Big Hero 6 (PG)

10 Stars

I’ve debated this rating for a week.

The reader may find it trivial, but the temptation to give it 9 stars is strong.

As great as Big Hero 6 is, it’s not as good as Frozen, Brave or Wreck-It-Ralph.

This is a subjective distinction, however. It’s a top-notch animated flick.

The animated short preceding, Feast, is a heartwarming delight.

Which is particularly suited to the full-length BH6, this year’s best animated feature. Unless this reviewer’s unaware of another cartoon slated for release, here’s the final list.

Top Five Animated Films of 2014
1. Big Hero 6
2. The Book of Life
3. Mr. Peabody & Sherman
4. The Lego Movie
5. How to Train Your Dragon 2

I attended the movie with three friends, all in our mid-twenties. Three males and one female; illustrating thorough enjoyment across the board.

Leading to the conclusion that everyone will enjoy Disney’s latest.

Plus, the group’s in agreement on seeing it in 3D; it only adds to the experience.

The story encompasses a number of elements from science fiction, and tackles the three major themes. Every cinematic trope resonates with classic films.

Theme 1) Robotics

There weren’t any cyborgs, but everything else is heavily scrutinized. Nanobots, artificial intelligence, computerized medical systems, digitized armor, rocket propulsion, etc.

Baymax is a cuddly Terminator, an anthropomorphic medical bed from Elysium.

Theme 2) Space Travel

There’s no alien life or venturing free of the Earth’s atmosphere (so specifically no outer space travel) or even time manipulation. But interdimensional exploration and wormholes are utilized.

You folks have heard of Interstellar, right? How about Event Horizon, in which a man-made portal between dimensions is constructed?

Anybody remember the in-between realm of Pacific Rim?

Theme 3) Superhumanity

Don’t expect any mutation or the development of superhuman abilities, but a completely grounded story of superheroes.

Big Hero 6 derives its greatest strength by constructing a superhero universe, bound by the dictates of humanity’s current understanding of reality.

There are no aliens, because we have yet to prove their existence. There are no superpowers, because no evidence suggests humans have a biological capability for their development.

One scene pays homage to The Hulk and the protagonist’s name, Hiro, seems like a tip-of-the-cap to the TV series Heroes.

In honor of cinematic themes in 2014, the film even features a time-lapse of Hiro innovating in a manner akin to Tony Stark. A digitally animated time-lapse is thought-provoking, at the very least.

People use the word ‘Disnified’ as if it’s a bad thing. The connotation is that something has been purified of all negative emotion, thereby creating an unrealistic product.

The irony in this is laughable.

Disney constructs a highly educated story while exemplifying a preference towards optimism.

Which equates to one of two criticisms.

The action is a little light.

The budget for this movie is $165M, so I was hoping for more elaborate fight sequences.

A final criticism is odd.

In my review of last year’s Frozen, I mention the helpfulness of a non-specific trailer.

The teaser featured dialogue-less frozen pond antics between Olaf (the snowman) and a moose (who never shows up in the actual movie). Therefore the viewer learns nothing specific regarding plot details.

Big Hero 6’s trailer spoils several beats and somehow I failed to avoid another important detail in the first sentence of somebody’s review.

Therefore, let’s chalk up the slightly underwhelmed feeling to the unripe ideas.

After all, the humor is solid and consistent. The characters are likable and original.

Especially T.J. Miller as Fred, the comic book enthusiast.

Unlike all characters from other superhero team-ups, Fred embraces their engagement with the lifestyle choice. Therefore, he’s a satirical narrator who highlights all of the important moments during Big Hero 6’s origin story.

It’s impossible to dislike Aunt Cass, voiced by Maya Rudolph.

A sequel is sure to follow. Personally I can’t wait for Big Hero 7, or better yet, Small Villain 5.

Imagine that. A supervillain team-up prequel might be the best way to go.

Although I wouldn’t mind the introduction of a ‘Green Ranger’ trope. Wink.

Overall, Big Hero 6 is really great.

