Kung Fu Panda 3 Trailer Review

This is just the week of the animated trailer release! Today we got the Kung Fu Panda 3.

I may be in the minority on this one but I am not a fan of this trailer.  To me it is more of the same from Dreamworks.  A bloated celebrity voice cast, lots of lame jokes and cheap sentimentality.

Kung Fu Panda was charming with a solid script if not particularly original story (Basically the Ugly Duckling meets Karate Kid).  It had just enough humor and sweetness to carry the day and I enjoyed it.

I know some on this blog disagree with me but I thought Kung Fu Panda 2 was a significant upgrade.  Not only was the animation much better (some of Dreamworks best) but it ditched a lot of the humor for a pretty cool quest story.  The villain was very creepy and I loved the way we actually got to see the Furious 5 fleshed out.  Instead of being background for Po we saw why they were legends and got to get their personalities, weaknesses and strengths.  It was pretty fun.

So after that big step up to get a retread of the first one is a major letdown.  I mean how many times have we gotten the estranged son trying to bond with his Dad scenario…so much so they made fun of it in Toy Story 2.  I always try to have an open mind and it is just a teaser but my initial response was definitely not excitement for Kung Fu Panda 3.

Dreamworks why do you hate me!

Pixar Review 19: Cars

cars3Here we go to one of the more controversial Pixar entries.  A lot of people hate this movie.  A lot more people hate the sequel but we’ll get to that later.  I do not hate them.  They aren’t masterpieces but they aren’t total trash either.

Before I start the review I will give the same caveat I gave in my Planes: Fire and Rescue review- these movies are nutty.  I recently talked about turning your brain off in a movie.  Well, this is a movie where I kind of have to turn off my brain.  Why?  Well, let me give you an example of the kind of questions this world brings up.  So we have a world of all cars, no humans.  There are girl cars, boy cars, old cars, new cars.  How do cars procreate?  Are there baby cars that grow and morph into regular cars or do they emerge full size from some kind of car tree?

Wouldn’t a world of all cars be really polluted and would they really care?  They are cars.  Their blood is basically gasoline- the grossest, dirtiest product out there.  Also, who decides when they want to discontinue a car? Isn’t that kind of cruel?  There is a Model T in the movie so obviously some cars are repaired and others are left to die with no new parts (in Planes: Fire and Rescue they have discontinued his gear box.  I guess his number has been determined by someone to be up…very odd).

You get the idea.  If you start pulling at a string on this movie you will be down the rabbit hole in seconds.  It’s bizarre.  Who thinks of a world made entirely of cars?

Well, John Lasseter loves cars and he directed this movie.  And if you can see him through all the nuttiness there are some things to enjoy in Cars.

To begin with there is a young rookie car named Lightning McQueen who is cocky, brash and rude.  All the voicework is great in Cars including Owen Wilson as Lightning.  The opening race scene for the piston cup is so much fun.  It reminds me of going past the Indy 500 track every day on my mission.  They capture the feel of the races and I think the way they added the eyes and mouths work for the characters.  Compare them to the mouths and eyes for Thomas the Tank Engine and you will see what I mean.

Lightning feels he is too good for his sponsor Rusteze who make bumper ointment which again in this nutty world is a funny joke.  I also LOVE so  much that my favorite radio guys from Car Talk Tom and Ray are featured as the Rusteze spokespcars.  This is especially moving as Tom passed away last year and I miss hearing his voice every Saturday on my radio.  I hate cars and I loved Car Talk. There are a ton of cameos in Cars including racing greats like Mario Andretti.  As someone who lived near the Indy track that was a lot of fun.

cars8
Tom and his Dodge dart. RIP Tom from Car Talk

Lightning McQueen ends up getting lost on the way to California and ends up in historic Route 66.  This is the strongest part of Cars- the love letter to Americana, Main Street USA and Route 66.  It makes you want to get in a car and take a drive down an old highway and eat at an old diner.  It’s a part of America that has been forgotten and that is the true message of Cars. To not forget the America that made us great.cars6Anyway, he runs into a town called Radiator Springs and ends up damaging the road.  In order to be released the Judge orders he fix the road which will take a few days.  Meanwhile nobody at the track knows where he is or has a way to reach him.  (We also learn earlier that Lightning has no real friends but an agent who could care less).  So Lightning is forced to spend time with the yokels of Radiator Springs.

