The Croods: A New Age (2020, Directed by Joel Crawford) English 7

Voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Cloris Leachman, Leslie Mann, Peter Dinklage, Kelly Marie Tran, Clark Duke

The Croods: A New Age, a sequel that's unambitious but entertaining | The  Canberra Times | Canberra, ACT

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Busy. Light.

Guy: The sleep pile reeks, Eep!

Grug: Reeks of love!

I don’t remember much about The Croods (2013), apparently released seven years before this sequel. I remember having no expectations going in and being pleasantly surprised to find that it was, at least, an entertaining distraction. The Croods: A New Age struck me almost exactly the same way. Here is a sequel that nobody asked for, and yet, it turns out to be a worthwhile, if forgettable, flick. The Crood family embark on a journey to find a place to settle, eventually stumbling upon an oasis already occupied by the Bettermans. The Bettermans are pretty stuck-up and the two families clash before, inevitably, coming to accept one another. The Croods feels like old-fashioned animation with a frenetic pace, constant, zany humor and sight gags. It also owes a bit to The Flintstones, of course. I enjoyed its sense of humor and its light touch.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Luca (2021, Directed by Enrico Casarosa) English 6

Voices of Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, Maya Rudolph, Jim Gaffigan, Sandy Martin, Sacha Baron Cohen

Luca Images Give First Look At Pixar's 2021 Theatrical Movie

(6-Good Film)

Low-key. Bright. Amusing.

Luca Paguro: This is gonna be the best summer ever! We’ll ride down every road, see the whole world together! It’ll be amazing! But there’s just one thing no one can find out…

Young Luca Paguro is a restless sea monster with over-protective parents. Sea monsters have the ability to transform into humans once they reach land, but their fish-like qualities are revealed with the slightest touch of water, putting them at risk with the prejudiced locals. Still, Luca longs to explore the surface, falling in line with animation’s long tradition of pent-up protagonists with parents that just don’t understand (Ariel, Rapunzel, Remy, etc.). It’s kind of hackneyed at this point, and so, the film’s first 20 or so minutes suffer. I was actually quite bored for the first act of Luca. Thankfully, the film picks up once Luca and his new reckless but loyal friend, Alberto, run away together and do their best to fit in with a quaint seaside town on the Riviera. It’s here that they meet Giulia and team up for an Italian-style triathlon. I consider “cute” a condescending description for an animated flick. I revere animation and the best animated films are as great and as substantial as any Oscar-winning drama. However, in Luca’s case, cute is probably the best way to describe it. Luca holds no surprises. It’s hardly spectacular and never seems to even want to be. I appreciated Luca more as soon as I stopped expecting it to blow me away. Pixar has made some of the best animated films of all-time. Here, they’re content to have fashioned a sweet, simple coming-of-age tale with bright, cheerful animation.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,086)

Sleeping Beauty (1959, Directed by Clyde Geronimi) English 5

Voices of Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Eleanor Audley, Bill Thompson, Verna Felton, Barbara Luddy, Barbara Jo Allen

How Disney's Sleeping Beauty (1959) Solidified Animation as an Art Form

(5-Okay Film)

Bland. Superficial. Humorless.

Princess Aurora: Well, I’m really not supposed to speak to strangers, but we’ve met before.

Sleeping Beauty, the movie and the character, is beautiful and not much else. I’ve maintained for many years now that this is the worst official Disney animated feature. It follows the dark, fantastic tale of Princess Aurora, cursed at birth by a bitter fairy, Maleficent, her parents send her away with a trio of kind fairies to protect and hide her until the day she’s old enough to marry. One day, in the woods, she meets and falls for a handsome stranger, only to learn later that she’s already promised to a prince. Not knowing that the prince and the stranger are one and the same, Princess Aurora is heartbroken and lured to Maleficent. The problem in my eyes with Aurora applies really to all the Disney princesses before their Renaissance. She’s boring. She has very little personality and her driving characteristic is her sweetness and innocence. That was okay with Cinderella and Snow White, because they had an outstanding supporting cast of humorous characters. Snow White had the dwarves and Cinderella had the mice. Sleeping Beauty has an incredible villain in Maleficent (though she has little screen time) and several nice characters in the good fairies and the blustering father figures. There are no charismatic characters, little-to-no humor, and only one song.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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National Velvet (1944, Directed by Clarence Brown) English 8

Starring Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Anne Revere, Angela Lansbury, Donald Crisp, Reginald Owen

National Velvet - Posts | Facebook

(8-Exceptional Film)

Charming. Joyous. Old-fashioned.

Mrs. Brown:  You’re twelve; you think a horse of yours can win the Grand National. Your dream has come early; but remember, Velvet, it will have to last you all the rest of your life.

