The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker. Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David. Released: December 11, 2009. Runtime: 1h 37 min.

There are so many Disney films I still haven’t seen and 2009’s The Princess and the Frog was near the top of the list. The story follows a waitress named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) who dreams of opening a restaurant. A wrench is thrown in that plan Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) of Maldonia comes to visit and he crosses paths with the villainous Shadow Man, Dr. Facilier (Keith David) and gets turned into a frog. Mistaking Tiana for a princess, Prince Naveen kisses Tiana hoping to be turned back into a human – but Tiana herself gets turned into a frog and they take an adventure through the bayous of New Orleans.

My favourite aspect of The Princess of the Frog is just the culture of New Orleans and how filmmaking team Ron Clements and John Musker incorporate the popular elements of the city. The film takes place during Mardi Gras and the main dish of the restaurant Tiana wants to open – called Tiana’s Place – is gumbo. The main villain of the film, the Shadow Man, also uses voodoo and he is a great villain. Keith David’s performance is fantastic and his “Friends on the Other Side” song has to be one of my favourite villain songs. These friends from the underworld make for some creepy scenes, too, and look visually great.

Of course, jazz is heavily infused into the music throughout. This is especially the case with a friendly alligator Tiana and Prince Naveen meet called Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) whose dream is to play the trumpet with the boys, but everyone runs in fear because, well, he’s a giant alligator. Cajun music is also infused in the tune “Gonna Take You There” when our characters meet one of the main comic relief sidekicks, a firefly called Ray (Jim Cummings). As for the music itself, I don’t think it’s as memorable or catchy as some other songs of the last couple years – especially Frozen or even Clements and Musker’s 2016 film Moana – but they make great listening while watching the film. The only one in the actual film I think I’d ever hum is Tiana’s “Almost There” song. Though, I never realized Ne-Yo’s “Never Knew I Needed” was from this soundtrack and that was one song I would always listen to like 10 years ago.

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Keith David in The Princess and the Frog. (IMDb)

That main theme plays a huge part in the film as the film is all about following your dreams and thinking you know what you need, but finding what you actually need along the way. The film also has a strong message of working hard to get what you need throughout. This all happens organically through Tiana and Naveen’s relationship, and their chemistry is great. Anika Noni Rose has a really nice singing voice as Tiana, and her voice acting is great, too.

I liked their story, though I think I got more enjoyment throughout the film from the comedy from the sidekick animals Louis and Ray. As for the animation, I liked the classic look of the film and the character designs, especially the look of the villain Facilier. I think the story feels like standard Disney but it’s memorable because of all the visuals and the very New Orleans elements at play. There’s also a hopeless romantic vibe to this, too, especially as Ray – who is voiced so well by Jim Cummings – thinks his girlfriend is a star in the sky called Evangeline. It’s a bit silly at first, but it turns out quite lovely.

Score: 75/100

Justice League Dark (2017)

Justice League Dark (2017)

Directed by: Jay Oliva. Starring: Matt Ryan, Camilla Luddington, Jason O’Mara. Runtime: 1h 15 min. Released: February 7, 2017.

Beings with supernatural powers join together to fight supernatural villains. This supernatural team includes John Constantine (Matt Ryan), Zatanna (Camilla Luddington), and Jason Blood, also known as the demon Etrigan (Ray Chase).

The film opens with average people committing acts of violence because they see other people as demons, starting with a woman who runs over a bunch of them in the middle of a street, and my main question was why so many people were in the middle of the street. The Justice League don’t know what to make of it and Batman (Jason O’Mara), who is the only original JL member prominent throughout the film, is led to Constantine because whatever villainous plot is afoot deals with dark magic.

I don’t really love these DC Animated Movies (this film is a part of the DC Animated Movie Universe), but I think they’re always fine for their fans. I liked the premise of this one, though, because I think it gives something different than just the standard Justice League bit with the introduction of demons, but it still never got going for me.

Constantine’s introduction at a poker game in Vegas was a high point as Etrigan came out to save the day when Constantine forced Jason to summon him, as the situation escalated. Constantine never really left much of an impression after that because I didn’t think he ever did anything that interesting, but I like the character in the live-action film Constantine. I was way more interested in the world this film created, with the mythical House of Mystery and all that.

