Ni No Kuni (2019, Directed by Yoshiyuki Momose) Japanese 8

Voices of Kento Yamazaki, Mei Nagano, Mackenyu, Tsuyoshi Muro, Kenjiro Tsuda

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Escapist. Striking. Exciting.

High schoolers Yuu and Haru have been friends for almost as long as they can remember. When Haru’s girlfriend, Kotona, whom Yuu secretly pines for, disappears, the two boys travel to a parallel fantasy world that mirrors their own in a lot of ways. Each person from the real world has a counterpart in the fantasy world including Kotona, whom the boys find to be a princess in this strange place. Based on a spectacular video game series, this film is pretty spectacular itself. While it lacks any truly amazing animated sequences, it is consistently lovely to look at and boasts a sufficiently engaging story.  Ni No Kuni is the kind of entertainment an escapist like me loves to get lost in.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(860)

Missing Link (2019, Directed by Christ Butler) English 6

Voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Timothy Olyphant, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Matt Lucas, David Walliams

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(6-Good Film)

Dry. Rudimentary. Bright.

The premise isn’t terribly original. British explorer, Sir Lionel Frost (Jackman), discovers Big Foot (Galifianakis), far more amiable and eloquent than expected, and must get him back to the English “Society of Great Men” to prove it and thus receive his membership. Society leader, Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Fry), goes out of his way to make sure that doesn’t happen, including hiring a dauntless hitman, Stenk (Olyphant), while fierce beauty, Adelina (Saldana), joins Frost and Big Foot on their journey. It’s very reminiscent of Around the World in 80 Days. The humor is pretty dry as well. Missing Link overcomes its shortcomings with typically impressive animation by Laika Studios and a couple of excellent scenes. Particularly, the climax where the trio of protagonists attempts to escape Stenk on a collapsing bridge.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(851)

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, Directed by Bill Melendez) English 8

Voices of Peter Robbins, Chris Shea, Tracy Stratford, Cathy Steinberg, Chris Doran, Karen Mendelson

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Poignant. Charming. Thoughtful.

I’ve watched the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special countless times, but somehow I’ve never seen A Charlie Brown Christmas until this year. It’s wonderful. Charlie Brown wades through the holiday season being the young neurotic that he is, asking some big questions. Lucy convinces him to direct her Christmas play.  Eventually, he’s reminded of the true meaning of Christmas just in time to enjoy it. Iconic, endearing, and Vince Guaraldi’s music is gorgeous.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(845)

Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983, Directed by Burny Mattinson) English 8

Voices of Alan Young, Wayne Allwine, Clarence Nash, Hal Smith, Will Ryan

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Short. Sweet. Endearing.

Splendid version of Charles Dickens’ much-told tale, this 26 minute short special might be my favorite Christmas Carol. Scrooge McDuck takes his natural role in the story as Ebenezer Scrooge, a hard-hearted old businessman without any empathy or love. One night, on Christmas Eve, he is visited by three ghosts-the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. They open his eyes and force a change of heart, causing old Scrooge to turn his life around. Short and sweet, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a fantastically animated special.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(844)

The Little Drummer Boy (1968, Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass) English 7

Voices of José Ferrer, Greer Garson, June Foray, Teddy Eccles, Paul Frees

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(7-Very Good Film)

Nostalgic. Striking. Memorable.

One of Rankin and Bass’ Christmas classics told in their indelible stop-motion style, The Little Drummer Boy adapts the popular Christmas song of the same name and provides a little background. A young Jewish boy named Aaron lives only to play his drum. Swindled into joining a talentless traveling troupe leads Aaron ultimately to Bethlehem where he humbly plays his drum for the newborn baby Jesus. Like all of their specials, Rankin and Bass’ The Little Drummer Boy is one part creepy and two parts sweet, nostalgic, memorable, and a testament to their creativity. One of their best.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(841)

Small One (1978, Directed by Don Bluth) English 7

Voices of Sean Marshall, Gordon Jump, Hal Smith, Bill Woodson

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(7-Very Good Film)

Derivative. Sweet. Skilled.

Slightly derivative of The Little Drummer Boy, The Small One is directed by Don Bluth, during his time at Disney, before he left to start his own animation studio. The young hero, simply Boy, travels through Nazareth searching for a suitable buyer for his runtish, old donkey. The people he meets prove cruel at every turn until he meets a kind stranger named Joesph, who needs a donkey to carry his wife, Mary, on her way to Bethlehem to give birth. We know how that turns out. Sweet film. Nicely animated.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(840)

Shrek the Halls (2007, Directed by Gary Trousdale) English 6

Voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Conrad Vernon, Gary Trousdale

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(6-Good Film)

Fun. Unspectacular. Satisfying.

How Gary Trousdale went from directing two of the best-animated films of all-time (Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) to directing this, I’ll never know, but it’s a decent Christmas special without being essential. Shrek prepares for his first Christmas spent with friends and family but when the day comes, he finds it doesn’t go as planned. There’s not a lot of meaningful action here, but the characters are still classic despite being worn out by their studio, and the story is amusing with a number of good jokes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(835)