[REVIEW] ‘VIVO’ or Play That Guitar Kinkajou

For musical fans like myself 2021 has been a very exciting year. It’s like people finished 2020 and decided to sing! We’ve had everything from In the Heights in the theater to Schmigadoon on streaming. Now we have our first animated musical of the year in Vivo and it’s maybe not the top-tier film I hoped it would be but it’s still entertaining with some beautiful animation and music.

Vivo features the music of Lin-Manuel Miranda and is another solid offering from Sony Pictures Animation (the weakest was Wish Dragon which I found a little dull but still a great year for the studio). It’s also been a busy year for Miranda with this, In the Heights and Encanto coming up. I love that Miranda has embraced animation so fully since Moana and that studios are putting out diverse films that introduce children to different music and cultures.

The music for Vivo comes from the streets of Havana and in particular a kinkajou named Vivo. He loves performing with his owner Andrés in the town square. However, one day tragedy strikes and Vivo has to take a letter to Andrés’ love Marta who lives in Miami, Florida. All of the Vivo aspects worked well with outstanding animation and catchy music.

Sony Pictures Animation has once again shown their master skill at combining 2D and CGI animation in new and inventive ways. I loved in Vivo how the backgrounds moved and flowed and the characters burst forward out of the screen. I wish I could find an image to show you how great the animation looks in these sequences.

The downside to the movie is Vivo meets a little girl named Gabi who helps him on his journey to Miami. While she had her cute moments, I found her to be mostly pretty grating. I also don’t think she was needed. The story would have been perfectly sweet with just Vivo trying to help out his friend Andrés. Maybe give him another animal friend like a bird or a fish? That’s how I would have gone.

That said, there’s still a lot to like in this film and families will have a good time watching it together on Netflix. It’s got a sweet message about friendship and loyalty while celebrating Cuban culture with energy and pizazz. The good certainly outweighs any negative.

7 out of 10

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

[REVIEW] ‘Spirit Untamed’: For Little Girls Who Like Horses

In my career as a critic some movies presented before me are complex and challenging with different layers of meaning. Others are not. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I believe there can be value in knowing what you are and executing it well. I enjoy simple well done Hallmark movies for example. The new film from DreamWorks Animation entitled Spirit Untamed is such a film. It is made for little girls who love horses and want to watch an adventure. On that level it succeeds and is an animated adventure.

This somewhat vanilla film may be disappointing to those of us who love the original Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron. It was a film that took real risks in its storytelling combined with some of the most beautiful animation DreamWorks has ever produced. If you would like to hear me talk more about the original film my friend Stanford and I covered it last year for Obscure Animation:

Unfortunately DreamWorks has moved on from the original film and created a series called Spirit Riding Free, which I admit I have never seen an episode. This new movie, Spirit Untamed,is a spin off of that show, which given it has 12 seasons has its audience. That’s who this movie is made for.

The story of Spirit Untamed follows a young girl named Lucky who is moving to a frontier town and meets a wild mustang named Spirit while on the train. Her Mother road horses and Lucky dreams of doing the same. When Spirit is caught by ne’re do wells Lucky and her friends, the PALS, go on an adventure to rescue all the horses taken.

If you are wondering why this needed to get a theatrical release I would agree with you. On the story and animation quality it feels more like a direct to streaming feature. However, that doesn’t mean it is bad. It’s perfectly serviceable little movie. I just don’t know if I would pay the big prices at the theater for it. I would probably wait for its inevitable Netflix release along with the series.

It does have a more star-studded voice cast than the series (which again I’ve never seen). This features Jake Gyllenhaal as Lucky’s Dad and Julianne Moore, WalterGoggins and Andre Braugher. I don’t know that I needed these stars for the film but I guess they give it a little more gravitas as a theatrically released film.

I also appreciate the diversity in the film. Almost all young girls should be able to find someone to relate with amongst the PAL characters. The horses are also very beautiful although not nearly as beautiful as the original film. It does have a really nice message about never giving up, connecting with our ancestors, working together and being brave when things are challenging.

In the end, ones enjoyment of Spirit Untamed comes along with your expectations. If you are wanting something along the lines of the original you will be disappointed. If you want something cute for little girls who like horses you’ll enjoy it. It will win the heart of all who love horses.

I also appreciate Spirit Untamed has a female director Elaine Bogan. I hope we keep seeing more female directors in animation (something DreamWorks has been above the curve on with directors like Brenda Chapman and Jennifer Yuh Nelson)

6 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] ‘The Mitchells vs the Machines’ Vacation Meets the End of the World

It’s funny to think not that long ago Sony Pictures Animation was the bottom of the animation totem pole. With the release of The Emoji Movie in 2017 they hit their proverbial low point and since then it’s been all uphill from there! The smartest choice they made was to hitch their wagon to producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who had worked with them previously in the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs films.

Then just a year later they produced (and Phil Lord wrote) the groundbreaking film Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse which blew me away and won the Academy Award for Best Best Animated Feature of 2018! What a turnaround!

Now Lord and Miller are back producing with Sony a film that was supposed to go to theaters in 2020 the family dramedy adventure The Mitchells vs the Machines and even though it is going to Netflix it is a gem and you don’t want to miss it.

