Coco

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In Pixar’s latest film, Miguel, a young boy who loves music despite his family’s ban on it, accidentally arrives at the Land of the Dead and must seek the blessing a family member in order to return home. The plot is a lot more complicated but that’s the easiest way to describe it without getting into any spoilers. The cast includes well-known Latino actors such as Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt, who are both fantastic in their roles, but I was also very impressed by the voice work of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, who plays the lead role of Miguel with lots of charm. Coco may seem to some like a rip-off The Book of Life, a great animated film released a few years ago which also focuses on a young man with a love for music despite his family’s ban on it, who ends up in the Land of the Dead on a  journey of self-discovery, but that is the only comparison the two movies share. Coco is much more beautifully animated, vivid with story and characters, and sure to make you shed a few tears by the end, a profession in which Pixar excels at.

When this movie first started, I was enjoying the nice animation and sweet heart its characters and writing had to offer, but I felt like I could tell where the plot was going to go and how everything would end up. However, the movie twists in a direction I did not expect, and becomes an even more complex family film with its themes about family, dreams, and legacy. The songs by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the husband-wife duo who won Oscars for writing the songs for Frozen, are very good and entertaining as well. What I liked is that the songs don’t serve a huge part in the film but they are still there and blend well with the Mexican culture of the film. By the end of the film, many young ones will likely cry as they did in previous films of Pixar, because the poignant themes are both happy and sad in this film, and work effectively in both ways. Pixar’s movies always looks magnificent in terms of the animation, and often millions of people work hours to months to get even a single frame (and that’s one per 24 in a second) to look nice. As I was told when I visited their studio 7 years ago, each film of theirs takes 5 years to make, and the effort each member of the studio gives in always pays off, and not only are the visuals majestic, but the storylines are unexpected, sweet, funny, and tear-jerking as well. Pixar has been in the filmmaking business for over 20 years now, and they even started the computer-animation movie-making genre with Toy Story. I grew up watching many of their films over and over again, and lots of their films shaped they way I watch and appreciate movies today. Without them, my love of movies and reviewing them may have not been the same. Some may believe Pixar has lost some of their steam and that their golden age is behind them, but I think they are still on their feet and are making stories as wonderful, family-friendly, and touching as they were when I was first introduced to their films many years ago.

Coco isn’t just a gorgeously looking animated film and tribute to Mexican culture, but it’s also Pixar’s most original and moving film since Inside Out. It’ll make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, and best of all, people of all ages can enjoy it. Parents will definitely want watch it over and over again with their families, and kids will want to watch it again through their childhood and eventually show it to future generations of their family. In a world where animated movies is a genre that is dying out, it’s a miracle Pixar is there to save it, and have their movies inspire families and become classics for the family genre instantly. Bottomline — go watch Coco with your family and have a blast!

Now I’m going to talk about the one problem I had about the movie, and it’s not even about the movie itself, yet it’s the worst decision Pixar has ever made by far. Before the movie, an awful, and I mean awful short film titled Olaf’s Frozen Adventure screens, and although I like the actual Frozen movie, this short film (which is a long 20 minutes as opposed to the usual 7 minutes of Pixar short films) is unbearable to sit through, with an absolutely terrible storyline and soundtrack, and even the cast’s singing is off this time for some weird reason. Disney decided to cram 6 songs in 20 minutes and pay Pixar to screen such an awful waste of time in front of a fantastic movie, which is a shame. So if you’re late to the movie, don’t worry too much about it because you won’t miss anything amazing. Otherwise, Coco is still a wonderful experience to watch with your family and nonetheless a great film that I had a blast with, regardless of the terrible short film that comes before.

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Despicable Me 3

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Gru (Steve Carell) meets his long-lost twin brother Dru, and they set out to get back a diamond stolen by villain Balthazar Bratt.

