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-

(355)

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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(10-Masterpiece)

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-

(354)

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-

(341)

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-

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Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001, Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise) English 7

Voices of Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Don Novello,  David Ogden Stiers, John Mahoney, Jim Varney, Leonard Nimoy

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(7-Very Good Film)

Exciting. Stunning. Anti-climactic.

Milo Thatch (Fox) has always been considered crazy for believing that the lost empire of Atlantis exists. Then one day, he’s asked to meet Preston B. Whitemore, an eccentric millionaire who wants to fund an expedition and wants Milo to lead the way. Set in the 1910s, this is Disney animation’s first sci-fi flick. I think critics focused too hard on the flaws of this film and missed out on some of its greatness. No, it’s not a great film, but it is ambitious, gorgeous, innovative, and entertaining. The voice actors are fantastic. Michael J. Fox is always an engaging protagonist. Its flaw is the lack of character development. It carves out nice characters, but we don’t get enough time to care about them. I actually think it could have been interesting as Disney animation’s first epic, meaning longer than an hour and twenty minutes.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(327)

Troll in Central Park (1994, Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman) English 3

Featuring the voices of Dom Deluise, Cloris Leachman, Jonathan Pryce, Hayley Mills

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(3-Horrible Film)

Bland. Idiotic. Garbage.

Don Bluth and his team of animators made such films as The Secret of NYMH (1982), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Anastasia (1997), but in the year 1994, they made two of the worst animated films ever to hit theaters. One is Thumbelina, and the other is A Troll in Central Park. Charming title aside, this animated flick about a loveable troll who has a sort of Midas touch with his “green thumb” (ideas about why this film was made begin to surface) is an hour’s worth of dullness. The troll gets banished from his world and needs the help of two children to return, but the “plot” is mostly just an excuse to have adorable moments with the kids and show the troll turn things into flowers with that green thumb. Children will probably enjoy this movie, I’ll give it that much, but it’s painful watching it as an adult.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019, Directed by Dean DeBlois) English 5

Voices of Jay Baruchel, America Ferrera, F. Murray Abraham, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Kit Harington, Craig Ferguson, Gerard Butler, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Kristen Wiig

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(5-Okay Film)

Beautiful. Plodding. Charm-free.

At some point, early on in the proceedings, I wondered when the plot would kick in, and How to Train Your Dragon 3 would get interesting. It never does. Hiccup returns, now leader of his pack of Vikings, along with Toothless, his dragon, and the beautiful Astrid by his side. A new dragon hunter, Grimmel the Grisly, is out to slay Toothless, having already killed off all other dragons of his breed. In response, Hiccup searches for the fabled hidden world, where the dragons and his people can live in peace, away from the surrounding strife.  This story proves leaden, with the filmmakers taking zero discernible risks. All that’s left for me to do is weigh the spectacular, often breath-taking visuals against the second-rate, disappointing story. As enchanting as the visuals are, they don’t overcome the dullness of watching a silent courtship between dragons, or the irritation of annoying side characters in the place of wit or good humor. I’ve sworn to never recommend a film in which I glance at my watch more than three times. I glanced at my watch more than three times watching How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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