Pixar 45: ‘LUCA’ or Some Fun in the Pixar Sun

It goes without saying that any Pixar film is going to have a certain amount of buzz surrounding it. Their latest film Luca is perhaps getting the most discussion because it is not getting a theatrical release but going straight to Disney Plus. Some have seen this as a sign of a lack of faith by the studio in the project while others have deemed it a compliment as it is being singled out to market the streaming service, which is so key to their current business strategy. I guess it depends whether you see Disney Plus as more of a dumping ground or shining platform which side you land on.

VIDEO: New Trailer for Pixar's

Anyway, beyond its release let’s talk about the movie itself. What’s interesting is a lot of the feedback I am hearing I do not agree with. I know I’m in the minority but Soul wasn’t a favorite of mine. I still recommended it (and certainly don’t hate it) but the script became muddled and the message felt all over the place- particularly when it comes to the mid-section involving a cat. At one point it seemed to be saying to embrace your spark, find out what you are meant to do in life but in other ways it said that spark alienated you from other people and led to unhappiness: that a normal life is better than a creatively inspired one.

So Soul is a movie I admire for the music and animation but the script let me down. Now Luca, on the other hand, has much smaller ideas and it in my opinion does a better job in executing that simple vision. To put it simply Luca is a story about friendship, summer and growing up. That’s it. No big emotional punches or big action scenes. Just a simple sweet story.

To be more specific Luca tells the story of a young fish creature named Luca (Jacob Tremblay) who bristles up against his controlling parents and wonders what can be in the world above the ocean (obviously a plotline I love. The Little Mermaid die hard fan!). One day he meets a boy named Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer), and he realizes they become human when dry on land and turn back into fish creatures when wet.

Both Alberto and Luca’s dream of racing around Italy on Vespas and when they meet a girl named Gulia (Emma Berman) they enter a race to win their own vespa. There’s a ‘villain’ Ercole who challenges them in the race and plays the part of the bully needed for this kind of narrative. The bigger threat is any of them getting wet from the ocean or even worse rain!

I can see why some think the story of Luca is too simple but I don’t agree. I liked being with Luca, Alberto and Giulia as they ate gelato and raced around the Italian countryside together. And it’s not like there aren’t deeper themes which can be pulled from the story. Obviously the idea of hiding who you are and being fearful of being discovered is something that will ring true for LGTBQ audiences and more.

But mostly it’s a story about friendship and I’m a huge sucker for those kinds of stories. There’s something special about the friendships we make as children. The free spirited nature and lack of agenda give a purity to the relationships that is tough to impossible to replicate as adults. Luca captures this magic, and I really enjoyed it.

And hey it made me want to go to Italy so nothing wrong with that!

Fortunately if you have Disney Plus you don’t have to decide whether to watch Luca or Soul. You can enjoy both to your hearts desire. Someday I hope to see both in a theater but for now I’m grateful for the artists at Pixar and their incredible track record of touching films.

Luca is a delightful tale of summer friendship the whole family will love

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[Movie 59] ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ (Spoiler Free Review)

It has been a long time since we got a new Walt Disney Animation Studios film. Since November 22, 2019 to be precise. Now in 2021 we are lucky enough to receive 2 WDAS films: Encanto coming later this Fall and the latest film Raya and the Last Dragon. While I have high hopes for Encanto, one thing is for sure the studio is off on the right track with Raya! Disney has made a stunning animated film loaded with adventure and heart for the whole family.

Raya And The Last Dragon: Release Date, Story & Disney+ Premier Access

Raya and the Last Dragon tells the story of the title character Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) as she seeks to restore peace to her land called the Kumandra. Along the way she meets a dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina) and faces off against a tough warrior with a grudge named Namaari (Gemma Chan).

I won’t tell you much more of the plot but it should entertain both girls and boys and have something for all ages. It’s not too scary or convoluted for little kids but it isn’t too dumbed down for teenagers and pre-teens. A little boy character named Boun (Izaac Wang) should delight young and old and a giant pill-bug creature named Tuk Tuk will make everyone laugh.

