REVIEW: Big Hero 6

27 02 2015

Disney Animation often tries to repackage tried and true formulas, although they usually pull their material from within.  “Tangled” and “Frozen,” of course, try to channel the hand-drawn princess magic.  “Big Hero 6,” on the other hand, appropriates from one of the best non-Mouse House animated films of recent years: “The Iron Giant.”

Baymax, the robotic spectacle of “Big Hero 6,” looks more like a giant marshmallow puff than a welded set of metal beams.  His function, however, proves virtually analogous to the Iron Giant’s.  Baymax arrives to help and to heal, not to inflict harm or wounds.  This mainly takes the form of ministering to a boy in a single-parent household still reeling from the loss of a family member; here, that would be the racially ambiguous Hiro.

Even though Baymax looks cushier and sounds more gently reassuring than the scratchily voiced (by Vin Diesel, no less) metallic behemoth, “Big Hero 6” feels lacking in the charm and emotional pull of “The Iron Giant.”  Heck, it falls short of even some of the mode mediocre Disney flicks.  And it certainly does not have the creativity of “Wreck-It Ralph” to fall back on when it cannot deliver on the feelings front.  While “Big Hero 6” crafts a clever world – San Fransokyo – in which its characters can roam and provides some flashy visuals, it skimps out on character development and thus cannot quite deliver that human spark when it needs to do so.

This might have something to do with the fact that the film started out as a Marvel property.  Even though they gave Disney full autonomy to make the movie they wanted, the influence of the comics juggernaut rears its head once more to spoil what could have been a great movie.  By the time “Big Hero 6” gets to some fairly complex moral deliberations from its simple-speaking robot in the final act, the stakes are not really established to make them feel of any consequence.  B-2stars

REVIEW: Tangled

13 01 2011

The Disney charm gets cranked up to 11 in “Tangled,” the studio’s 50th animated feature in its illustrious history.  The retelling of Rapunzel earns its place in a lineup of classics by combining the strengths of the many films that came before it.  Combining the familiarity of a fairy tale, some toe-tapping musical numbers, and the boundless possibilities of computer animation, the movie is an undeniable joy to watch.

Every Disney tale has a twist from the storyline which takes it in a more dynamic direction, and what lifts Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) off the page and onto the screen is the revelation that her long hair has healing and rejuvenating powers.  Of course, this means that the old hag who desires to be youthful forever hoards her away in a tower so that only she can exploit the hair.  She yearns for contact aside from her lizard Pascal and greedy stepmom almost as much as she wants to get out and see the city and kingdom for herself.

Enter Flynn Rider (voice of Zachary Levi), an outlaw with a more gorgeous nose than wanted posters give him credit for and a love of stealing from the exceptionally wealthy and privileged.  After snatching the crown jewels, he hides in Rapunzel’s tower and from there, the adventure begins.  It’s a fun journey with the two of them that begins with her exaltation of grass, trees, and the earth since she has never experienced anything other than the tower.

There are plenty of other interruptions along their trip to the castle for the magical floating lights, often times accompanied by fun, engaging songs from Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” among others).  While you don’t leave the theater whistling them, you sure get into the rhythm while watching.  Great supporting characters are hardly in short supply, with a group of jolly giants, a diaper-toting dwarf, and a proud horse with a personality through the roof leading “Tangled” to heartfelt hilarity.  While it may not be quite at a classic level, it leaves a trail of happiness as long as Rapunzel’s hair.  A-


5 12 2010

Disney has invested quite a bit of money into promoting “Tron: Legacy” – $150 million, to be exact.  I’ve been watching as they’ve hyped this movie for the past three years with a fair bit of skepticism.  I’ve wondered why they need such a massive push for a big-budget visual effects spectacle for quite some time, so over the fall, I decided to look for answer in “Tron,” its 28-year-old predecessor.

I found one pretty good reason to promote “Tron: Legacy” so excessively: the original “Tron” is TERRIBLE!  And not even terrible in the sense that you can step back and laugh at it; it’s just terrible!

Sure, the visual effects are obscenely outdated, and that’s reason for a few giggles.  It’s also dated by kids playing games at an arcade.  I mean, who does THAT anymore?  I guess you could say that watching “Tron” certainly gives you an appreciation for the flawless integration of FX into movies, and it sure makes you want to bow at the feet of “Avatar” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

With its extensive use of computer graphics for visual spectacle, “Tron” is considered by many to be a pioneering film in technological development and a window into the future.  Well, I can tell you know from a 2010 perspective that the future came and left “Tron” in the dust a very long time ago.  Plenty of movies have done similar things, and watching “Tron” is like sending a telegram when you could just send a text message: that’s to say extremely antiquated and a futile waste of time.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something very cool and novel about seeing how things were done in the past and seeing our progress.  But it’s brutal when that movie doesn’t have any value other than its depreciation to offer.  “Tron” has a completely incoherent plot that baffled moviegoers back in 1982 because it dealt so much with the unfamiliar computers.  The filmmakers claimed that it was misunderstood back when the movie came out largely to cover the movie’s lackluster box office receipts.  (To be fair, there was also a little science-fiction movie called “E.T.” dominating the market at the same time.)

