Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

Ralph Breaks the Internet

The mysteries of the internet await Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman)

When we first met the titular character in 2012’s Wreck-it Ralph, the atmosphere revolved mainly around that of the retro gaming world. Six years later, Ralph Breaks the Internet has jumped into the modern world. Thankfully, Ralph and his friends have remembered to bring along the warmth, charm, pathos, and humor back as well.

Still friends after the events of the first film, Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) have a mishap in Vanellope’s racing game which causes the player to break the wheel. They discover that the owner of the arcade Mr. Litwak (Ed O’Neill) will have to shut the game down since the company of the game shut down and only one wheel is available for sale on Ebay (or the “Eboy”, as Ralph calls it). Thankfully, Litwak has also recently installed the arcade’s new WiFi, so Ralph and Vanellope take it upon themselves to travel to Ebay and get the wheel to save her game.

There are still some wonderful returning characters such as Felix (Jack McBrayer) and his wife Calhoun (Jane Lynch), but plenty of new characters to boot. Knowsmore (Alan Tudyk) is the go to guy for answers (aka the search engine). The two key new standouts are Yess (Taraji P. Henson) and Shank (Wonder Woman‘s Gal Gadot). Yess is the diva who knows what is what when it comes to popularity on the internet, and Shank may be the only racer who can challenge Vanellope.

One of the best things an animated film can have is what I would call “rewatchability”. As in the first film, there are easter eggs a plenty to discover here. Perhaps the best part of the movie is when Vanellope has to travel to the Disney part of the internet (you will see why), and meets the Disney princesses. It is safe to say you may never look at the idea of a Disney Princess the same ever again.

Parents, if your kids saw the first film, they are fine with this one. The only thing they might feel confused of is about why adults are laughing as well.

Is it better than the first? My first response would be no (I admit it started off a little slow and does not have the freshness of the original), but it should not detract from how good the second film is. As was the case in the first, one of the best things about this film is that it actually has a message for kids. Even if you take away the humor, this is one of the better movies about friendship I have seen in some time, animated or otherwise. Disney has always been the best at bringing out the kid in all of us, and they did it again.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Teen Titans GO! To the Movies (2018)

Teen Titans Go to the movies

The Teen Titans won’t be the only ones surprised at their first movie…

There are a lot of fans of the original Teen Titans TV show that are adamant haters of the show Teen Titans GO. I mean true haters. The first show came on the air just a few years after I was done with cartoons, but managed to see a few shows thanks to my little brother. When Teen Titans Go came out, the legion of die-hard fans became die hard haters. The show did not give life lessons as before, but it did give lots of humor for adults as well as kids. Enter Teen Titans Go! To the Movie, one of the years most surprising (and hilarious) films.

Sick of not being noticed, the Titan’s leader Robin (voice of Scott Menville) is determined to have a movie made about him (with or without the titans). It is this conundrum that is the basis of the film, but the side adventures of Robin, Cyborg (Khary Payton), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), and Raven (Tara Strong) that bring the best parts out, very few of which I will mention (even poking fun at Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice). All that is to say is that kids may be confused why their parents are laughing harder than they are at times.

Others who lend their vocal talents include Will Arnett (also one of the producers) as the team’s nemesis Slade (“SLAAAADE!”), Kristen Bell as film director Jade Wilson, Nicholas Cage as Superman, and great minor comic roles for (minor spoiler) Michael Bolton and Stan Lee.

Parents, there are some movies that you drop your kids off at the theater and pick them up at later. Don’t do it here. See it with them. It will be worth it (and yes, all ages are okay).

There are times when the action (which does look good for the type of animation  being used) does go on a bit too long, and the last act does drag on a bit. Still, this is one of those comedies that will require multiple viewings in order to find all the jokes and “Easter eggs”.

Meaning I have at least ten or more viewings to attend, which I would gladly do.

Overall: Four Stars

****

Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2

Fighting crime is hard enough without having a baby to watch over.