The action is fast and smooth and the brightness and colors of the animation begs to be seen on a big screen. I can’t wait until I get to see it there! If you can go safely to a theater I recommend it. However, even if you do see it at home you will still enjoy it. My favorite part is how it explores themes of forgiveness and trust. I can picture many a conversation between kids and parents about the themes of the film and yet it doesn’t feel heavy-handed or preachy.

I don’t want to give any spoilers. As far as problems it gets a little exposition heavy at moments and I don’t think I got to know Raya in the same way I got to know Moana, Elsa or Rapunzel. She’s always kept at a bit of a distance from us, the audience, so she can appear tough and strong. I also admittedly missed the music. James Newton Howard’s score is fine but nothing special. I love Disney musicals and this seemed to have so many moments perfect for songs. I wonder why they decided to go away from the musicals? I missed them.

Other than that Raya and the Last Dragon is a stunning adventure for the whole family. And you don’t even have to have kids to enjoy it!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

If you don’t want to pay the big bucks on Disney Plus consider attending this weeks NYICFF for a great price and a behind the scenes Q&A

Current Mini Reviews

Hey everyone! I hope you are having a great December. I have been up to my eyeballs in Christmas movies and creating content over at Rachel’s Reviews and Hallmarkies Podcast. Make sure you are subscribed to both to get my latest thoughts on many films!

Fortunately I have had the chance to watch some movies outside of Hallmark (and Hallmark-like content). Here are some quick mini reviews of some recent releases

Fatman

Obviously this film is not made for me, the Hallmark fan. However, I’m up for darker takes on holiday films but shouldn’t they still be fun? This film was so unpleasant and spurned campy action in favor of gritty realism, which was a very strange choice. Mel Gibson and Walter Goggins are taking the material seriously and giving good performances but it’s all too serious. Again aren’t most people expecting a campy action film with a wink at the camera? Not a mean spirited gritty Santa action movie like Fatman is? No thanks.

3 out of 10

Godmothered

As soon as I saw the trailer for Godmothered I was greatly looking forward to it. It looked funny and charming. I love movies like Elf and Enchanted, which it seemed to be falling in line with. Unfortunately the actual film, which debuted on Disney Plus, proved to be disappointing. In fact, watching it made me appreciate both Elf and Enchanted a lot more. They are both more than fish out of water stories but have good scripts that make you laugh throughout. Godmothered had one joke- amateur fairy Godmother in real world- and that’s it. And the movie is nearly 2 hours which felt way too long for what it is trying to do. Jillian Bell has yet to win me over in a role and Isla Fisher isn’t given much to do besides look tired. If I hadn’t been reviewing it I would have stopped watching it after about an hour. It’s proof concepts aren’t enough. You have to have good scripts

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Modern Persuasion

I have seen a lot of terrible adaptations of Jane Austen particularly of the made for TV variety. Oftentimes they are only adaptations in name only and have none of Austen’s charm and sass. It is for this reason I approached the new adaption of Persuasion called Modern Persuasion hesitantly. However, I watched it because it stars Alicia Witt who I enjoy and have actually had the chance to interview here. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised by this film. It doesn’t have a huge budget but I liked Alicia Witt in the lead and Shane McRae as her counterpart. The supporting cast is funny with Bebe Neuwirth stealing every scene she’s in. I’d buy this on digital when it comes out. It’s a charming new take on a classic story.

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

All My Life

I actually got to see All My Life safely at the Megaplex theaters and being back at the theaters may have helped my experience but this is a movie that is exactly what you think it is going to be. If you watch the trailer and this brand of emotional weepy makes you grown don’t watch it. If it looked appealing you’ll like it. The stars Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr have great chemistry and the sense of community they have with their friends was comforting and nice to see (especially in isolated 2020). The characters could be better drawn and it’s extremely predictable but I’m glad I saw it.

