The Art of Finding Dory Review

While I am happy vacationing in Spain the first 2 weeks of July I thought it would be fun to post a couple of reviews of animation art books I own. If you don’t have an art book it’s pretty self explanatory. It’s a book that explains and shows the art behind a particular film. These are not limited to animation (Marvel, DC and Star Wars for example have them) but all that I own are. I might not be quite as quick to respond to comments as I usually am on these art book posts because I will be gone. Have patience with me and I hope you enjoy them!

The first book we are going to look at is from the most recent animated release, Finding Dory.  It is the Art of Finding Dory.

P1500021It’s kind of interesting because this art book has a preface, introduction and forward. The preface is by John Lasseter and he talks about the first time Andrew Stanton pitched Finding Nemo (“You had me at the word fish”) and then Finding Dory (“Nemo had as its canvas the entire ocean, but Dory expands that world even more…where even the plainest quarantine tank is lit by intricate caustics of light playing along its walls and floors). That emphasis on light and how it was used by the artists is a big theme of this art book.

The forward by director Andrew Stanton is quite moving. It shows the emotional connection he had to Dory from get-go. He says “Dory was  lost. Most people overlook that fact…You see, Dory was looking for her family, too, only she had forgotten that fact. Dory had been lost for years, no knowing where or when that tragic separation occurred. I’ve always wanted to believe every audience member sensed that longing in her- that a fish with short-term memory loss, wandering the ocean alone, couldn’t truly be happy”. I know feel thoroughly guilty for never thinking that much about Dory- the poor fish! I’m so glad Andrew Stanton told her story because clearly he was very moved by it and it shows in the finished film.

Finally, the introduction by author Steve Pilcher, pencil and marker man on Finding Dory, shares his perspective on the design of Finding Dory. “The way shapes, color and light worked together to support the intent and focus of a shot became a carefully coordinated balance from sequence to sequence, shot to shot”.

You can tell The Art of Finding Dory is written by a technician like Pilcher because it is very technical but I found that fascinating.

The first part of the book is all about the production design. They focused a lot on lighting and how the ocean illuminates things differently than on the land/tank sequences.

P1500022I really liked pages that showed the sketching process to making Finding Dory.

P1500027They then have tons of information on character design for both small and larger characters.

P1500025Next we get tons of storyboards showing the evolution of the film’s story. I love looking at storyboards. It reminds me there are men and women actually drawing this stuff!

P1500028Finally we get to see the layout of the Marine Life Institute and all the small details from the flags, maps and signs.

P1500032They designed everything for the park- even stuff you don’t really see like the Kidzone bag you see above. That’s so cool!

P1500029If you liked Finding Dory then I think you will definitely like the Art of Finding Dory. It’s beautiful to look at but very enriching as well. I learned a lot about computer animation and the Pixar brainstorming process.

Let me know if you get to check it out what you think. Thanks!

Legend of Tarzan Review

Today I had the chance to see the new Legend of Tarzan film, and I must admit to being pretty disappointed by it. Most people will say this is better than Independence Day: Resurgence and they are right but so much of our enjoyment of a film goes down to our expectations. It’s not that I was expecting Tarzan to be great but I was expecting it to be a Tarzan movie.  What do I mean by that? To me a Tarzan movie has a man raised by apes flying through the jungle swinging on vines and falling in love with Jane. With Independence Day: Resurgence I expected a dopey alien movie with destruction and that’s basically what I got. My expectations were not similarly satisfied by Legend of Tarzan.

In fact, we get probably under 5 minutes of Tarzan swinging on vines through the jungle and never once with Jane. In this version of the story he is buttoned up in stiff suits and colors until well into the movie and he is already married to Jane from the beginning.  You get to see a little bit of how they met but never any romantic jaunts through the jungle.  Is that too much to ask in my Tarzan movie?

Instead you get basically a jungle war film. There is a tribal leader played by Djimon Hounsou who has a grudge against Tarzan. . This particular leader guards valuable diamond mines that Christoph Waltz wants to get his hands on.  He makes a deal to lure Tarzan to Hounsou for a trade of diamonds. Jane played by Margot Robbie insists on coming along with Tarzan and ends up getting abducted by Waltz.

