Tag Archives: Disney

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”



Disney fans and pirate lovers, lend me your ears! There’s not an awful lot of new stuff in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” but what is present is a whole lot of boisterous fun. If you’ve been looking forward to this movie, you won’t be disappointed. (Disney fans in particular will be pleased, as there are a few little Easter eggs and hidden references for diehard fans of the theme parks).

In this fifth installment of the popular swashbuckling series, Johnny Depp reprises his bumbling, stumbling, iconic role as Captain Jack Sparrow, the rum loving, speech slurring, down-on-his-luck scoundrel. It seems everyone is out to get him (again) this time around, from fan favorite baddies Salazar (Javier Bardem) to Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) and his army of ghost men. There’s a slightly hokey plot about finding Poseidon’s trident to break a curse, and there’s the inevitable replacement casting with the “new” Will and Elizabeth in the form of Carina (Kaya Scodelario) and Henry (Brenton Thwaites). The supporting cast is all playing second fiddle to Depp, but they know it — and so do audiences.

The film’s story may be a little bit dull, but there are two things that make this reliable blockbuster work. First, it’s actually quite funny. This is probably the funniest “Pirates” movie of the bunch, and it had me laughing throughout with its cheeky wordplay and Depp’s amusing line delivery. Second, the visual effects are flawless in a way that almost reach outright perfection. The CGI is by far the strong suit of the movie, including a truly great looking sequence with reanimated corpse sharks. I kept hearing the inner voice in my head say “wow” throughout this one.

The movie pushes the boundaries of its PG-13 rating, so parents may want to take caution with little ones. Most of the double entendres will sail over their heads, but there are a few dark and unsettling scenes of stabbings, drownings, and general creepiness that may cause some sensitive kiddos to freak.

It’s also easy for adults to get a little over stimulated from all the onscreen hoopla. The film gets a bit too rambunctious towards the end, with rapid-fire action scenes that start to resemble a cartoon more than a live action movie. But at least it’s a great looking cartoon.


“Beauty and the Beast”



I understand that it’s next to impossible to avoid letting your nostalgia for the original 1991 animated Disney film “Beauty and the Beast” fool you into thinking this live action remake is fantastic. I get it. It is arguably one of the greatest animated films of all time with iconic characters, scenes and songs. So iconic, in fact, that I wish the Disney machine would’ve just left it well enough alone. This nearly shot-by-shot retelling may have its moments, but they are few and far between. The film amounts to little more than a mediocre cash grab that putters along, fueled by the good will from its audience.

The film is surprisingly poorly directed by Bill Condon. The big CGI animated scenes that should be true show stoppers (like the classic “Be Our Guest” dinner performance) are choppily edited and packed with so much visual noise that they are ugly and at times ungainly. The entire project reeks of desperation as everything in the movie looks and feels overdressed and hollow, from the choreography to the mediocre costumes. The animated Beast (Dan Stevens) looks fake and terrible in the way he talks and moves, and don’t get me started on the ghastly singing all around.

The cast is so perfect (I’ve been excited for months after the accomplished list of actors was announced) and I can’t believe they actually blew it. Something feels completely “off” about many of the performances here, especially from Kevin Kline (Maurice), Josh Gad (Lefou), and at times, Emma Watson (Belle). They look uncomfortable and confused, awkwardly delivering lines and sometimes even changing acting styles throughout the film. Watson and Stevens lack even an ounce of chemistry, which sorely hurts the entire project.

There’s the typical overacting from voice talent Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) and Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), and a really bad vocal turn from Ewan McGregor as everyone’s favorite candelabra, Lumiere. It’s not all rotten, thanks to Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock (he turns in an inspired voice performance) and a very funny, boisterous, and cartoonish Luke Evans who gives Gaston his due.

The film exhibits such loyalty to the source material that it often reeks of desperation in its blind insistence to mimic the original. Scenes are set up shot-by-shot and reenacted, and the love story now feels a bit dated for today’s sensibilities. With the new Disney trend of writing tough, I-don’t-need-a-man strong female characters (“Frozen,” “Moana“), this movie feels like someone is rewinding the time clock back to the early 90s, regressing to what now feels like an old-timey attitude towards men (those filthy beasts!) and women (if I stay long enough, maybe I’ll learn to love him!).

The runtime is over two hours and there is just far too much going on in this overstuffed, bloated, and disappointing film. It may remain true to the source material, but that alone doesn’t make it a good movie.