There is Sally the Porsche voiced by Bonnie Hunt. (Like I said all the voice work is great)

Paul Newman is Doc Hudson- a crochety old Hudson car.  George Carlin is a hippie VW camper van, and Tony Shalhoub from Monk (the man of every accent) is one of a set of Italians who dream of changing tires of a Ferrari.

cars7Cars has a huge cast so I could go on and on but the true co-star of the movie along with Lightning is Mater, the tow truck, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy.

I know some people hate Larry and hate Mater but I think he is sweet, loveable and innocent.  I really enjoy the character.  He’s so eager to please others and make friends.  That’s very loveable.  He even says his signature ‘get r done’ that Larry used to do on tour.  So I like Mater.  And I really like the friendship Lightning and Mater form.  It’s kind of a more simpleton version of Woody and Buzz. cars4

The plot to Cars is nothing we haven’t seen before.  Of course Lightning grows to love the cars of Radiator Springs and of course he is humbled and becomes a better person. That is all fine.  Where the movie is great is like I said in the homage and spirit of old time America and Route 66.  I love this segment when Sally and Lightning are driving on their date.  It’s so beautiful.

I also love this scene where Sally tells Lightning about what happened to Radiator Springs.  It’s the story of so many American towns and a great message for kids to learn about.  They need to know about the death of Main Street America and how things used to be.

Another special thing about Cars is how it uses music.  This is one of the few Disney movies I can think of that uses a soundtrack (Lilo and Stitch?) instead of an original score/songs.  I think this was because they wanted to pay homage to so many of the great songs about Route 66.  They are all lovely songs.  I’ve always found Rascal Flats Life is a Highway especially engaging.  If this song doesn’t make you want to tap your toes I don’t know what will!

There’s also a lovely numbers by Brad Paisley, James Taylor, Chuck Berry, Sheryl Crow, John Mayer and more.  I love the soundtrack!

As far as weaknesses there are problems.  As I’ve already said there’s the ridiculous world-building and the predictable rather saccharin story.  Also I must admit this watch-through I was surprised how long it is.  At nearly 2 hours I did find it wearing out its welcome.  I was bored for stretches where we get long segments with Doc, Lightning and Mater racing, repairing roads, talking and other scenes.  There is one bizarre scene where Lightning and Mater go cow-tipping with tractor cows (such a strange movie!).  This movie could easily have 30 minutes taken away and not suffer a bit.  In fact, it would be greatly improved.

But all that aside I do love the message of Americana and remembering our rich history of small towns, Main Street, and Route 66.  There are towns in America that the Interstate has made us forget but they were special places and we should remember them. Even the most flourishing of small towns are full of empty abandoned storefronts. I say this as someone who lives firmly in suburbia it is a real loss.   I loved all of that.  It also looks beautiful with vistas of red rock and sunsets.  I also liked the friendships built by Lightning, Mater, Sally, and others.  It’s a nice message for kids and the ending is very sweet.

Plus, I find Larry the Cable Guy funny so Mater is great comic relief.

It’s a mixed bag for me Cars and I didn’t like it quite as much this watch-through as I have in the past. But in the end these movies were made to entertain little boys without as much concern for crossover appeal as other Pixar movies.  And I have yet to meet a little boy that doesn’t love Cars.  Nothing wrong with that.

So my Overall Grade is= B-

Here’s the trailer

3 Animated Trailers

3 new animated trailers came out today.

There’s a new Peanuts trailer

It looks interesting although I worry they are making the characters too old.  I don’t picture Peanuts characters going to school dances and things like that.  What makes Peanuts funny is they are little kids thinking these deep contemplative thoughts.  That said, I like the style, voicework and I think it looks like a cute movie.