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Constantine, Boston Brand, Zatanna and Batman in Justice League Dark. (IMDb)

I found the side characters more interesting, too, like Zatanna who is a powerful magician and has something they call true magic (which Constantine also has), as well as Jason Blood and the backstory of how he got tethered to Etrigan and how that comes into the story. I also liked the ghost character Boston Brand (Nicholas Turturro), and the background of his death, though he’s described as a womanizer but we don’t get much of that when he’s actually dead. Also, I thought Boston’s “background” scene felt was too heavy-handed for an exposition scene and Jason Blood’s exposition scene for his background was handled way better.

Swamp Thing (Roger Cross) was also fun for a performance that was too brief for my liking. I liked this world because of the dark magic, and it’s well-animated, but I never had that much fun with it because it all still feels so standard even if it’s more unique than the regular Justice League. The villain, however, when (s)he was actually revealed was pretty good. I did like the whole premise about why average citizens are randomly seeing demons everywhere, too.

However, there’s just nothing memorable about this action and one scene in particular just feels like filler for the sake of it, but it’s needed because this is only 75 minutes long. I thought the finale was best when some of the other actual Justice League members came into play, like Superman (Jerry O’Connell) and Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson). The writing’s fine, it’s not remarkable in any way but there are some good one-liners (“your ass is grass Constantine, and we’re the mower”).

The only memorable thing about any of the action is when someone anonymously summons a demon in a bathroom and all the toilets explode and a huge shit demon comes out. “Shit really hits the fan, eh?” asks Boston when he sees it, and this is Boston’s only good zinger. The demon’s gross, but the visual and idea of it won’t leave my mind anytime soon.

Score: 50/100

Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island (2019)

Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island (2019)

Directed by: Cecilia Aranovich, Ethan Spaulding. Starring: Frank Welker, Grey Griffin, Matthew Lillard. Runtime: 1h 20 min. Released: September 3, 2019 (video).

Some spoilers follow.

I’m sitting here eating some of those Betty Crocker’s fruit flavored Scooby Snacks (not a sponsor). I’m 25 yet still have the snack preferences of an elementary school child, but that’s beside the point. I decided it would be an appropriate time to review Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island. A direct sequel to the 1998 film Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, this has the Mystery Gang coming out of retirement to investigate a mystery on the familiar zombie-infested island.

That’s my first problem with the film, the fact that they’ve “retired.” It opens with a montage of our gang chasing a bunch of villains as if in a last hurrah and then it’s revealed Fred has sold the Mystery Machine (for some reason). I haven’t been following the current television shows for Scooby-Doo so I don’t know if it’s canon that Mystery Inc. has closed up shop, but in this film, it comes out of nowhere with zero explanation. Scooby (Frank Welker) and Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) make Fred (also Welker), Daphne (Grey Griffin) and Velma (Kate Micucci) promise not to solve any mysteries for the foreseeable future because they’ve like, had it, man! Enough of that spooky stuff, they just want to watch horror movies where the monsters are fake.

When they win a trip to Zombie Island from an Elvira marathon show, we realize that most of the group don’t know how to live without sleuthing. Shaggy and Scooby will always have their food (and by the way, all the food in this film still looks delicious), but Velma only has her sleuthing. It’s also annoying when Shaggy and Scooby are attacked by zombies and they all think there’s a rational explanation for it because they can’t investigate the mystery. It’s convoluted and irritating, but the film becomes okay when Shaggy and Scooby release them from their promise and let them investigate the strange happenings and why they were invited to the island.

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Zombies in Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island. (IMDb)

Then, we realize why they had the whole convoluted thing about them not being able to investigate the mystery – because there’s not enough story in this film and there’s not much of a mystery. They literally have to kill about 35 minutes here so they can get it to feature length. If they were allowed to investigate from the get go, Velma would have solved this “unsolved mystery” (as she calls it on her blog) in about 10 minutes.

A note about the voice cast: I like the cast and how it’s adapted over the years, like now that Frank Welker is voicing Scooby as well as Fred. Matthew Lillard voicing Shaggy in animated projects since 2010 is a stroke of brilliance because he really embodied Shaggy in the live-action films (Scooby-Doo and Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed). Of course, I also like Grey Griffin as Daphne, as she’s voiced her in feature films since my personal favourite Scooby film, Scooby-Doo and the Cyber Chase. My only complaint is Kate Micucci. I like her as an actress, and though she’s voiced the character since 2015, I’m still getting used to her. Her voice fits the character, but her voice is just so distinct I still hear too much Micucci and not just Velma.

