Showing posts with label animated film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label animated film. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review: DreamWorks' "ORION AND THE DARK" Takes on Childhood Fears

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 12 of 2024 (No. 1956) by Leroy Douresseaux

Orion and the Dark (2024)
Running time:  93 minutes (1 hour, 33 minutes)
MPA – not rated
DIRECTOR:  Sean Charmatz
WRITERS:  Charlie Kaufman (based on the book by Emma Yarlett)
PRODUCER:  Peter McCown
EDITOR:  Kevin Sukho Lee
COMPOSERS:  Kevin Lax and Robert Lydecker


Starring:  (voices): Jacob Tremblay, Paul Walter Hauser, Colin Hanks, Mia Akemi Brown, Ike Barinholtz, Nat Faxon, Golda Rosheuvel, Natasia Demetriou, Aparna Nancherla, Carla Gugino, Matt Dellapina, Nick Kishiyama, Shino Nakamichi, Werner Herzog, and Angela Bassett


Orion and the Dark is a unique animated film that is about a child learning to accept fear as a part of life without letting it control him.

Orion and the Dark has an eclectic cast full of surprising characters, but Orion and Dark are this film's winning pair.

Orion and the Dark is a good family film, especially for parents and for children who are of middle grade age and younger.  I find it to be too deep in its feelies, but it will tug on the heartstrings of its intended audience.

Orion and the Dark is a 2024 animated fantasy-adventure and comedy-drama film directed by Sean Charmatz and produced by DreamWorks Animation.  The film is animated by French production company, Mikros Animation, and is also a “Netflix Original” that began streaming on Netflix February 2, 2024.

Orion and the Dark is based on the 2015 children's book, Orion and the Dark, from author Emma Yarlett.  Orion and the Dark the movie focuses on a boy whose active imagination causes him to be scared of everything and on the entity that takes him on an incredible journey.

Orion and the Dark introduces 11-year-old Orion Mendelson (Jacob Tremblay).  He is a severely anxious child with a long list of irrational fears.  He is a schoolboy with a fear of speaking in front of class, being bullied, ending up in a toilet, and a fear of speaking to Sally (Shino Nakamichi), the girl of his dreams, of course.  Outside of school, he also has a bunch of fears, including the fear of getting eaten by a shark, but at home its is worse.

Orion is afraid of the night, especially of the dark and of all the dark places in his bedroom.  Orion's father (Matt Dellapina) and mother (Carla Gugino) have a difficult time getting him to bed.  One night a giant, smiling creature slithers into his room.  He introduces himself as “Dark,” the embodiment of Orion's worst fear, the dark.  Tired of hearing Orion's constant complaints about him (the dark), Dark takes the 11-year-old on an adventure to help him overcome his fears and to appreciate the benefits of nighttime and of the dark.  But there are plenty of dangers along the way, including Dark's rival, “Light” (Ike Barinholtz), and Orion's own deep-seated fears.

Orion and the Dark is a beautifully animated film with simple, but evocative character and concept design.  It took me awhile to remember that Orion and the Dark reminds me of the 2014 DreamWorks Animation film, Mr. Peabody & Sherman.  Both films share a visual aesthetic, possibly because artist and designer, Timothy Lamb, served as the production designer on the two films.  Both films also convey their fantastical settings and surreal environments via eye-appealing art and design that have a children's picture book quality.  

I do have one gripe about Orion and the Dark.  The film does have a heart – a center – which is that both Orion and Dark have to learn something about themselves and to overcome self-doubt.  The film, however, also has sentiment, and it is, at times, exceedingly sentimental, which can be both heartwarming and saccharine.  Orion and the Dark is sometimes too much in its emotions and feelies, so much so that by the end, I thought the film was trying to give me an insulin attack.  Orion and the Dark pounds on its parent-child themes and dynamics with schmaltzy consistency.

I want to avoid spoilers.  Still, I will say that Orion and the Dark does have a time-travel subplot courtesy of screenwriter, Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind), who is known for creating elaborate, twisty, meta screenplays.  Orion and the Dark has several interesting supporting characters, especially Dark's fellow “Night Entities,” so many so that I could see it becoming an animated television series.  Orion and the Dark is unique and quite well made, and many may find its heartwarming insistence just what we need in these dark times.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Monday, February 19, 2024

Review: DreamWorks "ANTZ" Can Still Dance

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 11 of 2024 (No. 1955) by Leroy Douresseaux

Antz (1998)
Running time:  83 minutes (1 hour, 23 minutes)
MPAA – PG for mild language and menacing action
DIRECTORS:  Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson
WRITERS:  Todd Alcott and Chris Weitz & Paul Weitz
PRODUCERS:  Brad Lewis, Kenneth Nakada, Aron Warner, and Patty Wooton
EDITOR:  Stan Webb
COMPOSERS:  Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell


Starring:  (voices):  Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Anne Bancroft, Danny Glover, Jennifer Lopez, Paul Mazursky, Grant Shaud, John Mahoney, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtain, and Christopher Walken

Antz is a 1998 computer-animated adventure comedy film from directors Eric Darnell and Tim Johnson.  It was produced by DreamWorks Pictures, DreamWorks Animation, and Pacific Data Images and released by DreamWorks Pictures.  Antz was also DreamWorks Animation's debut film.  The movie focuses on a neurotic ant who bucks the system of his ant colony in order to pursue an ant princess, which sends them both on a perilous journey.

Antz opens in an ant colony, the home of a race of anthropomorphic ants (walk and talk like humans).  The focus is on Z (Woody Allen), an anxious and neurotic worker ant who chafes at the state of conformity in the colony. While at the local bar one night, Z has a chance encounter with the Queen Ant's daughter, Princess Bala (Sharon Stone), and he falls in love with her.  Z doesn't know that Bala is struggling with her suffocating royal life, although her mother, the Queen Aunt (Anne Bancroft), is the ruler of the colony.  Bala also has misgivings about her planned marriage to General Mandible (Gene Hackman), the cunning and arrogant leader of the colony's ant military.

Z wants to see more of Bala, but as a worker ant, he can't get near her.  He convinces Corporal Weaver (Sylvester Stallone), a soldier ant, to switch places with him.  This causes a series of events that finds Z and Princess Bala on a perilous journey outside the colony.  Meanwhile, General Mandible uses this turn of events to serve his own plans.

I am about to watch DreamWorks Animation's most recent release, Orion and the Dark, which was animated by the French production company, Mikros Animation.  So I decided that it was time to finish my review of DreamWorks' first animated feature film, Antz.

Early in Antz, I was not impressed by the CGI-animation.  It looks stiff and not imaginative, but as the film progresses, especially once the story leaves the colony, Antz begins to show some visual inventiveness.  The film's technical prowess improves as the story demands more complicated and involved action set pieces.

I like the voice cast, which I would call stellar; nine members of Antz's voice cast have won or been nominated for an Oscar – some several times.  However, I'm not that crazy about Woody Allen as the lead character, Z.  It's not that he doesn't do a good job; he does, but Allen is playing a character type that is familiar from his own films, such Hollywood Ending (2002) and Scoop (2006).  At times, Woody doing Woody doesn't really serve this film well.  As much as I like Sharon Stone, I can think of other actresses who could have given a better performance as Princess Bala.  I can say, however, that Gene Hackman is convincingly menacing as General Mandible.