Then we got a new trailer for Hotel Transylvania 2

Adam Sandler is one of my least favorite people in entertainment but I enjoyed the first Hotel Transylvania.  It’s not that original but a cute fish out of water kind of story with some good jokes.  I think this new one looks even better with Mavis’ baby not being a monster and them having to move.  This makes Dracula upset and doing anything to keep them there.  It probably won’t be a masterpiece but I think it will be fun.

Finally we had a trailer for one that hadn’t been on my radar called The Secret Life of Pets.

This one does not look like my cup of tea.  It feels a little Toy Storyish but instead of toys its animals and those copycats have been terrible (need I remind you of last year’s Hero of Color City…).    And I think the whole pets are alive usually is a bad idea (think Cats and Dogs which is awful).  It could be like Over the Hedge which I thought was strong for first 20 minutes and then loses its way.  The voice performances look solid but the project looks tired, so I’m not looking forward to this one. This is also really long for a teaser trailer.

So which out of the 3 are you looking forward to most?  I would rank them 1. Hotel Transylvania 2, 2. Peanuts, 3. Secret Life of Pets

Pixar Review 18: Inside Out

inside out6Feeling a little emotional guys?  I am because I’m so happy at the amazing movie I just saw!  I LOVED Pixar’s latest movie- Inside Out.  I know it sounds like hyperbole but it may be my favorite Pixar movie.  Yes, it may even be better than my beloved Up.  I really believe that is true.

Inside Out is great in every way.  I loved the characters, world, humor, story, everything.  There is nothing I would change.  If you are expecting criticism in this review you will be sorely disappointed.

I am going to do my best to keep this review spoiler free.  My thought is to then go back in a couple of weeks, once most you have seen it, and post a spoiler review about the small details and goings-on of the plot.

Basically the story of Inside Out is about a girl named Riley (love that Pixar picked a girl).  She is a happy 11 year old who is still a little girl and hasn’t grown out of making monkey sounds with her Dad and being goofy.

inside out12Unfortunately Riley’s parents are moving her from her hometown of Minnesota to San Francisco, California.   This naturally brings up a lot of emotions for a young girl and in this movie those emotions look like…

inside out5In the world of the story our minds (not brains) are made up of a mission control of sorts that are run by our 5 emotions:

Joy voiced by Amy Poehler

Sadness voiced by Phyllis Smith

Fear voiced by Bill Hader

Anger voiced by Lewis Black

Disgust voiced by Mindy Kaling

All the voicework in Inside Out is first rate.  What I found so remarkable is these characters should be very one-note.  They are after all emotions.  This should make things very predictable, even grating, but they aren’t at all.  Sadness is an especially dynamic character and you come to realize that great relationship between joy and sadness in our lives. It’s brilliant.

inside out 17The world of the mind is not only staffed by emotions but also is the receptacle for all different kinds of memories.  The memories are little glass balls that glow with whatever emotion the memory entails (a happy memory being yellow for joy, fearful memory purple for fear etc).    There are also memories for data, long-term, short-term, even a hilarious joke of a song that you can’t get out of your head!

inside out8There are also core memories that are the most important for forming Riley.  Those core memories are then the supports for the personality islands.

inside out9Riley’s personality islands are goofball, honesty, family, friendship and hockey.  (I know this sounds complex but it really isn’t).

The 5 emotions are responsible for keeping all the memories in check, the islands floating, and making sure Riley is ok.  Unfortunately things go awry when the core memories are lost along with Joy and Sadness.  This creates a delightful parallel story between Riley who is all the sudden without the emotions to cope with this huge change and the journey of Joy and Sadness getting home and helping Riley.  Plus, Disgust, Anger and Fear have to try and manage Riley as best they can without Joy.

inside out 15
Riley speaking before her new class
inside out 10
Joy and Sadness lost in the department of long-term memory
inside out16
Anger, fear and disgust trying to keep things together.

