Archive for the Family Category

The Little Mermaid

Posted in Adventure, Family, Fantasy with tags on May 27, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

When critics lament the lack of creativity in modern entertainment, Disney’s habitual reliance on live-action remakes is usually exhibit A. I was surprised to discover Wikipedia lists ten made since 2019. I tolerate these pictures. Every so often, one will break through and captivate me. The 2015 adaptation of Cinderella remains the best because it felt like its own creation and, in some ways, improved upon the source. The two most recent examples, Pinocchio and Peter Pan & Wendy are some of the worst offenders. They bypassed theaters and went directly to Disney+ on streaming. The fact their existence is already forgotten is some consolation, given the unmitigated inferiority of those films.

It was only a matter of time before the studio would get their hands on The Little Mermaid. The classic cartoon kickstarted the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s. The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast were created during this period. Their live-action reimaginings were merely adequate but highly profitable. Both grossed a billion dollars worldwide. This big-budget production is getting a massive global release in theaters. The picture is expected to be one of the biggest — if not the biggest — hits of the summer. The new interpretation is competent, and while the movie has its moments, the magic is largely missing.

The good: A couple of the performances shine through. Halle Bailey is pleasant as Ariel. She has a beautiful singing voice and conveys the wide-eyed innocence needed for this part. Also, Melissa McCarthy is an effective villain as Ursula, the evil sea witch with octopus tentacles. She’s channeling actress Pat Carroll, who voiced the character before. McCarthy rises to the challenge of the campy part. She’s having fun. The production design is appealing, and whenever developments are happening underwater, things go swimmingly. Although nothing comes close to the breathtaking effects of last year’s Avatar: The Way of Water.

The bad: Everything is a dutiful exercise in copying something that already exists in a better form. It’s too frigging long. The animated feature was a breezy delight that didn’t waste a second in a scant 83 minutes. This update adds another 52 minutes to a patience-testing runtime. Every single scene in this bloated film is expanded until it overstays its welcome. Plus, three forgettable new tunes are added. The remainder of the cast (not Halle or Melissa) spans a spectrum of fair to not good. Pointless to list everyone else. I’ll simply highlight: Ariel’s ocean friends Sebastian, Flounder, and Scuttle were captivating characters with big personalities. Now observe these nature-realistic reproductions of a crab (Daveed Diggs), a fish (Jacob Tremblay), and a bird (Awkwafina). They are not cute.

The best — dare I say sacred — element has always been the songs. Yet even those have been manipulated and changed. Fundamental lyrics have noticeably been removed or altered to affect a less offensive worldview. My favorite (and most iconic) line: “And don’t underestimate the importance of body language!” from “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” is gone. Why someone thought the antagonist had to convey more positive language is a complete misunderstanding of the character’s motivation. How the songs are performed is occasionally different too. In the original “Under the Sea” number, the entire ocean floor of organisms is a rocking band that participates with backing vocals. Not here, though. The creatures dance around, but they don’t play instruments. Only Sebastian sings, with Ariel joining him at the end to sing in agreement. Huh? I thought she didn’t want to stay “under the sea.”

The Disney formula for these reworkings is to stick closely to the source for the sake of nostalgia but gently tweak a few details in superficial ways. If you’re taking kids to see this first before ever having shown them the 1989 release, the obvious question is, Why? The original blows this version out of the water. Children and some adults may be dazzled by what it is: an expensive spectacle. For everyone else, it’s hard to shake that this was done infinitely better 34 years ago. The animated model prevails as the standard.

05-25-23

Matilda the Musical

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Family, Music, Musical with tags on December 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why UK author Roald Dahl is considered a national treasure. I’m an aficionado of the legendary author’s work too. He wrote James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and The Witches. All were made into fine films. I wasn’t as familiar with Matilda, which was published in 1988. You will likely follow this meandering account better if you’re well-versed in the original text. It has a beloved following, particularly in the UK. It’s been adapted into a 1996 film directed by Danny DeVito, a two-part special on BBC Radio 4, and a 2010 West End/Broadway musical by Tim Minchin. This is the cinematic adaptation of that musical, directed by Matthew Warchus (Pride), from a screenplay by Dennis Kelly.

