Posts tagged "Disney"

“Soul” finds heart in this emotionally complex story

December 21st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Soul” finds heart in this emotionally complex story”

Disney Pixar has done it again with “Soul” thanks to the inspirational co-writing and co-directing of the renowned artist Pete Docter who gave us “Up,” “Inside Out,” and “Toy Story.” With animation that makes you forget it’s animated, Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett and an array of other well-known and talented actors use their voice to bring these characters to life. It’s a remarkable story, perhaps geared more toward adults than children, that sends a perfect message of living our best lives each and every day.

The opening scene introduces us to Joe Gardner (Foxx) who finds himself in a rut as a middle school music teacher. Never having attained his goal of becoming a standout jazz pianist, Joe trudges through his days. But then that day of opportunity comes and he’s ready. Auditioning for the great Dorothea Williams (Bassett), he gets his lucky break and the world is a shiny new place for Joe. Moments later, along a zippy stroll back home, he takes a wrong step and lands in a weigh station between life and death. Just when things were looking up for Joe, it looks like he’s never going to make his earthly dreams come true.

The animation changes in this new place as we only see Joe’s soul and all those who are ascending to the next phase. But Joe, unwilling to leave his life behind, runs, finding himself in The Great Before, the place where personalities and quirks are developed for each and every soul. It is here that he meets the feisty 22 (Fey) who has absolutely no want to become human but together, inadvertently, they discover the true meaning of life.

“Soul” is an existential story delving into what it means to be human and the gifts we are given and how they are attained. While this may sound like a conceptually complicated idea to convey, Docter and co-writers Mike Jones and Kemp Powers find a concrete way to demonstrate it. And in true Pixar style, the emotional element rings loudly, bringing us into the story as we forget that we are watching an animated film, connecting us with Joe and his urgency to not give up on his life. Countering Joe’s dramatic flare, 22 adds the snarky comedy that makes us laugh aloud—it’s a perfect balance. But there’s also a dark side of the film, a land of lost souls which counterbalances and adds an element of fear to Joe’s quest to live. While the darkness may seem disturbing, like in life, we cannot appreciate the light without the dark.

The imaginative elements seems boundless in “Soul” as it captivates you and pushes your cognitive boundaries. With this creativity, as would be expected with any Pixar film, the animation is stellar. Playing the piano, Joe’s fingers hit every key needed to produce the harmonic tones. A simple rise of an eyebrow or the slow turn of a head, gives Dorothea the hesitant and exasperated emotion necessary for a scene. The attention to detail is incredible as the animators find seemingly imperceptible ways to animate these characters and bring them to life. Of course, the voices are the final touch and each character is cast perfectly. Foxx finds the dramatic notes while Fey’s razor sharp wit punches each scene in staccato style. Graham Norton’s droll humor seeps into the bean counter “Moonwind” as we chuckle at his focus on precision. It’s a magical amalgam of writing, directing, acting and animation that equals the passionately evocative story telling of “Coco,” “Toy Story,” and “Inside Out.”

“Soul” is the perfect escape to find yourself and while it may appeal more to adults than children, the animation will certainly capture the heart and soul, pun intended, of everyone who watches it. Be cautioned, parents, as this is going to spur a few questions about life, death, and every existential question you could imagine from your kids…and maybe even from you!

You can stream “Soul” on Disney+ beginning Dec. 25, 2020.

4 Stars

“Safety” is more than a sports story

December 9th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Safety” is more than a sports story”

When you think Disney, images of uplifting, family-friendly and uplifting films comes to mind. Their newest film “Safety,” based on the true story of Ray-Ray McElrathbey, a freshman football player on scholarship at Clemson University, stays true to this image.