Joy and Sadness end up going through imaginationland, as well as several other parts of Riley’s psyche and subconscious that I won’t spoil.  But along the way they meet an old imaginary friend of Riley’s called Bing Bong voiced by Richard Kind.  This was an unexpected, unpredictable and wonderfully dynamic character.

inside out11I’ll leave the rest of the plot for you to uncover on your own.  Let’s just say all the plot strands end up in an ending that is as good as the beginning of Up.  For real….

I cried, it made me think about my own emotions and feelings, and it made me laugh really hard.  Everything has layers in Inside Out including the jokes.  For example,  there may be a joke about the subconscious that may go over a kids head but anger getting red, fiery and steamed up will make them laugh- so something for everyone in nearly every scene.

One thing that Pixar does so well (and old school Disney did also) is take kids seriously and this movie does not ‘cutify’ Riley at all.  She is a real person with feelings and emotions that affect her family.  Seeing into her mind is the equivalent of seeing into her heart and it is a lovely place.  She is creative, different, normal and vulnerable.  We also get little peeks into the command centers of other characters.  They aren’t that different from Riley (again that respect for kids.  I love that).

inside out 14And like I said the ending is perfection.

From an animation standpoint it is stunning.  I loved the way the emotions were drawn so that they looked a little fuzzy at the edges, a little ephemeral. I think Riley and her parents are some of the best humans Pixar has done and the world with the memory globes is gorgeous.  There are scenes where we get into dimensions where the animation is astonishing and surprising and I loved the way they did the ‘memory dump’ and the almost charcoal like globes down there.

inside out4 The music by Michael Giacchino does the job but isn’t quite as good as the score for Up which is one of my favorites of all time.  It didn’t make me think of my Grandpa like Up did but I am thinking about what my core memories are.  We all have them.

And like I said all the voice performances are perfect.  The emotions should be one note and predictable but they aren’t.  Just like most emotions they are layered and complicated.

But again also very funny.  I laughed my head off.  I loved a scene where they found tiles of opinions and facts.  They get spilled and the conductor tells them ‘they often get mixed up”.  That’s the kind of humor we get all over the place (or pizza being on broccoli!).

Very rarely do I see a movie more than once in a theater.  The last time I did was Perks of Being a Wallflower, which is a top 10 movie for me (I saw it 3 times in a week…).  I guarantee you I will see Inside Out at least 4 times in the theater and will pre-order it on blu-ray as soon as I can.  I LOVED it.  I couldn’t wait to see it and now I can’t wait to see it again.

Your kids will love it.  You will love it.  It’s one of the greats.   This will definitely be my favorite movie of the year.  I can promise you that.

Overall Grade- A+

Here is my youtube review

Pixar Review 17: Lava

lava2Today I got the chance to see the new Pixar movie Inside Out and I was not in the least disappointed.  You’ll hear more about that in the next post.  But let’s not let my enthusiasm for Inside Out allow me to forget the delightful little short they had before the feature film called Lava.

Directed by James Ford Murphy Lava is a simple short that is a love letter to Hawaii and Hawaiian music (you know I will love that!).   The artwork in Lava is gorgeous.  We get wide swooping shots of both the Hawaiian mountains and the beautiful ocean.  We see whales jumping up out of the water and everything sounds so peaceful and serene.

lava3As we dive in closer we see that the volcano has a face and we learn he is singing a  Hawaiian song.  The volcano named Uku is voiced by Kuana Torres Kahele and the song he sings is a sweet plea to the Island Gods to allow him to find the love he see’s all around him.  I love Hawaiian music so that was great!

lavaI like that the volcano looks like a jolly old soul but he kind of reminds me of Jabba from Return of the Jedi!

Luckily his song is heard by another volcano but it is buried deep in the ocean. The female volcano is named Lele and she begins singing her own song to Uku. It’s a peaceful lovely duet.

lava4Like I said this isn’t one of their more groundbreaking shorts but I did enjoy it.  Anytime I can look at Hawaii, hear Hawaii, think about Hawaii I’m a fan.  It’s a sweet little love story.  Can’t go wrong with that.