It distills the complexities of helping a loved one after a tragic loss. It takes a grounded look at the far future, and illustrates the true potential for superheroism.

Expect minor weeping, especially if you’re a softy like me.

Stick around for a number of intriguing bits during the rolling credits. Comic fans, particularly, don’t miss the stinger that follows.

Once again, thanks to Disney, I can add a pleasant memory to the list.

Frozen (PG)

10 Stars

Ah. The fjords.

Frozen is #8 on my top films of 2013 list. Besides World War Z, it’s the only film I’ve seen twice in full from the past year.

The mission? Keep the review beneath 1000 words. So I’ll be brief and swift.

Speaking of, the animated short shown previous to the ice-harvest open, Get a Horse is a brilliant piece of animation. I love seeing something completely original, smart and thought provoking. It lost the academy award, but can’t comment because I haven’t seen the winner, Mr. Hublot, yet.

The trailer; saw it way, way ahead of time when it was first released. Wasn’t all that pumped for the movie because the short’s devoid of narrative content. The reindeer and the snowman fight over the carrot nose on a frozen pond, and antics ensue. It wasn’t boring, but not overwhelmingly great either.

I liked the no-spoiler trailer.

So I think the lesson to take away, yet again, is know as little as possible about the plot previous to seeing the film.

Why’s director and writer Jennifer Lee’s name got the ‘(XXX)’ after it? Was that ‘pre Vin Diesel,’ or ‘post Ice Cube?’

Is she the thirtieth? Is that even possible? She can’t be an ex porn-star, can she? I didn’t know women had suffixes, let alone such a gigantic one. And I’ve never heard of a man being anything above a VII.

Based on the story “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen, Frozen’s the newest addition to a list of Classic Disney Animated Features spanning back to the debut of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Disney animation, but you’ll hear me groaning the loudest if I see that trailer for Planes 2 ever again. The Planes franchise is an inconsistency in life I’ll never get a grasp on. I highly admire the Walt Disney Company but have no respect for their misleading me into the clutches of Planes. It’s a horrendous movie, and has been falsely marketed as an outgrowth of the Cars universe.

There’s this weird market for horrifically bad animated stories. I think it’s intended for kids in kindergarten and below. Because Planes is such a considerable downgrade in narrative and animation from Frozen I’m surprised they’re still peddling this boring crop-dusting crew.

I was purposefully duped into spending six dollars on the rental. I understand their desire for the alternative source of income, but this misleading marketing campaign is deceitful.

But we’re talking about chilly Frozen, with icy Elsa and Anna, the coolest narrative since Tangled.

And now we’re sidetracking to the classics of recent years.

2012 saw the release of two five-star Disney Animated Features: Brave (produced under the Pixar name) and Wreck-It Ralph. Two other movies deserving of a near perfect score were released in 2010: Toy Story 3 (which was darn close to five stars) and Tangled (which exceeds five stars.)

2011 wasn’t the best.

But my point is Disney’s on a hot streak. Hopefully they keep up the same quality for decades to come.

Okay, I promise, the rest is about Frozen.

It’s fantastic. That’s all you need for now.

If you haven’t seen it, do so. The less you know the better so beware the spoilers below.

Do you know who’s great?

Kristen Bell.

I just love that little starry eyed delight.

Her breakout performance is hilariously understated in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, she plays a funny cameo in the old Starz comedy series Party Down starring Adam Scott, and the compelling role she played in the western HBO series Deadwood goes tragically unmentioned. I’ve been eying that Veronica Mars movie for days.

I really enjoyed Anna, the character Kristen does the voice for. Let’s hope K-Bell stays prolific.

Idina Menzel does the voice of Elsa, and I must admit I’m more partial towards her character than her little sibling. This cold dame wears a gown made of ice. The fabric billows like it’s malleable. I’m not positive one could weave ice fibers into a fabric, even with sorcery at immediate disposal.

She must be a master on that ice-loom. I’m not trying to be snarky, the physics of Elsa’s magic didn’t concern me in the slightest during the movie. The ice gown exemplifies the beauty of animated films. A wonderful sort of idea is created that can’t be captured in any other medium. If Frozen were live-action, we’d be much less inclined to buy the idea of a flexible sheet of solid ice.