It should come as very little surprise that it took fourteen years to bring the Parr family back to the big screen in Incredibles 2. Director and writer Brad Bird knew he had characters that are rivaled by few in the Disney Universe (not just Pixar), so he took his time. The result is a sequel that, while it does not live up to the original, still is passable as family fun for all ages.

The movie picks up right where we left off in the first film. The Parr family is chasing after the Underminer (Pixar voice man John Ratzenberger). After his escape, the family is under legal trouble again, and must go back into hiding. That all changes when they are approached by super hero enthusiast Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk) and his sister Evelyn (Catherine Keener). They tell of a plan of how Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) can wear hidden cameras to show the hero point of view, not the point of view from the politicians. The choice is eventually made that Elastigirl will be the best bet for the public since she destroys the least amount of property.

This leaves Bob alone with his kids as a stay at home dad (though Deavor has given them a new house with amazing features). This is the plot where the film adds the most laughs, as Bob is unaware at first of his kids’ individual problems. Dash (Huck Milner) needs help with homework (“Why would they change math?!”). Violet (Sarah Vowell) is upset because her crush from the first film Tony (Michael Bird, son of Brad Bird) had his memory erased of her and does not know who she is. Then of course, there is Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) who is discovering his new powers along with his family. It is so desperate that Bob even has to go to Edna (Brad Bird) for help (while in his monster form, Jack-Jack is also voiced by Nicholas Bird, the other son of Brad Bird).

Meanwhile, Elastigirl is on the hunt for a new villain named Screenslaver, who does have secrets of his own (I did guess at who the identity of the Screenslaver was, but I will still not reveal it). His powers are able technical in that he can entrance people on the TV screen. Eventually, this tech is transmitted to goggles.

There are other minor characters that don’t get as much screen time, but are fun to have around anyway. These are the super heroes who have also been in hiding, such as Voyd (Sophia Bush), Helectrix (Phil LaMarr), and others with their own unique powers.

Parents, the film may be the first time I have heard some swearing in a Disney/Pixar film (very minor ones like Hell and Crap). Aside from that, it is safe to say that any kid would be fine with this film if they saw the original.

The movie is fun, but far from the (pardon the pun) incredible first film. It does lack the originality and uniqueness from the first film, and does not nearly have as good a villain (though few can compare to Syndrome). Still, that should not stop you from having a great time with your family.

Though I would advise you to tell your kids that fighting a racoon may not be the best idea.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars ***1/2

 

The Greatest Showman (2017)

The Greatest Showman

P.T. Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and the birth of show business.

It should come as no surprise that The Greatest Showman has been a passion project of Hugh Jackman’s since 2009. He gives an all out performance that is the back bone of the film, which is more style than substance. Thankfully, the style more than makes up for it.

Jackman plays Barnum, the man who went through one of America’s first (if not the first) rags to riches story, from robbing street vendors as a kid to creating what is now known as the circus (though it did shut down for good in 2017). With his wife and childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams) and his two daughters (Austyn Johnson and Cameron Seely), Barnum gathers up the outcasts of society to perform a spectacle that changes history.

Such outcasts are the bearded lady (Keala Settle), with a voice that could blow the tent over, Tom Thumb (Sam Humphrey), the “general” and the Wheeler siblings, W.D. (Yahya-Abdul-Mateen II) and Anne (Zendaya, who is making her name known after years on the Disney Channel). Helping on the business side of things is Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron).

For me, I had wished the film would have more musical numbers in the circus setting, not just in the real world. I understand they are telling the story of PT Barnum, but couldn’t just a few numbers be used with the spectacle and visuals he was known for?

Another issue I had with the film was that it spent a little too much time on the famous European singer Jenni Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). It is true that she has some stellar vocal numbers (though Ferguson is dubbed over), but it is too much time away that I wanted spent at the circus.

Thankfully, each number is so awe-inspiring that the movie is worth seeing just for them. I am not sure which is my favorite yet (I have the soundtrack to go through still), but the ones that come to mind are the raw power of “This is Me”, the romantic duet “Rewrite the Stars” and the redemption of “From Now On”.

