Tag: family

Movie Review: Treasure Planet (2002)


Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from netflix instant.

I caught a chunk of this on tv years ago and always meant to revisit it, mostly because I remembered the lady captain being cool. As its name implies, Treasure Planet is a futuristic re-telling of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel Treasure Island, following young upstart Jim Hawkins as he unexpectedly receives a map to the fabled title planet, where space pirates long ago stashed all of their loot. His astronomer friend Doctor Doppler commissions a ship for them to travel there, but most of the crew turn out to be vengeful pirates who plan to mutiny and take the treasure they believe is owed to them from past treacheries. Now Jim, Dr Doppler, and the formidable Captain Amelia must fight for their lives on an unfamiliar, booby-trapped planet.

With beautiful, inventive animation and a few cool futuristic twists, Treasure Planet has a lot going for it. Unfortunately, its story is by now too familiar to me, and the writers do little to spice up the narrative. It’s also very clearly aimed at kids, resulting in more cheese than I needed, and it’s a bit mired in its early-2000s time. It’s got montages set to original Johnny Rzeznik songs, for god’s sake. I enjoyed the side characters of Dr Doppler (voiced aptly by David Hyde Pierce, meaning I could pretend he was some alternate-future version of his astronomer character from Wet Hot American Summer), and of course, Captain Amelia, who is a badass British ship captain voiced by Emma Thompson. Their parts are often funny and a bit more adult in tone, but most of the film is more juvenile and without the charm one usually expects from a Disney animated movie. I was very into the look and design of everything, especially the gorgeous watercolor backgrounds on Treasure Planet itself, and the fun mash-up designs of all the 19th-century-inspired technology. But pretty visuals and some great side characters don’t quite carry the whole movie.


Pair This Movie With: There are several similar movies out there, but I’d say this reminded me the most of Titan, AE, a movie I unabashedly love. And of course the Treasure Island-ness of it all put me in the mood for my most-watched adaptation of that classic, Muppet Treasure Island.

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Seen: In 2D at the AMC/Loews at Boston Common.

Wreck-It Ralph reveals the world of arcade games as a vibrant, inter-connected community once the players leave the building. Behind the scenes, everyone is settled into their assigned roles- typically good guys, bad guys, and victims. Ralph, a Donkey Kong-esque villain in the game “Fix-It Felix, Jr”, is tired of being ostracized from everyone just because he’s naturally good at wrecking things. So, he sets off to win a medal to prove to his game-mates that he can be a hero and earn their respect (and cake). His presence in the intense Halo-esque “Hero’s Duty” leads to some issues, but his troubles really begin when he crash-lands accidentally in the candy-colored racing game “Sugar Rush”. There he reluctantly teams up with a bratty “glitch” called Vanellope in order to gain his medal and maybe JUST MAYBE win some friendships.

So this piqued my interest, as I’m sure it did many in my age/taste bracket, for its promise of recognizable video game characters being used in a funny narrative setting. That bad guy therapy session in the trailer is all a lot of us needed to draw us in to this movie. And while I know some people are disappointed that this isn’t really what happened (the real-life gaming characters are there, but more as short cameos), I loved the new games and characters that were created for the film. The three games where most of the action takes place are all recognizable archetypes with fun worlds and characters that are comfortably familiar but not derivative. The detail in the animation is wonderful, especially the movements of different characters- the jerky motions of the Fix-It Felix denizens had me giggling every time and I loved the erratically floating Pacman ghost. The designs are lovely, from the super-saturated, super-cutesy candy land of Sugar Rush to the dreary, insect-alien-riddled planet of Hero’s Duty. And the latter also features the wonderfully forthright and completely badass Calhoun (voiced perfectly by Jane Lynch), who just generally made me happy with her tragic backstory and ridiculous namecalling. I didn’t even completely mind her romantic subplot (she is a dynamite gal, after all).

Story-wise the film is a little uneven, mainly because it changes in purpose and tone once Ralph gets to Sugar Rush, which I think is about half-way through. I loved that world and its sneering characters and weird diabolical king (Alan Tudyk!) and happy colors, and I liked Vanellope’s plotline a lot, it was just a bit of a sudden shift for the film, almost like they had two stories they wanted to tell and couldn’t quite find a way to combine them believably. Her story could have been a movie in itself, actually. It’s a minor criticism I guess, since overall I had a lot of fun with Wreck-It Ralph. The humor is goofy (puns galore!) and nicely referential without relying on that as its point, and while it’s aimed at younger kids I can’t say I wasn’t into it. And, doggonit, it’s got a cute central friendship and a sweet message.


Pair This Movie With: Well the whole idea of seemingly inanimate things coming to life and having their own secret society when humans aren’t around is of course reminiscent of Toy Story, which is also about friendship and stuff.