Then Tarzan and Samuel L Jackson’s George Washington Williams’ character must save Jane.  There are lots of battles, some of them quite violent.  I wouldn’t recommend it to kids.

Alexander Skarsgard could make a good Tarzan but we literally don’t see him with his shirt off until about 30 minutes into the film and even it’s for purposes of conflict and war.  There’s little to no joy or fun in the picture. Samuel Jackson gets a few laughs but that’s about it.

The movie does look nice and the cast has decent chemistry but it’s just not what you want in a Tarzan movie. And Christoph Waltz isn’t good as the evil Captain Leon Rom.  He must be great in those Tarantino films because every movie I’ve seen him in he’s been very bad. He’s definitely the worst 2 time Oscar winner I’ve ever seen.

The special effects are amazing throughout and I didn’t hate it but it wastes a lot of potential. In a way it kind of reminds me of Man of Steel.  That wasn’t my Superman movie and this isn’t my Tarza movie. I think it is going to be a big bomb for Warner  Brothers and why on earth did they spend $180 million on a dark and gritty Tarzan  movie? It makes no sense.

Overall Grade- C (on the video I gave it a C+ but I’ve changed my mind!)

Upcoming Trip

mickey travelingHey guys! I just wanted to give you all a quick update on what is going to be happening the next 3 weeks.  Tomorrow I will see the new Tarzan movie and post a review. Then on Wednesday I am going to Spain to visit my sister.  I will be in Spain until the 11th! If you want to find updates on the trip follow my social media @smilingldsgirl (facebook, snapchat, twitter, instagram) and my personal blog I should post at least a couple of times on that blog of my adventures (it’s going to be a lot of beaches).

However, never fear! I am not leaving you or my youtube channel high and dry! I have worked really hard to have content ready while I’m gone on my youtube channel including my weekly family movie night and Disney Canon reviews on Wednesday. Here’s a little update!

And then for this blog I am really excited to be featuring a bunch of animation art book reviews!  This will be something different for my blog and I’m excited for you to read these.

OneDrive53Obviously I am going to be out of the country so if I don’t respond to comments as quickly as I normally do please don’t be offended.  I will do my best.

Also I will not be reviewing BFG and other films I would normally watch until well after I get back home.  I will do my best to play catch up when I get back.

Thanks so much and I hope you are having a great summer.  Are you taking any vacations this summer? Let me know what you are doing that is fun! Take care!

Independence Day: Resurgence Review

indep day resurgenceSo I had the chance to see the Independence Day sequel today and I will be very curious to read what you’all think of the film- especially if you are a big fan of the original. I left feeling like it was just ok. It’s not horrible but it’s not great either. Here’s my review on youtube:

However, recently I rewatched the first one and was honestly a little disappointed. It’s not as good as I remembered it. It ends well but the first hour and 45 was a lot of standing around staring at screens and talking. It was more boring than I remembered and the explosions felt more repetitive than I recalled. It’s not awful but it was a bit of a letdown on the rewatch.

Anyway, I went into this sequel with pretty low expectations. I just wanted to be moderately entertained and I’d say it kind of achieved that standard. There’s attractive people and some decent special effects. Jeff Goldblum is good and there are moments that are dumb fun.

Unfortunately for me it all felt a little forgettable and silly but not necessarily in a good way.  It just was ok. The acting is ok. The special effects are ok. The story is ok. It’s probably the kind of movie that will make a decent cable watch on a Saturday but not worth the $20 ticket price some have to pay these days. But like I said it’s not awful so if you are bored and need something to do you could do worse.

indy day2-2The story recalls a lot of elements from the first movie but none really stand out.  Like in this film there are multiple scenes where the band of pilot brothers fight the aliens like the Grand Canyon scene in the original and they are all fine but nothing special.  There are at least 2 scenes where a president or former president makes a speech and they are fine too.

