Tangled (2010, Directed by Byron Howard and Nathan Greno) English 8

Voices of Mandy Moore, Donna Murphy, Zachary Levi, Ron Perlman, Richard Kiel, Brad Garrett

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(8-Exceptional Film)

 Elegant. Joyous. Fantastic.

Expanding the fairy tale of Rapunzel, the young princess is kidnapped as a baby by the vain witch Mother Gothel. Raising Rapunzel as her own, Mother Gothel uses the girl’s magical powers to stay forever young and keeps her locked up in a hidden tower. Then one day a thief finds Rapunzel, and the lost princess enlists his help to see the world she’s always been too afraid to explore. Upper-tier Disney animation with excellent characters, exciting adventure, and beautiful imagery. Mother Gothel finds her place in Disney’s sterling canon of female villains.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Angry Birds Movie (2016, Directed by Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly) English 5

Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Sean Penn, Bill Hader, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon

(5-Okay Film)

Decent. Colorful. Vibrant.

Hyper-kinetic animated comedy with a decent amount of creativity, based on the Angry Birds video game franchise. The story follows Red (Sudeikis), an angry bird dwelling in an eternally blissful society, who gets sentenced to anger management sessions where he meets fellow angry birds. They uncover a plot led by foreign, green colored pigs to take over their island. It’s moderately funny and one of the better video game adaptations (not saying much), though it’s probably not worth a second viewing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Thumbelina (1994, Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman) English 3

Voices of Jodi Benson, Carol Channing, Gilbert Gottfried, Charo, John Hurt, Joe Lynch

(3-Horrible Film)

Derivative. Third-rate. Unwatchable.

Walt Disney cast the mold over seventy years ago when he premiered Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, the first full length animated feature. In front of an audience that included Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, and Marlene Dietrich among others, feature film animation was born, the model was set, the benchmark placed. From that point on, no American animated film veered from the path forged by Disney and his team until 1995’s Toy Story. We know the fundamentals: musical numbers, hand-drawn animation, cute animal sidekicks, villains, missing parents, and occasionally a nice princess story. These familiar trappings have been mined and will continue being mined as long as they yield the kind of results we saw as recently as 2013’s Frozen ($1.2 Billion earned). There are not many boring animated princess movies, but I am afraid Thumbelina proves an exception. Looking at the man responsible for this travesty, Don Bluth, a man whose credits include The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, and Anastasia, offers very little insight into what went wrong. He once worked for Disney. He ought to have a pretty solid understanding of how to put together a good animated flick. This film beggars the mind.

The plot maybe had potential. A thumb-sized princess torn from her beloved fairy prince must traverse a harsh environment to make it back home. I could see a nice adventure springing from that setup, but I am using my imagination and not my memory because this film does nothing with it but meander. She gets help from a bird with a French accent named Jacquimo, and trouble from a beetle named Berkely Beetle (rolling my eyes) voiced by the same person who voiced Iago in Aladdin. Eventually, the fairy prince tracks her down, they get married, she gets wings, and they live happily ever after; cue the bad music.

Let’s go down the Disney checklist. Perhaps the Bluth team missed a step: bright and colorful animation (check), a fairy tale princess story (check, courtesy of Hans Christian Anderson), cute animals (check, this film has several), musical numbers (check-minus, the songs are horrible courtesy of Barry Manilow). So the concept at least has all the essentials of a Disney classic, but what’s missing is any discernible charm or magic associated with the best princess stories. Think of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and of course Snow White. You can even think of Bluth’s next stab at the animated princess story, Anastasia, which is vastly superior to this one. Thumbelina may not be the worst animated film ever-that distinction belongs to Troll in Central Park-but it’s a photo-finish.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Kubo and His Two Strings (2016, Directed by Travis Knight) English 8

Voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Stunning. Thoughtful. Stellar.