Movie Review: Frankenweenie (2012)

frankenweenieSeen: In 3D at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Young Victor Frankenstein is a clever inventor and filmmaker whose only friend is his dog, Sparky. When Sparky is killed by a car, Victor devotes himself to bringing him back to life through SCIENCE. As students at school discover his secret, a chain of events is launched that eventually leads to re-animated mutant pets terrorizing their small town. Tim Burton’s return to stop-motion animation (and original material) is an adaptation of his live-action short film from 1984.

Seriously infused with all things Burtonesque, Frankenweenie is a fun, simple tale rife with horror and pop culture references. There’s an asshole neighbor who looks just like the Burgermeister Meisterburger from Santa Claus is Coming to Town (and indeed his name is Mr Burgermeister), a dog who gets Bride of Frankenstein hair, a turtle who morphs into a Gamera-esque kaiju monster, a science teacher modeled after Vincent Price, Gremlins-esque sea monkeys, and a hamster Mummy. Once I recognized the direction the film was heading (that is: turning into a mash-up monster movie), I was pretty cool with it, despite how clear it is that the entire movie is just an excuse for Burton’s inner child to talk about the things he loves. Which I guess is actually kinda cute.

The animation is superb, as expected. (Side note: Have I mentioned how fucking EXCITED I am that there have been three major stop-motion films in theaters this year? Like, how fantastic is that?!) I love that the artist’s touch is apparent in the characters- there are thumbprints and slight inconsistencies, as well as touches of sketchy pen/pencil drawing. The black and white palette is great, well-suited to the story and overall aesthetic, and I loved how Burton’s 2-D drawing style is easily translated into 3-D figures, with the design reminding me more of his illustration work than his previous stop-motion films. Great voice acting as well, especially Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short as a range of characters, and Martin Landau as the spookily awesome science teacher Mr Rzykruski. The time period is ambiguous, sort of the updated 1950s suburbia of Edward Scissorhands, complete with stereotypically closed-minded townspeople who hate science. The creatures at the end are awesome, and honestly kind of actually scary? Mostly that cat/bat creation creeped me right the fuck out.

One of the main issues with Frankenweenie is that its premise really doesn’t warrant a feature-length film. The original story is stretched out with all the monster movie and science fair stuff, but it still drags a lot. The other big issue is the weird casual racism in the character of Toshiaki. I get that he was meant to be a vessel for the Kaiju movie references, but he is also the only character of color (with lines) and all he does is conspire evilly against the protagonist and obsessively film the town’s destruction, all while speaking in a very exaggerated Japanese accent. I doubt that the writers meant to be offensive, but they are ignorantly propagating a tired stereotype and it made me uncomfortable in general. I think Burton could have worked in the Japanese monster movie angle with a less stereotypical character, if he had stopped to think about it.

Anyway. I liked Frankenweenie, but it has its problems. Mostly I’m just excited for all the stop-motiony goodness that’s been happening lately. And that someone made a black and white kids movie.


Pair This Movie With: The aesthetic and story are basically an amalgam of Burton’s early shorts “Vincent” (one of my favorite short films ever) and “Frankenweenie.” And of course comparisons can be made to the superior ParaNorman, which was completely awesome and you should all see it this instant.

Movie Review: The Barefoot Executive (1971)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Remember how Kurt Russell made several family-friendly live action Disney movies when he was a young thing? And how I watched The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and was pulled in by its utter ridiculousness and catchy theme song? Well obviously I had to continue this exploration of Kurt’s early career, pressing on with The Barefoot Executive. After another super rad theme song (scroll down, for some dumb reason it’s not on youtube), we meet Steven Post (Russell), a young mailroom worker for the fictional television station (but likely NBC stand-in) UBC. He wants to be a TV executive, and finds an unconventional way up the corporate ladder when his girlfriend (Heather North) adopts Raffles, a tv-loving chimp who has an uncanny knack for choosing each night’s highest-rated programs (meaning he has incredibly average, mainstream taste, so not actually impressive). Steven conspires to secretly use Raffles’ skills to pick new pilots for the network, securing a vice president position and shit tons of money in the process. Of course, some UBC executives are envious and suspicious of him, with an inept former boss Francis Wilbanks (Joe Flynn) and his snobby nephew Roger (John Ritter!) spying on him obsessively.

While baby Kurt Russell hanging out with a primate is easily enough to entertain me for the full running time, what really impressed me about this film is that it’s a pretty solid satire of television networks, while remaining an accessible, family-friendly comedy. Sure, at many points it’s utterly ludicrous- there’s wacky chimpanzee action, death-defying sneaking around on windowsills, and a lot of over the top acting, but it’s also weirdly smart. Most of the time I was laughing with the film, not at it, because its commentary on the idiocy that rules the tv industry is spot-on, and totally still applicable today.