Matilda the Musical is an overstuffed production with a lot of characters. Matilda Wormwood is a precocious five-and-a-half-year-old girl. Yet the child isn’t appreciated by her mom and dad. “My mummy says I’m a lousy little worm,” she laments. Her father wanted a boy and continues to refer to Matilda as one. Actors Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are amusingly festooned in tacky clothes and goofy hair. I cherished their campy presence. Due to her parents’ lack of care and concern, she seeks solace at the local library. She’s a voracious reader. There she tells a parable to Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee), the librarian. Matilda’s tale is about a renowned acrobat (Lauren Alexandra) and escapologist (Carl Spencer) couple who long to have a baby. Frequent cutaways dramatize this external circus saga throughout the film.

The movie finally hints at a coherent story when Matilda is admitted as a student at Crunchem Hall. The sweet but timid teacher Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), sees her potential. It’s hard to believe this passive instructor is portrayed by the same actress who was the fierce lieutenant in The Woman King and the new 007 in No Time to Die. Talk about range. Meanwhile, Headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (Emma Thompson, unrecognizable under prosthetics) does not like kids. She considers them maggots. As a matter of fact, it’s the school’s motto. However, Matilda is a willful girl with a powerful brain that develops a knack for telekinesis. Matilda and Trunchbull are destined to face off. Any wagers on who will win?

Matilda’s personality could use tweaking. Actress Alisha Weir is indeed effective in the title role. When she sings, “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty,” an optimistic ode about her sad life, I felt her sorrow. To Matilda’s credit, she is surrounded by negative influences and still finds the strength to champion her fellow students. However, she comes across as a tad self-righteous and conceited. She solves a ridiculously complicated math problem to the bewildered shock of Miss Honey and shrugs it off like it’s no big deal. Then she puts on airs by listing all the novels she read that week (Nicholas Nickleby, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Of Mice And Men, The Lord of the Rings, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, and…The Cat in the Hat.) We get it. You’re a prodigy, but a touch of humility goes a long way. The rebel in me was silently rooting for Agatha Trunchbull.

I miss the subversiveness of Roald Dahl. The author is weird. What makes his books so interesting is the dark sensibility that saturates his irreverent tales. His chronicles often feature a child narrator against villainous adults. Matilda is no exception. Sure the adults are evil on the written page. Agatha Trunchbull competed in the hammer throw at the ’72 Olympics. When she likewise hurls a young student by her pigtails, it is an outrageously bizarre sight., However, the scene is silly, and the savagery is ephemeral.

Dahl’s aesthetic has been considerably undermined by a bright, colorful exhibition infused with spoonfuls of saccharine sentimentality. The vigorous dance numbers are fabricated and edited within an inch of their life. One group sequence highlights jittery step patterns in detailed precision. When the youngsters dance and sing to “Revolting Children,” it is a spectacle to behold. The scene is frenzied and intense but employs slow motion, too, with CGI flying paper planes and streamers. The presentation veers from excellent to exhausting in a scant 3 minutes. I longed for the comparative calm of the earlier ditty, “When I Grow Up.”

I love musicals, but Matilda wasn’t made for fans of the golden age (the 1930s through the early 1950s). It’s for young theater geeks raised on TikTok, where the triumphant, hyper-edited, special effects-enhanced displays of choreographed demonstrations can be uploaded onto social media platforms and then go viral. The picture is best enjoyed for the production numbers. They are impressive, but they overshadow a disjointed and cluttered mess of a story. Matilda the Musical is a collection of catchy songs and high-energy dancing in search of a focused narrative.

12-26-22

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on December 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

An old English proverb states: “A cat has nine lives. For three he plays, for three he strays and for the last three he stays.” After defeating a giant monster, Puss in Boots is unexpectedly crushed by a massive falling bell. The critter has been an active feline and has now exhausted eight of his nine lives. One more crazy adventure, and he is kaput. However, if he finds the legendary wishing star, he can restore his nine lives. And so begins his mystical quest aided by returning love interest Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and a therapy dog they name Perrito (Harvey Guillén)

Puss in Boots is a feline fugitive from the law but a hero of the town of San Ricardo, Spain. The character made his first appearance in Shrek 2 and is the current ongoing legacy of that franchise. This entry is technically a follow-up to Puss in Boots which came out in 2011 — over a decade ago. Most of that movie’s young fans are now adults. That’s ok because (1) this picture is so fun, a person of any age can enjoy it, and (2) it has little narrative connection to the original. This is the best kind of sequel, a standalone narrative, AND it improves upon its predecessor.

