Turning Red (2022, Directed by Domee Shi) English Okay Film

Voices of Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Hye-In Park, James Hong, Wai Ching Ho

(Okay Film)

Meilin Lee is a 13-year-old girl in Toronto (2002) with a lot of personality. This sometimes puts her at odds with her strict mother who, for example, sees Meilin’s favorite boy-band, 4 Town, as “gyrating music.” Going through changes is par for the course with puberty, but Meilin soon discovers the extra burden of transforming into a giant red panda whenever she gets emotional. Turning Red has a lovely, hybrid (maybe a cross between 3-D animation and Japanese hand-drawn) art style and a charming, frenetic energy in its storytelling. The red panda is the obvious draw here and its as cute and cuddly as advertised. The music by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell is catchy and serves its purpose perfectly. What’s missing, whether the cast and crew or angry fans on Twitter want to acknowledge it, is any originality in its themes or depth. This film is apparently almost expressly made by a female creative team and yet they’ve told the exact same story as Brave (2012). A maturing daughter rebels against her domineering mother resulting in the mother transforming into a colossal beast before they both realize how much they love each other and compromise. Turning Red is not unique beyond its style, it’s humorous but never funny, and it’s very obvious in its storytelling. It coasts on its cuteness. Telling a story about a different culture or about women or girls isn’t what makes a movie limiting. Being mediocre makes this movie limiting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Fantastic Planet (1973, Directed by René Laloux) French Okay Film

Voices of Jennifer Drake, Eric Baugin, Jean Valmont, Jean Topart, Yves Barsacq

(Okay Film)

In this bizarrely animated picture from French filmmaker, René Laloux, on a distant planet far from Earth, blue humanoids called Draags have dominion. Under their tyrannical feet stand Oms, primitive humans populating this planet sometimes as wild animals and sometimes as pets. Interesting as a spin on the world as we know it, also perhaps a critique on animal treatment or injustice as a whole, Fantastic Planet has an excellent reputation as both an experimental film as well as a cult film, and its ’70s era soundtrack will be familiar to any fan of classic hip-hop. Despite its reputation, it’s not a great film. Its strange setting is kept at a distance, as a concept, rather than an immersive world that we, the audience, can escape into to and enjoy. The story, then, follows the same line. Admirable but never exciting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Kubo and the Two Strings (2016, Directed by Travis Knight) English Great Film

Voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Brenda Vaccaro, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

(Great Film)

In ancient Japan, with his father dead and his mother sick, young Kubo (Parkinson) is left to fend for himself, relying on his storytelling and musical abilities to fetch a day’s bread. Disregarding his mother’s warning about staying out past dusk, Kubo is soon chased out of his quaint existence by his wrathful, god-like grandfather and aunts. With only a hard-willed snow monkey (Theron) and later a cursed beetle-like warrior (McConaughey) to protect him, Kubo sets out to find his late father’s armor and confront his grandfather. Quibbles about its largely white-washed cast aside, Kubo and the Two Strings is a wonderful film. Its production company, Laika, have made a handful of features, very good films, but to date, this is their most exceptional achievement. A marriage of awesome visuals with a story that’s bold and mysterious. The cherishing of memories and time spent with parents is obviously at the heart of Kubo, but there seems to be a depth beyond that that’s slightly obscure. It gives the film a mystique that I find dazzling.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Encanto (2021, Directed by Byron Howard, Jared Bush) English 7

Voices of Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, Jessica Darrow, Wilmer Valderrama, Maluma, Adassa, Diane Guerrero, Alan Tudyk

Disney debuts trailer for its Latino-themed animated movie 'Encanto,' set  in Colombia

(7-Very Good Film)

Bright. Appealing. Frustrating.

Tagline: Magical house. Magical family.

