Lilo & Stitch (11/24/12)

Lilo & StitchMovie Two Hundred Seventy

In Lilo & Stitch, a lonely Hawaiian girl finds a friend after an alien fugitive crash-lands nearby.

Dr. Jumba Jookiba is under galactic trial for illegal experimentation and his experiment #626 is used as evidence of this, a creature of his own design. Jookiba is to be transported to prison and 626 is to be sent to an abandoned asteroid, but 626 takes escapes from the ship and ends up landing on Earth, in the Hawaiian Islands. 626 gets hit by a truck and is taken to an animal hospital, thinking it’s a weird breed of dog. A young girl named Lilo, who is being taken care of by her older sister, adopts 626 and names him “Stitch”. As the galactic council searches for 626, Lilo and Stitch bond and they learn the true meaning of ‘ohana (family).

When my wife (then girlfriend) and I traveled to Disney World about 6 years ago, Lilo & Stitch merchandise was freaking everywhere and we felt kind of out of the loop since we hadn’t seen it. Flash forward to present day and we decided we needed to finally see Lilo & Stitch before heading to Disney World again. Neither of us were very impressed by the film, and Stitch had a lessened presence, but at least we understood it.

Oddly enough, Lilo & Stitch is the film that brought back the use of watercolor painted backgrounds in Disney features, a practice mostly given up around the 1940s. The animation style is also unique to Disney films and even the character design is atypical. I found the entire art style pretty fantastic and when the story started to bore me I found myself staring at all the backgrounds. It is easily the strongest single aspect of Lilo & Stitch in my mind.

One thing that has always bugged me about central characters that are horrible people but we are supposed to cheer them on, even if they aren’t improving themselves or anyone around them. For most of the film, Lilo is an annoying kid. Yeah, she’s had some hard times…but she punches a classmate in the face for no real reason. Cute behavior to teach kids, Disney. The dysfunctional family life (sister raising kid, social worker trying to take the kid away) also seems really deep for a movie with such juvenile jokes. It would be hard to recommend Lilo & Stitch to really young kids, but most of the stuff would go right over their heads and they would be in it for Stitch acting silly anyway.

As an adult, I found very little to like about Lilo & Stitch outside the production values of it. The story didn’t grab me, nor did the characters. It wasn’t a movie I hated watching but seeing it once was probably enough for me. However, Lilo & Stitch is certainly a unique Disney animated film, for better or worse.

I give it 3 Elvis Presley plays a large role for some reason out of 5.

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Wreck-It Ralph (11/8/12)

Wreck-It RalphMovie Two Hundred Fifty Three

A video game villain wants to be treated like a hero and jumps into other games to win a medal in Wreck-It Ralph.

The game Fix-It Felix, Jr. is home to game villain Wreck-It Ralph aka Ralph (John C. Reilly) who, after 30 years of service in the same arcade, decides he is tired of always being the villain and wants the recognition of a hero. When the in-game building residents throw Fix-It Felix, Jr. (Jack McBrayer) a 30th anniversary party without inviting Ralph, Ralph crashes the party and smashes the cake. Ralph then decides he needs to win a medal to prove his worth as a good guy. Ralph learns that the new neighboring game called Hero’s Duty gives out medals to the winner so Ralph decides to leave his game in search of a medal. After taking a medal and accidentally launching a spacecraft, Ralph and the cy-bug enemy from Hero’s Duty are launched to a neighboring racing game called Sugar Rush where Ralph must retrieve his medal from Venellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman)by helping her win the race.

Wreck-It Ralph may very well be the perfect movie for me, a video game loving movie nerd. It combines my great love of video games, hits big on nostalgia for retro gaming and arcades, and also has that great Disney touch. There are so many sly nods to video games over the past three decades that it’s easy to miss most of them. Wreck-It Ralph is to video games as Toy Story is to toys and that is perhaps the best way I can describe the movie. While Wreck-It Ralph relies on knowledge of some video games, it is really only for the setup of the film, once Ralph leaves his game he is in the video game worlds created for the movie in Hero’s Duty and Sugar Rush, though both of these games are heavily influenced by actual video games.