Of course Kurt Russell is great as the doofy, slightly assholey lead, but several of his costars manage to steal the show away from him. I absolutely loved John Ritter’s all-too-small appearance as the opportunistic Roger. He’s got these adorable thick-framed glasses and a weasely smile, it’s fantastic. Joe Flynn and his sidekick chauffeur Wally Cox make a hilariously inept team, and their sneaky sojourn to Steven’s apartment is a highlight of the movie. And then there’s Harry Morgan as the head of the company, with his side-lip snarl and loud exasperation he’s probably the standout. But also everything is pretty good! The story drags a bit since there’s really not much to it, but overall it’s a fun and genuinely funny movie. Great job, everyone! Damn the man! Fuck television networks!


Pair This Movie With: The whole family-friendly workplace satire aspect reminded me of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying- especially John Ritter’s character. But the premise of an animal secretly and improbably helping a hapless dude to further his career obviously put me in the mind of Ratatouille.

Studio Ghibli Double Feature: Majo no Takkyûbin (Kiki’s Delivery Service) (1989) and Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) (1991)

Seen: On film at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge (Kiki dubbed, Only Yesterday subbed).

I am very excited that the Brattle in Harvard Square has been doing a Studio Ghibli retrospective, since this time I can actually go to more than one! (When they came to the MFA last spring I could only catch Princess Mononoke.) Last weekend I caught Kiki’s Delivery Service, which I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, and Only Yesterday, one I hadn’t seen before and didn’t even know much about. It was nice to revisit the former, but I got more out of the latter. It was so nice to take in more anime in a theater, since I rarely have the opportunity, and I look forward to hopefully catching Nausicaä on Thursday, one of the few Miyazaki films I haven’t seen!

Set in an alternate 1950s/60s slightly askew from our own, Kiki’s Delivery Service follows the adventures of Kiki, a 13-year-old witch-in-training who must spend a year in a big city by herself in order to attain full, er, witchhood. With her broom and talking cat in tow, she lands in a beautiful seaside town where people are unaccustomed to magical folk flying about. She starts a delivery service after befriending a kind baker who lets her stay in her extra room in exchange for help around the bakery. Kiki befriends various townspeople but feels like an outcast among kids her age, as she tries to navigate both teenagery coming-of-age stuff along with witch-related problems.

Like My Neighbor Totoro, this is definitely a Miyazaki for the younger set, with a simplistic plot, very little conflict, and at times very corny dialogue (though part of that could be the dub translation). Kiki is a spunky, determined character who’s easy to root for, and it’s fun to see her learn more about the world and its inhabitants. She meets an independent artist (voiced by Janeane Garofalo! Hello!), a kindly old lady who makes the most horrendous-sounding pie ever in existence (pumpkin with HERRING what the fuuuuuuck), and a SuperNerd who wants to romance her because he fetishizes witches as a group.

It’s cute, and at times very funny (primarily for Phil Hartman’s deadpan jokes as the sarcastic cat Jiji), and of course the animation is superb. I loved the watercolor-like backgrounds and the sort of hodgepodge Europeanism of the city’s design (though I know the bulk of it was inspired by Stockholm). But I feel the script and story leave something to be desired, and I would ultimately put this near the bottom of my Miyazaki list (which still means it’s a good film, obviously). I found I had too many questions about this world and the whole witch/magic premise, as there were a lot of ideas put forth but not explained or expanded. How can a “witch-in-training” be trained if she’s just hanging out by herself and not actually being trained? And why are some people anti-witch? Could Kiki actually do any other magic or was flying all she would ever do? I imagine the book it’s based on might have more answers, so I hope to eventually read it for a more well-rounded view of the world, as well as hopefully a stronger narrative since the film is sort of loose and episodic.

Oh and side note: the cheesy country-esque pop songs over the opening and end credits are suuuuuuuper shitty, and I don’t think they’re in the Japanese version, so be aware.


Brought to us by the man who made the most depressing film of all time, Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday showed promise as another introspective drama but with a lady. 27-year-old Taeko lives and works in Tokyo but has long yearned for a taste of country life. She gains extended family on a faraway farm through her sister’s husband, and spends her vacation with them for the second year in a row, helping pick crops used in a dying process. During her trip she finds herself lost in memories of her childhood, specifically her ten-year-old self, and the film moves back and forth between Taeko’s past and present as she questions some of her adult choices.

With a gorgeous visual style and a quiet, straightforward script, Takahata weaves a deceptively simple tale of love and regret that never sinks into melodrama. It’s a little slow-moving, but generally interesting enough in its characters and aesthetic to remain compelling. I’m completely in love with the faded wash effect used for the flashback scenes, juxtaposed with the intense floral colors of Taeko’s present. The characters are fun and energetic, and I was especially taken with the realistic and often quite funny portrayal of 10-year-olds. The small period touches (like the family’s confusion over an exotic pineapple) are charming, and the subtle love story that develops is sweet and not overdone, though I did find her beau’s speeches about organic farming a little grating.

While the film overall is a little too subdued for me to all-out love it, I absolutely adored the very end, it might be one of my favorite endings ever. It’s just this beautifully sweet, visually perfect scene that made me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Lovely.