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

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(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

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(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 sets out to find out the truth and 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)

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (2019, Season 1) English 8

Voices of Taron Edgerton, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nathalie Emmanuel, Harris Dickinson, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jason Isaacs, Mark Hamill, Awkwafina, Benedict Wong, Simon Pegg, Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Theo James, Alicia Vikander, Lena Headey, Eddie Izzard, Natalie Dormer, Caitriona Balfe, Andy Samberg, Ralph Ineson, Bill Hader, Sigourney Weaver, Keegan Michael-Key

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(8-Exceptional Show)

Stunning. Absorbing. Grotesque.

The legendary puppeteer, Jim Henson, was a true visionary. Getting close to forty years ago, he devised a serious film, a dark fantasy, told entirely with characters rendered by puppetry. The result, The Dark Crystal, is infamous as one of the creepiest movies ever made; certainly among the creepiest kids’ movies. This brand new prequel series takes seriously his vision but also expands the works and updates the technology. It’s as breathtakingly beautiful as it is grotesque. The world of Thra is held captive by the evil, sadistic Skeksis, led by the tyrant Emperor (Isaacs). A castle guard named Rian (Edgerton, a gelfling-which is the oppressed species that makes up the majority of Thra’s population-witnesses something that he wasn’t supposed to and from then on, he becomes a danger to the Skeksis dominant way of life. Now a fugitive, he teams up with Princess Brea (Taylor-Joy) and Deet (Emmanuel) to expose the Skeksis’ plans.  This show sacrifices none of the original film’s creepiness. It’s over-the-top gross, violent, dark, and ultimately deeply absorbing. It’s even superior to the film in storytelling.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(889)

Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (2020, Season 1) English 7

Voices of Karen Fukuhara, Deon Cole, Coy Stewart, Dee Bradley Baker, Sydney Mikayla, Sterling K. Brown, Dan Stevens

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(7-Very Good Show)

Bright. Engaging. Unique.

To my mind, Dreamworks Animation has been complacent for over a decade now when it comes to film. They’ve given us nothing but sequels. Thankfully though, their television offerings have been excellent, specifically She-ra: Princess of Power and now Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts. The titular character, Kipo, is an altruistic teenage girl who’s lived her entire life underground. After her home is suddenly attacked by a giant creature known as a megamute, she’s flushed out into the surface where megamutes and talking animals reign. She teams up with Wolf, a tough young girl, Benson, a resourceful teenage boy, and Dave, a mutant bug that can regenerate, to find her home and her dad. Beautiful, vibrant animation, strong story, a unique sense of humor, fun, oddball soundtrack. This is a fantastic first season. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(869)

Porco Rosso (1992, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki) Japanese 8

Voices of (Dubbed) Michael Keaton, Cary Elwes, Susan Egan, Brad Garrett, David Ogden Stiers, Kimberly Williams-Paisley

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Odd. Singular.

Its premise may be slightly reminiscent of the popular French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, but that’s where comparison stops. Like all of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, even the adaptations, Porco Rosso is wholly original. Marco Pagot, also known as Porco Rosso, was an ace pilot for the Italian military before going rogue after the events of World War I. Now he’s a notorious bounty hunter with the long arms of fascism reaching out to claim him from one side and jealous pirates trying to kill him on the other. Along the way, he befriends a young, spirited teenage girl named Fio, who has a talent for designing planes. Miyazaki’s obvious love of flight is on full display, perhaps never rendered as spectacularly as it is here. Typical of the master’s work, this is an artistic tour de force with a strange, engaging story and a fantastic score by Joe Hisaishi.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(865)

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)