Little Giants (1994, Directed by Duwayne Dunham) English 5

Starring Rick Moranis, Ed O’Neill, Shawna Waldron, Devon Sawa, Brian Haley, Susanna Thompson

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(5-Okay Film)

Goofy. Amusing. Slight.

The younger, Danny O’Shea (Moranis), has always been in the shadow of his Heisman trophy-winning brother, Kevin (O’Neil). When Kevin starts up a local Peewee football team but cuts Danny’s daughter simply because she’s a girl, Danny decides to start his own team. Since each town can only have one, the two brothers will face off to determine which team stays. I do try not to grade on the curve. At the same time, you can’t watch something like Little Giants with the same criteria used for The Godfather. The fact is Little Giants was made to please children first and foremost and is pretty successful on that front. Beyond that, it’s a fast-paced, goofy, creative effort with a solid premise and a handful of strong characters. Even its sillier moments (the annex of Puerto Rico and numerous gags) are pretty memorable, as are the nicknames “Icebox” and “Spike.” Fun for a kid, reasonably amusing for an adult.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(817)

Peter Pan (1953, Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske) English 6

Voices of Bobby Driscoll, Hans Conreid, Kathryn Beaumont, Bill Thompson, Heather Angel

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(6-Good Film)

Inventive. Spirited. Winsome.

A flying boy, with the help of his loyal friend and fairy, Tinker Bell, takes a trio of couped-up children to the magical, adventure-filled world of Neverland, where nobody ages. Peter Pan is an extraordinary story (by J.M Barrie) that has never translated into an extraordinary film. As nostalgic as Spielberg’s Hook is or as wonderfully animated as this, Disney’s 1953 version is, they lack the depth and the magic of Barrie’s original. Disney instead goes for pure adventure and succeeds on its terms. The animation is impressive, exciting, what-have-you. The designs of each character, especially Pan and Tinker Bell, are iconic. The story, however, loses something with very little time given to character development. It’s more about personalities than characters.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(810)

The Knight Before Christmas (2019, Directed by Cara J. Russell) English 5

Starring Vanessa Hudgens, Josh Whitehouse, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Ella Kenion, Mimi Gianopulos

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(5-Okay Film)

Modest. Pleasant. Fair.

As I’ve observed before, Netflix seems to be going after the Hallmark Channel’s audience. As a result, many of their original films in the past have bordered on made-for-television quality. With The Knight Before Christmas, the border is gone. This film has moved well beyond it. This is a made-for-television movie. It stars Vanessa Hudgens as a kindly school teacher who’s boyfriend cheated on her, preparing for Christmas in some quaint little town of Ohio. Josh Whitehouse plays Sir Cole, a 14th-century medieval knight, sent to modern times in order to fulfill a quest given to him by a sorceress. How will a 14th-century knight function in modern America? Pretty well, according to The Knight Before Christmas. It takes him all of a day to learn a good deal of modern vernacular. This is also not the kind of film to have him declared insane upon arrival and locked inside a mental hospital. Everything about The Knight Before Christmas is pleasant. The town is beautiful, the actors are all attractive and kind, even the “flirtatious girl” who might have been a rival to Hudgens quickly bows out the race for Cole’s affection gracefully and without conflict. I do think there is value in a movie that is pure sweetness. I’m sure many people are looking for a film just like this one and will be glad to find it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(808)

The Grinch (2018, Directed by Scott Mosier and Yarrow Cheney) 6

Voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams, Angela Lansbury

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(6-Good Film)

Sweet. Appealing. Unspectacular.

Dr. Seuss’ wonderful stories have yet to translate to cinematic gold. There’ve been commercial hits, this version of The Grinch included, but none of them are great and I do think the potential is there for something exceptional. Nineteen years after Jim Carrey’s bizarre but interesting take on the green misanthrope, Benedict Cumberbatch takes over in a much sweeter, animated version. You likely know the story but in case you don’t, it features a hairy green creature, known as the Grinch, who lives life as an outcast in the jolly land of Whoville.  Christmas is the town’s favorite time of year but the Grinch hates Christmas and decides to do something about it. He pretends to be Santa Claus in order to steal everyone’s gifts and sabotage the holiday. The Jim Carrey led Grinch was pretty obnoxious and the Whos were materialistic and unlikable, although I think Carrey was a force of nature in the role. This Grinch is much more likable. It’s a pleasing, beautifully animated picture but suffers from a lack of real menace out of its title character. That’s disappointing. As a result, it’s not funny enough, his transformation not astounding enough, and this rendition of The Grinch ends up being pretty forgettable.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(807)

Frozen 2 (2019, Directed by Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck) English 5

Voices of Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Alfred Molina, Jeremy Sisto, Ciarán Hinds, Alan Tudyk

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(5-Okay Film)

Dim. Joyless. Meandering.

