[REVIEW] ‘Over the Moon’: in a Word Enchanting!

So I don’t know if you knew, but I love animated films. LOL. Obviously not all animated films but I love the medium and all it can offer the filmgoer. I love being swept away by the artistry and characters and it is even better when it is also a musical! So, I was primed to love the new animated musical Over the Moon, and fortunately it did not disappoint. What a beautiful hope-filled animated musical. I loved it and can’t wait to watch it again!

Over the Moon is the first feature film from famed animator Glen Keane who created such memorable characters like Ariel, Aladdin, and Beast. Here he is taking us to China with the help of China’s Pearl Studio (who did last year’s Abominable with DreamWorks, which I also really enjoyed). It is a retelling of the classic Chinese myth of the mysterious moon goddess Chang’e.

Chang’e is voiced by Phillipa Soo of Hamilton fame and our young heroine Fei Fei goes after her on a quest to find her Mother who has passed away. Voiced by Cathy Ang, Fei Fei sings about her desire to find answers for her grief:

The music is written by Steven Price, and while I could have used even more songs, what we get is enchanting. I loved Fei Fei as a character and ‘Rocket to the Moon’ is probably the best ‘I want’ song we’ve gotten from a studio since ‘Let it Go’ from Frozen.

I also really enjoyed the sense of family in Over the Moon. Fei Fei’s mother makes mooncakes, which are then sold at the market. When the family has meals together it feels warm and authentic, all sitting together talking. Eventually Fei Fei must learn to get along with a new energetic step-brother Chin (Robert G Chiu) and that is sweet and challenging. A lot of kids will be able to relate to these family dynamics as they felt real and authentic.

When Fei Fei gets to the moon things get a little convoluted, but I still found it charming. I really liked the characters and the heart. It’s the kind of film the entire family can watch together and enjoy. Plus, the animation is completely stunning. What a treat to watch! We even get some 2D animation in sequences!!

I still think Tomm Moore’s Wolfwalkers is the best animated film of the year but Over the Moon is a complete delight. If you are an animation fan and/or a musical fan you will love it!

What do you think of Over the Moon? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section

8.5 out of 10

[REVIEW] ‘The Willoughbys’ or Not My Kind of Dysfunction

If you are an animation fan there is perhaps nothing more exciting than what is happening over at Netflix. In recent years they have been gathering a group of talented animators and collaborators unmatched by any other studio. This is true for series like Hilda and Disenchantment and feature films like last year’s Oscar-nominated Klaus (also my favorite movie of 2019!). What’s especially exciting is they are experimenting with new animation styles and bringing back traditional artistry like 2D animation.

willoughbys3

Unfortunately they can’t all be winners and their latest entry The Willoughbys wasn’t my cup of tea. I love the animation and appreciate some of the moments of heart, but its hurt by an uneven tone and a story that fails to produce laughs or provide us with memorable characters.

The Willoughbys is based on a novel by Lois Lowry, and I can imagine the humor working well on the written page. A lot of the jokes are of the dark and dry variety, which is very tough to pull off and not feel mean-spirited. It’s similar to the challenges found in adapting Roald Dahl to the big screen. His books are so strange and dark that when you translate them to screen you have to add a lot of whimsy to make the stories palatable. It’s the same problem with The Willoughbys, and I don’t think they succeeded in finding that balance.

The Willoughbys tells the story of the eponymous family who have the most horrible parents since the Mom and Dad in Madeline. They are disgusted by their children and have no interest in taking care of them. One day they find a new baby and the parents tell the kids to get rid of the baby and not come home until they do. In revenge they decide to send their parents on a ‘murderous vacation’ so they can be on their own and be orphans.

willoughbys

I can see why some kids will like this style of comedy. I used to love playing orphans with my friends and pretending to take care of ourselves without need of parents. It was an empowering game. However, the tone in The Willoughbys is too all over the place to work on that level and the humor almost never made me laugh. I also didn’t feel like I got to know any of the children very well.

If you look at a similarly structured film in Coraline, I get to know her way better than any of the kids here. Coraline also has a much more consistent tone which makes the scary and funny parts work much better than anything we see in The Willoughbys. I’m rooting for Coraline in a way I never am for these kids who are more props for jokes than compelling characters.

All that said, if you are jonesing for something to watch on Netflix you could do worse than The Willoughbys. It’s not awful. I just didn’t think the script was sharp or funny enough for a recommendation. I would strongly recommend you watch Hilda or Klaus instead of spending time with The Willoughbys.