So I'm glad that I finally watched Antz.  2023 was the 25th anniversary of its initial wide theatrical release (specifically October 2, 1998).  It is not as good as even recent DreamWorks Animation productions like The Bad Guys and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.  Still, Antz is what kicked off a line of fine animated feature films.

6 of 10
★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, February 15, 2024

1999 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Special Effects” (Ken Bielenberg, Philippe Gluckman, John Bell, and Kendal Cronkhite

The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



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Sunday, February 11, 2024

Review: Pixar's "TURNING RED" is Universal and Unique

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 8 of 2024 (No. 1952) by Leroy Douresseaux

Turning Red (2022)
Running time:  100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPA –  PG for thematic material, suggestive content and language
DIRECTOR:  Domee Shi
WRITERS:  Domee Shi and Julie Cho; from a story by Domee Shi, Julie Cho, and Sarah Streicher
PRODUCER:  Lindsey Collins
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Mahyar Abousaeedi and Jonathan Pytko
EDITORS:  Nicholas C. Smith with Steve Bloom
COMPOSER: Ludwig Goransson
SONGS: Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  (voices) Rosalie Chiang, Sandra Oh, Ava Morse, Hyein Park, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Orion Lee, Wai Ching Ho, Tristan Allerick Chen, Jordan Fisher, Finneas O'Connell, and James Hong

Turning Red is a 2022 animated fantasy and comedy-drama film directed by Domee Shi and produced by Pixar Animation Studios.  It is Pixar's 25th full-length animated feature film, and it is the first to be solely directed by a woman.  Turning Red focuses on a teen girl who is dealing with her demanding mother and the changes of adolescence when she suddenly discovers that becoming really excited causes her to turn into a giant red panda.

Turning Red opens in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2002.  It introduces a Chinese-Canadian girl, 13-year-old Meilin “Mei” Lee (Rosalie Chiang).  She lives with her parents, mother Ming (Sandra Oh) and father Jin (Orion Lee).  Mei is a dutiful daughter to her mother who calls her “Mei-Mei,” and she helps take care of the family's temple, “the Lee Family Temple,” one of the the oldest temples in Toronto.  The temple honors the Lee family ancestors instead of gods, and it is dedicated to Mei's maternal ancestor Sun Yee.

Mei is also dedicated to a trio of girl friends:  Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan), and Abby (Hyein Park), and all three of them are dedicated fans of the boy band, “4*Town.”  Life is busy, but it's about to get complicated.  The morning after a night of humiliation, Mei wakes up to discover that she has been transformed into a giant red panda.  This is a condition that happens when Mei is overly excited, but it can be cured.  But what does Mei really want?

In the early days of the Disney+ streaming service and in the COVID-19 pandemic, the Walt Disney Company released three Pixar feature films as direct-to-streaming releases:  Soul (2020), Luca (2021), and Turning Red, declining wide theatrical releases for the films.  These were and still are three of Pixar's greatest films, but they are finally getting belated theatrical releases in early 2024.  [Soul in January 2024; Turning Red in February 2024; and Luca in March 2024.]

Turning Red is an incredible coming-of-age story, and like Pixar's Oscar-winning Brave (2012), it is a story of transformations and of mother-daughter relationships and all the love and support and trials and tribulations that come with it.  Its beautiful, terracotta-like colors amplify the film's sense of magic and magical realism.  The variety of faces, body types, skin colors, hair styles, and clothes and costumes are a testament of how culturally expansive Pixar's films set in the human world are.  Everything about Turning Red invites the entire world of moviegoers to come along on this timeless, universal tale of a child coming into her own and learning to love herself as she is becoming and to love her parents for what they were, are, and can be.

Domee Shi and her co-writers, Julie Cho and Sarah Streicher, have created a character, a world, and a scenario of which I believe I can be a part.  I am an old-ass Black man, a million miles away from a 13-year-old Canadian girl of Chinese descent, but Turning Red makes me understand that what the girl experiences are in some ways similar to what I've experienced.  In a way, I am jealous of Turning Red and of Meilin Lee because I could never embrace the messy strangeness in me to the extent that she does.  I definitely did not want my freak flag fluttering in the wind too much.

There is so much to like in this film.  As usual, the animation is up to Pixar's astronomical standards, and Ludwig Goransson's score infuses itself into the film so much that it seems as if the animation is performing a concert.  Speaking of music, I'm embarrassed to admit that I like 4*Town, the band, and its three songs performed in the movie, which are written by the sister-brother team of Billie Eilish and Finneas O'Connell.  And I couldn't love the movie if I wasn't crazy about actress Rosalie Chiang's multi-layered and energetic voice performance as Mei.  Chiang makes Mei feel like a real girl, genuine child in the throes of change and transformation.

Some have said that Turning Red's setting and its lead character, Mei, make the film not timeless and universal like Pixar's other films.  They can go screw themselves.  Turning Red is universal like other Pixar films and also unlike other Pixar films.  Turning Red is Pixar high art and Disney magic, and it is a truly great film that I plan on watching again and again.

10 of 10

Sunday, February 11, 2024

2023 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins)

2023 BAFTA Film Awards:  1 nominee: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins)

2023 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nominee:  “Best Motion Picture – Animated”

2023 Image Awards (NAACP):  1 nominee: “Outstanding Animated Motion Picture”

The text is copyright © 2024 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved.  Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Watch Two Versions of "STEAMBOAT WILLIE" Here

Steamboat Willie is a 1928 American animated short film directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks.[2] It was produced in black and white by Walt Disney Studios.  It is considered the debut of both "Mickey Mouse" and "Minnie Mouse," although both characters appeared several months earlier in a test screening of Plane Crazy, an animated silent short film.  Steamboat Willie was the third of Mickey's films to be produced, but it was the first to be distributed.

Steamboat Willie entered the public domain on Monday, January 1, 2024 because its copyright expired.

Top: the edited seven-minute and twenty-two seconds (7:22) version. Bottom: the seven-minute and forty-six seconds (7:46) version.




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Saturday, December 16, 2023

Review: First "CHICKEN RUN" Runs Wild at the End

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 54 of 2023 (No. 1943) by Leroy Douresseaux

Chicken Run (2000)
Running time:  84 minutes (1 hour, 24 minutes)
DIRECTORS:  Peter Lord and Nick Park
WRITERS:  Karey Kirkpatrick; from a story by Peter Lord and Nick Park
PRODUCERS:  Peter Lord, Nick Park, and David Sproxton
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dave Alex Riddett (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Mark Solomon
COMPOSERS:  Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell
BAFTA nominee


Starring:  (voices):  Julia Sawalha, Mel Gibson, Phil Daniels, Lynn Ferguson, Tony Haygarth, Jane Horrocks, Miranda Richardson, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, and Benjamin Whitrow

Chicken Run is a 2000 stop-motion animated fantasy and comedy film directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park.  It is a British, French, and U.S. co-production produced by Pathe and Aardman Animations in partnership with DreamWorks Animation.  Chicken Run was Aardman's first feature-length animated film and, as of this writing, remains the highest-grossing stop-motion animated film in worldwide box office history.  Chicken Run is set at a British chicken farm where the chickens hope that an American chicken can help them escape the farm's vicious owners.

