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-

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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 L√≥pez 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-

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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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Juliet of the Spirits (1965, Directed by Federico Fellini) Italian 5

Starring Giulietta Masina, Sandra Milo, Mario Pisu, Valentina Cortese, Valeska Gert, Caterina Boratto

ultrafabius | Juliet of the spirits, Spirit photography, Film set

(5-Okay Film)

Gorgeous. Scatological. Tiresome.

Adele: He stole your youth, your peace, your trust. He’s the worst kind of thief.

Yes, poor Juliet (Masina) has a rotten husband. He’s cheating on her, and the film follows Juliet’s various encounters (some real, some not, all fairly surreal) in the aftermath of her finding out. Taken in 5 minute sections, Juliet of the Spirits is an incredible collection of images. Watched in full, at 2 and a half hours, what a gorgeous piece of nonsense it all is. Juliet of the Spirits is everything that bemuses me about Fellini’s films: crass, pretentious, indulgent, unintelligible. That it, at times, is also dazzling and, sometimes, brilliant, I admit grudgingly. Of course, Fellini is a legend, and most cinephiles praise the very aspects that I find frustrating and uninteresting. If you are interested in a barrage of strange, loosely connected images for 2 and a half hours, you’ll probably like this movie. I think typing Juliet of the Spirits into Google Images and seeing the results is more enjoyable than watching the film.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Godmothered (2020, Directed by Sharon Maguire) English 6

Starring Isla Fisher, Jillian Bell, Jane Curtin, June Squibb, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Santiago Cabrera, Stephnie Weir, Utkarsh Ambudkar

Godmothered Trailer Looks Like A Spiritual Successor To Enchanted

(6-Good Film)

Pleasant. Amusing. Satisfying.

Tagline: Be careful who you wish for.

Inspired (quite conspicuously) by Disney’s earlier hit, Enchanted, and Will Ferrell’s Elf, Godmothered attempts to put a similarly modern touch on the classic Princess fairy tale formula. Jillian Bell plays Eleanor, a fairy godmother-in-training. Belief in magic has greatly diminished in recent years and the fairy godmothers aren’t doing too well. They’re running out of business and appear destined to close shop and restart as tooth fairies. Eleanor runs away on a last ditch effort to save fairy godmothers by helping a widowed mother, Mackenzie (Fisher), find her happily-ever-after. Godmothered has a solid foundation of sweetness and goodwill to carry it along. The cast is full of charming people. It’s a lovely, colorful film, but it’s light on laughs and fairly conventional even with its modern touches and ideas on relationships (again, because it’s so much like Elf). Ultimately, though, this is a nice movie and an enjoyable one.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Mulan (2020, Directed by Niki Caro) English 4

Starring Liu Yifei, Yoson An, Gong Li, Donnie Yen, Jet Li, Jason Scott Lee, Tzi Ma, Rosalind Chao, Ron Yuan

What Time Will Mulan Be on Disney Plus? How To Watch With Premiere Access

(4-Bad Film)

Inferior. Misguided. Dreary.

Mulan: Yes… I will bring honor to us all.

If you asked me ten years ago for one classic Disney animated film that could be interesting as a live-action remake, Mulan would likely have been my choice. The original is one of my favorites of all Disney films but I feel (or felt) that there was plenty of directions its story could go. It didn’t need to be a carbon-copy of the original to work. The folks at Disney obviously agreed and this new Mulan, Mulan 2020, is, in a lot of ways, a new film; its own film. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good film. Mulan 2020 starts out the same. She takes her aging father’s place in defending the country. The enemy is different, however. China’s facing Rouran warriors being manipulated by a vengeful witch (Li). Most people would have probably preferred that it recycle what worked so well in the animated version (catchy songs, colorful adventure, funny characters like Mushu, and light romance between Mulan and Li Sheng). I like the initiative to make something different, but every choice seems like a slap in the face to the original. It feels like the filmmakers were embarrassed by the original and spend the majority of this movie catering to China (turns out China hates it too). Everything is described as an effort to be “more historically accurate.” They forgot to make it entertaining. Everything that was fun about the first film is gone now. What’s left is dreary (and somehow still campy at the same time). There is nothing wrong with musical fantasies. I can’t believe Disney tried to make a fantasy “more realistic.”

