Zootopia (2016, Byron Howard and Rich Moore) English 10

Voices of Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, J.K Simmons, Jenny Slate, Idris Elba, Bonnie Hunt, Octavia Spencer, Shakira, Tommy Chong

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(10-Masterpiece)

Ingenious. Involving. Fantastic.

The Story goes that when John Lasseter (one of the great pioneers of computer animation and Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios at the time) was presented with the idea of Zootopia, he responded by hugging the man behind its conception. That man, writer/director Byron Howard imagined a city of anthropomorphic animals that looked as if it were designed by animals. The city has different areas and neighborhoods that reflect the different climates animals are able to inhabit. And in this city, he populates his creation with animals that reflect human characteristics. This is, of course, a perfect setup for an adorable animal adventure movie, had Howard and his team at Disney decided to settle, and indeed there is plenty of cuteness present within the film, but this film does something unique with the classic animation trope of anthropomorphic animals in that the animals reflect some of the darker sides of human nature; not just the cute or the charming. There is a timely and provocative theme of prejudice coursing through the narrative of an adorable country bunny (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) moving to the big city to fulfill her dreams of being a top cop. She meets the slick and jaded street hustling fox, Nick (voiced by Jason Bateman), and sees firsthand how prejudice can shape a person’s life as much as anything. She’s even forced to confront her own prejudices that she didn’t even know were there. But this is a Disney movie and a great one at that, so the bunny and the fox find on their way to stopping a city-wide conspiracy that you can overcome other people’s prejudices by never buying in and believing in yourself.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(606)

Tarzan (1999, Directed by Kevin Lima and Chris Buck) English 8

Voices of Tony Goldwyn, Glenn Close, Rosie O’Donnell, Minnie Driver, Lance Henriksen, Brian Blessed, Wayne Knight, Nigel Hawthorne

(8-Exceptional Film)

Exciting. Bold. Spectacular.

Orphaned as a baby and left alone in the jungles of 19th century Africa, Tarzan is adopted and raised by gorillas, the loving and kind, Kala (Close), and the disapproving Kerchak (Henriksen). Years later, as an adult, Tarzan (Goldwyn), who’d grown up believing himself to be an ape, but always felt like he was different, discovers who and what he really is once he meets explorers Clayton (Blessed), Professor Porter (Hawthorne), and the Professor’s daughter, Jane (Driver), with whom he quickly falls in love. Innovative animation teamed with a classic adventure romance, Tarzan represents the last of an era, a special time in Disney animation, known as their renaissance. Phil Collins’ new age songs amazingly work perfectly with this story of a boy raised by gorillas in Africa.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(600)

The Incredibles 2 (2018, Directed by Brad Bird) English 7

Voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Samuel L. Jackson, Isabella Rossellini, Sarah Vowell, John Ratzenberger, Jonathan Banks

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Dazzling. Lesser.

The Parr family, alias The Incredibles, are back. Fourteen years, four pretty undistinguished Pixar sequels later, and we finally get The Incredibles 2. There’s the father, Bob or Mr. Incredible(voiced by Nelson), with super strength, the mother, Helen or Elastigirl (voiced by Holly Hunter), who can stretch to insane lengths, oldest child, Violet (voiced by Sarah Vowell) who can turn invisible and create force fields, son, Dash (now voiced by Huck Milner), who has extraordinary speed, and the infant, Jack-Jack, whose powers were only hinted at in the first film. The good thing about animation is that all that lapsed time isn’t a problem. Writer and director Brad Bird can pick up right where he left off, unburdened by the effects of time on his actors, able to capably portray the Parr family just as we remember them from the first film.

So that’s what Bird does. The Incredibles 2 starts where the first film ends. Dash finished his race, Violet asked out a boy, and a new super villain, calling himself the Underminer, showed up to spring the heroic family back into action. This ending seemed like a perfect setup for another installment, but as The Incredibles 2 plays out, the Underminer proves to be only a small part of the whole. The important part of the scene is that The Underminer gets away, the Parr family cause a lot of damage protecting people, and the mandate outlawing superheroes sees the protagonists relocated once again, this time to a shabby motel where Bob contemplates returning to his soul-deadening insurance job. Fortunately, their good deed in fighting The Underminer was not completely in vain as it caught the eye of billionaire, Winston Deaver (voiced by Bob Odenkirk), who has very personal reasons for wanting to bring superheroes back. He believes the Parr family are the key. The only thing is, he thinks Elastigirl is the better choice as the face of his plan, throwing Bob for a loop. This go-around, Helen is out fighting crime while Bob stays home with the kids, dealing with Violet’s lovesick teen angst, Dash’s complicated homework, and Jack-Jack’s ever-growing list of abilities, while a larger plot begins to form slowly involving a masked figure known as The Screenslaver.

