WISH or Can I Wish for Something Memorable? (Disney Movie 62)

Some that are  new to my writing might not know that my whole journey as a critic started with reviewing the Disney Canon. I had torn my ACL and needed something to occupy my time so leading up to Big Hero 6 I reviewed all the Disney animated classics. This is why my site was originally called 54Disneyreviews. Once I finished that project I enjoyed writing about film so much I decided to keep it up and eventually that expanded to youtube, podcasts etc and my whole life changed.

I mention this history only to say that an animated Disney musical that pays homage to 100 years of filmmaking should be right up my alley. This is what they promised to produce with their latest offering Wish but unfortunately what they have given us is something truly forgettable. Even today just a few days out from seeing it I am struggling to remember anything remarkable. That was not the case with other recent animated offerings. For example, I was humming “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and thinking about some of the moments of that film for weeks after I saw it. I guess there was Strange World but it’s not a throwback princess musical that I should have loved!

I actually don’t think Wish is a terrible film. There is nothing offensive or woke about it so alarmists can calm down. It just wasn’t memorable or special. It honestly reminded me of the Disney renaissance copycat films made by other studios like a Swan Princess but I prefer that film over this. Someone in my comments accused me of hating on a film that I’m not in the ‘target demographic’ for but I don’t think that is it. I wouldn’t be surprised if kids end up feeling restless and disengaged from it. The story just isn’t there (I’d like to remind that person I enjoyed both Paw Patrol movies outside of my demographic.)

The main problem is with the screenplay. The heroine Asha lives in a city where subjects must give up their wishes to leader Magnifico who keeps them locked up so that he can grant wishes each month. Asha goes to Magnifico in hopes he will grant her Grandfather’s wish but it turns out he is a wish hoarder who controls his people rather than helping them. There’s also a troop of sidekicks, a Queen (who is probably the best character in the movie) and a talking goat.

Inside the wishes there are lots of nods to classic Disney films and unfortunately I found myself wishing I was watching one of them at all times. Even the songs, which are fine, had me wishing for other better songs of a similar vein. Ariana DeBose is a good singer and particularly “This Wish” is the standout which is why it’s the one song they’ve been using in the promos.

I do appreciate they made Magnifico a straight up bad guy and gave him a villain song “This is the Thanks I Get.” The Queen has a redemption arc, which like I said, works quite well but all the other sidekicks I found bland to outright annoying (especially Valentino. A little of him goes a LONG way.) For the most part I liked the 2D aesthetic to the animation and the design of the star character had a vintage appeal to it, so that was enjoyable.

And that’s all I really have to say about Wish. It’s a totally forgettable entry from Disney and a real missed opportunity to make their 100 year anniversary special. During the closing credits they have images of characters from those 100 years and while that was nice it only underscored how the film we had just saw wouldn’t be amongst those greats. I hate to say it but this one you can probably wait to watch on Disney Plus if you are curious.

5.5 out of 10

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ELEMENTAL or How Pixar Currently Makes Concepts Not Stories (Pixar 48)

I am sure the folks at Pixar could probably care less what a former super-fan  and fledgling film critic thinks of their recent films but on the off chance that someone reading is interested I have something to say. For years what made Pixar special was not only the incredible animation but the tightly crafted emotional stories they told. They took a concept of toys coming to life or monsters being real and crafted a story around this idea with emotion and some of the most memorable characters in the history of film.

Unfortunately in the last 10 years the studio has abandoned their storytelling finesse in favor of artistic visions and overall concepts. While in theory I love the idea of individual artistic visions and cultures being showcased this only makes a lasting impression if the stories and characters around these concepts are memorable and well told. Sadly this has not been the case. I don’t know if they are too scared of disrupting a creator’s vision or don’t want to appear culturally insensitive but clearly the tough cuts and storybuilding process has been abandoned in favor of messy scripts that pitch cultures and values without the narrative to back them up.

For example, last year’s Turning Red had a compelling concept of a girl turning into a panda while experiencing puberty but it was executed with a muddled metaphor that was more about catch-phrases than an effective earned character journey for our protagonist. The same thing goes for Soul where a compelling world of the after-life and a man facing a mid-life crisis is left to flail about as our protagonist baffling becomes a cat for a long section. The recent Lightyear was all concept and a bizarre concept at that, which practically nobody wanted or frankly understood (if you have to make up whole videos explaining the idea behind your franchise film maybe it’s not a great idea to begin with?) Regardless, the story they gave for whatever Buzz that was is weak at best.