4.5 out of 10

frown

[REVIEW] ‘Spies in Disguise’: More Spies, Less Birds

If you are a follower to this site you know I have a special place in my heart for Blue Sky Animation Studios. Aside from the Ice Age films they have consistently put out films that are bold and ambitious. I particularly think their films Epic and Robots are very underrated and anyone knows of my love for The Peanuts Movie.

So now we get their latest offering called Spies in Disguise and it’s a film I have been very nervous about. The trailers have not been great and with Disney acquiring Blue Sky in the 20th Century Fox merger I fear the studio will be dissolved if they have a big flop. To make matters worse it’s being released at a very busy time with Jumaji: The Next Level and Star Wars: the Rise of Skywalker opening along with Cats and Little Women. Plus, Frozen 2 is still going strong.

Anyway, now that I’ve seen the film what do I think? It’s ok. Kid’s will like it but it lacks that boldness I so admire in Blue Sky and I still worry it is going to be a big flop.

spies in disguise2

The biggest appeal to Spies in Disguise is Will Smith. He does a great job voicing Lance Sterling, ‘the world’s most awesome spy’. Tom Holland is fine as his nerdy sidekick. When the 2 characters are in spy mode it’s a lot of fun and it reminded me of a similar dynamic between Smith and Tommy Lee Jones in the first Men in Black movie.

I also thought the action set pieces were well done with some very fast animation and engaging character designs. Kids will get a kick out of it especially the scenes with glitter grenades. There’s a nice message to the film about loyalty, hard work and trying to use non-violent methods whenever possible.

spies in disguise3

However, the problem with this movie is the pigeons. I liked the sequences with the humans way better than with the birds. It seemed like the birds was merely there for cheap humor and the story and fun action stalled whenever they were on screen. All that personality we’ve built up with Lance Sterling was missing and instead we have a pigeon.

Going along with the pigeons the humor mostly didn’t work for me. It will entertain kids just fine but it’s pretty puerile if you ask me. There’s a particular part where they have a lot of laughs over the fat rolls of a passed out villain character that gets old fast.

I also felt some of the voice casting was strange. Like why have Reba McEntire voice the agency director? She has such a recognizable voice it is distracting to hear it coming out of a boss character. Also what is DJ Khaled doing in this movie? No thank you!

Nevertheless, Spies in Disguise is a perfectly serviceable action movie for kids. I worry that it will not be enough to save Blue Sky, but I hope I am proven wrong.

If you get to see Spies in Disguise let me know what you think.

6 out of 10

smile worthy

Best Movies of the Decade

A few weeks ago I saw a video or article about the best movies of the last decade. Most of the choices were hipster indie choices, which is fine, but they definitely didn’t capture my favorites of the decade. It gave me the idea to make a video of my list but that felt boring. On a whim I decided to reach out to my fellow youtubers on twitter and see if anyone else wanted to contribute. I asked each person to make a 1-2 minute video about their favorite movie and to my shock the response was massive. I ended up with 14 contributors and it made for a video I really love. I love how different everyone’s picks are and how heartfelt their explanations behind their picks. It’s definitely one of my favorite videos I’ve ever done on my channel so check it out.

My favorite can be no surprise to all of you: 2016’s anime masterpiece Your Name. However, I thought I would give you the rest of my top 10 for here on the blog. I am not going to include a pick from this year because they haven’t had a chance to sit long enough but if I did I would probably pick Avengers: End Game, which is a film I love.

1. Your Name– beautiful in every facet with a layered story about what happens when we understand the humanity of the people around us

2. Wonder Woman– not just a superhero story but a story about why God loves us mortals despite us being pretty awful towards each other. I loved Diana. I loved the message. I loved everything about it

3. Perks of Being a Wallflower– my favorite coming of age movie. I love the message. I related strongly to the group of teens and its not about finding love but believing we deserve love in the first place

4. Inside Out– brilliant metaphysical film that has the guts to teach us all that sadness matters. It’s funny, sweet, with devastating yet effective endings for 3 of its characters- Joy, Riley and Bing Bong

5. Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse– I loved the animation. It still blows me away on each watch. I loved the character of Miles. I loved the meta story with the different Spider-man. I loved how funny it is. Perfection!

6. Tangled- Disney’s first romantic comedy and done so well. I love the witty banter between Flynn and Rapunzel. I love how indecisive she is and how he grows and changes. I love Mother Gothel as a true dishy villain and I love the songs.