Disney’s animated musical “Moana” is formulaic. Happily, it’s the new Disney formula rather than the old fashioned Disney formula. That’s to say that our strong, independent heroine doesn’t just sit around and wait for her prince charming.

Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) is a teenager living in the Pacific Islands with her sheltered family. When the natural reef, flora and fauna begin dying in her homeland, she sets off on an adventure (after being “chosen” by the ocean itself) to find the demi-god Maui (Dwayne Johnson) in order to save her people. The feisty Moana is strong-willed, intelligent and kindhearted young woman, and is sure to be an inspiration to little girls (and boys) everywhere. There’s no Prince Charming love interest, and there’s a fun, magical focus on Polynesian culture and a distinctive sense of place.

Everything in this movie screams high quality, and all with an overwhelming sense of care and passion (several attributes that have been lacking from many recent Disney and Pixar films).

Cravalho and Johnson voice their characters with a contagious enthusiasm, both giving first-rate vocal performances. There are plenty of big, rousing musical numbers with catchy original tunes by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i. The music in this movie is going to be tough to beat because the songs are so creative in their lyrical rhythms and arrangements. The animation is magnificent and dazzling, and the visuals are textural, gorgeous to look at, and incredibly refined. At times I forgot I was watching an animated movie, and I longed to dip my toes in the crystal clear ocean where Moana and Maui sailed.

The movie isn’t dumbed down for idiot audiences either (okay, so there is an extended senseless scene with a tribe of warrior coconuts that had me rolling my eyes). Overall the entire film is a sophisticated, elegant and polished adventure.

“Rogue One”



I sense a great disturbance in the force.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first of the new Disney owned “Star Wars” back story assembly line films, is as underwhelming as it gets. I wanted to like this movie. I really, truly did. As a standalone film, it’s just plain boring. As a Star Wars film, it’s nearly unrecognizable.

I knew something was going to go horribly wrong from the film’s opening 30 seconds, which manages to deliver an instant letdown to longtime fans. A sluggish and unnecessary prologue kicks off this chapter like a drab version of a dramatic made-for-television movie. The movie starts off on the wrong foot and quickly careens off a cliff and into a whirlwind of mediocrity, swiftly reaching the point of no return. It looks and feels cheaply watered down, from the murky brown cinematography and the inferior CGI of actors’ faces to the abysmal, ill-fitting musical score by Michael Giacchino (the distracting, clashing music is by far the worst thing in this movie).

This poorly conceived money grab tells the story of a group of Rebels who band together and go rogue to steal the plans to the Death Star. The film’s timeline takes place before 1977’s Star Wars, so there are lots of mildly amusing Easter eggs for die-hard fans of the franchise. Adding in a few nods here and there will surely elicit a few knowing giggles from geeks everywhere, but these little references are a poor mask for what’s simply a dull, lifeless movie.

There’s no spectacle, there’s no drama, and there’s no suspense. We all know how the story will eventually end, and this movie doesn’t make enough effort to ensure its fable is compelling or the least bit interesting.

It’s hard not to compare this one to J.J. Abrams’ far better “The Force Awakens,” especially in its casting. The diverse cast felt organic and natural in Abrams’ movie, whereas the diversity in “Rogue One” feels forced and phony to the point where it’s borderline laughable. I appreciate that science fiction films in particular lend themselves to diversity, but when it’s obvious to the audience that certain actors were hired mostly because of their ethnicity, it comes across as more offensive than inclusive.

The elephant in the room is the ghastly showcase of some of the year’s worst acting, from Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera (flashing his trademark stink eye while delivering hoarse-voiced dialogue without an ounce of emotional connection), the general unpleasantness emanating from Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso (competent enough as usual, but better suited as a soap opera actor than big budget movie star), the gross overacting (translation: a lot of angry yelling) from Ben Mendelsohn (Krennic), the dead-eyed Mads Mikkelsen phoning it in as Galen Erso, to a notably detached and wooden performance from the usually composed Diego Luna (as Cassian). While I appreciate the attempt from Alan Tudyk to add some much needed humor, his voicing of droid K-2SO just comes across as a pathetic and desperate C-3PO ripoff. The worst of the bunch is Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe — he rarely reaches the low, low bar set by incompetent high school thespians performing in the year-end senior play.