Jay Reeves stars as the young football recruit who is, as any freshman student-athlete would be, struggling to juggle it all. It’s a tough road, but Ray-Ray is looking to his future, knowing that football is a means to an end and probably not a path to a professional career. Taking a heavy class load, attending practice, getting acclimated to school life, and finding his place on the team, Ray-Ray gets a crisis call from home. His mother is being admitted to a rehab facility and his little brother has no choice but to go to a foster home. It’s a heartbreaking moment as Ray-Ray’s mind quickly weighs his options, and then accepts responsibility for caring for Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson). Living in the dorms with a roommate, Ray-Ray smuggles his little brother in, attempting to be his father-figure and juggle football and school. Of course, this is too much and Ray-Ray finds that it truly does take a village to raise a child.

“Safety” could easily be a fictional tale as it travels down what seems like a predictable road, but knowing it is based in reality adds a level of sincerity to the story and the characters. We watch as Ray-Ray shuts those around him out of his life, not trusting others, but his love interest, a school journalist, helps him shed those fears. The obstacles he faces, from coaches’ inflexible rules to the NCAA’s equality rigid guidelines, add the elements of tension and opportunities for maturity and eloquence from Ray-Ray and he rises to every occasion. While much of this may appear on the surface as being contrived, it feels nothing but sincere as it connects us to not only Ray-Ray and Fahmarr, but every coach and athlete we meet. We are rooting for this unique family called the Clemson Tigers as they ignite love and empathy in us as the viewer.

Reeves effortlessly carries this heavy load as Ray-Ray, a young man who has experienced tragedy and trauma most of us only read about. This role could easily have been overstated, but Reeves demonstrates restraint and gives us a more nuanced and credible performance. Mixson is equally talented as the irritating little brother who struggles with school, trust, and respect, but gradually finds a better version of himself. Together, Reeves and Mixson create a genuine relationship as they connect you with their characters.

Staying true to the story, the coaches portrayed by James Badge Dale as Coach Simmons and Matthew Glave as Coach Bowden, have their own story to tell, augmenting Ray-Ray’s tale. And as the team becomes a family, all with their own unique personalities, it gives you hope in humanity.

Disney, of course, adds their signature style creating a glossier story to one which was probably much more gritty in real life. But this doesn’t take away from the message and the reality of what it took for one young man to choose his family and potentially sacrifice himself. The story, more than a decade ago, reminds us of the importance of community and family as we reach out to one another. You can’t ask for a better message in our world today, especially as we approach the holiday season.

You can stream this on Disney+ beginning December 11, 2020.

3 Stars

“The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” Finds the Force

November 18th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” Finds the Force”

After countless hours of watching every single “Star Wars” movie ever made, I am almost inclined to say “The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” is the most entertaining one!  Disney’s Lego artistry is of course incredible as characters embrace their swiveling hair and pincer grip hands, but it’s the writing that makes it stand out. Making fun of the concept, the never-ending saga of “Star Wars,” and the evil, good, or strange characters’ personalities, writer David Shayne incorporates every character and confusing story line and brings it to life in this time travel saga.

We begin this holiday rendition, narrated in classic syntactic style by Yoda, with Rey struggling with her inabilities to teach Finn how to be a Jedi. Questioning her own credibility, she ventures off to find answers.  Accompanied by BB8, Rey discovers a time travel key in a mysterious temple which unlocks the doors to see and meet the greats of “Star Wars” past.  From young Anakin Skywalker and Han Solo to Darth Vader himself and even baby Yoda, Rey interacts with and learns valuable lessons along the way. But…one past version of Darth Vader sneaks back to the future with Rey and begins to wreak havoc. Now, young Rey must set things back in order and get back to the present in time to celebrate the infamous Life Day.

Writer Shayne capitalizes on the “Star Wars” soap opera-like confusing genealogy of the characters, and crazy as it sounds, he creates a bit more background from these animated plastic characters, especially the relationship between the evil Supreme Leader and Darth Vader. The conversations that ensue shed light upon the character’s personalities and why they chose between the dark and the light side. In fact, many of these conversations and parenthetical comments, especially among the Supreme Leader, Darth and Kylo are laugh out loud funny. These strange little plastic figures with changeable printed garments come to life with voice overs which conjure the real life actors. They deliver dialogue that is incredibly smart and funny, particularly if you’ve been subjected to the myriad number of hours of “Star Wars” movie viewing.  

