Saturday, December 29, 2012

D52 - Week 52 - Wreck-It Ralph

[NOTE: These reviews are fairly spoiler-free until the fair-warning section further below.]

Knit-it Amanda

I feel grateful for having lived through what I feel are two separate Disney Re-births. Wreck-It Ralph might not yet be as iconic as The Lion King and might not win as many awards as Beauty and the Beast (or maybe it will, time will tell), but it does feel well seated in a new era of quality.
It seems we're finally to a point where most computer animation is starting to look pretty high quality no matter who or what renders it.  The design and render team really did a terrific job making each video game world look distinct and separate and yet still make sense amongst the many other little worlds.  Each character also makes perfect sense within their worlds right down to the way they move.  The heavily pixelated characters make herky jerky movements but the realistic characters are smooth and perhaps overly agile, but it doesn't distract from the whole.  If you've ever played Super Smash Bros and thought nothing at all of how these characters would ever meet up and fit together, than you understand the weird okkay-ness of it.

I'll do my best to explain how enjoyable I found the story without spoiling it.  This was a challenge in making relateable conflicts in a fantastic world.  Who hasn't felt unfulfilled in their job or neighborhood?  Who hasn't felt a higher calling deep in their bones?  More than anything, this movie is about finding yourself.  On the one hand, some people find happiness right back where they started, and others find happiness when things change a great deal.  A couple of other coordinating themes are tucked in without fighting with the main story, and are equally moving, but I'll keep them to myself in order not to spoil the movie if you haven't seen it.  Whether changes occur within you or around you, you'll find happiness if you make peace with it.

I was thrilled with the soundtrack!  Once again, each character had a bit of a theme that followed them around and it was entertaining to hear a certain theme in the setting of another gameworld but also to hear how it was clearly scored with its original gameworld in mind.  There was a nice mix of catchy video game repetitiveness with subtle background music.

And let's not forget about the joys of the cameo appearance. I grew up with a controller in my hands and laughed every time I spotted a reference.  Sometimes they were subtle and sometimes they were flashy, but everytime it made me feel like part of the in crowd.

Favorite Character: Felix.  He's just such an everyman.  He's as naive and good as no man in the real world ever seems to be anymore.
Least Necessary Character: The repairman.  No, seriously.  You'll get it when you watch it.
Overall: I loved it and if you can stand a couple of gradeschool poop jokes, you'll love it to.

Rec'-It Kevin

This is the second "cheat" of our one-movie-for-each-week "rule." We had no DVD access throughout our honeymoon (would we have watched Atlantis at the hotel if it had one? ...maybe) so watched it the week after along with Lilo & Stitch. As for this Wreck-It-Ralph, we saw it on November 14th, partly because it looks unsure whether or not it'll still be available to see anywhere by the last week of December. If it is, I'd love to watch it again on that week! In case not, though, we're writing about it a couple of days after so that it's still fresh in our minds, but setting the post to show up in late, late December.

[LATER EDIT: It turns out we were able to see it in theaters during the 52nd week of 2012, and it was indeed worth seeing again anyway!

I probably have already started to sound like I'm obsessed with it or something, but I think it's appropriate enough to compare this movie to, yes, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit??" In WFRR's universe, not only do the toons exist and interact directly with humans, but Roger Rabbit  exists as an already-established character. Which is to say, Roger didn't exist in our world until that movie (or book. But even before that Roger Rabbit wasn't an "actual" comic strip character) was made. Fix-It Felix Jr. is obviously heavily inspired by the early Mario games - in the same way Roger is heavily inspired by Bugs and Daffy. And funnily enough Bugs and Daffy exist in Roger's world, which makes you wonder if Roger's "birth" (how exactly the characters in that movie come into existence could be a whole other blog post) was related in any way to Bugs and Daffy's existence. Now going back to the arcade universe, Mario exists along with Wreck-It Ralph and Fix-It Felix...are they aware of their games' similarities? Jumping back again, imagine if that other movie was instead "Who Framed Bugs Bunny?" It might not have worked as well, because the moviegoer would go into it already having certain perceptions of what to expect of the character. But because he or she had no previous frame of reference for Roger Rabbit, the character can be built and liked as the movie progresses and shows you on its own what he's all about. Now, back again: Because Ralph, Felix, and the other new characters as just that - new characters - it's again entirely up to the movie to get you to like them. And it does a great job at it. The "new" video games are such convincing pastiches that I genuinely want to play those games. Will the actual released multi-console Wreck-It Ralph tie-in game do any of them justice? I...wouldn't count on it, sadly.

To talk of it without spoiling much, I can say that I enjoyed it very much and I'm sure it'd make it onto the list of my top 5 favorite D52 if I were to make such a list, which I might. As a D52 movie, though, it's very...unlike the others. It's one of the funniest ones (the trailer jokes do not do it justice). It's surprisingly well-written...well, maybe not all that surprisingly given Rich Moore's Simpsons and Futurama cred. There are a lot of set-ups that pay off satisfyingly well later on. There's even one or two things that seem like an obvious set-up that end up not paying off, which I choose to take as an intentional red herring to keep you guessing what is and isn't a set-up. If that makes any sense.

The music is also pastiche'd very nicely. WIR is another of those few Disney movies where none of the characters sing (party whooping and chanting not counted), so the underlying soundtrack seems that much more significant. I particularly appreciated Sgt. Calhoun's theme, which surely must have been inspired by the music from the Metroid games. And "Sugar Rush" is a little too earwormy.

From the moment I saw the first trailer for the first time I was a bit skeptical that the movie would rely too much on simply making video game references for the sake of references (ahem, Scott Pilgrim vs the World), but it again parallels "WFRR!!" by indulging in a large dollop of recognizable characters (and some not-so-recognizable, to let the hardcore fans brag about being familiar with the obscure ones) near the beginning of the movie, but easing up on those references once it gets into the nitty-gritty of things. I appreciate that. It strikes a good compromise between appealing to the video game fans and appealing to those who would rather see new things. Heck, I think I like the new video game characters better than the "classic" ones.

All in all.... I'm gonna rec(commend) it.



The Toy Story movies are all great, but they still leave me with questions about the precise details of how things work in that universe. Like, what constitutes a toy, to the point where it's given a consciousness? In the third movie a keychain can talk. Also in the Toy Story Toon "Small Fry," there's a joke about a Buzz Lightyear Belt Buckle talking to a Zurg using only beeps..somehow. If someone fashions a paperclip into the shape of a bunny will it then be able to hop around when the humans aren't looking? How about a paper doll? What about Silly Bandz? Do they move on their own, and if so why not regular rubber bands? Where is the line drawn? At what point in a toy's assembly does it have a life? Was Mr. Potato Head able to see from his not-yet-connected eyes before they were packaged with his potato body?

Similarly, I'm wondering a lot of things about Wreck-It Ralph. Why exactly do the "retro" characters look pixelated through the arcade cabinet screen though they're less blocky "in-person?" Maybe it's a distance thing? A perception filter? Can the characters only jump to other games on the same surge protector or could they travel even further down the electrical line to other buildings? As little as I care for sequels in general I feel like there are a lot of possibilities here. What happens if one or more Fix-It Felix Jr. cabinets share nearby power circuits? Would Felix be able to meet himself? Would they be different in any way? Maybe that would be too similar to Buzz Lightyear meeting another Buzz Lightyear. But how about this. Sugar Rush is basically two game cabinets hooked up to the same multiplayer capabilities, right? What happens if one player starts a Sugar Rush game and afterward another starts their own new game while the first is still playing? They would both be playing the same game at the same time but the Sugar Rush characters would be doing different things. So which cabinet has the "real" Vanellope von Schweetz? Speaking of VvS, how's an observation that I can only now make in a spoiler-warning zone: Vanellope is the newest and youngest Disney Princess. AND she's the only one without a love interest, isn't she?

LATER THOUGHTS: It seems I was in the minority of those distracted by the SUBWAY brand cup in the arcade. It's one thing when real-life product-mentioning shows up in movies as a storytelling device - for which I believe NesQuik sand (I considered making a comic about how Felix Jr and Calhoun should've been really scared in that situation, since NesQuik was recalled recently, but who else but me would've gotten that?) and Laffy Taffy do indeed count, but there's no reason it couldn't have just been a generic cup. You just know the logo's only there because Subway had its Wreck-It Ralph promotion, and when a movie makes you think about how it's a movie, that crosses the line of distraction.

Considering that really is the only complaint I can think of, and it's something that you probably didn't or wouldn't even notice yourself, so that's saying something.
I'm already looking forward to the DVD release.

Favorite character:  I can't help but identify with Felix Jr.'s very square sensibilities. 
Least necessary character: Why the heck does M. Bison get movie theater cardboard standing poster front-and-center billing? I think he may have had, like, one line, maybe, but I don't remember what it was. And Street Fighter is already represented in the same scene by Zangief (letting aside the issue of whether or not Zangief really is technically a "bad guy"), who at least provides some comic relief.
Overall: This is exactly the kind of Disney movie that I've been wanting for .. as long as I've watched Disney movies .. and not even solely because it appeals to my video game fan sensibilities...though that does help.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

D52 - Week 51 - Winnie the Pooh


There's this annoying trend, fueled by the popularity of proliferation of computerized graphics, to adapt simple stories from picture books into full-length motion pictures. Meet the Robinsons was one. And The Polar Express. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Where the Wild Things Are. The Dr. Seuss books. I can't think of one that I've seen and was happy with. Maybe Curious George, in that it didn't stink? The main problem is that almost all of them tend to pad out the story for the sake of making it long enough to be a theatrical feature. But surely if you aim to make a movie, the thing to do should be to make it as long as it needs to be, then feature it in a length-appropriate venue. Not the other way around. Take "How The Grinch Stole Christmas!" for example. The Chuck Jones adaptation tells the whole story in the amount of time that happily fits into a half-hour television slot. So why was a much, much longer version made late on necessary at all? Besides the obvious answer, anyway?
What I like about 2011's "Winnie the Pooh" is that it makes an excellent example of what a movie made out of a simple story - or stories, rather, should be like. No matter that this one isn't directly based on a particular storybook. The point is it could be. I imagine there's a simple storybook based on this that you wouldn't have been able to tell was a movie tie-in.
There isn't as much embellishment as those other movies tend to have, and the only padding present are jokes relevant to the story. They're reminiscent of Abbott & Costello routines and probably aimed at the audience young enough to not realize they're reminiscent of Abbott & Costello. The stories are simple, and the movie is fully aware that they're simple. It's very straightforward and I like that. If only more movies based on actual books were more like that. If I may digress a bit, my suggestion to the filmmakers who absolutely must adapt short children's books to the silver screen is: why not make a short feature compilation of it? Imagine not one but a series of Dr. Seuss 25ish-minute pieces, perhaps - and now I'm just fantasizing - each produced and directed by different talents, and ooh! in different media! A Steven Spielberg live-action motion-capture story followed by a Tim Burtony stop-motion one and then an anime and okkay I'm getting carried away now.

