Category Archives: Animated

“The Lion King” Movie Review

Okay, yes, I am writing a review for this movie because of the impending “live-action” remake next month. However, it also turns out that this movie is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month. This beloved animated musical was originally released in theaters on June 15th, 1994, to overwhelming success. In its initial run, it managed to gross over $766 million at the worldwide box office, making it the most successful film of that year. It was later re-released in 3D in 2011, which brought its total intake to around $968 million. In addition, it remains the best-selling film of all time on home video and the highest-grossing film made from traditional animation. Co-directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, the story was first conceived in 1988 while Jeffrey Katzenberg and Roy E. Disney were in Europe promoting Oliver and Company. With no less than 17 people credited for the story, original director and producer George Scribner and Thomas Schumacher left the project after constantly clashing visions with Disney. Their departure led to the story being greatly rewritten and reimagined as a musical. Although William Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a big inspiration for the story, it’s also worth noting that this was the first animated film under the Mouse House to be an entirely original property with no pre-existing source material. The classic story follows a young lion named Simba, voiced by Matthew Broderick, who’s destined to rule as King of the Pride Lands in Africa. After his father Mufasa is murdered by Simba’s paternal uncle Scar, he is manipulated and shamed into thinking that the death was his fault and runs away. Years later, Simba is all grownup, living with meerkat Timon and warthog Pumbaa, voiced by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, and is completely divorced from any sort of responsibility. But when he gets word of the horrible conditions under Scar’s tyranny, he must rise up to the challenge and reclaim his rightful place as King. This is a film that has been ingratiated into the minds of so many childhoods over the last two-and-a-half decades. If you grew up in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, there is virtually no way that this movie wasn’t involved in your life. It’s very hard for me to remember a time in my early childhood when it wasn’t around; it just seemed like the movie was always being played in the house. All of that nostalgia initially had me a little hesitant to review the movie now as a fully grown adult. I was worried that it would cloud my judgement on seeing the film purely for its own merits; or worse, that it wouldn’t hold up as well as I remember it. And yet, even without any childhood bias, I can still confidently say that The Lion King is still the peak of the so-called Disney Renaissance. For those who don’t know, the Disney Renaissance was a period of time in which Walt Disney Animation Studios churned out one high-quality movie after another. Other films released during this time included Aladdin, Tarzan, Mulan, and The Little Mermaid, all of which allowed the studio to further establish its worldwide brand. And even since its conclusion, fans such as myself have constantly debated over which one was the best of the all. For me, as you may or not have figured out, it’s no competition; this film contains everything those other films had and more. Memorable musical numbers, awesome characters, fantastic animation, a great sense of humor and heart. If there’s a certain criteria you have for a capital “G” Great animated feature, The Lion King probably has all of it. Matthew Broderick may be best known for Ferris Bueller in the titular movie, but there’s a lot to like about him as Simba. While probably not the most nuanced or complex protagonist in the studio’s arsenal, his struggle to step up and take on a tremendous task is something nearly all viewers can relate to. Also, James Earl Jones is fantastic as Mufasa, Simba’s wise and stern father. A completely different father figure from his turn as Darth Vader, his deep voice resonates with audiences of any age with many sage monologues filled with wisdom. Jeremy Irons also impresses as the voice of Scar, hands down one of the best animated villains ever, Disney or otherwise. His regal voice is one that is built for chewing the scenery and the way his character’s movements are animated makes it seem like he’s acting it out in the recording booth. And of course, we have Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timon and Pumbaa, Simba’s laidback mentors. The comedic timing and slight immaturity in their voices sounds completely naturalistic in their hands, and their timeless number, “Hakuna Matata,” is one for the ages. Moira Kelly, Robert Guillaume, Madge Sinclair, Whoopi Goldberg, and Rowan Atkinson all provide their voices for various supporting roles. It’s quite hard to point out a real weak link in the cast here, as they all contribute something memorable. It’ll be interesting how the new version changes these characters, if at all. And as with most other films of its period, The Lion King still stands as a technical marvel in the genre. Like some of its peers, there are a handful of shots that seem to blend traditional animation with then-burgeoning CGI. And despite being released in 1994, this mixture is not obvious; quite the opposite. It makes for some truly cinematic shots in iconic scenes, such as the heart-stopping stampede scene relatively early on in the film. And even when it’s just purely traditional animation, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The use of colors like orange, yellow, and red is ingenious in creating the atmosphere for the Pride Lands. It helps to deepen the character of the setting and define the characters’ personalities. Every time I watch it, the visuals always pop out, right from the opening shot of the sunrise on the horizon. Hans Zimmer won an Oscar for a reason because his original score here is a true classic of cinema. The soundtrack is just as epic and exciting as the story, utilizing a wide range of instruments and vocals for different tracks. Whether it’s an exciting bit where characters are being chased by the hyenas or a moment where Simba realizes his destiny, Zimmer knows what to do. It goes from being filled with rapid percussion and strings to haunting vocals in an instant and somehow still feels organic. In addition, musician Elton John and lyricist Tim Rice composed several original songs together, many of which have earned a spot in the annals of Disney history. Whether it’s the attention-grabbing, nostalgia-inducing opening number “The Circle of Life” or the Oscar-winning ballad “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?,” those two really know how to play it right. But who are we kidding? The best one is obviously the villain song, “Be Prepared,” in which Scar lavishly talks about his planned coup for the throne. There’s honestly WAY more that I could say about this film. About how it essentially defined a whole generation, how nearly every family had it playing in the house at some point growing up, and son on and so forth. But I have a feeling that everyone reading this already knows that and so, I’m gonna leave it off here. The Lion King remains the undisputed chief of traditional animation and the king of Disney proper. Even with a lean runtime of 88 minutes, there’s so much packed into this film that’s literally impossible to not fall in love with every viewing. I have limited expectations for Jon Favreau’s reimagining next month, but we’ll always have the original. If you ask me, this film was, is, and probably always will be the absolute pinnacle of animated cinema.