7. Sing Street– Speaking of songs few films filled me with more musical-enhanced joy than Sing Street. What a lovely film about growing up, making music and finding love. The original songs are super catchy and the relationship between the brothers feels so authentic

8. Paddington 1 and 2Paddington and Paddington 2 are near perfect family films. They both have humor, huge hearts and characters that are so charming. I wish we could get one each year.

9. Song of the SeaSong of the Sea is the film I cried the most in the theater. What a touching film about grief and how little Ben can learn to forgive his Mother for dying and his sister for being the cause. The animation and music are stunning. So lovely.

10. Arthur Christmas– For my money the best holiday film of the last decade is Arthur Christmas. Such a sweet, heartfelt movie that captures the innocence and kindness of Christmas. Even the “villain” brother is just trying to run things well. It’s perfect to watch at Christmas

Honorable Mentions- Mary Poppins Returns, Crazy Rich Asians, STEP, Hacksaw Ridge, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Lean on Pete, Boyhood, Frozen, Moana, The Avengers, Paranorman, Mud, The Martian, Hidden Figures, The Lego Movie, Harry Potter 7 pt 2, Toy Story 3, Gravity, Edge of Tomorrow, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor Ragnarok, XMen Days of Future Past, Interstellar, American Sniper, Pitch Perfect, Brooklyn, 45 Years, Creed, Cinderella, and many more.

What would be your favorites?

‘The Secret Life of Pets 2’ Review

If you have been following this blog you know I am not a huge fan of Illumination Studios. In particular their popular yellow gibberish talkers, the Minions, drive me bonkers. Occasionally they will give us a break from our yellow tick-tacks with a Sing or The Secret Life of Pets– my 2 favorite from the studio most of their offerings are mediocre at best. Pets is particularly memorable for me because it was the first time I went on Rotoscopers podcast and it helped inspire me to podcast more. Now we have The Secret Life of Pets 2 and to my surprise I really enjoyed it!

secret-life-of-pets-2

One of the challenges of these films is how many characters they establish. It almost necessitates a Toy Storyish plot where they can all contribute little bits to the journey. This makes a sequel even more difficult because do you do more of the same or try to come up with something different? I know many were scared from the trailer The Secret Life of Pets 2 would end up being a copy of Toy Story 2, but that is not the case.

Instead they divide up our team into 3 smaller stories with a vague theme tying them together (almost like a package film or TV series). It definitely has an episodic feel and will do very well when aired on television, but I didn’t mind it. I can see how some will want a more over-all plot but each part was strong enough (particularly 2 out of 3) that I left entertained.

the-secret-life-of-pets-2

The first plotline involves Max’s owner Katie getting married and having a child named Liam. Max is very protective over Liam and starts scratching himself out of the anxiety he feels. As someone who deals with anxiety this was handled pretty well and may be a good touching point to talk to kids about how to deal with these strong emotions. Plus the relationship between Max and Liam is very sweet and easy to relate with (it’s a dog and a baby. Who can dislike that?).

Max, Duke and the family end up going out to the country where they meet a sheepdog named Rooster voiced by Harrison Ford (I believe his first voice acting role?). Rooster is disgusted by Max’s cowardice and helps encourage him to face his fears and have more confidence. These scenes while predictable were charming and sweet.

secret life of pets34

The second subplot is about Gidget (who is my favorite from the first film) trying to retrieve a bumblebee toy Max gave her to guard while he is away. The problem is the toy is stuck in the home of a crazy cat lady with dozens of cats! She even talks Chloe (my other favorite) into giving her lessons on how to be a cat. This section had some nice physical comedy and slapstick that made me laugh.

secret life of pets2-1

The final plot centers around Snowball, the Kevin Hart voiced bunny who is convinced he is actually a super-bunny because of the way his owner plays with him. He meets a new doggie named Daisy (voiced by Tiffany Haddish, who evidently must be in ever animated film this year). Daisy is upset because she saw a baby tiger get taken by a mean man at the circus. Snowball and the team of pets must save the tiger and restore order to the city.