One odd thing is characters are eliminated without much mourning or sense of loss in the script. Also certain characters try to provide comic relief and fail miserably. The romance is also very bland.

indy day 2I don’t want to spoil things but certain moments with the aliens are extremely silly, and I guess that is fun. There are actually different aliens they interact with which I thought was kind of clever and interesting. You see a lot more of the aliens this time around than in the last. You also get a little more explanation of why they are doing what they do.

The destruction is very intense this time around but you expect that in Independence Day movie. I guess I struggle a little bit with these kinds of scenes in a post 9/11 world. They just aren’t fun for me any more but that’s just me.

They also try to get you to believe Vivica A Fox goes from exotic dancer to doctor in between the two movies which seems like a stretch. The special effects in a scene with her are especially bad. Also the actor who plays Will Smith and her son, Jessie Usher, isn’t very good and certainly doesn’t have near the charisma as Will Smith. Liam Hemsworth is ok.

It’s a fine movie but not a good one. I can see having fun with it and I did have some dumb fun but it’s forgettable. Let me know what you think if you see it- especially if you are a big fan of the original. That’s just kind of my jumbled thoughts on this one!

Overall Grade- C

Best and Worst of 2016 So Far

So we have hit the half way point of the year and it seems appropriate to look back and say what is my favorite and least favorite films so far. I did a video on youtube about it that I would love if you check out.

But here are my best and worst lists

best of 2016 so far2


  1. Zootopia- still most creative film I’ve seen this year. Sure the metaphor has some flaws but I think most fables do if you nitpick them. Fables are used to teach lessons to children and I think this is as close to a modern new fable we’ve ever gotten. I loved Judy Hopps as a character and her bond with Nick. I thought the mystery was great and the world building stunning. Plus, a lot of hilarious laughs too!
  2. Sing Street- the movie that made me smile the largest and that I immediately wanted to force everyone around me to see. A coming of age story of a teen in Ireland in 1985 who forms a band to impress a girl. Completely charming and witty with great music. I loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it.
  3. Love and Friendship- a deliciously saucy take on Jane Austen. Great writing and direction by Whit Stillman. Lady Susan is kind of a Jane Austen anti-hero and her manipulation of others was so much fun to watch. Costumes, production design and acting all fantastic
  4. Finding Dory- Pixar’s latest charms and improved upon the second watch. Great message about the unique gifts of those with disabilities but also quite possibly Pixar’s funniest movie. And it looks fantastic of course.
  5. Everybody Wants Some!- another fantastic period piece by Richard Linklater. More R-rated than I typically go for but I loved spending time with these crazy boys! Amazing performances and great soundtrack also.
  6. April and the Extraordinary World- bold steampunk 2D animated film about a girl who is searching for her parents. It was unlike any other film I’ve ever seen. The animation captures the tone and feel perfectly. Its just refreshing and suprising.
  7. Captain America: Civil War- a fantastic pay off of the arcs we’ve seen grow from both Tony and Steve. One has learned to fear control. Another has learned to embrace its protection. Friendships are tested, people are betrayed and some awesome action goes down. I can’t imagine not being entertained by this film.
  8. Presenting Princess Shaw- a heartwarming documentary about a girl who makes youtube videos of her singing and an Israeli man who finds her singing and shares it with the world. If you ever feel depressed about the internet this is the movie to watch. It shows the benefits of this crazy interconnectivity we all have. Sometimes we can help dreams come true.
  9. 10 Cloverfield Lane- I’m not normally a horror person but this was so well done. John Goodman is very scary and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is fantastic. She’s not a stupid shrieky female from a horror movie. She’s smart and the screenplay kept me guessing. I didn’t hate the ending like some did.
  10. Midnight Special- Jeff Nichols plunges right into the heart of this scifi film. No exposition or lead up. No we are immediately in the story. I loved how it showed the different types of belief and how it affects each person’s behavior.
  11. Eddie the Eagle- if you are having a bad day this is the movie to watch. It will make you feel good and give a big smile on your face. Being a huge Olympics junkie I loved Eddie’s crazy story. All the performances are great and the ski jumping scenes are compelling enough.
  12. The Abolitionists- fantastic documentary about project underground which stages operations to free children from sex trafficking. It’s not a dry documentary but you see these operations and some fail, some work and it is nerve wracking and exciting to watch. Heroic what these men and women do.
  13. Kung fu Panda 3- it seems like most aren’t as high on this film as I am but I loved it. I thought it was the best of the 3. It combines the comedy of the first with the action of the second. Plus, the animation is stunning. It’s some of Dreamworks best.
  14. Jungle Book- I liked this movie but I’m definitely not as high on it as everyone else seems to be. I thought it got a little slow in the middle and the songs didnt  work; however, the visuals are amazing and I really like how they made Mowgli a more dynamic, less whiny character. The ending is so much better than original film
  15. Only Yesterday- this is half a great film for me. I enjoyed it but for Studio Ghibli I was expecting a little more. Particularly the parts with the adult girl felt false and preachy to me but the kids stuff I loved. And of course I always love Takahata’s animation.