Encanto, as far as I can tell, is Disney Animation’s first dysfunctional family film. Historically, Disney is notorious for its characters’ parents and families being nonexistent. It’s a storytelling trope. If there are no parental figures for the main character to fall back on, then that character is left to figure things out for his or her self. Encanto is different. It’s charming protagonist, Maribel (Beatriz), is surrounded by family. Starting with her domineering abuela, her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and sisters all live under the same magical roof (their house is alive and helps them in their everyday routines) and they all have some special magical gift except for the ones who married into the family…and Maribel. Something went wrong for her and she’s left to be treated like the black sheep of the family. Heavily advertised spotlighting Maribel’s unique family and their gifts, I wasn’t prepared for what Encanto actually is, a film about its protagonist being mistreated for a large portion of the movie by a family that mostly stinks. The result is frustrating at times but it’s intentional, and though there is no real romance or legitimate villain, by the end, Encanto does tell a satisfying story. The music is interesting (some of it great, some of it strange) and the second half is less enjoyable than the first, but overall, it’s a solid entry into Disney Animation’s 60 film canon.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Great Mouse Detective (1986, Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker) English 8

Voices of Barrie Ingham, Vincent Price, Val Bettin, Candy Candido, Alan Young, Frank Welker, Basil Rathbone

The Great Mouse Detective Movie Review

(8-Exceptional Film)

Nostalgic. Exciting. Unique.

Dr. Dawson: [voice over] From that time on, Basil and I were a close team. We had many cases together, but I’ll always look back on that first with the most fondness; my introduction to Basil of Baker Street, the great mouse detective.

Larger, more beloved films followed in Disney’s great canon of animation-three years later, The Little Mermaid arrived and started the company’s renaissance-but The Great Mouse Detective was always a favorite of mine as a child. I’m pleased to find that it’s still as charming and exciting now as it was to me then. A twist on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s invention, Sherlock Holmes, the great detective, along with every other character, is replaced, here, by a mouse called upon to help a young girl-mouse reunite with her abducted father, and thwart his arch-nemesis, Professor Ratigan (Price), once more. The animation is striking, bolstered by early use of CGI; the climactic showdown between the heroes and Ratigan in Big Ben is a stunning example of this. The voice work by Vincent Price, clearly relishing his role, is fantastic, and the story is compelling and efficient.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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The Croods: A New Age (2020, Directed by Joel Crawford) English 7

Voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, Kelly Marie Tran, Clark Duke

The Croods: A New Age, a sequel that's unambitious but entertaining | The  Canberra Times | Canberra, ACT

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Busy. Light.

Guy: The sleep pile reeks, Eep!

Grug: Reeks of love!

I don’t remember much about The Croods (2013), apparently released seven years before this sequel. I remember having no expectations going in and being pleasantly surprised to find that it was, at least, an entertaining distraction. The Croods: A New Age struck me almost exactly the same way. Here is a sequel that nobody asked for, and yet, it turns out to be a worthwhile, if forgettable, flick. The Crood family embark on a journey to find a place to settle, eventually stumbling upon an oasis already occupied by the Bettermans. The Bettermans are pretty stuck-up and the two families clash before, inevitably, coming to accept one another. The Croods feels like old-fashioned animation with a frenetic pace, constant, zany humor and sight gags. It also owes a bit to The Flintstones, of course. I enjoyed its sense of humor and its light touch.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Luca (2021, Directed by Enrico Casarosa) English 6

Voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Sacha Baron Cohen

Luca Images Give First Look At Pixar's 2021 Theatrical Movie

(6-Good Film)

Low-key. Bright. Amusing.

Luca Paguro: This is gonna be the best summer ever! We’ll ride down every road, see the whole world together! It’ll be amazing! But there’s just one thing no one can find out…

Young Luca Paguro is a restless sea monster with over-protective parents. Sea monsters have the ability to transform into humans once they reach land, but their fish-like qualities are revealed with the slightest touch of water, putting them at risk with the prejudiced locals. Still, Luca longs to explore the surface, falling in line with animation’s long tradition of pent-up protagonists with parents that just don’t understand (Ariel, Rapunzel, Remy, etc.). It’s kind of hackneyed at this point, and so, the film’s first 20 or so minutes suffer. I was actually quite bored for the first act of Luca. Thankfully, the film picks up once Luca and his new reckless but loyal friend, Alberto, run away together and do their best to fit in with a quaint seaside town on the Riviera. It’s here that they meet Giulia and team up for an Italian-style triathlon. I consider “cute” a condescending description for an animated flick. I revere animation and the best animated films are as great and as substantial as any Oscar-winning drama. However, in Luca’s case, cute is probably the best way to describe it. Luca holds no surprises. It’s hardly spectacular and never seems to even want to be. I appreciated Luca more as soon as I stopped expecting it to blow me away. Pixar has made some of the best animated films of all-time. Here, they’re content to have fashioned a sweet, simple coming-of-age tale with bright, cheerful animation.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Sleeping Beauty (1959, Directed by Clyde Geronimi) English 5

Voices of Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Bill Thompson, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen

How Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959) Solidified Animation as an Art Form

(5-Okay Film)

Bland. Superficial. Humorless.

