Princess Mononoke (1997, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 10

Voices of (English Dubbing) Billy Crudup, Billy Bob Thornton, Minnie Driver, Claire Danes, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Keith David, Gillian Anderson

Princess Mononoke

(10-Masterpiece)

Epic. Spectacular. Awesome.

Hii-sama: You cannot change fate. However, you can rise to meet it, if you so choose.

We fade in. Keith David’s voiceover sets up the world we’re entering. We’re all of ten seconds into the running time, but it’s clear: this is an awesome movie. The master, Hayao Miyazaki, brings his stunning animation to a unique story about gods and monsters and cursed warriors, with no black and white villains. Its hero, Ashitaka (Crudup), prince of a small village, travels far from home after being cursed from fighting a demon-possessed boar. He stumbles into a conflict between humans (of Irontown) and the forest (the gods and spirits that dwell there) and falls in love with San, a female warrior raised by wolves and taught to hate humans. Princess Mononoke feels like an anomaly in Miyazaki’s career in a few ways. His clear love of flight is nowhere to be found, an adult male protagonist rather than a young girl. There’s a level of violence not seen in any of his other work, as well, but as an anomaly, it only further proves his greatness. He has never stopped evolving though his themes may stay the same. His animation is awe-inspiring (there are a dozen incredible action sequences in this film) and his stories are always infinitely satisfying while never traveling the expected path.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(970)

Only Yesterday (1991, Directed by Isao Takahata) Japanese 7

Voices of (English Version) Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Alison Fernandez, Tara Strong, Grey Griffin

Only Yesterday (1991) - Little White Lies

(7-Very Good Film)

Evocative. Contemplative. Beautiful.

Hirota: Rainy days, cloudy days, sunny days… which do you like?

Taeko: …cloudy days.

Hirota: Oh, then we’re alike.

Taeko (Ridley), a young woman from Tokyo, was raised to feel like an anomaly. We see her childhood in beautifully animated flashbacks where her adventurousness was called selfishness by her family and her older sisters were constantly calling her a brat. Now an adult in her late twenties, Taeko, takes a working trip to the countryside where she meets Toshio and thinks back on some of the small but significant moments of her youth. There are a number of interesting aspects to Only Yesterday making it unique, the most conspicuous being its alternating between two distinct animation styles to portray the change in time periods. Less prominent but still uncommon is having such a seemingly passive protagonist. Taeko, mostly because she spends the majority of the film as a child, has her decisions made for her, but we get the sense watching her adult form that she still hasn’t made many choices for herself. The ending, so simple, is a perfectly satisfying turning point.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(964)

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000, Directed by Mark Dindal) English 7

Voices of David Spade, John Goodman, Eartha Kitt, Patrick Warburton Wendie Malick, Tom Jones

Film - The Emperor's New Groove - Into Film

(7-Very Good Film)

Funny. Wacky. Small-scale.

Kuzco: D’oh! You threw off my groove!

Originally intended as an epic musical inspired by Mark Twain’s Prince and the Pauper, The Emperor’s New Groove turns out to be Disney’s first Warner Bros. cartoon. Bearing little resemblance to the hit Disney flicks preceding, it instead features the mischief, irreverence, slyness, and wacky physics of the old Looney Tunes shorts. Kuzco (Spade) is a selfish, tyrannical emperor turned into a llama by his advisor, Yzma (Kitt), in a failed attempt to kill him. Coming to his aid is Pacha (Goodman), despite Kuzco’s promise to build a summer house in place of the peasant’s family home. The Emperor’s New Groove is familiar drama and I can easily point out the comedic influences (again, it’s Looney Tunes), but the film still feels special. It’s an outlier in Disney’s canon. It’s also probably the funniest Disney feature with great voice work to thank for that.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(960)

Whisper of the Heart (1995, Directed by Yoshifumi Kondō) Japanese 8

Voices of Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Jean Smart, Cary Elwes, James Sikking, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Ashley Tisdale

Whisper of the Heart – IFC Center

(8-Exceptional Film)

Charming. Vibrant. Light.

