Inside Out Movie Review

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Review:

After 2013’s disappointing Monsters University, it’s great to see Pixar back to form in Inside Out. While I don’t think Inside Out reached the heights of Monsters Inc. or Finding Nemo, it’s smart, creative, charming, and moving, just like all Pixar’s best works.

The film takes place mostly inside the head of an 11 year old girl named Riley. Five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust – live inside her brain’s control center and help Riley navigate life. Riley’s a lucky little girl with a happy and loving family, and up until this point, Joy has mostly been in charge, but after the family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley struggles with the transition and the emotions start to panic due to the repeated failure of their attempts to keep Riley as happy as they believe she deserves to be. In the ensuing chaos, Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked out of the control center and into Long-Term Memory, where they’re unable to help Riley cope. Taken over by Fear, Disgust, and Anger, Riley’s happy life starts to fall apart.

There are lots of funny moments in Inside Out (many of my favorites were the brief glimpses into the control centers of other characters, including Riley’s mom and dad, her teacher, and a dog and cat on the street) and it’s ultimately a feel-good film, but it also deals with some weightier issues than most Pixar films, including an attempt to run away from home and a very effective visual metaphor for depression, so I think older children will get more out of it than younger children. In fact, I think it could be really helpful for older children, because it offers a safe framework to talk about feelings (via the personified emotions in the control center) and some valuable lessons about how important “negative” emotions (especially sadness) can be to our physical and emotional health, yet at the same time, how dangerous it is to be controlled exclusively by them. As someone who, like Riley, had a really happy and loving childhood yet struggled with depression beginning around age 11 or 12, I found myself wondering if a movie like this could have helped me understand and express more clearly what was happening to me back then. Maybe it would have helped and maybe not – loving as they are, my family does Emotionally Repressed WASP like champions, and I’m no exception. But I definitely don’t think it would have hurt.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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Cinderella (2015) Movie Review

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Review:

It’s spring break, so I decided to take my daughter out for a mother-daughter date and see Disney’s new live-action Cinderella movie. I’m not even a big fan of the Cinderella story, but I spent most of the film with a big sappy grin plastered across my face, so clearly it did something right.

It’s refreshingly old-fashioned, feel good filmmaking that sticks pretty close to the story as laid out in the classic 1950 animated film, but smartly borrows from Ever After (the best Cinderella adaptation, imho) to have Cinderella (Downton Abbey‘s Lily James) and the Prince (Richard Madden of Game of Thrones) meet before the ball. This allows the Prince (here called Kit) to demonstrate a personality – something he totally lacked in the animated film – and Cinderella to make an emotional rather than purely physical connection with him, both of which give the love story much more emotional resonance than the animated version.

The live-action Cinderella also spent more time establishing Cinderella’s family and happy childhood than the old animated film, which I also liked because the emotional speech by Cinderella’s dying mother (Hayley Atwell, aka Marvel‘s Agent Carter) as she urges her daughter to “have courage and be kind” gives the film a more active and meaningful message than “a dream is a wish your heart makes.”

On the other hand, while Cinderella takes initiative into her own hands on several occasions in her attempts to fulfill her promise to her mother, the film did make a baffling and annoying slide back into passivity at the end, when she is locked in the attic and the narrator informs us that she neither knew nor cared who the men in the courtyard below were and basically was prepared to live the rest of her life on her happy memories of the ball. Even the 50’s Cinderella was crying and trying to help the animals release her, but this one just stands at the closed (but unlocked!) window and sings sadly, and it’s the MICE who think to open it and let her voice be heard. Like, really?

Despite that brief moment of feminist cringe, I enjoyed this adaptation more than most. For the most part, it was smart enough to keep the good and change the bad aspects of the original story. I was also impressed by the sumptuous visuals. As far as acting, the standout was Cate Blanchett as the wicked stepmother, naturally, but I thought everyone did fine with their roles. Holliday Grainger of The Borgias and Sophie McShera of Downton Abbey looked like they had a lot of fun as the step-sisters, and I was surprised to find that Derek Jacobi had a role as the King. He was much less buffoonish than his animated predecessor and had an especially touching scene with Kit after the ball.

My rating:3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

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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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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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Enchanted Movie Review

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Review:

Disney isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself! Enchanted is a charming and fun send-up of many of Disney’s stock tropes and cliches. Amy Adams is adorable as Giselle and Susan Sarandon looks like she’s having the time of her life as the wicked stepmother. I also loved James Marsden as the well meaning but hopelessly oblivious Prince Edward. My only question is why they hired a famous Broadway star like Idina Menzel and then never had her sing!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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The LEGO Movie

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Review:

On my to watch list.

This has gotten really great reviews but I haven’t had a chance to see it yet.

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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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