I like the execution, as a children's movie, is what I'm saying.

Now, to compare "Winnie the Pooh" to "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." Here we still have multiple stories (Eeyore's tail, The Backsun, Owl's Memoirs, Pooh's Quest For Honey), but they all interweave with each other. I'm not sure whether I prefer this over the "one-story-at-a-time" approach. I didn't get as much of the "Pooh-overload" as I remember getting with TMAOWTP, but on the other hand not having one "main" story leaves the ending feeling a bit flat. When a short is as short as a short, a set-up without much of a payoff isn't as disappointing as one stretched through an entire feature. At least it's a relatively short entire feature.
My main complaint, judging it as a Winnie the Pooh movie rather than just as a movie, is that it doesn't have enough of what I like about the original feature and the books on which they're based. It's something about the dialogue I can't quite put my finger on. It's not...unusual. Pooh mentions how he's a bear of very little brain, but it comes off more as a catch phrase that he has to say, and not much else he says is worded funnily like that. I just don't get the impression that the writers went through much trouble at all to copy the A.A. Milne writing style, which is a shame because that's my favorite part of Pooh stories. Oh, bother. It's more like they have this child-level story and are using the Hundred Acre Woods characters to tell it because, well, they're popular. I'm left to imagine: What would it be like if you took the same story and plot points but told it with entirely new and original characters? Would it be as "good?" Or what if this were the first time we had ever seen these characters. What would our impressions of them be then? Basically what I'm saying is Winnie the Pooh automatically gets a handicapped advantage for any of his movie on the merit that you already know what he's all about going into them. Same goes for Batman, by the way.

Man I'm going on too much for such a supposedly simple movie! I'll try to wrap things up.

The voice casting is....worth mentioning, certainly. Jim Cummings has earned his stripes as Tigger and Pooh, at least given that Sterling Holloway is no more. Is he a better Pooh than Stephen Fry? a hot button issue surely. I believe I ruined Rabbit for Amanda when I answered her question about who voices him. Once you get the connection, it's hard to "un-hear." I approve of Craig Ferguson as Owl and double approve of Bud Luckey as Eeyore. I wasn't bothered by Christopher Robin's voice as much as the fact that he had whites of his eyes now.
The music is very nice but nothing to be singing boisterously out the theater about. It's soothing and pleasant but not terribly catchy. But it doesn't really need to be for the purpose of the movie, which I guess is to wash over you rather than hook you in. Or something like that.
Animation-wise, I'm not sure if the newer character animation is an improvement exactly - it's cleaner and crisper but not quite as charming. Everything else works well, though, as honey for the eyes.

The short of it is that it's a "cute" movie. It's so unassuming and inoffensive that I can't find anything wrong with it, unless I compare it to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, which is even cuter and still more charming. It makes me wonder, what with all of these other Disney films being re-released in theaters, why the same treatment couldn't have just been given to Pooh in lieu of a new movie. It would certainly be worth introducing it to the many in the target audience who haven't seen it yet.
But then still. If a new Pooh movie had to be made, and one had to be theatrically released, this is probably the best new Pooh movie without Sterling Holloway, the Sherman Brothers, or The Nine Old Men that you could hope for.

Favorite character: Maybe it's my perception affected by Bud Luckey's performance but it seems Eeyore is more self-aware and intentionally(?) funny than in any other "Pooh" feature. I liked his line to Tigger about how the best thing about Tigger is that he's the only one. Good one, Eeyore.
Least necessary character: Did Roo do anything other than act small and cute, a role already taken by Piglet?
Overall: "Stuffed with fluff" is certainly an very appropriate theme.


Doing an homage is one thing, but trying to add to an already well established franchise is something totally different.  Winnie the Pooh walks a very very fine line here and well, being made of stuff and fluff, he's bound to swagger off course once in a while.

The simple truth is that it's just not the same.  Don't get me wrong, it's cute, and it's well animated, and little children will love it, and it will be re-released by itself and with the first movie and perhaps even as a collection with the Heffalump Movie, Piglet's Big Movie, and A Tigger Movie.  It will make a lot of money and keep baby things on the store shelves for the next decade and longer.  But as far as artistic merit, is it destined to be a classic?  That remains to be seen.  For my taste, no.  It has a lot of interesting changes some of which are necessary (casting for example) and some of which are perhaps mere oversight.

For me, there was a certain artistry of animation that was missing from this new installment.  This is not to say that these new animators aren't up to snuff.  If anything, they are perhaps more accomplished as they have had so many years of experienced teachers as well as a flood of new technology and techniques at their fingertips.  Yet there is a certain way that characters moved and behaved in the older bits of film that felt more free, more childlike.  Pooh's walk for instance: In his many adventures, he had a way of walking that looked almost as if a child was holding him and bouncing one foot on the ground at a time, but more recently he is much more agile.  Piglet's stance for another:  He always appeared to be just barely balanced in place, ready to be blown over or fall forward at any moment.  Even the old, tattered stuffed animals in the original room looked quite a lot more loved than these newer, brighter, cleaner versions.

On the other hand, there's a story that continues throughout the movie.  There's new interesting animation styles such as the chalkboard line art and even the glistening honey pools.  There's the new idea of Christopher Robin growing up and going to school.  What do toys do when the children are away? (Shh, I know, I know, slightly less new)  Bah. I'm doomed to be conflicted by this one.

Favorite Character: Owl.  Of all the new casting, I think that CraigyFerg did the best job at walking the line between a totally new character and a respectful homage to the original.
Least Necessary Character: I dunno.  Even though she's a knitter, I just wasn't totally sold on the idea of Kanga as a motherly figure to the clan this time around.  There was a certain warmth and even a certain amount of intelligence missing this time around.

Overall: This was a silly ol' movie, but the kids'll love it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

D52 - Week 50 - Tangled

Kevyn Rider
Aww, I'm not as interested in writing about a movie I actually like a lot! Usually I latch onto the flaws, but...I'm not sure exactly what's wrong with ...OH! I remember now. There is one thing that really bugs me about this movie. But I'll save it for the end.
Last week I talked about how "Princess & the Frog" seemed to embrace the old-and-even-older school style of Disney Princess movies. "Tangled" does a good job at retaining everything that makes those films enjoyable - such as the storytelling, vivid animation, catchy music, and engaging characters - and takes everything a step further by updating the sense of humor. Thankfully they're not updated in the annoying way (AFRO CIRCUS! BANA-NA! BANA-NANA! AFRO CIRCUS!). And the main characters equally have interesting and believable motivations and feelings. Flynn is humble enough to not come across as a complete Joey Tribbiani type, but yet cocky enough that he's not a bland Dave Seville/Prince Eric type. Rapunzel is a strong female figure and (wants to be) independent, but has perfectly understandable hesitations and doubts. Mother Gothel is a bit of a tricky one though. Has she, as a result of raising her, come to genuinely love Rapunzel after the fact of her manipulation? She may have evil motivations for keeping Rapunzel in the tower, but she's not evil to the point of beating her or starving her or depriving her of entertainment and nice things, and it's not like she has to be nice to her faux-daughter for magic reverse-aging's sake. I'm not saying any of this excuses what she's done, but it makes the idea of her character worth dissecting.When Gothel treats Rapunzel to her favorite hazelnut soup, is it really her favorite or has she just convinced her it's her favorite? If not for the kidnapping, inprisonment, lying, manipulation, and later on stabbing and such, could Mother Gothel have been the good guy? Maybe in an alternate fantasy where she doesn't steal Rapunzel away, she's just the best royal caretaker ever.
So yeah. Great music, great art and animation, great characters, great story (for one involving magic, at least), all packaged together quite nicely. So then what was it that I don't like about this movie? That one thing that bothered me enough that I drew a comic a year ago to address my complaint? Ideally my point came across well enough in it that I can just show you:

I just can't seem to get his nose right!

Favorite character: Max is best pony. Horse. Whatever.
Least necessary character: I didn't need old in-his-skivvies dude. I'm going with my "A character isn't funny just because he's wearing nothing but his underwear" stance here. I would've been okay with Mother Gothel having gotten the necessary information from, oh, anyone else, so that he wouldn't have to exist.
DVD Bonus: Part of what inspired this D52 project was the 50 Animated Features count-up on the Tangled DVD, which helped me realize, "wow, there really have been over 50, haven't there?" It's especially neat now to watch "the whole year" summed up in only a couple of minutes, and yet again notice how quickly the 80s come up.
Overall: If I were to nominate a best Disney Princess movie, this would quite possibly be it. It's a worthy contender with Beauty & the Beast, anyway.

As for my favorite D52 movie of all...well, we only have two left. Could there possibly be one I like even more of those two? Guess we'll just have to see, tee-hee!

Amanda Knows Best

 Yay! Number 50!  I'm so glad that the landmark 50th film in the Disney Animated Feature line-up is such a good one.  But Kevin's right.  Taking a good movie and explaining why it's good is an awful lot harder than taking a bad one or even just a flawed one and picking it apart. 

