Mary Poppins Returns

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Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.

Mary Poppins Returns maintains a similar formula for a new generation, but some of what it maintains from the first film works and doesn’t work for a modern film. First off, Emily Blunt is fantastic in the titular role. I wasn’t sure if any actress could maintain that same spirit and charm Julie Andrews brought to the character 50 years ago, but Blunt did it perfectly and follows large footsteps yet makes the role feel like her own. Lin-Manuel Miranda was also well-cast in a role clearly meant as an homage to that of Bert (played by Dick van Dyke, who actually cameos here in his other role from the original as the banker), and the two leads get plenty of time to show off their singing skills that we’ve already known of. Also entertaining in her minor role is Meryl Streep who cameos in a comedic and funny scene as Mary Poppins’ eccentric cousin. However, a lot of what this movie goes for just feels inferior to the first film, like traditionally animated scenes and unconvincing visual effects that don’t really fit for a 2018 movie when animation has advanced so far, even in the last couple years alone. It felt like something new and groundbreaking in the ’60s but here it does not feel realistic or refreshing. The musical numbers are also forgettable in comparison, and don’t have that sing-along quality that classics like “Chim Chim Cher-ee” or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” have, which are probably the first things that come into your head when you think of Mary Poppins. However, I did love the musical number called “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” which was not only memorable but it also payed tribute to “Step in Time”, my favorite part from the original movie. There are also times when these songs go on for too long and forget to come back to the plot, but the musical score is definitely great and carries the film very s strongly. However, another gripe is that the child characters are at times annoying, like a character named Georgie who continuously makes frustratingly dim-witted decisions and messes everything up for the other kids. Though the climax is definitely entertaining and has some heartfelt conclusions to the character arcs and is a fun race against time, the first half especially feels painfully mediocre and feels very much like a kids/family movie, unlike other recent family films like How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which have merit that adults can connect to just as much as kids. The movie at times relies heavily on nostalgia, which sometimes works but at other times doesn’t feel necessary. The original Mary Poppins stuck with us for so long because it used the ability of imagination and the impossible to help the characters find the beauty in life — this movie does the exact same thing, in the exact same way, so if you’ve seen the first one you won’t be as impressed. The best you’ll get out of many parts is that Disney really knows who to hire to design their costumes and sets. It’s really only in the last 30 minutes that the film really redeems itself and meets its goal. Kids will definitely enjoy the concepts and musical numbers, but there isn’t too many new things for adults to discover about Mary Poppins Returns that wasn’t already established by the terrific classic that is Mary Poppins.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

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The citizens of Bricksburg face a dangerous new threat when LEGO DUPLO invaders from outer space start to wreck everything in their path. The battle to defeat the enemy and restore harmony to the LEGO universe takes Emmet, Lucy, Batman and the rest of their friends to faraway, unexplored worlds that test their courage and creativity.

Under the childlike playfulness and humor of a film based on a popular children’s toy line, there’s some heart to be found in this enjoyable and amusing sequel. Despite a concept that was ridiculous when first announced, these Lego movies have actually resonated with critics and audiences as well as at the box office. Though there’s more merit to be found in other animated franchises, the Lego film franchise remains not only a great way for the company to sell more toys, but a pleasing showcase of great cast members, colorful animation, and effective humor. Though sometimes the humor doesn’t hit its mark and feels only aimed towards kids, there’s also some jokes that only adults will get, like references to previous Batman movies (Lego Batman even compares himself to Michael Keaton and Christian Bale at one point), Die Hard, and even an appearance from a Lego version of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As outrageous as it may seem, this film, that’s literally a Lego movie, isn’t afraid to not take itself seriously at all (there’s even a song called “This Song’s Going to Get Stuck Inside Your Head” used to brainwash some characters), but that’s what makes it work. The studios hit the jackpot when they were able to cast Chris Pratt as Emmet because nobody fits the role better than him, but Pratt also plays a new role who’s a clear compilation of Pratt’s live action roles from Avengers and Jurassic World. Will Arnett as Lego Batman is once again another standout, but so are Tiffany Haddish and Stephanie Beatriz as Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi and General Sweet Mayhem, especially Haddish who sings and entertains in her over-the-top but memorable role. Though her character is at times ridiculous to look at, like I said, the film’s ability to go all out on referencing other materials and embrace the ridiculousness of it all is what makes it quite fun, and Haddish as well as every cast member make the best out of their roles (even cameo appearances like Bruce Willis and Jason Momoa who reprise their roles from Die Hard and Aquaman, respectively)