worst of year so farWORST OF THE YEAR

  1. Do-Over- Adam Sandler does it again with a film I had to watch in batches just to get through it. He’s so annoying in this movie as a man who cons his friend played by David Spade into faking their deaths and starting over in Puerto Rico. It’s offensive, disgusting and worst of all not funny.
  2. Mother’s Day- Another offensive film that tries to get a laugh out of a woman calling a man a ‘towel head’. Maybe a sharper comedy could make that work but not here. None of the plotlines are given enough time to be interesting and the performances aren’t great. Worst of all it didn’t say anything insightful or funny about mothering, motherhood or mother’s day!
  3. Norm of the North- I know animation is hard to do so I try to be forgiving but it is really hard with Norm of the North. The characters are inconsistent. The plot is inane. The animation is awful. The story is tired and preachy. It’s awful.
  4. Me Before You- should be an innocent little romantic tearjerker but when you throw in an acceptance of assisted suicide by someone who does not face an imminent death than I have a problem. The movie and book expect us to celebrate this choice but it doesn’t work because the character isn’t given enough choice for the choice to feel valid. For example, he’s not given any mental health care or counseling or shown any other way to live his life. It’s very offensive ableist nonsense. Plus, the lead is a manic pixie dream girl we’ve seen a thousand times. Snore.
  5. The Choice- more incompetently made than Me Before You but it didn’t really offend me. It’s funny because it is called the choice but the character actually doesn’t make the choice. It’s dopey romantic tearjerker but everything was badly done down even to the makeup which looked heavy and caked on at times.
  6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2- what a letdown because I LOVE the original. This not only repeats all the jokes of the original but does it 3 or 4 times till I was rolling my eyes. The big family shenanigans were way over the top and the acting was surprisingly poor. So disappointing.
  7. Bling- I reviewed this for here. The animation is actually pretty good but the message is so strange. It’s all about getting the biggest ring to propose to girls even if in one case they have no intention of marrying the character at all. The focus on materialism in a movie clearly aimed at very small children I couldn’t get over.
  8. Warcraft- one of the worst fantasy movies I’ve ever seen. I was bored in the Hobbit movies but at least the narrative made sense. I had no idea here who was fighting who, what their names were, what the rules of the portal or fel was…There is no lead protagonist or central villain making things muddled. There is this pool that I didn’t understand. I guess this is just for the fans because I thought it was awful
  9. Alice Through the Looking Glass- I was not a fan of the 2010 film and this may be worse. It’s a bit brighter but that’s about it. The time travel story is generic at best. Everything is based on this deep relationship between Alice and the Hatter and I never felt that. And it all comes down to a lie over tarts which when you think of all the apocalyptic horrors in last film and destruction in this it is so absurd.
  10. Ride Along 2- I didn’t like the first Ride Along and they didn’t improve upon it here. Kevin Hart is very annoying in this and the story is from a rejected episode of Miami Vice.
  11. The 5th Wave- another young adult dystopian borefest. I hate these kind of movies and this was grim without any interesting characters or new storyline. It’s just really boring and predictable.
  12. Saturday’s Warrior- for the Mormon audience only. Poorly made and acted but some good songs for the faithful. That’s about all it has going for it. Extremely cheesy.
  13. God’s of Egypt- I can’t believe this is this high on the list but darn it all if it didn’t make me laugh. A so bad it’s good situation but make no mistake this ridiculous CG fest is very, very bad. The plot makes no sense, the acting is awful but it is just over the top enough to be funny.
  14. X-Men Apocalypse- what a huge letdown after Days of Future Past. Honestly I don’t understand what other people saw in this film. It’s fractured and no characters are sufficiently developed. The horseman agree to follow Apocalypse without any real explanation. The final battle is bland and boring. I hated Apocalypse as a villain and most of the plotlines we’ve seen in 8 other X-Men movies. It’s a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Honestly it reminded me of the 3rd Transformers movie and I’m a huge X-Men fan so that’s depressing to say
  15. Zoolander 2- I didn’t hate this movie but it isn’t good either, but I don’t love the first Zoolander. There are some funny cameos that got me laughing but it also can be very boring and silly