With all due respect to the celebrated voice of Mel Blanc, I’d suggest that Antonio Banderas is one of the greatest marriages of an actor to an animated character. He’s that effective in evoking a distinct persona. When he speaks, I feel connected to this personality. That goes a long way into making this a quest in which I am invested. A gang of new characters is introduced—some with fairy tale origins but with a twist. So we get Goldilocks (Florence Pugh) and the three bears (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman & Samson Kayo) with cockney accents and an evil crime lord in the form of “Big” (formerly “Little”) Jack Horner (John Mulaney) as well as an elderly cat lady (Da’Vine Joy Randolph).

The Last Wish is a pleasant swashbuckling diversion. The goal is stunning visuals and amusing jokes, and the production delivers both. The computer graphics are a vibrant display that occasionally relies on painterly designs that resemble storybook illustrations. The visual aesthetic is more influenced by Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Akira than the realistic style used in the Shrek series. The gags aren’t all guffaws, but they are plentiful. If there’s a complaint, it’s that this saga is such a frenetic rendition of a simple tale. Watching our champion attempt to secure his objective by using an animated map while multiple antagonists try to stop him is not unlike a video game. But that can be a compliment too. The story moves, and it’s never dull.

12-19-22

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Posted in Animation, Drama, Family with tags on December 8, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Everyone is familiar with The Adventures of Pinocchio. Italian author Carlo Collodi wrote the children’s novel way back in 1883. Since then, the mischievous pursuits of a lively puppet have been fabricated and reassembled dozens of times. The most famous interpretation in 1940 by Walt Disney is rightfully considered one of the greatest animated films ever made.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is not the version you’re acquainted with. Given the number of adaptations, that’s a welcome thing. The director is known for dark and bizarre productions, and this gorgeous stop-motion animated production is no different. For one thing, it takes place in 1930s Fascist Italy when Benito Mussolini was the prime minister. The time period — set later than originally written — casts a sinister pall over the proceedings. The haunting mood gave me chills.

Del Toro describes his beliefs as falling somewhere between being an atheist and an agnostic. Pagan elements abound. The Wood Sprite brings Pinocchio to life, but our protagonist also meets her sister, Death, an even creepier figure that looks like a Chimera out of greek mythology. She’s flanked by black, skeletal bunnies playing poker. Nevertheless, the director’s Catholic upbringing infuses the happenings with religious iconography too. Geppetto, a good-hearted and faithful believer, is responsible for whittling a massive crucifix that sits above the altar in the local church. Pinocchio is fascinated by the wooden statue and awkwardly mimics how it hangs. The gesture is uncomfortable as it carefully teeters in the balance between innocence and blasphemy. “Everybody likes Him,” the little marionette naively observes. “He’s made of wood, too. Why do they like him and not me?”

Despite the heavy themes, this is a story to be enjoyed by children and adults alike. The chronicle still concerns a woodcarver named Geppetto (voiced by David Bradley), who chisels a puppet from pine and calls him Pinocchio (Gregory Mann). He does this after his human son dies from a bomb dropped in an air raid. The toy comes to life with help from a blue-glowing wood sprite (Tilda Swinton), and dreams of becoming a real boy. Ron Perlman voices a fascist official named Podesta, who turns Pinocchio into a soldier in a military camp for youth. Finn Wolfhard is Podestà’s son Candlewick, a bully, then a friend. Christoph Waltz is the aristocrat turned carnival master, and Ewan McGregor is his insect conscience Sebastian J Cricket.

Pinocchio is an eerie, animated fable of love and disobedience. I found the gloomy tone depressing at times, but it is also supremely touching. Composer Alexandre Desplat balances the macabre touches with a lush score appropriately performed using only wood instruments (violin, piano, harp). The saga is also a musical and offers a bevy of hauntingly beautiful tunes, the most memorable being “Ciao Papa.” Pinocchio sings the melancholic ode when bidding farewell to his father.

