Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse doesn’t sound like it can possibly work. Columbia and Sony Pictures produces an animated Spider-Man film that is not connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe but instead deals heavily with “the Spider-Verse”, an infinite collection of realities each with their own specific Spider-Person hero. Who does movies that are their own thing anymore? What is it, 1999? Well, these guys do. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman directed the film from a screenplay by Phil Lord and Rothman. Uh oh, so many people, so many companies involved, such an odd choice in setting. It must be a disaster, right?
George and Harold are two fourth graders with a penchant for potty humor, hanging out in their treehouse, and creating their own comic books. The cream of their crop is Captain Underpants, a broad knock-off of Superman, right down to his exoplanetary origin story, bizarre mishmash of superpowers, and proclivity for dressing in – you guessed it – underpants. George and Harold are just a little more to-the-point with their superhero.
When remaking a classic, withstanding the inevitable comparisons requires either flawless execution or inspired novelty. Disney’s latest live-action adaptation has an even greater challenge, as it must compete with two masterpieces: the studio’s own animated feature from 1991, and Jean Cocteau’s magnificent romantic fantasy La Belle et la Bête (1946). And though this iteration of the story pays ample homage to both of these predecessors, minor blemishes and stylistic issues prevent the remake from reaching the same heights. Still, a film should not be judged worthless if it fails to equal titans. Beauty and the Beast does a great deal right; it simply doesn’t replicate the Earth-shattering experience of its ancestors.
Disney recently released the first teaser trailer for Pixar’s next original feature film, Coco. The teaser introduces us to a world full of music, magic, and spirits centered around Dia de los Muertos. In accordance with standard Pixar protocol, this teaser offers us only a slight glimpse at the characters and story, and instead envelopes the audience in the world of the film. After presenting the teaser, this piece will focus on what we can learn about the aesthetic of the film from the trailer, discuss the creative team behind the film, and flesh out the narrative and potential themes based on other interviews. Here we go:
As the very best animated Disney films often do, Moana marries mythology and musical to depict a princess struggling to find her place. However, Moana blasts beyond this tried-and-true method by introducing a transformative detail: Moana is more concerned with following her own values than she is on cozying up to a love interest and ruling as a princess. The film sports wonderful songs that are used in crucial bits of storytelling, the voice-acting is incredibly strong, and the plot features some interesting beats and develops a potent theme. There are interesting tweaks to the humor and animation styles as well, which keeps the film looking and feeling fresh throughout. Moana herself practically overflows with heroism, and she is perhaps the most complete and realistic Disney princess to date.
Today, words are exceedingly lightweight. You can say whatever you like because words are as substantive as foam to us. That’s no more than a reflection of how empty our reality has become. And yet even now, the truth is that words are power. It’s just that we’re meaninglessly drowning in a sea of powerless, vacuous words.
-Hayao Miyazaki, 1999 – Director’s notes for Spirited Away
Stop motion animation giant Laika consistently produces alluring and powerful films. Kubo and the Two Strings, directed by Laika CEO Travis Knight, continues this tradition. Kubo may be the best-looking stop-motion film ever produced, complete with fantastical creatures, awe-inspiring landscapes, and even action sequences that shame actual action movies. In addition, unlike some of the animated films this summer, Kubo and the Two Strings packs significant thematic punch, deftly handing complex issues and ideas. There are serious issues with the film, mostly revolving around the uneven pacing and lackluster vocal performances (which may actually be poor dialogue writing – it is hard to say). In the grand scope, the result is an absolute treasure, but one in which you have to slog through some needlessly slow and awkward moments. Fortunately, it is just so damn pretty and cool that, for some people, that won’t matter too much.
The Secret Life of Pets, from Illumination Entertainment, occupies a strange space in the world of animated films. The movie is a cut above the slapstick-and-farts formula of the most childish entries (I am looking at you, Ice Age 5). It even avoids the over-reliance on pop culture reference to get chuckles out of the tag-a-long parents who are invariably forced into the seats in the theater. But, it is disappointing that the best part of the movie was entirely revealed in the trailer — the teaser trailer! That’s right, those 2+ minutes that introduced us to The Secret Life of Pets function as the cold open of the film, unchanged. And they are still probably the best part of the whole movie. Continue reading ““The Secret Life of Pets” and the “Trailer Problem””
The latest film from Pixar, Finding Dory, is a sequel to one of the studio’s most-beloved early films, and one of the first with a true pathos, Finding Nemo. The original often ranks among Pixar’s best, and one of the big reasons was the character of Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres. The filmmakers thought that this character (who suffers from short-term memory loss) was a good one, so they chose her to headline her own film. Ancillary characters don’t always make great focal points, so there were a lot of people worried about this one, but it was all unwarranted. Finding Dory is very good, introduces a number of interesting and distinct characters, and further develops the themes of family, friendship, and belonging of the original. It acts as a wonderful companion piece to the original on account of the fantastic union of story structure, plot, and themes – all hallmarks of Pixar.