Kubo, taking care of his mother, knows that if he stays out past sundown his grandfather and aunts will come and steal his lone remaining eye. After a failed attempt at connecting with the father he never met results in him breaking this rule, Kubo finds himself on a quest with a monkey and a beetle in order to defend himself. This is a very special movie. Unique among American animated flicks, it takes its time relating its abstract themes of loss, memory, and the magic of storytelling. The voice actors do great work.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Despicable Me 3 (2017, Directed by Pierre Coffin and Kyle Balda) English 6

Voices of Steve Carrell, Trey Parker, Kristen Wiig, Miranda Cosgrove, Julie Andrews, Steve Coogan, Jenny Slate

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(6-Good Film)

Zany. Rehashed. Decent.

Some film-thirds tie together and conclude epic storylines in spectacular fashion (see The Return of the King or The Dark Knight Rises for examples). The newest Despicable Me film, following the wildly and unexpectedly successful first two entries, does exactly what it did the first two times, with no apparent thoughts of slowing down or concluding. This series is going to go on for a while, more like Ice Age than Batman. And why not? They are relatively inexpensive money-making machines. The first one made half a billion on a 70 million dollar budget. The second nearly doubled that. I only hope that for as long as they make these films, they make them good, and so far, that’s been the case. Despicable Me 3 is an amusingly eccentric, fun, fast-paced, colorful film, much like its predecessors.

This time, Gru (voiced by Carrell), his new wife, Lucy Wilde (Wiig), and three adoptive girls meet Dru (also voiced by Carrell), Gru’s long-lost twin brother. When the two were babies, their parents separated, taking one child with them and keeping the other secret from his brother. Gru’s mother tells him she got second pick. Dru’s a fun-loving, gregarious type, but he doesn’t have the intelligence of Gru. So he tells his brother about their family’s history of masterminding great feats of villainy, and how he needs his help fulfilling his legacy. Gru’s given up villainy though, becoming an agent against crime along with his wife. Eventually, Dru brings Gru out of retirement, and the two plan to steal a precious jewel from Balthazar Bratt, an ’80s has-been turned supervillain.

One of the chief pleasures of these films has been the use of classic cartoonish humor. A character coming to see Gru is strapped to a rocket, launched into orbit, crash lands back on Earth, and limps his way back to Gru’s lawn. It’s Looney Tunes seen in modern three dimensional animation. Another hallmark of these films has been Pharrell Williams accomplished soundtracks, spawning the hit song “Happy” in the second entry. I doubt any of the songs this time around score that level of success, but they still work well with the movie. Third and finally, the voice acting is always on point, Carrell, Wiig, and Parker’s voices fully integrated within their characters.

I have no real complaints against the film except that I’ve seen this before. The combination of sweet and funny should work again to make the studio rich and the audience happy. Worth watching for those who love animation.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Hercules (1997, Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements) English 7

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

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(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Vibrant. Unique.

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 a fantastic film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Rescuers (1977, Directed by Wolfgang Reitherman) English 7

Voices of Eva Gabor, Bob Newhart, Geraldine Page, Joe Flynn, Bernard Fox, Pat Buttram

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(7-Very Good Film)

Charming. Picturesque. Adventurous.

When the elegant mouse, Ms. Bianca (Gabor), volunteers for a rescue mission, she chooses bashful janitor, Bernard (Newhart), as her partner. The mission: to save a little orphan girl who’s been kidnapped by an evil treasure hunter, Madame Medusa (Page). Medusa uses the girl to crawl into a dangerous cave where a priceless treasure is hidden. The lone hit for Disney during their 1970s, post-Walt Disney’s death period, The Rescuers makes for a wonderful adventure. Lays on the pathos rather thick, but it works, and Madame Medusa is a fantastically vile villain. Bernard and Ms. Bianca are a suitably romantic and heroic pair, thanks to the voice work of Newhart and Gabor. It’s a fast-paced, efficient film, not as substantial as Disney’s early classics or their ’90s output, but a very good film nonetheless.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-