Chicken Run opens in post World War II England, specifically at an egg farm that is run like a prisoner-of-war camp.  The farm is owned and operated by the cruel Mrs. Malisha Tweedy (Miranda Richardson) and her submissive husband, Mr. Tweedy (Tony Haygarth), who eat and kill any chicken that is no longer able to lay eggs.  Inside the chicken yard, a rebellious chicken, Ginger (Julia Sawalha), is constantly engaged in escape attempts.  Her goal is to help all her fellow chickens escape the farm and find a new home in the land that lies behind a hill some distance from the Tweedy's farm. 

One night, Ginger witnesses a rooster glide over the coop's fences.  She learns that he is an American rooster, Rocky Rhodes (Mel Gibson), a.k.a. “Rocky the Flying Rooster” a.k.a. “Rocky the Rhode Island Red.”  Believing that Rocky can fly, Ginger begs him to help teach her and the other chickens how to fly so that they can escape the farm.  Rocky is not quite what he seems, however, and time is running out as Mrs. Tweedy has devised a new way to get more money out of the farm's large population of chickens.

I have been putting off seeing Chicken run for 23 years.  Then, I discovered that a sequel, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, was set to debut on Netflix December 15, 2023, so I decided to finally watch it.  I am a fan of the later feature-length animated films that Aardman Animations produced in partnership with DreamWorks Animation, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) and Flushed Away (2006).  I have also enjoyed a few of Aardman's animated short films, including A Grand Day Out with Wallace & Gromit (1989) and Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers (1993).

In the end, I like Chicken Run, not as much as I like other Aardman works I've seen.  Chicken Run takes some inspiration from director John Sturges 1963 war and adventure film, The Great Escape.  Chicken Run is also described as an adventure film, but it is really a sedate comedy and drama that only occasionally plays with its edgier elements.  Honestly, I think the storytellers under-utilize the Tweedys who are delightfully menacing and are endlessly funny as a dysfunctional couple.  The film is filled with interesting characters, inventive production design, and a novel plot, but the filmmakers seem to keep holding back the narrative's energy for the big ending – more than they need to as far as I'm concerned.

Chicken Run does not really live up to its comic and adventure potential until the last 20 minutes of the story before the end credits start.  The film suddenly seems to wind up and then explode in a final act of flying contraptions, determined poultry, and maniacal farmers.  In fact, the finale is the first time in the film that Mel Gibson's Rocky does not seem like an extraneous character.  I will try to see the sequel on Netflix, but for the time being, finally seeing Chicken Run seems to be the only run I really need to make at the story.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Saturday, December 16, 2023

2001 BAFTA Awards:  2 nominations: “Alexander Korda Award for Best British Film” (Peter Lord, David Sproxton, and Nick Park) and “Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects” (Paddy Eason, Mark Nelmes, and Dave Alex Riddett)

2001 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical”

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Review: "SCOOBY-DOO and the Witch's Ghost" is Kind of Witchy

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 48 of 2023 (No. 1937) by Leroy Douresseaux

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost (1999) – Video
Running time:  66 minutes (1 hour, 6 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Jim Stenstrum
WRITERS:  Rick Copp, David A. Goodman, Davis Doi, and Glenn Leopold
PRODUCER: Cos Anzilotti
EDITOR:  Rob DeSales
COMPOSER:  Louis Febre


Starring:  (voices) Frank Welker, Scott Innes, Mary Kay Bergman, B.J. Ward, Tim Curry, Kimberly Brooks, Jennifer Hale, Jane Wiedlin, Bob Joles, Tress MacNeille, Peter Reneday, and Neil Ross

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost is a 1999 straight-to-video, animated horror-comedy film that was directed by Jim Stenstrum and produced by Hanna-Barbera Cartoons.  It was the second film in the Scooby-Doo straight-to-video film series that began with 1998's Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island.  It was released on VHS on October 5, 1999, then on DVD on March 6, 2001.  In the film, Scooby and the company get involved with a famous horror novelist and his ancestor who was rumored to be a witch.

Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost opens with Mystery Incorporated: Fred Jones (Frank Welker), Daphne Blake (Mary Kay Bergman), Velma Dinkley (B.J. Ward), Shaggy Rogers (Scott Innes), and Scooby-Doo (Scott Innes) solving a case at a San Francisco museum.  There, they meet the famous horror novelist, Ben Ravencroft (Tim Curry).  Velma Dinkley is a huge fan of Ravencroft, so he invites her and the rest of the gang to his hometown of Oakhaven, Massachusetts.

Upon arrival, Ravencroft and Mystery Inc. discover that the town's Mayor Corey (Neil Ross) has transformed Oakhaven into a tourist trap.  The town is even putting on a concert featuring an all-female gothic rock band, the Hex Girls: Thorn (Jennifer Hale), Dusk (Jane Wiedlin), and Luna (Kimberly Brooks).

Oakhaven is like an amusement park with a theme based on the ghost of Sarah Ravencroft (Tress MacNeille), who is an ancestor of Ben Ravencroft.  Ben describes Sara as a “wiccan” who used herbal remedies to heal the poor and less fortunate.  In 1657, the townspeople of Oakhaven believed that Sarah was a witch, and they persecuted and executed her.  Ben has spent years searching for Sarah's medical journal, which he believes will help him prove her innocence.

But now, the ghost of Sarah Ravencroft is really back, and she wants revenge.  Scooby, Shaggy, and the gang are about to discover that this mystery turns out to have plenty of twists and turns.

Like a number of the early straight-to-video Scooby-Doo movies, Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost has a tone that is darker than the franchise's usual fare.  In this film, the supernatural elements are “real” as compared to the usual fake supernatural shenanigans committed by the adversaries in Mystery Inc.'s cases.  Still, I was surprised that the film takes such a benevolent attitude about the modern pagan, earth-centered religion, “Wicca.”  The film's story goes to some lengths to separate Wicca from “witchcraft,” which is generally seen as the use of magic for nefarious purposes.

Beyond that, Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost is a standard Scooby-Doo film.  I find the “ghost of Sarah Ravencroft” to be less impressive than the “fake ghost witches” of earlier Scooby-Doo cartoons, such as “The Witch” in the “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” episode, “Which Witch is Which?”  I can say that the film does have a nice twist involving Sarah Ravencroft that does darken the film's tone a bit more.

However, as a Scooby-Doo fan, I consider almost all Scooby-Doo productions to be must-see.  And while, it isn't special, Scooby-Doo and the Witch's Ghost is entertaining.  And the Hex Girls are quite nice.

