‘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

Frown Worthy

[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

[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.

7 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).

stargirl3

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.

stargirl4

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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