The animation is the best part. I was dazzled by the look of the world created here by Guillermo del Toro and veteran Mark Gustafson (animation supervisor of Fantastic Mr. Fox). Pinnochio looks like a figure carved from wood, but even the human characters have a sculpted quality that lends this picture a hand-crafted aesthetic. A host of producers are credited, including The Jim Henson Company. The look is reminiscent of the work of Tim Burton, like Corpse Bride, but also LAIKA Studios, who did Coraline and ParaNorman. It must be acknowledged somewhere that this is a colossal improvement over Robert Zemeckis’ live-action remake of the Disney classic earlier this year. Del Toro’s adaptation is ultimately an innovative and mesmerizing take on the quintessential tale.

Now playing in select theatres, Premieres on Netflix on Dec 9th.

11-27-22

A Christmas Story Christmas

Posted in Comedy, Family with tags on December 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

1983’s A Christmas Story ranks in my Top 5 all-time greatest holiday movies. I’m not alone in my love for that adaptation based on the anecdotal writings of humorist Jean Shepherd. In the U.S., the TV networks TBS and TNT air the film for 24 hours in a nonstop marathon on the actual day. So it was with a mixture of excitement and reserve that I approached this sequel to the beloved classic: the awkwardly titled A Christmas Story Christmas.

From a screenplay he co-wrote with Nick Schenk (Gran Torino), director Clay Kaytis (The Christmas Chronicles) has fashioned this warm update for people who have seen the original many times. The year is 1973 — 33 years after the previous installment took place. Peter Billingsley, who played little Ralphie in the first picture, is now an adult father. He travels back to the home in Hammond, Indiana from whence he grew up. He’s there to console his mother after receiving news that his father has passed. He’s promised his mother two things. (1) to write his father’s obituary and (1) to give his kids a magical Christmas like the one he had as a child.

There’s more nostalgia to be mined. Ralphie also reconnects with his childhood friends. A cadre of original cast members return. This includes his kid brother Randy (Ian Petrella), his best friend Schwartz (R.D. Robb), who dared buddy Flick (Scott Schwartz) to stick his tongue to a frozen pole, and the ultimate bully Scut Farkus (Zack Ward) with his right-hand man Grover Dill (Yano Anaya). Melinda Dillion retired from acting in 2007, so the always dependable Julie Hagerty ably steps into the role of his mother, Mrs. Parker.

Ralphie is all grown up, so the narrative’s perspective has appropriately changed. The account concerns navigating festive traditions as a married father with kids. Rituals include picking out a tree, finding the appropriate topper, and buying gifts while his wife (Erinn Hayes) and mom get tipsy in the lounge. Outdoor fun consists of snowball fights with the kids, sledding down a ridiculously high ramp, building snowmen, etc. Of course, nothing goes according to plan. The script finds humor in some new gags, but it also relies on developments from the 1983 picture and puts a twist on them. I enjoyed the remix. My biggest complaint is that it’s all very inconsequential. Nonetheless, this is still a sweet revisit if you’re a fan of the previous movie. Not as good, but then again, it hasn’t had the advantage of almost 40 years of repeat viewings.

11-29-22

Hocus Pocus 2

Posted in Comedy, Family, Fantasy with tags on October 3, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hocus Pocus was underappreciated in its time. Released in 1993, the picture was a commercial failure at the box office and got terrible reviews. However, something interesting happened over the years. Repeat showings on the Disney Channel and ABC Family (now Freeform) ultimately refashioned the flop into a beloved classic with a dedicated audience.

I don’t hold the original dear. Why? Well, so full disclosure. I had never seen it until just last week. However, I was preparing to review Hocus Pocus 2. I figured I should be acquainted with the first film. Considering them both, they are equally lightweight and silly. Yet I’d give the sequel a slight edge.

The youthful supporting cast here surpasses that of its predecessor. In this story, a teen girl named Becca (Whitney Peak) inadvertently lights the Black Flame candle and brings the Sanderson sisters back, who are out for revenge. These are the witches played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy. Their vicious personalities have mellowed with age. The opening intro shows that the sisters were misunderstood as children. Incidentally, Taylor Henderson is a standout as a younger version of Winifred, Bette Midler’s character. The witchy trio of Winnie, Sarah, and Mary are the only characters that return. Oops! Save for the notable exception of zombie Billy Butcherson. His storied history with the sisters comprises a minor plot point. Billy is delightfully portrayed by actor Doug Jones (Hellboy, The Shape of Water), who frequently appears in Guillermo del Toro’s movies.