So there you have it. The best and worst of 2016. What would be your list? To see where other movies fall in my ranking check out my letterbox account.

Pixar 37: Finding Dory (Spoiler Review)

Ok I figure most everyone has given their normal non-spoiler review at this point so I’m going all spoilery! I’ve seen Finding Dory twice and am ready to dissect and talk about more subtle messages and meaning behind our watery tale. Do not read this review if you have not seen the movie. If you want to know my thoughts watch my youtube review which is non-spoilery (I gave it an A, which on a second watch I might move down to A-).

Now we get all spoilery. You’ve been warned.

finding dory4There are a lot of ways to enjoy Finding Dory. My first watch-through I loved it as a film about a special needs fish and quite possibly Pixar’s funniest film. It’s right up there with Monsters Inc as Pixar film with the most jokes per square inch of screen time. But as I am want to do I dug deeper at some of the more subtle messages in the film. I even pondered on a connection between it and another popular Pixar film that may make Finding Dory more thoughtful than just a silly comedy.

Let’s start by talking about what we know about Dory going into Finding Dory. Obviously she has short-term memory problem. That’s clear in Finding Nemo but what is also clear is how her memory is aided by being around Marlin. Clearly love, support and a continuing presence helps with her memory.  She even remembers “P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney” from almost the minute that she is around Marlin. It is then no surprise that being with Marlin and Nemo for a year her memories would continue to improve and that’s what we get at the start of Finding Dory. We also learn that Australia is a much more lush and clean area than where she grew up…

finding dory 11Dory has some flashbacks of her parents and herself as a baby fish. Her parents are warm and nurturing- trying their best to raise their daughter and keep her safe.  Dory tells Marlin she must go and find her family and to be honest this surprised me at first. Dory has a family for all intensive purposes already with Nemo and Marlin but she feels a need to find her birth family anyway. With what we see later on in the film I wonder if as soon as she thought of them she was immediately struck with a sense of worry for her family and that is the reason she must hunt them down?

finding dory crushWe get a nice little visit from Crush which is basically the only real speaking part of Finding Dory from Finding Nemo. A lot of people were disappointed by that but I was glad they gave us new characters.  One of the things the film does well is it forgoes the linear storytelling of Nemo in return for a more bumpy narrative. What I mean by that is instead of having one goal and then Marlin finding a friend to carry him through that goal as in Finding Nemo, in Finding Dory, Dory is often alone and confused with what to do. Then she meets one character who helps her a little bit and then another and another. Again, I think there could be a subtle meaning in all of these characters that one solitary companion wouldn’t have shown.