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

I Hate New Years

As big a fan of Christmas as I am, I’m not much into New Years. It’s such a couply holiday with the big kiss at midnight that I’ve never gotten much into it. This makes me the perfect candidate for I Hate New Years and for the most part I enjoyed it. It’s limited budget shows at times in both the acting and production but it has its heart in the right place. Particularly the second half won me over and I was rooting for the characters to find happiness. It’s a sweet and likable way to ring in the New Year!

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

So there you have it. If you get to see any of these films let me know what you think

Pixar 44: SOUL or Is it ok for Pixar to Release a Film for Adults?

Before writing this review I realized I never did my blog review of Onward. I reviewed it on my youtube channel but it was such a crazy time in March I forgot to review it on the blog. I will do a longer review for Onward eventually but it will be out of order with Soul because I am short on time at the moment. (I enjoyed Onward for the record).

Honestly I have a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to reviewing Soul. I really debated how to best express myself. I even watched it twice to be sure of my thoughts (I don’t normally do that but it is an unsual film and I wanted to be sure).

Let me start out by saying I did enjoy the film. It is bold, ambitious and full of things to think about and discuss. I greatly admire Pete Doctor for making such a film and for Disney/Pixar to have the audacity to put $150 million into what is essentially a CGI arthouse piece.

And I think that is essentially the best way to view Soul. If we look at it as an experimental arthouse piece rather than a blockbuster feature film it makes more sense and is more satisfactory.

Now I am going to say something that might be unpopular: I don’t think Soul is for kids. It doesn’t have anything offensive, and I suppose some more philosophic children may like it, but I don’t think kids will enjoy the picture. It has no gateway for children to access the film like Inside Out did. In fact, it doesn’t have as much in common with Inside Out as many people are expecting (or at least I was expecting)

Inside Out has Riley as our entryway into the world of the brain. In addition, emotions are something easy for children to relate to. It’s also funny and sweet with scenarios kids can understand like losing a hockey game or moving to a new town.

Soul, on the other hand, is about a grown man named Joe who is struggling with the meaning of his life. He has questions like, should he settle for the teacher job or keep trying to get the big gig and share his love of jazz music with the world? Footnote- It’s kind of weird how the movie looks down on teaching (it makes sense for the character but just unexpected in a family film). Joe doesn’t have any children nor are there any children in his life aside from his students who are only briefly seen (nothing like Russell in Up for instance).

At the beginning of the film Joe gets his big break playing for a jazz legend at the Half Note Club. Unfortunately on his way home he falls through a man-hole in the street and goes to the afterlife. (This isn’t a spoiler. It’s right in the trailer).

It's A Wonderful Afterlife In Pixar's Latest SOUL Trailer (VIDEO/IMAGES) – I Can't Unsee That Movie: film news and reviews by Jeff Huston

The animation in these sequences is absolutely stunning. Some of the most beautiful blending of 2D and CG I’ve ever seen. This is when I wish I could have seen Soul on the big screen because the images combined with the beautiful score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross took my breath away. Stunning.

But back to the story, Joe doesn’t want to die, so he escapes the Great Beyond and meets a pre-earth spirit called 22. She is convinced Earth is a big scam and that life isn’t worth even attempting. Joe then helps 22 to find her spark, all the while coming to realize what his spark is (which may or may not be jazz).

22 voiced by Tina Fey is supposed to be our entry-point for children, but I don’t think she is. Maybe I’m wrong and kids will love it but the film strikes me as too heady with too slow a pacing for children? I think they will be bored. Are kids interested in career goals? Do they wonder whether our passions are satisfying enough without relationships? Do kids think a lot about what makes for a fulfilling life?

