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Monday, 02 August 2021 12:22

Welcome to the ‘Jungle Cruise’

Oh look – another Disney movie based on a theme park ride. It’s been a while.

From a financial perspective, making something like “Jungle Cruise” makes perfect sense. Slap the name of a familiar attraction on an action-adventure type movie, cast a charismatic movie star in the lead and watch the cash roll in. “Pirates of the Caribbean” already showed us the massive box office potential of this formula – why not give it another go? It’s going to make money.

From an artistic perspective, well … it’s going to make money.

The film, which stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, is an effort to adapt Disney’s popular ride to the big screen. Directed by Jaume Collet-Sera, it’s a familiar attempt to adapt preexisting IP into a new format in which it can be further monetized. That’s a cynical reading, obviously, but doubtless an accurate one.

As for the actual movie? It’s fine, a pleasant enough diversion; at the very least, it’s a movie that a family can watch together (though there are some moments that might prove a bit much for younger viewers – it’s rightfully rated PG-13, for whatever that’s worth). The charm and charisma of the two leads, along with other talented performers, allows for an enjoyable experience, even if things do get a little muddled by the thin plot and general CGI morass.

Published in Movies

Everything old is new again.

That’s the attitude we’ve been seeing from the folks at Disney over the past few years. Leaving aside the omnipresent churn of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we’ve also been witness to the company’s ever-increasing tendency to find ways to revisit and recycle pieces from the vast store of intellectual property they’ve amassed over the decades.

For instance, the trend of crafting live-action(ish) remakes of beloved animated classics. From “Cinderella” to “Beauty and the Beast” to “Aladdin” to “The Lion King,” the back half of the 2010s was littered with these remakes. Some were good, some were … less good. But they all made truckloads of money at the box office, and so the hits keep on coming.

An outgrowth of that trend saw movies like “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Maleficent” and its kind-of-terrible sequel. Those films weren’t remakes per se, but rather attempts at reimagining and retconning a classic Disney character. Again, not necessarily creative triumphs, but largely commercial ones.

It’s that outgrowth that has given us “Cruella,” Disney’s gritty prequel treatment of Cruella de Vil that is currently available both in theaters and at home via Disney+ Premium Access. With an absolutely stacked cast led by Emma Stone as the titular Cruella, it’s an effort to backfill the story of a character who is, quite frankly, one of the most cartoonishly evil in the Disney rogues’ gallery of cartoon evil.

And it’s … kind of good? Almost unexpectedly so?

It’s a super-stylish period piece that attempts to show us how Cruella became the unrepentant force of sinisterness that we see in “101 Dalmatians,” painting the titular character as a wounded young person who grew up seeking to find avenues to express her fashion passions and the door-kicking proto-punk rock path she took to finally get there … as well as revenge on those who wronged her along the way. It features a great aesthetic and some great performances; while the screenplay definitely has its issues, the overall effort is largely a successful one.

Published in Movies

Superheroes have spent the past decade-plus as the primary cinematic currency of the land. Whether you enjoy those films or not, you can’t deny their primacy in the movie world. And while the main beneficiaries of that primacy are the Marvel and DC cinematic universes, there are other, less obvious projects that are adopting their own super-angles.

Take Disney’s “Flora & Ulysses,” currently available on Disney+. Based on Kate DiCamillo’s 2013 children’s novel, the film – directed by Lena Khan from a screenplay by Brad Copeland – takes a very different, much … smaller leap into the superhero realm. How small?

How about the size of a squirrel?

That’s the deal – a 10-year-old girl teamed up with a superpowered squirrel, all in the context of a story about the struggles of family and fitting in. It sounds ridiculous – because it is – but it’s no less engaging because of it. Frankly, it’s charming and quite sweet. Plus, it has a wildly overqualified cast, resulting in a movie that is significantly better than the tossed-off throwaway project that it easily could have been.

Published in Movies
Monday, 28 December 2020 14:57

‘Soul’ has heart

Hey there! Would you like to watch a beautifully animated film rife with cute characters and silly gags that also causes you to contemplate the deeper meaning of life? Are you interested in a cartoon that may trigger something of an existential crisis? Do you want to laugh and cry in equal measure?

If your answer to these questions is yes, well … you probably already watch Pixar movies.

The studio’s latest offering is “Soul,” another masterful piece of work that is currently streaming on Disney+. Directed by Pete Doctor – the animation auteur who previously helmed Pixar heartbreakers “Inside Out” and “Up” – with co-direction from Kemp Powers, it’s a film that takes a look at what makes us us, an emotional and cleverly rendered look at where we go after we die and where we are before we are born.

It’s smart, of course, and absolutely stunning to look at. This being Pixar, it also takes the opportunity to emotionally eviscerate us, showing us the power of self and of sacrifice while offering up some thoughts on just what it’s all about. Another triumph from a studio that simply doesn’t miss.

Published in Style
Monday, 14 December 2020 15:31

‘Safety’ a feel-good football film

Full disclosure: I am a sucker for an inspirational sports movie. No matter the sport, no matter the story – I’m in. Give me athletes overcoming obstacles and coming together as a team in the course of that overcoming. Heck and yes.

All of this is to say that I was always going to enjoy “Safety,” the new film from Disney now streaming on Disney+. Based on the true story of football player Ray McElrathbey and his little brother Fahmarr, it’s a tale of perseverance in the face of adversity, as well as of the different ways people can be (or become) family.