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Matthew Lillard and Frank Welker as Shaggy and Scooby in Scooby-Doo: Return to Zombie Island. (IMDb)

Anyway, Return to Zombie Island still does have a couple clever moments. The classic Scooby chase scene where they go from room to room will always be funny. The film’s also clever in a character name that would be a spoiler, but that is with Alan, played by John Michael Higgins (and this casting is solid). I think the best joke is when Fred is recapping the first film and Shaggy is just shouting, “We know, man, we were there!” It’s helpful exposition for those who might forget the first film, and it’s a good meta joke, but even recapping it so blandly takes away some of the joy of the first film.

The original is one of my favourite Scooby movies and I love these movies, and this one is just rough to watch and feels lifeless. By the end of it I didn’t care to hear anyone call our gang meddling kids because the story isn’t interesting. Its biggest problem is just breaking that sacred formula of investigating a mystery and getting called meddling kids, as the random introduction of them retiring just takes away my enjoyment. The formula’s still there, it’s just buried under a lot of Scooby Snacks.

Score: 40/100

Abominable (2019)

Abominable (2019)

Abominable posterDirected by: Jill Culton, Todd Wilderman (co-director). Starring: Chloe Bennet, Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor. Runtime: 1h 37 min. Released: September 27, 2019.

When a Yeti (endearingly called Everest) in Japan escapes captivity, he ends up on the apartment building of Yi (Chloe Bennet). They can’t stay put for long as a wealthy businessman named Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and British zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson) want their Yeti back. Everest escapes and brings Yi with him – as well as her neighbours, Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and his younger cousin Peng (Albert Tsai), who tag along on an adventure to bring him back home to Mount Everest.

Abominable is an entertaining animated film that maintains a sense of wonder for most of its runtime, especially when the characters set out for Everest, thanks to its settings and visually stunning animation. It’s also so creative how Everest can change nature around him and how he can manipulate it. It adds to the film’s mythology of yetis and those are my favourite scenes.

The story is also emotionally sound as Yi has lost her Dad and it’s nice watching her find her sense of family and adventure again. It’s especially moving when she wants to find her love of music again as she carries around her father’s violin. The film is just charming throughout with some lovely scenes, even if there’s nothing truly special about its A to B storyline that is very similar to Laika Studio’s Missing Link.

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Albert Tsai, Tenzing Norgay Trainor and Chloe Bennet in Abominable. (IMDb)

The comparisons are hard to avoid but I think they are both strong films in their own ways. This has a stronger emotional story but Missing Link has a lot of smart humour. I couldn’t really choose which one I like better because I like them about the same. A couple years ago I would have said Abominable because I just like this style of animation better, but I’ve started to enjoy stop-motion animation since Kubo and the Two Strings.

I also just really like this film’s screenplay by director Jill Culton. It’s smart and emotionally compelling and some of the creativity in the adventure is great. I like that the yeti is basically a child, too, as it creates some childish humour that just works. The voice acting is good here, especially Chloe Bennet as Yi. The villains are weak here as they get a bit annoying by the end of it, and that’s my main complaint. This film’s about the adventure and the film’s sense of adventure is charming throughout and I think that makes this well worth the watch.

Score: 70/100

Frozen 2 (2019)

Frozen 2 (2019)

Frozen II posterDirected by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad. Runtime: 1h 43 min. Released: November 22, 2019.

I’m a big fan of the original Frozen and six years later, it’s fun to revisit the characters but it doesn’t work nearly as well. When Elsa (Idina Menzel) starts hearing a mysterious siren voice, she inadvertently awakens an enchanted forest by singing the Oscar-nominated song “Into the Unknown” to it.

Soon, Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Olaf (Josh Gad) leave the comfort of Arendelle to travel to the autumn-bound enchanted forest and set out to find the origin of Elsa’s powers in order to save their kingdom.

