Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron Movie Review

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Review:

My kids both love Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, an adventure story about a Kiger mustang stallion in the Wild West, but my feelings are a bit more mixed. Speaking as a bleeding heart liberal tree hugger whose sympathies align almost entirely with the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other tribes of the Great Plains in histories of the Plains Indian Wars of the 19th century, this film is way too overbearing with its Indians=good, white people=bad message. No subtlety or nuance whatsoever.  It also suffers from rather overwrought narration that strays too often from the sentimental to the sappy and maudlin.

That said, it’s an enjoyable adventure story, especially for young horse lovers like my kids, and the animation is absolutely gorgeous. I consider it worth watching for the beautiful landscape art alone.

My rating:3 Stars (3 / 5)

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The Emperor’s New Groove Movie Review

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Review:

My second favorite of Disney’s (otherwise pretty mediocre) offerings of the early nolls. (Lilo & Stitch is #1.)

Like Lilo & Stitch, The Emperor’s New Groove is not a “typical” Disney film, which I think has led to it being overlooked and underappreciated by many Disney fans, and by Disney itself. There’s no beautiful heroine or charming prince, no significant romance, and no singing. In fact, the titular emperor, Kuzco (voiced by David Spade), who rules over a land that appears loosely based on the Incan empire, is probably Disney’s least likable hero ever. He’s spoiled, selfish, bratty, and vain. He’s so unlikable that it’s hard to care that much about his ultimate redemption, which is probably the biggest flaw of the film.

At least his sharp, sarcastic, and often downright nasty wit is good for plenty of laughs. In fact, the film is probably Disney’s funniest animated feature thanks to its generous blend of witty dialogue, sight gags, and tongue-in-cheek asides (it breaks the fourth wall more than any Disney movie since George of the Jungle.)

It also benefits from a host of great supporting characters, including one of my favorite Disney villains: Kuzco’s advisor Yzma, spectacularly voiced by the late, great Eartha Kitt. Yzma is an even more unpleasant piece of work than her boss, which says a lot, but like Kuzco, she’s also hilarious. Many of her best moments come in interactions with her big, dumb bodyguard/henchman Kronk, the film’s most memorable character thanks to his unexpectedly diverse skillset (he’s a master chef! he speaks squirrel! he studied interpretive dance!) and repeated conversations with the angel and devil that live on his shoulders. I also love the interactions between the kind-hearted peasant, Pacha, and his clever and outspoken wife Chicha – one of Disney’s best married couples.

The plot itself is a somewhat thin and predictable buddy comedy, but the fun characters and mile-a-minute laughs make The Emperor’s New Groove a pretty enjoyable way to spend 90 minutes of your life.

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My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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Sleeping Beauty Movie Review

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Review:

Sleeping Beauty was my favorite Disney movie when I was a young girl, but it later got superseded by Aladdin and I didn’t see it for many years. Then I watched it again in college, for the first time since elementary school, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it held up really well. Today, it’s back among my favorite Disney movies.

Why do I like it?

  • The animation is stunning – very stylized-looking and unique.
  • The music is some of the best ever – it’s Tchaikovsky, after all.
  • Prince Philip is quite the hottie – the best of the early Disney princes by far.
  • Aurora is kind of annoying, but not nearly as insufferable as, say, Snow White.
  • The three good fairies are funny, as are Aurora and Philip’s fathers and Samson the horse.
  • Malificent is the most terrifying and awesome Disney villain ever.

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Tangled Movie Review

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Review:

On our wishlist

When it was released, Tangled was the best Disney film in years. Now, of course, we’ve got Frozen heating up the competition for best Disney film of the new millennium, but Tangled was a huge step in the right direction after years of mostly mediocre Disney offerings.

It had an appealing heroine, an exceedingly handsome hero (though Disney has yet to beat Anastasia‘s Dmitri for sheer animated hotness), some good songs, a pair of hilarious animal sidekicks (my daughter liked Maximus so much she wanted us to name her brother after him!), a villain who rivals Frollo in terrifying psychological realism, and some simply gorgeous animation (though I still prefer the classic Disney style to the computer generated stuff). The plot was a fun blend of action-adventure, humor, and pathos as well.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Monsters University Movie Review

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Review:

Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. are my favorite Pixar movies, so I was curious to see  Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters, Inc. Sadly, though Monsters University was enjoyable light entertainment, it was nowhere near the level of the original film.

Even while laughing at Mike and Sulley’s collegiate antics, I could never get over the feeling that the story was just plain unnecessary and the movie, therefore, primarily an effort to liberate more of people’s cash from their wallets. It’s normal in today’s Hollywood to try to capitalize on the popularity of a successful stand-alone film with sequels, prequels, reboots, etc., but you expect something with a little more heart from Pixar.

