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).
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.
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.
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 Beautycalled 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.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
(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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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 Tullyand 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!
Watching the latest Pixar movie is always a treat but sometimes we get a special bonus of a new Pixar short. I loved the latest Incredibles 2 film and will post my review of that sometime this week, but I thought I would talk about the short that played before it: the delightful Bao.
Much has been talked about Bao being the first Pixar short directed by a woman, Domee Shi. While I think that is great, I worry that it may give the appearance of praise based on the sex of the director rather than the actual quality of the short. Shi is not only a trailblazer but did a tremendous job creating a short that is sweet and heartfelt that any parent (or child for that matter) will be able to relate with.
Bao is an allegorical tale about a woman who struggles with her son growing up and misses the love he used to show her. One day she is making dumplings and to her shock one of the dumplings smiles at her and becomes a type of child to her that grows and makes friends. This dumpling boy is adorable.
As Boa Boy grows the Mother must deal with her own feelings of loneliness and ultimate rejection. Of course, this story is an allegory of her struggles with her actual son (who looks hilariously like Bao Boy). But I don’t think you have to be a parent to relate to her feelings. What person hasn’t struggled with change or felt rejected by a loved one? Everyone goes through tough times and the ending with her and her son was pitch-perfect and very truthful.
Plus, if I was Disney I would have a whole Bao themed restaurant in Disneyland because all of the food looked so delicious. I love bao buns with roasted pork and vegetables in them. Yum! I also love the sweet rolls that become a symbol of forgiveness at the end of the short. They are so good!
I don’t think Bao is one of my all time favorite Pixar shorts but it was definitely in the higher portion. I really enjoyed the watercolor-influenced backgrounds, the adorable character design and the score by Toby Chu.
Bao was sweet and lovely short and in many ways reminded me of Sanjay’s Super Teamwith its focus on a parent and child relationship. Both are great, and I hope Disney puts a new volume of Pixar shorts out soon so we can watch all of these more recent entries together.
What did you think of Bao? How does it rank for you amongst all the Pixar shorts?
Hey guys! I just wanted to let you know real quick that I have started a new podcast with my friend Stanford. Each month we are selecting a Disney Canon film to talk about and give our analysis of its strengths and weaknesses. We just published our 4th entry in this podcast, and I’m proud of every last one of them. We are doing them in a random order to avoid the dead periods of a chronological rewatch. I would love your feedback as we are continually trying to improve. They are also available on Itunes and youtube at Rachel’s Reviews.
2. Talking The Great Mouse Detective- we had some technical difficulties in the last 20 minutes that impacted the sound quality but hopefully it is listenable
For years I have heard the novel Wrinkle in Time is ‘unfilmable’, and I always wondered if this was true. The book is very special and not something that I fell in love with until I was an adult. It was too out there for me as a child but I read it about 5 years ago and was deeply moved by its story and the journey of forgiveness that Meg goes on.
I have read so many YA novels that have felt cold and cynical (cough Hunger Games cough) but Wrinkle in Time is the opposite. In many ways it is like The Giver, a story infused with hope and a character that comes to see their divine potential. Unfortunately like The Giver, the introspection that makes A Wrinkle in Time work as a novel is difficult to translate to the big screen. I was very hopeful that Ava DuVernay would be able to make it all work but sadly the new film from Disney is a frustrating experience.
A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of a girl named Meg (Storm Reid) who’s father has left on a scientific quest and has been gone for 4 years. She has a younger brother Charles Wallace, who is a genius, and a boy named Calvin whom she has a crush on (Calvin is so great in the book but just kind of there in this film). Unfortunately with the loss of her father, Meg struggles to connect with other students, and is angry with her life situation. One day she is surprised by 3 magical visitors, Mrs Witch, Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who, and she is led by them to help rescue her father.
This is all in the movie but it isn’t executed in a compelling way. In the book Meg is forced to make choices that cause her to grow and most importantly forgive. Here she is more told she is great and a warrior but without having to make the hard choices. The ending of the book is much more convincing because it is her choice to confront the evil (even against the advice of others). In this film, it is more like she is presented with images, speeches and emotional things but never grows as a person. She feels the same at the end as at the beginning just more tired.
I said on twitter that it kind of reminded me of a Terrence Malick film but with a scifi story wedged in. I suppose one could go and enjoy A Wrinkle in Time on a visual level like a Malick film but at least his films have consistent characters who you follow throughout the art piece. Here we are introduced to characters that are then given very little to do besides present options to Meg and give speeches.It all becomes kind of tedious and frustrating.
A movie with a similar goal that works way better is 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are. This is based off of the Maurice Sendak children’s book and sends its child on an existential fantasy. However, Max is forced as king to make real choices and his character grows so that he’s ready to forgive his Mother at the end of the movie. All the characters in Where the Wild Things Are give speeches but they also are well developed with conflict and personality traits that they struggle with. It makes the existential stuff work because we love the characters so much where A Wrinkle in Time let’s us down in that department.
I might also compare A Wrinkle in Time to 1981’s Time Bandits. Both films are messy and try to offer existential lessons (with similar villains) to kids. However, at least to me, Time Bandits is actually funny which makes it more enjoyable. Kevin has to face off against Evil but that is only after he has proven himself to be the smartest person in several time periods. He actively doesn’t take the advice of those around him but has to figure things out himself, which is very empowering to little kids. By the end, he has become an independent character that is able to see past the greed that blinds so many others and defeat Evil. Time Bandits is also written by the Monty Python folks so it is at least has some humor in its favor.
Sadly A Wrinkle in Time wasn’t able to make Meg’s journey a compelling one. I struggled to stay interested as she was presented with advice and speeches but never asked to make choices. It’s frustrating because I love the source material and it had so much potential with a great cast and production values. Unfortunately, the script just couldn’t get there.
My advice is watch Time Bandits or Where the Wild Things Are instead or even better read A Wrinkle in Time!
Overall Grade- C-
I should add that the diversity in the cast is amazing and should be encouraged in future films.
Hey guys! I hope you are all doing great! Most of you know that I have a little podcast called Rachel’s Reviews that I am extremely proud of. If you aren’t subscribed you should be because I produce pretty engaging content, much of it focusing on Disney and animation. Well, last week I had the tables turned and I got to be interviewed on a podcast for once!
Josh over at the Modern Mouse podcast asked me to join him and talk all about Disney Princesses both official and not quite canon. In particular, we asked the question ‘which of the ladies carry the most social change and the best life lessons.”
I personally think all of them can teach you something and be a good example for kids but it was great having the discussion with Josh.