Honestly the only recent Pixar film that has a clean well-executed story is Luca. They have the artistic vision of director Enrico Casarosa but it is married with a simple and sweet story of friendship  that largely works.

Now we have their latest film Elemental and is perhaps their greatest example of concept over story. As a result, I left underwhelmed and frankly bored. There are things to enjoy, particularly the stunning animation, but the story is just not compelling nor are the characters.

The concept for this film is a city of elements where earth, water, fire and air all exist as sentient beings that interact with each other. It’s never really explained what makes something a walking creature verses the land used to build the city (in this world are there talking trees and actual trees as separate entities? Are there normal clouds and talking clouds?) None of that matters. We are presented with a fire person named Ember and a water person named Wade and asked the question can they fall in love?

Again this is a concept that could be compelling. Anything can be good with good writing. Unfortunately what we are presented with is long sections where they try to change permits and fiddle with the zoning of Ember’s parents store.

I also didn’t think either Wade or Ember were very well written characters. Ember has a temper but it’s kind of portrayed in a positive way as if she is a passionate person who needs to express her soul. It’s similar to Mei needing to unleash her panda in Turning Red but ambition and enthusiasm is different than anger and rage.

Wade on the other hand seems completely influenced by other people in terms of what he wants and desires out of life. I was never really sure why he is attracted to Ember. She’s not particularly nice to him and we are never given any reasons but a vague notion of he see’s the real her. What?

The immigrant story in Elemental is also a good concept with Ember’s parents being rejected by the city so they start their own store that becomes a landmark in the town. It’s weird because Ember seems perfectly happy to be running her parents store at the beginning of the film, yet she has this random rage dealing with customers, and then in the middle of the movie she decides she hates the idea of running the store and hates her parents for making her do it. No wonder they are confused! I was confused.

This is what I’m saying- the concept is there, the narrative around that concept is muddled and weak. These problems make it harder to connect with the characters and us as viewers filling in the blanks in the story in order for it to make sense and flow smoothly. We shouldn’t have to do such heavy lifting in our films. We shouldn’t leave the theater saying “I see what they were trying to do…”

In the end, despite loving the 2D inspired animation and world-building I left Elemental thinking “why was so much of that about permits and why do the fire people have so many pipes to begin with? Why do they need water in their store at all?” I shouldn’t be thinking such questions but when the narrative isn’t compelling that’s where the mind goes. It’s not just enough to make a romance- you have to give reasons why the characters are attracted to each other and what makes them a compelling couple I’m rooting for. I keep using that word compelling but that’s the element that was missing in Elemental- a compelling story!

Unfortunately with Elemental I was left cold (Element City cold but still cold). A concept without a story does not a memorable film make…

5 out of 10

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‘The Little Mermaid (2023)’ or Why Disney is the Worst but the Movie is Pretty Good…

Gather round folks! Let’s talk about my tumultuous relationship with current Disney and their latest live action remake- The Little Mermaid

Anyone who has read my reviews knows how important The Little Mermaid was for me as an emerging movie and music lover. It came out when I was 8 and was the first of either movie or music I connected with. I remember singing the songs late into the night and having competitions with my sister about who sounded the most like Ariel. I connected with Ariel’s need to belong somewhere and how her father didn’t understand her (even though my parents were awesome doesn’t everyone feel that way when they are young?)

Even to this day I still love the movie and consider it one of the highpoints of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

As you also know I have not been a big fan of most of these Disney live action remakes. For the most part, they have felt meaningless and frustrating but what has really irritated me is the way Disney diminishes the original films in order to puff up their new films. Too often they use these remakes as an opportunity to ‘correct’ or ‘upgrade’ minor nitpicks with the animated films or invent problems that nobody had to begin with.

What’s especially frustrating is when we are told they are presenting these stories as they were “meant to be seen” or they are finally “coming to life.” It’s insulting to the hard working animators and while yes the originals still exist they have successfully created a world where live action is seen by many as an upgrade over 2D animation and that 2D animation is for children only- it makes me so mad.