6 of 10
★★★ out of 4 stars

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Review: Walt Disney's "ROBIN HOOD" is the Non-Classic Disney Classic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 44 of 2023 (No. 1933) by Leroy Douresseaux

Robin Hood (1973) – animation
Running time:  83 minutes (1 hour, 23 minutes)
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR:  Wolfgang Reitherman
WRITERS:  Larry Clemons; based on story and character concepts by Ken Anderson
EDITORS:  Tom Acosta and Jim Melton
COMPOSER:  George Bruns
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  (voices) Brian Bedford, Phil Harris, Roger Miller, Peter Ustinov, Terry-Thomas, Monica Evans, Andy Devine, Carole Shelley, Pat Buttram, George Lindsey, and Ken Curtis

Robin Hood is a 1973 animated musical-comedy and fantasy-adventure film produced and directed by Wolfgang Reitherman.  It is also the twenty-first feature-length animated film from Walt Disney Productions, part of a line also known as the “Disney Classics.”  The film is based on the English folklore character, Robin Hood, and the stories that have grown around the character.  Disney's 1953 Robin Hood film depicts the legendary outlaw and the cast of characters around his legend as anthropomorphic animals (animals that talk and act like humans)

Robin Hood opens with the story's narrator, Alan-a-Dale – The Rooster (Roger Miller), saying that there are many stories of Robin Hood, but that the one he is about to tell takes place in the world of animals.  He introduces Robin Hood – A Fox (Brian Bedford) and Little John – A Brown Bear (Phil Harris).  They are outlaws and live in Sherwood Forest.  They rob from the rich in order to give gold coins to the overtaxed citizens of the town of Nottingham.

The Sheriff of Nottingham – A Wolf (Pat Buttram) tries to catch the two, but he fails every time.  The sheriff's failure to capture the outlaws irritates Prince John – A Lion (Peter Ustinov).  John is the “Prince Regent” of England while his older brother, King Richard – A Lion (Peter Ustinov), is out of the country fighting in the Third Crusade.  Prince John and his advisor, Sir Hiss – A Snake (Terry-Thomas), plot to end the nuisance of Robin Hood.  Prince John also demands that the Sheriff tax the poor townsfolk of Nottingham excessively, driving many to abject poverty.

Meanwhile, Robin's attention is not entirely focused on robbing the rich.  He wishes to reunite with his love interest, Maid Marian – A Vixen (Monica Evans), who is also the niece of King Richard.  And Prince John's latest plot to catch Robin Hood may just reunite Robin and Marian.  Can their love survive an increasingly enraged Prince John?

As “DVD Netflix” prepares to shutdown, I've been racing to catch up on certain films that I have never seen or have not seen in a long time.  I recently decided to sample some films in which 2023 is the fiftieth anniversary of their original theatrical releases.  That includes such films as Woody Allen's Sleeper, George Lucas' American Graffiti, and the Bruce Lee classic, Enter the Dragon.

Walt Disney's Robin Hood is one of those films celebrating a 50th anniversary, and it is one of the Disney animated classics that I had never seen prior to now.  I am a fan of Robin Hood films, especially the 1991 Kevin Costner vehicle, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  I also like Ridley Scott's 2010 film, Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe in the title role.  I found some enjoyment in Tom and Jerry: Robin Hood and His Merry Mouse, a 2012 direct-to-DVD film.  [Robin Hood makes a small appearance in director Richard Thorpe's “Best Picture” Oscar nominee, Ivanhoe (1952), which I have seen a few times on Turner Classic Movies.]

Disney's Robin Hood is an odd film.  First, it isn't an origin story, and takes place, apparently, well into Robin's career as an outlaw.  While Alan-o-Dale mentions “the Merry Men,” Robin's legendary band of outlaws, Little John is the only one that appears in this film.  Friar Tuck – A Badger (Andy Devine) does appear, but he seems to be purely the priest of Nottingham – more a beneficiary of Robin's outlaw activities than a participant.  For me, this makes the film seem under-developed, as if it we are getting half of the intended story.

Apparently, using the the American “Deep South” as a setting for this film was considered, but ultimately the chosen locale was Robin Hood's traditional English setting.  However, Roger Miller, who provides the talking and singing voice of Alan-o-Dale, is best known for his honky-tonk inflected country music and novelty songs, so much of Miller's performance here seems out of place.  Miller's Alan-o-Dale has the flavors of America's rural South, which somewhat clashes with the English setting.  Still, I tend to like Miller's narrating and singing in Robin Hood, although this film's best song is the Oscar-nominated “Love,” written by George Bruns and Floyd Huddleston.

To begin, Robin Hood feels muddled, and it really does not find its narrative flow until about 37 minutes into the film.  At that point, the characters really emerge as they take their places within the story.  The action turns lively, and the animation and animation effects start to stand out.  The voice performances overall are good, but not great – nothing that I would call memorable in the context of the great performances in other Disney animated classics.  Walt Disney's Robin Hood does not exactly miss the mark, but it does not hit the bullseye, either.

6 of 10
★★★ out of 4 stars

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

1974 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Music, Original Song” (George Bruns-music and Floyd Huddleston-lyrics for the song “Love”)

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.


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Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Review: "LAPUTA: CASTLE IN THE SKY" is in the Sky with Diamonds

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 41 of 2023 (No. 1930) by Leroy Douresseaux

Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986)
Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta – original Japanese title
Running time:  125 minutes (2 hours, 5 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Hayao Miyazaki
WRITER:  Hayao Miyazaki
PRODUCER:  Isao Takahata
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hirokata Takahashi
EDITORS:  Hayao Miyazaki, Yoshihiro Kasahara, and Takeshi Seyama
COMPOSER:  Joe Hisaishi


Starring:  (voices) Mayumi Tanaka, Keiko Yokozawa, Kotoe Hatsui, Minori Terada, Fujio Tokita, Ichiro Nagai, and Hiroshi Ito

Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a 1986 Japanese animated, action-adventure fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  Laputa is also the first film fully produced by the Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli.  In North America, the film is known simply as Castle in the Sky, the title by which I will refer to it in this review.  Castle in the Sky follows the adventures of a young boy and girl who must race against time, pirates, and foreign agents in a bid to find a legendary island that floats in the sky.

Castle in the Sky opens on an airship.  Aboard the aircraft is a young girl, Sheeta (Mayumi Tanaka), an orphan girl abducted by the government agent, Colonel Muska (Minori Terada).  The airship is attacked by Captain Dola (Kotoe Hatsui) and her gang, “the Dola Pirates” (all of whom are apparently her sons).  Dola is seeking Sheeta's necklace, which holds a small orb made of pure “etherium” crystal.  Attempting to escape, Sheeta falls from the airship, but is saved by the magic of etherium in the now-glowing crystal, which lowers her slowly to the ground.

On the ground, Sheeta is caught by a young boy, Pazu (Keiko Yokozawa).  Soon, Pazu is on a mission to protect Sheeta from both Dola and Muska.  Pazu and Sheeta's goal is to reach the mythical flying island, “Laputa,” which is connected to both children's past, but in different ways.  The mystery of Laputa is what exactly is it – a paradise, a treasure trove, or something dangerous.

I have previously reviewed the following Miyazaki-directed films:  The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), and The Wind Rises (2013).  As Netflix is shutting down its DVD-by-mail division, I am hoping to get to the Miyazaki films that I have not previously watched.  This is the first time I've watched Castle in the Sky.

For me, the most wonderful thing about Castle in the Sky is that it is steeped in Hayao Miyazaki's affinity for flight, a theme that dominates many of his films.  He fills this film with wonderful flying contraptions, such as the government's flying fortress, “Goliath,” and the Dola pirates' airship, “Tiger Moth.”  Even the robots of Laputa can become wonderful flying machines.  As with many of Miyazaki's films, Castle in the Sky is breathtaking, visually stunning, and mind-blowing, especially when the narrative takes to the air.