But let’s assume kids don’t like Soul. Is that a problem? I honestly don’t know. Instead of Inside Out I’d compare this movie to Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow shorts or his feature It’s a Beautiful Day. I admire Hertzfeldt’s philosophical films but they aren’t very rewatchable and not something I love. I like to think of myself as a pretty introspective person, but I suppose I go to religion for this type of spiritual nourishment rather than an animated film. Your mileage may be better than mine, but I guess I like to be entertained a little more when I go to the movies.

There are a few attempts at humor like a repeated gag with pizza that are fun. There’s also a funny section with a cat but it’s mostly a very serious slow meditation on the meaning of life. I definitely recommend seeing it (I actually think Disney Plus is the perfect spot for it to be honest) but have a journal handy to write about your experience and ask yourself questions like these:

What is your spark? Has your passion led you to an empty life? Can the passion be a lie? Is a spark what you do or is it innately a part of who you are as a soul of divine worth? Does your career or passions matter at all?

I’m still pondering what the film is trying to say, which is a good thing I suppose. It just makes writing this review difficult!

In the end, I admire Pixar and Pete Docter for making Soul. It’s a bold, ambitious, challenging film that will appeal more to adults than kids. Whether that is a problem I’m still pondering. I do wish it had tried to entertain me a little bit more as well as make me think. However, the animation is stunning and the music gorgeous. I recommend it but just know what you are getting yourself into before watching it.

7 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘Stargirl’ or Manic Pixie Dream Girl Teenage Edition

In many ways writing a review for a movie like Stargirl is difficult. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. It’s fine but there are a number of  things about it that irritated me. If I didn’t have the binary requirements of rottentomatoes I would probably give it some form of meh but I must decide if it is good or bad so let’s talk about the pluses and minuses.

Before we start on the film I must own I was not a big fan of the book by Jerry Spinelli. I found it cloying and annoying but I know many loved the book. If you did, than you should love this movie. If, like me, you didn’t, than you will probably have mixed to negative feelings as they stick pretty close to the book (at least by memory. It has been a few years since I read it).

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Anyway, Stargirl is about a young man named Leo Borlock (Graham Verchere) who becomes fixated on a new girl at school named Stargirl (Grace VanderWaal). Stargirl is your classic free spirit that sings with her ukulele (with no microphone!) at the school football games and wears weird clothes. She’s basically a manic pixie dream girl but in teenage form.

Like any MPDG Stargirl exists to help our male character come alive and get over his demons. She has no personal goals or ambitions. We learn almost nothing about her as a character. Is she a guardian angel? Is she an alien or some other kind of mythical creature? Maybe but she exists to help Leo be a better person and I dislike that in female characters. I am aware the tough girl trope can be just as cringeworthy but females are not there to pluck up our lonely males. It’s such a groan-worthy trope that I dislike.

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That said, Stargirl has its heart in the right place. The film isn’t trying to make some grand statement on feminism or male/female relationships. They are just trying to make a movie about how a nice girl who see’s the good in people can make a difference. The film’s anti-bullying message is sweet and well done and should ring true to many teenagers.

I liked the chemistry between VanderWaal and Verchere and the supporting cast with actors like Giancarlo Esposito help make Stargirl more than the sum of its parts. The film also loves the Beach Boys just about as much as I do making the soundtrack very enjoyable.

Basically if you watch the trailer for Stargirl and it looks cute than you’ll probably enjoy it. If it looks super cringe-worthy than you probably won’t. It’s as simple as that. I’m in the middle on it but I think I was more annoyed than entertained.

5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’

If you have been following this blog for any amount of time you know I am a tough critic when it comes to the Disney live action remakes. A few I like (Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but most are bland at best. However, there’s a special level of hatred in my heart for 2014’s supposed reinterpretation of Sleeping Beauty called Maleficent. I hated pretty much every decision that film made, so you can imagine my hesitancy when they announced a sequel for this year, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. But I pride myself on keeping an open mind for EVERY film. So, I went to see it today, and left with surprisingly mixed feelings.