Princess Aurora: Well, I’m really not supposed to speak to strangers, but we’ve met before.

Sleeping Beauty, the movie and the character, is beautiful and not much else. I’ve maintained for many years now that this is the worst official Disney animated feature. It follows the dark, fantastic tale of Princess Aurora, cursed at birth by a bitter fairy, Maleficent, her parents send her away with a trio of kind fairies to protect and hide her until the day she’s old enough to marry. One day, in the woods, she meets and falls for a handsome stranger, only to learn later that she’s already promised to a prince. Not knowing that the prince and the stranger are one and the same, Princess Aurora is heartbroken and lured to Maleficent. The problem in my eyes with Aurora applies really to all the Disney princesses before their Renaissance. She’s boring. She has very little personality and her driving characteristic is her sweetness and innocence. That was okay with Cinderella and Snow White, because they had an outstanding supporting cast of humorous characters. Snow White had the dwarves and Cinderella had the mice. Sleeping Beauty has an incredible villain in Maleficent (though she has little screen time) and several nice characters in the good fairies and the blustering father figures. There are no charismatic characters, little-to-no humor, and only one song.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Cars 2 (2011, Directed by John Lasseter) English 6

Voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Emily Mortimer, Michael Caine, Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell, Tony Shalhoub, Jason Isaacs, John Ratzenberger, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, John Turturro, Bonnie Hunt, Joe Mantegna

Cars 2: Film Review | Hollywood Reporter

(6-Good Film)

Silly. Entertaining. Misguided.

Finn McMissile: I never properly introduced myself: Finn McMissile, British Intelligence.

Mater: Tow Mater, average intelligence.

I am a sucker for the “accidental spy” trope in movies, done best by Alfred Hitchcock with such films as North by Northwest or The 39 Steps. It’s to a point that I even really enjoy critically reviled examples like Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little or Cars 2, the worst reviewed Pixar offering to this day. Cars 2 shifts focus from the orginal film’s hero, swaggering racecar, Lightning McQueen (Wilson), to his friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), a tow truck with limited intelligence but a heart of gold. Mater stumbles into a spy plot to sabotage organic fuel at the same time that Lightning McQueen battles in the first ever World Grand Prix. I’m not a fan of Larry the Cable Guy’s schtick and that includes his character here. Mater is far from a charming protagonist. For me, however, the remaining aspects of the film are sufficiently entertaining. The animation is still first-rate Pixar even if the story isn’t. Many consider this the worst Pixar film. I disagree. Cars 2 is a fine movie, and much more satisfying than Brave or The Good Dinosaur.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Cars (2006, Directed by John Lasseter) English 7

Voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, George Carlin, Jenifer Lewis, Michael Keaton, Paul Dooley, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, Katherine Helmond, Jeremy Piven, Richard Kind, Edie McClurg

Lightning McQueen (Cars) #ESTP | Cars 2006, Cars movie, Cars 3 lightning  mcqueen

(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Skilled. Derivative.

Lightning McQueen: Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beemer.

I know that this is an animated picture, but the world of Cars does not hold up in the slightest. It makes no sense. If they need gas to move, how did the first cars (the Adam and Eve, if you will) start moving? Where did they get the gas? These questions bothered me more this time around most likely because this was my first time watching the film as an adult. It’s also my first time watching Cars after seeing the superior Doc Hollywood, which Cars clearly ripped off. All this aside, I still rather enjoy this movie. It follows Lightning McQueen (Wilson), a hot shot race car, on the way to his big race. After an accident, he finds himself stuck in a small town surrounded by local characters. Eventually though, they win him over and teach him that racing and winning isn’t everything. The animation is exciting and the characters are well-drawn, but Pixar really should have given proper credit to Doc Hollywood for this one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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