Parents, it is so wonderful that there is a movie musical (besides a Disney one) like this you can take the kids to. It is PG, and that is only for some mild thematic moments (maybe not mild, but not scary).

The Greatest Showman is not the best of musicals of recent years (certainly not better than La La Land, though the lyricists worked on this film), but it is still nice to know that there are some movies that are willing to risk a lot just to entertain us with originality and awe.

Basically, what Barnum would have done.

 

Overall: Three and a Half Stars *** 1/2

Coco (2017)

Coco

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) loves music, even when his family disapproves.

 

Up the stairs and to the left.

That is where my grandma keeps the photos of her past. One picture in particular came to my mind frequently while watching Disney/Pixar’s latest triumph, Coco. It is the photo of my great-grand father as a kid. My grandma always said I had his eyes, and the more I look at it, the more I agree.

Family and music are the two obvious elements of Coco. We learn that Coco is not the main character, but the main character’s great-grandmother. The main character’s name is Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez, giving a stunning breakout performance reminiscent of Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho). He is a young boy living with his family of shoemakers. The family is loving, but is strict on having no music whatsoever. Miguel’s great-great grandfather (Coco’s father) left the family to pursue a music career, and never returned. He was therefore rejected by the family, and his picture torn away.

Still,  the love of music is in Miguel’s bones (and he is no slouch either at the guitar). He idolizes his hero, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), yearning to play exactly like him. Even so, his family (especially his grandma, Coco’s daughter) strongly hate the idea, even breaking Miguel’s guitar. When he tries to steal the real Cruz’s guitar, he makes an unexpected trip to the land of the dead, trying to find out why he can’t bring his love of music into his home. On his trip, he meets (not surprisingly) a vast number of characters, including a lovable dog named Dante, many dead relatives, and a mysterious wanderer named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal).

The film has at least two plot twists, neither of which I will spoil, except that one of them was kind of a given and the other I was not expecting. What I can say of the movie is that it is, of course, visual eye candy. Before the film even began, there was a short two-minute intro by the makers of the film (which seemed odd to me), saying how thankful they were to the countless people who worked on the film. Just watching the film is proof enough that the film took a lot of time and care to make. The land of the dead never seemed so vibrant.

Parents, the movie is Disney/Pixar, so the kids will be fine. Yes, there are some thematic moments, but nothing too bad for a child.

Is Coco the best of Disney/Pixar? Probably not, but it is surely a great movie. It does have some plot points that seem easily covered up, and the villain is bad, but sub par. Still, the visuals are amazing, the music (by frequent Disney/Pixar composer Michael Giacchino) adds to the film’s love for music, and the ending emotional punch is one of the best the studio has ever offered (my eyes got a little wet).

Coco is a film that is not just one you will always remember, but one worth it as well.

Es Muy Excellente.

Overall: Four Stars ****

Wonder (2017)

Wonder

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), who has Treacher Collins syndrome, starts his first day of school.

There are many reasons why Wonder hit home for me, but the biggest has to be because I am such a supporter of anything that has to do with anti-bullying. As a small, autistic child with a larger sized head (“Big head” was a huge nickname for me as a child), it is easy to see why I was picked on as a kid. If only Wonder had come out two decades earlier (Note: I did have friends as a child so don’t feel too sad for me or anything.)

Based off of the book by R.J. Palacio (which I highly recommend), the film centers on August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, from Room). After being home schooled by his mom  Isabel (Julia Roberts) and having 27 surgeries, the time has come for him to attend public school. It is the first year of middle school for all fifth graders, so Isabel thinks now is the best time, despite the doubts from her husband Nate (Owen Wilson). Both walk him to school on his first day, along with his older sister Olivia “Via” (Izabela Vidovic).

We have learned that Auggie has already met at least a few kids, as well as the principal Mr. Tushman (“I have heard all the jokes”), played perfectly by Mandy Patinkin. There are some who just revel in bullying poor Auggie, such as Julian (Bryce Gheisar), but others who eventually warm up to him, mainly Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Summer (Millie Davis). Both Davis and Jupe are rather sensational.