Now, on to nuance. One of the best tricks in the Disney feature handbook, is the inhuman sidekick. For Wall-E it’s the cockroach, Rapunzel’s is a chameleon named Pascal, Pinocchio’s got Jiminy Cricket, and so on.

My girl, Jen Lee the Thirtieth, who also wrote Wreck-It-Ralph, spins a similar sidekick song with Olaf the snowman. The alternative groove is he’s a sentient snow golem summoned through Elsa’s sorcery.

Olaf’s voiced by the promising young talent, Josh Gad. You know him as one of the original costars of The Book of Mormon. He’s also the funniest part of NBC’s 1600 Penn, an underrated comedy and solid show.

I bet we’ll see him popping up in all sorts of comedic antics from now on.

I remember hearing on a podcast that J. Lee Turkey (that’s a bowling reference, running out of Triple X jokes here)  aims to invert classic Disney motifs. So, for example, the ‘princess’ element to the story is a small and almost insignificant point in Wreck-It-Reezy.

With Frozen, Jennifer Strikeout takes these inversions several steps further, and it’s an enormous benefit to the plot. The original conflict and its innovative resolution revolves around a pair of sisters, which isn’t something we’ve seen before, and just a ton of fun along the way.

Soon after the movie’s open, there’s a heart wrenching scene with Anna singing about building a snowman, as she grows older through the years without her sister.

Fiddlesticks; that scene just rips me to pieces.

That poor little girl just wants to play in the snow with her sister…

So my basic point is, there’s some crying that occurs near the beginning of the film. I can’t remember another Disney movie like that, except The Fox and the Hound perhaps. Hunchback of Notre Dame’s another; I can’t stand to see Quasimodo pelted with that rotten produce.

And there’s some crying towards the end of the film. It’s a moving little cartoon, friends, and I think you’ll love it as much as me.

But anyway, it’s tough to keep these things under 1000 words, let me tell you. Barely missed it by 135.

Quickest wrap-up ever –

Completely original storytelling, moving conflicts, lovable characters, beautiful animation, educational, compelling, fun, melodic and heartwarming.

Disney as per the usual.

Good on ya Jenny Three Kiss.

Keep up the good work!

Iron Man 3 (PG-13)

9 Stars

Ever wonder what a great superhero movie looks like?

Iron Man 3 is #9 on my ‘Top Films of 2013’ list.

The efficiency with which Marvel executes their film franchise is delightful. It’s almost unbelievable what they’re accomplishing in a timely fashion, while retaining quality in their product.

Iron Man 2 did not meet the usual standard, by any stretch of the imagination. If you think about it, the sequel retells the same story as The Great Mouse Detective.

Mind blown?

The third’s different.

First and foremost, the fights and action sequences are spectacular. Elaborate cinematic moments are captured through beautiful camerawork and near-perfect CGI.

And boy oh boy the story’s gripping. It’s packed with tension and emotional.

Here’s what works about the fourth installment (counting The Avengers) in Iron Man’s narrative arc.

First of all, it’s a deceptively small but tight cast.

Robert Downey Jr. is easily the weakest part of this film.

I’m kidding of course. He’s perfect as always.

Some critical opinion has been directed toward the adoption of voiceover narration so late in the series. While this claim’s easily permissible, it’s just as easily argued.

I never considered the voiceover out of place, and it’s certainly not off-putting. It’s a much more personal story with a character whose heroism we’ve grown accustomed to.

One might even say the narrative’s improved by the voiceover.

Stark feels locked up inside his own head. He’s a thinking machine without enough waking minutes left in his lifetime to reach full potential.

He is afraid. He literally awakes in midair; the audience and Tony become conscious of it simultaneously.

This scene utilizes a noteworthy camera technique – as if the audience is watching from the interior of the iron faceplate.

And it’s all interwoven seamlessly.

