond and apply themselves to Riley’s (Kaitlyn Davis) life using the master control panel. Sometimes, one emotion can become a dominant trait, none more than Joy (Amy Poehler), continuously invoking herself to solve any problem. Inadvertently, she can care too much for Riley’s (Kaitlyn Davis) sake, blinded by what she thinks is best, and recklessly rejecting the assistance of Sadness (Phyllis Smith).

As you know, we all need to cry sometimes. It’s healthy and allows us to release that built-up of aching emotional agony, but if you bury it; then things can get out of hand. That’s what happens here in “Inside Out,” as suddenly Sadness (Phyllis Smith) begins to feel compelled to enforce her role in this table of sentiment, forcefully interjecting herself without understanding the reasons as to why. She starts to touch core memories, ones that were fabricated by the hands of Joy (Amy Poehler). Fearing that Riley (Kaitlyn Davis) will become too sad, Joy (Amy Poehler) recklessly scrabbles with Sadness (Phyllis Smith) as they soon find themselves mistakenly getting vacuumed into memory transport.

Detached from headquarters, Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) have to learn how to work together so that they can get back to Riley (Kaitlyn Davis), and Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), and Fear (Bill Hader) must figure out a way to keep the ship steady until they return, but how can emotions pretend to be other emotions? Needless to say, things go wrong.

It’s a heartfelt, joyous, and poignantly crafted adventure, one that kids are sure to find a connection with, especially in that of the humor. It’s not on-the-nose, nor is it child-targeted. The jokes are rated “E” for everyone, nonchalantly invoking laughter from the oldest member in the audience to the youngest. Pixar’s stellar writing rarely comes up short on that end, and “Inside Out” is no different. Where “Inside Out” becomes unique is its meditation on the idea of abandoning the land of childhood and imagination for that of adulthood and responsibility.

Halfway through the film, we meet a character by the name of Bing-Bong (Richard Kind) who was Riley’s (Kaitlyn Davis) imaginary friend when she was a toddler. They played tag together, sang concerts together, and built a rocketship that would fly on the fuel of song. He played an essential role in her youth, as a character like this one did for all of us. Our childhood can become embodied by a singular figure or item or idea. In more ways than one, “Inside Out” is reminding both us, as adults, and some of us as now parents, that you have to recognize that the days of rambunctious imagination and the rapidly dynamic but simplistic joy of a child has to come to an end at some point. Eventually, we have to dock the train and leave the station; and “Inside Out” depicts that message with both a sense of magical joy and mournful sadness. It becomes like that of a primer for parenthood and adulthood, teaching both children and adults the meaning and power of sorrow.

In that span of time, “Inside Out” ever-so-gently but accurately depicts depression. It’s a momentary glimpse at it, but it's there, and Pixar paints a perfect picture. Instead of describing it as deep sadness or some elusive melancholy, Pixar recognizes that depression is the numbing of emotion. It’s the absence of joy, the lack of anger; it's the ratification of becoming emotionally paralyzed, and only those who have experienced it or continue to rage war with it will comprehend and rightfully grasp its tangible-like effect. I certainly did.

Now, that’s not all to say that “Inside Out” is a cry-fest. Though it can become one, “Inside Out” has so much more to offer than it's evocative subject, it works in more ways than one. Written by Josh Cooley and Meg LeFauve from a story by Ronnie del Carmen and Pete Docter, and directed by Docter ("Monsters, Inc." and "Up"), “Inside Out” has the creative and moving interplay of imagery and sound that you’ve come to expect from a Pixar movie. It’s vibrant, energetic, and compiled of clever homages for the obsessive pop culture buffs. Michael Giacchino’s score, like his previous Pixar scores (“The Incredibles” & “Up”), is compiled of emotion that ever-so-perfectly encaptures the scenes that you see on the screen. Rhythmically provoking the essence of that otherworldly Pixar warmth that we’ve all come to know and love.

The voice actors are, of course, all fantastic. Poehler encaptures that tone of positivity in every pitch of her dialogue, as does Black, Smith, Hader, and Kaling. And, the beauty of “Inside Out” stems from that of its pitch-perfect tone. The film maintains a tight space, moving and pushing itself further and further, never becoming stagnant or misplaced. It’s an emotional rollercoaster in every sense of the phrase, vigorously swirling and diving and climbing to something new, something different, and something incredibly moving. It’s an enchanting trip of a movie that echoed with roars of applause from the audience around me, and it's always quite special to hear a crowd respond to something; each of them in a different way.

I guess that's the magic of Pixar.