Yet even now, in a generation of overexposure to computers, the movie still doesn’t make sense!  All I could discern from that plot was that Jeff Bridges’ Kevin Flynn invented the TRON program, his intellectual property was stolen, and he beams himself inside the program to prove his creation.  From then on, it’s a total mess of seemingly unconnected events inside the computer that have little going for them other than the retro ’80s appeal.

The movie has managed to become a cult hit over the years, and I’m a little flabbergasted that people actually love this movie.  I don’t see anything other than effects that are funny for a few minutes, and then when the novelty wears off, we are left with nothing but a snooze of a movie with a strange plot.

So I’m honestly shocked that Disney would throw so much behind “Tron: Legacy” when the original is so pathetic.  I think they know it and are starting to fret that people like me would see the 1982 movie; according to a report in The Los Angeles Times, the DVD of the original is pretty hard to find since Disney is hardly releasing any new copies to meet the demand.  Most studios release some new edition of a predecessor when a sequel comes out, and a special edition of “Tron” is nowhere to be seen.

“Tron: Legacy” is being built as the cinematic equivalent of Wall Street’s “too big to fail” companies.  The commonly held theory is that if enough money is poured into a production, moviegoers will recognize the investment and go see it on blind faith.  While the fanboy hype is high on this release, reality may be setting in that this might not have been such a smart move (which I could have told you the second I finished the original).  According to The Hollywood Reporter, tracking indicates an opening weekend of a low $35 million, which would mean the movie would probably only net about $150-$175 million in the United States.

Given that the film will cost the studio $320 million by December 17, these numbers would be catastrophic for Disney.  Just as when the “too big to fail” firms sunk led to change on Wall Street, /Film reports that if “Tron: Legacy” were to bomb, the impact on Hollywood could be enormous.  My prediction is that if the sequel is anything like the 1982 “Tron,” the road to failure has already been paved.

Random Factoid #401

2 09 2010

I’ll take “Over-The-Top Movie Promotions” for 400.

Question: What’s the most ridiculously extravagant way to promote “Tron: Legacy?”

What is throwing a massive neon dance party at Disney World?

That is correct!

I’m not slamming the idea, just to be clear.  I see nothing wrong with lavish promotion because clearly Disney is trying to have their “Avatar.”  I’ve never been to a big movie promotional event because those don’t usually happen in Houston.  If I lived and blogged in Los Angeles, then maybe I would have.  I certainly like the idea of studios trying to reach an audience in more creative ways that a TV ad or a trailer.

But this, to me, just seems like a huge expenditure.  It will surely be a sight, have no doubt about that.  As for how effective this will be in marketing the movie is more suspect.

If I was headed to the Disney park, I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to see this.  How about you?

Random Factoid #338

1 07 2010

I’m not much of the investing type.  I stay interested in the stock market, but I’ve never really given any serious thought to buying any stock.  At my age, I’m more interested in keeping my money in the bank and taking it out when I need some extra moviegoing money.

But thankfully, someone thought about investing for me.  Probably about a decade ago, some family members got me a $10 share of Disney stock.  They picked a stock that obviously had more sentimental value than monetary value.  The certificate sits nicely in a drawer in my room.  I think I saw it a few days ago doing some cleaning.

But sure enough, once a year, I get a tiny check from Disney.  It’s little more than pocket change, but I happily deposit it.  The check is always good for a smile, if nothing else.

Random Factoid #229

14 03 2010

Back in the ’90s (strange to think that it was TWO decades ago), the Disney Store would give posters away if you brought a ticket stub for a Disney movie into the store. Naturally, I took advantage of this offer many times – although the only poster I distinctly remember receiving is one for “Toy Story 2.”

REVIEW: The Princess and the Frog

26 12 2009

2009 has been a great year for animation, particularly in the advances that were made in leaps and bounds this year.  Wes Anderson used stop-motion animation to bring “Fantastic Mr. Fox” to life.  Although they hesitate to call it animation, James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis continued to perfect the motion capture technology, the former practically reinventing it.  To top it all off, our good friend Pixar, faithfully churning out magnificent movies year after year, had perhaps their finest moment yet with “Up,” and the Academy may just reward it with only the second Best Picture nomination for an animated film.

But what about old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation?