Tangled offers an excellent opportunity to analyze what makes animation good to a layperson.  Sure, the commentary tracks are always telling you what's hard technically (Hair, Fire, Water, Hair in Water, Explosions, Fabric, that sort of thing), but what about artistically?  To my mind, it's taking an image and clearly expressing emotion and motivation.  Here, it's best demonstrated by four nearly silent characters. Max and Pascal represent the very active and cartoonish end of the spectrum and the King and Queen are the most subtle end of the line.  Both are acted brilliantly and for different reasons.  The cartoonish animals dance a tricky dance between offering nothing but comic relief with their antics, and yet when they emote sincerely, it's still easy to relate.  Contrarily the King and Queen are animated so subtly that I'd say they spend more time being nearly still than they do moving at all.  The solemn stillness of their stance is enough to express one of the most complex emotions of the entire year.  Fear of disappointment and renewed grief mixed with disbelief, relief, and joy. 

As for the rest of the film, well, I've always been a fan of the Broadway Musical and this film would fit in with the best of them.  The theatrics are staged as if it were live action, the lighting is dramatic and flourishy, and the music is as catchy as Menken has ever written.  (In fact, this is the most memorable sing-along-able in nearly a decade for my taste.)

Favorite Character:  Bruiser knits and so does Rapunzel... need I say more?
Least Necessary character:  I hate to copycat, but Cupid thug could have been pretty much anybody else.
Overall: I LIKED IT.  I really really liked it!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

D52 - Week 49 - The Princess and the Frog

It's at this point in the D52 that Disney reminds me of Mega Man.
The first side-scrolling Mega Man games were consistently well-made, but the main problem with Mega Man 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and to an extent 7 and 8, and maybe even X through X-however many X games there were, is that each of them was too similar to the previous one(s). I remember that being the only negative criticism of them at the time, that there were all essentially the same game. So it's no wonder that the Mega Man games took a different direction after 8. There was the RPG-ish one, a card-battle-system-thingy, spin-offs with Zero, and such. Whether or not those games were worse or better is beside the point here. The point is that time would pass and years later, Mega Man 9 would be released. And praised! What did all the fans love most about it? Why, that it was so much like all of those earlier ones, of course! I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this kind of reasoning; it just strikes me as funny. Basically this is what Disney has done with The Princess & the Frog.
It's so obviously a call-back to the best of 90s Disney animated films (which themselves were partly call-backs to much, much earlier Disney animated films). It follows the formulas to such precision that it might well be taken as a parody of movies like Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, and The Lion King. You got the handcrafted animation with a glowing quality (boy howdy does this one love glowing things), loveable and/or wise-cracking animal sidekicks, the corny sight gags, the peppy musical numbers, all that jazz. But I kind of like it for that, and imagine I would've appreciated it just as much if it came out while I was a kid (the movie wishes it was released back then). Could it be just because it's newer and it hasn't worn on me as much as The Lion King has? Surely it helps that it doesn't rely as heavily on the likeability of Robin Williams Genie as Aladdin seemed to. If anything it does follow everything the Disney "Renaissance" did right, while correcting those pesky annoyances. Imagine how highly I could praise it if Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote the soundtrack! Or, if I'm bringing up half-deceased dream teams anyway, what if Ashman and Menken collaborated with the Sherman Brothers? Too many cooks spoiling the broth....or mind-blowingly amazing?
Even its characters are like DR era characters, in that they're clearly more substantial and interesting than, say, Snow White and the evil witch, yet still not quite perfectly fleshed out when you...yes, dig a little deeper. Let's take Tiana, who as a black Disney heroine suffers from the same fate as the Pochahontas Native Americans, in that they're all too politically correct to the point of being made boring. Every main character needs a flaw, and Tiana's flaw is that she works too hard. Oh, geez, what a horrible person! I'd hate to be or be around someone like that! I'm being sarcastic here. Maybe I'm missing something. I've seen this movie a couple of times already and I still can't put into clear times what exactly it is that Tiana learns by the end of it. She says aloud a vague epitome about knowing you have people who love you and loving them or something, but ...I don't know. From the beginning I never got the impression that she didn't appreciate her loved ones.They all seemed very happy with each other. She loved her father; her father loved her; she presumably loved and was loved by the others. Don't see any problem there. Maybe if we saw scenes of Tiana spending too much time working up until the point where her father died, and if she concentrated more on working towards the restaurant than actually spending time with him, then that I would get. But my interpretation was that she worked hard for the restaurant after he died, to honor his memory. I don't get what's flawed about that. Unless the movie was going for a lesson about coping with a loss by remembering the good times instead of focusing too much on what could have been? If so, it didn't do a good job at that. Another certain Disney-released movie a couple years later would pull that off much better...
But if anyone can explain to me Tiana's lesson, I am all ears. In the meantime I can at least say that her co-stars at least had clearer flaws and motivations. Prince Naveen reminds me of Pépé LePew, but without the perviness. He's lead a charmed life but is at least willing to acknowledge it as a problem, openly confessing that he's never learned to do anything because of it. Oh, I don't know. He's learned how to dance and play the ukelele, at some point. That was probably after he left his parents, though, wasn't it? I can't imagine wealthy parents choosing the ukelele as the musical instrument to push their son to learn at as young an age as possible. So I figure, even if he had never met Tiana, he might have earned a living playing in a ukelele-and-banjo double act when he met another frog lazily strumming on a southern river. 
Would it be digging too deep into the race issue to notice that even the "bad" qualities any of the dark-skinned characters have are played up in a "good" way? What I mean is, is Prince Naveen lazy and arrogant...or is he relaxed and suave? Is Mama Odie crazy or just delightfully sassy? And the Shadowman is creepy, but in a cool way. I'm just wondering if, at any point, the character designers had a specific reason for Lawrence to be, um, not white. Could it have been to avoid having an irredeemable goofy doofus of a black guy? Was there anything wrong with Mulan having an Asian character as goofy as Chi Fu as long as he was outnumbered by respectable depictions? These as questions I do not expect to be answered, as I might be putting too much thought into it anyway.
Skin color scrutiny aside, they're well-crafted characters. Facilier/Shadowman, as I said, is pretty darn cool. I think a prequel would be justifiable as long as it's about him. Ray the Firefly somehow manages to make a snaggle-toothed stalker very endearing. By the way, if you think a person pining after a love he's never met is weird, consider that he must've taken it upon himself to make up his own name for her, and call her that lovingly. "She's beautiful! I wonder what her name is. Hmmm...Evangeline? Yeah, that sounds good. How I love you, Evangeline." Hey, with Ray, it's okay, 'cuz awww, he's just this cute li'l guy.
Speaking of glowing beautiful things, the animation is top-notch. I might've asked for a bit more stylization, but at least there's plenty provided with Charlotte (alternate voice casting of the week: Kristen Chenoweth)'s exaggerated mannerisms, Louis et al's hammy comedic distortions, and the various musical numbers.
The's Randy Newman, but at least it's Randy Newman as sung by people who aren't Randy Newman.

Favorite character: It must be Facilier, because I find myself wishing he'd been in much more of the movie.
Least necessary character: Louis, you didn't do anything to help move the main story along in any way, did you? There was even a point about how Tiana and Naveen were going the wrong way because of you, which means you did the opposite of progress the story! tag-along B-story you.
Overall: A carefully calculated attempt at recreating thought-to-be-lost Disney magic that...actually does work very well. I'm glad it was made.


Princess and the Frog wasn't a home run, but it was definitely a baseball game that your kid is in and you attend to support him, but it's at the varsity high school level, so it's still pretty competitive, and you still have a genuinely good time watching it, and it's hosted at the local pro stadium to help the athletic fundraising, so the parents are allowed to drink, and you get to have your whole family in a photo with the pro team's mascot, and it turns out great because they took all the pictures before the kids started playing, so they aren't all covered in dirt and sweat.

It's just one of those movies where the good so heavily outweighs the bad that you have to be a bit of a complete stick DEEP in the mud to really try and down it.  It's not to say that the bad isn't there at all, mind you.  I mean, the songs were all a bit repetitive and purile, but not all of Newman's work is going to be Toy Story (1) and at least he didn't sing them this time.  There was the half a sentence of Emeril's cameo appearance that no one recognizes because it gets lost in the action of the moment.  And for me, there was the homage paid to every New Orleans and Louisiana thing that ever was to the point that it becomes just cliche.

There.  DEEP in the mud. Now then.

I'm intrigued by the villainous plots of Dr. Facilier.  I find it interesting to think that he's not really the main villian here.  It seems to me like his friends on the other side are the real bad guys and he's just a poor pawn for them trying to work off his debt and most unfortunately having to do bad things to be set free.  He doesn't control them.  They're just the mafia and he's just the guy that got in too deep with the bosses.

I also really enjoy the complete lack of "love at first sight" in this movie.  Tiana and Naveen actually take what I see as the normal progression from strangers to friendship to love.  And it's clearly not just a physical attraction like in Little Mermaid.  They actually appreciate that each has something that would made the life of the other a little bit better.  I enjoy the little couples' counselor they get in Raymond and the skewed but tender love that he has for Evangeline.

In generally I think that what they got right here that was lacking in a number of other recent flicks was the sincerity of the emotions that characters were feeling.  Their reactions made sense if not to everyone else in the film, than at least to the audience and to themselves.