I loved this film so much that I immediately bought the art book (ad) after watching it. It is such a special movie the whole family will love, and I will be shocked if it isn’t in my top 10 of 2021.

The Mitchells vs the Machines (formerly titled Connected) tells the story of the Mitchell family who are struggling to accept change as the oldest daughter Katie (Abbie Jacobson) is going off to college. She has always dreamed of going to film school and after getting into the school she most wanted to attend she is ready to ditch her family and move on. This is particularly tough for her Dad (Danny McBride) who decides to make a family trip of the event so he can spend a few more weeks with his daughter (much to her chagrin). The only problem is the cell phones revolt and the robots turn on the humans. All mayhem results.

On the surface family shenanigans can dip into sitcom territory rather quickly. However, here the characters are so charming including Mom (Maya Rudolph) and brother Aaron (Mike Rianda) who I loved so much. Even the dog Monchi is hilarious along with the 2 adopted robot Mitchell family members. The script is so good. It’s funny, sweet, heartfelt and surprising. Obviously we know the Mitchells will win but the journey is such a fun ride (forgive the pun).

One of my favorite parts of the script is the whole family learns and grows and forgives each other. I finished watching the movie thinking ‘who couldn’t relate to this film?’. I certainly could. I especially related to Katie because there was nothing I wanted more than to get out of my house when I was 17 and ready to go to college. My Mother had just had a baby and I wanted out of there!

I could also relate to all the trips we used to take with my Dad getting so excited about rocks and the rest of us thinking he was nuts LOL. That’s the dynamic here in The Mitchells vs the Machines. Again, who can’t relate to that?

The script isn’t the only strength to The Mitchells vs the Machines. The animation is absolutely spectacular. If you liked the hybrid CGI/2D feel of Spider-verse you’ll love the animation here. It’s obviously a little more grounded in style but the way it uses color and movement is brilliant. Like I said, I bought the art book after seeing it and I’m dying to learn more about how they created the stunning animation.

Most importantly The Mitchells vs the Machines is charming. The characters are great. The story is great. The music and animation are great. I loved it and I hope you will too. It’s funny and about the American family. I hope we get a whole series with the next film a story from Aaron’s perspective. Please more from the Mitchells!

9 out of 10

Smile Worthy

NYICFF Blog 1 (The Bears Famous Invasion, Beans, Nahuel and the Magic Book)

Hi everyone! Today marks my first day covering the New York Intl Children’s Film Festival and it started with a bang! I saw 3 movies with many more to come.

If you want to learn more about the festival check out my preview video:

Here are my quick thoughts on the films I saw today:

The Bears’ Famous Invasion

This film is also referred to as The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily and it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 and at Annecy in 2020 to great acclaim. It is the debut work of Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti and it’s strongest attribute is the beautiful and lush animation- it has the appeal of a true work of art.

The story behind the art is a wandering storyteller and his daughter who get caught in a cave with a bear so they start telling stories about the bears and their acts of heroism.

The Bears’ Famous Invasion throws a lot at the screen with wars, ghosts, sea serpents and more but it is kept light by the storytellers and a free-spirited tone. My only flaw with the project is the white subtitles were often difficult to read especially with the nearly constant snow backgrounds in the film. Probably not the best choice!

Nevertheless I had a great time with this film and it was a terrific way to start off the festival

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Beans

Beans was my live action entry for the day and I must admit I found it to be a baffling film, which I did not enjoy. It seems to have the best of intentions telling the story of the Mohawk tribal protests in Quebec in 1990. The director Tracey Deer uses a combination of fictional events and real footage (reminded me of Spike Lee in Blackkklansman) but unfortunately it all feels more messy than moving.

Before the movie starts the festival announcers say this is for “kids” ages 14+ which is 14 a kid? I find this a puzzling decision on the part of the festival because this movie would definitely be rated R as it has the F word many times. And that’s not the only objectionable content, which would be fine I guess if the movie did anything interesting with that content. Instead it reminded me of Hillbilly Elegy in the way it wallows in people’s misery without having any insight on what do with those sorrows.

I left thinking who was this made for? It’s definitely not for kids and it sure wasn’t for me.

3 out of 10

Frown Worthy

Nahuel and the Magic Book

We finished the night with an animated film out of Chile and Brazil called Nahuel and the Magic Book. This is a very well done fantasy adventure about a young grieving boy who finds a magic book called The Levisterio. He uses the book to help him conquer his fears and face bullies but then it has consequences he can’t imagine.

I’ll admit that I lost track of what was happening a few times in the film. There is a lot going on but I still enjoyed the ride. The animation is beautiful and there are some great segments. I particularly found a recurring theme of black birds attacking him in a giant swarm to be chilling.

Kids will have a great time with Nahuel and the Magic Book and both boys and girls should enjoy it equally. It’s an exciting adventure for the whole family with gorgeous animation (the animation kind of reminded me of Steven Universe in style).

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

What about you? What have you been watching at the festival and if you’ve seen these 3 movies what do you think of them?

[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?