Image result for the lion king poster 1994

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“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” Movie Review

This franchise has become a lot more than jut one where a skinny guy leans how to fly a dragon. This has become a full-on friendship saga, and I’m here for it. This computer-animated fantasy adventure was released worldwide on February 22nd, 2019, after nearly three years of constant delays. Before that, audiences in Australia got to see it starting on January 3rd, and had already grossed over $181 million at the worldwide box office and should pull in even more numbers from domestic markets. Produced on a budget of $129 million, it has gone on to gross more than $440.5 million and garnered some of the best reviews for any film released so far this year. It also currently holds the record for one of the highest-grossing advanced screenings of all time. Written and directed by Dean DeBlois, the same man behind the previous installment, this is the latest in the series based (Albeit, very loosely) on the book series of the same name by Cressida Cowell. The director had always planned on making a trilogy of films, and scrapped a very well-developed plotline about halfway through production to rework everything. And after running out their contract with 20th Century Fox, this is the first film from Dreamworks Animation Studios to be distributed by Universal Pictures. All parties involved have repeatedly vowed that this stands as the definitive conclusion not just to the film trilogy, but to the entire franchise as a whole. Set one year after the events of the second movie, we once again follow Jay Baruchel as Hiccup, the young leader of a small Viking village called Berk. Having completely integrated humans with dragons into their population, Hiccup and his trusted Night Fury dragon Toothless work with several other warriors in the village to rescue dragons from rival clans. This draws the attention of Grimmel the Grisly, voiced by F. Murray Abraham, an infamous dragon hunter set on capturing or killing Toothless and a newly discovered female “Light Fury.” With little time and a massive armada on their tail, Hiccup decides to lead the citizens of Berk to a legendary Hidden World, said to be the true home of the dragons. I’m a huge fan of both the first and second How to Train Your Dragon films from 2010 and 2014, respectively. Although Dreamworks itself can honestly be hit-or-miss most of the time, these were two of the best, most epic animated films of the decade. In fact, they were both superior in quality to some of Pixar’s latest outings, which is a damn near impossible task to accomplish for the company. And although I paid no attention to the smaller shows that spawned out of it, I had long been hungry for the concluding chapter of the trilogy to hit theaters. It’s constant delays had started to make me a little worried that it may not be able to properly wrap up the entire franchise. Especially because the trailers I had seen for it weren’t all that enticing, a common problem for Dreamworks. Would Universal fundamentally change how they made their film? Well, I’m extremely happy to say that How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is not only a satisfying conclusion to the animated saga, but it’s also a great movie in general. And perhaps the best compliment I can give this film is that it really feels like a finale to a franchise. Each installment in the saga has improved upon the last one, and the same goes here for the third film. Much like the Toy Story films, this series has gradually grown up with its audience as the years have gone by, becoming a darker and more mature tale. However, unlike the Toy Story films, How to Train Your Dragon has the wisdom to know when its narrative should end and how to make it feel justified. Witnessing Hiccup and Toothless’ friendship together come to a head is a highly emotional journey as the lessons they’ve learned from past adventures come into play. And it’s incredibly wonderous to see that the filmmakers managed both to make the ending here worthwhile and keep it as entertaining. I cannot express to my readers enough how stupidly rare it is for trilogy cappers in cinema to actually be satisfying. I haven’t really been a fan of Jay Baruchel as an actor, but his voice role as Hiccup continues to impress me. Having grown from a yuppy wimp in the first film into a capable leader in this one, he consistently struggles with how to balance his desire for pacifism and the need to protect his people. By his side this entire franchise is America Ferrera as Astrid, Hiccup’s beautiful and headstrong girlfriend. She has full control over her own agency and isn’t afraid to tell Hiccup when she thinks he’s wrong on something. F. Murray Abraham also does impressive work as the villain Grimmel the Grisly, an utterly ruthless dragon hunter. While he isn’t given much of a backstory or motivation, his voice and look give a menacing presence that resonates every time he’s in a scene. The rest of the voice cast is filled out by returning players, none of whom have lost a beat. These include Cate Blanchett, Kit Harrington, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig, and even Gerard Butler. While not all of them have as rewarding of an arc, they still contribute something unique to the experience. Meanwhile from a technical standpoint, Dreamworks has never had a better looking film than How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World. While the two previous installments in the series were very well-animated and had fantastic art direction, the imagery in this film is so awe-inspiring and beautiful that it makes others look shabby by comparison. There is so much subtle detail in every animation, whether it be sand on a beach or flora and fauna in a cave, that feels alive. Moreover, the film is made in an extremely cinematic style in aspects such as camerawork and lighting. You’d swear that Roger Deakins himself shot this film with how controlled it is. We get a lot of swooping shots and glorious pans that reveal the true scope of this imaginative world. In addition, John Powell returns to compose and conduct the instrumental film score, and it’s just as amazing as the last couple times. It incorporates leitmotifs from the previous films in various parts, and always feels full of personality. A wide range of different instruments are brought together to create a gorgeous and epic sound, such as vocal chorus and strings. It also undercuts with woodwinds and percussion to give the feeling of one last grand adventure. Bringing together all of the elements from previous films that made them so amazing while amplifying it to eleven, How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is an epic and emotionally fulfilling end to a truly awesome saga. After 9 years, it has become one of the rare third installments of a trilogy that is the best of the bunch, thanks in no small part to its astound animation and story. This has become the pinnacle of the Dreamworks brand and what they’re capable of doing in film.