Poorly edited with bumbling animated effects and elementary in its writing, I’m sad to say that I wasn’t even entertained by “Rogue One.” I’d rather have been taking a nap during the majority of the movie, and it will be the only “Star Wars” film that I won’t see for a second time in the theater (yes, I even saw “The Phantom Menace” twice). What’s lacking is that epic feeling, a sense of distinction and importance: something that the Star Wars universe should do — and usually does do — so incredibly well.

Granted, the last fifteen minutes of this film are freaking fantastic, and I guarantee it will leave you with the most amazing movie high as you exit the theater. But nothing can forgive the boring, tedious and strained scenes leading up to the endgame.

“Rogue One” is worth a rental, but just barely. It’s the most disappointing movie of the year.


The first “Star Wars” expanded universe/spin-off movie is finally here, you guys! I was very much looking forward to “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” but I’m more than a little bit disappointed in the result.

In “Rogue One,” Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the estranged daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) the architect that built the Death Star. The Rebel Alliance, led by Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) reaches out to Jyn and taps rebel pilot Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to accompany her on a mission to connect with Jyn’s former guardian and protector, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Saw knows how to find the plans to the super weapon, which the Alliance hopes may reveal a way to stop or destroy it before the Galactic Empire is able to use it to dominate the galaxy.

“Rogue One” adds some meat to the bones of the story we already knew from “A New Hope.” The problem with it is that there’s not that much meat – and what we are fed doesn’t taste very good. The first 90 minutes of the film are primarily devoted to introducing new characters and worlds in the Star Wars universe – some of whom we glimpsed through the trailers to the film. But none of these characters are that interesting, and (with the notable exception of the last one) the worlds aren’t that imaginative or special. After spending most of the film getting to know these people, it’s hard to react with anything other than a shrug. Sure, they look cool – but so what?

“Rogue One” doesn’t really come into its own until the last 30 minutes or so, when we get to see the beach planet battle that’s teased in the posters and trailers. The battle is mostly well-done, but the actors that are asked to carry the weight of the last quarter of the movie are clearly not up to the task. That is to say that the gravity and effectiveness of the battle is weighed down by the mediocre-to-terrible acting of Jones, Luna, and their compatriots. It’s fun to see some new and old Star Wars tech in action, sure, but it’s not as fun as it could have been if the movie had more emotional weight.

The film is at its best when it’s feeding us Member Berries. I won’t spoil any of them for you, but it’s fair to say that the Disney/Lucasfilm people harvested a whole crop of Member Berries for “Rogue One” and I will say that they taste… pretty good. For those of you who aren’t “South Park” fans (shame on you – you’re missing out), what I mean by this is that there are enough Easter eggs in this movie for “Star Wars” fans to make the world’s largest omelet. I won’t spoil any of them for you, but the problem with Member Berries like these is that while they are sweet and addictive, they are ultimately unsatisfying. Wasn’t the point of the spin off movies to try to tell new, different stories in the “Star Wars” universe? If so, “Rogue One” fails on that count.

If you’re a “Star Wars” fan, you’ll clearly want to see this movie. And you’ll love how those Member Berries taste. But “Rogue One” isn’t going to win over any new fans, and doesn’t make a convincing case for how this universe can be expanded to tell new and different stories.

“Pete’s Dragon”



The classic story of an orphaned boy and his best friend, a dragon named Elliot, is reimagined in “Pete’s Dragon,” a surprisingly dull and drab adventure movie from “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” director David Lowery. This boring “E.T” ripoff never really gets off the ground and very little happens during its short 103 minute runtime. What should’ve been a compelling story about the relationship between a boy and his dragon is sorely underdeveloped and the premise entirely wasted.

The biggest problem with “Pete’s Dragon” is that it’s far too much like Disney’s live action remake of “The Jungle Book.” There’s an annoying kid who is raised in the woods by a kindly animal. Instead of sweeping shots of the jungle we get sweeping shots of the Pacific Northwest (that a dragon and child could live in the woods and never be discovered by anyone for over 6 years is so unbelievable it’s ridiculous). There’s a thinly veiled environmental subplot about forest conservation and a distasteful, not-so-subtle suggestion that traditional families are what’s best for wayward kids.

The horrific opening sequence sets an ominous tone that’s really quite dark and is sure to frighten some kids. The scary then suddenly jolts to happy, ending just as quickly as it begins. These massive tonal shifts continue to plague the film and make for a confusing ride. Elliot is green and fuzzy and cute and adorable for the majority of the story, acting like a silly and friendly puppy, but then there’s a disturbingly intense scene of him breathing fire and trying to kill the townspeople. It’s an exercise in the unpleasant.