Favorite Character: Dr. Facilier... if only for his voice actor Keith David.  Nooooice.
Least Necessary character: The three swamp dudes.  Did that third guy seriously have to be drawn with just two fingers?  I mean, I'm sure it happens in real life in the bayou, but that seems like a rather bizarre distinction to make for his character.  Why not just call him Mumbles? He did that too.
Overall: I liked it. Eeyup.  I did.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

D52 - Week 48 - Bolt

Kevin (Molt*)

Plagiarism is a touchy subject. Sometimes you see two different peoples or companies create two different works within a certain time frame of each other and if there are enough similarities, it's easy to call "copycat." Remember when Dreamworks's Antz came out just a month before Pixar's A Bug's Life? Was one looking over at the other's desk instead of keeping their eyes on their own work? In most cases, unless it's completely obvious that one has the other's work in mind (like with "Kiara the Brave" and "Ratatoing" and those other shameless cheap CGI knock-offs), I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt. It's likely enough that Pixar and Dreamworks, both working with not-yet-perfected computer technology, both independently decided to create a movie using insects, since they'd make reasonably comfortable digital models - not having fur or hair, and all.
But then there's self-plagiarism, which is interesting in another way. Sometimes it's intentional. Or do we think Nickelback actually believes their songs each sound completely different? It can also be unintentional, merely a result of lapse of memory. If you, for example, are a comic strip cartoonist, you might go through so many used and rejected ideas that you might end up reusing an idea for a gag without realizing until later that you had already drawn the same bit earlier on. You can only expect him to memorize so much of his own work.
What I'm building up to here, is...
How the heck did John Lasseter not realize he'd worked on this story before? Bolt is, in a nutshell, Buzz Lightyear. He incorrectly believes he is something that he isn't. A cynical forced road-trip buddy (who initially hates him but warms up to and becomes friends with him) directly tells him what he really is, but he's in denial until testing his powers to no avail. He goes through a period of self-doubt and sadness before ultimately accepting his "real self" and realizing that he doesn't need those powers to be important to his human. Also, Mittens is Jesse the Cowgirl: She tells her friend how much she resents humans because of the one that left her but later on finds a new human and figures, "Okay, yeah, I do like the comfort of a person."
The parallels seemed awfully obvious to me. And I'm not saying Mr. Lasseter isn't allowed to reuse a major theme or two, but you would think he...wouldn't, if he was aware of it. The audio commentary for Up mentions that Russell was renamed from Lewis because of the release of Meet the Robinsons. And then later on there was the Pixar film not-to-be, Newt, which was scrapped possibly because of similarities to other companies' Rio and Alpha & Omega. So should Bolt have been canceled altogether had someone spoken up and said, "You realize, John, this is a lot like Toy Story and Toy Story 2? Remember, those blockbuster movies you spent years working on just a few years ago?"
I don't know.
I do think that, on its own, in a hypothetical TS/TS2-free vacuum, it works well enough. At this point (after seeing Wreck-It Ralph) I can say I've seen every D52 movie, and I do think this is the point where the gradually starts a new upward pull in overall quality. It's not exactly a classic, and there's not much about it that I feel I want to see for repeated viewings, but it's easily more engaging and fun than Meet the Robinsons, Chicken Little, Home on the Range, and Brother Bear.
I am fond of the overall design and...aesthetic, if I'm using that word correctly? Bolt, the character, is cute but not too cute and still believable as a ruff-and-ready (I'm sorry. No I'm not.) action hero. The TV action scenes are campy yet would still be very watchable even if it was a real show (but man, imagine what its budget must be like!) and provide a fitting contrast to the "actual" dramatic scenes. While I didn't cry at the scene where Bolt feels betrayed, it does tug at me a little more than I'm comfortable admitting. Hey, there's some nice subtle animation work there.
I don't have anything substantial to say about the music other than that Miley Cyrus sure does sing for it. That brings me to the voice casting. Which I'm afraid is a low mark of the voice. Miley, John, and Susie are just so...uninteresting, as far as voices go. Sometimes celebrity voice casting works wonders (I could go back to mention the Toy Story films). Other times, you think...hnm, no, your voice should've been a professional voice actor instead of a well-known actor. Looking on the bright side, at least Nicolas Cage wasn't one of the voices.
In the end, is it good? Is it bad? It's in a weird grey area where I can't quantify its quality with an actual grade or rating. As it happens the Disney Channel was apparently showing Bolt over the Thanksgiving holidays, and that does seem a very apt place for it. It can appeal to anyone in the family, and if it doesn't appeal to you, have some more turkey and cranberry sauce and try again.

HOME STATE PRIDE: Hooray! This is the first Disney animated (or general?) feature that undoubtedly takes place - albeit partially - in Ohio! Yaaay! Granted nothing particularly Ohiocentric is seen (aside from the state signage) or happens, and it really only serves as a rest stop for the characters. So I guess Ohio is a representative of...the type of place you would stop at for a little while before moving on to someplace more interesting? Erm. Anyway, GO BUCKS!

Favorite character: I know Amanda is going to pick them too, but come on: The pigeons. They're funny simply by acting exactly how a talking pigeon should act. Also, hey. Since I was talking about accidental copycatism, have you ever seen the Goodfeathers segments from Animaniacs? You know, with the Brooklyn-accented pigeons who are involved in a mafia-esque arrangement? I mean, okay, it's only natural that pigeons from New York would talk like tough New Yorkers. But I can't help but notice that there are three: one green, one blue and one purple. And one of them is named Bobby...
But if I had to pick someone else that Amanda isn't picking: The cutesy version of Rhino seen in the credits. You know, I think I'd like him even more if he was designed as a typically cute hamster. The idea of an adorable little bright-eyed hamster with that much gusto and fight in him - and named Rhino - is pretty dang beyawesome.
Least necessary character: I love how much detail went into creating the fictional franchise of Waffle World, but I feel like the mascot, whatever its name is, was a wasted opportunity to make a unique fictional mascot, because he looks too much like Spongebob Squarepants.
Overall: Though marred by an unshakeable sense of deja vu, Bolt carries itself well enough in its own right to prove that non-Pixar CGI Disney movies need not be complete wastes of good 1s and 0s.

*oh man why wasn't there a pigeon self-parody a la Super Rhino but with one of the pigeons being called Molt

Amanda (Knittin's)

This is SOOOOO a family movie.  You know that movie I'm talking about.  That family gathering when everyone has chatted as much as they cared to and now they all want some silence but there are kids in the room so Fast and Furious 5 would have naughty language and everyone's feeling too relaxed to want explosions anyway and the game is already over.

Wait are we experiencing Deja Vu?  Yes, I'm talking about Thanksgiving just like Kevin did, but it's to prove a point.  Just because the end result is the same doesn't mean you can't enjoy the somewhat different scenery.  It's the exact reason that Dad sometimes hops in the car to go someplace familiar and says "Let's take the scenic route."

The one key difference here is that Bolt unlike Buzz learns to love being himself whether there was a person to find or not.  Buzz on the other hand realizes that he is only complete when he has a person to love him.  Bolt chooses to go back to his person in order to make her happy, but it seems clear to me that the hamster, cat, dog trio would eventually have found satisfying happiness out on their own.

Am I happy that they all came together as a family in the end? Sure.  Do I think the same theme has been done better by other studios and in other ways? Sure. Does that mean I don't enjoy this particular scenic route? Nope.  I like it just fine.  I got to my destination.  I only wish that I had a waffle at every rest stop on the way.

Favorite Character: Yeah, Kevin read me right. The New York Pidgeons.  I almost wish that all the animals were played with more animalistic motions instead of anthropomorphized. I see that head bob just a little bit, I just GET the character.  Not another word needed.
Least necessary Character: That agent.  Let's just take his whole character and Pop. Put a pin in him.
Overall:  Utterly inoffensive and with lots of predictable cute, but it manages to pull it off. I liked it!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

D52 - Week 47 - Meet the Robinsons


So much nonsense.

Where to begin. Um, first of all, I can pretty much just repeat what I've said about Chicken Little and The Emperor's New Groove. Here we have yet another movie whose overabundance of silliness undermines any attempt at eliciting emotional development of the characters. But I've hammered this annoyance before, so I'll talk a bit about Lewis. When you think about Disney/animated family movie character types, the first that come to mind are probably Princess, Prince, and animal sidekick "comic relief" buddies. But there's also a less "classic" one, the awkward nerd trying to fit in. Milo from Atlantis was one, Chic Lic was one, and to a certain extent some of the Disney Princesses like Mulan were too. But Lewis (who by the way reminds me of a young Alton Brown) is the special type that tries to be extra-cliché by constantly making wacky inventions that fail spectacularly. I start to wonder if this would be better or any different if the movie starred Gyro Gearloose. At least it would've made more sense to have a movie based on a comic book and TV series character than one based on a picture book with a picture book-quality story (Spoiler alert! It's all about finding grandpa's teeth and in the end one of the frogs has it. That's what the book is about). At least the picture book doesn't have any pretense of suggesting you should feel sorry for the characters in any way. I mean, I kind of like some of what they do with Bowler Hat Guy, and how his petty little grudge is comically played up (the scene where he convinces li'l Goob to let his hate fester and boil is the only scene I don't dislike) and if there was a character that I might consider maybe feeling sorry for, it would be him, and the mini-lesson - about not stewing in your past resentment or blaming other people but instead moving on with your life - would've been a more worthwhile and interesting lesson to focus on, rather than the lame reworking of the tired "If at first you don't succeed" proverb.

By the way. Time travel story pet peeve: You can't show something happening in the past as if it's happening "while" the events of the present are taking place. If persons A and B are both in the present and person B leaves to time travel to the past and change its events, person person A does not witness those changes x seconds after person B left just because person B started changing things x seconds after B arrived in the past. I know it's just a storytelling and directing framing device, but it shouldn't be. Time does not work that way and we shouldn't be teaching our kids that it does.
Speaking of revisiting the past, this movie sure does plead desperately for you to watch it twice, doesn't it? The first time you'll either feel lost or figure out the "twists" too easily and the second time you'll....well actually it isn't worth watching twice. Trust me; I've done it.

Visually speaking, I bet you never would've guessed that this movie was originally released in 3D! Yeah, remember when 3D theatrical movies first "came back," just about all of them took advantage of the technology to the extreme by poking the audience and shoving things in their faces? I'm glad they've sort of eased up on that gimmickry since then. Because what they seem to forget is that when those same movies come to home video, those super-3D shots don't come across very well at all when we're not getting the effects of the glasses. You could make a drinking game out of it. 3D shots shots. Just seeing Carl the Robot will get you drunk.
You know what this movie should've been? Or at least wishes it could be? One of those motion-simulator theme park movie rides. It already involves a flimsy storyline, a time machine being attacked by a dinosaur (just like Back to the Future: The Ride) and shameless 3D effects! And a lot of its time is spent showing you crazy stuff happening all around you for the sake of showing you crazy stuff happening all around you. It'd be perfect! I think I would appreciate it much more seeing it that way, largely because that means it would be a much shorter experience. You could even have the 4D sensory effects like smelling peanut butter and jelly (mmm, I like it better already) as it splats you in the face (actually just water).
As for the music, it certainly was done by Danny Elfman, wasn't it? It's disappointing that the They Might Be Giants cover of "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" isn't heard in the movie or even in the credits, but at least it happened, as a result of this movie existing. And that might be my favorite thing about the movie period.