One of the film's most dominant themes is the innocence of children, as seen through the eyes of Pazu and Sheeta.  That shows in the two characters' resilience and determination in the face of constant turmoil and ceaseless obstacles.  Their relationship is the counterbalance to the film's darker elements, especially its focus on on humanity's relationship with nature and with technology.  Most of the film displays technology in harmony with nature, taking place in a fantasy version of the nineteenth century.  There is a “retro-future” aesthetic that finds a balance between mankind's technological creations and the natural world at large.  Castle in the Sky would go on to have a strong influence on the then emerging science fiction sub-genre known as “steampunk.”

I believe that if you, dear readers, have never seen a Miyazaki film, the first one you watch will validate the great things you may have heard about him.  When you see your second Miyazaki, you will certainly become a true believer.  Castle in the Sky is the kind of animated film that will make just about any movie fan a true believer in Hayao Miyazaki.  It is one of the greatest adventure films ever made, and one of the greatest animated films of all time.  Castle in the Sky mixes vivid imagination, eye-popping inventiveness, and stunning beauty in a way only the best animated films do.  Every frame of this film belongs on a wall in a museum.  If it were a Disney animated feature, Disney would call Laputa: Castle in the Sky an instant classic.  It certainly is a classic.

10 of 10

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

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Thursday, August 10, 2023

Review: "NAUSICAA IN THE VALLEY OF THE WIND" Soars to the Animation Heavens

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 36 of 2023 (No. 1925) by Leroy Douresseaux

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Kaze no Tani no Naushika – original Japanese title
Running time:  117 minutes (1 hour, 57 minutes)
MPAA – PG for violence
DIRECTOR:  Hayao Miyazaki
WRITER:  Hayao Miyazaki (based upon the manga by Hayao Miyazaki)
PRODUCER:  Isao Takahata
CINEMATOGRAPHERS: Yasuhiro Shimizu, Koji Shiragami, Yukitomo Shudo, and Mamoru Sugiura
EDITORS: Naoki Kaneko, Tomoko Kida, and Shoji Saka
COMPOSER:  Joe Hisaishi


Starring:  (voices) Sumi Shimamoto, Goro Naya, Ichiro Nagai, Hisako Kyoda, Yoji Matsuda, Yoshiko Sakakibara, Iemasa Kayumi, Kohei Miyauchi, Joji Yanami, Minoru Yada, Mina Tominaga, Mahito Tsujimura, and Rihoko Yoshida

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a 1984 Japanese animated, post-apocalyptic, fantasy film from director Hayao Miyazaki.  The film is based on Miyazaki's manga (Japanese comic), also titled Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which first began publication in 1982.  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind the movie focuses on a princess who is both warrior and pacifist and her desperate struggles to prevent two warring nations from destroying themselves and her homeland.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind opens one thousand years after the event known as “the Seven Days of Fire.”  It was an apocalyptic war that destroyed civilization and caused an ecological collapse, creating something called “the Sea of Decay.”  This is a poisonous forest of fungal life and plants that swarm with giant mutant insects, the largest and most dangerous being the the trilobite-like and armored “Ohm.”  The poison from the plants can kill humans, and every day, the Sea of Decay spreads, encroaching on what little open land remains.

Nausicaä (Sumi Shimamoto) is a teenage warrior and princess of the Valley of the Wind, a land that has remained, thus far, free of the Sea of Decay.  Riding the wind and sky in a powered glider, Nausicaä explores the jungles of the Sea of Decay and communicates with its creatures.  That is how she is reunited with the explorer and great swordsman, Lord Yupa Miralda (Goro Naya), who has returned to meet with Nausicaä's father, Jihl (Mahito Tsujimura), the King of the Valley of the Wind.

But tragedy strikes.  The Valley of the Wind is soon at the epicenter of two warring nations, the Kingdom of Tolmekia and PejitePrincess Kushana (Yoshiko Sakakibara) has led the Tolmekian Frontier Forces into the Valley.  Thus, Nausicaä must forge a relationship with Prince Asbel of Pejite (Yoji Matsuda), but there is something worse than two warring nations.  Destruction is headed towards the Valley of the Wind, and it will take all of Nausicaä's talents, skills, and tricks to save her home.

I have previously reviewed the following Miyazaki-directed films:  The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), and The Wind Rises (2013).  As Netflix is shutting down its DVD-by-mail division, I am hoping to get to the Miyazaki films that I have not previously watched.

Apparently, the work of the legendary French comic book creator, Jean “Moebius” Giraud (1938-2012), influenced Miyazaki in the creation of his manga, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.  The influence of Moebius remains with Miyazaki's film adaptation of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.  I also see the influence of the famed animation director, Ralph Bakshi, especially of his 1977 fantasy film, Wizards.  J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings novels (1954-55) are clearly influences, and Frank Herbert's famed science fiction novel, Dune (1965), is also an influence.  In fact, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind the film would arrive in theaters almost nine months before the first film adaption of Herbert's novel, director David Lynch's 1984 film, Dune.

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is a beautifully and practically designed film in the sense that the environments have both a sense of naturalism and realism to them while the insects are fantastical creations that seem more practical than impractical because they are based on real insects.  This makes the world of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind seem like a credible future world or at least genuine post-apocalyptic future.  Yes, Nausicaä's glider is impractical, but the animation gives it such beauty in motion that I believe in it and I believe in the way Nausicaä flies it.

The film's plot and subplots are strongly environmental and ecological and the conflict is a series of familiar tribal tropes.  However, what carries plot and narrative are the inventive and engaging characters.  Every players, regardless of the size of his or her role, is inviting and intriguing.  Yes, Nausicaä is a star born, a heroine out of fairy tale, folklore, and mythology who captures hearts and holds our imaginations captive.  Still, the denizens of the Valley and the feuding and conniving citizens of Tolmekia and Pejite are a delightful bunch, not good and evil, so much as they are selfish, but likable, each in his or her own way.  The legendary Yupa, like Nausicaä, stands as a typical heroic figure, although he stands behind Nausicaä.

A long time ago, I told a fellow Miyazaki fan that Spirited Away was my favorite of the director's films.  He insisted that I see Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.  Now, I'm not so sure which is my favorite.  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind is like no other animated feature film, and I certainly consider it one of the greatest that I have ever seen.

10 of 10

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.



Thursday, August 3, 2023

Review: "GRAVEYARD OF THE FIREFLIES" is as Powerful as Any Live-Action Wartime Film

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 35 of 2023 (No. 1924) by Leroy Douresseaux

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Hotaru no Haka – original Japanese title
Running time:  89 minutes (1 hour, 29 minutes)
MPAA – not rated
DIRECTOR:  Isao Takahata
WRITER:  Isao Takahata (based on the novel by Akiyuki Nosaka)
PRODUCER:  Toru Hara
EDITOR: Takeshi Seyama
COMPOSER:  Michio Mamiya


Starring:  (voices) Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Akemi Yamaguchi, and Yoshiko Shinohara

Hotaru no Haka or Grave of the Fireflies is a 1988 Japanese animated World War II drama and historical film directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Studio Ghibli.  The film is based on the 1967 short story, “Grave of the Fireflies,” by Akiyuki Nosaka.  This was the fourth animated film produced by Studio Ghibli and the first one directed by studio co-founder, Isao Takahata.  Grave of the Fireflies focuses on a young boy and his little sister as they struggle to survive in World War II Japan.