The actors don’t help things either. Bryce Dallas Howard is Grace, a friendly forest ranger who takes the child under her wing. Why Howard is a star is beyond me, she is one of the most annoying and least talented actors in recent history. I’m not trying to specifically pick on her because there are plenty of ho-hum performances from the rest of the cast. Little Pete himself (Oakes Fegley) is annoyingly precocious, Karl Urban‘s character Gavin plays like a goofy evil hunter type, and the great Robert Redford (Meacham) is given little to do as a kindly elderly storyteller who rambles on and on about the “magic” in the woods.

Speaking of magic, that’s precisely what this film lacks. There’s simply nothing magical about it.


As a child of the 70s and 80s, I remember the 1977 “Pete’s Dragon” movie fondly. Mind you, I can’t tell you anything other than that it had a boy named Pete and that he had a dragon friend named Elliot, but I remember loving it. I especially remember my “Pete’s Dragon” lunchbox (damn I loved that lunchbox) and the matching Thermos inside.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. Coasting on this nostalgia I enthusiastically saw “The Jungle Book” earlier this year and that same sense of historical connection drove me to see this remake, too. And (unlike that movie) I liked “Pete’s Dragon” because it felt authentic without being forced.

This version of “Pete’s Dragon,” like the original, takes place during some time in the late 70s / early 80s, a time that the world was bigger and there was more of a sense of community tied to the place where you lived. Pete is an orphaned boy who has lived in the woods for the last six years with his friend Elliot, who is a dragon. Pete and Elliot’s world gets smaller when a local company encroaches on their space by clear-cutting the forest around them. The locals learn about Elliot and seek to capture him, threatening to split the pair and civilize Pete.

The story of “Pete’s Dragon” is a fundamentally simple one about a boy and his best friend. The film is at its best when it’s reminding us of the strong bond between humans and animals and the importance of that relationship. Although Elliot is a computer-generated character, he feels lifelike because he acts like an animal that is of our world; his mannerisms and actions have an authentic quality that bring a realism that gives the story weight and infuse it with a sense of wonder that affects both the characters and the narrative. Director David Lowery (“Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”) takes Elliot seriously, and the film asks us to do the same.

It is this earnest treatment of the fantastic that makes the movie interesting, and it’s the clash of the fanciful dragon with the real world that both creates the drama and drives the picture. “Pete’s Dragon” is a good family film because it teaches respect for animals and the environment at the same time that it entertains. While far from perfect, it’s good enough to recommend.


“Alice Through the Looking Glass”



It’s the costumes, stupid. Well, that and the makeup. Everything else about “Alice Through the Looking Glass” is a less-than-enchanted mess. I didn’t want to believe it, but this movie is every bit as bad as everyone says it is.

Johnny Depp is back as the Mad Hatter, Mia Wasikowska returns as Alice and Helena Bonham Carter is once again Iracebeth the Red Queen. The trio of actors are more than capable in their roles and the characters they create on film are fantastic, but none can save this mechanical movie. In fact, Depp is featured as no more than a supporting performer; he doesn’t have much screen time and when he does, it’s not in any meaty scenes.

Sacha Baron Cohen carries the movie as “Time,” but I quickly grew tired of his humorless portrayal (when I see Cohen I want to watch him doing what he does best: comedy). Anne Hathaway (Mirana) must be shooting for the 2016 Razzie award for Worst Actress; she is SO AWFUL in this movie that even my fellow audience members were laughing out loud whenever she delivered her lines or pranced about. It’s bad.

The unoriginal plot is at least simple to follow and semi-interesting; Alice travels through time to prevent disaster but learns that she cannot change the past. Alice through the looking glass? More like Alice in the time machine.

Quickly bored with the story, I found myself scrutinizing the costumes and special effects, and I cannot find any fault with either. Yes, the movie looks like a huge cartoon but it’s clear that the animation was crafted with the utmost care (unlike recent Disney and Pixar films “The Jungle Book” and “Finding Dory,” which both had surprisingly poor animation). Guess Disney misguidedly spent all of their CGI budget on this film. The extravagant costumes and sparkling makeup are colorful and wonderful and simply perfect, capturing the vivid imagination of author Lewis Carroll.

I am comfortable mildly recommending this film to anyone who is a fan of the artistry of animation, makeup and costuming. Everyone else would be advised to skip it.