The first Despicable Me film brought a new and original concept to the animated film genre, but by the time Minions came out it was clear the series was out of ideas. Despicable Me 3 had literally no potential and no good payoff in the end. Steve Carell gives it his all as Gru and Dru, but nobody else does. The animation is lifeless and the story brings nothing new to the table. Gru is developed well, but his brother, wife, children, or even the minions aren’t. The villlain Balthazar Bratt is at first entertaining but quickly becomes very annoying and horribly written. His motive and presence are weak, and his character barely poses a threat against the protagonists. The theme of brotherhood is depicted well but Gru’s brother Dru’s presence is annoying as well and his character wasn’t very interesting. The Minions make for the best comedic moments of the film, but they’re barely in the film and I was never able to laugh when they weren’t on screen. Besides an opening scene that makes great use of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” and a scene featuring the Minions in prison, no scenes managed to catch my eye at all. The writers aren’t able to carry even a short 90-minute runtime well, with many subplots that had no effect on the plot and were extremely boring to watch. The first two films had good themes and vivid animation to bring the audiences in, but all this one has is uninspired comedy and predictable writing and characters. Instead of improving on the letdown of Minions, this one is almost as bad. This movie isn’t even a disappointment because I didn’t expect anything good out of it. The Despicable Me series used to be fun and engaging, but now it’s just a source of merchandising and money for Universal Pictures. Your young kids may be able to have fun with this movie, but even so I would recommend Cars 3 as a family film much more than this one. And if you’re looking for a good or funny film in general, you should just watch Baby Driver.

Despicable Me 3 may entertain your young ones or make you laugh a few times, but other than that this film falls completely flat and is not worth paying for. You won’t get anything new or even worth sitting through unless you’re with your family, and even if you are, you should just see Cars 3, which you’ll all be sure to enjoy. There are so many better films out right now than this unnecessary, uninspired, and unimaginative sequel.

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Cars 3

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After suffering a serious injury on the race track that could threaten to end his career, Lightning McQueen decides to give it his all and prove that he’s still the best race car out there, despite the more advanced technology in the new rookie racers around him.

There have been movies that I have watched an incredible amount of times as a kid, and among that list is the original Cars. Even eleven years after I first saw it, I still see it as an inspirational and touching flick, despite the idea of all the characters being talking cars. Pixar has made what are to this day the greatest, most touching, and mature animated films. Cars 3 may not reach the heights of the first film which is such a classic to me, but it’s a huge recovery from the awfully messy and disappointing mess of Cars 2, which is by far Pixar’s worst and a huge misstep for the franchise and the studio. Thankfully Pixar has been back on its feet lately and this film feels much more like the first than the second. The events of the second film even had absolutely no impact on this movie! Cars 3 is definitely the kind of sequel this film needed since 2011. The time lapse since the first film is used to the story’s advantage, bringing more challenges that McQueen must face such as new technology and forms of racing, and tackles the themes of generation differences and retirement, things we wouldn’t get from a studio that isn’t Pixar. Cars 3 also introduces new themes to the franchise that we need from a 2017 film, such as diversity, as a new main character, Cruz Ramirez, is a female car who is determined to be a racer no matter how much other cars discourage her, and her last name also implies a foreign ethnicity for the character. She is voiced very well by Cristela Alonzo, who I hope to see in more voice roles in the future. There are also other instances in the film which female characters are mentioned not stopping at any obstacles to get what they want, which you will notice in the film. There’s also the theme of mentorship as Lightning recounts his time from the first film with Doc Hudson, and later even becomes a mentor himself. The movie knows how to pay great tribute to the late Paul Newman, the legendary actor and voice of Doc Hudson in the first film. Owen Wilson is great as always as one of the most iconic animated characters. The film begins with the famous line, “Speed. I am speed.” and Wilson still has all the energy and fun that made McQueen so great 11 years ago. The movie doesn’t make the mistake of not making him the main character again, like in Cars 2. Chris Cooper and Armie Hammer also join the cast as interesting characters, and characters such as Sally and Mater return from the previous films, but this time in much smaller roles, although we still see the support and motivation McQueen gets from his loyal friends of Radiator Springs.