Girl power reigns supreme in the follow-up. Becca has a quirky best friend named Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). The two have a tenuous relationship with former bestie Cassie (Lilia Buckingham). She has become a popular girl, much to their dismay. Cassie has a dim-witted boyfriend (Froy Gutierrez), but her loyalties still reside with her girls. The teens ultimately band together to stop the evil sisters. Lessons taught are that sisterhood is a powerful thing and that making fun of others for being different is not cool.

Despite sweeping cultural changes over the past 29 years, Hocus Pocus 2 is still a retread. There are some new jokes. Instead of a broom, Mary flies around on two Roombas under each foot. Those robotic vacuum cleaners will assist them later. The utter confusion the witches experience at Walgreens is the funniest scene. Like its forerunner, there are some musical numbers. I did appreciate a cleverly altered Elton John song, “The Witch Is Back.” This is a family film after all. Furthermore, when a group of children is told that a virgin must light the candle to summon the witches, a little boy — who looks to be about 5 — asks, “What is a virgin?” Fitting because none of the kids asked this question in the first installment.

This comedy is a pleasant diversion and manages to offer some improvements. For most people who watch this on Disney+, nostalgia will be a significant factor in their enjoyment. If you treasure the 90s flick, feel free to conjure up an extra star for my review.

09-30-22

DC League of Super-Pets

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Superhero with tags on July 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

You’ve enjoyed actors Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart in Central Intelligence and been enchanted by their chemistry in not one but two Jumanji movies. Yet you’re aching for more. Perhaps you’d like to experience their personalities in an animated saga about furry superheroes? Today I bring you good news.

DC League of Super-Pets is little more than an animated yarn seemingly inspired by The Secret Life of Pets, but it’s a lively reinterpretation. The tale concerns beloved critters that obtain superhero powers after being exposed to orange kryptonite. So for the uninformed, green kryptonite is bad, but orange is good. The story stars Krypto (Dwayne Johnson) — Superman’s (John Krasinski) Labrador Retriever — who possesses the same special skills as his master. The villain is a guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon ), who belongs to Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). She’s patterned her entire life on the Brain, that megalomaniac mouse of the Animaniacs. Well no, not technically, but that’s the level of characterization going on here.

Lulu is currently confined to an animal shelter but is able to acquire a shard of orange kryptonite. The element gives her super abilities. The other creatures at the pound inadvertently get powers too. The coterie of individuals includes a boxer dog (Kevin Hart), a pig (Vanessa Bayer), a turtle (Natasha Lyonne), and a squirrel (Diego Luna). However, unlike Lulu, they embody a good-hearted temperament. Conversely, there is also a kitty named Whiskers (Winona Bradshaw) that is not so well-meaning. After the humans in the Justice League are defeated and imprisoned by Lulu, it’s up to this superpowered team of strays to save the day. The adventure may sound rather incomprehensible, but it makes sense while you’re watching.

The most poignant moment in the DC League of Super-Pets unexpectedly occurs in the middle of the chronicle. Ace (Kevin Hart), a stray Boxer, recounts his backstory. He once had an ideal life in the home of a loving family. Then one day, Ace witnessed their toddler teetering on the edge of a flight of stairs. To rescue her from falling, he grabs the baby with his mouth. The parents hear their infant crying and only observe the little teeth marks on their toddler’s arm. They mistakenly think their dog has bitten her. Ace is removed from the household and taken away. The moment arouses genuine pathos. That random aside holds the seed of a narrative more compelling than the one the writers decided to pursue. The rest of this chronicle is rather frivolous and forgettable. That’s ok. I still enjoyed this lighthearted diversion.

07-28-22

Marcel the Shell with Shoes On

Posted in Animation, Comedy, Family with tags on July 13, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Marcel is a one-inch-tall talking shell with a googly eye and a pair of pink footwear. He got his start in a 4-minute short that was a collaboration between director Dean Fleischer-Camp and writer/actress Jenny Slate. It went viral in 2010 and was followed by two equally concise sequels in 2011 and 2014. During that time, the couple would marry and later divorce. Yet Marcel remained. More than a decade after his debut, we are blessed with Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, an identically named feature. And it’s oh so charming.

