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)

Holiday Inn (1942, Directed by Mark Sandrich) English 8

Starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Virginia Dale, Marjorie Reynolds, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers, Irving Bacon

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Endearing. Sparkling. Consummate.

Glossing over a couple of benign, but still problematic scenes involving blackface, Holiday Inn is a fantastic musical.  You can’t do better than Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin together. Crosby plays Jim Hardy, a showbiz veteran who’d like a simpler life for himself and his wife-to-be, Lila, living on a farm in quiet Connecticut. Then, Lila runs off with his dance partner, Ted Hanover (Astaire), and his farm turns out to be a lot of work. Time passes and Jim gets a new idea. A themed-based hotel only open on holidays complete with complimentary music shows. Working to put it together, he gets the lovely, talented Linda Mason (Reynolds) to work for him, but Ted, already kicked to the curb by Lila, has plans to lure Linda away. Great music, dancing (Astaire’s drunk number is incredible), shimmering black-and-white photography, and impressive sets. Holiday Inn puts on an outstanding show.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(809)

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)

Bye Bye Birdie (1963, Directed by George Sidney) English 7

Starring Ann-Margret, Dick Van Dyke, Paul Lynde, Janet Leigh, Ed Sullivan, Jesse Pearson, Maureen Stapleton

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(7-Very Good Film)

Fun. Satirical. Memorable.

Inspired by the national obsession with Elvis at the time, Bye Bye Birdie goes from stage to film, adapting its story about a teen idol named Conrad Birdie (Pearson) who gets drafted into the military. His almost psychotic fan base made up of young women is devastated but so is Albert Peterson (Van Dyke), a struggling songwriter whose breakthrough in selling a song is undone by the news. Albert’s loyal girlfriend, Rosie (Leigh), concocts a scheme that might turn things around for him though. Birdie will perform a final time on The Ed Sullivan Show, before kissing one lucky fan, Kim (Margret). Maybe Conrad will sing Albert’s song after all. I didn’t fully understand how Rosie’s scheme came together. She seemed to have better connections than makes sense. I also felt the director or the producers maybe had a massive crush on Ann-Margret. It’s understandable but hurt the overall film to a degree. She’s excellent in her role and a star but so are Van Dyke and Janet Leigh who get short-changed. Besides, by focusing so much on her, the story which should really be an ensemble show becomes too episodic. That doesn’t stop it from being entertaining. There are a number of great scenes and musical numbers in Bye Bye Birdie. Conrad Birdie’s “Honestly Sincere” is my favorite. All in all, it’s a top-notch show.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(783)

Cover Girl (1944, Directed by Charles Vidor) English 6

Starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers, Otto Kruger, Eve Arden, Lee Bowman, Jess Barker

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(6-Good Film)

Grand. Skilled. Lacking.

Chorus girl, Rusty Parker (Hayworth), has a decent job and a boyfriend, Danny McGuire (Kelly), she loves dearly but can’t help but aspire for more. An opportunity to pose for Vanity magazine comes her way and she makes the most of it, but her newfound success puts a strain on her relationship with Danny. Like most if not all of the old, classic Hollywood musicals, this is a well-crafted, staged, and performed picture. The technicolor cinematography is bright and appealing and there are a number of inspired musical numbers. The story, on the other hand, is less inspired. Most romantic musicals are hackneyed to some degree but there’s not enough happening in Cover Girl that’s compelling. Danny and Rusty already love each other at the start of the film so they’re kind of boring as the story moves on.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(781)

The Princess and the Frog (2009, Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker) English 8

Voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Jim Cummings, Jennifer Lewis, John Goodman, Michael Leon Wooley, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard

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(8-Exceptional Film)

Lovely. Old-fashioned. Underappreciated.