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First, let’s talk about the positives. Maleficent: The Mistress of Evil is not a cash grab. It is obvious the creators tried their best to improve upon the original film in almost every way. To begin with, the production design is far better. The original felt like a bland CGI world I’ve seen a million times. In contrast, this film has beautiful cinematography and world building, which felt fresh and original. I particularly loved a long sequence in a nest where everything was monochromatic: filled with beautiful grays and whites woven as background for the bat-like Maleficent. Also, all of the costumes and make-up were stunning. Some of the best I’ve seen all year.

For the first act of the movie I was actually digging the film. It starts out as a fantasy version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, which was weird and different. As opposed to the original, which felt like an apology and bastardization of Sleeping Beauty (especially the fairies! How dare they!), this film felt alive with its own lore and story. The acting was also much better especially from Michelle Pfeiffer and Elle Fanning who is actually given something to do as Aurora.

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Unfortunately this is where my positives stop. Once we have our basic setup of Maleficent vs Pfeiffer the movie begins to falter. Where the dinner scene was surreal and strange, most of the remaining second half is a bland fantasy war movie. It reminded me of the war scene in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which I hate, except it went on much longer. Despite being pretty, the story dragged, and Maleficent becomes a character who is acted upon more than she acts. Most of the time she is moping around waiting for other people to do things, so she can either sulk or acquiesce to their ideas.

I also was puzzled by the tone and audience Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (the title is so dumb by the way) is going for? The battle gets intense including a scene that is gas chamber-like for our heroes. I don’t think kids will find this entertaining nor are adults invested enough in the lore to be engrossed. I never watched Game of Thrones, but I know enough about it to spot the many times Hollywood has tried to capture the themes and aesthetics of that series, and this is definitely one of those films (there is even a long sequence with a dragon…)

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It’s a real bummer because if they had kept the strange tone of the early scenes I could have had a surprise hit. I don’t even see why the war plotline is necessary? Why not have a movie about Aurora trying to plan a wedding with Maleficent and Pfeiffer bickering the whole time? That would have been amazing. As it is, we got a impressive looking war movie that loses its guts midway through.

I wanted to go fresh because I do appreciate the obvious attempt to improve upon the ‘Maleficent turning into the victim of a man’ nonsense of the original film, but that second half was too dull and derivative for me to recommend. Maybe give it a rental if curious? Otherwise, I’d say pass on this fairy story.

Frown Worthy

4.5 out of 10

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‘Aladdin’ 2019 Review

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If you have been following this blog for a long time than you know I’m not the biggest fan of these Disney live action remakes. A few I have enjoyed (Mary Poppins Returns, Pete’s Dragon, Cinderella) but even when I enjoy them the overall movement away from animation is not my favorite. Plus, when it goes bad it goes really bad (Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast). So naturally when I heard about a remake of the Disney classic Aladdin I was pretty skeptical. I was made more skeptical when they hired director Guy Ritchie, who I have not been a fan of, to helm the project. Then the casting looked questionable (how do you replace Robin Williams, one of the great vocal performances ever?) and the trailers were uneven at best.

Nevertheless, I always try to set all that baggage aside and go into a movie with an open mind (otherwise why bother?). So what was the result of this live action Aladdin? I’d say it is a decidedly mixed bag. It’s not awful and it’s not a classic like the original. It’s squarely middle of the road entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

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Let’s start with the positives. The best part about the film is the performances of Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Jasmine. They are not only good charismatic actors but they had great chemistry and are pretty decent singers. I really enjoyed the ‘One Jump’ sequence from Massoud and Scott has a power ballad called ‘Speechless’ that felt a little out of place musically but was still a pretty good, well sung piece (written by La La Land’s Pasek and Paul). I also thought they nailed the ‘A Whole New World’ because of their chemistry and good singing. It was everything I could have wanted in that sequence.

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I also enjoyed Will Smith when he wasn’t the blue Genie that we know and love. My friend Jen, who attended the screening with me, said she thought he was playing the part of Hitch, acting as matchmaker between a nervous Aladdin and confident Jasmine. These scenes are funny and well produced. They even have Genie getting some of his own plotlines, which I surprisingly didn’t hate.