Shizuku: Stupid jerk, stupid jerk, stupid jerk!

Who knew Studio Ghibli produced so many wonderful light romances? While I ask that rhetorical question jokingly, certain that millions of the studio’s large fanbase have known for ages, I’ve only recently discovered Ocean Waves, Only Yesterday, and this film, Whisper of the Heart. Whisper of the Heart follows Shizuku, a young girl dealing with teenaged romance and all the drama that goes with it. She meets Seiji, a boy at school who is always rude to her, and she’s determined not to like him though the rest of the school believes that they’re a couple. I was most surprised to find that the great Hayao Miyazaki wrote this screenplay as it bears little resemblance, as far as I can tell, to any of his other work. Otherwise, Whisper of the Heart has all of the distinction, the artistry, and the confident storytelling of Ghibli’s work. I see now that they are equally skillful at these lovely small-scale dramas as they are at epic fantasy.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(955)

Ocean Waves (1993, Directed by Tomomi Mochizuki) Japanese 8

Voices of Nobuo Tobita, Toshihiko Seki, Kae Araki, Yuri Amano, Takeshi Watabe, Hikaru Midorikawa

i can hear the sea | Tumblr

(8-Exceptional Film)

Wistful. Lovely. Skilled.

Taku: The whole thing was starting to feel like a bad soap opera.

Though produced by the famed Studio Ghibli, Ocean Waves doesn’t compare to most of the company’s typically grand, epic output such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Grave of the Fireflies, or Castle in the Sky. Ocean Waves works on a much smaller scale so that I don’t believe it would be condescending to describe it as modest, or you might prefer “a gem.” Told in flashback, set in the small city of Kōchi, a high school boy, Taku, develops feelings for Rikako, the aloof new girl in school, which causes a rift between him and his best friend, Yutaka, who saw her first. Working with fewer resources (apparently, the film was originally meant for T.V), Studio Ghibli managed to fashion one of their best works. It’s an endearing story, beautifully animated, and told sweetly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(952)

Onward (2020, Directed by Dan Scanlon) English 6

Voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, John Ratzenberger, Tracey Ullman, Wilmer Valderrama

Pixar's 'Onward' on Disney Plus: The perfect family film to stream ...

(6-Good Film)

Reliable. Promising. Disappointing.

Wilden Lightfoot: Long ago, the world was full of wonder. It was adventurous. It was exciting. And most of all, there was magic.

In an alternate universe closely resembling our own, mythical creatures like elves, pixies, and dwarves have let magic go from the world and are instead reliant on technology and modern invention to get them through their lives. Brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot (voiced by Holland and Pratt), live in a suburban corner of this world. They have very relatable problems. Barley’s out of high school and seems reluctant to leave the nest, still living with his mother. Ian lacks confidence. When they discover a magical object that could have the power to bring their deceased father back (for one day), they set out on a quest to find a rare gem needed to complete the process. Onward is solid, sure-footed filmmaking with an ending that strikes the right note. It’s more than anything a film about two brothers bonding, and succeeds in that respect, but I don’t love this film. Full marks for an original premise but the animation giant that is Pixar usually shoots for the moon and Onward doesn’t. It’s more than happy to follow the well-trodden path of family pictures that have come before it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(928)

Robin Hood (1973, Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman) English 6

Voices of Brian Bedford, Peter Ustinov, Monica Evans, Phil Harris, Roger Miller, Andy Devine, Terry-Thomas, Pat Buttram, Carole Shelley, John Fiedler

Robin Hood Disney Live-Action From Blindspotting Director

(6-Good Film)

Charming. Nostalgic. Insubstantial.

Marian: Oh, Robin, you’re so brave and impetuous.