Velvet Brown, played by a preteen Elizabeth Taylor, is the wonderful heroine of this impossible-not-to-like sports classic. Velvet lives in a small English town with her loving family that includes her patient father (Crisp), wise mother (Revere), two sisters, and a younger brother. When a vagrant young man, Mi Taylor (Rooney), a stranger to the family, but the son of an old friend, shows up one day, he sets in motion a series of events that lead to Velvet and Mi training a wild, local horse for the Grand National’s. National Velvet is likely the most beloved horse movie, which is a niche, sure, but a popular one. It’s also an endearing family film with the Browns ranking with the Marches (Little Women) and the Smiths (Meet Me in St. Louis) as my favorite family from classic Hollywood. It’s a simple story that trusts its distinct characters and setting to hold your attention.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Cars 2 (2011, Directed by John Lasseter) English 6

Voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Emily Mortimer, Michael Caine, Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell, Tony Shalhoub, Jason Isaacs, John Ratzenberger, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, John Turturro, Bonnie Hunt, Joe Mantegna

Cars 2: Film Review | Hollywood Reporter

(6-Good Film)

Silly. Entertaining. Misguided.

Finn McMissile: I never properly introduced myself: Finn McMissile, British Intelligence.

Mater: Tow Mater, average intelligence.

I am a sucker for the “accidental spy” trope in movies, done best by Alfred Hitchcock with such films as North by Northwest or The 39 Steps. It’s to a point that I even really enjoy critically reviled examples like Bill Murray’s The Man Who Knew Too Little or Cars 2, the worst reviewed Pixar offering to this day. Cars 2 shifts focus from the orginal film’s hero, swaggering racecar, Lightning McQueen (Wilson), to his friend, Mater (Larry the Cable Guy), a tow truck with limited intelligence but a heart of gold. Mater stumbles into a spy plot to sabotage organic fuel at the same time that Lightning McQueen battles in the first ever World Grand Prix. I’m not a fan of Larry the Cable Guy’s schtick and that includes his character here. Mater is far from a charming protagonist. For me, however, the remaining aspects of the film are sufficiently entertaining. The animation is still first-rate Pixar even if the story isn’t. Many consider this the worst Pixar film. I disagree. Cars 2 is a fine movie, and much more satisfying than Brave or The Good Dinosaur.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Cars (2006, Directed by John Lasseter) English 7

Voices of Owen Wilson, Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt, Larry the Cable Guy, Cheech Marin, George Carlin, Jenifer Lewis, Michael Keaton, Paul Dooley, Tony Shalhoub, John Ratzenberger, Katherine Helmond, Jeremy Piven, Richard Kind, Edie McClurg

Lightning McQueen (Cars) #ESTP | Cars 2006, Cars movie, Cars 3 lightning  mcqueen

(7-Very Good Film)

Entertaining. Skilled. Derivative.

Lightning McQueen: Float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beemer.

I know that this is an animated picture, but the world of Cars does not hold up in the slightest. It makes no sense. If they need gas to move, how did the first cars (the Adam and Eve, if you will) start moving? Where did they get the gas? These questions bothered me more this time around most likely because this was my first time watching the film as an adult. It’s also my first time watching Cars after seeing the superior Doc Hollywood, which Cars clearly ripped off. All this aside, I still rather enjoy this movie. It follows Lightning McQueen (Wilson), a hot shot race car, on the way to his big race. After an accident, he finds himself stuck in a small town surrounded by local characters. Eventually though, they win him over and teach him that racing and winning isn’t everything. The animation is exciting and the characters are well-drawn, but Pixar really should have given proper credit to Doc Hollywood for this one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,068)

Pinocchio (1940, Directed by Ben Sharpsteen and Hamilton Luske) English 10

Voices of Dick Jones, Cliff Edwards, Christian Rub, Clarence Nash, Walter Catlett, Charles Judels, Evelyn Venable

A 'Pinocchio' Live-Action Movie Is Coming, So He'll Finally Become A Real  Boy

(10-Masterpiece)

Simple. Brilliant. Imperishable.

The Blue Fairy: A lie keeps growing and growing until it’s as plain as the nose on your face.