So with Crush’s help they get to California and are at the Marine Life Institute.  This is where we get into the meat of my analysis. The first thing that struck me is how polluted the water around the institute is. Dory even gets stuck in a 6 pack can plastic holder.

dory polutionIsn’t that strange that the water by a marine life institute which supposedly focuses on conservation and saving fish would be so polluted? If we look at the water it looks dirty and gross.

finding dory oceanThen there are two unique things about the Marine Life Institute that stand out. First, the voice of Sigourney Weaver welcomes visitors to the institute. She says “welcome to the Marine Life Institute where we believe in rescue, rehabilitation and release”.  There’s a lot of fishy (pun intended) things going on with this statement and institute but the biggest is where do we also hear Sigourney Weaver’s voice in a Pixar film? Why she is the voice of the Axiom computer in WALLE! Now tell me there is not a double meaning behind that!

axiom walleNow let’s think about what Axiom does. It lulls humans into an acceptance of an imprisoned, satiated life. It is only when the Captain realizes all the breadth and depth of human experience that he revolts against the Axiom and we get the second half of the film. (That’s why I don’t get people who dislike the second half of WALL-E. It’s an amazing awakening for the Captain and the people. I love it!)

I can see some of that same behavior here in Finding Dory. If we think about the largest building at the institute has Quarantine written right on the side.  What happens at quarantine? Not really catch and release like they say. The fish are imprisoned in aquariums and sent off to Cleveland where guess what there is no ocean!

finding dory 12And not only that but what have they succeeded to do? They have convinced Hank, our sentipus friend that he desperately needs to go to Cleveland and that the open water is a bad place. It doesn’t sound like the kind of place that is living up to their mission statement! Also, why is Hank missing a tentacle? That seems a little suspect too.

finding dory9It’s also interesting that all of the marine life immediately agree to help Dory, Marlin and Nemo. If they were in such a great, loving place you’d think they would be resistant to helping.Dory’s parents also set up their home outside of the institute when really to find Dory it makes more sense to go back into the exhibit. I get now why there is no villain in Finding Dory because the INSTITUTE is the villain!!! (Just like in Wall-e)

finding dory homeI think at the very least the Marine Life Institute is a sham! They aren’t releasing fish back into the ocean. In fact, I don’t know if they are even rehabilitating them at all.  Think about Dory. She is taken from the water, given a tag and immediately going to be sent off to Cleveland. That seems strange! There doesn’t seem to be anything happening in quarantine but people overly concerned about the missing octopus, making coffee and coordinating the trip to Cleveland.

finding dory8When Dory has to convince Hank to leave the truck it reminded me a lot of Woody talking to Jesse in Toy Story 2. She has been manipulated to accept a life of imprisonment by Stinky Pete. Woody tells her ‘wouldn’t you give anything to be played with by Emily once again?’.  It’s a similar speech from Dory. Yes, the ending is very silly with an octopus driving a truck but it has a new tension to it when you see it as a desperate escape from a compound!

finding dory destiny and baileyWe also have Destiny and Bailey who are interesting characters.  They are very sweet and funny but they clearly are not being rehabilitated by the institute. In fact, they are just as convinced of their frailties as Hank. Is that not what Axiom would do? It’s Axiom’s voice telling them they are ok and cared for rather than it actually being true.

getting homeHere’s an idea that will blow your mind. What if it is the pollution and treatment by Axiom that caused Dory to lose her memory? I mean short-term memory loss doesn’t happen every day and it makes sense when you think about Axiom. What better way to control subjects than to make them lose their memory?  They are able to successfully make everyone forget in Wall-e so perhaps Dory is just the beginning of that process?

finding dory2At the very least what if the beginning of the Axiom takeover is happening in America and the Marine Life Institute is proof of that type of control? Who knows Cleveland could be the home of the BNL corporation that creates Axiom? We know it is American and Fred Willard certainly has a midwestern voice.

finding dory sea lionsSo could it be that Finding Dory is as much a prequel to WALL-E as sequel to Finding Nemo? That may be a stretch but it’s interesting to think about. It certainly adds a layer of thoughtfulness to all the jokes and enjoyable scenes.

finding dory7On another note, one of the things I loved about the film is the way it dealt with a special needs character. Marlin and even Dory’s parents acknowledge the difficulties of being with someone who has a disability.

