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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
Monday, 15 June 2020 14:38

‘Artemis Fowl’ is, well … foul

There’s big money to be made in franchise filmmaking. With hundreds of millions of dollars potentially on the table, it’s no wonder that studios are constantly on the lookout for intellectual property that can be translated to the big screen for big bucks.

On paper, the “Artemis Fowl” series of books by Eoin Colfer looks like a solid bet. It’s got a high-concept hook revolving around a secret world of fairies, a kid protagonist and eight novels worth of narrative to be mined. The project has been in the works at various stages with various studios for almost two decades. And now, finally, with the Disney monolith behind it, the first film in the erstwhile franchise has arrived.

Don’t be surprised if it’s also the last.

“Artemis Fowl” – currently streaming on Disney+ and inexplicably directed by Kenneth Branagh – is wildly unsuccessful on just about every conceivable level. It is a jumbled mess that borders on incoherent, a scattershot attempt at world-building that basically throws a lot of stuff at the wall, only nothing really sticks. The tone is inconsistent and the plot is nonsensical. The 95-minute runtime is not nearly enough to provide the required context, though that is offset by the feeling of audience relief at its brevity.

While I can’t say for certain, since I haven’t read them, I have to assume that the books are better than this candy-colored lunacy. They’d have to be. They probably have an actual story, for instance, rather than a series of barely-connected events that may or may not have some bearing on the overall narrative. It has all the worst parts of an origin story without conveying much about, you know, the origin. All in all, a misfire of truly epic proportions.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 11 March 2020 13:21

Fractured fairy tale – ‘Onward’

Obviously, I love Pixar movies. I’m a human being with feelings and a soul, so of course I dig the work of the acclaimed animation studio. That being said, I also have to accept that because they have set the bar so very high, there will be occasions in which they fail to clear it.

So it is with their latest offering “Onward,” a film that, were it to come from any other studio, would likely be hailed as great work, but because it bears the Pixar name, it feels just the slightest bit underwhelming.

Make no mistake – “underwhelming” is by no means the same as “bad” – this is actually a charming and fun film. The concept is interesting enough, the vocal performances are typically strong and the execution is quite good. Jokes are made and heartstrings are tugged. All the usual pieces are here. It just doesn’t quite ascend to the level of accomplishment that we’ve come to expect from the studio.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 11:43

2 Fast 2 Frozen – ‘Frozen II’

Disney’s “Frozen” was one of the most successful films of all time, raking in nearly $1.3 billion at the box office; as of now, it remains the 15th highest-grossing film of all time. It has also spent the past six years as a beloved mainstay in many a child’s home, with earworms like the ubiquitous “Let It Go” lodging themselves firmly into the wider pop culture landscape.

Obviously, there was always going to be a sequel.

But we no longer live in a world of hastily churned-out video-only sequels to iconic IP. There was never going to be anything direct to video about this one, though the truth is that it probably doesn’t matter all that much how good a sequel actually is – people were going to buy in.

But while “Frozen II” isn’t the achievement that its predecessor was, it’s still pretty darned good. Better than it had to be, really.

It is a continuation of the story of Elsa and Anna and their friends, a film that offers answers to questions that you may (or may not) have had about the previous installment. It features the same voice cast, the same directors, the same screenwriters and the same songwriters, all clearly having as much fun as you can have while also being tasked with continuing the money-printing legacy of Disney in general as well as “Frozen” specifically.

Published in Movies

There’s something oddly comforting about an unnecessary sequel. Sure, it would be nice if Hollywood would devote time, energy and other resources to original creations, but let’s be real – that ship has sailed. At least unnecessary sequels are honest – they want your money and don’t really care about anything else.

This brings us to “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” which continues to spin out the story of Sleeping Beauty to increasingly insane ends. If you didn’t know that it was based on the classic tale, you’d have no idea. Seriously – any resemblance to the source material is coincidental at this point.

Here’s the thing: this is a Disney joint, so there’s plenty of production value at work here. There’s no denying that this is a visually lush and aesthetically interesting film – there’s a lot of eye candy. Unfortunately, that candy comparison can be extended – this bright, shiny treat is a feast for the eyes, but absolutely devoid of any sort of nutritional value. It is as empty as it is attractive.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 01 October 2019 15:48

New to view 2019: A fall TV preview

Fall TV premiere season is upon us!

Granted, the whole concept of the “new fall lineup” has increasingly become less of a thing with the proliferation of streaming services willing to drop entire seasons in one go and networks becoming more and more flexible with regards to when a series can and should debut, but whether it is by design or simply through inertia, we still see a whole lot of new material hit the airwaves in the autumn.

As per usual, this preview addresses only those shows entering their debut seasons. This isn’t about all the exceptional television that is returning for a second or third or fifth or tenth season – this is about stuff we haven’t seen before. It’s a chance to look ahead at what’s coming and think about what content – if any – we might be willing to invest our limited leisure time into.

It’s a mixed bag for sure. We’ve got broadcast and we’ve got streaming and you’d better believe we’ve got HBO. We’ve got comedy and drama. We’ve got prestige fare and we’ve got mass appeal. We’ve got highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow – all the brows you could ever desire.

Will all of these shows be good? Absolutely not. Should you watch them all? Also – no. And this is far from everything. But if there’s even one or two gems among the flotsam, that’s a big win. And honestly, it looks like there might be a couple of winners here.

Or maybe it’s all just poorly-conceived adequately-executed entertainment detritus. Who can say?

Let’s have a look at a few of 2019’s fall TV premieres.

Published in Cover Story
Tuesday, 23 July 2019 15:22

‘The Lion King’ a dull roar

Anyone with even the slightest modicum of pop cultural awareness knows just how monolithic the Disney machine has become. With an ever-growing list of acquisitions and developments, Big Mouse is in the driver’s seat with regards to the entertainment we consume.

Perhaps the most cynical of their recent trends is the proliferation of live-action adaptations of beloved animated fare. They’ve been ramping it up over the past couple of years, but 2019 has taken things to a whole new level.

Already this year, we’ve seen adaptations of “Dumbo” (by Tim Burton) and “Aladdin” (by Guy Richie), a pair of tepid films in blockbuster clothing.

But “The Lion King” looked like it might be different. Featuring a stellar voice cast and directed by Jon Favreau, who already had some success in this particular domain with his very good “Jungle Book” adaptation, this one seemed to have potential.

Alas, it is simply more of the same, an almost shot-for-shot remake of the original film whose visual accomplishment simply can’t overcome an overarching feeling of inessentiality. The animated version was exceptional, while this new version doesn’t really have any reason to be.

(Well, one reason: a practically guaranteed massive box office haul – the film took in $185 million opening weekend.)

While there are game efforts on the part of all involved, there are certain fundamental issues that can’t be overcome. The photorealism of the all-animal cast is impressive, yes, but it is also an obstacle; there’s a lack of expressive flexibility that makes much of the dialogue feel flat and removed. And without that interactive dynamism, it doesn’t really matter how good it all looks.

Published in Movies
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