One of the best things to come out of Disney Plus is the return of the mid-budget family film from Walt Disney Studios. With the exception of their Disneynature brand, the studio for many years only made giant blockbusters with over $100 million budgets. This was a real shame because I love the small live action Disney films from my childhood. Films like Newsies,White Fang, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Brokenand The Journey of Natty Gann are practically as important to me as the Disney animated films. I’m so happy that a new generation of children will get films like these by way of Disney Plus!
Last year the best from Disney Plus in this department was Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. It is a sweet, well written film about an awkward child, dealing with trauma by setting up his own detective agency. It made my top films of 2020, and I absolutely loved it.
While not as good as Timmy Failure, this year’s first contender is the new film Flora & Ulysses. It is a very sweet film about a little girl named Flora who helps rescue (literally giving CPR)a squirrel named Ulysses that just might have superpowers!
Flora’s parents played by Alyson Hannigan and Ben Schwartz are going through a separation and obviously that is hard on everyone. Hannigan is fantastic as her mother who is also a romance novelist with writers block. They get a lot of laughs out of her book titles and covers and the fact she won the Jack and Rose from Titanic prize for writing.
I also thought Schwartz was warm and authentic as Flora’s aspiring comic book artist Dad. He is obviously very sad about what is happening to his marriage but not so much that he lets his daughter suffer.
The real star is young Matilda Lawler as Flora. She is so cute and I am extremely impressed this was her first film role. I predict we will be seeing a lot of her. Especially acting with a cgi creature is not easy and she did a fantastic job.
Parents of divorced kids might be a little annoyed by the ending of Flora & Ulysses and it is perhaps a touch too long but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It will be a wonderful movie to watch for family movie night and all enjoy together. It’s so enchanting it will make you wish for your own super-powered squirrel!
8 out of 10
If you get to see Flora & Ulysses let me know what you think. Do you miss mid-budget live action films from Disney?
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).
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.
Hey everyone! I’ve got some more mini reviews for you of films I’ve been seeing over the last few weeks. I have certainly been extremely busy with content to make and movies to watch and it’s not even Christmas yet!
Lapsis is a film I saw as part of the virtual Fantasia Film Festival 2020. It is a very interesting sci-fi film starring Dean Imperial as a man in future dystopian-like world who is desperate for work. His brother is sick and the bills are piling up so he decides to get a job laying cable for a giant corporation. As he embarks on an Appalachian trail type odyssey he grows to realize the reach of the company is bigger and stronger than he ever imagined including little robots he must compete with who are also laying down cable along with the humans.
As you can tell this film has an intriguing premise and for the most part I enjoyed it. The only major flaw with it is the ending is very abrupt. It feels like they ran out of funding and couldn’t finish the movie. Up until then I was really digging the strange take on work in the gig economy. Still there is enough good before the ending for me to recommend giving Lapsis a shot.
6 out of 10
Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe
I am only minimally familiar with the Phineas and Ferb program. I’ve watched a few episodes here and there and recently tried to get caught up with mos the first season. From what I’ve seen it’s a delightful show with a nice sense of humor and playful character designs.
Recently they released a new movie based on the show called Phineas and Ferb the Movie Candace Against the Universe. Despite my lack of familiarity with the characters I really enjoyed this movie. It had a lot of humor that worked, a playful sense of whimsy and as someone with 2 brothers a character in Candace I can definitely relate with. I didn’t feel confused as a non-watcher of the show. The animation is bright and colorful and the music is catchy. Your kids will love it.
7 out of 10
The Blech Effect
The Blech Effect is a documentary that tells the story of investor David Blech as he is about to go to prison for investors fraud. It was for the most part a fine documentary and it is interesting to see the preparation that goes into someone getting ready for a correctional institution. At one point they even have a prison consultant who’s assigned to tell David what the first day of prison life will be like.
The aspect I didn’t like is them painting him as a victim of the system. In particular the repeated use of his young autistic son as a reason to spare him punishment. I am sure raising a son with autism has its challenges but it’s not an excuse for committing crimes or a reason for leniency.
4 out of 10
The Lost Husband
On the surface The Lost Husband looks like a Nicholas Spark-like narrative with our heroine getting back to her roots while overcoming grief. Unfortunately it is missing key aspects that make those movies, sappy as they might, work.
The film stars Leslie Bibb as a widow who moves into a farmhouse with her aunt Jean (Nora Dunn). Farm living proves to be therapeutic for the city girl especially with hunky farm aid played by Josh Duhamel. The problem is the romance is barely developed and the big reveal does not pay off. It makes the entire film very bland and boring where it could have been good.
3 out of 10
When I finished watching the new drama Shooting Heroin I was left more than a little befuddled. The very dark film about a group of citizens that take back their small town from the ravages of addiction has the feel of a faith-based films but then it is loaded with f-bombs, drug abuse and violence. I can’t help but think who was this made for?
The story of the film revolves around Adam (Alan Powell), Hazel (Sherilyn Fenn) and Edward (Lawrence Hilton- Jacobs). All have lost loved ones to opioid addiction and they all do a good job with their performances. Addiction is a horrible blight on humanity and it impacts every family sooner or later. It took 2 of my cousins. So I was with this movie as far as messaging but the tonal shifts didn’t work. It’s not awful but just messy.
Hi everyone! I hope you are doing well. It’s time to get caught up on a few movies I’ve been watching that I haven’t had the time to write up a complete review. In the next few weeks things are going to be very busy for me with new movies coming to theaters and VOD so reviews should be coming. Make sure you are subscribed to my youtube channel and my podacasts (here and here) to get all of my content!