This was the least successful of the 3 plots. First of all, I felt bad  the circus  is once again dragged through the mud. Most circuses took very good care of their animals and there aren’t many reported instances of abuse or neglect. It would be illogical of them to do so since they need the animals to perform in the show. I don’t think the circus is much worse than any other zoo experience, and yet they are usually the evil villains (Dumbo was a better, more fair approach). However, this portrayal of the circus wasn’t really my problem. It’s that Snowball is irritating and the villains are bland. I got a little sleepy to be honest in this section.

secret-life

While some may not care for the episodic nature of the story in The Secret Life of Pets 2, I didn’t mind it. The characters are cute and there are enough laughs and heart to keep my interest. The  vocal performances are all good (Patton Oswalt does a good job subbing out for Louis CK) and like I said, the message on overcoming fears is really sweet.

Alexandre Desplat deserves a huge shout-out for the music. It really helped sell the comedic and action- filled scenes, making me smile. The ending credits are also very sweet and heart-warming.

I have no doubt The Secret Life of Pets 2 will make a boat-load of money but for once it is deserved. The pets are adorable and the 3 sections (especially 2 out of 3) are charming and helpful for kids. I still wish Illumination would challenge themselves artistically more but there’s value in a simple comedy where characters learn simple lessons. I walked out having had a pretty good time.

smile worthy

Overall Grade- 7 out of 10

2018 in Animation

Today I wanted to share with you all a podcast I did with 3 of my friends on the year of animation in 2018. It’s a long one but we covered every release we could from the small to the large.

If you get to listen I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback. What did you think about animation in 2018? Any disappointments or surprises?

My ranking of 2018 animation:

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

2. Ralph Breaks the Internet

3. Incredibles 2

4. Sgt Stubby: An American Hero

5. The Night is Short Walk on Girl

6. Mirai

7. Maquia: When the Last Flower Blooms

8. Isle of Dogs

9. My Hero Academia: The Movie

10. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

11. Tito and the Birds

12. Hotel Transylvania 3

13. Pokemon: the Power of Us

14. Liz and the Blue Bird

15. Next Gen

16. Smallfoot

17. The Grinch

18. Maya the Bee 2: the Honey Games

19. DC Superhero Girls: Legends of Atlantis

20. Early Man

21. Gnome Alone

22. Fireworks

23. Ice Dragon: Legend of the Blue Daisies

24. Sherlock Gnomes

25. Lu Over the Wall

26. White Fang

27. MFKZ

28. Duck Duck Goose

 

Pixar 40: Coco

I know I can hear you guys yelling at your screen ‘finally! She posts her review of Coco!’. It is long overdue, but I wanted to do it right because it is a movie that I loved. In fact, Coco was my favorite movie of 2017, and I saw nearly 150 new releases!

One of the great things that Disney has always done for little kids is help them understand the tough things of life. They have never been a studio that is satisfied to just make kids laugh. They took on themes of death, despair, frustration and anger in movies like Bambi, Dumbo, Lilo and Stitch and more. Pixar has also carried this torch with moving films like Up, Toy Story 3 Inside Out and Finding Nemo. Coco continues this proud tradition by being an important film about forgiveness, family and death. It is honest with children about the struggles of family life while still telling an engaging story with a likable protagonist.

Coco tells the story of a boy named Miguel who wishes to sing more than any thing else. Unfortunately his family is against singing and forbids him from entering a local talent show. On the Dia de los Muertos, Miguel decides to take the guitar from his grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz’s mausoleum to use in the show. This act of theft takes him into the World of the Dead where only his dead relatives can see him. He must get a blessing from a relative in order to return to the living and this is where the majority of our story lies. His dead relatives also hate music and want him to disavow it as part of their blessing. Then Miguel meets a man named Hector who is about to lose his spot in the Land of the Remembered unless his picture is placed on the offrenda.

In some ways Coco is predictable. We know that certain story beats are coming, but I thought they were executed really well and so they still worked for me. For example, when Ernesto proves to not be the person he is praised to be on earth it isn’t surprising but it still works because it feels surprising to Miguel. His response feels so genuine and sweet that it involves you into the story and his journey. I also love the way his relationship with Hector grows in a sweet and authentic way.

One of the things that has always bothered me about Bambi is we have this gut-wrenching scene of Bambi‘s Mother getting shot and then she is never talked about again. This is not a problem with Coco. The whole point of the movie is memories and how memories keep those we love alive in a tangible way. The song Remember Me tells us as much:

Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart

Remember me
Though I have to travel far
Remember me
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
Remember me

My Grandfather died in 2001 and to this day when I think of him I start to cry. I miss him now as much as I did those many years ago. There was never a person like him in my life and there will never another. When I remember it helps me feel him close by and that our love has power to make my life better.