Second-favorite thing: A giant squid attacks a tyrannosaurus rex face in the face.

Favorite character: Tom Selleck. Not Cornelius, the character he voices. But Tom Selleck.
Least necessary character: The coach character was not voiced by Patrick Warburton. He is therefore unnecessary.
Discussion topic to answer in the comments section: For the ladies: How would you feel if you met the younger (12 years old) version of your husband/fiancée/boyfriend? Uncomfortable? For the gentlemen: How you would feel if, as a 12-year-old, you met the future, adult version of the wife you didn't even realize you would have? Would it be weird if when you first met her, before knowing she would be your wife, you identified her as a mother figure so much that you blurtingly called her "mom?" Perhaps that wouldn't be any weirder than when current dads call their wife mom just because everyone else in the household does too? Also, is it acceptable for me to make some sort of joke using the line, "Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?"
Overall: It's awfully fitting that Meet the Robinsons so proudly sings the praises of failure. Well, better keep moving forward.


Here's the thing.  A Day with the Robinsons (the book) is a picture book classic partly because it doesn't have much of a plot.  It's a picture book.  It shows you some interesting and well drawn pictures.  You can use your own imagination if you happen to like the pictures enough to expand upon them.  Meet the Robinsons forces a story which is first of all hard to follow, second of all not particularly engaging, and worst of all grinding the imagination aspect completely out of the picture.  There is so much fantastic (and I don't mean good) stuff always going on that you don't have time to try and use your own powers of creative thinking and so many rules to this universe that you would feel as if you needed permission for your whims in the first place.

I wish I had more to say about this movie.  It's really not good. I didn't like it.  It's incredibly forgettable and that's a good thing.  It's so bland I barely remember anything about the music, the character designs, or the backgrounds except to passingly wonder why all buildings in the future are so faux art deco.

I did enjoy the frogs.  I don't mean the singing and music playing.  It was cute, but too gimmicky for me to actually claim to lave liked it.  What I liked was the group of frogs sitting at a bar telling bar jokes and talking like a bunch of swingers from the roaring 20s.  The frogs had some serious personality!  Then the movie tries to connect them to the plot somehow with the little mini bowler hat and that was the end of my joy.

Favorite character: Frog.... but Tom Selleck is a close second.
Least necessary character: Every single other family member besides Mom, Wilbur and the Grandparents.
Overall: No sir. I didn't like it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

D52 - Week 46 - Chicken Little

Chicken Medium (Kevin)

Men, as a general rule, do not talk about their feelings much with their sons. This we can now see applies to roosters as well. It's the basic message of Chicken Little: there's tension between a son and father that could easily be resolved if they just take the first step to actually talk about it. Now this movie isn't beneath making fun of itself. It ends with Buck Cluck winkingly chipping away at the fourth wall by talking about a Hollywood movie - that would end up over-the-top and silly - staying true to the original story. But I have to wonder if this movie also realizes it undermines its own message of dealing with a problem head-on instead of avoiding it or getting distracted. Chicken Little, the movie, does that quite a lot. Just as you think it's going to use its time to develop the characters and build on the story, one of the many gag characters does a gag, or two or three. There are even some scenes where more than one joke is competing for screen time at the same time in the same frame. It's very gag-heavy, is what I'm saying. And there's nothing wrong with a stream of gags itself, but if you're going to be that gaggy, movie, you can't also spend little time with the characters' emotions and play up those moments as if we're supposed to genuinely get choked up or something. One or the other! You can be a Lilo & Stitch with sentimentality and not push the comedy too hard or you can be an Airplane! and go crazy with comedy because you don't expect the viewer to get invested in the story. I might let you try to do both if you were a long-running television series that adds character depth gradually over a long period of time, but for a movie, no.

This being the very first entirely-computer-animated (uh, that Indiana Jones clip doesn't count) non-Pixar Disney film, I've gotta talk about the animation. I don't think it holds up quite as well now as The Incredibles does, sorry to say. Frankly it gives me "Jakers" vibes. Not that it looks as bad as Jakers, but that it has that look that gives you the impression that it is meant for children. Though I don't imagine many kids would appreciate an admittedly amusing Gloria Gaynor reference. Or maybe it's "Jimmy Neutron" vibes too. In that it probably would've looked better if it had been done in 2D hand-drawn in the first place.

 The music, aside from the score, is mostly covers or original recordings or already well-known songs. Its original song, "One Little Slip," as performed by Barenaked Ladies, sounds like an obligatory "celebrity cover of the single from the movie," except it actually is in the movie as performed by them, which is weird. I don't know how else to explain what I'm saying there, so I hope it made sense. Also, it's normal now to hear a clip from a song like "It's the End of the World as We Know It" played for the trailer despite not actually being in the movie itself, but here it really is in the movie, and that's weird. That moment feels like the movie turned into its own trailer, or something.

One of the fascinated things about the movie is that in one scene we see the animals of this animal town watching a very live-action Raiders of the Lost Ark starring famous human Harrison Ford. I'm sure the weirdness of that is intentional. Do you suppose humans exist in the same universe but just not in that town? Or maybe this is an alternate universe where their Raiders of the Lost Ark is really just staged by animals with ultra-realistic (to us) sets props and people costumes. Also, other celebrities are referenced, some directly. Are they humans too, or are there also animal versions of our same celebrities? I like Amanda's answer to my question of what animal Barbara Streisand would be: obviously, a sheep. And we collaborated to decide that in Chicken Little's world, "We Are the Champions" was written and performed by QueenBee, the main singer being Freddie Workerbee.

Favorite character: Abby Mallard strikes me as the most down-to-Earth (pun intended? not really) character, and surprisingly hinged for one voiced by Joan Cusack.
Least necessary character: As camera-pandering as Fish Out of Water is, at least he's relevant to the story. Morkupine Porcupine doesn't mug as often, but he also has no purpose aside from forced laughs.
Trivial wondering: Oakey Oaks has the money and technology for modern-day automobiles and movie theaters and television and film crews, but sticks to hiring a chameleon for traffic light duty. This gets more perplexing when we see a standard light-operated walk/don't walk sign a little later on. Maybe...that first traffic light was broken and Chameleon Lameleon was just filling in temporarily? But wait. Does he get a funny name like that? He was awfully un-anthropomorphic, wasn't he? Is he not allowed clothes? Two legs good, four legs bad?? Speaking of clothes, feathers and fur aren't enough to cover your nudity, but if you're a wooly sheep your natural covering is good enough.
Even more trivial wondering: How would you shorten Chicken Little's name? Chi Li? Chick Lit?
Overall: I'm going to go ahead and assume that if Walt Disney were alive to see Chicken Little, he would be fascinated by this new and amazing audio-animaputer technology but wouldn't be all that happy with the results of how it's used here.

At least there's a great big beautiful next week, right?

Amanda Hu-MAN....Duh.

I'd be lying if I said I hated Chicken Little.  It just didn't do enough to elicit much of a response in the first place.  It's no wonder CL fell of the radar as quickly as it did.

At a time in animation when any studio aside from PIXAR hadn't the computing power to make a visually impressive film and when in the box office it was competing against such huge names as Harry Potter 4, Chronicles of Narnia, Brokeback Mountain, and Star Wars III, Chicken Little seemed to be little more than a caretaker film for the Studios.

The story was nothing at all like the inspiration piece and yet as much as it had changed, it wasn't particularly inspired anyway.  Corny gags overshadowed character development leaving a cast that was little more than a list of cliches. Plot points and even most of the gags in this new version of the story were predictable to the point that I found myself groaning before they happened.

Did you ever watch a movie and recognize trailer lines and find them to be slightly misaligned with the rest of the theme or atmosphere of the scene or perhaps the whole movie?  Chicken Little felt a bit like pasting together 20 or 30 trailers.  None of them really fit together that well, all of them were over-the-top and hard to relate to, and the score was brash and overshadowing with hard starts and stops that take you out of what little story there was to begin with.

Favorite Character: Abby Mallard.  While she is a visual cliche, she had the most character depth... even if it did dissipate after a forced-romantic semi-climactic moment. Honorable Mention: Adam West.  At least Mr. West sticks with what he does best.
Least favorite character:  Foxy Loxy.  We get it. Chicken Little is an easy target for bullies.  You need to calm down. Geez.
Overall: I was unaffected and I will have forgotten 90% of the plot points by the time we watch the next film.  If you choose to watch it, I bet you'll forget about it pretty quickly too.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

D52 - Week 45 - Home on the Range

Kevin's Little Post of Heaven
Yeah, you're gonna hear a discouraging word alright.

But first, I want to talk about a certain Chickeny movie. No, not Chicken Little. That's next week. I'm thinking of Chicken Run. It used to be one of my favorites movies back when it first came out. Watching it again just a couple of years ago, ah, not quite so stupendous but easy to appreciate. See, in Chicken Run, the motivation of the characters is driven by their desire to not live on that chicken farm. The main bummer is that every once in a while one of them - the one not producing enough eggs - gets killed. The danger is amped up when their owner is inspired to focus on the larger profit potential in using the lot 'of 'em for chicken pies. I was never sure what she planned to do after she'd run out of chickens to make into pies, especially since she'd spent money on an elaborate pie-making mini-factory, but that's neither here nor there. I mention this because this is one way to make a movie about what life must be like through the eyes of livestock. While just about all of the jokes seem super-cornball now, the story structure works in basically allowing one to feel sorry for the characters. It's a believable enough set-up with emotions one can relate to ... er, in that if I were a farm chicken I wouldn't want to be fattened up to be killed either and would jolly well like to live free, if I may.

