Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970, Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass) English 7

Voices of Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney, Keenan Wynn, Robie Lester, Paul Frees

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(7-Very Good Film)

Nostalgic. Imaginative. Wonderful.

The old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials were fantastic. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town is perhaps the best of the bunch.  As told by the great Fred Astaire, Santa Claus/Kris Kringle’s story shows him go from adopted orphan baby to famous toy maker to Christmas saint, at large due to his refusal to stop delivering toys in a town that’s outlawed them. Plenty of catchy music, an inventive story, and classic, unforgettable claymation.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-


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-


Matilda (1996, Directed by Danny DeVito) English 8

Starring Mara Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, Embeth Davidtz, Pam Ferris, Paul Reubens

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Odd. Unique. Wonderful.

Six-year-old Matilda Wormwood (Wilson) is a very special girl.  From birth, she’s demonstrated enormous intelligence, only no one in her family pays her any attention. Things look to get better with her starting kindergarten, but the school she’s going to, Crunchem Hall, is run with an iron fist by the diabolical principle, Ms. Trunchbull (played superbly by Pam Ferris). Her punishment for a kid who ate her cake is memorably cruel and grotesque. The only source of light at the school is Ms. Honey (played with perfect sweetness by Embeth Davidtz), Matilda’s teacher. Matilda soon discovers her telepathic abilities and uses them to pay back all of the adults who’ve mistreated her ( basically her father and Ms. Trunchbull). An entertaining, darkly humorous family film with a tremendous cast led by child actress Mara Wilson and director/star Danny Devito, Matilda is a children’s classic-both book and adaptation.

-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-


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010, Directed by David Yates) English 7

Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Rhys Ifans, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Jason Isaacs, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton

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(7-Very Good Film)

Incomplete. Adept. Solid.

Star-studded, big-budget spectacle and adaptation of J.K Rowlings’ seventh book in the Harry Potter series. Harry, along with Ron and Hermione, seek out Horcruxes and try to decipher recently deceased Dumbledore’s cryptic instructions to them. Since the filmmakers decided to cut the book in half and make two movies, this first part doesn’t have a very strong structure to it. Also, like other films in this franchise, many plot points don’t make much sense if you haven’t read the books. Still a very compelling narrative despite its problems; well-acted, with three excellent action sequences.

-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-