Matt was unavailable for review.

“Finding Dory”



The main question on my mind after the final credits rolled for “Finding Dory” was ‘does Pixar even care anymore?’ It seems like the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ The studio continues its streak of mediocrity in their latest not-so-great animated feature, a sad rehash of 2003’s far better “Finding Nemo.”

This time it’s the lovable blue Dory (Ellen Degeneres) who is searching for her long lost family. Dory suffers from short term memory loss, a cute gimmick until the parameters of her condition change on a whim: she can’t remember what she was talking about five seconds earlier yet conveniently remembers important details from years ago when it’s vital to the plot. Both Marlin (the always fantastic Albert Brooks) and Nemo (now cutesy-voiced by Hayden Rolence) are back as Dory’s sidekicks, and there are multiple unnecessary, obligatory cameos from Crush (Andrew Stanton) and Mr. Ray (Bob Peterson).

As with many animated films lately, the voice talent is borderline horrible. These actors originated the roles and created the sound of the characters, but there is something not quite right about their performances here, especially from Degeneres. She managed to make Dory devoid of any empathy or likeability, both characteristics that oozed from her performance in the original “Finding Nemo.” Ditto for the absolutely dreadful vocal performances from Ed O’Neill as Hank the octopus and Ty Burrell as Bailey the beluga whale. I’m cringing as I’m writing this when I think of how simply lousy they were.

Speaking of Bailey the beluga whale, that entire character was pretty awful. Beluga whales are undeniably awesome but the idea that one was using his sonar capabilities to track fish in pipes or a truck on a major highway (being driven by an octopus) was so ridiculously stupid that it nearly single-handedly ruined the entire movie for me. Parents, use this film as an educational opportunity to teach your kids about marine life so that they don’t grow into moronic adults.

The film is also plagued by ugly, uninviting animation. The lovely short preceding the film, “Piper,” is rich and gorgeous and lush and full of vibrancy. With “Dory,” all we get is murky, dreary animation with an astonishing lack of detail. Really, why did this movie have to look so brown and gray and washed out? I don’t understand how anyone would enjoy the look and feel of this movie.

I adore animated films, I truly do. In fact, animation is of my favorite genres ever. I hate having to consistently dish out low star ratings to the Disney / Pixar mouse powerhouse but their winning formula obviously has grown old and stale. I had high hopes for this movie, but a stinker is a stinker and there’s no getting around that.


While it’s not a timeless classic on the level of “Finding Nemo,” “Finding Dory” is an enjoyable enough piece of entertainment that’s worth watching.

Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres), she of the short-term memory loss, has come to the realization that early in life, she lost her parents. As she continues to remember bits and pieces of what happened to her when she was a young fish, she goes in search of her family, aided by Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlin (Albert Brooks). Her adventures take her to the place where she was born, where she meets friends both new, like Hank (Ed O’Neill) and old, like Destiny (Kaitlin Olson).

Like most of the more watchable Disney/Pixar movies, “Finding Dory” doesn’t fall into the modern-day trap of animated movies by trying too hard to please the parents by including far too many “adult” jokes while also trying to amuse kids by using too much modern vernacular. The animation is good, as one expects from a Pixar film. The voice talent is strong, where the voices mostly match the characters and doesn’t rely overly much on stunt casting (using popular A-list actors) to round out the cast.

The story is also pretty good. While some of the plot points started to verge on the ridiculous — with animals doing things that were decidedly NOT authentic to the species — I didn’t get bored, and I didn’t get annoyed. For an animated film, this is high praise from me. I cared about Dory, Hank, Marlin, Nemo, and the others, and I felt invested in their story. This also seemed to be true for the rest of the audience that was in my screening: while some younger kids got a bit restless, most of them were well-behaved enough and seemed invested enough to care about what was happening.

If you’re expecting a Pixar masterpiece like “Wall-E” or “Toy Story 2,” you’ll be disappointed in “Finding Dory.” But, on the other hand, if you are hoping for a movie that you can enjoy along with your well-behaved children that liked “Finding Nemo,” I think you’ll be pleased.


“The Jungle Book”



“The Jungle Book” is a film that’s the very definition of a conceptual failure. It tries far too hard to be a real crowd pleaser, adding a little bit of this and a little dash of that in a desperate attempt to have something for everyone. Viewers will quickly realize that the film can’t be everything for everybody, and sadly is not as splashy as its trailers suggest. Instead it’s just dull.