The heart of the film is Elsa trying to find herself and her origins, and that is well-written. She’s only ever wanted answers for who she is and her journey of self-discovery rings true. The overall plot only works when it’s focused on Elsa.

Idina Menzel’s the star here. Her song “Into the Unknown” is great but “Show Yourself” is the real hidden gem of this film. It’s the most memorable emotional moment in the film and it’s an honest show-stopper, and if I ever re-watch this film, it will be for this sequence alone.

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Idina Menzel in Frozen 2. (IMDb)

Josh Gad still works well as Olaf and his Samantha bit is hilarious. His one solo song “When I Am Older” is fine. The songs are still adequately catchy – you’ll hum a couple of them, if anything – but they aren’t that memorable. Jennifer Lee’s writing is also so concerned with Elsa, Anna gets a boring storyline.

Kristen Bell still brings her A-game but she doesn’t get much to do here. Her voice is pretty during “The Next Right Thing,” but she’s sidelined for most of the first half of the film it’s not that emotionally strong as it should be. She finally gets her chance to shine in the third act, but for the most part she’s limited to trying to tag along with Elsa to protect her, though Elsa needs to do this on her own.

The relationship between Anna and Kristoff is annoying. Kristoff spends the film trying to propose to Anna. He keeps saying the wrong thing, digging himself into a deeper hole, that sends Anna on tangents misunderstanding what he’s saying.

It’s played for comedy but it made me cringe. It’s annoying because it becomes apparent this bit will be the focus of their relationship, as Kristoff’s poor communication turns their story into a bad romantic comedy. Conflict caused by poor communication is a giant pet peeve of mine, and I expect to see it in romantic comedies, but not Frozen 2.

That’s what Kristoff is written as here, a walking miscommunication. At one point, he wanders off to plan an elaborate proposal as the others go on without him. This is where Kristoff sings his solo song “Lost in the Woods” as he fears Anna is leaving him behind. It’s a love ballad that’s filmed like it aired on MTV, a moment of self-parody that doesn’t really work here.

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Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff and Idina Menzel in Frozen II. (IMDb)

It’s unfortunate a lot of this doesn’t work because there’s a lot of good, even great, things about Frozen 2. The animation’s breathtaking. The visuals make this worth watching even if I don’t love the story, because some of the animation is what I’ll remember best about this. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee also do an awesome job directing the action scenes.

The enchanted forest as a setting is great and it answers questions from the first film in rewarding ways, and the tribe within this forest is very interesting. Also, the elements of nature are handled so creatively here. This whole aspect is smart and well-written, and the only great scenes in this film involve Elsa.

I wish I could have tunnel vision just for Elsa’s story, because everything about it is perfect. Alas, the peripherals and other aspects of the film border on weak, and, as a whole story, the same magic of the first film isn’t here.

Score: 63/100

Note: Apparently 19-year-old me loved the original Frozen (review here), so much I gave it a 97/100. I love the original but man, now that’s a high score.

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)

Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (2018)

 

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IMDb

Released: November 9, 2018. Directed by: Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones. Runtime: 1h, 26 min.

When I went to see “Overlord” in November, I overheard a mom saying to her kid “Are you excited for your first movie?” Knowing how cool it is to see your first movie at a theatre, I was bummed he was seeing something as mediocre as “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” for his first movie at the theatre.

“Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” is the third adaption of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! where Benedict Cumberbatch voices the titular Grinch in a version that doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the story.

This time, The Grinch isn’t particularly feared and is just seen as meaner than the average Who. He still doesn’t like Christmas, so when the Who’s bring in a gigantic Christmas tree, he hatches a plan to put an end to their happiness: Steal Christmas.

Illumination Entertainment’s animation style fits Seuss’s style, especially his inventions which the animation brings to life well. I like their vision of Whoville, but the animation is the only good part of the film, even though it makes Cindy-Lou Who (Cameron Seely) look like a Martian with her pigtails sticking up in the air, and the character design’s similar to “Despicable Me.”

As for the story, there’s just not enough plot for a feature film. It’s just told with very little creativity, and there are no Jim Carrey kind-of antics to distract from the lack of story.