Monsters University teaches us nothing particularly new or surprising about the characters or the interesting parallel world they inhabit, nor does it offer a particularly interesting twist on any of its moral lessons. (I was pleasantly surprised when, after telling Mike and Sulley that they would be expelled, Dean Hardscrabble actually stuck to her word and expelled them, forcing them to work their way through the ranks of Monsters, Inc. via the mailroom, instead of having them be rescued from their bad behavior at the last minute by Hardscrabble’s change of heart and/or a deus ex machina of some sort.)  Arguably, the film’s very existence contradicts Mike and Sulley’s backstory as laid out in Monsters, Inc., where Mike tells Sulley, “You’ve been jealous of my good looks since the fourth grade,” suggesting that they met each other in elementary school, not college.

As a result, Monsters University is a pleasant enough way to while away 90 minutes of your life, but a far cry from Pixar’s best.

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My rating:2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

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Brave Movie Review

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Review:

The first Pixar movie with a female protagonist, which is slightly depressing given that it’s also the 13th Pixar movie. At least it’s a fun, strong-minded, and memorable female protagonist!

Merida feels misunderstood by her proper and traditional mother, so she makes a wish that inadvertently turns her mother into a bear. Oops.

The quest to undo it is a rollicking good adventure with much for girls, boys, and their parents to enjoy. Beautiful animation as well, especially Merida’s amazing hair.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Frozen Movie Review

Review:

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I’m sure I’m not the only Millennial who grew up during the golden age of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Mulan, was kind of disappointed by most of (but not all) Disney’s offerings in the early nolls, and is now delighted that they’re undergoing a revival, just in time for my own kids to enjoy their movies as much as I did when I was a child. The Princess and the Frog was good and Tangled was great.

Frozen may be better still (honestly, I’m torn about whether I liked it better than Tangled or not). The animation was absolutely beautiful, the songs were catchy (my favorites were Let It Go and the opening yoik by Sami composer Frode Fjellheim), and the sidekicks were cute. And I loved that (spoiler alert – click on the blurred text to view) Anna and Elsa saved each other with the power of sisterly love and didn’t need to be rescued by anybody. Destined to be a classic!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Mulan

Review:

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The single best Disney movie to show to girls (and boys), in my opinion.

Although Disney has gotten much better at presenting well-rounded and interesting heroines in recent years, many Disney movies still focus ultimately on romance. In Mulan, by contrast, the romance is a minor and understated subplot, and the focus is squarely on Mulan’s quest to save her father’s life and bring honor to her family. Along the way, her cleverness, resourcefulness, and quick thinking save China as well.

In addition to providing a great role model, Mulan also has some great songs, lots of action and humor, and lovely animation. A must-have for any family video collection.

My rating:5 Stars (5 / 5)

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Review:

Okay, I have seriously mixed feelings about this movie. On the one hand, it mystifies me how Disney thought it would be a good idea to make a children’s animated musical out of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hugo’s novel had to be butchered and bowdlerized almost beyond recognition to make it even semi-appropriate for children, and despite the butchering and bowdlerizing, it’s still full of dark themes that are, imo, inappropriate and confusing for young children. This essential darkness melds very poorly with the elements intended to make it more appealing to younger audiences, resulting in a sort of thematic whiplash. Goofy gargoyles do a big song and dance number one minute, Frollo sings about burning Esmeralda at the stake if she won’t agree to become his lover the next. It doesn’t work.

On the other hand, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, most of the songs are excellent, and Frollo is one of Disney’s best and most terrifying villains.

It’s worth watching for the incredible Heaven’s Light/Hellfire sequence alone.

Malificent is, and probably always will be, my favorite Disney villain, but she’s fundamentally a creature of fantasy and therefore truly frightening only to Disney’s youngest audience members. Evil fairies don’t exist in the real world. Frollo, on the other hand, is a distinctly human brand of evil. His hypocrisy and cruelty are terrifying in their very mundaneness – most adults have known a Frollo or two, or at least known somebody who has, and few will remember the encounter happily. For that reason, he is one of the few Disney villains that is probably scarier for the adults than the children in the audience.

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My rating: 2.5 Stars (2.5 / 5)

Lilo & Stitch Movie Review

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Review:

One of the most under-rated Disney movies, in my opinion. The wacky hijinks of little Lilo and her alien “dog” are enjoyable and often laugh-out-loud funny (“Oh good, my dog found the chainsaw”) but the action and humor disguise a poignant message about the importance of family – both blood, and chosen. “Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.”

My rating: 4 Stars (4 / 5)

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