Honoring and finding out more about our ancestry is something that is also a very important part of my religion so the themes of Coco really rang true for me. Miguel begins to understand this importance as he grows increasingly desperate to save himself and Hector. When he is pleading before Grandma Coco it is one of the most emotional moments I’ve had watching a film in a long time. Please Grandma Coco! Don’t forget!

The artistry in Coco is also phenomenal and I love that they introduced me to a whole new culture. Yes, I have seen The Book of Life but that didn’t feel as immersive in Mexican culture as Coco (partly because it is narrated by a white tour guide…). Everything from the marigold petals to the offrendas was moving, beautiful and interesting.

Fortunately, Coco is also very funny with wonderful skeleton gags that will definitely make you smile along Coco’s cute dog Dante getting into trouble. For people that thought The Good Dinosaur was too drab and Cars 2 was too silly, Coco gets the tone just right making it a joy to watch.

Some of Miguel’s family can be a bit off-putting but I think it is similar to the families in movies like Footloose or Dirty Dancing where they don’t want the children in their lives to grow up and make mistakes. They think they are protecting them when they are actually limiting their joy. This is why Miguel’s victory in the end has added meaning and power. He has come to know for himself who he is and what really matters in life- family, tradition, music and love.

In some ways Coco reminds me of Coraline. Both movies are about young children who must learn to love and forgive their imperfect families and go into a magical world that tempts them to throw off that family. They both must fight for who and what is right (and they are both visually stunning films to boot!). Miguel just like Coraline learns the value of a single human soul and once he understands that he will do anything to save Hector. It’s the connection with the Other that separates us from the animals and this connection continues after death with our memories. This is the message of Coco.

Coco is a triumph in every possible way. The message is beautiful. The animation is stunning. The music is touching. The look at Mexican culture is immersive and wonderful. It’s the last original film we will have from Pixar for a little while, and I am going to treasure it.

Overall Grade- A+

Modern Mouse Radio: Life Lessons of Disney Princesses

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.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-lessons-disney-princesses-modern-mouse-radio-185/id1118717435?i=1000404142734&mt=2

https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/network-1901/e/53506883

Batman vs Two-Face Review

Last year Batman appeared in 4 films, only 1 of which I liked. It was a throwback to the old 1966 Batman TV show called Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. I liked it because it had a sense of joy about it. I felt happy watching it and wasn’t put off like I was the other 3 films. This year so far I’ve seen 2 versions of Batman I really liked- Lego Batman and Justice League Dark. Both were well made and engrossing stories although different in tone. So now, before Justice League comes out, we have a sequel to last year’s best Batman film entitled Batman vs Two Face, and just like the last I enjoyed it very much. In fact, in many ways I think it is an improvement upon its predecessor, which is about all you can ask for in a sequel.

This version of Batman is of course campy and full of big pows and bams when they hit each other. Maybe it is nostalgia talking but I like that style. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

Adam West returns as Batman in his last role, which is neat to hear. It was worth doing this movie just so he could do that one more time! We also get to hear Burt Ward as Robin and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. Some people say that these characters sound old like their voice actors, but I don’t see it that way. They honestly sound like they have always sound to me. I think people have the image of them as old, so that makes the voice sound old but it doesn’t impact me.

But all that said, the real standout is William Shatner voicing Two-Face/Harvey Dent. He is fantastic doing both parts. It’s a shame this wasn’t discovered now because he could have been doing this part for years like Mark Hamill has done with the Joker. He was that good.

The script in Batman vs Two-Face is an improvement upon the original film. It is less episodic and a more of a compelling narrative. They sacrifice some of the jokes, but I was ok with that. They also limit the cameos, which were overflowing in the last film. Here it was really fun to see King Tutt and The Bookworm back with story arcs!

This is not a parody film like Lego Batman or the previous film. This is a Batman movie with a few jokes thrown in. They do a great job showing the two sides of Harvey Dent/Two-Face and the struggle that Batman has over his loyalty to Dent. Is he going to stay true to his friend or will he protect the city from Two-Face? It plays out in a compelling way.

If you like Batman and are open to different interpretations than I think you will really enjoy this film. The animation is good, it clips along nicely, it’s funny and is a great way to say goodbye to Adam West. I recommend it highly.

Content-wise it is fine for kids. There is a little bit of innuendo from Catwoman but nothing too bad.