“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” Movie Review

One has to wonder what Solo: A Star Wars Story would have looked like if Lord and Miller had actually finished it their way. I know that’s very cliched thing to say now, but I just can’t help but be mighty curious, especially with something like this and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. This computer-animated comedy adventure was theatrically released on February 8th, 2019, almost exactly 5 years since its predecessor. While it has grossed over $103.8 million at the worldwide box office thus far, given its $99 million budget, it performed under expectations for the studio. In fact, some are debating whether it will be able to turn a real profit by the end of its theatrical run. That being said, it has still received fairly positive response from audiences and critics, albeit a little less so than the first film in the series. Directed by Mike Mitchell, the original film’s creators Phil Lord and Christopher Miller return to produce and write the screenplay. The biggest creative hurdle they faced during production was seamlessly and successfully moving between the headspace and imagination of the human children. There were also a number of brand new Lego mini-figures created specifically for the film, many of which were made with the subject’s permission. Taking place 5 years after the events of the original, the vast and diverse world of Bricksburg has been turned into Apocalypseburg after an invasion from Duplo bricks. Master Builder Emmet Brickowski, voiced by Chris Pratt is struggling to adjust his attitude to the hardened tone of many of his world’s inhabitants, including his girlfriend Lucy/ Wyldstyle, voiced by Elizabeth Banks. One day, an alien named General Mayhem kidnaps Lucy and various other Master Builders and takes them to a brand new place called the Systar System. Racing against time to save them, Emmet gets some unexpected help along the way from a mysterious galaxy-defending, raptor-training cowboy named Rex Dangervest. I absolutely loved The Lego Movie from 2014 and it remains one of the biggest cinematic surprises I’ve ever seen. Although I genuinely regret missing it in theaters, it proved everyone who thought it would be terrible wrong by providing fast-paced humor and a surprisingly thoughtful story to go along. Not to mention, it’s proven to be an incredibly rewatchable movie with tons of cool references and jokes to find each new time. And while I enjoyed The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, I was waiting eagerly for a proper sequel to that modern classic. Whether or not it would actually live up to the first one is a bit unfair, since its predecessor had the element of surprise whereas this one became highly anticipated. And the answer is no, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is ultimately not as good the second time around. But still, it’s a very entertaining animated romp with plenty of humor and action to keep viewers preoccupied for 107 minutes. What’s most surprising about this sequel is how it doesn’t seem interested in retreading old ground or repeating what happened last time. Instead, Lord and Miller attempt to move things forward in a relevant way, finding time to address new topics. Whereas the previous one was a thinly veiled critique of capitalism and anti-copyright law, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is more of an indictment of toxic masculinity. Emmet has no idea how to be tough and strong in a world so fundamentally weary of itself, and when he tries it ultimately hurts both him and his loved ones. As one character points out, “It’s easy to harden your heart, but opening it up is one of the hardest things we can do.” Liking things that were meant for kids or staying upbeat in dark times is never a thing to feel ashamed of, no matter what others may tell you. Chris Pratt pulls double duty, both returning as Emmet Brickowski and voicing his self-parody as Rex Dangervest. They present a fun and interesting duality of his career; one is the lovable everyday guy who doesn’t think too much, the other is a badass, self-serious action hero. Tiffany Haddish is among the newer additions to the cast and is more than welcome. As Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, a shape-shifting alien monarch ruling over the Duplos, she is every bit as witty and hilarious as she is in many of her other live-action roles. Pretty much all of the voice cast from the first film reprise their roles here and are still perfect. These include Will Arnett as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Elizabeth Banks as the troubled girlfriend Lucy, Charlie Day as the spaceship-obsessed astronaut Benny, Nick Offerman as the cantankerous pirate MetalBeard, and Allison Brie as the feisty and unpredictable Unikitty. Other newcomers include Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Stephanie Beatriz as the deadpan General Mayhem, who is not what she first appears to be. Hearing her speak awkward lines in a menacingly robotic voice had me and the audience in stitches numerous times. And when it comes to the technical aspects, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is extremely impressive and polished. One thing I love about this series is that even though it’s computer-animated, they go through an insane amount of motions to make it look like stop-motion. That continues here with gloriously smooth textures and a wide-ranging color palette. The level of detail in each individual shot is almost unreal, with virtually everything on-screen- including explosions, water splashes, and dust clouds -resembling Lego pieces. Mark Mothersbaugh, who previously composed for the first entry in the franchise, once again provides the instrumental film score. Much like last time, it’s a whimsical one befitting of the sweeping and wacky adventure shown on-screen. It’s a very diverse and wide-ranging sound, with instruments like synthesizers, percussion, and strings going back and forth over who controls the melody. It’s highly suspenseful and thrilling for the action scenes and more calm or moody when establishing the setting, including the Mad Max parody of Apocalypseburg. And also like the first film, the soundtrack features a couple of earworms out of original songs. The most obvious one this time around is “Catchy Song” by Dillon Francis, T-Pain and That Girl Lay Lay. It’s a musical number which literally promises in its lyrics that it will get stuck inside your head, and it does. But there’s also a somber redux of the original’s “Everything is Awesome” into “Everything’s Not Awesome.” Hearing the whole cast sing it in the tired world of 2019 was something I never expected I would need to hear. Utilizing a new line of characters and choosing new themes to address, even if it doesn’t always stick the landing, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is a playful reminder of kid-like wonder and fun. Miller and Lord continue to do wonders with ideas that should be absolutely terrible on paper, but end up being highly entertaining for broad audiences. And while the messaging and plot may not be as clever in this sequel as its predecessor, it’s still a welcome one. In these dark and scary times, everything isn’t awesome- and that’s okay, and we shouldn’t let that force us to change ourselves.