I’m not the biggest horror fan but I do enjoy a good alien story and a well done creature scares movie. It is with these tastes I was hoping I would enjoy the new alien horror film out of Russia called Sputnik. Indeed, the film looks great and the scenes with the creature are chilling and quite gory. Unfortunately when they leave the aliens and focus on the humans it becomes a bit of a slog. This is a film I’d actually be interested in seeing a remake where they can have a bigger budget allowing for longer visual effects sequences. As it is, it’s too uneven to recommend; although I am definitely interested to see what the director Egor Abramenko does next in his career.
Sputnik is available to stream on VOD and in theaters.
4 out of 10
I love me a fascinating person documentary, and I love the Disney Renaissance films so I was primed to love the new film about Disney Legend lyricist Howard Ashman. He was taken far too soon from the AIDS epidemic, but it is amazing to watch the impact he did have in the time he was given (it’s bittersweet to think of all he could have done in the many years following his passing. Tragic). The documentary doesn’t break the celebrity bio-doc mold but it’s a must-watch for any Disney fan. Especially the time spent on The Little Mermaid and behind the scenes on Beauty and the Beast is wonderful to watch.
Howard didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about Howard Ashman but it was still fun to see his talent. I particularly loved seeing him work with Jodi Benson and his performances of Poor Unfortunate Souls had such vibrato and energy. No wonder he got story credit on the The Little Mermaid! He invested his all into the film. It also all has special meaning now as we are going through this pandemic. I wonder what documentaries are going to be made of those lost too soon to COVID19? Howard is available on Disney Plus and I highly recommend it!
7 out of 10
THE WEIGHT OF GOLD
As a huge life-long Olympian fan this documentary The Weight of Gold is tough but important watch. Narrated by star swimmer Michael Phelps it profiles the challenges Olympic athletes face obtaining the proper mental health care they need to deal with the intense pressure of competition. The athletes interviewed include a wide variety of disciplines from both the summer and winter Olympics including Apollo Anton-Ohno, Lolo Jones, Bodie Miller and Shaun White. I have dealt with my own mental health crisis in my life so it’s a subject that means a lot to me.
This stigma against mental health care needs to stop and it doesn’t matter if you are an athlete or have any other type of job we need proper care. Help needs to be easily accessible and encouraged. We’ve lost too many to suicide and despair. Enough is enough! The Weight of Gold is available to stream on HBO Max
9 out of 10
I love live action family comedies and dramas but lately they have been few and far between. Aside from Disney Channel movies Disney has been happy to stick to live action remakes and sequels rather than the small family features they used to be known for. However, with Disney Plus they have been doing more of these films with Togo, Timmy Failure, Noelle and more, which I am very excited about. Now we get their latest film, the long in development Magic Camp starring Adam Devine and Gillian Jacobs.
Magic Camp has a nice message with a simple story of the misfit kids learning to be believe in themselves we’ve seen a lot. Devine is fun and has chemistry with Jacobs, and they both try to make the movie work. Where I fault Magic Camp is, I hate to say it, the kid casting. They are a very bland group of ,kid actors that I struggled to stay engaged with. This is especially true if you compare them to the kids in something like The Sandlot or even The Mighty Ducks. There is no comparison. It makes the movie drag and it’s never funny enough to work as an outright comedy. I’d say skip this one on Disney Plus watch and just watch Timmy Failure again.
4 out of 10
So there you have it! Have you seen any of these films? What did you think and are you going to be going to the movie theaters to see upcoming films like New Mutants or Tenet? Let me know in the comments sections!
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).
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.
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.
One of my biggest laments in recent years is the practical abandonment of low budget live action films from the Disney Studios. Since The Queen of Katwe in 2016 (very underrated film) there has been almost nothing from the House of Mouse but remakes of their animated classics and you know how much I love those films…
However, one of the exciting things about Disney Plus is the studio now needs content badly and so by necessity they need to start up again making smaller live action films. So far they have released Noelle which was disappointing but passable. Then they had Togo, which turned out to be a delightful throwback to films like White Fang and Iron Will. I really enjoyed it!
Now we have their latest film Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made which may be my favorite of them all. Based on the books by Stephan Pastis, director Tom McCarthy of Spotlight fame has made a sweet, charming, funny film the whole family will love.
The film tells the story of an 11-year old boy named Timmy (played by the adorable Winslow Fegley) who lives in Portland and takes his detective agency very seriously. He has a home office, business cards and a giant polar bear sidekick that help him be ready to crack the toughest of cases. He’s even looking into the Russians and their conspiracy to ruin his school and the scary transition to middle school.
What makes Timmy Failure work so well is they take his character completely seriously. It’s not like the Diary of a Wimpy Kidmovies with over-the-top slapstick sequences (which can be fine). It’s so easy to write child characters as silly jokes but I remember as a kid getting so frustrated by that attitude. I had something to say and my own way of looking at the world, which adults did not care about. This movie cares about Timmy and his world.
I actually found myself tearing up on more than one occasion. Timmy is a really lonely kid and people like his teacher Mr Crocus played by Wallace Shawn don’t seem to even try to understand him. Much of his loneliness is compounded by his worries for his over-worked Mother played well by Ophelia Lovibond and his absent father.
Craig Robinson has a great scene where he talks to Timmy about adaptability and trying to be unselfish without losing yourself. Kyle Bornheimer is great as a meter maid who is dating Timmy’s Mom. These characters take him seriously and are interested in what he has to say. I loved that.
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed Timmy Failure: Mistakes were Made. The script, performances, themes, all worked for me. I even enjoyed the cgi polar bear (there are no trained polar bears so cgi was a necessity). I really think you will enjoy watching it with your family and have a great discussion together about how we all deal with loneliness and achieve our goals. Check it out and let me know what you think