Then there's Home on the Range. It's the opposite, in even more ways than that cows are the opposite of chickens. Whereas the chickens didn't want to live on a farm because they feared being killed, the cows really want to continue living on their farm because they...won't be killed there. Sorry for being overly cynical, but...farms do not work that way. I mean, okay, farms in cartoons and other family-friendly outlets can work that way. They do all the time. I'm sure Old MacDonald can have a farm and on this farm he does not slaughter a cow, E-I-E-I-O. So, I'll allow the very idea of the idyllic farm where the farmer dances with the animals and everyone's happy every day. However. We then have to look at the conflict. Farmer Pearl is confronted by debt collectors and needs to pay back money or lose her farm, and all I can think is, no kidding she's in debt! Her farm is only a half-acre and she's way too attached to her animals! How the heck does even expect to make money? I'm surprised she can even grow enough crops to even raise her animals, much less sell any of it for a profit, on that dinky little estate she calls heaven. Plain and simple, she does not know how to farm. She does the opposite of everything you're supposed to do to have a successful farm. She probably pours oil all over her plants, or something.
This is why the perfect farm scenario can be a repetitive children's song or even a strangely addictive video game series, but not really a movie. Now that I think of it this is just like the plight of Sykes in Oliver & Company that I wrote about back then. It's hard for me to root for Pearl because I find myself questioning the way she got into debt in the first place and what she's going to do if - no, WHEN she goes into debt again.

It's not that all of this makes it a bad movie. I just find I'm not able to relate to it on any level, and I'm not sure who would. You could say it's not really about farm life and that's it's really about family, but Lilo & Stitch did that theme much better anyway.

Plot difficulties aside, there are some things to appreciate here that make it not quite as unbearable as I prejudiciously expected it to be. The songs and music are quite good, but then again with Alan Menken responsible that's no surprise. I would say they're a little too good for these characters that I don't care for. My favorite part is easily Alameda Slim's yodeling song. As far as Disney villains - or even quirky Disney villains go, that's a pretty inventive quirk right there. There's not much to say about him when he's not yodeling, but man.
And anyway a bunch of stuff happens and then there's an action scene that takes place on a mine cart because you just have to given the setting and it makes you wonder if there were hopes for a spin-off theme park ride in the works.

Favorite character: Steer Dad. mm-HMM. Sorry, bit of inside joke there, couldn't resist.
Least necessary characters: Those two vultures seemed a bit could-ve-been-dropped-to-the-cutting-room-floor to me.
Sidenote: Before seeing the movie I saw the character design for Alameda Slim and immediately assumed he would be voiced by John Goodman. Was shocked and surprised to not hear Goodman's voice as I watched it,
Overall: While the characters and story aren't charming enough for me to recommend this with enthusiasm...some good music, musical sequences and surprisingly funny jokes (I liked that one gag with the fly, hey, whaddya want from me) are some reasons to suggest at least actually watching it before calling it a good or bad movie.

Amanda's Word Harvest

I'm pretty bummed that this wasn't a hit.  Home on the Range is one of those movies that had a lot of potential.  Like the still making toys out of it potential that Pixar's Cars had and yet it juuuusssttt missed the mark.

Home on the Range had an awful lot going for it.  The animation looks amazing and yet with a certain amount of stylization that allowed it to fit in well with the Disney aesthetic and yet still have its own identity.  The backgrounds are gorgeous and saturated and still capture that sort of rosie nostalgia that most Americans feel for the old west.

The music is spot on.  We all expect it from Alan Menken of course, but the lyrics and performances all came together to fit the theme, enhance the plot and generally give you a good solid background for the rest of the production.

I think the movie falls flat because the characters are either cliche or insufferable.  I mean really, when has anyone ever really cared about the plight of Roseanne Barr?  She is essentially playing herself in this role (burn) and because she never sounds sincere or even really emotes all that much to begin with, it's hard to like her.  Mrs. Calloway has a fabulous voice actress in Dame Dench, but she's such a static character and never does stay true to character.  Even worse, her character is constantly trying to convince everyone and herself that giving up is the best option.  How unlikeable is that? Grace (Tilly) is at best well played, at worst cliched, and most unfortunately doesn't stay true to character either.  There is a gag in which Grace as the supposedly airheaded one makes a concise speech about their goals and everyone is astonished and perhaps that would have played, but just having a breathy voice isn't enough to convey airheaded.  And don't get me started on Buck.  His frantic, squealing, karate shouting, hopping around was a) not funny, b) utterly unnecessary, and c) way overplayed.  The only consistently likeable character is the Villain, but we get stuck with everyone else.

The story isn't the best I've ever heard, but it's straightforward and gets a lot of business in without meandering around too much.  It's never confusing and still has a couple of interesting twists.  My only beef is that Lucky Jack was a bit of a Deus ex Machina in that he shows up out of nowhere and though portrayed as accident prone seems to be the most competent one of the group.

Favorite Character: Alameda Slim isn't the best Disney Villain, but he's generally entertaining and I can't dismiss a good yodel.
Least Necessary character: BUCK. UGH.  If you have a child who is so young that they can't follow a plot, then he's probably that child's favorite character with all his zippy zany zooming around, but I suspect the rest of the family will hate him.

Overall: I don't hate it.  It's worth it for the beautiful background art and the too-good-for-this-movie music. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

D52 - Week 44 - Brother Bear

Br'er Kevin, of the Rooster Totem
Oh boy! It's only a couple of weeks until Pixar's "Brave" comes out on DVD! Now there was a movie about being magically transformed into a bear against your will that I would like to see again. This one, not so much. I didn't find it particularly annoying, but...well, if I were a hacky newspaper movie critic, I might go so far as to use the phrase "Aurora BORE-ealis."
Really, it's pleasant enough but just not engaging. It's like in Dinosaur, where I get what's going on but I'm just not captivated by it at all. At least it looks better than Dinosaur. And the humor is not as unfunny.
It's hard to describe what exactly it supposed to be going on emotionally through Kenai's* journey. First he's annoyed by Koda, and if you know your movies you know he'll warm up to him eventually. And he does, through a music montage. And you think, well, that was sooner than I thought. But then they get in a fight again. And now Kenai hates Koda. But they make up quickly after looking at a painting. Are you guys friends or not? Make up your mind and stick to it! Then there's the "yeah um I kinda may have sort of murdered your mom sorry about that" speech and Koda is understandably upset, but gets over it surprisingly easily. Man, he is the KING of forgiveness.
Now for my biggest nitpick about the alleged lesson of the movie. Kenai learns about looking at things from the bear's point of view instead of seeing them as murderous monsters or whatever, and that's all fine and dandy sure. But in the salmon run chapter, we see the bears killing and eating fish, and doing in such delight that the young ones laugh while making hand puppets out of the fish's heads! What kind of horror show is that? I know that there is a Brother Bear 2 and I have no idea what it's about, but if the filmmakers have any respect for addressing hypocrisy, it had better be the tale of a young bear who callously plays with fish corpse heads before he is spiritually transformed into a salmon. He would then realize who the real monster is, and so forth and such and yada.
Now to talk about Rutt and Tuke. I'm not crazy about them as they're written in the actual movie. But man, I have a soft spot for their DVD commentary! Maybe it's because I'm partial to cornball ad-libbed humor (I wonder how much of it is off-the-cuff? I hope most) like that, and also the very idea that they got through the whole thing on consistent steam. Some of it is dumb, but some is funny and plays to my dumb-pun sensibilities. Such as:
"Well if you go to the liquor control board of Ontario, they have wine and spirits. And you can talk to the spirits."
Considering that they managed to "riff" a family-friendly movie with only family-friendly jokes, Thomas and Moranis did a bang-up job at that commentary track. I'm gonna go ahead and say I prefer the movie with that audio track on. After all, you still get the beautiful imagery and animation, but with better jokes. I've listened to it twice (once years ago, before I had even seen the movie proper) and would listen to it again. And I'm slightly proud to say it.

Favorite character: Hearing Greg Proops talk uncharacteristically lovey-dovey was, for me, the funniest part of the movie.
Least necessary character: The chipmunk is supposed to present this idea that Kenai should be surprised to see a squirrel terrified of him because he doesn't realize he's a bear yet, but the chipmunk would freak out the same, maybe even moreso, at a hunter, wouldn't it?
Trivia: Another Pixar comparison. That I Spy bit where Rutt or Tuke (who cares which is which) "spies" a tree over and over sure is similar to Dory's "small and orange" bit from Finding Nemo, isn't it? Finding Nemo was released first, but only six months prior, so accusations of plagiarism might be stretching it. But I do think it worked better in Finding Nemo, since the joke there was that Dory was instantly forgetful and the ocean was mostly empty where they were too. In Brother Bear, Rutt/Tuke is just being...stupid? Or intentionally annoying?
Overall: Eh, eh?

*Does Kenai mean anything relating to his character? If not, it's a wasted opportunity that the guy whose totem is an eagle wasn't named Kenai instead, thereby making a pun on "keen eye." Ah well.

Something Amanda

I'm going to be uncharacteristically concise for this one.

Brother Bear looks beautiful.  The music isn't bad, but it's also not nearly as memorable as Collins' previous work in Tarzan.  The voice acting was good considering what they were given.  I love Rick Moranis, but the rest of the movie doesn't really send me. 

Oh and by the way, Koda was way more annoying than cute.  However, he did look really cute, and that sort of bothers me because his mother (for whom we are supposed to have sympathy) is by a wide margin the ugliest bear of all.  I get that you want her to look monstrous for the first act, but couldn't you gussy her up a little for the sentimental climax? Ugh.

Favorite Character: I dunno. Uh. Silent Mammoth busses.
Least Necessary Character: Oh, let's say... um... Estelle Harris
Overall:  I wasn't completely bored out of my mind, but I don't really remember all that much about it now that it's over.  At least it looked pretty.  Would it be wrong to suspect that it was one of those caretaker movies that's put into production just to make sure the animators and clean-up crew still know what they're doing?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

D52 - Week 43 - Treasure Planet

Amanda's Loot

Treasure Planet is what happens when you take a classic that has been beloved by generations, and retold hundreds of times on film and on radio, and try to change all the parts that make it a classic in the first place.

Treasure Island was written in the mid 19th century about the 16th or 17th century.  To me part of the draw is that the characters were living in a semi-primative time that was more violent, more simple, and colored with the kind of nostalgia of those who have only lived it through tales from an older generation.  I get the same feeling when watching black and white reruns of I Love Lucy, but certainly not when the setting is of an unknown future.  This is not to say the future isn't cool and interesting, but it doesn't give me the sense of glowing familiar adventure that I hope for through this sort of story.