Final 2019 Oscar Predictions

After nearly a whole year’s worth of screw-ups, terrible announcements, last-minute changes, and other controversial matters, the 91st Academy Awards are finally upon us. And as was with last year, I managed to see nearly all of the major contenders from last year in preparation for this one night. While there are more frontrunners this year than previous expected, I still have some thoughts about who I think will win in all 24 categories (Which will THANKFULLY be all aired live) as well as who I think better deserves it. Also like last year, I took the liberty of including some films I really thought deserved a nod in a category that were ultimately snubbed. And remember, regardless of how it turns out or if we even like it, the ceremony airs this Sunday, February 24th.

Best Picture

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: Green Book

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: If Beale Street Could Talk

 

Best Director

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

Could Win: Spike Lee for BlacKKKlansman

Should Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Marielle Heller for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

 

Best Actor

Will Win: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: Christian Bale in Vice

Should Win: Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: Joaquin Phoenix in You Were Never Really Here

 

Best Actress

Will Win: Glenn Close in The Wife

Could Win: Olivia Coleman in The Favourite

Should Win: Olivia Coleman in The Favourite

Should Have Been Nominated: Viola Davis in Widows

 

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Sam Elliot in A Star is Born

Could Win: Mahershala Ali in Green Book

Should Win: Sam Elliot in A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: Michael B. Jordan in Black Panther

 

Best Supporting Actress

Will Win: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Could Win: Rachel Weisz in The Favourite

Should Win: Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk

Should Have Been Nominated: Tilda Swinton in Suspiria

 

Best Original Screenplay

Will Win: The Favourite

Could Win: Green Book

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Sorry to Bother You

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Will Win: BlacKKKlansman

Could Win: A Star is Born

Should Win: BlacKKKlansman

Should Have Been Nominated: Widows

 

Best Animated Feature Film

Will Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Could Win: Incredibles 2

Should Win: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Should Have Been Nominated: Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

 

Best Foreign-Language Film

Will Win: Roma (Mexico)

Could Win: Cold War (Poland)

Should Win: Roma (Mexico)

Should Have Been Nominated: Border (Sweden)

 

Best Documentary- Feature

Will Win: Free Solo

Could Win: Minding the Gap

Should Win: RBG

Should Have Been Nominated: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

 