The marketing campaign on this new The Little Mermaid seemed targeted to tick me off and it did. Disney focusing on how the original lyrics and plot-points needed to be improved and modernized felt like they were feeding into this idea of Ariel and her story being anti-feminist or backward, which is garbage. Plus, all the clips and imagery they showed were terrible. I honestly don’t know what they were thinking showing night scenes out of context so you could barely see what is happening and little of Halle Bailey and Jonah Hauer-King who are the strength of the film.  The designs of Flounder and Sebastian are also awful and should not have been promoted so heavily. For a company the size of Disney they sure could use some help in the marketing of their films (I’m available…)

In retrospect, I should have had more faith in the film because of its director Rob Marshall who had previously directed one of my favorite recent Disney films Mary Poppins Returns. While that film is better than this as an original story with original songs, this The Little Mermaid does work as a romantic drama with 2 wonderful performances at the helm.

It’s funny because most of the problems I feared are still there in this film. The underwater sequences don’t look great, they stripped almost all of the humor from the original, and the less said about “The Skuttlebutt” the better. I also didn’t love Melissa McCarthy as Ursula. Again, they took away all her humor, which is a strange choice when you have a comedic actress like her in the role. Also the ending action looks atrocious and the staging of “Under the Sea” is a bit baffling.

In the end, I loved Bailey so much as Ariel and her singing voice is so beautiful it allowed me to forgive much of the movies flaws. She really is that good. I also thought she and Hauer-King had amazing chemistry, and I appreciated the arc they gave Eric. He’s also not too shabby of a singer and actor(his song is relatively bland but I still enjoyed it.)

Basically in spite of themselves Disney made an entertaining film with The Little Mermaid. I give all the credit to Bailey, Hauer-King and Marshall. I hope people go out and see it, enjoy it and then go home and watch the original and pay tribute to the incredible animators and the great Howard Ashman who made it possible.

7 out of 10

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STRANGE WORLD: or Is it Strange at All? (Disney Movie 61)

Being an animation junkie there is always a sense of excitement whenever a new film premieres from Walt Disney Animation Studios. This is especially true when it is a new Disney musical like last year’s Encanto. That said, Disney, is one of those studios that tends to telegraph in advance when they are less than enthused about a new film, animated or live action.

Unfortunately this is definitely the case with their new 61st animated classic Strange World and even more unfortunate is their lack of enthusiasm is earned with a thoroughly underwhelming cinematic experience. Instead of being strange and exciting Strange World ends up being dull and mostly annoying. It’s a real disappointment because there is tons of unrealized potential here that director Don Hall failed to monopolize upon because of the weak and predictable script.

Disney reveals new look at stunning new animation Strange World | GamesRadar+
Let’s start out with the positives of Strange World. Like any Disney animated film the world building and animation is beautiful. I loved the colors and the 2D 1940s adventure reel style in the introduction.

I also thought the voice acting was fine, if unmemorable, and the dog Legend was very cute. The lgtbq representation is better executed than any previous Disney film, and I appreciate it being done well. However, the movie still has to be good around that representation and this just isn’t.

The problem is the very pedestrian script and the unlikable characters. We are supposedly following a family named the Clades as they explore a new “strange” land. Unfortunately the big reveal of what this land is made of is completely obvious from the beginning so it’s not that strange or new to film. We’ve seen films exploring this particular type of world in many other films and like I said it’s clear what it is from the first time we see the floating bridge they walk on we see in the trailers (trying hard not to spoil the reveal.)

Disney's new animated movie Strange World gets a first trailer - Polygon

We have 3 generations of Clades voiced by Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jaboukie Young-White, and they do almost nothing but argue the entire picture, and that’s just not what I want to see from my animated family films. Literally the most exciting part about this film is when they all get stuck in a closet and the dog has to help them out. That’s not great for a movie called Strange World.

I know animated films are hard to make and that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into this film but in the era of Into the Spiderverse and GDT’s Pinocchio you have to do better. It’s no surprise Strange World received the lowest Cinemascore of any Disney film ever. It’s not interesting or enchanting and the characters bickering the whole time makes for a thoroughly unpleasant experience. If you want my advice I say wait for Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (which is amazing) and watch this on Disney Plus or just watch Encanto for the 30th time with your family. This is certainly not a world I recommend. If you need an adventure honestly Atlantis or Treasure Planet, with their flaws, are better than this.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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‘Hocus Pocus 2’ [REVIEW]: Not Bewitching Again…

In his review of the original Hocus Pocus Roger Ebert said “But watching the movie is like attending a party you weren’t invited to, and where you don’t know anybody, and they’re all in on a joke but won’t explain it to you.” I can’t think of a better way to describe my experience with this film. I did not grow up with it and when I saw it I was completely unmoved by the experience. It wasn’t awful but I found the virgin shaming to be off-putting for a Disney film and the whole thing to be nothing special. I can think of so many scary Disney movies that are more imaginative with far more heart. I have a whole series on my youtube channel called Disney Scares Month (with a new month starting next week!).