       Traditional animation is a thing of the past for Walt Disney Animation Studios. The lovely, hand-drawn, two-dimensional work that made Disney famous (Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi, Cinderella) has given way to three-dimensional computer animation, first achieved by Pixar (Toy Story), now taken up by just about every American animation studio including Disney itself. Ten years ago, around Christmas, saw the last time Disney released a big-budget 2-D animated flick, The Princess and the Frog, with the more modest release of Winnie the Pooh following 2 years later. Neither film proved a hit financially, though both were critically acclaimed. In the meantime, the computer-animated Disney films Tangled (2010), Wreck-it-Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), etc., each made at least $450 million worldwide, with Frozen going over a billion on its way to becoming the second-highest-grossing animated film of all-time (not adjusted for inflation). Does this demonstrate that people aren’t drawn to 2-D animation anymore? Has 2-D animation become like black-and-white photography? I don’t think so, though it’s hard to prove. I know it’s different cultures and demographics, but anime is more popular than ever. Your Name made over $350 million worldwide just 3 years ago. And I’ve never heard a kid complain about the animation of Snow White or Pinocchio or The Lion King the way most kids will complain if you try to get them to watch black-and-white classics. So traditional animation doesn’t appear to be “antiquated” in the same way as black-and-white filming.  It’s difficult to put my finger on just what did hold The Princess and the Frog back from becoming the global hit most other Disney princess movies are and I suspect the easy answers aren’t any good. For one thing, traditional animation was floundering for years before The Princess and the Frog. Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, and Home on the Range had varying levels of success but I think it’s safe to say that each of them was disappointing in some way (either commercially or critically). Maybe it’s a case of guilt by association. The Princess and the Frog looks like those movies. Tangled is a huge success. Let’s stop making movies that look like the former and emulate the latter. Whatever the case, it’s a shame that The Princess and the Frog isn’t more appreciated or even seen, because it’s quite a film. It’s not on the level of Disney’s very best but I’d place it on that very next tier which is still pretty special.

The film begins with a quick glimpse at the modest but happy childhood of heroine, Tatiana (voiced by Rose), and then we flash forward many years to see her as a hard-working adult in 1920’s New Orleans trying to save up enough money to own a restaurant. Tatiana is black, making her the first black Disney princess (the only one to date), so from the very first minute, before we know if the film is any good, we know it’s important, and we hope that it’s good and worthy. I say Tatiana is a good role model for anyone watching. She doesn’t have time for much fun, as she sings in the film’s best song “Almost There,” but she’s not a shrew either. Then there is Prince Naveen (voiced by Campos), a cad, recently cut off from his parent’s money. He arrives in New Orleans with two choices: get a job or marry someone rich. His rogue heart is set on marrying someone rich. It’s noteworthy to me, and it’s one of my few quibbles with the movie, that Naveen is ethnically ambiguous, which is fine, but I really would have preferred a black prince. There’s some good to be found in portraying love between a mixed couple, certainly, but there are so few positive depictions of black males in the media in general that I believe an opportunity was missed. Anyways, Naveen gets mixed up with a local voodoo practitioner named Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David and it’s a great voice as anyone who’s seen Gargoyles will remember) and ends up a frog. If he doesn’t kiss a princess by a specific time, he’ll remain a frog for the rest of his life. Finding Tatiana at a costume party and mistaking her for a princess thanks to her costume, he convinces her to kiss him, but she winds up a frog as well. The two travel across the bayou looking for Madame Odie (voiced by Lewis), who might be there only chance at changing back.

As the first attempt by Disney to feature black characters in the lead, The Princess and the Frog is open to intense scrutiny. Maybe it suffered a bit from that, but most of what I’ve heard in the form of criticism is nonsense. I recall Paul Mooney complaining that Tatiana spends most of the film’s runtime as a frog. I say who cares, though that’s not much of a counter-argument. Also, there were questions about the Disney princess formula running out of steam. Perhaps The Princess and the Frog is too traditional. It’s classic formula through and through: princess, prince, music, villain, colorful side characters, animals. I love the formula and don’t think the formula will ever truly die. Tangled came out a year later and resurrected it while Frozen put to rest the idea of stopping Disney princess films for good. I don’t know why but The Princess and the Frog failed to surprise people and somehow Tangled and Frozen gave the impression of something completely new, despite all following that same formula. I happen to think The Princess and the Frog is better than Frozen while Tangled is the best of the three. The Princess and the Frog is one of the most beautifully animated films Disney’s ever produced. It has a cast full of great characters including a standout villain, great music by Randy Newman, and a fun story to get you from the opening credits to happily-ever-after. I suppose it will just have to settle for being underrated.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(776)

Artists and Models (1955, Directed by Frank Tashlin) English 7

Starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Shirley MacLaine, Dorothy Malone, Eva Gabor, Anita Ekberg

(7-Very Good Film)

Colorful. Zany. Fun.

Colorful, manic collaboration between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, this musical comedy marks the pair’s 14th film together. Martin plays a struggling comic artist who uses the dreams of his hapless roommate for material. Madness and romance ensue. I personally preferred Martin’s smooth crooning to Lewis’ over the top wackiness but Artists and Models is consistently fun and entertaining. Lots of beautiful women including Dorothy Malone and Shirley Maclaine is a plus.

-Walter Tyrone Howard-

(774)