Best Documentary- Short Subject

Will Win: A Night at the Garden

Could Win: Period. End of a Sentence

Should Win: A Night at the Garden

Should Have Been Nominated: Zion

 

Best Live-Action Short Film

Will Win: Fauve

Could Win: Detainment

Should Win: Fauve

Should Have Been Nominated: One Cambodian Family Please For My Pleasure

 

Best Animated Short

Will Win: Bao

Could Win: Late Afternoon

Should Win: Bao

Should Have Been Nominated: The Ostrich Politic

 

Best Original Score

Will Win: Black Panther by Ludwig Göransson

Could Win: If Beale Street Could Talk by Nicholas Britell

Should Win: Black Panther by Ludwig Göransson

Should Have Been Nominated: First Man by Justin Hurwitz

 

Best Original Song

Will Win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born

Could Win: “All the Stars” from Black Panther

Should Win: “Shallow” from A Star is Born

Should Have Been Nominated: “Hearts Beat Loud” from Hearts Beat Loud

 

Best Visual Effects

Will Win: First Man

Could Win: Ready Player One

Should Win: First Man

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Best Cinematography

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: A Star is Born

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Widows

 

Best Costume Design

Will Win: Black Panther

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: The Favourite

Should Have Been Nominated: Paddington 2

 

Best Makeup and Hairstyle

Will Win: Vice

Could Win: Border

Should Win: Vice

Should Have Been Nominated: Suspiria

 

Best Production Design

 

Will Win: The Favourite

Could Win: Black Panther

Should Win: First Man

Should Have Been Nominated: Annihilation

 

Best Film Editing

Will Win: Vice

Could Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: BlacKKKlansman

Should Have Been Nominated: Hereditary

 

Best Sound Mixing

Will Win: A Star is Born

Could Win: Bohemian Rhapsody

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Best Sound Editing

Will Win: Roma

Could Win: A Quiet Place

Should Win: Roma

Should Have Been Nominated: Mission: Impossible- Fallout

 

Do you have thoughts or predictions of your own? What films do you think will, could, or should win in each category? What are some that you feel got snubbed by the Oscars? Be sure to leave a Comment on it below, and if you like what you see here, be sure to Like this post and Follow my Blog for similar film-centric content.