When it comes to film, it’s not that I necessarily enjoy going against the grain of popular opinion. I just don’t mind it. I’m confident, assured, not that my opinion is right, but that my opinion is honest and fair.  Untainted by malice or lurking variables. I go into every theater wanting to like what I’m watching. I don’t prepare my headlines beforehand (unlike many professional critics for Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto). I don’t formulate my bottom-line until after the credits roll, usually a day or two after. At the same time, my feelings about a film ten minutes into watching it are typically pretty close to my feelings after its finish. Ten minutes into watching Frozen 2, I was bored and waiting for Disney’s latest to kick it into high gear. For me, it never did. Some may appreciate the darker-toned adventure tale. I think Frozen 2 feels more like a spinoff than a sequel. Better yet, a series of deleted scenes from the first that are inessential but intriguing if you’re a massive fan of Anna and Elsa. I am not. I liked Frozen. I liked Frozen 2 less.

It starts off with Anna and Elsa as children, told their family’s history by their father and mother. Through the latter pair’s epic story, we learn of King Runeard, Anna and Elsa’s grandfather, of a distant land known as Northuldra, of a foreign people who befriended the knights of Arendelle and who wield the magic power to control the elements (water, air, fire, earth). At this point, I wistfully thought of Avatar: The Last Airbender and much of the intrigue Frozen 2 attempted to create blew past me. Fast forward to after the events of the first Frozen and Christoff contemplates how he’s going to propose to Anna. Olaf and Sven have become like members of the royal family. All is good in Arendelle and yet when Elsa continues to hear voices, she sets off on a journey to “discover the truth about the kingdom’s past.” I find this to be a pretty abstract goal for characters to pursue in an adventure film (rainbows need gold at the end, not secrets), let alone a family movie. If you are going to shape an epic quest about discovering a secret, it better be mind-blowing. Frozen 2’s secret would be elementary for Dr. Watson. There are only 2 options. Someone started the feud between Arendelle and Northuldra. Forget spoilers, it’s either someone from Arendelle or Northuldra. Frozen 2 hides its simple mystery in convoluted plot construction. At no point was I 100% sure what the characters were striving for or where they were going. I hoped that the movie would get more entertaining once they got there.

Elsa really becomes the focal point this time around and, out of fairness, let me disqualify myself a bit here. She’s incredibly popular, but I’m uninterested in Elsa unless she’s singing me a song. I was uninterested in her angst and now that that is gone, she is even less interesting. How would you describe her character? It was okay when she was a supporting character to point to “Let It Go” as character development, but now that we’ve come to the sequel and she’s the star, I need more. They give less. She’s a moth chasing a flame the entire story. All of the interesting stuff online written about Elsa lives in the world of fan-fiction. She’s a queer icon, for example. You could say that Ursula from The Little Mermaid or Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmations or Merida from Brave are lesbians if you wanted to, but even if you don’t, they have other characteristics. Elsa’s nothing if she’s not a queer icon. They might as well have made it explicit (the implication, not the content obviously). Or would that be implicit? Whatever the case, she doesn’t do anything in this movie to deserve that admiration from part of the gay community.

The other characters are much stronger. Anna is an incredibly likable heroine, though she spends most of the film trying to follow Elsa and they’re both just plot devices in this sequel. Christoff, Sven, and Olaf provide the movie its only sense of fun, humor, and character motivation.

The animation is naturally first-rate. Disney is a first-rate animation studio. They have an insane amount of money and resources to work with and they didn’t skimp on Frozen 2. I wouldn’t suggest either that the filmmakers or actors mailed it in. Frozen 2 takes chances in abandoning any past template used for a Disney Princess picture (although maybe it’s a little similar to Moana). It seems more inspired by superhero origins stories than past Disney movies, but I’ll say the same thing I said about Moana and Brave. If there’s no romance and no villain then I’m probably bored. I honestly spent the first half of its running time thinking that the main plot hadn’t started yet. And I don’t have much to say about the soundtrack except that I won’t be buying it.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(803)

Klaus (2019, Directed by Sergio Pablos) English 7

Voices of Jason Schwartzman, J.K Simmons, Rashida Jones, Joan Cusack, Will Sasso, Norm MacDonald

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(7-Very Good Film)

Lovely. Offbeat. Winning.

Young, rich, entitled Jesper (Schwartzman) is given an ultimatum: post 6,000 letters in a year or face being cut off from his inheritance. His family owns the postal business, so working as a mailman in a miserable, remote island of Smeerensburg is a real come down. Finding, on arrival, a town torn by family feuds, Jesper doesn’t see any chance of hitting that 6,000 letter-mark until meeting a mysterious toymaker named Klaus (Simmons) who gives Jesper an idea to turn things around. Fresh take on the Santa Claus myth, Klaus tells a good story and compliments it with unique, well-crafted animation. It may seem an odd complaint but it lacks what I would describe as the Christmas spirit for most of the film. For the majority of its run time, we see everything through Jesper’s jaded eyes and Christmas is seen as a commercial opportunity. It’s not until the very end that Klaus really brings it home.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(792)

Monsters Inc. (2001, Directed by Pete Docter) English 9

Voices of Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, Frank Oz

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(9-Great Film)

Endearing. Cute. Attractive.

In the city of Monstropolis, monsters can live freely away from the terror human beings can inflict. Two monsters and best friends for life, Sully (Goodman) and Mike (Crystal), work as “scarers,” monsters whose job it is to get human children to scream which fuels their city. Soon the two buddies get caught up in a plan that sees an infant girl kidnapped and set about returning her to her home. Endlessly creative and inspired family comedy. Represents what makes Pixar king when it comes to animation. Funny and endearing, with top-notch voice acting.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(790)