Ever since Inside Out was released to critical acclaim, Pixar has been on a winning streak, recovering from films that weren’t as well-received such as Brave and Monsters University, and I can’t say that Cars 3 is the one to break that streak. This movie still has plenty of heartwarming dialogue and themes, and some fun humor as well, Some of the callbacks to the original are especially entertaining. Director Brain Fee isn’t able to create sequences that are up there with the racing sequences, Lightning and Mater tipping tractors, or Doc training Lightning in the first film, or even close, but the plot is at least enjoyable and thankfully returns to the sports drama tone of the first one rather than the action spy thriller tone of the second one. Moments will have your young ones laughing and cheering, and will especially inspire younger viewers to pursue their dreams and there’s also plenty of great animation in the film, but younger ones won’t feel the intelligent spirit and heart built by the first one. It would be unfair if I just said this film isn’t great because it’s not as good as the first one, because I already knew it couldn’t and most likely wouldn’t be. However, some of the dialogue in the beginning isn’t written with much thought and feels just there to add to the film’s runtime. The first 5 minutes of the film is a quick montage of events that I think should have been stretched out to slightly longer. Although there are important events going on the dialogue did not intrigue me like it could have. Sometimes the film needed dialogue to build the rest of the scene and I don’t think those parts were handled very well. Similar literally every movie that is released nowadays, the film tries to deliver some smart lines from certain characters to inspire our leads but not every line sounds as wise as the script thinks it is. The humor is at first amusing but at one point gets too recycled and sometimes even unfunny at a few moments. Like I said before, the film delivers some poignant messages that I didn’t think an animated film like this one would handle, in a way that kids would enjoy, but once I understood the themes and messages the film was trying to convey, I immediately knew how the rest of the film would play out. It became very predictable yet somewhat heartfelt by the ending, which was fine but felt a little out of place and could have used improvement. At times the film relies on throwbacks to the first film a little too much just to carry the runtime forward, such as a scene in which Lightning and Cruz are training in a field of tractors. However, this did not stop me from having a fun time with this pleasing and lighthearted sequel that overall did not disappoint, and will entertain families, especially younger audiences.

Cars 3 is a step up from the disappointing second film and a strong finale to the Cars trilogy, that fans are sure to enjoy. It has some witty themes like most Pixar films, and even though it can’t be compared to the first film, the nostalgia and empowering messages are sure to be enough to make this worth a watch and anything but underwhelming. Also, make sure to be there on time for a short film before the feature, titled Lou, which wasn’t among Pixar’s best shorts but still a very sweet story about kindness that you’ll be sure to enjoy. So there’s another reason to buy a ticket for this sequel that’s fueled with family-friendly humor and fun!

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The Lego Batman Movie

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Batman is back in action in his latest feature film, The Lego Batman Movie. This time around, he must defend Gotham City from the Joker, while trying to raise his adopted son and face the demons of his past.

When all hope seems lost for Batman in any future media whatsoever, Warner Bros. Animation comes to the rescue with an entertaining and satisfactory action flick. This follow-up to The Lego Movie holds on to what made the first one so successful, but also brings in a new tone, and that’s mostly due to its protagonist, who steals the screen once again. From the moment the film begins, I could tell how self-aware and clever the humor in the film would be, with Batman spoofing everything from other Warner Bros. media to other incarnations of himself. Will Arnett is a hilarious and terrific pick for the caped crusader. I don’t remember ever seeing Arnett actually do well on the big screen besides in these films. He truly embraces the character and what makes him great, and he delivers lots of humor very well. Michael Cera joins the cast of Lego superheroes as Batman’s young sidekick, Robin. Cera is quirky but oddly lovable and fun, and I’ve seen Cera play live-action roles like this in the past, so he was definitely a great choice to play the character. Zach Galifianakis is outrageously hysterical and amusing as The Joker, with his portrayal of the iconic villain being different but amusing for the sake of a family audience. Ralph Fiennes was a great choice to voice Alfred, and Rosario Dawson, who isn’t new to playing sidekicks to superheroes, also gives it her all in her role as Gotham police commissioner Barbara Gordon.

One thing that made me so delighted by the film’s humorous approach was the way it poked fun at itself and all of media out there, from Suicide Squad to Harry Potter to even Jerry Maguire. Whenever the humor wasn’t aimed to get laughs from kids, it was always finding ways to reference and spoof films and shows we all know, and it almost felt like a family edition of last year’s Deadpool. Another noteworthy point about the film is its great message for kids, about family and teamwork. It embraces a lot of what hasn’t been explored too much about Batman and uses it for great themes that could inspire viewers, especially younger ones. However, as the film started to throw more at you and advance further into its runtime, it became easier to predict how everything would go at the end. It borrows some overused cliches from other animated films that nothing feels like a surprise by the end. Some of the action feels very empty and unengaging, just because nothing about it feels original and new. Kids will most likely be intrigued by everything that happens in this movie, but I felt like some of it was too familiar and similar to what we’ve seen in family films before. If you take your kids or a younger audience to watch this movie, you’ll probably have a great time seeing it with them. However, some of the predictable elements in this movie bothered me at one point in the runtime. Also, there were some ideas thrown out there by The Lego Movie that could have been explored more in this one, but instead it chose to stick to being a Batman film, which I was mostly fine with because it’s trying to be its own film. Don’t expect this to be the exact same experience as The Lego Movie, since there’s a reason this is a spin-off and not a sequel.