“Mary Poppins Returns” Movie Review

This is definitely the second-best movie of the year where Ben Whishaw plays a marmalade-loving character from the city of London. Definitely. This musical fantasy film was theatrically released by Disney around the world on December 19th, 2018. It has thus far grossed over $213 million against an overall budget of $130 million. Although it opened slightly below expectations, its performance improved in the second weekend, holding against strong holiday competition. It has also received mostly positive reviews, as well as a rigorous awards season campaign for the studio, being one of two major live-action players for them. (The other one being Black Panther) Directed by Rob Marshall, who also made Chicago and Into the Woods, a sequel to Disney’s 1964 classic had been gestating in development hell since the mid-1960s. Both Walt Disney himself and eventual CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg attempted to get one off the ground through the 1980s but were constantly stopped by original author P.L. Travers, who famously hated the adaptation. It wasn’t until late 2015 that the studio was finally able to work something out with Travers’ estate and a sequel was finally underway. It closes one of the longest gaps between installments in history, at 54 years difference. Set in 1930s London about 25 years after the events of the original, the Banks children Michael and Jane, played respectively by Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer, are all grown up and have grown disillusioned after a family tragedy. When their childhood home is in danger of repossession, their mysterious magical nanny Mary Poppins, played this time by Emily Blunt, suddenly returns to take care of Michael’s 3 children, Georgie, Annabel, and John. While Jane and Michael scramble to save their house, Mary Poppins shows the children truly fantastical ways to help themselves and their family, all the while bonding with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lamplighter Jack. It’s been many, many years since I last watched Mary Poppins, but I remember loving it as a child. Whether it was Dick Van Dyke’s gamely silly accent or Julie Andrews’ wonderful performance, it had a wide-ranging appeal, even though I definitely wasn’t “into” many musicals at the time. I was somewhat concerned by Disney giving the go-ahead for an official sequel but also felt relieved that it wasn’t just another one of their live-action remakes. Not to mention, while Rob Marshall is a talented director, he often feels more like a journeyman than anything else. And yes, Mary Poppins Returns is very derivative of the first film, but it’s still a delightfully good time at the movies. In fairness to Marshall and screenwriter David Magee, it’s hard not to recreate many of the things that happened plotwise in Mary Poppins Returns. It has an overture and an end credit sequence set against a series of paintings, the two main adults are having familial or financial struggles, the children visit Mary’s cousin instead of her uncle, there’s an extended animation sequence, etc. However, the film mostly makes up for its lack of originality with plenty of British charm and loads of colorful spectacle. It may never be “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” but it does a fine job at introducing a new generation to this story and inviting older fans back in. Julie Andrews is perfect as Mary Poppins in the original film, no question, but Emily Blunt is able to measure up on her own with her portrayal. Adopting a proper English accent, she embodies all of the well-mannered and magical qualities that the character possesses. She also has a lovely singing voice and can certainly dance when needed to, and never falters in her job to take care of the Banks children. Opposite her is Lin-Manuel Miranda as Jack, a good-hearted lamplighter. I’m a huge fan of the musical Hamilton and seeing him fulfill his dream of co-leading is quite fun, especially since he shamelessly rocks a bad cockney accent. Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer play Jane and Michael Banks all grown up, who do wonderful work with showing the loss of childhood. While they clearly love their family, you can tell that they’re desperate to hold onto the past. Their children are played by Pixies Davies, Joel Lawson, and Nathanael Saleh and are wonderful, while Colin Firth, Julie Walters, Meryl Streep, David Warner, and Angela Lansbury do great work in their small roles. There’s also a single-scene cameo by original star Dick Van Dyke, whose natural warmth and magical presence are oh so welcomed. While both the star and his character are extremely old, that doesn’t stop the 93-year-old from doing what he does best. Hearing his voice and watching him do a softshoe dance routine brought a wave of nostalgia over my heart, and I mean the good kind. Even more impressive, the producers gave him a couple different options for the scene and he chose to do the hardest one without a second thought. He even says, “I may be circling the drain, but I still got a few steps left in me.” I don’t ever want him to die. And being made by Disney, you can count on Mary Poppins Returns to, at the very least, be a technical marvel. Shot by Dion Beebe, who also photographed several of Marshall’s other films, the cinematography is clean and polished. It employs several sweeping shots of the streets of London or wherever the characters are, as well as clever push-ins. Whether they’re singing, dancing, or just simply talking, we’re always able to track their movements in a very fluid manner. This matches up with the editing by Wyatt Smith, which often melds both long takes and more consistent cuts. It often feels put together like a musical from Golden Age of Hollywood. (Which is undoubtedly the point) It’s during these musical numbers that Rob Marshall’s direction shines best because his Broadway background comes through. The staging and lighting are excellent and oh so joyous to watch. Speaking of music, the instrumental film score is composed and conducted by Marc Shaiman. It truly feels like a score for classic Disney, covering many different instruments and arrangements in a lightly-touched way. Huge, boisterous stings and woodwinds are present in almost every track. Others occasionally feel a bit more jazzy with light drumsets and other dynamic percussion instruments such as slide whistles or woodblocks. The original songs are also pretty fun too, albeit maybe not quite as memorable as the ones in the original film. The most popular one appears to “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” a seven-minute song performed by Miranda, but I personally think that “Can You Imagine That?” deserves attention as well. Both feature great vocals and even better, more elaborate dance routines that were absolutely fun to watch. It’s extremely easy to be cynical about these sort of movies these days. The feel-good, family-friendly musical fantasy has more or less been sneered away from Hollywood for a good while now. It’s true that we may not necessarily need something like this, especially since it’s relying heavily on brand recognition, but it doesn’t hurt to just relax and have a nice time every now and then. Mary Poppins Returns is a charming musical that overcomes its lack of imagination with color and joy. Maybe I’m just growing softer as I get older, but this really worked me over something fierce. Thanks to Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a small but memorable part from Dick Van Dyke, P.L. Travers’ classic characters and story live for another generation of children. Even if it’s not quite as earth-shattering as Disney’s first-ever live-action film.

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“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” Movie Review