The chronicle is built upon a foundation of the gentle warmth of a mood. Marcel lives with his grandmother Connie (Isabella Rossellini) in a standard-sized home. When Connie calls her grandson Marcello, the palpable love in her soft voice is genuinely touching. He spends life going about his business and gathering resources to live. The residence has been converted into Airbnb. Dean (playing himself) is the current guest.

When the documentarian discovers the little guy, he begins filming Marcel and asking him questions. Marcel attempts to interrogate him too, but Dean is less inclined to answer his queries. Gradually we learn that Marcel was part of a larger community that went missing. Their separation occurred sometime after the house’s previous owners, Mark (Thomas Mann) and Larissa (Rosa Salazar), had an argument and split up. The picture concerns Marcel’s quest to find his lost friends.

Slight doesn’t even begin to encapsulate this amiable wisp of an idea. Marcel’s fascination with the world and his insightful observations are the basis for the story. Jenny Slates’s endearing vocal performance is a raspy, childlike whisper that almost lulls you into a state of ease. It’s a soothing idea that intersperses little bon mots during its runtime. When Marcel appeals to the internet for help, the clip circulates quickly. While the comments are supportive, they aren’t beneficial. “It’s an audience, not a community,” he laments. Similar witticisms are sprinkled like powdered sugar on a stack of pancakes covered in syrup.

This warm hug of production is too genial and sweet to dislike. I’m always fascinated when a movie has near universal acclaim on an aggregate website like Rotten Tomatoes and manages to inspire one review that takes that near-perfect rating down to a 99%. I understand that lone voice of dissent. Context is everything. A full-length feature that appears to be assembled from lovingly created shorts strung together entertains more effectively in smaller doses. Even at a mere 90 minutes, the preciousness wears a bit thin. I see this as an ideal flick for streaming to be enjoyed at your leisure.

At one point, Marcel uses drops of honey on the soles of his sneakers to climb the sheer cliff of a wall to reach the mantel from the floor. The use of that viscous nectar got me thinking. A spoonful of honey spread on biscuits or infused in tea proportioned throughout the day is a sugary treat. Finishing off a 12-ounce squeeze bottle all in one sitting is less delightful.

07-12-22

Minions: The Rise of Gru

Posted in Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Family on July 5, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Let’s be honest. It was never about the human characters in the Despicable Me films series. It’s the little yellow twinkie-shaped creatures that are the real stars.

The Minions movies take place before the proper franchise. The second prequel is subtitled The Rise of Gru and is set in 1976. Criminal mastermind Gru is an 11-year-old who desperately wants to join the Vicious 6, a criminal organization of six supervillains. They recently expelled one of their members, and now they’re auditioning for a new replacement. Gru applies, but when the group sees he’s just a kid, they reject him. To prove himself, he successfully steals a powerful amulet called the Zodiac Stone that the crew has newly acquired. He intends to give it back in hopes he will earn their respect. However, one of the Minions — I believe his name is Otto — trades the precious talisman for a pet rock. Now everyone is on the chase to reacquire the charm. Helping the Minions on their quest is Master Chow (Michelle Yeoh), an acupuncturist and Kung Fu fighter. There’s also a biker (RZA) that Otto befriends on his way to San Francisco.

Of course, the story is beside the point. The whole purpose of these movies is to highlight the silly, crazy antics of those lovable rapscallions. There is something so quixotically engaging about their behavior. At one point, three of them — Kevin, Stuart, and Bob — pose as two pilots and a flight attendant to sneak on board a plane so they can fly to San Francisco. It’s a hilarious display. The Minions have this certain indefinable “je ne sais quoi.” The Minions are the humor found in slipping on the peel of a banana — an English word often heard in their cryptic polyglot language. This is comedy at its most elemental. It is impossible to explain the joy of slapstick to the unconverted. Like trying to analyze why the goofy hijinks of The Three Stooges or Benny Hill are funny. You either get it, or you don’t. However, if you have young kids, they will definitely want to see this.