The Lego Batman Movie is guaranteed to be a great time for families, with a great cast, humor, and themes, but some of it feels too predictable and recycled to the point that it becomes slightly uninteresting. It doesn’t have as much to offer as The Lego Movie, but it’s a fun time for families and especially younger audiences.

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Moana

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In Disney’s latest animated musical, Moana, the teenage daughter of a village chief, sets out to save her island and her people, with the help of a troublesome but fearless demigod named Maui.

We all know from previous experience you’ve got to rush to the theaters whenever Disney releases an animated movie – and this one’s definitely worth it. Moana is not a princess movie – even Moana herself denies that she’s one. There are story elements and character arcs that will remind you of Aladdin, Frozen, and more, but Moana is as distant from the “Disney princess” genre as it gets. Auli’i Cravalho, 16-year old Hawaiian native and newcomer to showbiz, voices our lead and brings tons of heart and independence to her character. Moana isn’t looking for a prince to save her – she knows only she can embark on this journey to save her island. Disney wouldn’t have thought to create a heroine like that 10 years ago, and I’m glad we live in a world where our next generation will be getting films like these. Cravalho not only delivers her character’s courageous soul, but also a few memorable musical numbers with a voice that I’m sure will get her somewhere soon. You know who else can sing? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who sings my favorite and arguably the catchiest song in the movie, and he also delivers a phenomenal voice performance as the self-absorbed demigod who reluctantly joins Moana’s adventure. Disney hired the right person to write Moana‘s songs in Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. Although there is less singing than in Tangled and Frozen, and you probably won’t catch your children singing the songs from this film like they did with “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “Let it Go” a few years ago, the songs here were much better written and a lot more enjoyable for me.

Should Moana enter the race to the Best Animated Feature Oscar alongside Finding Dory and Zootopia?  Well, I’d say that it absolutely should. Who thought that Disney could release two computer-animated movies in the same year without the Pixar trademark and they’d both be so successful? The animation is stunning, and the ocean and the creatures living in it, from sea turtles to stingrays, look gorgeous thanks to the hard work put into the movie’s visual appeal. The uniqueness and entertainment of Moana is why you should definitely see this one on the big screen. The movie’s humor is mostly aimed for younger audiences, but it still had me laughing hard throughout. Although some plot elements at one point feel too familiar from other Disney films, as well as the message about how every individual is important and can make a difference, it’s the way it’s executed that makes it all fit perfectly in the end, and will be sure to leave a huge smile on your face.

Disney has done it again with Moana, an extraordinary, heartfelt, and wonderfully executed musical adventure that the whole family is sure to love. A beautifully looking tribute to Polynesian culture and mythology, this is one entertaining journey that you should not skip watching on the big screen. Stay tuned after the credits for an extra gag, and make sure to be there on time for a fantastic short film before the feature.

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Finding Dory

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One year after the events of Finding Nemo, Dory begins to have flashbacks of her childhood and sets out on a journey to find her parents. Along the way, she becomes captured and taken to a California public aquarium, where Marlin and Nemo attempt to rescue her within.

Finding Dory is a movie we’ve all been awaiting for thirteen years (just a year short of how long I’ve been alive). Its beloved predecessor Nemo is a film I’ve grown up with and watched more times than any other film in my life, so Dory isn’t just another newly released animated movie for me, it’s practically the sequel to my childhood. So for such an anticipated movie, this one definitely did not disappoint. Ellen DeGenres once again brings such charm and fun to the iconic amnesiac fish, and Albert Brooks is able to hold on to what made him so great as Marlin in the first film. Not to mention the newcomers of the cast,  Modern Family‘s Ed O’Neill as an octopus and Ty Burrell as a beluga whale, Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton as Dory’s parents, and The Wire costars Idris Elba and Dominic West as two hilarious sea lions, who all do a remarkable job in their roles. The animation in this movie is absolutely beautiful, with more vividness and color than before. The way the ocean, fish, and underwater habitats were animated doesn’t try to be as photo-realistic as The Good Dinosaur, but focuses more on bringing back the familiar settings from the first film and much more, and still pays off just as well (and adds a lot more to the overall film).