Now, this is a Disney production, so the grittier aspects of the story have definitely had those rough edges sanded down. Still, for the most part, director Reginald Hudlin manages to keep the proceedings from moving beyond the sentimental into the saccharine. The beats will ring familiar to anyone who watches this sort of film, but the emotions still resonate. And make no mistake – this is a movie that is both aware of which buttons to push and unafraid to push them.

Published in Sports

Sometimes, all you want is to find a movie that everyone in the family can watch safely, a movie that will prove pleasant enough – or at least tolerable – to everyone watching. You’re not looking for cutting-edge or challenging or anything like that. Just a movie.

If that’s where you’re at, then “Godmothered” is precisely what you seek.

The new film – currently streaming on Disney+ - tells the story of a wannabe fairy godmother venturing into the world in hopes of helping someone find their happily ever after. This despite having neither sufficient training nor permission to do so. It’s the kind of light and fluffy fare that we usually get from the live-action side of Disney (non-IP edition), executed with the same efficient competence that we’ve come to expect.

Now, this adherence to the in-house rubrics and general formula is never going to result in a great movie. What it will get you is a decent movie – a category into which “Godmothered” most assuredly falls. Directed with workmanlike skill by Sharon Maguire from a vanilla script written by Kari Granlund and Melissa K. Stack, it’s a movie that provides a perfectly nice time – and that you will likely never need to watch again.

Published in Movies

One thing that the Disney oeuvre has long been known for is the ubiquity of their princesses. While not EVERY Disney movie features princesses, we’ve seen enough to understand it for the tendency that it is.

Another thing that Disney is known for – though not for as long – is superheroes. As the stewards of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the powers that be at Disney have embraced the various tropes of that particular genre as well.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us that they’ve decided to bring the two together.

“Secret Society of Second-Born Royals” – a Disney original currently streaming on Disney+ - seeks to bring these nigh-ubiquitous entertainment elements to bear in the same film. Directed by Anna Mastro from a script co-written by Alex Livak and Andrew Green, the superhero/princess mashup plucks elements from both genres and blends them together into an inoffensive smoothie that will go down easy and then promptly be forgotten.

Overall, it’s a (relatively) successful effort, though your mileage will almost certainly vary. It’s charming in its way, though the production values leave something to be desired. Kids will probably dig it, while parents will be able to tolerate it well enough. It’s not good enough to care about or bad enough to avoid – an adequate time-passer that leaves the door open for more.

Published in Movies
Friday, 04 September 2020 23:47

Crouching ‘Mulan,’ hidden dragon

It’s tough to argue against the live-action remake strategy that Disney has trotted out over the past five years or so. By presenting live retellings of their beloved animated fare, Big Mouse is able to double down on the value derived from those properties while also introducing (or reintroducing) them to a new audience. Economically, it totally makes sense.

Artistically? Your mileage may vary. But whether you view these films as viable extensions of the originals or little more than cash grabs, there’s no fighting it – they’re here to stay.

The latest in line is “Mulan,” a live-action adaptation of the 1998 animated film. Originally scheduled as a summertime tentpole release for the studio, the film was made available for streaming to Disney+ subscribers, albeit for an additional charge of $30. This move makes it an interesting test case as far as what may happen with movies moving forward; in truth, this movie’s reception and receipts could prove definitional to film’s commercial future.

As for the movie itself? Pretty solid, actually. Director Niki Caro does a good job capturing the epic scale of the thing; her choices evoke the vastness of the proceedings with a deft clarity. The action sequences are on point – there’s an elevated kung-fu movie vibe to the fight scenes that works nicely. The emotional beats are all properly hit and the performances are uniformly strong. All in all, a really good movie.

Published in Movies

Full disclosure: I dig talking animal movies. Always have. Do I recognize that these movies are often not good? Reader, I do. And I don’t care. Give me animals relating their thoughts and I will almost certainly watch.

“The One and Only Ivan,” the new film currently streaming on Disney+, is actually one of the better examples of the genre I’ve seen recently. The field has largely been crowded with dogs feeling feelings (a subgenre I particularly dig), so it was nice to watch a different animal having feelings – namely the titular Ivan, a silverback gorilla.

Based on the 2013 children’s novel of the same name, this story is a charming and occasionally dark story of a small-time animal circus based in a mall. It’s a story about the value of friendship, the importance of self-expression and what it means to be free. It’s also a bunch of CGI animals talking to each other (though not to the humans) and engaging in friendly banter while coming to terms with what it is that they really want – and what they might be willing to do to get it.

Published in Movies
Monday, 17 August 2020 11:13

‘Magic Camp’ abracada-blah

There was a time that Disney was an absolute dynamo with regard to making family-friendly live-action fare. The 1960s and ‘70s were marked with scores of light, forgettable films aimed at kids, movies that were simple, disposable entertainment.

Once the animation renaissance of the ‘90s hit, those live-action offerings largely vanished. Big Mouse’s annual entry into the cartoon arena proved wildly lucrative, so the studio largely eschewed the sorts of Dean Jones- or young Kurt Russell-led films that they had spent 20-plus years churning out.

In a way, the Disney+ movie “Magic Camp” is something of a throwback to those die-cut assembly line films with a distinct Disney Channel Original Movie flavor profile. It’s got a cast featuring a couple of notable actors and a handful of generally adorable kids in a narrowly focused summer camp setting. It’s a familiar formula revolving around familiar characters; there’s a distinct feeling of boxes being checked throughout.

That said, one imagines that young viewers will find a lot to like about this movie. There’s a good deal of silliness and some simple story arcs involving both kids and adults that will prove accessible. Again, there’s nothing particularly exciting about this movie, but there are worse ways for your child to spend a couple of hours.

Published in Movies
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