Kung Fu Panda (2008, Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson) English 8

Voices of Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, David Cross, Ian McShane, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, James Hong, Randall Duk Kim

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Bright. Exciting. Appealing.

Kung Fu Panda is one of Dreamwork’s best films. If you’ve fantasized about being a great ninja warrior, Kung Fu Panda is all the more appealing. It follows the unlikely hero, Po (a panda voiced by Jack Black), as he attempts to fulfill the prophecy that announced him (overweight and out of shape) as the dragon warrior of legend, destined to defeat the fearsome Tai Lung (a snow leopard). The animation is inventive and vivid, and the vocal performances, especially among the leads-Black, Hoffman, and McShane-are first-rate. At times, Dreamworks delivers big name casts at the expense of character building, but here the cast do great work.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018, Directed by Rich Moore, Phil Johnston) English 5

Voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Gal Gadot, Bill Hader, Alan Tudyk, Taraji P. Henson, Alfred Molina, Ed O’Neill, Jane lynch\

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(5-Okay Film)

Dragging. Flat. Creative.

There are some nice ideas in Ralph Breaks the Internet, sequel to 2012’s Wreck-it-Ralph. It explores friendship, insecurity, and visually articulates what it might look like inside the internet in an appealing way. However, for all of its cleverness, there aren’t many laughs to be found, and the story never pulled me in completely at any point. This new Ralph resembles Homer’s Odyssey in structure: kind of wandering, with no apparent villain, and slow to reach its point. I was slightly bored for much of the running time. The plot is rather simple: Vanellope (Silverman) and the gang at Sugar Rush are in danger of becoming homeless as their game is close to being shut down. Their only hope is that the arcade set gets a new wheel to replace the broken one, so the game can go on, and the only way to get a new wheel is for Ralph and Vanellope to enter the internet and find one. There’s not a lack of action. Plenty happens. The animation is vibrant. I just never truly cared.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Watership Down (2018, Directed by Noam Murro) English 6

Voices of James McAvoy, Nicholas Hoult, John Boyega, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton, Tom Wilkinson, Peter Capaldi, Freddie Fox, Taron Egerton, Olivia Colman, Rosamund Pike, Daniel Kaluuya, Gemma Chan

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(6-Good Film)

Involving. Different. Disappointing.

The incredible fantasy adventure novel, Watership Down, by Richard Adams, about a group of rabbits on an exodus gets a reworking in this BBC led production. I was all for it. Though the 1978 film adaptation is marvelous, let’s see what an updated, CGI miniseries with a first-rate voice cast can do with the material. The result is disappointing. The voice cast is first-rate, and do excellent work, but the animation lets them, and, ultimately, the story down. It’s surprisingly shoddy, lifeless work for such a prestigious production. It’s often difficult to distinguish between characters, and the picturesque beauty from the 1978 film is absent here. I also didn’t care for the “minor” changes to the story. Mainly, my favorite character in the novel, Bigwig, is made less likable by constant grousing early on. Finally, the story, which is still gripping, manages to push through and make this miniseries at least worthy of one viewing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Christmas Challenge Film #10: Arthur Christmas (2011, Directed by Sarah Smith) English 6

Every few years or so, you’ll see something of a high-concept Christmas flick hit theaters. The Santa Claus (1994) is probably the most successful example. They take the conventions or the mythology behind Christmas and attempt to put a new spin on it. Arthur Christmas is such a film. I saw it seven years ago during its original release, in theaters, and rewatched it this week as part of my Christmas film challenge.Image result for arthur christmasArthur Christmas imagines the behind-the-scenes workings of Santa Claus as a family-run, multi-generational operation: Malcolm, the father, Margaret, the mother, Steven the oldest son, and Arthur the second son. There’s also the slightly loopy Grandsanta (voiced by Bill Nighy).  Malcolm (voiced by Jim Broadbent), the current “Santa Claus,” is more of a figurehead than a leader. It’s his oldest son, Steven (voiced by Hugh Laurie), who runs most of the day-to-day operations, oversees the presents, and sets up a bevvy of cutting-edge technology to make Christmas more efficient than ever before. Steven’s ready to take over as Santa Claus. Malcolm has been considering retiring for years now, and the entire family anticipates him turning things over to his oldest son, but Christmas eve comes, and Malcolm announces that he’ll continue on. Steven is irate. Worse still, it seems that some child’s present slipped through the cracks, and wasn’t delivered. The only person who shows much concern is Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), the well-meaning, but often in the way Claus. He sets out to deliver the present with only the help of similarly looked-over elf, Bryony, and Grandsanta, who has ulterior motives.