This latest Disney film is at once an intense adult drama and a kid-friendly flick with talking animals; it’s both savage and cheerful. This dramatic, constant shift in focus reeks of trying to be a ‘one size fits all’ adaptation of the story. The fluctuating tone is confusing: is this movie about scary, menacing animals or simply a joyous romp filled with silly songs? The forced musical numbers feel as if they were thrown into the mix to appease die-hard fans of the 1967 animated Disney original just when things start to get a little too dark, resulting in what becomes sort of a commercial break and interruption to the story.

It goes without saying that this movie is weird.

The film was predominantly crafted on computers at it shows. The jungle looks fake and the animals look fake; as a result the entire movie feels fake. Now I know live animals can’t be used to film a movie like this (and I’d never advocate the use of real animals, period), but the movie is more focused on being technical and mechanical instead of enchanting. The animated animals are lifelike to a point, but they speak in modern jargon to keep the youngsters interested. The movie wants its hyper-realistic animals to look and feel authentic yet they talk in slang and sing silly songs. The story is decent enough but the effects are too distracting (especially the minor background animals who don’t look or move like real animals). This mismatch doesn’t work, making the CGI animals more confusing than thrilling.

Adding to the less than enchanting feel of the movie is the mediocre voice talent. It’s fine but none of the voice actors give a particularly memorable nor endearing performance. These are pedigreed actors too, so I know they are capable of much better work. Ben Kingsley is bland and understated as regal black panther Bagheera, while Idris Elba seems to be phoning it in as villainous tiger Shere Khan. There are more disappointing turns from Lupita Nyong’o (Raksha), Scarlett Johansson (Kaa), Christopher Walken (King Louie), Giancarlo Esposito (Akela) and Garry Shandling (who adds zero comic relief as Ikki). Bill Murray as Baloo the bear is the best of the bunch, which isn’t saying much because who doesn’t love Baloo? And why can’t the monkeys or elephants talk?

Both Murray and Walken have strained musical numbers where they both are doing more shout-like riffing than actual singing. I love “The Bare Necessities” and “I Wanna Be Like You” (I was singing along in my head and tapping my feet to the beat), but the songs have been ruined by these poor excuses for musical ‘performances.’ Johansson actually has a decent singing voice but doesn’t get her own screen time for Kaa’s classic musical number (“Trust In Me” is instead slapped over the end credits).

I saved the worst element of the film for last because I hate to tear apart an acting performance by a little kid (and I don’t want this to come across as some sort of adult critic bullying a child actor), but Mowgli (Neel Sethi) is terribly annoying! His performance almost reaches the badness of Jake Lloyd as young Anakin Skywalker in “The Phantom Menace.” Sethi portrays Mowgli as an awkward, immensely irritating man-cub and a bit of a whiny brat! How has he, after a decade of being raised by wolves, survived in the jungle for so long? The kid pretty much sealed the deal in ruining the movie for me. That’s really the best casting Disney could do?

Too bad Shere Khan didn’t just eat him early in the story, it would’ve saved us all a lot of wasted time.


“The Jungle Book” is a bit of a mixed bag.

First, the good. I was quick to criticize the casting of Bill Murray as Baloo; as a fan of the original hand-drawn animated Disney movie, I always thought of Baloo as having a deep voice fitting of a bear and I wasn’t ready to accept anything but that. I have to admit, however, that he won me over — Murray’s take on Baloo (the ultimate lazy bear) is perfect and Baloo is just as lovable in this version as he was in the original. I also enjoyed Idris Elba’s Shere Khan — intimidating and scary with understandable motivations. The animation of some of the main characters, like Baloo and Bagheera, is also good and I had no problem accepting their inhabiting the same world as the human Mowgli.

Now the bad. First, as Mowgli, Neel Sethi ranges from terrible (shouting all of his lines like he’s playing the Easter bunny in the school play) to grating to merely passable. And before you tell me I’m being unfair because he’s a little kid, I ask you to first check out the performances of kids in other movies like “Demolition” and “Sing Street,” to name some recent movies, and “The Descendants,” “True Grit,” and “Let Me In” / “Let the Right One In” for some older ones, for examples of just how good child actors can be. Amazing that Disney and director Jon Favreau let the fortunes of their new franchise rest partially on the shoulders of this shouty, irritating kid.