Treasure Island had a much more sympathetic main character in Jim Hawkins.  A poor kid who lost his father and dreams of helping his family and just gets roped into a big adventure.  Treasure Planet's Jim may have been introduced as a bright eyed kid with big dreams, but when we meet him as we will have him for the remainder of the film, he's a teenage ruffian who is breaking the law and being hauled to his house by law enforcement! I don't want to root for this kid!  I want him to go to Juvie and pay his debt to society!  He doesn't deserve a fun adventure!  Also he easily has the worst haircut I've ever seen on any Disney character ever.  How does combining a "seagull" and a "rattail" possibly result in something attractive?  It doesn't.

I'm also quite a bit concerned about our so called "villain."  It's one thing to portray someone as good just to pull a gotcha in the end, but in Treasure Island, John Silver is found out as bad and stays that way to the end.  In Treasure Planet he goes bad, goes soft, is still bad but gets set free.  I just can't get behind this.  Not only that, it really adds to my dislike of the hero character.  He really ought to have turned him in.  A Disney Hero ought not have such gray ethics at the end of the movie.  At the beginning, sure, he's still figuring things out, but at the end A Disney Hero doesn't set a proven murderer free.

And as for Ben Gunn....Good Lord, Martin Short.  I know you pretty much can't portray any character without making him eccentric and spastic, but this has got to be the least likeable portrayal I've ever seen you do.  Stop trying to be funny because it's just too painful and annoying to watch.  Why can't you go back to the late 80's and be a little more sincere?  You were both funnier and more likeable then.

As for the structure of the movie, well, I'm glad that the plot was easy to follow.  However, it must be said that there is a very fine line between a montage and a music video. Treasure Planet does not know where that line is.

Favorite Character: Ugh. I guess Morph was cute-ish.
Least necessary character: Flatulence Alien.  WAY overused.  Mind you, this is coming from someone who is utterly utterly comfortable with her own bodily functions, so to say that FA was too much really ought to tell you something.
Overall: Read the book and culture yourself, because watching this movie sure won't.  Only for completionists.

Kevin's Treasure

Treasure Planet has a lot of good ideas going for it, but good ideas alone do not always a good movie make. I like the idea of John Silver being "updated" to have cyborg parts, his "bird" being a physical-and-audio mimic alien, the map being a... a whatever it was. There are many good ideas, but those ideas aren't used very well. In the book, Jim is warned of a one-legged man, and when John Silver, a man with one leg, comes into the picture, you figure, "Ah, hmm, that must be the guy." because you have a rough idea of how uncommon one-legged men are. In this movie, Jim's warned of a cyborg, and you see a cyborg guy, and...well you assume he's the guy because you figure that's what the movie's trying to tell you. But I find myself thinking at the back of my mind, "In this alternate science fiction fantasy, how common are cyborgs? There's all manner of aliens and such, and a lot of weird out-there technology, so maybe when Silver talks of so many other cyborgs around, it's not much of a stretch? As Amanda mentioned in the Atlantis review, when you want to use an incredibly fantastic fantasy world, the trick is in making the rules and history of that world clear near the beginning of the story. Treasure Planet latches us with a probably fascinating setting of a leash but yanks us with it, dragging us along non-stop while giving us a rushed tour of it all. At the climactic end Jim Hawkins seems to be done for as he falls down a pit on his jet board that he can't seem to be able to restart, but saves himself by reigniting it from the sparks of the wall and - well, even putting aside the Mythbusteretics of whether or not this could work this way... was I supposed to realize the thing worked on a fire ignition system? For all I know it was just a lawn mower type of start-up. Granted you need a fire somewhere to get a jet blast, but then again there's all of that glowing orb and portal technology that just exists and - well my point is, when he restarted his board, I think the movie expected me to think, "That Jim is clever and quick-witted! He figured out how to create the required sparks for his impromptu jet surfer under pressure!" but what I thought was, "How is he going to .. oh. I guess when he does that, the thing works that way."
And speaking of technology, isn't it funny the way things in the TP world are so advanced that people use holographic story devices and projection orbs instead of paper but haven't gotten past a more complex form of rope than...just plain ol' rope? And how the spaceship has the expense and technology to propel itself and create an artificial gravity but passes on any form of automated dish-washing system? It is funny, but in the sense that I hope it's intentionally meant to be funny. So maybe it's not all so bad if you look at it as a "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" or "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"-esque outrageous retelling. But even then I think I'd still even rather choose Tim Curry and Muppets.

Favorite character: The narrator. Heck, can't I just listen to Tony Jay read Treasure Island instead?
Least necessary character: Was there any helpful help provided by BEN that the others wouldn't have been able to do themselves?
Overall: Have you ever had someone describe a dream they just had the night before to you, with such excitement that you feel you should be excited for them about it too? But they're so excited that they include unnecessary details? And you can't quite find it as interesting as they seem to, even though you know the events of the dream should be exciting by their very nature? Treasure Planet is like that.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

D52 - Week 42 - Lilo & Stitch

Experiment K114

I cared much for this one.

Stitch is an interesting character, not just as a movie character, but as a merchandise character. I just find it interesting how often you see him on stuff. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, they've been around forever; that makes sense. Princesses, very understandable. Winnie the Pooh and friends, okay. Pixar characters. And then there's Stitch. It just seems odd because I never got the impression that the movie Lilo & Stitch was a huge enough breakaway everlasting hit that would warrant still seeing his face on stuff ten years later. But now that I've actually watched the movie in full, I do find myself with a strange desire to have some small representation of Stitch, like a keychain or something. Maybe a fluffy one. But that would be silly. No, a pin. That's more manly and grown-up.

The film just hits me in just the right ways from start to finish. There seems to be a running theme in this blog of deeming not-actually-princesses to be Disney Princesses, and it would be easy to do that here too. You still get a character who finds he* wants more in his life, and he ends up falling in love with the first person he meets (though despising the interest at first, which would be the thing to do for a couple of future Disney Princesses), it's just that in this case it's family love.

I love the character designs, from the inevitable far-out aliens to the cherubic humans. And the scenery does a great job of selling Hawaii as a place that people call home, whereas usually it's only seen in travel documents as a heavenly vacation spot. I mean, it still looks like a great place to be, but at least L&O acknowledges that the beaches can get crowded (unless you happen to have an alien to scare everyone away) and that you might see big dudes in tiny swimwear (at least Lilo can find appreciation in it). Try to find those things in the glossy brochure photos (big entertainer locals in swimwear do not count). And I'll always take cartoonish science fiction* over the straight-forward kind, because it makes it easier to overlook things like sound in space and how exactly all of the aliens besides Stitch were able to communicate with the Earthlings. And..was Stitch always able to understand English, and just not able to speak it well until learning it, or did he not speak much until the end because he was trying to learn, or...nope, no. I won't get into that.
I do love that I get to see the complete opposite of the alien-destroying-a-huge-city cliché. And the way playing against that cliché is a vital part of the plot itself. And the way the humor just happens to hit the sweet spot of my character-based humor sensibilities. It's a nice break to get characters who happen to be funny, rather than ones who come across as deliberately playing for laughs at the screen. And blending that humor with the moments that need to be taken seriously. I don't want to hype it up too much as to say it's a perfect movie, but it might just be an example of my perfect movie.

I'll go ahead and embarrass myself here. Bambi was sad, but...maybe because I knew what was coming, I wasn't terribly fazed. Dumbo, more depressing than tear-jerking. But Lilo & Stitch, man. Maybe it was because I didn't expect it to be that emotional (spaceships! creatures! hula dancing!), but it actually got to me. Lilo and Nani have a believable relationship and react to each other in an appropriately believable way. And even though I've had no outside experience with any experiment 626s, I'm strangely convinced that that's how one really would deal with his own emotions in that scenario. As odd as that sounds. So his struggle to find his Ohana is surprisingly compelling. It beat against the tear ducts, and I could've held it together, if not for that one line that broke my "I will not tear during a cartoon alien movie" barrier:
 "I hear you cry at night."
~stream~ OH GOD that's so sad. Why'd you have to go there, movie? He...he...I'm gonna need a moment.

~deep sigh~

So, how about that music, huh? The soundtrack isn't as all Elvisy as I was expecting it to be, not that it would necessarily be a bad thing if it was. Elvis Presley-heavy would still be better than, say, Phil Collins-heavy. Yeah, I should stop bagging on Phil Collins. But hey, how about that Alan Silvestri? That's pretty much the only thing left for the movie to seem tailor-made for me: Hire the guy who also did the soundtracks for four of my long-standing personal favorite movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Back to the Future trilogy. I feel like I should personally thank the producers for that, on top of everything else.

I was preparing to and hoping to enjoy this movie (based on what I already knew about it), and I was not at all disappointed - I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. If I had to come up with anything negative to say about it....hmmmm. How about....Nani's thighs are distractingly hefty.

Favorite character: How often have I voted for a title character? I feel like I should stitch some sort of counted cross stitch Stitch.
Least necessary character: I like David, but he doesn't get to do much.
Overall: Lilo & Stitch joins The Hunchback of Notre Dame in my D52 Movies I Wish I Had Seen Much Earlier list, though for different tonal reasons.

*He's called a "he" throughout, but if he's a completely unique species with no relatives, isn't Stitch basically genderless? Or does Jumba create his experiments with a gender in case he plans to breed them with other creations? I expect this is addressed in one of the sequels, none of which I have seen yet?
**By the way, I count Star Trek TOS as cartoony science fiction. Some of the time. But not the actual animated series. That's just hard to watch at all.

Amanda's Galactic Treatise

Lilo and Stitch falls very squarely in the unlikely winner category.  Recent Disney movies up until this point have been lackluster, without focus, confusing, forgettable and so forth, so thank goodness for Stitch, because it's the Disney Savior of this generation.  It's about darn time someone got around to making a movie that he or she would want to watch instead of trying to pander to the crowd.  I guess what this movie has going for it that the last handful of films did not is sincerity.

Suspend your disbelief enough to accept that aliens exist, can speak English, and are hiding among us and you open yourself up to a very giving and vibrant piece of work.  I'm thrilled that the makers brought Hawaiian culture to the masses in a way that wasn't so hokey and tourist mongering.  They really managed to make something interesting without being insulting to the native people and without going too far with the political correctness and so ending up incredibly bland (Pocahontas team, I'm looking at you!)