Overall Grade- B

Pixar Review 16: One Man Band

one man band3This week is going to be a little strange as far as my Pixar reviews.  I am going to be seeing Inside Out tomorrow along with the animated short Lava.  This means I will have both of those reviews out of order (I’m not waiting to post about it! There’s no way!).  So I will post about One Man Band today and then Inside Out tomorrow and maybe Lava depending on how long it takes me.  Definitely by the end of Wednesday (I also have to make videos at the same time. Phew!).

I have watched Cars but am not sure when I will post about it.  So just bear with me friends as we are a bit out of order this week!

One Man Band is a Pixar short with a ton of charm and some similarities and differences to the previous shorts.  I must admit to be a little let down after Boundin’ had narration to get another short that feels like a silent film.  It’s very similar to the rest of the Pixar shorts in that regard.  It also has a similar plotline to For the Birds and Knick Knack where the cocky guy (or guys in this case) gets their just rewards in the end.  So in that sense it isn’t very creative.

But in another sense it is creative.  It is the only second short using human characters and the first to be set in the past (Medieval times). It also uses music the most effectively (as an actual character in the story) of any of the shorts.  The music is written by Michael Giacchino who would go on to do the music for Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Cars 2 (and the recent Jurassic World). I think it is one of his best arrangements.

In the sound design it reminded me of Tin Toy which also features a one man band but in the form of a toy. one man band4One Man Band is about a little girl who is going to put a coin in a fountain and make a wish.  She then see’s a man who has a one man band he is carrying around.  This includes a tuba, piano, drum, clarinet, and more. He of course wants desperately for the girl to give him the money instead of throwing it down the fountain.

one man bandBut just as he is about to get the coin we hear the sound of a violin. The little girl looks around and see’s another One Man Band guy who’s get up is more strings oriented with violins and other instruments.  I’ve never seen a one man band like this before and it is very fun especially when all the violins expand and play.

one man band7This guy seems a little more cut-throat than the other one who is more good natured.  I like how the guy is literally inside the mandolin (or whatever that instrument is).

The two start battling each other with music to try and win the little girl over and get her coin. This is just amazing sound work and music as it isn’t just a jumble of sounds but 2 distinct ‘bands’ battling it out.  It is never in doubt what sound is coming from which man.

one man band2Naturally as is the case with most competition things get a little out of control and they end up making the little girl drop her coin and she becomes angry. It’s really cute.

one man band5Well, it turns out our little girl might not be as hard up as we thought and she has a whole bag of coins and she makes her will known throwing coins in the fountain and making the men chase the coins.   It turns out she can even play the violin pretty well too.

one man band8So like I said there are some things about this short that make it very excellent- mainly the sound mixing and music.  They are first rate.  It also looks fine and has some of the clearest humans Pixar had done (look at the knuckles and wrinkles on the finger of the girl.  She is much less pasty than other human characters Pixar had done).   As most of the short is about music, it being the strength means the short is pretty good. And it is a very funny cute little story.

I guess I just wish there was dialogue or a narrator more of a story like we saw in Boundin’, but it is still an entertaining short, which will make you smile.

Overall Grade-  B+

So ready to go to Inside Out! I can hardly contain my excitement!

Why Fs are Important

Why a C isn’t a failure and why an F grade is actually important, even for movie reviews. I wrote this on my regular blog but talk a lot about my movie reviews here on the Disney blog. A C my friends is not an F! A C is an average movie that had a lot I enjoyed or it would have been a D or F. And please read the reviews don’t just look at the grades. There are very few movies I don’t have something nice to say. It’s part of being a fan of something to allow for occasional failures, some average, some good and some masterpieces. I need all of the grades 🙂

Smilingldsgirl's Weblog

f-school-letter-grade2“If you’re not failing every now and then, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative” Woody Allen.

