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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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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Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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A reimagining of Disney’s cherished family film, Pete’s Dragon is the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete and his best friend Elliott, who just so happens to be a dragon.

Disney is continuing their surprising streak of great live-action remakes with Pete’s Dragon, which is based on the 1977 live-action classic, instead this time, the dragon is given a visual update with CGI instead of being hand-drawn. And once again, Disney succeeds at bringing a charming, family-friendly world of CGI to life. Although there isn’t as much visual weight and realism to the dragon as there was to the incredibly photo-realistic environment and characters in this year’s Jungle Book, there’s enough charm and fun to make it another solid and spirited Disney family flick. The is a splendid cast that helps carry the film that includes Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley, Karl Urban, and Robert Redford. Oakes Fegley, the child actor who plays Pete, does a remarkable job acting in front of his costars and sometimes in front of nothing (in the scenes in which his character must interact with Elliot). The majority of the film, however, didn’t require as much interaction with computer-generated surroundings as the leading child actors from The Jungle Book and The BFG, hence making Fegley’s performance less impressive and unique as the other actors and overall, I felt much more connected to the leads from the other two films. The standout of the cast is definitely Howard, who brings lots of life and energy to her character and delivers a notable performance from the film.

This movie may be a great time for families and especially younger kids, but that’s really the only target audience for the film. If you watch this film looking for a great story, you might not be satisfied. The story has lots of soul, but the film’s second half starts to slow down a little bit before entering familiar territory and following a formula used by too many family films.The story of a kid trying to protect an extraordinary being while the adults’ greed and fear prevents them from understanding the situation as well as the protagonist has already been used plenty of times. E.T. and How to Train Your Dragon are just a few examples of films that follow the exact same formula during most of their runtime. When the movie tried to get exciting during the final act, it was hard for me to care because of how cliched it mostly was. However, the film concludes with a great message about family and preserving your surroundings.

Although it does get too familiar at times, I can bet you Pete’s Dragon will be a great time if you go see it with your family, with lots of soul and great underlying messages, as well as outstanding cast members and writing. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for the best movie out there, but if you want to see a fun and touching family film, then Pete’s Dragon is unlikely to disappoint you.

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The BFG

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In Steven Spielberg’s live-action adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, an orphan girl named Sophie is taken to Giant Country by a big, friendly giant, and together they set out to stop the man-eating giants of Giant Country from invading the human world.

The BFG reteams my favorite director, Steven Spielberg, with Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and composer John Williams, to bring Roald Dahls’ imagination to life. Spielberg stays true to the story and of the book, as well as all the hilarious and nonsensical vocabulary spoken by the titular giant. This movie is so visually ambitious that it feels like Spielberg imagined a universe the size of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth when he was working on this movie. And that’s definitely not a bad thing in this case. You can feel how much visual imagination and work Spielberg put in this movie, that you can guarantee it’s from the same person who brought you Jurassic Park, Jaws, and E.T., which is exactly what I was hoping to get from this movie, if anything. The visual effects are so vivid and very well done, even though they don’t always blend in well with the live-action setting. Janusz Kaminski, who has worked with Spielberg before a million times, provides marvelous cinematography to the film, bringing the film some memorably beautiful shots. Whenever there’s an action scene, instead of providing constant fast cuts, Kaminski lets you enjoy longer shots of his style, to John Williams’ lively score that has a Star Wars meets Harry Potter vibe to it. Whenever Kaminski is shooting a Spielberg-directed film, you can alkways guarantee you’re up for something good.

The BFG also brings the best out of its main cast. Mark Rylance delivers a heartfelt performance as the lovable BFG, who may just make you cry by the end of the film. Winning an Oscar just isn’t enough for him, as he doesn’t hold back on putting his heart into this performance. I thought at first that Rylance would be the highlight of the cast, but I was clearly wrong. Eleven-year-old Ruby Barnhill, who plays the main character Sophie, steals every one of her scenes (which is pretty much every scene in the movie). It’s often hard to rely on child actors to pull off in films, but Barnhill nails it as the adorable and wholehearted lead role. There is also a pleasant supporting cast, including Shaun of the Dead‘s Penelope Wilton as the Queen of England, and The Prestige‘s Rebecca Hall as the Queen’s maid.