Despite the absurd concepts and non-serious premise, the film finds away to make meaning out of these plastic characters and touch the viewer’s heart by the end. though the first half is basically what you’d expect in terms of story and direction, the movie, especially the second half, connects everything to a bigger theme that applies to the real world — be yourself and let others do the same. This will make for a touching message for audiences of all ages. My one minor problem is — at the end of The Lego Batman Movie, Batman became much more open and decided not to push away those who were like family to him, but here it feels like he’s still trying to not fill that void of losing his parents — I didn’t expect them to go too deep about it, but it almost felt like they undid his development from that movie by having Batman still try to push away any personal relationships. Even though the overall story and script won’t blow you away, the humor and entertaining cast, songs, themes, and references are enough for kids and parents to have a fun time at the movies.

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

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After achieving his dream of establishing Berk as a utopia where dragons and humans can live in harmony, Hiccup and his dragon best friend Toothless encounter a new threat that forces him to lead the people of Berk away from their homes, on a journey to find the mythical Hidden World.

The first two How to Train Your Dragon movies have set the bar high for DreamWorks as their greatest franchise, with emotional and visual quality that reaches near the heights set by the works of Pixar, unlike more playful animated comedies they’ve made like Madagascar or The Boss Baby. The Hidden World is a marvelous conclusion to this excellent trilogy, one that I remember watching the beginning of on the very first day it was out, nearly nine years ago. Along with lovable dragons like the absolutely adorable Toothless (who also has a girlfriend now), the voice cast kills it, including Jay Baruchel as a young man trying to bring together his love and compassion for the dragons with his duty to lead Berk as chief, as well as bigger headliners such as Cate Blanchett, Craig Ferguson, and Gerard Butler. The one character I did not encessarily enjoy was the villain — unlike the villain from the 2nd movie, this one is rather annoying than threatening, and his motivation and presence weren’t strong enough on screen to care. The only reason to hate him is because his goal is to hurt Toothless. But otherwise, the story is packed with plenty of emotion from the main characters and sweet sequences that remind us why we love this ode to the friendship between a human and a mythical creature. There are lots of intense moments but enough heart and action for all audiences to enjoy. And to top it all, the animation is absolutely stunning and makes this a must on the big screen and in 3D. The visual appeal outdoes every past DreamWorks project and every scene, from the ordinary scenery to the vivid Hidden World, is done so beautifully. I was constantly in awe during the film, and watching this in theaters is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. There are some fantastic emotional moments that finally lead up to a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, that will hit you right in the heart and leave you talking. It’s perfect for all ages and I’d be surprised if any animated movie outdoes this one in 2019.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is not only a perfect family movie — it’s a near-perfect movie and a visual masterpiece. I’d be surprised if DreamWorks ever tops this amazing trilogy of touching and moving animated films and this consistently impressive saga will be remembered and rewatched for years. Go see it with your family in 3D when it’s out on February 22!

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Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

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Miles Morales is juggling his life between being a high school student and being Spider-Man. However, when Wilson Fisk uses a collider to open a portal to new dimensions, Peter Parker, another Spider-Man from another dimension, accidentally winds up in Miles’ dimension, joining others from across the “Spider-Verse”.

This animated version of Spider-Man is brought to life with a less popular iteration of the character, Miles Morales, and is animated to look like a comic-book with many different editions of the Spider-Man character appearing, as well as many familiar villains. Though it starts about the same as any Spider-Man story, the second half presents some unexpected and mature character moments that are touching and make the final act of the movie exciting and rewarding. There are some humorous moments throughout, and a solid voice cast, including Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Bryan Tyree Henry, and Mahershala Ali. The animation is often vibrant and colorful, even though some scenes and details feel very vague and dull graphically. Even though it did make me laugh a few times, some moments do feel cringeworthy or only there for fan service. The soundtrack was also poorly chosen and the awful rap songs distract from the strong point some scenes were trying to make. Even though I enjoyed seeing villains like Doc Ock and Green Goblin appear, I don’t approve of them turning Fisk from a compelling and unpredictable human being into a heartless, soulless antagonist who doesn’t stop before making evil decisions and has no moral compass like the superior portrayal of the character in the Netflix series Daredevil. It’s clearly a kid’s film, so I don’t expect them to make him an R-rated character, but I was hoping for enough layer to stay true to what I love about the character but also fit for a PG-rated movie. I really loved Hailee Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy, who I had no idea was also Spider-Woman before seeing this movie (and I’d easily watch a spin-off of her own should Sony choose to make one), and Spider-Ham is also an unexpectedly fun character. There’s also a terrific Stan Lee cameo and a touching tribute to the late legend during the credits. Even though the movie does teach kids that they can all be Spider-Man, we don’t need the line “Anyone can wear the mask” constantly repeated to understand that.