Disney’s version of Robin Hood may boast the greatest collection of voices ever assembled for one film. Forget that it mixes English and American accents and just appreciate the great distinctive voice acting from Pat Buttram as the Sheriff of Nottingham to Terry-Thomas as Sir Hiss, all the way down to John Fiedler as a church mouse. Top marks, however, go to Peter Ustinov who voices Prince John and makes him one of the funniest characters Disney has ever produced. The rest of the film is mostly unspectacular. The folk-music is a nice touch, memorable and sweet, and the character design is A-1, but the backgrounds are lusterless; undefined. The story is serviceable but prone to bouts of extended action sequences that are pretty dull.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(927)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988, Directed by Robert Zemeckis) English 9

Starring Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Joanna Cassidy, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern Voices of Charles Fleischer, Kathleen Turner

10 Things You Didn't Know About Who Framed Roger Rabbit – Laser Time

(9-Great Film)

Inventive. Seamless. Entertaining.

Lt. Santino: Just like a toon to drop a safe on a guy’s head.

Nobody loves private detective fiction more than me but if you told me the idea for Who Framed Roger Rabbit before it was made, I would have called you crazy. Merging the private eye thriller with golden age style animation into a Disney family film is crazy but Who Framed Roger Rabbit proves to be terrific entertainment and a technical marvel. The cartoons and live-action stars interact seamlessly throughout this comically dark mystery as slumping gumshoe, Eddie Valiant (Hoskins), reluctantly agrees to help cartoon star, Roger Rabbit. Roger’s been framed for the murder of his boss, Marvin Acme (Kaye), with Roger being the most obvious suspect since Marvin was spending so much time with his wife, Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Turner), but the case goes much deeper than infidelity as Eddie finds out the more he investigates. Super clever entertainment with a host of double-entendres and sly references.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(921)

The Cat Returns (2002, Directed by Hiroyuki Morita) Japanese 7

Voices of (English version) Anne Hathaway, Cary Elwes, Peter Boyle, Elliot Gould, Tim Curry, Judy Greer, Andy Richter, Kristen Bell, René Auberjonois

Image result for the cat returns

(7-Very Good Film)

Lovely. Light. Captivating.

From the powerhouse of Japanese animation, or really just animation as a whole, Studio Ghibli, The Cat Returns follows a high school student named Haru (Hathaway) who saves a meandering cat from becoming roadkill only to learn that the cat is royalty in a far off kingdom inhabited exclusively by cats. In danger of being whisked away to said kingdom and forced into marriage, she enlists the help of the cat bureau led by Baron Humbert (Elwes) and the portly cat Muta (Boyle). This is a wonderful, light, oddball fantasy with truly fine voice work by its English cast. Not quite on the level of Hayao Miyazaki’s work but that’s no real indictment.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(901)

The Last Unicorn (1982, Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass) English 4

Voices of Mia Farrow, Alan Arkin, Jeff Daniels, Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury, Tammy Grimes, Paul Frees, Keenan Wynn, Brother Theodore, Robert Klein, René Murat Auberjonois

Image result for the last unicorn

(4-Bad Film)

Dull. Strange. Absurd.

This film is nonsense. Imagine my surprise then to find that it was actually well-received and, to this day, highly regarded according to IMDB. It follows a unicorn (Farrow) who learns that she’s the last of her kind but, still optimistic, sets out to potentially find more just like her. Along the way, she gets help from a bumbling wizard named Schmendrick (Arkin) and a random woman named Molly (Grimes). Eventually, she’s turned into a human, becoming Lady Amalthea, and falls in love with a Prince. There aren’t many animated films that I don’t enjoy at all and this film has such a strong pedigree. The filmmakers, Bass and Rankin, made so many classic Christmas shorts. The voice cast is excellent and yet, this movie is dull, strange but not interestingly so, and baffling in how it moves from one plot point to another. I actually did like the music, with the dumbest lyrics the great Jimmy Webb ever wrote, performed by America, but they certainly didn’t take away from the bizarreness of the picture.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(896)