One might find these plot points contrived. I would disagree on these grounds: From what other material is the writer supposed to draw? He is bound by restrictions set in pre-existing narratives, and anxiety over these issues is exactly what a Tony Stark in our present reality would be struggling with.

Shane Black deserves a hearty round of applause for not only directing; he’s also credited as one of the writers.

Has Don Cheadle ever been less than delightful?

Again I find it hilarious no one noticed Terrence Howard’s replacement in the second until way after the third. (For more on this topic, read my review of Prisoners.)

There are the moments where Jon Favreau’s character (Happy Hogan) is so funny, you’re certain the painful comedic moment’s imminent. And of course it never shows up. Favreau’s spot-on.

Guy Pearce turns in a transformative performance as Aldrich Killian in two separate timeframes. Even though he’s more an unknown, he’s as good as the rest.

Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts is excellent. I’m surprised looking at her cinematic history, because she hasn’t done much outside this role.

I think Paltrow’s really great in this film, and her character’s one of the reasons Iron Man 3 goes above and beyond.

Pepper is supposed to be the lovable and dependable love interest. Tony’s constantly struggling to physically protect her while maintaining their relationship. As a fan of the comics, that’s all I’d expect from her portrayal on the big screen. But there’s a scene where Pepper ends up inside the suit and actually protects the unarmored Stark from certain death.

That’s great writing and the moment’s touching, fun and empowering. It also serves to satisfy the snootier audiences who require such details.

And as a final note, speaking of good writing, Ben Kingsley is an excellent villain.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the comic books or superhero movies, Iron Man 3 is a spectacular film for audiences of all sorts.

Monsters University (G)

9 Stars

Due to the lack of press, I bet most think this prequel panned.

Well, it made $268.5 million at the box office.

And deservedly so, if you ask me. Monsters University is very good!

They rereleased Monsters Inc. in theaters over the summer, so I saw it for the second time since its original release. I mentioned afterward that it isn’t nearly as funny as I’d remembered.

My older sister and younger cousins all agreed; the humor’s not up to snuff in Monsters, Inc.

Three months later I watched the prequel with my sister and brother-in-law. We all agree this is quite a bit funnier.

Perhaps Monsters U. isn’t the universe creator that is its predecessor. But the smart writing comes out in different sorts of ways.

The connections drawn between athleticism and scaring ability are at the forefront of this narrative, and I really, really appreciate the ending. (Yes, two really’s.)

They hired an excellent cast of voices. Helen Mirren is the voice of a quietly great antagonist, Dean Hardscrabble, who is a creepy centipede dragon. Of course, Billy Crystal and John Goodman return as the voices of Mike and Sully. Steve Buscemi returns as Randy the chameleon, and the rest of the scare squad from the original film cameo as members of Omicron Kappa (Mike and Sully’s fraternity and teammates in the scare games).

Lot of Greek life humor in this movie. But it’s all in good fun, and never cringeworthy, like you might imagine it to be. The story unfolds in the college campus context, but the jokes never get hokey enough to be painful.

There are two major aspects of this movie I find intriguing. So watch out if you’re overly sensitive to spoilers.

First of all, the animation is so incredibly clear in the scene set in the human world, it really blows me away. Now I’m discussing it, might as well mention I find the scene on the moonlit lakeside rather moving.

But the backdrop is incredibly realistic. It gives me a sort of mysterious feeling.

I find the resolution of the following conflict nothing short of brilliant. They find themselves in seemingly insurmountable circumstances, and manage to pull it off. It ties together a number of themes and subtleties in an excellent fashion.

The second thing I want to mention is the video game quality of the plot. This is something I’ve been noticing in a lot of films lately and think it’s worthy of note.

When movies take on the video game format, where there are ‘levels’ and ‘bosses’ (so to speak) I rather enjoy them. I’ve only heard that After Earth has this quality. I’ve also heard The Matrix Reloaded discussed in a similar manner. Surprisingly, Despicable Me 2 incorporates a touch of this, as well. Perhaps The Hunger Games: Catching Fire utilizes it, but I haven’t thought it through yet.