I do not usually defend 3D in movies as I find it superfluous in nearly all instances, but Disney treats 3D with a sense of care. There are no gags in Wreck-It Ralph with random stuff flying at the screen just for the sake of 3D, the 3D is mostly used just to give scenes a particular depth to them. While I still could do without 3D, I would rather have it benefit the movie rather than be obnoxious.

One comparison Wreck-It Ralph is destined for is how it fares against Pixar animated movies. While Wreck-It Ralph may lack that extreme level of polish, I would be surprised if people could really tell this wasn’t a Pixar movie. The story gets a bit bogged down towards the end, but the pacing never plods along. Even young kids with no real knowledge of older video games will not have the setup go over their heads. For example, there are several Q*Bert jokes that should work for all audiences, regardless of if you remember Q*Bert.

Disney has a winner with Wreck-It Ralph and I hope that its a movie that remains high on people’s favorites for the studio. I think it has the potential to be a classic, though once the video game references start getting old, they will either be the good type of nostalgic or archaic. Hopefully the former, but I’m already in love with Wreck-It Ralph and can’t wait to watch it again.

I give it 5 awesome official websites out of 5.

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The Incredibles (8/8/12)

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Two former superheroes forced into retirement are called back into action with the whole family in The Incredibles.

Bob (Craig T. Nelson) and Helen (Holly Hunter) Parr, also known as Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are former Supers now living as civilians to hide their identity. They have three children, Violet, Dash, and Jack-Jack. When Bob and friend Lucius Best (Samuel L. Jackson) aka Frozone start getting back into the Superhero game at night, they are approached for actual Super missions again by a woman named Mirage. One mission on an island ends up being a trap, masterminded by former Mr. Incredible fan and wannabe sidekick Buddy (Jason Lee), now known as Syndrome. When Mr. Incredible is in trouble, it’s up to his Super family to come to his aid and together they must save the day.

It’s films like The Incredibles that make a studio like Pixar special. It’s a film that could have easily been a cheap thrill with no heart just to push toy sales but it is really something special when you give it a closer look. The conflict of a restricted superhero working a lousy day job and having to hide his secret identity is simple genius. The fact that Bob sees his actual identity more as Mr. Incredible than Mr. Parr is also handled with great care and heart. The family situation of Supers is also simple but it works so well that it’s easy to gloss over just how perfect it works here.

Brad Bird, who was also the creative force behind the also amazing Iron Giant, has a real knack for setting up a story that seems so simple but is made remarkable by the tangible things like the characters, the story, and the art/animation but what identifies his films as masterpieces is the more esoteric “soul” of the film that instantly connects you with the characters and plot. We don’t need origin stories here, we just need to know superheroes exist. We relate with the issues that the Parrs have to deal with even though we aren’t Supers. Heck, we even understand why someone like Syndrome would go to such lengths to act like a Super, and his means aren’t necessarily evil so much as misguided. The Incredibles does all of this and makes it look easy.

To match the level of the film itself, the blu-ray presentation blew me away. I had long owned the DVD version and enjoyed it, but the blu-ray looks and sounds 10 times better than I remembered. The Incredibles isn’t a film that I could see myself watching too often, it’s the type of film that I regard as a special treat every few months. Long enough between viewings so that the experience is fresh and that rush of excitement is almost new each time. The Incredibles should be the film that Pixar is remembered for.

I give it 5 classic Mr. Incredible posters out of 5.
(I prefer his blue suit, actually)

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Forgotten Disney: White Wilderness

Forgotten Disney: White Wilderness.

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Check out my guest review for Disney’s True Life Adventures: White Wilderness over at Forgotten Films as part of his Forgotten Disney guest blogging series. Be sure to follow for more forgotten film coverage.

I had a lot of fun watching this one, actually.

The Emperor’s New Groove (6/4/12)

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In Walt Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove, a young Peruvian emperor has to learn how to be a better person after being turned into a llama.

Kuzco (David Spade) is the spoiled bratty emperor of ancient Peru that wants to build his summer house on the hill that Pacha (John Goodman) lives on. Soon after, Kuzco’s advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt) decides to poison him with the help of her assistant, Kronk (Patrick Warburton), to control the empire. Instead of poison, the two use a potion that turns Kuzco into a llama and Kuzco is disposed of. He then has to make his way back to defeat Yzma, right his former wrongdoings, and also turn back into a human.

