The Secret Life of Pets (2016, Directed by Chris Renaud) English 6

Voices of Louis C.K, Eric Stonestreet, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Hannibal Burress, Steve Coogan, Lake Bell, Ellie Kemper, Albert Brooks

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Beloved, spoiled dog Max (C.K) has a rude awakening when his owner brings home, Duke (Stonetreet), a monstrous dog that he’s asked to see as his brother. The two don’t get along, and this leads to them being lost in New York City for a crazy ninety minute adventure. Animation studio, Illumination, certainly don’t over-exert themselves. On the positive side they consistently deliver movies that are generally pleasing with enough jokes to pass the time and a whole lot of mass appeal. On the other hand, they’re not aspiring for much. The voice work is super solid. The animation is bright and appealing. There’s just nothing special about this movie. Plus, it’s basically the first Toy Story.

The Road to El Dorado (2000, Directed by Don Paul) English 6

Voices of Kenneth Branagh, Kevin Kline, Rosie Perez, Armand Assante, Jim Cummings

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Two con artists steal a map, and through a zany sequence of events end up in the fabled El Dorado, a city of gold. The two are mistaken by the locals for gods, and use the misunderstanding for their greatest con yet. Unfortunately, a woman comes between them and a fanatical priest gets in their way. Clearly inspired by Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King. The two main characters, thanks to great work by Kline and Branagh, and the writing, are fantastic. As witty and compelling as the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby pair that inspired them. Their adventure, however, is caught between being too serious (human sacrifices, flogging) and light-hearted (Elton John songs, the happily ever after). Part of this is due to the intended audience being children, but I think the filmmakers (like Disney did with Hunchback of Notre Dame) could have went with something epic and meaty, closer to its source. Or, like the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby movies, just go full comedy, joke every second. As it is, it’s a decent enough picture. Only a couple of the Elton John songs are good, none of them memorable.

American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991, Directed by Simon Wells and Phil Nibbelink) English 6

Voices of Dom Deluise, Amy Irving, John Cleese, James Stewart

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Fievel and his family return, this time moving west thanks to a scheming gang of cats. Fievel, overhearing their plot, attempts to find help and thwart the evil cats. Don Bluth’s productions have always suffered from uneven storytelling. His animation and artistry, however, are incredible. The story is just engaging enough, and the voice work is top notch. This was James Stewart’s last role.

Hercules (1997, Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements) English 8

Voices Tate Donovan, James Woods, Danny DeVito, Rip Torn, Susan Egan

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After a plot by the scheming Hades (Woods) goes astray, Hercules (Donovan), son of Zeus (Torn), winds up mortal and raised by adoptive parents. Not fitting in due to his immense strength, Hercules sets out on a quest and learns of his true lineage, but in order to reclaim his position as a god, he’ll have to prove himself worthy. Working from a diverse array of Greek and Roman mythology, Hercules is a fast-paced, funny, surprisingly light (despite its dark humor at times) animated comedy with great characters and music. The gospel choir as the Greek chorus was an inspired idea, as was DeVito as the Satyr/coach, and James Woods as the bad guy. Not as substantial as some of the other films Disney released during their Renaissance, but still a fantastic film.

Dinosaur (2000, Directed by Ralph Zondag and Eric Leighton) English 6

Voices of D.B Sweeney, Julianna Margulies, Ossie Davis, Alfre Woodard, Joan Plowright, Della Reese

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A meteor crashing down causes all types of  displaced dinosaurs to band together in order to find a new home. Aladar, an Iguanodon raised by Lemurs, does his best to help the weaker ones make it as the brutish leader, Kron, practices survival of the fittest. The plot is very simple (some might even say thin), but I find it enjoyable. The characters are strongly defined and the voice work is excellent. Known mostly as a technical marvel when first released, the special effects have naturally aged, but hold up pretty well.

Spirited Away (2001, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 10

Voices of Suzanne Pleshette, David Ogden Stiers, Daveigh Chase, Susan Egen, Jason Marsden

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A bratty preteen, Chihiro, moving with her family to a new home gets sidetracked by an apparent abandoned theme park. Stumbling into a world of spirits and witches and talking frogs, Chihiro fights to return home and save her parents. Forgive the overly simplistic synopsis, but the film defies explanation. It’s really to be seen and not described. Awe inspiring. One of the best films ever made. A beautiful work of popular art made my a master in Hayao Miyazaki. Each frame is staggering, and I love the characters in the film. Chihiro, at first fairly whiney, quickly becomes a memorable, tough protagonist, and I love that even the scariest of supporting characters can become a friend in Miyazaki’s world. Sidenote: Disney Studio’s work to create solid dubbing for this film is also admirably done.

 

Wreck-It Ralph (2012, Directed by Rich Moore) English 7

Voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack MacBrayer, Jane Lynch, Alan Tudyk, Mindy Kaling

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Ralph (Reilly) is the villain of a classic arcade video game called Fix-it Felix Jr., but every once in a while, he’d like to be the hero. “Just because he’s the bad guy, doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy.” At night, when the game ends, and all the characters go home, he’d like to be treated as part of the gang. Seeing that that’s never going to happen, he sees an opportunity to be a hero by sneaking into other games at the arcade, and eventually he ends up in Sugar Rush, a racing game where he meets Vanellope von Schweetz (Silverman), King Candy (Tudyk), and a host of other characters on his quest to win a medal and return to his game a hero. Top shelf animation, vibrant visuals, and a premise abundant with possibilities. It’s a terrific adventure film and a prime example of Disney’s second Renaissance.