Arthur Christmas is appealing, clever, and wonderfully animated, as is the case with all of Aardman’s productions. I do think it’s a bit iconoclastic in that Santa looks like an incompetent jerk for most of the movie. I wonder how that plays over with kids. That aside, it’s a good film, and worthy of making its way into your Christmas flick rotation.

(6-Good Film)

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Up (2009, Directed by Pete Docter) English 6

Voices of Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer, Bob Peterson, Delory Lindo, John Ratzenberger, Jordan Nagai

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(6-Good Film)

Affecting. Colorful. Creative.

Films featuring elderly protagonists are few and far between, and animated films featuring elderly protagonists are pretty much non-existant, outside of Pixar’s 2009 offering, Up (Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle was a young woman cursed with an old woman’s body). Up is a combination of a lot of unique, inspired ideas- a house flying across the world, balloons holding it up, a dog that can talk, a boy ranger sidekick-but at its heart, the best aspect of the film, is a regretful widower fulfilling a promise he made to his wife. The opening sequence covers our hero, Carl, and his wife, Ellie, all the way from their first meeting as precocious children to their final moments together as she dies in a hospital. It’s an incredibly moving scene, but unfortunately the rest of the film isn’t at the same level. Carl and Russell’s adventure are vivid and beautiful, but aren’t as interesting as the opening act. Their exploits in Paradise Falls drag a bit.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


A Bug’s Life (1998, Directed by John Lasseter) English 8

Voices of Dave Foley, Kevin Spacey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denis Leary, David Hyde Pierce, Phyllis Diller, Madeline Khan, Brad Garrett, Bonnie Hunt, Roddy McDowall

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Fresh. Imaginative. Light.

Often lost in the wonderful canon of Pixar films- perhaps overly simple or less unique than their best works, like, say Wall-E or Ratatouille- A Bug’s Life, the studio’s second outing, really is a fantastic animated adventure, putting a comic twist on Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai. A colony of ants, every year, is exploited for food by a group of vicious grasshoppers, led by Hopper (voiced memorably by Spacey). One ant, Flik (Foley), regarded as the colony screw-up, decides to search for bigger bugs to help the colony fight back. He mistakenly recruits a failed circus troupe. Not as bright or vivid visually as it might once have been, the animation is still impressive, and the writers at Pixar are among film history’s best. A Bug’s Life is quite funny and full of endearing characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Prince of Egypt (1998, Directed by Brenda Chapman, Simon Well, Steve Hickner) English 8

Voices of Val Kilmer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny Glover, Ralph Fiennes, Helen Mirren, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Patrick Stewart, Jeff Glodblum

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Spectacular. Involving. Admirable.

This film, from the days when Dreamworks Animation was just getting started, unsure of its direction or how to separate itself from Disney, is more ambitious and accomplished than the last dozen or so movies the, now established, studio has made. Prince of Egypt is a not completely faithful, but respectful and commendable adaptation of the story of Moses, opening with a tremendous sequence of animation depicting baby Moses’ journey down the Nile, and ending after the crossing of the Red Sea. The voice cast, specifically Ralph Fiennes and Val Kilmer as Ramesses and Moses, do truly excellent work, and the animation has not dated one bit. The story is condensed, obviously not going for the effect of four hour epic, The Ten Commandments, but instead telling this classic story efficiently and compellingly.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-