If anyone ever tells you that there’s no more fresh air to be found in the Spider-Man mythos, just point them in the direction of this movie. Either they’ll fall head over heels for the web-slinger all over again or there’s no hope left for them. This animated superhero film was released in theaters worldwide on December 14th, 2018. Made on a budget of $90 million, it has thus far grossed over $138 million at the international box office, breaking various records for animated openings in December and becoming Sony Animation’s biggest hit. It has also been the recipient of overwhelmingly positive responses from audiences and professionals, receiving some early nominations. It was even named the best film of the year by a film critics’ group in Utah. Conceived, produced and co-written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the same duo behind 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie, the film was one of many projects leaked by the Sony hacks of November 2014. From the get-go all parties involved, including director Bob Perischetti, wanted to make a movie that was stylistically different from anything the medium had offered at that point. If all goes well, the studio hopes they can launch a series of animated Web-Slinger films in the future. Shameik Moore stars as Miles Morales, a young half-black, half-Puerto Rican teen living in modern-day Brooklyn. Bored by his new private school and frustrated by the relationship between his police officer father and criminal uncle, he gets pulled into a conflict involving the famous Spider-Man. During a battle, they accidentally open up a multiverse where several other Spider-People from various dimensions have leaked into his version of New York City. With limited time, Miles must get everyone back to their dimensions while discovering his own powers and avoiding the power of crime boss Wilson Fisk. To say that the current cinematic market is flooded to the brim with superheroes would be a massive understatement. In all seriousness, it took this movie several months to get on my radar because of that very reason. It shot up to the top of my December watchlist when I discovered that it was made by Lord and Miller. I absolutely adored their work with The Lego Movie, so I was curious to see what their whip-smart and hilarious stamp would like for a comic book superhero story. Especially because the new comic book-eque style of animation looked so different and original. I’m so, so happy to report that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse exceeded all my expectations and is easily the best Marvel film Sony has produced in a long time. Perhaps better than the Sam Raimi trilogy, or Homecoming, or even the 90’s cartoon show, what makes Into the Spider-Verse so great is how well it understands the character of Spider-Man. Here, he’s not simply a person, but an idea. A mask for anyone to put on whenever they feel like they’re ready to conquer any big trials they may be facing. Whether it’s the affable Peter Parker or a smart but lonely Afro-Latina kid from Brooklyn, they all wrestle with the expectations of it all. As one person tells Miles, “I see this spark in you. It’s amazing. Whatever you choose to do with it, you’ll be great.” There’s a lot of weight that comes with wearing a costume, and to see Miles find the strength to do so is inspiring. Shameik Moore has been a rising star for a couple years now, and his performance as Miles Morales might just be the big break he needs. Through solely his voice, he carries all of the charisma he showed off in The Get Down and Dope, and gives off a relatable charm. Jake Johnson and Hailee Steinfeld also do great work as Peter B. Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively. Though they’re kind of messy people, they turn into unconventional mentors for Miles while also realizing that they can’t do everything on their own. The other three Spider-People are Nicholas Cage, John Mulaney, and Kimiko Green as Spider-Man Noir, Spider-Ham, (No, that’s no joke) and SP//r, respectively. Cage is perfect in the role, delivering Bogart-eque lines with deadpan pleasure, while Mulany is hilarious as the cartoony version. Other voice actors include Leiv Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Mahershala Ali, Kathryn Hahn, Lili Tomlin, Luna Lauren Velez, and Zoë Kravitz in roles as various comic book characters, both major and obscure. Meanwhile, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is just as technically astounding as the hype has made it appear. This may have some of the most unique and memorable animation of any movie in recent memory. Yes, it is mostly computer-animated, but it also blends it with comic book artwork, with certain textures on the screen at all times. It occasionally throws in a couple of other styles, such as anime and traditional 2-D, but they’re all in service to creating something that feels brand new. The blending of comic art and CG creates these gorgeous, vibrant colors for the city of New York, and makes the action scenes- particularly a jaw-dropping, kaleidoscopic finale -come to life, big exclamations and thought bubbles included. Daniel Pemberton, who gave a great soundtrack to last year’s underrated King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, composes the musical score for this film. He continues to expand his wings because, in many ways similar to Black Panther, this score infuses traditional orchestral beats with hip-hop tunes. It works to great effect, as a number of tracks that leave a lasting impression. This includes a leitmotif for one of the villains, which has rapid strings and percussion undercut by a menacing distorted roar. Rapper Post Malone also contributed heavily to the soundtrack, writing an original song called “Sunflower” with Swae Lee. It’s a catchy anthem whose lyrics are pertinent to the core of the film, urging its listener to believe that they’re special in some way. It plays during the beginning and end of the film, serving as a nice bookend to the insane story. What’s more is that there is an unexpected yet heartbreaking tribute to Stan Lee in the credits, as well as Spider-Man co-creator Steven Ditko. For those unaware, these two legends died earlier in the year. Lee obviously has his obligatory cameo in the movie, but the way the filmmakers paid homage was both moving and appropriate; a fitting tribute to what he had intended with the character(s). Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a wildly inventive and fun take on a well-worn property that celebrates inclusion. Even with my high expectations, I’m still amazed with what Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, and all other parties were able to accomplish here. This sets a new bar for animated superhero movies, and I can’t wait to see what else Sony can offer in this department.