The tiny family of Nani and Lilo is believably represented and just as believably broken, and yet the hurt and confused love that they share feels as real as anything you would experience in real life.  Everyone can relate to the fear of uncertainty that Cobra Bubbles' presence represents.  And Stitch is as touched by Ohana as anyone who has ever felt loneliness could be. 

And yet as heavy as the themes are, there is somehow plenty of room for humor.  Pleakley's obstinate rule following is a bit of a joke at the expense of the government.  Stitch's Elvis impersonating feels to me like a good hard jab at pop culture's constantly changing (and yet still somehow static) view of "a model citizen." Even David as a cliche lovestruck kid is good for a few laughs.  And really, who doesn't get a good chuckle from a little bit of mayhem now and again.

It's such an off the wall idea that any summarizing I were to try and do would never do justice and be detrimental to my glowing recommendations so suffice to say that Lilo and Stitch is an excellent movie and you won't really know how good it is until you've seen it for yourself.

Favorite Character: Jumba Jookiba is the winner for me.  His voice was excellently cast and you can always rely on him to help you along with the story with a little talking to himself in his evil genius sort of way.
Least necessary character: Pudge the Fish.  I'm just not really convinced that he controls the weather at all.
Overall: Excellent in so many ways. It's beautiful to look at.  It's beautiful to listen to.  There is so much engaging story and all of it so precisely told without relying on a heavy handed story before bedtime around the fire. Insert an annoyed glare at Atlantis here.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

D52 - Week 41 - Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Kevin's Discovery

I didn't care much for it.

Amanda's Findings

Wow, Kevin, thanks for that stellar and concise review.

Well, I for one think there's a lot more to say here.  First and foremost, let us immediately bring to the forefront that Joss Whedon was one of the writers for this film/ TV-show-hopeful.  I can't personally say much this way or that about it because I really don't know a whole lot about Joss Whedon's body of work.  With the exception of Toy Story and Dr. Horrible, he doesn't mean a whole lot to me. However, I'm not so far gone from society that I don't recognize his name and know that it relates to a number of other outstandingly popular science fiction series. Atlantis itself feels to me like it would have been a fabulous TV series and here's why:

Atlantis is stuffed full of interesting characters with presumably rich backstories.  The downfall in my opinion is that it was in fact stuffed full.  There just isn't enough time in a film with this much exposition to dedicate to all the side characters.  Had this been a TV series from the start, there would have been no need to force character arcs into a quick set of 12 second bedtime stories.

Atlantis involves an entire society heretofore unknown to the rest of civilization.  This of course leaves a great deal of room to expand on the history, culture and way of life of the society to which we've been introduced.  A nice big handful of episodes would have been great, but as a movie it felt like the 4 minutes of cramming before a high school class that was having a big test.

Atlantis  included a lot of pop culture-y stylistic choices such as "hippie," "steampunk," and "Victoriana" which could easily have been used to death in hypothetical conventions in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.

But most of all, Atlantis had a rich, potentially interesting story with a lot of detail and it just didn't come across in the final film.  There just plain wasn't enough time to build up the kind of suspense that was needed for such a heavy piece of work.  You need a lot of time not only to tell the story in the first place but also for the audience to allow all that information to sink in.  I for one don't remember any of the names of any of the characters outside of Milo and Kida.  What I do remember: Fast Talking Black Guy, Dirty Man, Jim Varney, TNT Dude, Grandma Smokes, and Holy Freaking Huge Freaky Lips Latina.  Even the villians had potential considering for most of the film, you're kept mostly in the dark as to who is going to turn on the group.  It's pretty obvious, to tell the truth, but had this been a series, I suspect that it would have been a huge, ground-breaking, surprise in the season finale.

Shoot, you know what?  It all went by so fast, I don't really remember what DID happen! Something about flying fish cars and a lava pit and Kida was God? Bah, it's all a wash.

Favorite Character: I guess Milo, because I don't remember enough about the others.  I liked Grandma Smokes though.  She was just cliche enough to love.
Least Necessary Character: For the sake of a series, they all were pretty necessary.  For the sake of just one movie, All of the nick name side kicks could have gone and it wouldn't have affected the plot in the least little bit.  Seriously, anything they did could have been reassigned to the two villians.  Anything.
Overall:  I mean, it looks pretty, and it was a cool premise.  It just didn't gel.  All it boils down to is what Kevin said earlier.... I didn't care much for it.

BONUS:  For the record, Blind Chief of Atlantians was voiced by Leonard Nimoy.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

D52 - Week 40 - The Emperor's New Groove

Kevin's Groove
The best thing The Emperor's New Groove has going for it is that it's not Dinosaur. It is kind of funny, isn't it - both films were released in the same year, so there must've been a long overlap during which both were being made at the same time. One a "realistically" styled computer-animated story told straightly, the other a very VERY very cartoony hand-drawn feature-length Saturday morning cartoon done with only scant traces of seriousness at all. If I had to pick one over the other, I'd easily pick TENG, but it would be rather like choosing a handful of rock candy over a bowl of wilted lettuce.
It certainly looks a lot nicer. There are some fascinating character designs and animations, including the awkward way newbie llama Kuzco tries to walk. It's funnier, in the sense that there are some bits worth laughing at, and Dinosaur had none.
But there's this thing that they both have in common. I'll warn you. I'm going to ramble yet again!
Again, we get a character who is presented as a Bad Guy because...well, because she's the antagonist of the title character.  She does try to have Kuzco killed, and that does make her a bad person. However, to have a good reason to root for Kuzco to triumph over Yzma, you would have to ignore that one scene in which Kuzco himself has a guy killed. Yeah, when Little Adorable Piglet-voice Man is thrown from a tower window, it's played for laughs in a toon slapstick fashion, so you assume he'll be okay, but what bothers me is that you have to be consistent about this sort of thing. Because not too much later on, Kronk is seen being legitimately concerned when Kuzco is close to... also falling from a great height. There's no precision to the comparison since it's not clear just how high both of those heights are, but ... come on. If the frail old man was able to survive his collision from the sky onto the ground, I'm sure the young, healthy emperor will be fine when he hits the water. Or maybe this all makes more sense if you try the notion that Kronk is too stupid to realize you can't kill a cartoon character that way?
But even so, I actually don't see why Yzma is more evil than Kuzco is. Plotting to kill a guy isn't "worse" than casually having a guy killed, is it (Well, we'll let the Incan justice system sort out the degrees of murder involved)? Yzma is ... not the nicest person, personality-wise, but then again Kuzco was also a jerk. Really the only important difference is that we later find out that Kuzco is... not a complete jerk. But who's to say Yzma wouldn't have changed her ways had she not met Pacha herself and had to undergo a coming-of-age-new-buddies road trip, complete with cliché waterfall (I'll admit I do at least like that a joke acknowledges it being a cliché) and unreliable rope-bridge (there was something awfully familiar about that guy trying to cross a dangerously high broken rope-bridge with a llama... intentional homage, yes or no?)? And the lead-up to the climax of the movie suggested that there was something at stake for Kuzco to reach Yzma and reclaim his rightful place on the throne, but was there really? Maybe I missed it, but was there any indication of what would be different with Yzma in the emperor's place, other than the egotistical cosmetic changes

We also get an animal-transformation sequence that probably could've had a lot of potential for creativity and fun, but isn't played out anywhere near as well as the Merlin-Mim duel from The Sword in the Stone.

Anyway, I'm running out of time and might add to this later but Amanda has plenty to say anyway., so let me end mine for now with....
Favorite character: If you can't get Vincent Price for your comically weird "villain," get another 60s Batman series villain portrayer: Eartha Kitt!
Least necessary character:
Overall: A movie that tries too hard to be funny too often and occasionally succeeds is at least better than a movie that tries to be too seriously and emotional and fails completely.

Amanda's Groove

I'm so glad TENG became a Saturday morning cartoon series because that was clearly its calling.  The slapstick, the breaking of the fourth wall, the comic "villian" without a backstory,  the heavily stylized characters.  It just all fits so perfectly.

Now here I have to reference Kevin's post and voice my disagreement through the use of hoity toity theatrical blabbity.  There are a small handful of traditional conflicts that are recognized in classical theater and a few of them are as follows: Man vs. man, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Beast, etc.
I think the folly that Kevin has fallen under is the idea that this movie has a Man vs. Man plot in which Kuzco as the protagonist is pitted against Yzma as the antagonist.  To this I say nay-nay.  In reality, I think this falls somewhere in between Man vs. Self and Society vs. Man.  Kuzco's main problem isn't Yzma, because for three quarters of the movie he doesn't even know she's out to get him, his main problem is his own bad attitude as pointed out by Pacha (Society). Yzma is merely one of the plot devices providing convenient turning points for Kuzco's self discovery.

Turning points of course are any points within a story that change the situation or condition of the main character.  Turning points that Yzma and Kronk provide:  Turning Kuzco into a llama (changing his physical being); accidentally tossing him onto a cart so that he ends up with Pacha (changing his physical location and societal group); being overheard plotting his death (changing his emotional state); and so forth.

Even at the end when he's facing off against Yzma while trying to get the Essence of Human, it's all down to a conflict against himself as he decides between his personal desire to become human again and the societal correctness of saving his fellow man.

Most unfortunately this has become more of a lesson than a review.  Yet, it feels a bit like a compliment to the film.  While on the surface it's a slap-sticky, nonsense-filled, David-Spade-starring, piece of fluff, there is actually a lot of structure under the surface that gives it some sense and makes it oddly relate-able.  The terribly interesting character design makes it very watchable, and the music might not add a whole lot but it's not detracting either and Tom Jones is always good for a laugh.

Favorite Character: Yzma.  She's voiced by Eartha Kitt with every bit of camp that we loved her for as Catwoman and that take she gives the camera/Kuzco while Kronk talks to his shoulder angel/devil made me laugh out loud.
Least necessary character: Pacha's family.  I just don't think we needed his family at all to understand his plight of feel for him.  Plus those kids were a little bit insufferable.
Overall: Seems like a movie I would have hated, but I actually enjoyed.  But you don't have to take MY word for it!