And then let’s talk about how the other animals are animated. The smaller the character’s role in the film (and, in the case of the field mice and flying squirrels the smaller the characters), the worse they are animated. Seriously, some of those little creatures in particular looked terrible. It’s as though Disney spent all of its animation budget on the key players and went with bargain-basement effects for the others.

Finally, the story itself is a bit of a drag. While the original clocked in at a neat and tight 78 minutes, this bloated affair takes nearly 30 more minutes to tell the same story, and it shows. Demanding run times of nearly 2 hours must be a thing in Hollywood; it seems like they are de riguer for every big-budget movie that has been released in the past 5 years, regardless of whether the story merits it.

On the whole, “The Jungle Book” is forgettable. Although it has its good points, the film never gets good enough to deserve a recommendation.





“Zootopia” is a darker, more serious take on the classic mismatched buddy cop movie. Make no mistake, this animated film earns its PG rating and may be a little too intense for some little ones. While I appreciate Disney trying to tackle some serious societal issues here, I’m sorry to report that the film, as a whole, fails miserably.

The story is a cut above most junk animated movies, but this crime caper lacks the sophistication of animal-centric cartoon classics like “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Shaun the Sheep,”and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” First off, the animation is just plain ugly. The backgrounds feel incomplete and lacking in detail, and the color palette is completely ‘off’ (as if the animators argued about which color scheme to use throughout; check out the still photo above: see how the background is nothing more than browns muddled with other browns?). I love films where animals exist in their own world but I couldn’t enjoy the movie from the start because of the unsightly animation. Was most of the movie slapped together at the last minute? A good majority of “Zootopia” sure looks as if that’s the case.

Another big problem with the movie is the voice talent (Jason Bateman, Jenny Slate, Idris Elba); I found it to be irritating across the board. Grating voices coupled with ugly looking characters sank this movie for me. Perky bunny cop Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is one of the most annoying animated characters in recent memory (yes, almost as bad as Bing Bong from “Inside Out“). I found no character to be lovable.

The funniest bits were spoiled in the film’s preview trailers. There is a particularly horrible groan-inducing scene with a mole as a Godfather-esque mobster. It’s so dreadfully dumb that I was squirming in my seat. I think the writers threw in too many “this one is for the grown-ups” pop culture references masquerading as jokes — yes, I “get” that the other two lab partner sheep are named Walter and Jesse but that’s not a joke, that’s a pop culture reference. Of course that line resulted in a few knowing chuckles from the adults in the audience but they were laughing because they recognized the reference, not because it was genuinely funny. In this film you’ll find many instances of this type of lazy writing and paltry attempts at humor.

“Zootopia” is not all bad. I did like the positive girl power, tolerance and anti-bullying messages — but get ready to get continually beaten over the head with them. The messages are good ones, but herein lies the major problem with the film: while the story is filled with the suggestion that all animals (read: humans) can live in harmony, it muddles its “can’t we all just get along” message by filling the movie with stereotypes of its own!

As a person who grew up in a very small rural town, it bothered me that the film presented the idea that country bumpkin animals are less sophisticated and tolerant than their big city counterparts. When our heroine bunny Judy Hopps is in her rustic natural habitat, all of the animals stay segregated and in their “rightful” place (in Judy’s case, she’s a bunny who lives and works with other bunnies on a carrot farm, selling carrots to other bunnies.) Of course the rabbits sometimes work with a token fox and mingle with some other animals, but let’s just say they’ve never had a polar bear as a customer. When Judy moves to the big city, she lives in harmony with all species of animals, from so many different habitats! Big city folks sure are more tolerant because wow, they live in the big city! What on Earth could simple country farmers know about tolerance and acceptance? 

Another big stereotype portrayed in the film is the undeniably funny DMV scene where all of the verrrrry slow workers there are sloths. It’s funny, but it’s still a stereotype. Want more? How about the wolves who just can’t resist a group howl, the unnecessarily sexy pop star gazelle, or the weasel who is, well, “weasely”? Most distasteful is the overweight leopard who works at the police department. He is repeatedly shown doing silly, clumsy things and he’s always eating donuts. Let’s all point and laugh at the fat cat because all he likes to do is eat because he’s FAT! How on Earth is this contributing to a message of tolerance?

The last straw for me (and the reason behind my rating) is that the movie suggests that wild animals need to be tamed. That bothered me most of all. When predators are suddenly reverting to their biological wild nature and attacking prey, the Zootopia police department officers immediately want to figure out how to make it stop. Can’t animals just be wild? Why do they need to be tamed? Why can’t they live naturally?