The Princess and the Frog” is one of the best movies of the year not because it sets out to revolutionize its craft or because it tries to impress us with its bravura; in fact, it’s such a joy because it does just the opposite.  It sticks rather simply to the way animation was done in the good old days, and it has the beautiful charm to make you feel like you did as a child watching the Disney animated classics.

“The Princess and the Frog” is able to channel the rapture of the golden age of animation while combining it with a more contemporary ethic.  It doesn’t entirely belittle the power of wishes and dreams, which movies like “Cinderella” and “Snow White” trained us to believe was all you needed.  But the movie’s main lesson is to teach the value of working hard to achieve your dreams, which is just what Tiana (voice of Anika Noni Rose, “Dreamgirls”) does.  She works two jobs in New Orleans so she can open the restaurant that she and her father (Terrence Howard) dreamed about when she was a child.  He is the main voice echoing in her head, always saying that you cannot rely on the cosmos to give you what you want.  However, in a moment of desperation, she kisses a frog who claims to be a prince in hopes that she will get the fairy tale ending of “The Frog Prince.”  But the frog doesn’t become a prince; Tiana becomes a frog thanks to a voodoo priest (Keith David) that is creepy on a level I reserve for villains like Jafar and Scar.  The two must travel through the bayou to reach Mama Odie, a voodoo priestess that can set things back to the way they are.  To navigate the perilous terrain, they enlist a trumpet-tooting alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a thickly accented, love-struck firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings).  The journey is filled with plenty of spirited musical numbers and enough fun to make your smile as wide as the Mississippi.

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What To Look Forward To In … December 2009

14 11 2009

What is in my mind the finest month for the movies is almost here!  Let Marshall guide you through the best and steer you away from the worst, but most of all enjoy!  The studios have been holding back their best movies all year to dump them all here, where they can get serious awards consideration.

December 4

A major Oscars wild-card is “Brothers.”  No one really knows what to make of it.  If the movie hits big, it could completely change the game.  But it could just fly under the radar like most expect it to now.  However, the trailer makes it look as if it the movie could be absolutely mind-blowing.  Directed by Jim Sheridan, who has received six Academy Award nominations, “Brothers” follows Grace Cahill (Natalie Portman) as she and her daughters deal with the loss of her husband, Sam (Tobey Maguire), in war.  Sam’s brother, Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to live with Grace to lend a helping hand.  But romantic sparks fly between the two at precisely the wrong time: the discovery that Sam is alive and coming home.  With the two brothers both tugging Grace’s heart for their share, a different type of sparks fly.

You have heard me say plenty about “Up in the Air.”  If you haven’t read my Oscar Moment on the movie or heard my bliss at the release of the trailer, let me give you one more chance to hope on the bandwagon.

But the movies don’t stop there.  “Armored,” an action-drama that is tooting its own moral horn, starring Matt Dillon and Laurence Fishburne.  “Everybody’s Fine” appears to be a holiday movie, so that might be worth checking out if you’re in the spirit.  The movie, a remake of a 1990 Italian film by the same name, stars Robert DeNiro as a widower who reconnects with his estrange children.  And “Transylmania” looks to cash in on the vampire craze sweeping the nation by satirizing it, but I doubt it will be financially viable because it is being released by a no-name studio and without any big names.

December 11

The highlight of the weekend for many will be “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to the traditional animation by hand musical.  The movie looks to capitalize on what we know and love Disney musicals for, adding some catchy tunes to a fairy tale we have known since childhood.  Anika Noni Rose, best known for her role as Lorrell in the film adaptation of “Dreamgirls,” lends her talented voice to the princess Tiana.  As a huge fan of “Dreamgirls” during the winter of 2006, I couldn’t think of someone better equipped to handle the sweet, soft Disney music (which isn’t designed for belters like Beyoncé or Jennifer Hudson).  That being said, the music won’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard from a Disney fairy tale.  It is being scored by Randy Newman, not Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” etc.), and will have a jazzy feel much like its setting, New Orleans.

This week also boasts the opening of three major Oscar players. Two have been featured in Oscar Moments, “Invictus” and “A Single Man.” The former opens nationwide this Friday, the latter only in limited release. I’ll repost the trailers below because they are worth watching. But read the Oscar Moment if you want to know more about the movies.

According to the people that matter, “The Lovely Bones” has all the pieces to make a great movie. But for summer reading two years ago, I read the source material, Alice Sebold’s acclaimed novel. I found it dreadfully melodramatic and very depressing without any sort of emotional payoff to reward the reader for making it through. But maybe Hollywood will mess up the novel in a good way. If any movie could, it would be this one. With a director like Peter Jackson and a cast including Saiorse Ronan (“Atonement”), Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon, it could very well happen.  It opens in limited release on this date and slowly expands until its nationwide release on Martin Luther King Day weekend in 2010.

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