Treasure Planet (2002, Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker) English 7

Voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompson, Jonathan Hyde-Pierce, Martin Short, Roscoe Lee Browne, Laurie Metcalf

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(7-Very Good Film)

Engaging. Action-packed. Misfire.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure novel, Treasure Island, is adapted and animated for the big screen with a unique twist: instead of the 18th century pirate-infested high seas as its setting, Treasure Planet relocates the oft-told story to the wide-open space of some far off galaxy. The move doesn’t really make sense logically (like why would they be flying pirate ships in space?) and Treasure Planet lacks the broad appeal of Disney films like The Lion King or Aladdin, which resulted in it bombing at the box-office and putting 2-D animation on life support. It’s not a bad movie despite this, however. It’s actually a compelling narrative (naturally, given its source) with well-drawn characters, excellent voice acting, stunning visuals, and several exciting sequences. It’s unfairly marginalized and due for reappraising.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Moana (2016, Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements) English 6

Voices of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Nicole Scherzinger

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(6-Good Film)

Beautiful. Winning. Limited.

Disney princess movie, Polynesian style. A brave young girl, Moana, sees an opportunity to explore the world when her beloved island home comes under attack by supernatural forces. She sets out to put things right with the help of vain demi-god Maui (voiced by The Rock) and a brainless chicken. Many¬†aspects of the film feel fresh (like Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music) blending well with Disney’s traditional elements, and the animation is marvelous. The overall journey, on the other hand, seems slight, and the limited supporting cast keeps the picture in the middle of the pack in terms of Disney’s canon. Maui and the princess are fantastic, but with no villain, no romance, and no memorable comic relief, Moana fails to truly soar.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011, Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson) English 6

Voices of Jack Black, Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, David Cross, Jackie Chan, Lucy Liu, Seth Rogen, Michelle Yeoh, Victor Garber, Jean-Claude Van Damme, James Hong

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(6-Good Film)

Retread. Action-packed. Entertaining.

No longer a joke among his peers, Po (Black), the affable panda and kung fu master, enjoys his newly earned reputation as the Dragon Warrior. Troubles brewing once again, however, with the return of Lord Shen (Oldman), an evil peacock responsible for wiping out all of the kingdom’s pandas; all except Po. Kung Fu Panda 2 suffers from inevitable sequel fatigue. It’s not as fresh or exciting as its predecessor. It is, though, beautifully animated and the voice actors once again do stellar work; Gary Oldman, in particular, as Lord Shen.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Toy Story 2 (1999, Directed by John Lasseter) English 9

Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Jim Varney, Joan Cusack, Kelsey Grammar, Wayne Knight, Laurie Metcalf, Wallace Shawn

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(9-Great Film)

Exciting. Endearing. Moving.

Woody (Hanks) and Buzz (Allen) return, along with the rest of the terrific cast of characters, this time adding Jesse the Cowgirl (Cusack), Stinky Pete (Grammar), and Bullseye. After Woody gets kidnapped, Buzz and the gang form a rescue party to bring him back to Andy. Only listening to new friends and fellow captives, Jesse and Stinky Pete, Woody starts to doubt whether or not he wants to go back. New memorable characters. A tear-inducing song by Randy Newman, “When She Loved Me” sung by Sarah McLachlan. Plenty of humor. Excellent sequel.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


Toy Story (1995, Directed by John Lasseter) English 10

Voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, John Ratzenberger, Jim Varney, Annie Potts, Laurie Metcalf

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Classic. Nostalgic. Wonderful.

What if when kids aren’t looking, their toys come alive? That’s the central idea behind the adventures of Woody the cowboy and Buzz Lightyear. Woody (Hanks), his owner Andy’s favorite toy, feels insecure and jealous when the newest, coolest toy on the block, Buzz Lightyear (Allen), arrives on the scene to steal most of the attention. What could easily have been a one-note conceit, thanks to superior writing, spirited voice acting, and imagination, has become a perennial classic. You relate to Woody’s anxiety, and his contentious friendship with Buzz is one of the most endearing in film history. The Randy Newman songs are unforgettable. If the visuals show some wear, we overlook them, because the story is as engrossing as ever, and it is still one of the funniest animated films.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Princess and the Frog (2009, Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker) English 8

Voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Jim Cummings, Keith David, Jennifer Lewis, John Goodman

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Gorgeous. Old-fashioned. Lovely.

Well past Disney’s glorious ’90s renaissance, The Princess and the Frog was intended to be a throwback, and, at the time, hoped to be a rebirth for 2D animation. It failed on that score, and now, stands out as an outlier in a time dominated by 3D animation. It’s a shame because the animation in The Princess and the Frog is truly stunning. Tatiana (Noni Rose), a hard-working black girl in 1910’s New Orleans, gets caught up in visiting royalty, Prince Naveen’s misadventures. Turned into a frog by the sinister Doctor Facilier (David), Naveen promises to give her the money she needs to open a restaurant in exchange for a kiss, which should break the curse. Instead, she too becomes a frog, and the two set out to find kind voodoo priestess, Mama Odie, to make things right. The Princess and the Frog falls short of the lofty, iconic status of some of Disney’s finest, but Tatiana is a wonderful princess, the characters are memorable, the music is lively, and the visuals spectacular.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


The Land Before Time (1988, Directed by Don Bluth) English 6

Voices of Pat Hingle, Gabriel Damon, Will Ryan, Helen Shaver, Candace Hutson

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(6-Good Film)

Simple. Magical. Lovely.

After the tragic death of his mother, Littlefoot joins a diverse group of young dinosaurs (Cera, Spike, Duckie, Petri) on a journey to find habitable land, known as the great valley. Simple, and overly sentimental at times, The Land Before Times is also beautifully animated and effective. I do wish the filmmakers had opted to go bigger in scope and live up to the potential of the film’s opener, which is epic and awesome. The characters are memorable, boosted by nostalgia (and a ridiculous amount of sequels). The score is wonderful, and turns into one of the film’s best assets.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-