There is no doubt it is hard and I like they didn’t sugar coat that but the disabled also see the world through a different lens. We see that with Dory and with Bailey who’s unique vision helps save everyone. Marlin and Nemo even start asking ‘what would Dory do?’ What a great message for kids and families that just because someone is different doesn’t mean they are bad.

DoryI can’t give a review of Finding Dory without talking about the stellar voice cast featuring returning voices Ellen DeGeneres as Dory who is perfect in the role and Albert Brooks as Marlin. Then as new voices we have Ed O’Neill as Hank, Kaitlin Olson as Destiny, Diane Keaton as Dory’s Mom Jenny, Eugene Levy as Dory’s Dad Charlie,  Idris Elba as Fluke the hilarious sea lion and many more.  They are all outstanding and like I said very funny.

finding dory6It also has to be said that Finding Dory is stunningly beautiful. The seascapes both in the aquarium and back in Australia are beautiful. I particularly loved a scene where the stingrays are migrating and they move along and sing like a men’s choir.

sting raysAnd like I said Finding Dory is super funny and sweet on a surface level as well, so it’s got something for everyone!

I hope this review showed you some new layers in Finding Dory. What do you think of the connections to WALL-E?  What was your favorite part about the film? It’s a beautiful animated film from Pixar and one I will definitely be purchasing on blu-ray.

Overall Grade- A-

PS. And notice how I got through this entire review without mentioning The Good Dinosaur once! (I love that movie btw).


Blindspot 6: Tales from Earthsea

earthsea2One of my great animation crimes I’ve been trying to remedy the last year or so is how many Studio Ghibli films I still haven’t seen. The list is embarrassingly long! This is why I have 2 Ghibli films as my Blind Spot picks for 2016. June gave me the first with Tales from Earthsea. I’d been wanting to see this epic fantasy film for some time and now that I have I’m glad I saw it.

I don’t know if I was kinder on this film because I just saw Warcraft- a fantasy film that made no sense and bored me out of my mind. Tales from Earthsea falls prey to some of the problems of the genre but overall it’s a satisfying enough fantasy story.

It is directed by Goro Miyazaki- Hayao’s son, and it is based on a novel by Ursula Le Guin which I have actually read. To read my review of the book click here.


Tales from Earthsea starts off with a bang. We get dragons fighting each other and the assassination of a King. (I’ll try not to spoil anything big). Our hero Aren is a very flawed character from the beginning, which I really appreciated. It made the narrative more interesting and unpredictable.


Aren meets a man named Sparrowhawk who agrees to help him bring ‘balance’ to the world again.  They meet a girl named Therru who has a burn on her face and lives in a farm with her mother (I think) named Tenar. They introduce Aren to a slower way of life, and we get some nice quiet moments with them.


But it can’t last long because Aren and Sparrowhawk are being pursued by an androgynous wizard named Cob and his henchman called Hare.  Cob isn’t like any other fantasy villain I’ve ever seen. He’s hypnotic and calm while also being extremely powerful.


There are also dragons and sorcery and all kinds of fantasy adventure in the story. The animation is gorgeous of course from Studio Ghibli and for his first time I think Goro did well.

However, there are some problems with Tales of Earthsea. Like many fantasy films, it gets a little muddled and confused once it has set up its world. Particularly as it gets to the ending powers change, positions are altered and we aren’t really sure what’s going on.

They try to explain some things but don’t quite explain them enough for my satisfaction, and I was left a little confused. Also while Aren’s flawed nature makes him interesting it also can be a little hard to root for.


That said, I enjoyed watching Tales from Earthsea. It is beautiful and makes some interesting choices that kept my attention. I was rarely bored watching this because it was always trying something new. I don’t know if those same risks would interest me on a rewatch but for this time I liked it.

The dub this time from Disney is very well done. We have Timothy Dalton, Mariska Hargitay, William Dafoe, Cheech Marin, and others.

It’s interesting that I guess Hayao Miyazaki didn’t think his son should have been promoted to director at such a young age. Evidently he was so convinced of it he didn’t talk to his son for the development of the film! I guess he eventually came around but doesn’t that just show how seriously Studio Ghibli takes their art? Even Hayao’s own son must go through the proper channels and get the experience needed.