Kids and families will definitely have a good time with this new family-friendly version of the friendly neighborhood hero from New York. However, I personally felt that it’s only in the second half of the film where it really finds its heart and makes up for a predictable first half with some heartwarming moments, adding to its solid cast and characters as well as its unique style.

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Ralph Breaks the Internet

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When a Wi-Fi router is plugged into the arcade, Wreck-It Ralph and his best friend Vanellope embark on a journey into the Internet to save Vanellope’s game Sugar Rush.

Wreck-It Ralph was released in 2012 and remains one of Disney’s most impressive animated films in recent years, but do people still want to see Ralph on the big screen again six years later? Well, according to the box-office response of this newly-released sequel, adults are still taking their children and having a great time with characters like Ralph and the idea of a video game character going on a virtual journey. Thankfully, it wasn’t too late for a Wreck-It Ralph 2 and even though not everyone was sold with the product-placement-heavy idea of the Internet as a setting when it was first announced, it comes off as entertaining and expands the world of its setting and characters. With Ralph Breaks the Internet, Disney adds a fun, well-animated, and at times touching family flick to their roster, even though it doesn’t reach the bar the first one set for this franchise. John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman still fit very well in their main roles and even though Fix-It Felix and Sgt. Calhoun have roles demoted from the first film to very minor appearances, the new cast, especially Gal Gadot as a tough yet inspiring racer named Shank, is still impressive. The depiction of the Interent is creative and some of the references are fun, even though not all of them hit home and come off as trying too hard to feel relevant to the cringeworthy meme content of 2018. There’s a particular scene that’s been marketed in the trailers in which Vanellope goes to a Disney website where she meets Princesses, Stormtroopers, and other Marvel/Star Wars/Disney characters, and this could have easily been a simple declaration by Disney of how much they own. However, this scene turned out to be the highlight of the film, as it feels self-aware about cliches faced by the princesses and hits the mark with animation, humor, and eye-catching references. The humor will often make you laugh even though it does sometimes feel too childish, which is disappointing because usually Disney’s humor is more mature and can be enjoyed by both kids and adults, but that felt a tad less present here. The movie will touch some viewers with its profound themes of friendship — however, this arc for its lead characters only comes in around the final act, and before that it’s just a fun adventure with humor that doesn’t always achieve its goal. Lots of Disney’s films have a great message viewers of all ages can take away, and here it’s only present at the end and before that there isn’t a clear emotional arc to drive the characters. In the first film, Ralph embarked on a journey of self-discovery in which he made friends and learned that you don’t need a medal to be a villain. Here, despite the entertaining concept throughout, there isn’t that emotional core that drives the film the whole way like in the first movie. However, the animation, cast, and overall plot is pleasing enough for viewers and Disney fans to enjoy — just don’t expect it to be as meaningful and satisfying as the first one.

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The Grinch

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Christmas is arriving in Whoville, and everyone can’t wait — except for The Grinch, who despises the holiday. Together with his trusty dog Max, he sets out to steal everyone’s Christmas gifts and end the beloved holiday once and for all.