I truly believe that this version of Pinocchio (with respect to Carlo Collodi), will last as long as the Earth has people on it. Given the chance and an audience, it is as simple and powerful as the ancient myths created by the Romans and the Greek that we’re taught in school. Pinocchio is a wooden puppet created by the lonely Geppetto and brought to life by the kind blue fairy. His task is to become a real boy by proving himself brave, truthful, and unselfish, a task that I think would be difficult for anyone, let alone a wooden boy with a day’s worth of life experience and a cricket for a guide. The world Pinocchio dwells in is forever ingrained in my mind-scary, dangerous, magical, beautiful-but the genius of Disney was to mix it all together; the joy and the tears. He also knew that kids enjoy a controlled amount of fear. There are images of boys turning into donkeys and a lifeless Pinocchio face down in a pool of water that stick out to me. And, of course, the animation is first-rate. The sequence of the whale, Monstro, swallowing Pinocchio’s raft and then sneezing it back out again is incredible.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,065)

Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005, Directed by Jon Favreau) English 7

Starring Josh Hutcherson, Jonah Bobo, Dax Shepard, Kristen Stewart, Tim Robbins, Frank Oz

Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005) Review |BasementRejects

(7-Very Good Film)

Solid. Surprising. Restrained.

Walter: Don’t push that button.

I’ve put off every opportunity that I’ve had to watch Zathura for many years now. The spin-off of a popular childhood favorite, Jumanji (1995), I saw its cover and judged it to be an unnecessary, special-effects laden rip-off. Finally, having watched it, I was happily surprised. Following bickering brothers, Walter (10) and Danny (6), the two stumble upon a gaudy board game called Zathura, a sci-fi version of Jumanji. In other words, a game with drastic consequences and much too much excitement for its players. If it was left up to the action, this film wouldn’t make much of an impression, though the special effects are excellent. A matter of preference, Jumanji’s animal adventures and urban jungle mash-up is considerably more exciting to me than this minor space escapade. Also, despite comparable runtimes, Jumanji felt epic while Zathura feels intimate. What Zathura does well, though, is establish a dramatic relationship between the two brothers and build an adventure around it. It’s well-acted, intriguing material with an especially strong ending.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Raya and the Last Dragon (2021, Directed by Carlos López Estrada and Don Hall) English 7

Voices of Kellie Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Alan Tudyk, Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh, Lucille Soong, Benedict Wong

Raya and the Last Dragon movie review: Disney animation inspired by  Southeast Asian culture | South China Morning Post

(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Beautiful. Engaging.

Raya: My whole life, I trained to become a guardian of the Dragon Gem. But this world has changed, and its people are divided. Now to restore peace, I must find the Last Dragon. My name is Raya.

There aren’t many people left after an apocalyptic storm blows through, turning bodies into stone. Raya (Tran) lives in its aftermath; a world of five kingdoms at war and little to defend against the darkness quickly spreading. She’s still fighting though, searching for Sisu (Awkwafina), a legendary dragon that might be the world’s only hope. The plot and tone are reminiscent of Avatar: The Last Airbender (my favorite show) and if Raya and the Last Dragon was a television series, I would say I can’t wait for season 2. The characters are charming and distinct, the world is beautifully animated. I wanted to stick around. But Raya and the Last Dragon is a movie, Disney’s latest animated production and their 59th overall. The chances for a follow-up are pretty slim. Disney has made less than a handful of theatrically released sequels in their long history, so I have to look at Raya as a stand-alone piece, and on that score, it suffers a bit in my estimation. I wanted more which is both a compliment and a criticism. The world is so epic. The story, while solid, is less so.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(1,061)

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964, Directed by Nicholas Webster) English 3

Starring John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Bill McCutcheon, Victor Stiles, Donna Conforti, Pia Zadora, Chris Month

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) - Watch on Prime Video, fuboTV,  Shout Factory TV, ConTV, Epix, Tubi, PlutoTV, Vudu, PopcornFlix, and  Streaming Online | Reelgood

(3-Horrible Film)

Well-meaning. Inept. Campy.

Hargo: What’s soft and round and you put it on a stick and you toast it in a fire, and it’s green?

Kimar: I don’t know what?

Hargo: A Martian mellow.

Occasionally, maybe once a decade, a film comes out with an utterly absurd concept and, against all odds, is a hit. Who would have bet on Babe (1995) or Ratatouille (2007) being good films based solely on their stories? But Santa Claus Conquers the Martians doesn’t have nearly the level of talent behind the scenes that those two films had. Instead, it’s exactly as bad as you probably imagine it being just reading the title, and the title was clearly the whole point (someone was really proud to have come up with this title). On the planet Mars, otherwise satisfied children watch television with Earth programming (for some reason) and envy our planet’s rich Christmas tradition; specifically, the tradition of Santa giving presents. Mars’ leader, Kimar, notices his kids’ longing and sets out to kidnap Santa, bringing him to make toys for the Martians. There’s no reason to belabor the faults of this movie. They’re obvious and inevitable. Maybe with more self-awareness and a sense of humor someone could make a decent family flick with this material. The creators of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians opt, however, for earnestness and sincerity. The result is a classic bad movie that’s actually fun to watch despite it all.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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