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Quest for Camelot (1998, Directed by Frederik Du Chau) English 4

Voices of Cary Elwes, Jessalyn Gilsig, Gary Oldman, Pierce Brosnan, Eric idle, Don Rickles, Jane Seymour, Sir John Gielgud, Jaleel White, Gabriel Byrne

WarnerBros.com | Quest for Camelot | Movies

(4-Bad Film)

Smarmy. Unpolished. Cookie-Cutter.

King Arthur: You have reminded us that the strength of a kingdom is not based on the strength of the king, but on the strength of its people.

Even by the late ’90s, Disney still had a monopoly on mainstream animation. Competitors had cropped up. Don Bluth, mainly. Dreamworks was up and coming (they released the fantastic Prince of Egypt this same year), and Warner Bros. was trying their hand at reestablishing themselves as animation giants. Quest for Camelot comes off the heels of Cats Don’t Dance, a film I liked, and spins a fresh tale around the legend of King Arthur and his sword, Excalibur. Kayley’s (Gilsig) father is a knight of the famed round table-loyal and brave-but he dies trying to protect the king from a power-mad, Ruber (Oldman). Once Excalibur is lost, it’s up to Kayley to retrieve it with the help of a blind swordsman, Garrett (Elwes), and a double-headed dragon, Devon and Cornwall (Idle and Rickles). As a passionate fan of King Arthur’s tales, I believe there’s plenty of material here for a good film and I like many of the ideas floating through Quest for Camelot. So naturally with a movie this subpar, it’s all in the execution. Its chief sin? The music is god-awful. Beyond that, everything else is simply mediocre and a couple of notches below the immense standards Disney was setting at the time.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Cats (2019, Directed by Tom Hooper) English 4

Starring Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, Jason Derulo, Francesca Hayward, Ian McKellen, Taylor Swift, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Laurie Davidson, Ray Winstone, Robbie Fairchild

Cats review: The movie Cats doesn't even know what the musical is about -  Vox

(4-Bad Film)

Senseless. Unappealing. Puzzling.

Old Deuteronomy: [to Victoria] I believe you truly are a Jellicle cat, a dellicle cat.

Oscar-winning director, Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), brings Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking musical, Cats, to the big-screen with an A-list cast and the budget of a blockbuster epic. How did this go so wrong? As someone who has never seen Cats on stage, I admit that it’s unfair to judge it based on this universally-panned adaptation, but I couldn’t see any appeal in this material. A house cat, Victoria (Hayward), wanders out into the streets to find a strange world of cats, known as “Jellicles,” competing for the distinction of being named “the Jellicle Choice” at the annual “Jellicle Ball.” This amounts to a lot of random characters introducing themselves through song and dance. A lot of the blame and criticism went to Hooper, as the director (goes with the job), but what is Cats about? What is the point of this bizarre spectacle? The characters are hard to distinguish, the music is repetitive, and it’s one of the most nonsensical works I have ever seen.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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Over the Moon (2020, Directed by Glen Keane) English 5

Voices of Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh, John Cho, Kimiko Glenn, Cathy Ang, Margaret Cho, Ruthie Ann Miles

Netflix's 'Over the Moon' is an animated musical from Glen Keane - Insider

(5-Okay Film)

Pleasant. Diverting. Derivative.

Fei Fei: When she cries, her tears turn to stardust.

Fei Fei is a young Chinese girl whose mother died and is now upset to find her father (John Cho) remarried. Smitten with the tale of the moon goddess, Chang’e (Soo), that was told to her by her late mother, and eager to escape her home life that now involves a step-mother and brother, Fei Fei builds a rocket that will take her to the moon, where she can hopefully meet the goddess. Positives first: this is a nicely animated film with a culture we rarely see in American films. On top of that, a young girl dealing with the death of her mother and learning to love her new family is a good foundation for a film. I’m surprised, however, that no one seems to notice how similar Over the Moon is to the vastly superior film, Up. I don’t consider it a deadly sin for a movie to borrow from another, but it does lose a great deal of its power by not being fresh. Look at the broad strokes of both films: the main character is in mourning, builds a home-made aircraft, meets and gets disappointed by his/her idol, has an annoying stowaway, meets a friendly, overly chatty dog along the way. It’s blatant to me. This story and its elements aren’t as interesting the second time around.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

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