Grave of the Fireflies introduces a boy, Seita (Tsutomu Tatsumi), and his little sister, Setsuko (Ayano Shiraishi).  They find themselves on their own as a result of one of the American raids that was part of “the Bombing of Kobe” campaign during World War II.

One day, a group of American Boeing bombers firebombs Kobe.  Though Seita and Setsuko survive the bombing, their mother (Yoshiko Shinohara) is severely injured and later dies.  Seita conceals their mother's death from Setsuko in an attempt to keep her happy.  Seita does not know the status of their father who is an officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The children move in with an aunt (Akemi Yamaguchi), but although Seita tries to accommodate his aunt's demands, she becomes resentful of the children being in her home.

After leaving their aunt's house, Seita and Setsuko move into an abandoned bomb shelter located near a pond.  The place is swarming with fireflies, which delights Setsuko.  For a time, Seita and Setsuko are happy, but like the life of an adult firefly, the children's happiness is short-lived.

Previously, I have only reviewed two Studio Ghilbi films that were not directed by Hayao Miyazaki.  They are Tales from Earthsea (2006), which was directed by Miyazaki's son Gorō Miyazaki, and The Secret World of Arrietty (2010).  As Netflix is shutting down its DVD-by-mail division (in September 2023), I am hoping to get to more Studio Ghibli films that I have not previously watched.

I think Grave of the Fireflies has received much praise because it is not only a powerful war film, but it is also a truly unique war film.  Grave of the Fireflies is not an anti-war film, although it depicts the suffering that wartime can bring, mainly through Seita and Setsuko, but also via background characters.  The film is haunting and achingly sad, but at the same time, life goes on, even in wartime.  Seita and Setsuko make the best of life, a nearly inseparable pair enjoying life the best that they can.  The film portrays how Seita watches over Setsuko so that she can still live the life of a small girl, frockling, having adventures, and using her imagination.  Her smiles and happiness permeate this film even in its darker moments.  One might question the choices that Seita makes, but he did not make them out of concern of his own pride.  He made them so that his little sister could live in dignity.

Grave of the Fireflies proves that animated films can tackle the most achingly human conditions, including the heartbreaking experiences that afflicted many Japanese during World War II.  The animation's glorious colors might suggest a vivid pastoral fantasy, but the story is a depiction of the human pastoral.  Thematically, the film's fireflies can represent many things, from birth and decay to the flight of planes that attack Japan.  However, I usually thought of the spirits of children in flight when I saw a scene of fireflies gently moving upwards.

Grave of the Fireflies is a film that no fan of animated feature films should miss.  It has a timeless quality, and I found it hard to believe that this year (2023) is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the film's original Japanese theatrical release.  The story that it depicts may be from a long-gone time, but like Seita and Setsuko, the spirit of Grave of the Fireflies still stirs.

9 of 10
★★★★+ out of 4 stars

Thursday, August 3, 2023

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Thursday, July 27, 2023

Review: Miyazaki's "THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO" is Something Else Entirely

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 34 of 2023 (No. 1923) by Leroy Douresseaux

Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro – original Japanese title
Running time:  102 minutes
MPAA – not rated
DIRECTOR:  Hayao Miyazaki
WRITERS:  Hayao Miyazaki and Haruya Yamazaki (based upon the manga by Monkey Punch)
PRODUCER:  Tetsuo Katayama
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Hirokata Takahashi
EDITOR: Masatoshi Tsurubuchi
COMPOSER:  Yuji Ohno


Starring:  (English voices – Manga Entertainment dub) David Hayter, Bridget Hoffman, Kirk Thornton, Kevin Seymour, John Snyder, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Milton James, Michael Gregory, Barry Stigler, and Joe Romersa; (Japanese voices) Yasuo Yamada, Eiko Masuyama, Kiyoshi Kobayashi, Makio Inoue, Goro Naya, Sumi Shimamoto and Taro Ishida

Rupan Sansei: Kariosutoro no Shiro or Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro is a 1979 Japanese animated action-adventure and comic-fantasy animated from director Hayao Miyazaki.  An English-language dub of the film was first theatrically released in the U.S. in 1991 under the title, The Castle of Cagliostro, the title that I will use for this review.

The Castle of Cagliostro focuses on a master thief, Lupin III.  The film Lupin is based on the manga character, Lupin the Third, created by late manga artist, Kazuhiko Kato (1937-2019), who is best remembered by his pen name, Monkey Punch.  In the film, a dashing thief struggles to free a princess from an evil count who needs her in order to gain a mysterious treasure.

The Castle of Cagliostro opens in Monaco.  There, Master thief Lupin III (David Hayter) and his partner, Jigen (John Snyder), flee the National Casino with huge quantities of stolen money.  As they will soon learn, however, the stolen bills are actually distinctive, high-quality counterfeits known as “Goat bills.”  Lupin decides to seek out the source of this counterfeit money, the country known as the Duchy of Cagliostro.

Shortly after arriving, Lupin and Jigen see a young woman being chased by armed thugs.  It turns out that she is Lady Clarisse de Cagliostro (Bridget Hoffman), and she is running away from her fiancé, the Count de Cagliostro (Kirk Thornton), the regent of the Duchy of Cagliostro.  The Count has arranged a marriage with Lady Clarisse in order to cement his power. The marriage will also help him recover the fabled ancient treasure of Cagliostro, for which he needs both his and Clarisse's ancestral signet rings.

Lupin is determined to save Clarisse from this arranged marriage.  In addition to his partner Jigen, Lupin calls in the highly-skilled martial artist and swordsman, Goemon (Michael Gregory), and the rival professional thief, Fujiko (Dorothy Elias-Fahn).  Meanwhile, Inspector Zenigata of Interpol (Kevin Seymour) sees Lupin's activities in the Duchy of Cagliostro as a perfect opportunity to catch the thief he has been chasing for so long.  Can Lupin rescue Clarisse? Will Count Cagliostro destroy them both?  And just what is the treasure of Cagliostro?

I have previously reviewed the following Miyazaki-directed films:  My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Princess Monoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001), Howl's Moving Castle (2004), Ponyo (2008), and The Wind Rises (2013).  As Netflix is shutting down its DVD-by-mail division, I am hoping to get to the Miyazaki films that I have not previously watched.

I had heard of The Castle of Cagliostro in connection with Miyazaki, but I had put off seeing it.  I wish I'd seen it earlier, as it is a delightful and maniacal comedy.  The film is not without flaws, as it stretches credulity a bit far, even for a Japanese animated film.  Lupin is not just a master thief; he is also apparently a super-human thief with supernaturally good luck.