If you have read the book, you know that it is divided into sections that are not just narrated by Auggie, but by other friends and family members. I was not sure how the film would have approached this, but it does so wonderfully (though some parts do seem a little jumbled). Some may think subplots like that of Via (who goes to her own school across town) and her time in the drama club would seem off base, but it is still essential to the film as a whole. Her potential romance with Justin (Nadji Jeter) is as sweet a budding relationship as they come.

All the cast is spot on. To start with, there were times I was watching Owen Wilson as the dad and forgetting we are looking at the same guy from movies with Vince Vaughn and Ben Stiller. It is truly one of Wilson’s best performances. Of course, Julia Roberts is pitch perfect as the mom, as are all the rest of the adult cast (including Daveed Diggs as Mr. Browne).

Still, it is the young cast that shines the most. The kids don’t act over the top like you would expect in a Disney Channel show, but like real kids (though there is no swearing, so as to keep the movie at PG). Even small roles like that of Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), Via’s best friend, are played with depth and insight.

In the end though, it all goes down to Tremblay as Auggie. Ever since his huge breakout performance in 2015’s Room (which I still feel he was snubbed for at the Oscars), I knew he had a big career ahead of him. Now, more people will be able to see him in Wonder and jump on board. The kid is a born natural actor.

Parents, it has been quiet some time since I have seen a great, non-animated family film. It put a smile on my face that the majority of audience members were kids. There is no sex or nudity (some kissing), and next to no swearing (I think I heard “crap” only once). Basically, I would say ages 7 and up are not only okay with seeing this film, but should see the film.

In a nutshell, Wonder is a pure heart warmer, one that will inspire a lot of discussion in families long after the credits role (Note: I am not a parent, but I would assume a lot of parents will say there are some things the kids do that are not right, such as helping a friend cheat on a test, or fighting.) While Wonder is not my favorite movie of the year, I have a feeling that, when the time comes to make my top ten films of 2017, I will be fighting hard for Wonder to have a spot on the list.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away

Every frame of Spirited Away is a jewel, but this one of Chihiro is the most poetic…

Even though I have seen Hayao Miyazaki’s uncanny masterpiece Spirited Away countless times (there are only two or three other movies I think I have seen more), I only just recently finally saw it on the big screen, as well as in its original language. Still, it lost not one ounce of its magical effect: The experience only added to it.

As the first anime movie I ever saw, I can safely say that Spirited Away is the one anime movie for people who don’t think they like anime movies. Miyazaki has made countless classics, but this has to be his number one film (though My Neighbor Totoro is a close second).

The story of Spirited Away is like that of Alice in Wonderland. A ten year old girl named Chihiro (Daveigh Chase, who was also Lilo in Lilo & Stitch) is on her way to her new home when her parents stumble upon what looks to be an abandoned theme park. They see food that does not seem to be for anyone, so they eat it (well, chow down). Chihiro eventually realizes that the park is a place of unimaginable creatures and spirits. Her quest has her meet unforgettable characters including the tyrannical boss Yubaba (Suzanne Pleshette), the boiler man Kamachi (David Odgen Stiers), the blunt yet kind Lin (Susan Egan), and the helpful friend Haku (Jason Marsden).

I will leave it at that, because this a movie that is not to be seen or heard, but experienced. Any artist out there would benefit to pause every frame, and spend five minutes looking at it. Miyazaki (who also wrote the script) gives such pin point detail to each inch of our screens that we are stunned. Even the animators at Disney and Pixar will tell you how much of a master this man is.

Upon watching the movie again, I also realized how much of a hero Chihiro really is. It is not just that she puts herself in harm’s way (the scene where she runs on a pipe is beyond bold for any person), but it is why she does it. Despite her puny appearance (she looks like she weighs no more than 50-60 pounds), she has a heart of purity and soundness, and it is perfectly reflected in the film’s closing line (which is very underrated).