The action and vivid animation is there to hold younger fans’ attentions, even if they don’t quite understand all the “Star Wars” references, but it’s those references and attention to visual detail that we adults will appreciate. And somehow, Shayne squeezes in or makes a nod to almost every relevant “Star Wars” character or convoluted story line in the short running time of 44 minutes while it creates a captivatingly entertaining story with a complete narrative arc and lesson.

Be sure to check out “Lego Star Wars Holiday Special” available on Disney+.

3 1/2 Stars

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” A disturbing mess not intended for children

October 16th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” A disturbing mess not intended for children”

The witch is back in Disney’s sequel “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, and Michelle Pfeiffer. This convoluted dark mess with an unknown target audience continues the saga of Maleficent with misguidance and misdirection from the mega studio. While the story picks up and recaps the events from the first film, “Maleficent,” a much more benign and children-friendly film, this new rendition has only enough content to fill about 30 minutes of the nearly 2-hour running time.

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” begins with the young Queen Aurora (Fanning), Maleficent’s human daughter, and Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) from the neighboring and previously warring kingdom, planning their upcoming nuptials, much to both their mothers’ chagrin. Caught in the middle of trying to please her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Queen Ingrith (Pfeiffer), and persuading Mom to hide her horns and behave, she finds that there are evil ulterior motives lying beneath her new mom’s intentions.

Initially, the film has a few laughs, particularly with Maleficent’s commentary of the human race, but these snarky quips quickly fall to the way side to make room for disturbing content that will surely spark a few nightmares for little ones. Queen Ingrith begins to reveal her true colors showing that she may not possess the magical powers of Maleficent, but she does have the devil in her heart. As the story twists and turns, we see the tone of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale (“Little Briar Rose”) brought to everliving color, but even the Brothers Grimm might cringe with the disturbing darkness that Disney has ensnared.

Queen Ingrith has devised the means to complete the genocide of two races. She is threatened by them, seeking power, and misunderstanding them because they are different. While there are wonderful lessons to be learned about embracing others’ differences, this is not the way a children’s film should do it. Disturbingly, we witness a little fairy being turned to dust before our eyes using a chemical invented by the evil queen. We also watch as all the little creatures are lured into a church under false pretenses only to be slowly gassed to their death. There are also plenty of battle scenes and the body count is high.

The story does, predictably, push us to root for not only the young couple in love, but also for the Queen of Evil, Maleficent. She’s got a temper, but thanks to her human child, she has learned to love, dampening her roiling rage. Jolie beautifully exudes this inner conflict, sometimes with sarcasm, and we find ourselves more emotionally connected to her than to Aurora. Fanning’s forgettable performance illustrates a milk toast character that is undeniably flat—it’s a total disappointment in Disney pushing forward with female empowerment. Pairing perfectly with Fanning is the princely love interest who is equally dull. The culprit of these disappointing performances is most likely an unimaginative script. And unimaginatively, the film appears to have directly “borrowed” scenes from other films like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Lord of the Rings” to mention just a couple.

On the positive side, makeup, costuming and set design are incredible, but unfortunately, this cannot carry a film. Jolie’s sharply protruding cheek bones and clavicle which supports her talon-topped wings, and her sleekly silhouetted black garb, accentuating her strikingly strong physique, are simply mesmerizing. And Pfeiffer’s bejeweled and flattering royal dresses just might start a fashion trend.

“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” is a disappointing live-action sequel that lacks content, but more importantly, it is a distressing and disturbing film not intended for youngsters. We also have grown to expect Disney to entertain the adults as well as the kids, but this one doesn’t fit the bill in either category.