I don’t say this often but I completely agree with Woody Allen on this one!  The last few weeks I’ve been thinking about grades and how we assess things and people in our culture.  On my movie blog https://54disneyreviews.wordpress.com I give a grade at the end of the review.  This can be anywhere from an A+ to an F.  Up until this point I have only given 7 Fs out of close to 250 reviews I’ve done.

Since I’m sure you are curious the 7 Fs are-  Chicken Little, Brother Bear, Dinosaur, Road to El Dorado, Maleficent, Ghost of Girlfriends Past, and The Lorax.  These are movies which I think are complete failures.  Ds on the other hand I didn’t like but I found some things to enjoy so it isn’t…

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Turn Your Brain Off?

turn brain offToday I found myself thinking about big budget studio movies (intended blockbusters).  Typically if I am anywhere on the ‘it’s ok’ to ‘I hated it’ track I will hear “why can’t you just turn your brain off and like the movie?”.  The answer is that I can turn my brain off- kind of.

I can be entertained by a stupid movie.  For example, Furious 7 I gave a B and that is a definite turn your brain off movie.  Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift on the other hand would get a D and I was not able to turn my brain off for that one. What’s the difference?

I don’t know…

Why did Amazing Spiderman 2 drive me nuts but Guardians of the Galaxy dazzled me?  On an individual level I can explain it.  AS2 was cluttered, poorly written and felt like it wasn’t trying to make a good movie just preparing for the sequel.  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone were pretty good but I found Jaimie Fox to be unconvincing as a villain and nothing else engaged me in the story.

Guardians in contrast is about a group of vigilantes who each have a backstory that is interesting, with good writing, small nods and puzzle pieces to the MCU, great music, and likable characters. It has a lot of smaller roles that are done very well with great actors like John C. Reilly, Glen Close and Benicio Del Torro.  I also loved Gamora and Nebulla and felt their stories had real heart (as well as Starlord and his mother).    It was something new and different and very funny too.  For me it had enough layers to not be a ‘turn off your brain’ movie but again a space opera adventure mystery.

I don’t want to get too bogged down on individual movies but that’s just an example of why one version I could enjoy and another didn’t work.

I know a lot of the turn off your brain movies I don’t like don’t deliver what they are promising.  Lone Ranger for instance was sold as a fun Western movie . We knew the show and wanted something like Mask of Zorro with Antonio Banderas.  Instead we got a tedious story of unlikable characters arguing. It’s also insanely long and the attempts at humor fall flat.  It was a brutal time at the movies.

Furious 7 on the other hand worked because it has likable characters, it never stops with the silly action and the humor works.  It never takes itself too seriously.  In contrast, the Transformers movies have action that is supposed to be epic but feels plodding, terrible dialogue, unlikable characters, pointless explosions and it feels so long.  It wears out my patience.

I think the key is the pacing, likable actors, new special effects, and not too much that is cringe-worthy.  I can ignore some bad dialogue or plot holes but give me bad dialogue, plot holes and be 3 hours long you are pushing it.  I could ignore a lame romance or cliched character but give me lame romance, cliched characters and boring special effects or bad dialogue forget it.

A movie like Jurassic World has just enough of the likable aspects for me to give it a pass but not enough for me to LOVE it like some people.

It’s like I have some kind of scale in my brain where I tick off good things and bad things and overall I walk away either liking it, thinking its ok, or loving it.  Here’s what I came up with:

good-badThat’s the best I can think of to explain why some movies work for me and others don’t.  It can have the silliness.  It can have items on both sides of this chart but when it tips the balance on the left side and not enough of the right it’s a problem.

So I’m not really turning off my brain but ignoring my brain.  I’m certainly aware of all the bad things in a movie.  My brain knows the flaws of a film (no perfect movie) but there’s enough good things to still be entertained, even enamored with a movie.

What do you guys think?  Can you turn off your brain for a movie?  What’s the factor in allowing that to happen and not?  What would you have on your chart? What’s a turn off your brain movie you like and one you hated?