Before you dismiss this as being “just a movie” or decide that my review is too serious or harsh,  stop and consider how kids tend to soak up things like a sponge. “Zootopia” could have and should have done a much better job with its inventive premise and big ambition. I’m sure the film set out with good intentions but it ultimately sank into a divisive stereotype of its own.


Donald Trump would hate this movie. If you’re a Trump supporter, you will probably hate it, too.

Why? Because “Zootopia” is about acceptance. Acceptance of other races; acceptance of other cultures; acceptance of other personalities; and acceptance of people who are simply just different from you. It is also about the politics of xenophobia and fear of the “other,” and its central lesson is that we should not place labels on others based on how they look, what gender they are, or their cultural identity. Whereas Trump’s campaign is about using jingoistic nationalism based on fear of the “other” to separate us from other nations, cultures, and people, “Zootopia” is about tearing down those walls (literal and figurative) that divide us, respecting one another, and finding a way that we can all work and live together.

What surprised me about “Zootopia” aside from its high-minded messaging is that it wasn’t at all what I expected based on the previews. I thought I was going to see another mindless throwaway talking animal movie for kids layered with dumb not-so-subtle jokes to keep parents interested. There was some of that, to be sure, as well as annoying winking references to other Disney movies that were basically just audience laugh cues (hey, he just referenced “Frozen,” didya get it? Huh? Huh? Didya?), but I was surprised to find that this movie actually had a fairly interesting plot with a distinct beginning, middle, and end. For once, the movie wasn’t just about cute and fuzzy anthropomorphic animals doing cute things. The nature of the different animals – as well as the stereotypes that we all have about them – played an important role in actually driving the story.

Not everything about this movie is outstanding. As with many of these movies, some of the voice talent was great, and some was just stunt casting. I particularly liked Ginnifer Goodwin‘s protagonist rabbit, Judy Hopps, and Jason Bateman‘s fox Nick Wilde (his delivery is perfect for the character). Some of the other voices were just so-so. The animation was okay, not great. There are a few too many lazy allusions that were played out long ago (I mean come on, how many more times are we going to have to sit through heavily-borrowed references to “The Godfather?”).

Overall, though, I liked this film quite a bit. I liked the lesson about racial, cultural, and gender relations. I liked this movie’s more traditional Disney-esque “you can do anything you set your mind to” message. I liked the story. I want you and your kids to see this movie, particularly if you are one of the aforementioned Trump supporters.

“The Finest Hours”



“The Finest Hours” is a classic tale of good old-fashioned heroism. It’s refreshing to see a story where the audience can quickly identify with lead characters who genuinely want to do the right thing and help others in their time of need. These are normal guys living a normal life who find themselves suddenly thrust into an extraordinary situation. They are quietly courageous, not looking for recognition or glory. They are simply doing their job.

This entertaining movie tells the true story of a 1952 Coast Guard rescue off the coast of New England. The inspiring yet slightly corny tone is perfectly paired with the thrilling action sequences (yes, the special effects of savage seas are computer generated but they are still, for the most part, stellar).

The most intense part of the movie comes from watching a group of sailors trapped on a giant oil tanker that has been cut in half due to a killer storm and is gradually sinking. Yes, you read that correctly. The seamen have to come up with creative ways to try to stay afloat – and alive. Chris Pine is fine in his role as a Coast Guard man, but he’s overshadowed by Ben Foster, Kyle Gallner and Holliday Grainger (as the spunky love interest). Casey Affleck isn’t a favorite of mine but here he reminds me of a young Marlo Brando; his masculine, charismatic performance is a standout and the main reason to see this movie.

I was surprised to learn that this wasn’t a faith-based movie because it was dripping with pronounced religious overtones (Disney obviously wants to cash in on that trend). There’s a lot of implied praying, discussions of faith (“it’s not luck”), cleverly placed Bibles, mentions of church and God, and the obligatory scene of the non-believer rudely interrupting a group prayer. (Have to say I agreed with his character: when the crew was standing around praying, he told them that they were wasting their precious time and should instead focus on figuring out a way to get off the ship. Smart man!). The religious references were so over the top that they quickly became off-putting and cost this movie half a star.

“The Finest Hours” is sappy and sentimental yet also manages to be a real nail-biter. The positives far outweigh the negatives here, and this movie is worth seeing. Is it historically accurate? Probably not. But it’s still a fun ride.

Matt was unavailable for review.