The Lion King (2019)

Disney has been dominating the decade with Marvel, Star Wars, animation (both Pixar and their titular studio), but their series that has divided people the most is their live-action remakes of animated classics. So people were most excited but also nervous when it came to the photoreal-but-actually-still-animated remake of their defining animated feature from the 20th century, The Lion King. First off, on a visual standpoint, this movie is an achievement. It follows the same reign of The Jungle Book in recreating iconic characters and setting to look as real as possible, and it really delivers. All the animals and sets look like an actual picture, even though not a single frame was actually there. It’s amazing to see how far visuals have gone these days, and Disney has been headliner these last few years in consistently breaking the boundaries of what can be done with a computer, whether it’s the amazing action in Avengers and Star Wars films or breathtaking animation in films like Toy Story and Incredibles — but the feats of the CGI completely pay off here in making the illusion unnoticable and making it feel like a more immersive journey. The film is perfectly casted with Donald Glover shining and making something of his own out of Simba’s role here, and it helps that he’s experienced in both acting and singing. Also huge standouts are Timon and Pumbaa, who are scene-stealing and Seth Rogen’s voice espeically fit for Pumbaa. Also worth pointing out is John Oliver who is hysterical as Zazu. However, for some characters, like Scar for example, it’s sometimes hard not to make comparisons to superior versions, like Jeremy Irons who was perfect in the 1994 version. Perhaps neither he nor James Earl Jones needed recasting (the latter of which was thankfully able to return as Mufasa). Speaking of roles from the original, Rafiki’s role was unfortuantely reduced this time around so he feels like less of a mentor to Simba and barely even has dialogue.

The musical numbers are still very fun, espeically the classic “Hakuna Matata”, and the “Lion Sleeps Tonight” gag is extended and made even funnier. The shame is that they shortened the Scar’s menacing anthem “Be Prepared” to be much slower but as a result feels more like a whispered spoken word poem than a song. The Lion King is stuck in a loophole in terms of delivering for fans because people want a remake to somehow reinvent the story but at the same time poeple get angry as soon as something major is changed. Unfortuantely, some of the changes made in this remake are for the worse, and other than that, a lot of sequences in the film or a shot-for-shot copy-paste of what we’ve already seen. A lot of the dialogue is the same as well, and I just wish they had added some more story to what we already know because the fact that we recognize every scene and line so well will eventually make things boring. On the bright side, it manages to retain some of the soul that reminds us why we love the original so much (themes like confronting your past or lines from Mufasa about the truth of being a wise king). The problem is that once these characters are animated to look photorealistic, they can no longer exaggerate emotions like the original iterations do — Scar is no longer a charismatic Shakespearean character, and every character just looks like an animal talking. This movie has incredible visual technology that deserves plenty of praise for Jon Favreau, maybe next time he could have used it to make original content rather than remaking known stories, or just added a little more that we haven’t seen before to do something new with the story.

The Lion King is a visual marvel and filled with nostaliga, but it’s greatest strength and weakness is that it’s almost exactly the same as the original. If the original Lion King was so perfect, why change anything? But why do we want to see the same movie over again? That’s the problem that this new remake finds itself in which is why despite being nice to look at, the script is beat for beat the same, which is why the only way this movie can really be appreciated is in 3D and on the biggest movie screen you can find. Does it offer much new? Not really, or even at all to be honest. But in terms of recommendation for the theaters I have to say go for the visuals and for the story which still stays strong, but the emotional expressions that came through the original versions of the characters (which didn’t need to feel photoreal and therefore could be exaggerated for animals) is exactly what will make the original Lion King forever superior.

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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 even worse. 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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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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Shaun the Sheep Movie

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When Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun, he gets a little more action than he bargained for. A mix up with the Farmer, a caravan and a very steep hill lead them all to the Big City and it’s up to Shaun and the flock to return everyone safely to the green grass of home.