Quite honestly, there are enough gags for both children and adults to appreciate. Check out the starry ensemble that’s doing the voices of the Vicious 6. Taraji P. Henson, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Lucy Lawless, Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, and Alan Arkin all do an amusing riff on their personas for knowledgeable viewers that are in on the joke. Another gag highlights the time it takes to dial a number on a rotary phone. A child won’t even recognize what that object is. The soundtrack includes a hip cadre of indie stars doing covers of popular songs of the era. Delight to new versions of “Funkytown,” “Dance to the Music,” and “Fly Like an Eagle” that pop up at perfectly timed moments. At a funeral, the Minions sing the choir opening from “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones. Oh, I laughed…a lot. An affirmation of fun is precisely why Minions: The Rise of Gru entertains and ultimately satisfies as a piece of entertainment. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot famously mused, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” In the Minions case, it’s a banana, and the answer is most assuredly YES.

06-30-22

Lightyear

Posted in Action, Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy with tags on June 18, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Three sentences flash across the screen to set the stage. “In 1995 Andy got a toy. The toy was from his favorite movie. This is that movie.” After it was over, I didn’t buy that assertion. Yeah, I know. It’s probably best not to question such things. This feature doesn’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny, but given that the most captivating character didn’t become a toy back then is a huge leap of faith. Sox the cat (Peter Sohn) is the breakout star and it’s not even close. Buzz Lightyear’s robotic feline companion is an absolute delight. Buzz Lightyear himself? Oh sure, he’s in the film too. Just not a particularly interesting personality. He’s kind of an oaf, a bit of a dullard too.

Lightyear concerns a human astronaut (Chris Evans) — er uh space ranger — who is responsible for marooning his crew of travelers on a hostile alien planet. You see he’s branded a failure at the outset. He even tries to quit the mission but his commanding officer and best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) refuses to accept his resignation. So Buzz attempts to devise the perfect formula for a working hyperspeed crystal to get his crew off this foreign planet, thereby fixing his mistake and fulfilling his duty. Buzz undergoes a series of test flights to reach hyperspeed to bring everyone back home. Whenever Buzz zips away in his spacecraft for a few minutes, four years elapse for everyone else. He doesn’t age but everyone else does — rather quickly. Unfortunately, he isn’t successful for a very long time. Decades pass and the progression of time suggest the first 10 minutes of Up. Guess who finally comes up with the correct formula? Psst…See the first paragraph.

My encapsulation above may read like the complete saga, but it’s just a prelude. The setup seeks to establish the emotional basis for the formulaic drama that comprises the bulk of the picture. Lightyear and Sox have their moments interacting as a duo. That computerized feline saves his owner’s neck on more than one occasion. There is a refreshing simplicity to their relationship. Yet this chronicle doesn’t allow them to shine alone. The plot introduces a goofy collection of additional helpers. Three space-colony outcasts show up to assist Lightyear in his objective. Chief among this ragtag trio is Izzy Hawthorne (Keke Palmer), Alisha’s granddaughter. She’s flanked by Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi) a naive and inexperienced recruit, and Darby Steel (Dale Soules) an elderly convict on parole.

This is where the moral comes through: “Collaborate as a team. Be less of a maverick.” The idea that cooperation is glorified as the ultimate goal is so ubiquitous in children’s entertainment these days that you accept it as standard-issue. I’d suggest that a great many intellectuals or innovators in the adult world are free-thinking radicals, and far from conformists, but perhaps that concept is a bit too revolutionary for Pixar. Anyway, the woebegone characters are uninteresting and detract from the narrative rather than add to it. The sad-sack troupe faces off against an invading force of robots led by the mysterious Emperor Zurg (James Brolin) — another callback to the original Toy Story.

Lightyear isn’t terrible. It’s nicely animated and features an adventure with some lively sequences. But bestowing your creation with that title incites the exalted history of the Toy Story franchise. The first two are widely considered Pixar’s best. This production is not even in the same cosmos. It’s a straightforward tale, painfully ordinary and utterly lacking in imagination or depth. The only remarkable individual is a mechanical cat. Meanwhile, the milieu is oppressive and dreary. The plot throws in generic developments. A time travel subplot yields a reveal that is a ho-hum of a surprise. This is not the awe-inspiring entertainment that you’d expect to become any child’s most treasured movie. Lightyear may take place on a different planet, but creatively it remains — earthbound.

06-16-22