The trailers are also misleading on how devoted to the original the remake is. It is not a shot-for-shot remake, which many were afraid of, but instead, tries its own thing. The pacing could be a little tighter in spots but overall the story and script worked. Plus the Alan Menken music is always a treat.

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Unfortunately I also had problems with this new version of Aladdin. The biggest fall in 2 camps: blue Genie sequences and the portrayal of Jafar.

Like I said, I enjoyed the scenes of Will Smith playing matchmaker and mentoring Aladdin as a normal looking version of himself. However, I did not like him as the blue Genie. First of all, he looked ridiculous with cgi that was only slightly better than the first trailer. That said, my biggest problem was they took all the funny out of these scenes. I wonder if they were afraid of fans comparing him to Robin Williams? Unfortunately their solution was to make ‘Friend Like Me’ and ‘Prince Ali’ flat and bland with hardly any jokes or energy to them. It felt like glitzy cruise ship renditions more concerned with checking off boxes instead of digging into a deep manic energy to make us laugh and smile. Also Will Smith doesn’t have a broadway style singing voice, so they should have embraced his more hip-hop style rather than produce weak versions of these iconic tunes.

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My other problem with Aladdin is the portrayal of Jafar by Marwan Kenzari. He had a lot of the trappings of Jafar but the performance was very annoying and whiny. I’ve always thought of Jafar as a pretty bold but sniveling villain and this was just irritating. It also didn’t help that Iago as a live action character was window dressing instead of the comic relief that makes the animated Jafar so full of dry menacing wit.

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I really struggled whether to go smile or frown worthy on this Aladdin. I’m about split down the middle on it but it so pales in comparison to the original animated classic that I’m not going fresh on this one. It’s not awful and has its charms, but I’d still say stay home and watch the original. Tough call but:

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Overall Grade 5 out of 10

If you want to hear Stanford and I talk all about the original Aladdin check out our Talking Disney podcast episode:

Movie 57: Ralph Breaks the Internet (Spoilers)

(This is the podcast Stanford and I did on the film and we were on the same page with it)

Anyone who has followed this blog since its start knows I am not as high on Wreck-It Ralph as most of the Disney fandom is. I think it is a harmless movie but not one of the greats as I often hear claimed. It gets stuck in Sugar Rush too long and the plot becomes fairly pedestrian. Naturally I was very worried when I heard they were making a rare canon sequel (only 2nd non-package film sequel) and even more concerned when it was all going to be online.

One of my issues with the original is it doesn’t fulfill the promise it makes to explore the arcade and see lots of worlds. Now for the sequel, they would be leaving the arcade all together for the internet? This seemed like a terrible idea and my worries grew stronger when I saw the Princess clip at D23 in 2017. I was also worried that the humor would be too Shrekian and based on parody as opposed to satire and story-based.

However, I always go into any film with an open mind, hoping to be dazzled, and fortunately my worries were relieved. I can confidently say that Ralph Breaks the Internet is a complete delight and better than its predecessor in nearly every way.

In the  original film you have a story of a bad guy wanting to be good, which is fun, but it gets kind of lost in the shenanigans of Sugar Rush. Vanellope’s underdog story becomes more of the focus with a villain reveal that is very predictable (especially now when we’ve seen that trope so many times by Disney and Pixar).

The story in Ralph Breaks the Internet is a lot more subtle and nuanced. Ralph and Vanellope are friends and they love each other but that doesn’t mean they are the same. Vanellope yearns for newness and a chance to get out of Sugar Rush. On the other hand, Ralph likes things to stay the same, day in and day out. This is a conflict I can easily relate to as I am a same stuff  kind of girl. I could eat the same things, wear the same clothes, do the same activities each day and be perfectly fine. I guess this is why I’m fine watching 95 Hallmark movies a year or reviewing 35 versions of A Christmas Carol. It’s just how my brain works. I related to this division between Vanellope and Ralph. You still love each other but you process the world differently.