Say what you will of the quality of Disney’s animated films from the past 15 years, but for me, The Emperor’s New Groove is one of my favorite Disney animated features ever. If you’re wondering why, I would assume that means you haven’t seen it and I can’t say I blame you. Even Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame got more marketing and sustainability while poor Emperor’s New Groove was released and quickly forgotten. I’m sure its troubled development is largely to blame. It’s a simple film that I find pretty hilarious that also has a great artistic style and soundtrack.

While the film is not up to the level of quality of say, Lion King or Aladdin, but The Emperor’s New Groove doesn’t seem to try to be those films. It is unique enough that it’s almost surprising it’s Disney. Even as an almost-thirty year old that has seen it several times, I laugh out loud during multiple scenes. Most of the credit belongs to the amazing cast assembled. David Spade is the obvious weak link, especially since he is in the lead, but his personality and mannerisms transfer perfectly to the character, even if you aren’t a fan of his.

I love proselytizing in the case of The Emperor’s New Groove mostly because no one else seems to. Very few people I know are even familiar with this lost gem of the Disney catalog so I feel it’s my duty to recommend it. There are few films quite like it, even if the story is taken from the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, the spin put on The Emperor’s New Groove is fresh.

I give it 4 multi-linguistic “Boom, baby!”s out of 5.

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Winnie the Pooh [2011] (3/6/12)

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I’m not entirely sure what made me watch Winnie the Pooh. As a child I was always fond of Pooh’s adventures, but as a 29 year old I probably shouldn’t be interested in seeing what the gang is up to. Regardless of my age, I found the movie to be incredibly endearing.

Clocking in at just over an hour, Winnie the Pooh is about half song, something I was not expecting. I don’t ever remember a song every few minutes growing up with Pooh Bear, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there weren’t songs. After awhile the songs were more of a chore, my wife was constantly rolling her eyes and grumbling things like, ‘another song?!’. I found the songs to be enjoyable, but they do make the hour run time feel even longer. Fans of Zooey Deschanel will be pleased that she did the main theme song and a few other tracks for the soundtrack.

The story is classic Winnie the Pooh; Pooh wants honey (or hunny) and Eeyore has lost his tail. The gang tries to find Eeyore’s tail while Pooh is in it mostly for the honey. The adventure they get into is charming, but fairly unmemorable. I could see young children wanting something like this on repeat until the disc melts, though.

One thing I feel is worth mentioning is the animation. I’m not entirely sure if it’s hand-drawn, but it looks very much like it is. In this age where everything seems to be computer generated it is a nice touch, even if it is actually computer generated to look this way. While it doesn’t break the mold or get too crazy, I quite enjoyed my time with Winnie the Pooh despite being completely outside the target audience.

I give it 3 confused Poohs out of 5.

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Tangled (2/4/12)

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Disney’s Tangled is, in many ways, a very Disney movie. It has all the elements: a princess, a handsome guy to sweep her off her feet, a cute animal sidekick, an evil stepmother and plenty of songs. While that description may make it sound derivative and predictable…It kind of is, but that isn’t the point.

I actually quite enjoyed Tangled, which tells the story of Rapunzel. Other than the songs, I don’t think there’s much deviation to the traditional story but don’t quote me on that. Girl needs saving, guy saves her, there’s some conflict, things end happy. But if you broke every movie down into pieces that simplified, all movies would fall into a similar trap.

While no where near my favorite Disney movie, it is nice to see the house of mouse can still release a great animated movie without relying on Pixar. The film would probably be best appreciated by a younger audience, but those of us that grew up with Disney’s animated films will likely get enjoyment out of it regardless of age or gender.

What Tangled does right is sticking to the classic Disney Princess formula. That may sound like it’s a bad thing, and to some it may be. It’s more a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I mean, Disney could throw together any crappy movie they wanted and people would line up to see it. Luckily, Tangled is a solid movie that has all the typical Disney charm.

I give it 4 chameleon sidekicks out of 5.

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