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Benedict Cumberbatch in Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch (IMDb)

Cumberbatch is fine as the Grinch, but he’s not terribly memorable. Nothing about this film is memorable, and the main source of laughs come from the Grinch’s cheery neighbour (Keenan Thompson) and the Grinch’s dog Max and an overweight reindeer, and the Grinch trolling the citizens of Whoville made me smile, but those moments were the only times I did.

Pharrell Williams’ monotone narration also does not help matters of entertainment. Since you already know which direction is going, I was getting antsy for the Grinch just to steal Christmas, but it feels like it takes forever to get there. There just aren’t many interesting characters to watch in this one, as the Grinch and Cindy Lou’s interactions are extremely limited until he makes his Christmas heist.

Even then, it’s a bit of a cliche way for Cindy Lou to meet him – setting up a Rube Goldberg trap to try to catch Santa Claus so she can ask him for something selfless.

We know about the Grinch’s loneliness and we know that he steals Christmas and that his heart grows three sizes, but this version doesn’t delve into any kind of new backstory or anything interesting, for that matter. And it was just kind of weird seeing a version where the people aren’t afraid of the Grinch. But for this version, the filmmakers just unfortunately don’t do anything to make it memorable.

Score: 50/100

 

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 (2018)
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IMDb

Released: June 15, 2018. Directed by: Brad Bird. Starring: Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Vowell. Runtime: 1h 58 min.

Writer/director Brad Bird and stars Holly Hunter, Craig T. Nelson and Samuel L. Jackson are well-aware it’s been 14 years since the The Incredibles, as they address this wait before screenings of Incredibles 2. It is a long time – long enough for Holly Hunter (Helen Parr/Elastigirl) to turn 60, the same age Craig T. Nelson (Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible) was when they made the original in 2004.

But now Incredibles 2 is finally here and it’s a great nostalgia trip after all these years. I smiled so much during the opening scene because it’s so entertaining, and I thought it was worth the price of admission alone.

Politicians of Metroville still want superheroes to stay hidden and not intervene. Not everyone wants supers to be hidden – as the CEO of a telecommunications company, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener) have come up with a way to get supers back in the good graces of Metroville.

They want to use Elastigirl (Hunter) to show the government supers can save the day without a lot of structural damage. That’s the main reason they pick her over Bob (Craig T. Nelson) – because he causes the city so much money. “Big problems need big solutions,” Bob explains. This time, Helen’s out on secret missions and Bob’s the stay-at-home dad.

It’s so cool watching Elastigirl fight crime for the bulk of the film this time, as her powers of stretching all over the place is visually more interesting than Bob just using his strength on everything. Plus, Holly Hunter is generally amazing so more screen time for her is welcome. The rest of the voice cast is also really great.

The main plot is Helen foiling the plans of a mysterious figure called the Screenslaver, which is entertaining and has a lot of well-animated, dazzling action scenes. Some aspects are predictable, but the pure entertainment of the third act more than makes up for it. The story’s also very well-written.

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IMDb

I generally loved the plot so much because it’s so cool going back to these characters, and the Parr’s family dynamic still feels fresh after 14 years. The parents do switch roles this time. Bob deals with jealousy of Helen fighting crime and him being pushed into the shadows of parenting, and it’s handled with humour.

He seems more like Bob in this film than Mr. Incredible, but he shines whenever he’s in his super suit. Speaking of super suits, Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) also has enough chances to shine. Other fan favourite Edna E. Mode (Brad Bird) also has a great appearance.

Bob helping Dash (Huck Milner) with homework and him screwing up trying to help Violet (Sarah Vowell) with boy problems will be relatable for dads. The biggest laughs come from the scene-stealing Jack Jack (Eli Fucile) who’s unable to control his newfound powers. That’s a huge thing Bob has to deal with. Anyone who’s seen the Jack Jack Attack short film will definitely love this sub-plot. He’s one of the most entertaining aspects of the film and Brad Bird seems like he’s having a blast writing this.

Besides the great old characters, we get to know a few new heroes – Sophia Bush as Voyd, for example – and they’re fun side characters that Bird explores. The film’s storyline flows nearly as well as the original and the dialogue’s still sharp and the humour’s great. Michael Giacchino’s score helps a lot with the film’s nostalgic feeling, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Score: 90/100

The Incredibles (2004)

The Incredibles (2004)
The Incredibles
IMDb

Released: November 5, 2004. Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson. Directed by: Brad Bird. Runtime: 1h, 55 min.