The one thing I loved about Finding Dory more than anything else is the messages it tries to convey about family. Pixar’s movies are known to touch your heart and make you shed a few tears, and this film is no different. Unlike its predecessor, its title does not refer to a journey with the purpose to find someone physically, but this time around, our protagonist is trying to find herself. Dory’s journey to find her family is more emotional than physical, as she struggles to remember her past and who she really is. The message in this film about how family will never give up on you and that nothing is closer than your family was very touching. This movie, however, also explores the theme of living with disability. As all you viewers of the first movie know, Dory struggles with short-term memory loss, and you can see how this adds challenges to her everyday life. Her friend Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark from the aquarium, struggles with her visual impairment and always has to make sure she never crashes into any walls. Pixar’s ability to bring depth to fish and make them feel human in both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory is so intriguing and applaudable, as it’s something no other studio is really capable of doing. We’ve seen them do this before to toys, bugs, and other different things we’d never imagine be done. This is something that makes Pixar unique, as many other animated studios have similarly tried these things but it’s never really worked that well. Pixar can practically do anything with the amazing potential they have. My one problem with the film is that a few messages and lines get somewhat repetitive, but this did not bother me too much. Also, the way the movie’s climax plays out feels too forced  and unrealistic, and was probably only done to bring some excitement for younger audiences. Nevertheless, Finding Dory is another wonderful Pixar summer feature that you should definitely go watch with your family, not not just alone.

Also, there is a short film called Piper that plays before the feature film. The short is about  a young sandpiper bird learning to behave like her flock, searching for clams on a sandy shore with some of her mother’s instructions. On the way, she learns how to be resilient, brave, and try new things. Not to mention that all this is told without any dialogue. This short is animated marvelously, and it’s overall a very cute short that you should look forward to before the film begins.

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Zootopia

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In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a fugitive con artist fox and a rookie bunny cop must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Disney strikes again with Zootopia, a buddy cop comedy, a political crime thriller, an urban mystery, and everything else you would not expect from a movie of its kind. Zootopia reminds us why animated movies are made. The clever humor, fantastic cast, and thoughtful messages make this Disney’s best animated feature since Wreck-It Ralph. I honestly did not expect this much from the movie, especially since the marketing didn’t make it look like anything great. Instead, I got a very smart, mature, and insightful animated tale that families can enjoy, and I even feel that adults would enjoy and understand this movie more than kids. It has tons of references, jokes, and concepts that adults would especially understand and take in. But it does still have a good touch that kids will enjoy as well, including promoting tolerance and teamwork and has a fast pace and great humor for younger audiences, including a hilarious scene with a DMV office run entirely by sloths. The animation is also splendid, with very vivid settings, colors, and tons of different mammal species.

Ginnifer Goodwin is great in the strong lead role: a bunny who aspires to be more than she is, and to make a difference. Her character is easy to sympathize with, and is put down by many peers but always tries harder. Although this aspect of her character at first seems very cliched, it becomes unique once the big message kicks in. Goodwin’s voice performance was very charming, and she was able to carry the movie along very well. Jason Bateman was the perfect choice to play con artist-turned sidekick fox Nick Wilde, as he fantastically delivers Wilde’s charm, sneakiness, and heart. Idris Elba was also perfectly casted as the angry police chief Bogo, who steals every one of his scenes in possibly my favorite performance in this film. It’s no surprise that J.K. Simmons is also great, voicing a lion who is also the mayor of Zootopia. The overall message of the movie very well relates to our modern society, and how politics can shape the way our community lives through fear. The movie discourages things like racism and drugs, and ultimately delivers a great moral about tolerance and being whatever you aspire. However, the first ten minutes of the movie are very unnecessary, and the movie falls flat for a couple of minutes in between the second and third acts. But overall, Zootopia is still an awesome animated movie that, like its protagonists, dares and succeeds to be much more than it is. One of Disney’s best recent features (excluding Star Wars), this one is definitely recommended for the entire family to go see and enjoy.

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