1 Star

“The Lion King” Same heart, incredible new technology in animation

July 11th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Lion King” Same heart, incredible new technology in animation”

Disney has released yet another remake from their wonderful world with Jon Favreau in the director’s chair. After the success of the incredible melding of real life with animation in “The Jungle Book,” many anticipated equally extraordinary visualization of the memorable film “The Lion King.” Varying little if at all from the original story, this new version of “The Lion King,” a “photo-real” production is mesmerizing throughout thanks to the artistic and technological worlds colliding in beautiful harmony.

The story begins with the familiar Mufasa (voice of James Earl Jones) attempting to impart words of wisdom upon his adorable, fluffy, and feisty cub Simba (voice of JD McCrary). Doom and gloom ensues as Scar, always jealous of his older brother’s strength and place in life, plots to take down the king and in so doing, inflict seemingly irreparable damage to young Simba. Years pass and the missing heir to the thrown has made a new life, Hakuna Matata style, but he must follow the path his father and ancestors’ have paved for him.

While those who are familiar with the original animated version of the story will always cherish it, this new and visually impressive version tells the same father-son story, keeping all of the same key songs, but using the terminology of today and giving each of the characters a new, fresh voice.

The film is visually entrancing from the beginning, but it doesn’t really find its pacing until after the first third of the film when Simba meets Pumba (Seth Rogan) and Timon (Billy Eichner). Each of these characters are familiar yet their respective voices create new and interesting personalities as they help Simba get through each day. With laugh-out-loud moments, the film is a Disney multi-colored world of happiness and fun. Disney movies are known for their ability to make both kids and adults laugh and this updated version does exactly that, perhaps even more so than the original. Although the final portion of the film is much darker and more intense, and perhaps even scary for younger ones because it does feel and look so real, there’s also a message of environmentalism and honor as Simba stands up for what’s right and best for all.

With any remake, particularly Disney classics, you roll the dice when you cast a new voice for a beloved character. We saw mixed reactions to “Aladdin” (Will Smith vs. Robin Williams), but “The Lion King” thankfully continues with James Earl Jones as Mufasa and expertly or perhaps wisely casts Rogan and Eichner for incredible comedy and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the voice of Scar who formulates incomparable intimidation in his voice so that you can almost see the scheming and evil emanating from his character’s lips.

Zazu is voiced by John Oliver who brings us his own signature style and JD McCrary brings a youthful innocence to his character of young Simba. Growing older, Danny Glover takes over this part, spinning Simba in his own way, especially while he sings.

While many may argue whether or not a remake was needed, no one can argue this film’s astoundingly magical animation technique. Favreau reportedly blended “live-action filmmaking techniques with photo-real computer generated imagery” as the environments were designed within a game engine or VR (Virtual Reality) set up. Favreau’s vision and his team have revolutionized the world of animation and because of this we are in constant awe as we see the detail of the lion’s whiskers and fur, the graceful gallop of the giraffes, the rough and symmetrical ridges of the antelopes’ antlers, the intensity of the hyena’s dark and hateful eyes, or the billowing dust randomly rising and falling as we can almost feel the particles settle on our skin. The details are mesmerizing, capturing our attention and almost drawing it away from the story itself. Where the line of reality and animation blur is up for grabs as you cannot tell what is real and what is not. This truly gives the sense of anthropomorphism of the animals and immediate empathy for their lives.

Favreau masterfully creates an amalgam of worlds, real and animated, to retell a beautiful and familiar story which will mesmerize children and adults alike. With the skill, talent, knowledge and artistry involved in creating such a visual accomplishment, it’s too bad Disney didn’t put its efforts into creating a unique and original story to go along with it. However, fans of “The Lion King” will find that same heart of the original.

4 Stars

“Aladdin” Disney updates story, message in live-action remake

May 22nd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Aladdin” Disney updates story, message in live-action remake”

Disney continues with its live-action remakes of their classic animated tales as it releases “Aladdin,” starring Will Smith as the Genie, Mena Massoud in the lead role of the beloved street thief Aladdin, and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. The question before us is, can Will Smith create the role of the Genie and make it his own or will we forever long for the Robin Williams’ version from 1992?