The over-arching plot, due to the supervillain of the piece, is good, not great. It’s the one thing holding the film back from being in line with its predecessor. The villain’s secret identity with all of the red herrings has been done before, to the point that we can see the film’s third act coming a mile away. This ends up not being a major detractor since Incredibles was always best as family commentary, genre satire, and situational comedy. All of this remains intact. Jack-Jack steals the show with one of the film’s chief pleasures being his expansive roster of powers slowly being revealed throughout the movie. I won’t spoil them here. The great scene-stealer from the first Incredibles, Edna Mode (voiced by Brad Bird himself) returns and has a wonderful scene with the infant Parr.

The action sequences in The Incredibles 2 are stunning. We’re reminded that the possibilities in animation are endless, and Brad Bird pushes the envelope with every new film. Stunning is how I’d describe the animation and design of the film as well. Even without living up to the ridiculous heights of the first movie, The Incredibles 2 is a fantastic superhero film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(599)

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016, Directed by James Bobin) English 6

Starring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Rhys Ifans, Anne Hathaway

(6-Good Film)

Unnecessary. Entertaining. Colorful.

Sequel to the surprise mega-hit Alice in Wonderland (2010, Directed by Tim Burton), this entry was both a critical and financial flop. Nobody really wanted a sequel. That being said, I prefer this film to its predecessor. Alice returns to Wonderland to find the Hatter (Depp) has changed. He’s deluded himself into thinking that his family, long deceased, is still alive. Alice knows the only way to save her friend is to go back in time and save the Hatter’s family, making his fantasy true. Not suspenseful or exciting enough to be called a great adventure film, Alice Through the Looking Glass still offers enough irreverence, wit, and fantastic visuals to be worth seeing.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(591)

School of Rock (2003, Directed by Richard Linklater) English 9

Starring Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman, Miranda Cosgrove

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(9-Great Film)

Funny. Inspired. Appealing.

Dewey Finn (Black) lives the life of a rock star, minus the success, the women, or the money. Already kicked out of the band he created, and on the verge of being kicked out of his patient best friend, Ned’s apartment, he jumps at an opportunity to pretend to be Ned in order to pick up some money as a substitute teacher at an elite private school. Another brain wave hits, and Dewey decides to turn his overworked pupils into a rock band in order to compete at a talent competition. Easily could have been a miserable comedy, but thankfully, Richard Linklater, the script, and Jack Black (in a role tailor-made for him) squeeze every possible laugh out of the material, making the film a blast.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(565)

Aladdin (2019, Directed by Guy Ritchie) English 6

Starring Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott, Will Smith, Nasim Pedrad, Marwan Kenzari, Navid Negahban, Billy Magnussen

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(6-Good Film)

Enjoyable. Goofy. Secondhand.

A charming street-rat, Aladdin (Massoud), meets the beautiful princess, Jasmine (Scott), and is inspired to improve his station in life. Given an opportunity by the scheming vizier, Jafar (Kenzari), Aladdin ends up with a priceless and magical lamp that contains an all-powerful genie (Smith). Granted three wishes by the genie, Aladdin becomes Prince Ali and a potential suitor for Jasmine. This film’s faults are built into it from conception. It’s a live-action remake of a classic animated Disney film and can never hope to equal, let alone better the original. Fortunately, aside from this limitation, and despite Disney’s apparent lack of originality, this version is engaging, brightly colored, and enjoyable. The two leads along with Will Smith make the familiar spectacle worth revisiting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(560)

 

Beetlejuice (1988, Directed by Tim Burton) English 8

Starring Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, Alec Baldwin, Winona Ryder, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Sylvia Sidney, Glen Shadix

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Fun. Original. Eccentric.

A straight-laced, small-town couple, Barbara and Adam Maitland (Davis and Baldwin), die suddenly and randomly one idle day, and find their afterlife is an indefinite amount of time stuck in their house, now occupied by a family from the city. Wanting to get rid of the newcomers, Barbara and Adam get mixed up with a shady character named Betelgeuse (played hilariously by Keaton) as they do what they can to scare the family out of the house. Several odd, surprising, wonderful moments (the impromptu “Banana Boat Song” scene is a classic) all built around terrific characters. Great small supporting turns from Sylvia Sidney, Glen Shadix, and Robert Goulet and the claymation, as opposed to most special effects, gets more charming with age.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(542)