Still, I treasure The Castle of Cagliostro's loopiness because Miyazaki and his co-writer Haruya Yamazaki are imaginative when it comes to the comic and action-adventure possibilities of the twists and turns this quasi-mystery takes.  As both designer and storyboard artist, in addition to being director, Miyazaki is inventive in the way he stages the action as a series of chases and fights that are as defined by feats of aerial stunts and gymnastics as they are by martial arts and combat skills.

The characters are quite nice, especially gallant Lupin, who is apparently more ruthless in the original manga, and his partner, Jigen, the amiable, but quite skilled tough guy.  However, the star here is Miyazaki in his first feature-length film.  He makes the action unrestrained by gravity, natural law, or architecture.  Thus, the film is a rollicking adventure with a humorous tone that belies the threat of brutal violence and death that frequently pop up in the story.  I really like The Castle of Cagliostro, and I highly recommend it to fans of Hayao Miyazaki and to those searching for the great animated films.  I also plan on buying my own physical copy.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.


Sunday, April 16, 2023

Review: "PUSS IN BOOTS: The Last Wish" is a Delightful Surprise

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 17 of 2023 (No. 1906) by Leroy Douresseaux

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)
Running time:  102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPA – PG for action/violence, rude humor/language, and some scary moments
DIRECTOR:  Joel Crawford with Januel Mercado
WRITERS:  Paul Fisher and Tommy Swerdlow; from a story by Tom Wheeler and Tommy Swerdlow
PRODUCER:  Mark Swift
EDITOR:  James Ryan
COMPOSER:  Heitor Pereira
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  (voices) Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Olivia Coleman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo, John Mulaney, Wagner Moura, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Kevin McCann, Anthony Mendez, and Bernardo De Paula

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a 2022 computer-animated fantasy-adventure film directed by Joel Crawford and produced by DreamWorks Animation.  The film is a sequel to Puss in Boots (2011) and is also the sixth installment in the Shrek film franchise.  The Last Wish focuses on Puss in Boots' epic journey to gain the wish that will restore the eight of his nine lives that he has lost.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish opens in the town of Del Mar.  There, the renowned hero and outlaw, Puss in Boots (Antionio Banderas), hosts a party and later, saves the town from a giant.  After being injured during his battle with a giant, Puss sees a local doctor (Anthony Mendez) who informs him that he has used eight of his nine lives.  [I'm assuming that you, dear readers, are familiar with the superstitious belief that cats have nine lives].  The doctor urges Puss to retire from adventuring before he loses his ninth and final life.

Puss refuses to retire, but then, he has an unfortunate encounter with a menacing, bounty-hunting.  Known as Wolf (Wagner Moura), he is garbed in a black robe and hood and wields twin sickles, and he is so fearsome that Puss has to flee.  While on the run, Puss learns of the magical “Wishing Star,” which can grant a single wish to someone bearing the map to its location.  Puss begins his journey to the Star's location, the “Dark Forest.”  Joining him on his journey is Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), the savvy Tuxedo cat he apparently betrayed, and also a small dog that Puss and Kitty call “Perrito” (Harvey Guillén).  But they aren't the only ones looking for the Wishing Star.

I was happy to hear about Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.  When I first saw the original, Puss in Boots, I was surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is like its fellow DreamWorks Animation 2022 stablemate, The Bad Guys.  Both films take inspiration for their production design from Sony Pictures Animation's 2018, Oscar-winning film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which mixes both a 3D and a 2D aesthetic in its design.  I think The Last Wish looks closer to Into the Spider-Verse than The Bad Guys does, but neither film electrifies the screen the way the Spider-Man film did.  

Like its predecessor, The Last Wish has a lead character who is part Zorro and part Valentino.  Puss in Boots is a charming rogue, the kind of character that can drive a swashbuckling adventure film to success.  However, The Last Wish requires a character to not only undergo a character arc, but also to evolve.  To that end, Antonio Banderas gives a performance with more humor and pathos than most actors give in live-action roles.  By the time The Last Wish ends, Banderas has me wishing real hard for a third film in this series.

As Kitty Softpaws, Salma Hayek makes the most of her moments.  The character doesn't get the space to roam dramatically that Puss does, but Hayek makes Kitty seem like a character that could carry her own movie.  Actor Harvey Guillén keeps Perrito the dog perfectly cute for this film, because he is just the kind of character that can quickly go from lovable to annoying.

The rest of the characters in Puss in Boots: The Last Wish come across as extraneous.  The “Three Bears Crime Family,” which includes Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), Mama Bear (Olivia Colman), Papa Bear (Ray Winstone), and Baby Bear (Samson Kayo), and also the crime lord, “Big” Jack Horner (John Mulaney), don't feel so important to the story that they could not be replaced with other famous fairy tale characters.  They aren't bad characters, but they seem to exist in The Last Wish for no other reason than to be part of this film's big action set pieces.  But Wagner Moura is awesome as the magnificent “Wolf.”  The film could have used more of him and less of the other “criminals.”

Still, Antonio Banderas once again makes Puss in Boots an animated character worthy of headlining his own films.  Hopefully, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is not the last Puss in Boots film.

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Sunday, April 16, 2023

2023 Academy Awards, USA:  1nomination: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Joel Crawford and Mark Swift)

2023 BAFTA Awards:  1 nomination: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Joel Crawford and Mark Swift)

2023 Golden Globes, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Motion Picture – Animated”

2023 Image Awards (NAACP):  1 nomination: “Outstanding Animated Motion Picture”

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Saturday, April 1, 2023

Review: "THE BAD GUYS" is A.C.E. (Average, Cute & Entertaining)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 16 of 2023 (No. 1905) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Bad Guys (2022)
Running time:  100 minutes (1 hour, 40 minutes)
MPAA – PG for action and rude humor
DIRECTOR:  Pierre Perifel
WRITERS:  Etan Cohen (based on the books by Aaron Blabey)
PRODUCERS:  Rebecca Huntley and Damon Ross
EDITOR:  John Venzon
COMPOSER:  Daniel Pemberton


Starring:  (voices):  Sam Rockwell, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Richard Ayoade, Zazie Beetz, Alex Borstein, and Lilly Singh

The Bad Guys is a 2022 computer-animated crime comedy and adventure fantasy film directed by Pierre Perifel and produced by DreamWorks Animation.  The film is loosely based on the children's book series, The Bad Guys, by Aaron Blabey.  The Bad Guys the movie focuses on a gang of notorious animal criminals pretending to want to be rehabilitated until circumstances force them to really attempt to do something good.

The Bad Guys is set in a world in which humans co-exist with anthropomorphic animals (animals that talk and act like humans).  The film introduces “The Bad Guys,” a gang of five infamous criminal animals known for their numerous thefts and their uncanny ability to evade authorities.  The Bad Guys are Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), a cool and slick pickpocket who is the team's leader; Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), a safe-cracking snake who is Wolf's second-in-command and best friend; Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina), a sarcastic hacker also known as “Webs;” Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), a sensitive and child-like master of disguise; and Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), the sharp-tongued tough guy and muscle of the group.

Their latest target is the “Golden Dolphin,” a trophy to be handed out at the “Annual Good Samaritan Awards” being held at the Museum of Fine Arts.  The Golden Dolphin will be awarded to Professor Rupert Marmalade IV, a wealthy guinea pig philanthropist whose generosity is almost as good as that of Mother Teresa.  The event will also be attended by Governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz) and Police Chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein), a husky female law enforcement who is determined to nab the Bad Guys.