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

In expected Disney style, the film begins with vibrantly magical sweeping shots, creating the feeling of flying over the deep blue sea as we swoop down to meet a mariner and his children as he tells them a tall tale about a genie, a lamp, and a young man named Aladdin. We are then transported to a mystical time and place where we meet Aladdin and his monkey Abu, stealing and averting authorities and meeting a beautiful young woman. The story doesn’t appear to stray too far from the original, although with a running time of 30 additional minutes, there may be some additional—and unnecessary— scenes.

The pacing is what suffers slightly in this longer-running rendition, particularly in the middle of the film, which may elicit younger viewers to get a little wiggly in their seats. However, the energy picks back up in the final third of the film which is filled with impressively choreographed dance scenes and a few familiar songs. While the film is called “Aladdin,” it’s more of the Genie’s story and Smith uses his charm, looks, and style to bring a half CGI, half human character to life. The writers even bring us a love-interest side story for this chained yet powerful creature which is an unexpected and welcomed surprise. Smith makes this role his own and he shines in it, but if you’re a fan of the frenetically paced, uproariously funny Robin Williams version, he just doesn’t compare.

Massoud is extraordinary in his portrayal of a young man who knows his place in society, yet hopes that love can conquer all…with a little help from a genie. His lyrical voice captures your attention and your heart as he sings and dances his way in and out of trouble. Scott also shines in her role as the Princess with her expressively rich voice, and the writers take the time to allow her to have determination and intelligence which she easily conveys. Of course, she’s gorgeous, she is a Disney princess after all, but thankfully, there’s so much more to her than that.

Visually, this film is continually stunning with its jaw-droopingly gorgeous set designs and costuming. From elaborate castles to the forsaken desert, the Disney designers don’t miss a detail. The Far East allows for the use of bright and striking colors and the costumes reflect this perfectly. CGI is a character as well as it brings the Magic Carpet and Aladdin’s sidekick Abu to life and gives Smith’s on-screen presence an other-worldly feel. As Aladdin is frequently running away from situations and authorities, the extraordinary camera work takes you along on that chase, zipping in and out of tight spaces, over and under impossible roadblocks, to create dizzyingly exciting scenes. However, what appears to be missing, to a certain extent, is the humor. It’s funny, but it doesn’t have the comedic element that Williams was able to bring to the entire film. His style, talent, and memory cannot be superseded.

As we’ve come to expect from Disney, there are some life lessons in the film. The obvious ones regarding the evils of greed and power are there as well as the importance of word choice. Words do matter. The topic of gender equality also arises as the Princess tackles centuries of a patriarchal society, where women cannot be in a position of authority, let alone a sultan and she must marry to be successful in life. It’s another refreshing element to an updated Disney story.

“Aladdin” will reignite and to some extent reinvent the beloved Princess Jasmine story in live-action form. It’s a fun film with extraordinary special effects and designs as well as an updated vibe, but my heart holds Robin Williams in the role of the Genie and the classic animated version.

MARY POPPINS RETURNS- magical fun for the entire family

December 21st, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “MARY POPPINS RETURNS- magical fun for the entire family”

Disney’s Academy Award-winning musical, “Mary Poppins,” starring Julie Andrews, Angela Landsbury and Dick Van Dyke, turns 54 this year and what better way to celebrate than by creating a new adventure based on this classic family film?

The magical nanny is back in “Mary Poppins Returns” with Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda stepping in to create an entirely new version of the story, while still maintaining the magic of the music, the dance and, most importantly, the story.

We meet the Banks’ family, who is comprised of two grown children, Michael (Ben Whishaw), and Jane (Emily Mortimer). While their parents have long gone, Michael, a widower, has two astute children who miss the comfort and guidance of their mom.

To read the review in its entirety as it appears in the Friday, December 21st edition of The Daily Journal go to https://www.daily-journal.com/life/entertainment/reel-talk-mary-poppins-returns/article_a868e358-02de-11e9-9ec9-bf8683523647.html

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