Now we have Hocus Pocus 2 and I’m left in a weird position as a critic. I do not think it is a good film but as the franchise continues to elude me I have no idea what the legions of fans of the original will think of it. If you love it knock yourself out. Enjoy it. Who cares what I think?

So here’s why I don’t think Hocus Pocus 2 is a good movie. First, the very weak story. They of course find a reason to bring the Sanderson Sisters back but then they dont give them anything interesting to do. They literally spend around 20 minutes in a Walgreens making  jokes that feel like bad improv. I know they are goofy in the original but they were also scary and legit threats. Not any more. This movie’s idea for a joke is Mary rides 2 roombas instead of a broomstick. This is repeated multiple times and if that does it for you in the humor department I guess you’ve found your movie.

Disney has spent the last 20 years watering down nearly every villain in their canon and it’s no different here. Of course, we get the tragic backstory and their redemption arc. These women are huge money-makers for the studio so they aren’t going to have them pose an actual threat to the teens or be legitimately scary. That would actually require Disney to take a risk with their characters…

Izzy (Belissa Escobedo, far left), Becca (Whitney Peak) and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) are friends and wannabe teen spellcasters in "Hocus Pocus 2."


I will give the movie credit that the 3 teen girls are a definite upgrade over the teens from the original film with Belissa Escobedo stealing the show (I have loved her in everything I’ve seen her in particularly the canceled too soon The Baker and the Beauty.) The script doesn’t give the teens much to do but I enjoyed their performances.

You get some fun songs (you know me and musical numbers!) but they are unevenly distributed through the movie and new cast-members like Hannah Waddingham and Tony Hale are barely used and not in an inspired way. I’ve honestly seen a lot of DCOMS that had more energy, humor and legit scares than what is offered here (try Don’t Look Under the Bed, Phantom of the Megaplex, Twitches, Halloweentown etc…) or give Tim Burton’s underrated Frankenweenie a watch. It has so much more to offer than this lounging around in Walgreens movie…

If you love the original Hocus Pocus you may love this. I have no idea but from my perspective there is very little story, the humor doesn’t work and the product placement is unpardonable. I guess you can say I continue to not fall under the spell of this franchise and the Sanderson Sisters…

4 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Pinocchio’ 2022 or Can I Wish to Have Not Seen This Film?

Any fans of my writing know I am not the biggest fan of the Disney live action remakes. There are a few I like such as Pete’s Dragon and Mary Poppins Returns but for the most part they’ve been pale imitations of the beloved original films they are based off of. That said I do try to go into any film I watch with a positive outlook hoping for the best (and sometimes like with MPR I am pleasantly surprised). I say all of this because I want it to be clear that it gives me no joy to say Disney’s latest remake Pinocchio is the worst of these remakes and quite possibly one of the worst movies the studio has ever made. I really am struggling to find anything positive to say about it and only hope the Guillermo del Toro version coming in December will wipe this disaster out of my memory.

This version of Pinocchio is directed by Robert Zemeckis, and we should have gotten a clue of his remake skills with his recent disappointing adaptation of Witches but that feels outstanding compared to this. There are so many aspects I disliked that it’s almost hard to know where to begin but I will try:

First, the animation is awful. From one of the most beautiful animated films ever made it’s painful to have this version that looks like plastic with a shiny cheap CG aesthetic to everything. Every set piece especially Monstro looks like something from a Disney copycat studio in 2002 not from Disney itself in 2022. I expect much better from Disney these days. I hated all the character designs including Jiminy and Pinocchio. They looked like bad video game Kingdom Hearts characters not from a major feature film.

Pinocchio (2022) - IMDb

Next, Tom Hanks as Geppetto is a major problem. His acting is over-the-top and it is always obvious he isn’t working with real characters. This is surprising because he has done motion capture work before in The Polar Express. It’s hard for me to think of a more false and weak performance Hanks has ever given. The emotional sequences feel shouty and fake and there is no bond between his character and Pinocchio.

Pinocchio (2022) - IMDb

The script by Zemeckis and Chris Weitz is also extremely weak. Like many of these remakes they explain things that don’t need explaining and the additions they make are pure cringe. They add in a female puppet friend for Pinocchio that is strange because it’s played as a sentient character but it’s not so what is the puppeteer doing? Why is she invested in making a friend for Pinocchio? It’s strange.

