[REVIEW] ‘Belle’ or Mamoru Hosoda’s Stunning Defense of Modern Friendship

Hi friends! This review is about a month late but I really wanted to get my views on Mamoro Hosoda’s new film Belle out there as critics are doing their Oscar watches. Please make this stunning anime film a part of your awards consideration! It’s not only one of my favorite movies of 2021 but one of the best theater experiences I’ve had since maybe Avengers: Endgame.

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I was fortunate enough to see Belle at a screening at Animation is Film Festival which I attended in Los Angeles this October (read more in my travelogue here). The screening of Belle had a ton of buzz and when I arrived the theater was packed- every seat taken. The director Hosoda was there in attendance and he introduced the film. He talked about how the Disney Beauty and the Beast (which is 30 years old this year! Perfect timing for this fresh take) was something that helped inspire him to become an animator. ‘Now this is my take on the story” he said as he took his seat and the movie began!

And wow! What an experience! I can’t put into words how electrifying it was to be in a theater again where everyone was invested in every aspect of the film. It was so incredible. And fortunately it wasn’t just the moment but Belle is a stunning treatise on friendship, the internet and how we can still rescue each other in 2021.

Belle can be described as Beauty and the Beast meets The Matrix but that doesn’t capture the emotion of the piece. Hosoda is so great at capturing raw human emotion in his stories and this is certainly one of his best. The film tells the story of Suzu, a teenager who is traumatized by a life event and stops singing and interacting much with the world. Then one day she goes onto a virtual reality platform called U and she begins to sing again as an avatar named Belle.

One day Belle meets a dragon who is full of bruises that have powers which she becomes fascinated with. There is also a friend in real life that Suzu friend-zones named Shinobu and 2 brothers she tries to help that are being abused by their hateful father.

All these elements come into play with the gorgeous animation and music to make a very memorable experience. It’s so refreshing to have the story we all know and love but taken to a new and interesting place. This is not the story of finding the good in a monster as the Disney film does. It’s about finding good in the monster of the cyberworld. That it can be a tool to help us all reach out to each other and rescue each other. How needed and beautiful is that?

I know people exist who won’t give anime a chance. I will never understand those people. However, if you are open to the medium watch Belle. It’s a career achievement for Hosoda and one of the best films of 2021. If it gets snubbed for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars I will be outraged (the Academy has a long history of snubbing anime not done by Miyazaki although Hosoda did have his last film Mirai get a nomination). We can only hope.

Belle will be available for general audiences in January when GKIDS is releasing it but critics and selected audiences can see it now. Look out for it!

9.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] The Addams Family 2 or The Bland-dams Family

It’s always disappointing as a critic when you recommend a film and then the sequels don’t live up to the original film. I feel like saying ‘I was pulling for you!’. This year it happened with Bigfoot Family which was a lame follow-up to the surprise The Son of Bigfoot.  Now it has happened again with The Addams Family 2 which is a sequel to the first The Addams Family, which I actually enjoyed back in 2019.

The reason I liked the original The Addams Family is it kept me laughing throughout. I also felt the animation did a good job capturing the spirit of the Addams characters with a tremendous voice cast.

Unfortunately this sequel does nothing to improve upon the original (which wasn’t perfect despite my recommendation) and fails to provide the laughs needed to enjoy the film. They try but most of the jokes feel repetitive and lacking in any creativity. It all felt very bland.

Watch “The Addams Family 2” Full Movie: How to Watch “Addams Family 2021” Online Streaming at Home?

We still have the great voice cast with Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Bette Middler and more. The problem is they are trapped in a boring road trip movie with the overprotective father Gomez fixating on his rebellious daughter Wednesday. You have Bill Hader as Cyrus Strange who is a decent villain but it all feels like the same movie we just saw in Hotel Transylvania with Drac and Mavis or even Tim and Tabitha in the most recent The Boss Baby 2.

There’s nothing harmful about The Addams Family 2 but there are so many better animated films your kids will enjoy more and that you can watch as a family. I would honestly recommend the recent Paw Patrol: The Movie more or My Little Pony: A New Generation. Both of those films were much better as far as story, heart, and creativity. If you want to watch an Addams Family movie watch the films from the live action films from the 90s or the original from 2019. That will give you a much better experience than this bland laugh-less sequel.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘Black Widow’ or Nice to See Natasha Kick-Butt Again

There are many factors which go into making the Marvel Cinematic Universe as successful as it is. The detailed planning, consistent execution and overall inspiring experiences make for films that even at their worst are competent blockbusters people enjoy. However, the most important key to their success is their remarkable knack for casting and ability to build affection for their characters. We are forgiving of the flaws of a film because we love the characters and are attached to their stories within the MCU.

Such is the case with Natasha Romanoff or Black Widow. We are attached to her character and Scarlett Johansson in the role that even in an imperfect film we are happy to be spending time with our old friend. This is especially true in this case because of losing her in Avengers: Endgame so sadly.