“The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie” Movie Review

Great. First Stephen Hawking. Then Stan Lee. And now Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants. 2018 is becoming the new 2016, i.e. more and more beloved celebrities are dropping dead by the end of the year. I honestly think the best way to honor Hillenburg and his legacy would be to include this into my New Year’s resolution. This animated comedy was originally released in theaters around the world on November 19th, 2004. Although it still faced tough competition from The Incredibles, it managed to gross over $140 million at the box office against an overall budget of $30 million. Aided by generally positive responses, it also saw extensive marketing from establishments like 7-Eleven and Burger King, which outfitted various locations with huge inflatable figures of the titular character. Directed by Stephen Hillenburg, he had continuously rejected offers from Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon to make a feature-length film out of the beloved cartoon he created. After accepting in 2002, he assembled his regular show writers to come up with good ideas and storyboard in ways that were faithful to the show. By most accounts, this film was intended to be the series finale, but Nickelodeon ordered more episodes and continued on anyway, without Hillenburg’s involvement for a number of years. Set in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom, the titular frycook SpongeBob SquarePants becomes seriously upset when he doesn’t get to become the manager of the newly open Krusty Krab 2. Things get further complicated when Mr. Krabs, proprietor of the Kursty Krab, is accused and frozen in place for allegedly stealing King Neptune’s crown. Given 6 days to clear his name, SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick Star set out to the infamous Shell City to find the crown, all part of Plankton’s nefarious plan to steal the formula for the delicious and popular Krabby Patty. Full disclosure before going any further: The original SpongeBob cartoon was a defining part of my childhood. All of the early episodes from the first 3 seasons and this movie make up maybe a quarter of my memories growing up. In fact, a good number of those episodes I can quote and act out from front to back, with “Band Geeks” remaining my absolute favorite one out of all of them. Even though the newer seasons afterward were never nearly as good, I still watched them because I’m that big of a fan. All of that is a very long way of saying don’t really read this review if you’re looking for some sort of cold, objective take. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is still as fun, warm, and entertaining as an adult now as it was back when I was a kid. However, there are still parts of it that I can look at from a new perspective without getting misty-eyed or nostalgic too much. For one, the mythical hero arc that the primary story unfolds over is very traditional and well-worn. If you’re not familiar with this film and go in expecting an original, highbrow narrative with layered thematic interpretations, you’re going to severely let down. It takes everything in the manner of a fast-paced, ridiculously over-the-top comedy in the vein of the Farelly Brothers or Terry Gilliam or Abbott and Costello. If you’re a first-time viewer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the animators (As well as fans) made or enjoyed it while high on bath salts or something. Virtually all of the cast members from the cartoon show reprise their roles here, and none of them have missed a single beat. Tom Kenny and Bill Fagerbakke are at the forefront as SpongeBob and Patrick and make one of the most lovably buffoonish buddy duos in recent memory. Their chemistry is absolutely on point, and while they may not be the brightest pair in Bikini Bottom, their everlasting enthusiasm makes their delivery of many lines priceless. “A bubble-blowing, double baby doesn’t belong out here. Man’s country!” My favorite (And most relatable) character from the show is still Squidward, and while his part here isn’t as big as I might’ve liked, his scenes leave a good impression. Rodger Bumpass as is hilariously grouchy and deadpan as ever, perhaps the one resident of town with much common sense to himself. He and Kenny also voice a couple of other roles in more subtle capacity, such as the French narrator. Scarlett Johannsson and Jeffrey Tambor are gamely as Princess Mindy and her father King Neptune. He is over-worried and loud about the most minute things while she constantly tries to help the two heroes in whatever way she can. Other new players include Alec Baldwin as a tall hitman tracking the protagonists to Shell City and David Hasselhoff as himself, playing a parody of his character from the show Baywatch. In all seriousness, growing up, I thought he was just some character made up; I swear that I’m not lying. On the filmmaking side of things, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie fully embraces its weirdness and runs a marathon with it. A higher budget gives the animators more time to smooth things out in the film. While it includes show mainstays like bubbles for scene transition, the framerate and designs for characters looks a lot smoother than it usually does in the show. However, it remains traditionally animated, refusing to let computer animation take control. This works to the film’s benefit because the underwater world is extremely vibrant and colorful everywhere the characters roam. It also uses the storyboarded cinematography to its advantage, drawing out certain scenarios for comedic effect where other cartoons may just cut away. Gregory Narholz composes the instrumental film score, which is appropriate and highly reminiscent of the music from the show. Bendy guitar songs and woodwinds contribute to the huge personality found in Bikini Bottom. There are also a number of songs written specifically for the film, such “The Goofy Goober Song” (And a rock cover of it) and “Now That We’re Men.” They’re all delightful enough, but there are contributions from very weird artists, a deliberate choice by Hillenburg. The most memorable one among them is “Ocean Man” by the band Ween, which plays during the end credits. It’s surprisingly well-fitting for the story, and indeed feels like it was meant of be the end of the series. What I’m concerned about now is that now that he’s gone, what’s Nickelodeon going to do next? I’ve heard whispers that they might take the show off syndication or use the upcoming third movie as the real series finale. Whatever comes up, I agree with several other fans that it all should’ve probably just ended here. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is a gleefully zany and over-the-top comedy with nothing held back. Filled to the brim with beloved characters and callbacks to the show without ever trying to pander to any audience, this is certainly better than a lot of cartoon continuations in cinematic form. Say what you want about the recent seasons, there’s no denying the memories and devoted fans that Stephen Hillenburg created. I was overcome with nostalgia and sadness during the entirety of writing this review. Thank you for giving us the show about who lives in the pineapple under the sea, and may you rest in peace with all of the other titans we lost this month. If anyone needs me, I’ll probably be jellyfishing in my backyard for a little while.