When the Bad Guys are nabbed, Mr. Wolf accepts an offer from Professor Marmalade, with Gov. Foxington's approval, to reform and rehabilitate the Bad Guys.  There are problems with that.  Mr. Snake is reluctant to be reformed.  Not everyone is truthful about their roles in this plan or honest about their identity.  But a part of Mr. Wolf secretly really wants to change his ways.

I created a new acronym for big studio, computer-animated (or CG animated) feature films aimed at the family audience.  It is “A.C.E.,” which means “Average, Cute & Entertaining.”  According to an April 2022 feature in the Los Angeles Times about The Bad Guys, the film's design is inspired by Sony Pictures Animation's 2018, Oscar-winning film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which mixed both a 3D and a 2D aesthetic in its design.  Honestly, I can't tell that just by watching the film.  I can tell that The Bad Guys also mixes 2D and 3D graphics and design elements, but The Bad Guys' animation lacks the spark of the highly-acclaimed Spider-Man film.

The characters are mildly amusing and interesting, but they seem more like types than actual characters.  The only character that I really liked is a kitten that is not anthropomorphic and does not talk.  Just as Disney/Pixar's Lightyear was uplifted by the robotic cat, “Sox,” The Bad Guys receive a jolt when this unnamed kitten appears.

Even the voice acting in The Bad Guys seems only kind of inspired.  Sam Rockwell is too cool for his character, Mr. Wolf's own good.  I can't believe that Zazie Beetz provides the voice for Governor Foxington because this distinctive performer sounds like a generic female voice performer.

So there it is.  The Bad Guys is average entertainment, but cute average entertainment.  There is a good chance that young audiences will adore it, but I kinda wish I hadn't bothered with it – except I would have missed the adorable kitty.

5 of 10
★★½ out of 4 stars

Friday, March 31, 2023

2023 Black Reel Awards:  1 nomination: “Outstanding Voice Performance” (Zazie Beetz)

The text is copyright © 2023 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for reprint and syndication rights and fees.



Saturday, March 11, 2023

Review: Disney's "ENCANTO" Spins Its Own Special Magic

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 12 of 2023 (No. 1901) by Leroy Douresseaux

Encanto (2021)
Running time:  102 minutes (1 hour, 42 minutes)
MPAA – PG for some thematic elements and mild peril
DIRECTORS:  Jared Bush and Byron Howard with Charise Castro Smith (co-director)
WRITERS:  Jared Bush and Charise Castro Smith; from a story by Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith, Jason Hand, Nancy Kruse, and Lin-Manuel Miranda
PRODUCERS:  Clark Spencer and Yvett Merino
CINEMATOGRAPHERS:  Alessandro Jacomini, Daniel Rice, and Nathan Warner
EDITOR:  Jeremy Milton
ORIGINAL SONGS:  Lin-Manuel Miranda
COMPOSER:  Germaine Franco


Starring:  (voices) Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Mauro Castillo, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Carolina Gaitan, Diane Guerrero, Wilmer Valderrama, Rhenzy Feliz, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Adassa, Maluma, Rose Portillo, Alan Tudyk, and Noemi Josefina Flores

Encanto is a 2021 computer-animated fantasy film from directors Jared Bush and Byron Howard and produced Walt Disney Animation Studios.  It is the 60th animated feature film in the “Walt Disney Animated Classics” line.  Encanto focuses on a teenage girl who must deal with being the only member of her family without magical powers even as the family's magic begins to fade.

Encanto introduces Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz), a teen girl who is part of the multi-generational "la familia Madrigal" (the Madrigal family).  Fifty years ago, her grandfather and grandmother, Pedro and Alma Madrigal (Maria Cecilia Botero), were forced to flee their home village in rural Columbia.  They took their infant triplets, Julieta, Pepa and Bruno, and escaped into the countryside, but their pursuers killed Pedro, but Alma had a candle that suddenly released magic and repelled the attackers.  The magic also created, “Casita,” a living or sentient house for Alma and her children.  The home is located in “Encanto,” a magical realm bordered by high mountains.  A village of newcomers now thrives under the candle's protection, shining its light from an upper room in the Madrigal home, “La Casa Madrigal.”

But all is not well.  The children and grandchildren of Abuela Alma were all granted magical gifts that each one uses to serve the villagers.  For instance, Mirabel's oldest sister, Isabela (Diane Guerrero), can make flowers grow anywhere, and her second oldest sister, Luisa (Jessica Darrow), has superhuman strength.  However, Mirabel did not receive any powers from the candle, and her Abuela Alma seems to act as if Mirabel is an obstacle in the way of the rest of the family.  Mirabel is almost as cursed as her mysterious uncle, Bruno (John Leguizamo), who disappeared years ago.  When Mirabel learns that her family members are losing their magic, she is determined to find out what is happening, although everyone else is in a state a denial about it.

I won't waste too much time telling you, dear readers, how beautiful Encanto looks.  That is standard for animated films produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios.  The art direction yields beautiful sets and environments, and the costume designs results in colorful costumes that are dazzling, colorful, and imaginative.  The visual effects go off like fireworks, and it makes the magic seem … well, really magical.  Even the character design stands out, making Encanto one of the few mainstream American films set in Latin American or are Latino-themed that actually recognize that there are dark-skinned and black Latinos.  Not every Latino has light skin tones, light enough to front as white.

Encanto plays with notions of “magical realism,” a story that is realistic, but is infused with magic and the supernatural.  However, the world of Encanto barely looks realistic, as many animation films don't.  In fact, Encanto is one of the most magically-infused Disney films in years.

However, Encanto is like many Disney animated films – a coming of age film that focuses on the lead character, in this case, Mirabel.  The film's first dominant theme involves the struggle between tradition and change, the former embodied by Alma, who holds onto Madrigals' tradition of magic, and the latter by Mirabel, who clearly and correctly senses that something is wrong.  The second main theme is the conflict between family obligations and individual desires.  I think audiences will enjoy that, through Mirabel, Encanto shows that the family and the individual can work together for the benefit of everyone and each one.

Lin-Manuel Miranda's lively song score makes Encanto's narrative flow like an energetic stream, and the hit, “We Don't Talk About Bruno,” isn't the only excellent song.  Encanto stands out because it celebrates people overcoming suffering and life's trials and tribulations.  Also, one should take notice of the film's diversity and representation.  That makes Encanto stand out as special and as a place worth visiting time and again.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Thursday, March 9, 2023

2022 Academy Awards, USA:  1 win: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Yvett Merino, and Clark Spencer); 2 nominations: “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Score” (Germaine Franco) and “Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures-Original Song” (Lin-Manuel Miranda-music and lyric for the song “Dos Oruguitas”)

2022 BAFTA Awards:  1 win: “Best Animated Feature Film” (Clark Spencer, Jared Bush, Byron Howard, and Yvett Merino)

2022 Golden Globes, USA:  1 win: “Best Motion Picture – Animated;” 2 nominations: “Best Original Score-Motion Picture” (Germaine Franco) and “Best Original Song - Motion Picture” (Lin-Manuel Miranda for the song “Dos Oruguitas”)

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