We also get some terrible humor with at one point making a joke about Pinocchio’s name at least not being Chris Pine because he’s made of wood… That’s how bad the jokes are. There are strange choices like they make his nose getting longer purposeful to reach the keys instead of being a punishment for lying. They also make the kids in Pleasure Island drink rootbeer but still have them turned into donkeys, which seems like a strange punishment for drinking soda. There are so many choices like that which are just stupid!

Pinocchio'; The New Trailer & Poster Offer A Better Look At The Live-Action Disney Plus Movie | Screen-Connections

The Monstro sequences has Geppetto getting excited for Pinocchio who is waterskiing at the time. There’s no sense of tension or loss. No desperation just plucky weird looking Pinocchio having a good time. If it sounds like I am making this up: I wish I was.

The only thing I liked in this Pinocchio is Cynthia Erivo as the Blue Fairy. She’s a beautiful actress and her rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star” is lovely. Luke Evans is so weird as The Coachman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is fine as Jiminy but that’s all I’ve got for positives. If you are jonesing for Pinocchio either wait for the GDT version or watch the original classic. Whatever this is, it’s a definite skip.

1 out of 10

Frown Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Lightyear’ or Fun Space Movie About a Version of Buzz? I Guess?… (Pixar 47)

I learned something going to the latest Pixar movie Lightyear. (As a critic you need to keep learning, growing and expanding your idea of what makes a great film). I realized a film can have a very questionable concept and premise but if it is executed with enough panache and good spirits I don’t care. A talented filmmaker can take a convoluted and jumbled premise and make a compelling film. Likewise a poor filmmaker can take a simple premise and execute it into a big mess (Superman 4 comes to mind).

I have had many a Pixar devotee explain to me the concept of this movie. Evidently in the world of Toy Story there was a movie about a space ranger man named Buzz Lightyear (at first they said this was a true story in that world but that has clearly been abandoned given there are aliens and evil Emperor Zurg appears). This film was evidently the Star Wars of the Toy Story world and young Andy was a big fan (he was 6 at the start of the first film which is pretty young but we’ll go with it).

The Lightyear movie (which we get a title card to at the beginning saying this is the movie Andy watched) was so popular that like Ghostbusters and Robocop it spawned an animated series in 1995 (ala Saturday morning cartoons). Then the animated series inspired the doll which Andy got for his birthday and it proceeded to ruin Woody’s life. That’s why in this movie there aren’t many of the catchphrases or Tim Allen’s voice (Chris Evan’s plays Buzz here, which I still think it is weird because most animated series still use at least soundalikes for the live action characters).

Anyway, all that explanation helps us get started with the new movie Lightyear. I definitely think it is a risk to present a new version of a beloved character like Buzz (think Runaway Brain with its horror version of Mickey Mouse which upset many people), but my friends tell me it won’t be a problem for the average moviegoer so who knows? I guess we will see.

So after explaining all that nonsense how is the actual movie? To my somewhat skeptical surprise it was an enjoyable space adventure. As distracting as all the Toy Story connections are, the core story and characters are fun and the animation is terrific.

Lightyear: Disney Drops New Trailer For Buzz Lightyear Origin Film

The story takes Buzz Lightyear space ranger- human person, onto a distant planet where a group of explorers are trying to get back to their home planet. Buzz has a group of ranger friends including his best friend Alisha (Uzo Aduba) and a robotic cat named Sox (director Peter Sohn). We also get to know a pen-obsessed ranger Mo (Taika Waititi) and an older ranger named Darby Steel (Efren Ramirez).

I won’t give any more spoilers but Buzz goes on his adventures and the passage of time takes its toll on all of the characters. Similar to Up we get an emotional montage at the beginning involving one of the characters that is moving and lovely. We also have tons of fun with Sox who is destined to go down as one of the great Disney cats (I wrote a whole history of Disney cats a few years ago so I know!). Even if kids don’t get the convoluted concept they may like Sox enough to enjoy Lightyear regardless.

Sox the Robot Cat Is the Real Star of the New Lightyear Trailer - WDW Magazine

There are parts of the story in Lightyear I didn’t love. The villain felt strange and heavy-handed, which I didn’t care for. Also it’s only 105 minutes but it felt long in spots. I wasn’t with kids when I saw it but I can imagine especially young kids getting fidgety in sections.