One of the reasons I love Steven Spielberg as a filmmaker so much is because of the tremendous amount of passion he has when it comes to movie making. Whether he’s teaching you about friendship in E.T., a history lesson in films like Schindler’s List and Lincoln, or trying to make you afraid to go into the water in Jaws, you always feel how much passion and hard work he puts into directing his films. Every film of his feels so personal and strong without exception. Here, you feel how hard he clearly tries to teach you a lesson: No matter how different you are, don’t ever let anyone bring you down. From this, I can even infer that the character of the BFG resembles Spielberg himself. I’ve read biographies about him, and I know that he, too, never fit in, but his differences were what made him unique, which is exactly the case with the film’s titular character.

So, if you’re still wondering, is The BFG a movie worth going to see? And if so, should you see it with your family? I believe that this movie is definitely worth a watch, and it’s not a movie that you should immediately go rush to see, but at some point I advise you see it because it’s a fun experience, and it’s a large box office bomb as of right now, so you should see it to go help it make some more money. If you’re a Spielberg fan, you’ll especially like this movie like I did. At one point in the first hour of the movie, I was starting to feel concerned that it would get repetitive and start to drag, and I felt like kids would probably get bored at that point. However, it picks up later and finishes very well. There’s some pleasant humor in there that’s quite enjoyable, and feels like it came right out of a Roald Dahl book, which it really did. This doesn’t feel a lot like a 21-st century live-action Disney fantasy, but more like a film that comes from the imagination and heart of Steven Spielberg. It may let down younger kids with its different form of entertainment than most family films, but audiences 11-12 and up will probably enjoy this movie. If you’re looking for a movie you can guarantee the whole family will consistently enjoy, then Finding Dory is probably the better movie to watch, but The BFG is still a film that you can smile at and even applaud by the end.

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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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Minions

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Minions tells the origin story of the hilarious, adorable, lovable yellow creatures from the Despicable Me movies. They have existed since the beginning of time (starting as single-celled yellow organisms living underwater), eventually evolving and serving villains for ages (accidentally killing every one, however). The soon isolate themselves and build a new society, but feel meaningless and depressed by 1968. Three brave Minions, going by the names Stuart, Kevin, and Bob, decide to go on a journey in order to find a new master. They find themselves in Villain-Con in Orlando, and soon end up working for female super-villain Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock), who has the most menacing heist planned.

As a fan of the Minions and the Despicable Me franchise, I found Minions to be a big disappointment. Obviously, the Minions are still hilarious and lovable, and never failed to crack me up. I loved the references to popular ’60s music (don’t worry, The Beatles are in there), and the soundtrack of ’60s hits rocked. Their origin (leading up to the main plot in 1968) was set up very well and crafted in a great way, with good narration and great humor. After that, the plot starts to gradually fall out of place, and by the end, its incredibly predictable. There are a few plot points that aren’t quite clear, and a few points that don’t deliver. The ending is a good set-up to Despicable Me and further, but is incredibly predictable, with tons of cliches being thrown into the screenplay. The final 20 minutes of the film simply recycle events from the final battle of Despicable Me 2, and I really didn’t enjoy it. Despite Inside Out being a great original hit, almost all family movies nowadays recycle the same ideas that have been used forever, and unfortunately, this movie is an example. Despite the humor being great, I was let down by the story and originality of the movie. I also felt that the pacing was very uneven. The movie is about an hour and a half, but feels more like an hour, and is very rushed after the first 20 minutes.

Overall, Minions is a huge disappointment, with uneven pacing and a bland plot that lacks the originality of its predecessors. However, its one redeeming factor is its awesome humor (enough to earn it a decent rating), which the franchise holds onto, and hopefully still will in the future, as well as polishing up the flaws from this film.

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