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As is easy to do, Vanellope and Ralph deny these differences for a long time not wanting to hurt the others feelings. Then a crisis happens in Vanellope’s game that forces them to go online to try and buy a steering wheel on Ebay. This pushes them to acknowledge their differences and learn to love each other in a new way. I found this much more moving and nuanced than the lesson of the original film. It’s easy to love someone who is the same as you. It takes a lot more work to love someone differences and all (in fact love them more because of those differences).

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As is always the case with comedy, I suspect the humor will be the most divisive part of the Ralph Breaks the Internet. I actually ended up loving it. My worry was that the jokes would be parody and not part of the story but to my pleasure almost every joke is story-based. Whether it is Spamly or KnowsMore giving them directions or the Princesses helping Vanellope with her conflict with Ralph the humor was all part of moving the characters forward as opposed to just throw-away parody jokes.

While I still don’t love the kidnapped and enslaved joke in the princess scene, most of the other humor worked for me. I was particularly happy to see Ariel be lovingly showcased. She is kind of the leader of the girls and got most of the best laughs. There is even an Alan Menken song towards the end, which was a real treat! If you like the humor in Enchanted or Elf you will really enjoy this.

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I also really enjoyed the scenes in Slaughter Race. The racing sequences were incredibly animated. The only ones better I can think of is from Cars 3. Gal Gadot does a good job playing the leader Shank and her bond with Vanellope is really sweet. They reminded me of the roughians and thugs from Tangled– rough on the outside but sweet on the inside. As she experiences this freer style of racing Vanellope realizes this is where she belongs, but she knows it will hurt Ralph to admit this. This is conflict I can relate to and that most people have experienced as they try and navigate long-term friendships.

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While Vanellope is in Slaughter Race, Ralph gets an education on youtube. I loved the way they animated the users of the internet. It wasn’t cynical like The Emoji Movie. Most of the time the users were having a nice time and enjoying their time in whatever website was being portrayed. As things broke down they were upset but not as cynical as The Emoji Movie where the kids couldn’t communicate at all without their phones. ralph breaks 6Ralph meets a woman named Yesss who is an algorithm for determining trending videos. I related to all of this youtube (buzztube in the movie) as I am a youtuber. It showcased the highs and lows the medium offers. Ralph gets very excited as his gimmicky but harmless videos make enough money to purchase the steering wheel but then is hurt when he reads the comments and realizes he is a joke. Yesss tells him to never read the comments. While I am small and most of my comments are friendly, I can certainly relate to the toxic side. No matter how strong you are it can still sometimes sting. I appreciate the nuanced and balanced look at the internet Ralph Breaks the Internet showed.

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I am hearing the ending is divisive but it worked great for me. Ralph is a character very resistant to change. He is giving into his fears and the virus he purchases magnifies those fears. As someone who is also resistant to change, I related to it. These are flawed characters who grow and learn. Isn’t that what we want in scripts? Plus, the tension and conflict was broken up by lots of humor, so it all worked for me. When Ralph and Vanellope learn to accept each other for who they are and come to a new deeper friendship I found it moving and a lovely growth arc for both characters.

It almost goes without saying that the animation is phenomenal. Unlike the original film where we spend 45 minutes in Sugar Rush, here we are zipped around to many different worlds and sites. I loved all of the world building and like I said the racing sequences were amazing! The voice work was also delightful. John C Reilly does a great job with Ralph. Sarah Silverman still isn’t my favorite but she’s servicable in this. I loved Gal Gadot and supporting voice work was all great including all the living princess actors (even Paige O’hara who had aged out of her role was brought back!).