The Grinch is an adaptation of a classic Dr. Seuss story many grew up reading and knowing, which was previously adapted by Ron Howard in 2000 — so was there really a point in this movie being made? We all know how the story goes and this movie offers nothing knew that the story benefits from with another adaptation. The plot is very by-the-books and the humor is aimed for children and children only. This film is marketed as a “reimagining” but no imagination is put into the script or themes that will make audiences discover something new. Kids will have a blast with the ridiculous humor, but as one who has seen tons of animated movies, every joke was predictable and felt recycled to me. Some scenes made only to extend a short children’s story to a 90-minute feature film are so laughable it’s hard to imagine film executives sitting in a pitch room planning those scenes out for a movie. The computer animation is dull and not very exciting compared to Disney’s animated films which bring so much energy into their animation. The ultimate theme of kindness will likely appeal to young ones and teach them a lesson — one that adults have seen many times already and don’t need repeated to them. Benedict Cumberbatch was a solid choice to play the Grinch, but it feels like a missed opportunity that they chose to use his American accent instead of letting him use his natural English accent that has worked as menacing and villanous in many films before. There’s also one other entertaining voice role, played by SNL cast member Kenan Thompson, but lots of the film also focuses on a young girl named Cindy Lou, and this subplot feels like the most bloated and tough-to-sit-through part of the film until the message of it only makes sense at the very end. The book this movie is based on is called How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but the actual stealing of Christmas which is the objective of the whole film is mostly skimmed past in a montage. There are also some very weird soundtrack choices like an awful rap version of the classic hit “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from the original adaptation, and other oddly placed music like a song from The Sound of Music. I enjoyed the first two Despicable Me movies, but after that it looks like Illumination has lost their originality when it comes to animated films with films like Minions, Despicable Me 3 and Sing which all felt like wastes of time and effort, retreading the same ground and offering less of a family invitation and more of a “kids drag their parents to it” kind of films to make money. It seems like Disney and Pixar are the only animation studios that still deliver new and unique family films in my eyes, and the rest have given up.

The Grinch offers no originality or justification to be watched or even made, compromising itself to please young children more than families, and covers the same kind of humor and themes that too many animated films have already taken on. You may want to your kids if they’re interested when it comes out next week, and you may even enjoy it like my sneak preview audience mostly did, but don’t expect anything insightful or fresh. We may just have to wait until Ralph Breaks the Internet for the deserving family film of the season.

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Incredibles 2

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After defeating Syndrome, the Parr family continues to balance their superhero lives with their civilian lives as Elastigirl is recruited to help legalize superheroes.

Since The Incredibles was released 14 years ago, it’s become one of Pixar’s greatest sensations and it’s no wonder everyone anticipated this sequel for so long. Having grown up with the first movie, I was one of the people waiting so long to see this one. I loved the action, heart, and approach to the superhero genre the first one offered, as well as the brilliant style we always see from Pixar. Thankfully, a lot of that returns in Brad Bird’s long-awaited follow-up that carries down all the heart the first film had. It’s not just a movie about superheroes fighting villains, but a movie about being a family while having superpowers. The terrific cast from the first movie is mostly back — Holly Hunter is wonderful as Elastigirl with plenty of fun to her character once again as she takes on new duties in the spotlight, and it’s also great to see Craig T. Nelson back as Mr. Incredible as he strengthens his bonds with his children after being away in the first movie, and learns to take care of the home life as a father. It’s also great to have Samuel L. Jackson back as the lovable and awesome hero Frozone, and director Brad Bird once again voices the hysterical suit designer Edna Mode. New additions to the cast are Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener who are both great as siblings who are advocating to legalize supers.

Another element worth noting is how the animation has stepped up since 2004 which really shows in every frame. The years worth of animating work pays off with the stunning detail in every picture. Another welcome return is the brilliant and exciting score by Michael Giacchino, who also composed the first movie, arguably his best film score. The jazz feel to the music makes it feel different than any superhero film or animated movie. The villain definitely isn’t as memorable as Syndrome from the first movie or even close, the rest of the script feels interesting and engaging enough despite a predictable villain reveal. Though the action isn’t as memorable as in the first, some are so great you could even expect to find them in a Marvel movie. Even though so many superhero franchises have started since the first movie was released, none of it feels affected by the fact that we get so many superhero films a year, and it still feels like the Pixar family adventure we got in 2004. Every character feels unique and heartfelt once again — Elastigirl is determined to make the world a better one for supers, Mr. Incredible is determined to take care of his children on his own, Violet has boy problems at school, Dash needs help with math homework and enjoys annoying his sister, and Jack-Jack — you’ll just have to see. These characters don’t just feel like action heroes working together — they feel like a real family. And that’s what this movie is, a family movie. It’s not just about fighting crime, but also getting along as a family and helping the ones closest to you. This also feels like something even adults could enjoy — one could see it as much of an action superhero movie as something like Guardians of the Galaxy or The Avengers. At no point does the movie feel compromised to impress children, all of it feels like it could be pleasing to the most mature of viewers but kids can also love it. Basically, this movie is for all ages, and definitely one to go watch with the whole family.

Incredibles 2 is another fun animated movie built for all ages, with great animation, action, cast, characters, and music. You can count on Pixar to make the 14 year wait worth it.

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