Parents, this is a movie for any child. There are some scares, but nothing too bad. More so, it is one which you can sit down and watch with them (and even enjoy).

 

Recently, I did a poll on Instagram about whether Disney should keep making live action remakes of their films (most were for the idea). I am personally growing tired of it: Some of them did work, but now they are just overshadowing the far better originals. Spirited Away is one movie that, no matter how much money Disney (or any studio) has will ever be done well in live action. Heck, bring in James Cameron, and a live action version would still be terrible. Some movies are meant to stay the way they are.

I could go on and on about my love for Spirited Away, but it is better to experience for yourself if you haven’t already done so. It is impossible not to be moved by this film.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

The Nightmare before Christmas

What’s this? What’s this?!?!

For one reason or another, The Nightmare Before Christmas was a movie that was never a part of my childhood, despite being six when it came out. Had I seen it as a child, I am sure it would have been a clear piece of my childhood I would always cherish. Now, almost twenty-five years later, I am glad to say that it still stands out as a classic (though as a Halloween or Christmas film, I am not so sure).

The story could only come from Tim Burton. The main resident of Halloween town, Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon) is the best when it comes to Halloween. Still, he is looking for something more. He stumbles upon doorways to other towns (all based off of Holidays) and discovers Christmas town, which is beyond anything he has ever seen (“There’s children throwing snowballs, instead of throwing heads.”)

He has his idea set in stone: Bring the idea of Christmas back to Halloween town and spread the joy. This is despite the warnings of Sally (Catherine O’ Hara), a zombie like creature with a soft spot for Jack.

The main star of the movie is composer Danny Elfman (who does some of his own vocal work, including Jack’s singing voice). He has, and always will be, associated with the work of Tim Burton (who, I realized with shock, did not actually direct this movie. The director was Henry Selick). His music, voice, and lyrics are all displayed with dignity, bravado, power, and undeniable charm.

The movie had one Oscar nomination, which was for Special Effects (it lost to Jurassic Park). The visuals are, as in every movie that has Tim Burton related to it (in any way shape or form), simply astounding. Not only that, but the way the visuals blend with the music is so magical it is (fittingly) creepy.

Parents, this movie does, of course, have some scary moments for very young kids, but I think it would be fine for anyone 1st grade and up.

The impact of The Nightmare before Christmas is still being felt (stores still sell its merchandise). It is one of the main movies I wish did not slip through my grasp as a child. Even the message of who you are and your identity is brilliant. The only fault I have is that, like all great movies, it is far too short.

In a nutshell, The Nightmare before Christmas is a classic.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

ET

The image speaks for itself…

There is a scene in E.T. when Mike (Robert MacNaughton) is describing the relationship between his younger brother Elliot (Henry Thomas) and the alien to a grown-up.

Mike: He communicates through Elliot.

Grown-up: Elliot thinks it’s thoughts?

Mike: No. Elliot feels his feelings.

The idea of feeling of feelings is what makes Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece so endearing. A good director knows how to read the minds of the audience, but a great director knows the feelings of the audience as well. In the case of E.T., the main audience is not just children, but the child in all of us.

Another key feature of the film is how Spielberg films from a point of view. Nearly every scene is filmed from the point of view of E.T. or Elliot (and sometimes his siblings). The only adults we really actually see in the film is the mother (Dee Wallace) and (for the second half) Keys (Peter Coyote). We never really see anything from their point of view. There are a few exceptions. We do see Keys looking for E.T. after his family has left him on earth. We also get that wonderful comic scene of how the mother thinks she hears a noise from Elliot’s closet, and actually does “see” E.T. hidden in the stuffed animals.

It truly baffles me whenever I meet someone who does not like this film, but I am beside myself when it is someone who has never even seen the film. The story is still well-known to them though. Elliot is the middle child (always the unsung hero is the middle child) of Mary, a single mom of three (the other is a young Drew Barrymore as Gertie). As a middle child myself, it was impossible for me not to relate to Elliot. My parents also were separated, I wished to always hang out with my older brother’s friends, and I had a younger sibling who I thought got more attention than I did. In short, life was hard to a degree.