Like I said, I went into this film skeptical. The trailers hadn’t impressed me, and I still think the concept is a reach. But the wizards at Pixar worked their magic and managed to win me over. I kind of wish it was an entirely new franchise without all the distractions but we’ll see how audiences respond. I recommend seeing it on the IMAX if possible. The animation is gorgeous and deserves as big a screen as it can be seen on (especially since the last 3 Pixar movies haven’t gotten that consideration it feels extra special).

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

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[REVIEW] ‘Turning Red’: Pixar’s Puberty Metaphor Turns Sour (Maybe Mild Spoilers)

Going into 2022 one of my most anticipated movies of the year was the latest Pixar film Turning Red. In fact, when it was first announced at the Disney investor presentation I made the promotional image of Mei Lee and her panda my wallpaper on my phone because I thought it looked so charming.

Unfortunately now I have seen Turning Red I must own to being very disappointed by the film and in fact it is the first Pixar film I’ve outright disliked (yes even Cars 2 has a bonkers sensibility I mildly enjoy). I even watched it a second time just to make sure of my response and yep this one isn’t for me.

Let’s talk about the positives. First, I like the idea of a family film trying to tackle puberty and anxiety in an honest and straight-forward way. How they succeeded at that is another question but I am sure there will be a lot of people who will connect with Mei Lee and her family’s journey. I also love the representation and seeing not only a Chinese-Canadian family but also Mei’s diverse friend group.

Also the animation is outstanding as is usually the case with Pixar. I know its received lots of chatter online, but I enjoyed the anime feel especially with the eyes and transformation of the characters from human to animal. The fur on panda Mei is so lush and cuddly that I’m sure it will be the source of many plush Disney toys to come.

Part of my problem with Turning Red I must own to my aversion for whiney teen coming of age movies to begin with. Movies that others love like The Edge of Seventeen I find insufferable and annoying. If you love those kind of stories you’ll probably enjoy Turning Red more than I did.

But my personal taste aside, while bold, the whole metaphor Turning Red uses didn’t really work. The idea is Mei Lee comes from a family where upon her first period the girls turn into a red panda when they are upset. While the concept of a period making someone ‘turn red’ is a bit on the nose it could have been effective but the story has problems.

First of all, the mother, Ming, is unhinged and unreasonable. For example, in one scene she lambasts a convenience store clerk Mei has a crush on because Mei has drawings of him in her sketchbook. Not only would this be incredibly embarrassing it doesn’t make sense. Why should he be responsible for her drawings/crush and is her liking someone a character flaw? How could she possibly feel this is a correct response to a basic life experience? Also if you knew this was going to happen wouldn’t you try to prepare your daughter a little bit?

Mei is also a lot of personality and what some will find endearing I often found grating.

Such strange behavior made me annoyed with the characters and then the fighting between Mom and daughter got old real fast. But beyond that the metaphor doesn’t really work. So she turns into a panda when she starts her period but there’s a whole ritual that makes the panda go away? I realize this is a magical realism story but just inventing rituals for cultures and religion (Mei’s family owns and operates a temple) is a strange choice and then the plot of her becoming a party attraction for a bully’s birthday mixed in with the family drama fell flat.

The thing is none of the inspirations for the panda are within Mei’s control. She gets her period- can’t control. She deals with anxiety and emotions- can’t control. She goes through puberty- can’t control. Teens will relate to this but unfortunately they don’t have a ritual that will stop all of these tough things. Mei decides to embrace the panda but all of us normal people don’t get that choice. It’s happening whether we like it or not. Evidently Mei’s mother has been suppressing her panda for years but then why was the ritual necessary? The ritual allows her to bring it back when she wants to? But then again how does that connect with actual teen struggles who can’t make their ‘pandas’ come and go when they want?

It seems like most critics didn’t mind this murky metaphor but it bothered me and kept me from fully embracing the film. I also didn’t connect with the humor of Turning Red or the focus on 2002 boy band called 4*TOWN. It’s a shame they set the movie in 2002 because an Asian KPOP type band like BTS would have been a fun way to bring in the culture rather than just generic boy band.

At the end of the day, I admire what director Domee Shi was going for with Turning Red but the script lets down that ambitious premise making for more of a mess than a masterpiece.  I hope you all enjoy it more than I did but this puberty metaphor gets a pass from me.

5 out of 10

Frown Worthy

PS- Turning Red should still have been played in theaters!

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