Some may wish for more time with Felix and Calhoun but what we got from them was hilarious so I was satisfied. I even liked the post credits scene which played up on audience expectations and was very funny. I loved Ralph Breaks the Internet. It spoke to me more than the original. It had a more nuanced and powerful message. It was a lot funnier and the animation was better. (It even had a princess song!). I am seeing some mixed reactions from fans of the original, which is to be expected but I can only speak for myself and I thought it was a complete delight!

I never thought I would be saying this but I’d even be up for a 3rd installment!

smile worthy

Pixar 42: Incredibles 2

For years whenever a superhero movie sequel came out I wondered to myself ‘will they ever make The Incredibles 2?” The 2004 film is not only one of my favorite animated films but is my favorite superhero movie along with Wonder Woman. It so brilliantly weaves together traditional superhero themes with a message of the mundane nature of modern work and the toxicity of pretending to be something you are not. Now in this sequel Brad Bird and his team have managed to combine classic superhero fun with a reminder that when “done properly, parenting is a heroic act.”

Incredibles 2 starts off where the first movie leaves us. Unfortunately, the people have not immediately welcomed back Supers like you might expect. They see carnage and suffering left by Syndrome and look for someone to blame in the Supers. This leaves the Parr family in a tricky dynamic of having a newfound confidence in their powers but living out of a hotel without a way to support each other.

One day a businessman named Winston Deavor approaches them with a seemingly perfect solution. He wants to use Elastigirl as a spokesperson for a movement to bring the supers back out of hiding. This requires Helen to go away from the family but it provides housing, employment and a way to help their family and others be their super selves.

Helen Parr: [to Bob] You know it’s crazy, right? To help my family, I gotta leave it to fix the law, I gotta break it.

Bob Parr: You’ve got to, so our kids can have that choice. (They are both being the best parents to their kids. One has to leave to find work and the other has to deal with the day to day problems).

This is where we get to the real cream of Incredibles 2. Bob must figure out how to solo parent for not only his 3 children but 3 special children including baby Jack Jack who has over 17 powers he can’t control. The scenes with Bob and his kids brilliantly show the exhaustion of parenting especially with an infant. It oddly made me think of the movie Tully and how exhausted Charlize Theron’s character is when carrying for her new baby.

What separates Bob, however, from a lot of movie Dads is he both struggles and succeeds. For example, Dash has the new math (which is totally a thing), and Bob is overwhelmed but eventually they figure it out. Violet is angry with her Dad and he messes up but then they have a really sweet moment where she tells him he’s doing a super job and let’s him sleep for 17 hours. This made Bob’s story feel human and relatable instead of just mindless slapstick.

The highlight of the film is when Bob takes Jack Jack to meet Edna Mode and she turns out to be a better parent than we might expect. After all it takes a village to raise a child and that is certainly true with Jack Jack!

I also appreciated how Incredibles 2 allowed the kids to be empowered without turning them into mini-adults like other franchises do. Violet and Dash use their powers to help save their parents but only when they have to. They still need their parents for love, guidance and protection. It was very well done.

Some of the elements in Incredibles 2 are pedestrian like the predictable villain but it is surrounded by such engaging fast-paced action, quippy dialogue and striking animation that I didn’t care. Not every part of every movie needs to reinvent the wheel for things to work. Plus, the standard superhero segments still gives us a ton of new characters with fun super powers like Voyd and Brick. Frozone (Lucius) also gets much more screen time and dialogue, which was a delight.

There are other messages hidden inside of Incredibles 2 like our dependence on technology and the way we are pitched glossy showcases of progress without real change being made but my main takeaway was a reminder at how difficult parenting is. How it takes the best out of even superheroes but in the end it is worth it. Loving families and children growing up to be the best version of themselves is worth it. I’m not even a parent but I think that is a fantastic message and something we need to see more in film. So many parents are either shown to be demanding jerks or idiots that this is not as common in film as you might think.  Most parents are trying as hard as they can and if they get frustrated by new math or a baby that won’t sleep let’s all try and help them out as much as we can. They are the true superheroes!

Overall Grade- A-