I’m not certain how to illustrate this concept further. But I’ve heard it talked about in a dismissive manner, when I think it’s noteworthy. There’s something I find appealing about this sort of ‘leveling up toward achievement.’

When I can better articulate this, I will elaborate more.

If you’re looking for a good family movie, with an intriguing plot and some solid humor, Monsters University will do the trick.

But I’d suggest you check out Frozen, Despicable Me 2, or The Croods first.

Maleficent (PG)

7 Stars

What is the best feature from the list of Disney Animated Classics?

It’s an old conundrum.

All nostalgia aside, the answer is a five-way tie: Sleeping Beauty (1959), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and Tangled (2009).

Because of the similarities between Sleeping Beauty and some of the other greats, like Cinderella (whose got a great publicist) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (another damsel cursedly dozing), Princess Aurora’s misadventure is often forgotten.

But hers is a compelling plot; for males and females alike. And it contains one of the most heartwarming notions of the entire Disney canon:

Briar Rose (a.k.a. Aurora) and Prince Phillip first meet and fall in love waltzing in a dream.

Sleeping Beauty has many additional strengths but one is its antagonist.

Maleficent is one of the most compelling villains in the history of animated cinema.

Her character is an artistic masterpiece. She is technically, “The Mistress of All Evil.” More specifically, she’s a dark sorceress and an organic incarnation of chaos.

She’s fundamentally inhuman, you see. Which brings us to a general grievance regarding the live-action reworking of the animated classic.

To allow Maleficent a moral dimension is to undermine the fundamental principle driving the original story.

But, in the end, this is neither here nor there.

I quite enjoy Maleficent.

First of all, let’s talk a little Angelina Jolie.

She’s great as the lead; the acting doesn’t slip for a minute. Even during the most difficult parts, she’s mysterious and menacing. The strains of battle and conducting sorcery oftentimes require wailing in a manner that needs to sound believable. But she delivers every time.

Jolie deserves even more rigorous applause because of her role as an executive producer. A live-action retelling of a Disney Animated Classic is exactly the type of movie I’d encourage producers to champion.

Good on you, Angelina. Combine this with the achievements of Salt, and we’ve got an all-star actress in the making.

Because of the PG rating, the stakes can only be so high. The filmmakers do an excellent job of hiding that fact.

There are several epic battles involving fantastic elements, and they’re a sight to behold. Seriously. The fights feel real and devoid of cheese.

Unfortunately, the weakest parts of this film fall on the acting performances from the rest of the cast.

Elle Fanning’s performance as Aurora is not bad; it’s just not compelling. Frankly, other than the color of her hair, skin and eyes she doesn’t resemble the original character from the animated feature.

Sharlto Copley, who I like a lot in Elysium, is a disappointment here as King Stefan.

The fairies are humorless and a severe downgrade from the delightful characters in Sleeping Beauty. They’re animated in a strikingly human fashion, and it’s more off-putting than humanizing.

Anyway. Maleficent is a very good movie, that’s safe enough for kids.

Go out and enjoy while you still can!

If you haven’t seen it, stop reading here because some spoilers follow.

The visuals are excellent; the special effects are sharp and realistic. I love the scene with the dragon.

But why do Maleficent’s wings suddenly fight to break free of their glass-enclosed prison, seemingly of their own accord?

In terms of plot resolutions involving kissing, my count is five: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Sleeping Beauty, Frozen, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Maleficent. Aurora’s princely catalyst is just a better version of Snow’s.

But in Frozen it’s Elsa, the loving sister, whose kiss breaks the spell. In Snow White and the Huntsman, it’s a different man; the caress of the Huntsman’s lips does the trick. And in Maleficent it’s the ‘Mother’s Kiss’ which breaks the curse.

This is strikingly similar to the ‘Daughter’s Hug’ which Merida uses to save her mother in Brave. As well as Anna’s saving grace from Frozen; they just use a different female from the protagonist’s immediate family.

Finally, Stefan’s death is choreographed in a similar manner to that of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast.


Feel free to let me know what you think.