Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6

3Star

Big Hero 6 combines an astonishingly shiny and bright visual scheme with a tightly paced story, well-formed characters, and often quite funny dialogue.”

Continue reading

Frozen

Frozen_

3Star

by Ken B.

Frozen trounces along for 102 minutes as a grandly musical and visually stunning film. It’s very much an example of classic Disney, from the mythical elements to the princesses to an underlying message of great importance. While it is not entirely perfect, for the most part, Frozen is a very much enjoyable film, escaping just a target audience of little kids and achieving the status of being a solid movie for just about everyone.

It is set in a fictional northern European kingdom, Arendelle, where since childhood Princess Elsa (voice of Idina Menzel) has withheld the power to conjure ice and snow. She has been forced to hide it since an event in childhood where her sister Anna (voice of Kristen Bell) was nearly killed in an incident caused by her powers. All memories Anna withheld of Elsa’s abilities were magically modified to eschew any fantastical elements. As a result of the event, Elsa became deeply introverted and spent the remainder of her childhood largely alone, away from Anna.

In adulthood, following the death of her parents, Elsa, as the oldest child, is to be named queen. At a ball on the night of her coronation, after dismissing Anna’s request to marry a foreign prince (voice of Santino Fontana) because the two had only met earlier that day, Elsa accidentally unleashes her powers, and is alienated by those who see it. She subsequently runs away into the mountains, creates an ice castle, and casts an eternal winter over Arendelle. Anna then attempts to find her sister and reverse the curse cast over the kingdom, with the help of a local ice merchant named Kristoff (voice of Jonathan Groff) and Olaf (voice of Josh Gad), an anthropomorphic snowman created by Elsa.

The main attraction to Frozen ever since it was released was the music – namely Best Song winner “Let it Go”, a greatly empowering rally anthem for Elsa in the first act. As of this writing, the official clip on YouTube has 215 million views. The songs, by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, serve a decent effect for the story in developing characters and expanding upon plot points. As with any good musical, it adds an element to the production in total. Frozen genuinely needs and uses its musical numbers, they’re not just tacked on for the sake of tacking them on. While Broadway veteran Menzel has the strongest voice, the supporting cast can hold their own in a song. Another definitive positive is what the voices back – the animation, which is immaculate, from small character details to grand sweeping mountains.

I have a friend that considers herself some kind of a self-styled aficionado on  animated films, among other things, or really animation in general. She generally favors Japanese anime over American animation, but she did indeed see Frozen. She mainly enjoyed it, but said in no uncertain terms that she hated Olaf. I never asked why, but now having seen the film, I feel like the character does serve as a visualization (and cause) of one of the main problems with the movie. Olaf is a character largely in the film for comic relief, but his segments and jokes seem largely stuffed into the film for no apparent reason. Frozen is a film with some definite dark elements in its plot, but the overall mood of the picture gets quite lopsided when these are mixed with a talking snowman singing about how excited he is for summer. (The joke within, which is Anna and Kristoff debating internally whether or not to inform Olaf about what happens to snow when it gets warm, works much better than the song itself). This kind of comedic interweaving is there for kids, but it comes off as tonal inconsistency for everyone else, and undermines its overall impact.

Frozen isn’t flawless – the above mentioned problems as well as a quite conventional plot outline compared to the radical movements and filmmaking revolutions of Disney renaissance staples such as The Lion King keep this movie from among my favorite from this studio, but it still serves as an easy recommendation for both seasoned moviegoers and those wanting to introduce Disney to children. No matter how you slice it, this is a solid piece of cinema and animation from a studio where we have collectively come to expect nothing but the best (maybe because they’re quickly taking over the world’s media).

Buy from Amazon: DVD / Blu-ray / Soundtrack

Frozen

Wreck-it Ralph – Review

by Bret W.

I want to preface this review by saying I hate 3D movies. I absolutely despise the direction that Hollywood has been heading for the past few years. I feel like I’m stuck in the 1950’s. I want to go to California and shout at the top of my lungs, “Hey, Hollywood! Not everything has to be in 3D!”

Apparently it does.

OK so now that I’ve got that out of the way…

Wreck-It Ralph tells the story of a videogame bad guy who is tired of being a bad guy. Not because of what he does or how he acts, but rather, how he’s treated by others. He is excessively jealous of the games protagonist, Fix-It Felix Jr. (I feel I must say at this point that this game is an amalgamation of many popular 8-bit and 16-bit arcade classics, particularly Donkey Kong.)

When Ralph is not invited to the 30th anniversary party of the game, he crashes the party and is told in no uncertain terms that he is not welcome. One of the residents tells him that if he could win a medal (like Felix does when he successfully repairs the apartment building that Ralph, uh, wrecks), not only would he be welcome but he could live in the Penthouse.

This causes Ralph to go on a quest for a medal, by hopping into a bruatl first-person shooter called “Hero’s Duty.” Don’t worry, the writers did not miss the double-entendre and go to great lengths to milk it for all it’s worth – much hilarity ensues. Although he does win a medal, he accidentally awakens a cyberbug, falls into a rocket, and is shot – with the bug – into the sickeningly sweet racing game Sugar Rush.

This causes quite the conundrum for all. The cyberbugs do not know they are in a videogame, and whatever they consume they become. They are like a virus, which means it could be curtains for Sugar Rush and every other game in the arcade if they are not stopped.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. Suffice to say that Ralph meets some interesting people along the way, and even Felix has a little romantic twinge for Sergeant Calhoun, the female non-com from Hero’s Duty who is trying to find the cyberbug and destroy it before it’s too late.

So, like I said at the outset, I hate 3D movies, and I only went to this one because my son loves them. Thing is, the 3D was so well-done in this film (give Disney some credit) that I found it quite enjoyable. Maybe it didn’t add anything to the story but visually it made it rather appealing.

As for the story – it was compelling. There was some mystery and intrigue among the characters in Sugar Rush, particularly between King Candy and Ralph’s new friend, Vanelope von Schweetz. Plus there was the aforementioned romantic interest between Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sgt. Calhoun.

As for the acting – it was convincing. Voice-acting has always been something of an art form but the trend as of late has been to use big-name actors to voice animated parts. While it wouldn’t seem too wise for an actor to be heard and not seen, it has certainly boosted some careers. You might think that there would be less demand on a voice-actor. You would be wrong. In fact, it’s harder, I think, to convey emotion when you don’t have body language to use. That’s up to the animator. But the voice actor has to bring their character depth, and this is quite convincingly done by John C. Reilly in his first voice-acting foray. The rest of the cast are equally good – hats off especially to Jane Lynch as Sgt. Calhoun and Sarah Silverman as Vanelope. And I loved Alan Tudyk as King Candy. You may remember him as Noah Werner in Suburgatory, or as Gerhard in 20 Days, or my favorite, Wat in A Knight’s Tale. When I heard Tudyk’s King Candy, I thought they had resurrected Ed Wynn, one of the foremost actor/voice actor crossovers of his day (as The Mad Hatter from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland).

From start to finish, Wreck-It Ralph was touching, funny, and clever. It made me think of a video game version of Toy Story. Being a Disney film, it’s probably no spoiler to say that there’s a happy ending. But the way it resolved itself had me guessing right until the very end. Suffice to say, I have an easier time guessing the end of M. Night Shyamlan films than this one.

If you haven’t seen Wreck-It Ralph, do yourself a huge solid and go see it. And if you want a real treat, go see it (I can’t believe I’m saying this) in 3D. It’s well worth the extra money.