Shaun the Sheep Movie isn’t exactly what I expected from a stop-motion film without dialogue. The movie actually turned out to be funny, charming, and exciting. The animation is done brilliantly, with the clay settings and characters being brought to life very well, with a great soundtrack, too. The humor was great, and made me laugh quite a lot. There are a few brilliant scenes in which there is some humor like I’ve never scene before. The film’s script doesn’t use those cliche fart jokes or other overused jokes on that track except maybe once. The story is great and always entertains. It is able to differ from other recent animated movies with its charm, interest. and style of storytelling. The movie has no dialogue whatsoever, and is so entertaining in that way. It knows how to use non-verbal humor in such an awesome way, that isn’t what you’d expect from other animated movies of its kind.

Overall, Shaun the Sheep Movie is surprisingly entertaining, hilarious, well-animated, and fun for the whole family – and adults of some taste.

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Inside Out

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Growing up can be a bumpy road, and it’s no exception for 11-year-old Riley, whose family must relocate to San Francisco. Like all of us, Riley is guided by her emotions – Joy, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Sadness. The emotions live in Headquarters, the control center inside Riley’s mind, where they help advise her through everyday life. As Riley and her emotions struggle to adjust to a new life in San Francisco, the emotions conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house and school.

Just like every Pixar movie, Inside Out is a very original treat that both children and adults would enjoy. Its depiction of the brain and what happens inside it is brilliant, and it all ties up with scientific accuracy. The animation is beautiful, from depicting real-life issues to situations in the brain. The cast are all stunning, especially a joyful Amy Poehler as the lead (the only positive emotion of the five), a perfectly casted furious Lewis Black, and a sweet, tearful Phyllis Smith. All the stars are able to carry the movie along in such an excellent way, I never wanted to turn my eyes off their characters. Inside Out is less of a fantasy or science fiction movie than most recent animated movies, and I love how realistic the writers made this movie. Director Pete Docter definitely put in a lot of hard work into this movie, and it sure does pay off (considering that he took inspiration from the movie from his preteen daughter’s behavior, and that he also directed Monsters, Inc. and Up) Unlike Pixar’s last three films, Inside Out is more of a mature drama than a family comedy. I am very glad Pixar is aiming this direction once again, and that by next year, it will be as successful as it was 10 years ago.

Overall, Inside Out is brilliant, hilarious, touching, and definitely brings Pixar back in its game – bringing Joy to us all.

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Big Hero 6

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Big Hero 6 is the latest movie from Disney animation. It follows a boy named Hiro Hamada, who lives in the city of San Fransokyo, who teams up with his huggable robot Baymax and 4 other people to defeat a supervillain who is using Hiro’s technology to take over the city.

I saw this movie today, and it surprised me. It turned out to be a very fun movie. The humor was smart and very well written. Some of the supporting characters were stupid. Baymax is definitely the highlight of the movie. He is extremely likable, he and Hiro have good chemistry, and he is willing to do anything for Hiro. Some parts in this movie were also very touching, including the relationship between Hiro and his older brother Tadashi, which tragically ends after Tadashi is killed in a freak explosion. The animation in this film is very well done. But the movie felt way too short, and could have been a bit longer. I thought the villain would be weak, but he actually had a purpose and a backstory. At parts it feels cliche and predictable like any other animated movies, but it was also unique in its own way. I thought it was a smart movie but the end was predictable, because there is that same type of ending in almost every animated film nowadays, but Disney still did a good job with this film. But I felt that in an aspect Baymax was a weak character. Of course he had a lot of screen time and was very likable, nothing really revolved around him. None of this stuff, like this villain trying to get revenge on someone else, or Tadashi getting killed, had to do with Baymax. Baymax just came in and eventually became Hiro’s best friend.

But overall Big Hero 6 is a fun animated movie that is a good time for the whole family. I think it would be cool if they made a sequel or even a franchise out of this, but they don’t have to. It would be fine as a stand-alone movie. Big Hero 6 proves that Disney can make great movies without the Pixar brand. But honestly, I’d still prefer Pixar’s movies, since most of them are obviously better, but if you want a movie to see with your family, this would be a good choice.

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