With all of that, Goro still managed to do a decent job and I’d like to see more from him. Think of this as a very lightweight Princess Mononoke

Overall Grade- B-

Pixar Review 36: Piper

piper disney pixar finalIn some ways something like Pixar’s latest short Piper is hard to talk about because it is deceptively simple. On the surface it is a cute little short about a baby bird at the beach but the more I thought about the more there was to it. Piper is a real Pixar gem and one of their best shorts in years.

Let’s start off with the animation. I think you can tell from the above photo that Piper is incredibly realistic. Most of the short if you hadn’t told me it was animated I would not have known. Everything from Piper’s feathers to her little legs looks so real.  There is a little hermit crab that looks animated but the ocean and the water looks amazing. Little details like the way the water reflects Piper and the look of the sand are perfect. You can really see what they learned from the Good Dinosaur and took it into Piper and it makes me excited for future Pixar properties.

piper+2Like I said, Piper is a simple story.  It’s about a baby bird who must learn to conquer its fears of the ocean. The thing that is great is it’s a valid fear.  She (or he?) gets hit pretty hard with a wave and so naturally shrinks from it, not wanting to go near the tide. Unfortunately, she is hungry and finally her stomach rules the day, so she ventures back. With each new wave she is more scared until she looks under the water and see’s the world underneath. This new vision of the world excites her and helps Piper to overcome her fears.

piper4Composer Adrian Belew does a great job with the music in Piper and the whole thing is just completely adorable. I liked it so much I could see an entire Piper movie! Look at the detail in the above shot- the coarseness of the sand, the fluffiness of her feathers.  Amazing! And it is winning without being too saccharine or sweet.

What did you think of Piper? Where does it rank for you in the Pixar shorts? It will be pretty high for me although I love all of the Pixar shorts so it is tough.

Overall Grade- A+

I posted my spoiler free review of Finding Dory on my youtube channel last night. I will post a detailed review here after I’ve seen it again, but just know it’s wonderful. I highly recommend checking out Finding Dory and Piper! If you guys could give this a thumbs up if you like that would be awesome. Thanks!

Star Trek 1-3 Podcasts

Hey guys! I just wanted to share with you guys 3 videos from my youtube channel. You might remember last year I discussed the Star Wars movies with my friends Abby and Jeremy.  Well, this year I decided to tackle Star Trek and my Trekie friend Tom has been kind enough to join me.  We just finished the 3rd film today and I think you will enjoy them even if you haven’t seen the movies.

My overall thoughts of the first 3 are:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture- I admire its ambition but the birth metaphor and long tracking shots of the ship bored me. Very self-indulgent and the story just isn’t there. It’s trying to be 2001 without challenging you with ideas the way that film does.  Grade- D

Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan- A terrific sci-fi movie with horror elements and a formidable foe in Khan. The finale is heart wrenching and the movie builds tension well. I see why this is genuinely considered the best of the franchise. Grade- A

Star Trek 3: The Search for Spok- Solid entertaining entry that fleshes out the side characters a lot more. I really enjoyed getting to know Uhura and Sulu more and seeing their banter. Shatner is good in his more emotional scenes and the mystery around Spok works pretty well. It’s not as good as Khan but I enjoyed it even if it is a little forgettable. Grade B-

What do you think of the first 3 Star Trek movies? Let me know in the comments section and I’d love your feedback.  The first podcast is had some technical challenges but if you can get through that the content is quite good.

We are going to pack in 2 podcasts next week before I leave for Spain (I’m going to Spain if you didn’t know). And then when I get back we will finish up the original series and do the JJ Abrams reboot films before Star Trek: Beyond comes out.  We will then do Next Generation in August.

Anyway, thanks again!  I am also doing my His Picks/Her Picks with my friend AJ this Saturday and next Saturday will be talking Harry Potter with Abby, Jeremy and Richard.

Make sure you are following the channel to get all the fun! And if any of you have an idea for a podcast or discussion I’m totally game. Just let me know!