In Metroville, superheroes are forced into retirement by the government after getting hit with lawsuits, and the supers promise to refrain from superhero work. Effectively, this makes their secret identities their only identities.

For Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), not being a superhero is a big ask. 15 years after supers are forced into hiding, Bob works in insurance claims by day and hangs out with Lucius Best/Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) at night, listening to police scanners. Since he can’t be heroic as Mr. Incredible, the cinematography makes his days look dark and depressing.

When he’s given an assignment by a mysterious person to be heroic on a remote island, everything’s brighter. After this, he and his family are forced into super action – including wife Helen/Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and their kids Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Spencer Fox), as baby Jack Jack stays at home with a babysitter.

“The Incredibles” is about a family that must hide their powers – Violet can go invisible and make forcefields and Dash can move at super speeds – but otherwise they’re an average family. Helen and Bob even parent differently like normal families.

Bob says that their powers make them special; Helen wants them to know their powers aren’t the only thing that make them special. They’re mostly on the same page – except in a moment that should be punishment for Dash after he puts a thumbtack on his teacher’s chair, Bob’s just excited that Dash was going too fast to be seen on camera.

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Dash, Violet, Bob and Helen in The Incredibles. (IMDb)

While embracing who you are is an important theme, family’s the most prominent one. One of the film’s coolest moments is when the Parr’s stand together as The Incredibles for the first time, ready to fight the villains as a family. And that moment especially set to Michael Giacchino’s score makes it feel so awesome, and the score is great throughout.

The villain himself, Syndrome (Jason Lee), is well-written by writer/director Brad Bird. Syndrome is a rich guy who creates his own powers by creating gadgets and weapons and his backstory of desperately wanting to be a hero and facing rejection put him on his supervillain path.

The screenplay’s one of the film’s strongest suits as everything flows so well throughout. The lesson that Bob has to learn that being a hero isn’t the most important thing, and that he can be a hero by being a father, is also insightful. Everything’s top-notch here from the dialogue, humour, great characters and action scenes. Bird just brings it to life in such an amazing way.

Bird has some funny comments about villains in general, one of which is an observation on drawn out villain monologues when they could defeat the hero at any moment. “The guy has me on a platter and he won’t shut up!” says Lucius. Bird also voices scene-stealing fashion designer Edna E. Mode, who designs super suits, and her bit about “no capes” is one of the film’s funniest moments.

Score: 100/100

Inside Out (2015)

Inside Out (2015)
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Released: June 19, 2015. Directed by: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen. Starring: Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black. Runtime: 1 hr., 34 min.

The human mind is a complex thing to dissect. Trying to figure it out and portray it as a comprehensive subject to children, while also making it entertaining for adults seemed to pose to a challenge for Pixar with their latest film “Inside Out.”

And boy, do they do it well. It starts with a question of if we ever wonder what goes on in people’s heads. That’s a question that seems to spark the film’s premise – branching into an original and charming animated feature, where we follow 11-year-old Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) and the five primary emotions in her head.

The concept honestly portrays the ups and downs of what an 11-year-old girl’s emotions might be like at a sensitive time in her life – uprooted from her home in Minnesota to a different San Francisco.

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The reasoning for the emotions, or lack thereof, is when Sadness (Phyllis Smith) and Joy (Amy Poehler) get sucked into a tube while trying to save core memories.

The tube’s purpose is to ship the day’s memories to long-term memory. Joy and Sadness have to adventure back to headquarters to make Riley happy again.

An interesting concept is that Riley’s core memories power parts of Riley’s personality – called personality islands. They include Hockey, Friendship, Family, Honesty and Goofball. With these hanging in the balance, the stakes complement the narrative with a compelling quality.

The controlling emotions left in headquarters are the hot-head Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader) and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). Disgust is so nasty, by the way, she is shaped like a piece of broccoli. Their conflicting attitudes make for some funny scenes and their not-so-delightful attitudes make Riley snippy.

I think the film adds insight to how certain emotional problems start. Since Riley is so snippy, it makes me think that’s how mood swings are triggered. And when Joy and Sadness leave, that’s how you become unlikable – or if the personality islands start to crumble and you become emotionless, that’s how you become a psychopath like Dexter.