It is also our affection for Black Widow that made us all want her to have her own movie much sooner. While comforting to see her again on the screen, it can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity that she couldn’t have been a more celebrated part of the Infinity War narrative and not just a supporting player. In some ways the new Black Widow movie feels a little like an apology for all the fans who wish Marvel had the guts to release a Black Widow film way back in phase 1 as opposed to now in phase 4. Also the fact that both female superhero films in the MCU have been prequels feels more than a little safe and strange. Be braver Marvel!!

That said, what did I think of the film we got? Overall I enjoyed it. I certainly thought it was much better than I expected it to be and I had a good time with it.

If you recall in Avengers Age of Ultron we get a little peak into Natasha’s past with the ‘Red Room’ where she was trained to be the super spy we all know her to be. This new movie, Black Widow, elaborates on that vision and takes us back to the time between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War.

Natasha is on the run and trying to find out more information about the organization behind the ‘Red Room’ that is trying to stop her from being an avenger. This includes reconnecting with her ‘family’ played by Rachel Weisz, David Harbour and Florence Pugh.

The best part about Black Widow is the interactions between the family and particularly the dynamic between Natasha and Pugh’s Yelena. They have great chemistry and feel like actual sisters. Weisz is underused as Melina but Harbour is also charming as Alexei or Red Guardian.

Because we like all of these characters it’s fun to see them fighting off bad guys while exchanging witty banter. That dynamic is what makes the MCU terrific. The action was also all enjoyable without being too memorable. It did the job. The villains are serviceable for this story even if I will not remember them by the time the next Marvel movie comes along. The MCU isn’t about villains. It’s about heroes, and I like these heroes.

I do think Black Widow pushes its luck at 134 minutes and there are times it drags. The action isn’t memorable enough to sustain the runtime and because we know what happens with Natasha the stakes are never very present.

Recently on twitter I said

What I mean by that is Wonder Woman 84 (which I gave a marginal recommendation) was narratively messy but it really tried hard to talk about big themes and take its characters on a big story. Black Widow doesn’t do any of that. It is way cleaner and succeeds in making a fun, competent action movie. Like I said, it’s a better movie than Wonder Woman 84 but it doesn’t try as hard either. So it comes down to what you want out of a film. Do you want a satisfying but perhaps forgettable blockbuster or do you want something that swings and a lot of the times misses? I can see arguments for both.

I went to see Black Widow with my niece and we had a great time together. It earns its PG-13 rating but if you do take your teens and pre-teens they will have a great time. It will be interesting to see how they use Yelena in the future (stay for post-credit scene). I look forward to seeing more of Pugh.

While not perfect and a bit too late, Black Widow combines kick-butt action with the best family in the MCU to make for a fun ride!

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Boss Baby: Family Business’ or What Did I Just Watch?

Believe it or not there was a time when DreamWorks Animation was a prestige studio making gorgeous masterpieces like The Prince of Egypt and How to Train Your Dragon.

And now we have this…

How far DreamWorks has sunk. I didn’t understand the appeal of the first The Boss Baby film but now a sequel so obviously devoid of ideas it makes me both irritated and upset.

But hold on. Let me calm down so we can talk about the positives of The Boss Baby: Family Business…there are a few. First, I wish the movie had abandoned the baby nonsense and been about young Tabitha trying to fit in at the gifted and talented school. Those scenes were good and her character was compelling. I especially liked a musical dance sequence to Cat Stevens ‘If You Want to Sing Out’. It is unquestionably the highlight of the film.

The animation is also well done with some nice uses of 2D in dream sequences and the score by Hans Zimmer works well for the story.

And then there is all the baby nonsense with Ted (Alec Baldwin) and Tim (James Marsden replacing Tobey Maguire) all grown up getting turned back into babies to help the new boss Baby Tina (Amy Sedaris) defeat Jeff Goldblum baby from taking over the world.

To say I dislike this baby world and story would be an understatement. Evidently it appeals to others but not me. I hate the design of the characters especially the adults with the bulbous heads and giant eyes. I hate the story with the brothers fighting and then being turned back into babies. Groan.

Most of all I hate the humor. It’s for the most part crass, unappealing and lazy. For example, there’s a scene in this movie that has the 2 adult babies fighting and pulling each other’s nipples while ‘Time Warp’ from The Rocky Horror Picture Show accompanies them. You know for kids…

And there are so many jokes only adults will understand like references to Shawshank Redemption and other R rated films into the script. I can laugh at puerile humor when done well but this was so bland and didn’t get a chuckle out of me. If you liked the first one maybe you’ll enjoy this more than I did. I really can’t say but it is at best lukewarm versions of old jokes.

Watching The Boss Baby: Family Business was one of those moments where I think to myself ‘what am I doing with my life watching this?”. There is so much quality entertainment right now for kids that don’t waste your time with this terrible film (except for Tabitha. That was good)

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

The Boss Baby: Family Business will be available in theaters and on Peacock July 2nd