Enter E.T., who is as shocked to meet a human as Elliot is meeting an alien (though the best reaction comes from Gertie). All of the scenes with Elliot prove that Henry Thomas gives perhaps the best (if not the most famous) performance by a young male actor in film history (his audition tape was equally compelling). It is a little bit of a shame though, because it does overshadow the fine work given by his siblings. MacNaughton does start off as the wise scheming older brother, but is still kind-hearted and more understanding (especially at the end). It is also a credit to show Barrymore (who has had acting in her family bloodline for generations) as a little girl who is far smarter than the others give her credit for.

Along with the comic moments, the movie clearly has movies of suspense. The “chase” scene is heart pounding to anyone, regardless of age or knowledge of the outcome. No small part of this is due to the other star of this film (and nearly every Spielberg film), legendary composer John Williams. Like every movie he has composed, E.T. would be a totally different (and really not at all brilliant) film without John Williams.

Then comes the moment, as the suspense becomes utmost relief and wonder. You know the scene, you know the moment. I don’t need to explain how it is etched in our minds and hearts and souls for eternity.

Parents, if you have not let your kids see this movie yet, I don’t know what you are waiting for. I would say any age. Yes, there are scary moments, but it is a movie where being scared is okay. Yes, some of the adults seem like villains, but they really aren’t actual villains. There is also some swearing.

Whether you watch the original theatrical version, the updated version (with updated special effects and two added scenes), it is clear a movie is a classic if the only bad thing about it is the video game (which I thankfully never got to play).

E.T. is just flawless entertainment for anyone.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

The Emoji Movie (2017)

 

Emoji

Alex (Jake T. Austin) trying to find the right Emoji.

It is important to remember that, while the tomato meter at rottentomatoes.com is very helpful, it is not always right.

That is not to say that The Emoji Movie is good, only that it is not as terrible as people are making it out to be. Afterall, it takes a lot to make a movie about the inside of a smart phone. The Emoji Movie is clearly reminiscent of movies such as Toy Story (1995), Wreck it Ralph (2012), and Inside Out (2015). The ultimate difference is that those movies had wit and humor that was not forced down our throats. I think I cracked only two smiles during The Emoji Movie (and maybe a hint of a chuckle).

Those movies also had characters we liked and cared about. They were original, had a pep in their step. When I walked out of Inside Out, I went a long time thinking of my voices in my head. As a kid, it was years before I stopped looking at my toys and waiting for them to come alive. The next time I send an emoji, I will not be thinking about what happens to it after I send it.

It is perhaps of the greatest irony that the best way to describe The Emoji Movie is the main emoji himself, which is a “meh” emoji. His name is Gene (T.J. Miller). He is out to impress his parents (played by Steven Wright and Jennifer Coolidge). It is his first day on the job, waiting to see if the owner of the phone, Alex (Jake T. Austin) will use him in text. Gene freaks out, and messes up everything. After being chased out of textopolis by Smiley (Maya Rudolph), he and Hi-Five (a well cast James Corden) set off to find the cloud, with the help of Jailbreak (Anna Faris), who is hiding her own secret. In the mean time, Alex is out to impress his crush Addie (Tati Gabrielle) if only his phone would stop acting up.

Parents, the movie is fine for kids, but I still should warn that you yourselves would probably be undoubtably not entertained. It is still the premise that we have seen in all other movies: if you are to be yourself, you will be happy and succeed.

Perhaps the thing that makes me the most upset about The Emoji Movie is that it truly had so much potential. From what I read, the idea of the movie came up around 2015, meaning the movie could have possibly been rushed to the screen. If only it hadn’t. The writers could have given us clever humor, not mundane. It is not the worst movie of the year, but The Emoji Movie is clearly one of the blandest of the year.

 

Overall: Two Stars **