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My favourite thing created in this world was probably Dream Productions, which puts on little television shows as Riley’s dreams. It’s like her slumber Hollywood. It’s cool. Pixar’s creative new world is something you’d probably envision as a kid, because imagination is so much fun. I think that’s why this is attractive to kids, but also entertaining for adults. The beautiful poignancy at play and the film’s heartfelt narrative could sporadically offers chills, as well as tears, throughout.

The characterization in the film is also great. Riley’s natural reactions and the way she is portrayed is so realistic, she feels like someone you would know. I thought the casting for the emotions was pitch perfect, and their conflicting opinions made for awesome good-spirited humour. The film’s message of not always having to be happy to live a joyful life is also lovely.

Lewis Black’s comedic delivery is anger, and his character is like an everyday dad who reads the newspaper every morning, which has a lot of clever headlines of what’s going on in Riley’s life. Bill Hader has a delivery that suits fear; he’s that one guy who is afraid on his own shadow.

Mindy Kaling’s sarcastic delivery matches her emotion of disgust very well. Amy Poehler’s likable personality and happy-go-lucky delivery is also very entertaining. I thought Phyllis Smith was born to play Sadness, being the most convincing out of the five. The character is like a gentle aunt who wears turtlenecks. Richard Kind offers a delightful performance as Riley’s imaginary friend called Bing Bong. If a man would have played Joy, Richard’s surname certainly could have helped win him the job.

Score: 95/100

The Boxtrolls (2014)

The BoxtrollsReleased: September 26, 2014. Directed by: Graham Annable, Anthony Stacchi. Starring: Ben Kingsley, Jared Harris, Elle Fanning. Runtime: 96 min.

For the kids, The Boxtrolls is a colourful animated film that they will remember fondly for a crazy hermit who repeatedly says “Jelly!” For the adults, it’s a clever political satire of the power one man can have over a small populous by planting a single idea in their heads.

Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley) convinces the townspeople of Cheesebridge that boxtrolls are a monstrous race that eat children and steal cheeses, and that’s not okay in a town called Cheesebridge. When a boy is stolen by the boxtrolls, a city-wide curfew is put in effect. Rumours fly that the boxtrolls ate the father’s bones. Snatcher uses this as an opportunity to spark a paranoia of the unknown.

In reality, they’re a misunderstood, harmless race that steal what they need, like tiny men from The Borrowers. Their appearance is reminiscent of the annoying Crazy Frog, and their timid personalities are much like turtles (the box is their shell). The logo on the box they wear is also their name. There’s a boxtroll called Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright) boy who obviously doesn’t look like the rest of his people. When Snatcher is hired by the town’s mayor (Jared Harris), Eggs tries to stop the numbers of his people from dwindling.

Snatcher’s malicious intentions find reason in motivation: To get a white hat that indicates prestige and privilege. Ben Kingsley offers memorable moments as Snatcher, a creepy, embodiment of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s villainous Child Catcher. He is perhaps out-starred by his three amusing sidekicks who are trying to snatch the boxtrolls. Richard Ayoade and Nick Frost voice a pair who bicker about whether they’re on the good or bad side of the situation. Tracy Morgan portrays the other sidekick, a sadistic Mr. Gristle. The villains use a local heartthrob, Madame Frou Frou, as a channel for propaganda.

When we get to the human “good guys,” things get less interesting. The supporting Winnie (Elle Fanning trying her best) is an uninteresting and mild brat. Her father (the Mayor) is too obsessed with the town’s main export, cheese, to pay attention to her. Cheese’s prominence in the screenplay is strange, one character even compares it to a mother’s smile on a warm spring’s day.

The character of Eggs at the film’s heart isn’t captivating. He leads a story of finding belonging. He’s at his funniest when at a public and prestigious dance. Otherwise, much like minions in Despicable Me, the boxtrolls steal the spotlight with their creative language and antics. They’re diverse (one has a pair of dentures) and amusing, particularly Shoe and Eggs’ caretaker, Fish.

The Boxtrolls boasts detailed animation and a unique visual style. For all of its faults – it’s both sporadically gross and boring – it works just fine. It will keep children entertained and it’s clever enough for adults.

Score: 63/100