Tag Archives: brave

Frozen (2013)

frozen

I was born and grew up in the 1990s, which means that I was a child during the time period when Disney produced its most successful animated musicals, often referred to as the “Disney Renaissance” and featuring such renowned films as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast (my review), Aladdin, and The Lion King. While Disney has released a few more animated musicals over the years, the quality has generally not been up to the same standards as those set in the 1990s (though I’m certainly partial to their 2010 offering, Tangled – my review), but with Frozen they finally hark back to those animated films that I grew up with, making it quite an enjoyable experience.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of The Snow QueenFrozen tells the tale of Elsa, princess of Arendelle, and her younger sister Anna. Elsa was born with the power to control and create snow and ice, and an accident as children almost kills Anna. To protect Elsa and others from her powers, their parents (the king and queen) consult with magical trolls who remove Anna’s memories of Elsa’s powers and subsequently lock themselves away in their castle, with Elsa distancing herself from Anna to protect her. The king and queen are killed ten years later in a storm at sea, and, three years after, the now-21-year-old Elsa (Idina Menzel) must attend the coronation that will make her queen. When things go wrong and her powers are revealed to the kingdom and to Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa flees Arendelle, leaving it trapped in an eternal winter…in the middle of the summer. Anna seeks Elsa out to get her to thaw out the kingdom, meeting friends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer pal Sven, and a talking snowman named Olaf (Josh Gad).

The voice cast in this film is excellent across the board. Idina Menzel brings out the conflicted nature of Elsa nicely, and, as expected, her singing voice (especially in the track “Let It Go”) is outstanding. Kristen Bell also provides an admirable performance as Anna, bringing quite a bit of variety to the character both in terms of quirkiness and seriousness, and her singing voice also sounds great…I didn’t even know Kristen Bell could sing! A different kind of performance comes from Josh Gad as Olaf the snowman; though the trailers made the character seem goofy in a bad way, I really enjoyed his presence in the film, and most of his lines left me laughing. I liked Jonathan Groff’s Kristoff and his relationship with his friend Sven the reindeer as well.

(mild spoilers)

The film explores a few mature themes, which I really appreciated. The main one was the idea of too much control/containment leading to just the opposite, as evidenced by Elsa’s departure from Arendelle and solo “Let It Go,” in which she talks about letting loose and seeing what she’s capable of, a luxury not afforded to her while she kept her powers secret from the world. In that song as well, it’s suggested that her “kingdom of isolation” (of which “[she’s] the queen”) allows her to drop the good girl act that has been forced on her for so long, toying with the idea of her having a bit of evil in her, which actually begins to show just a bit in the film. It’s deep stuff! Another powerful theme is the idea of love, but, in what is sure to be a rarity in Disney films, love that is not necessarily of the romantic variety. No, the focus here is love between family, or, more specifically, between siblings, and its this love that is the focus during the climax of the film. It’s a twist on the usual Disney formula, though there’s certainly a bit of romantic love to be seen as well.

I did have just a couple of issues with this film, the first being with the character of The Duke of Weselton, voiced by Alan Tudyk. We know that his ultimate goal is to exploit the kingdom for profit – he tells us so with his very first line – but that idea is dropped as soon as Elsa’s powers are revealed, at which point his concern becomes to kill Elsa and…do what, exactly? Anna would be successor to the throne, and, if she were to die as well, she has placed Hans, a prince of a neighboring kingdom who Anna falls in love with upon their first meeting, in charge of the kingdom in her absence. So the Duke’s plans of exploitation as stated – again, LITERALLY in his first line – seem to simply be stated for the sake of making him an immediate antagonist. Sure, you could argue that it keeps focus on him in order to set up the twist that comes towards the end of the film, which, yes, sure, I agree with, but I don’t think that having him be an antagonist for the sake of having an obvious antagonist is the best solution. My one other complaint would be that every action by every character seems to be an overreaction, from the removal of Anna’s memories, to the royal family completely locking themselves away from the rest of the kingdom, to Elsa’s leaving the kingdom upon the reveal of her powers, among others. In all of these circumstances, I think that there might have been less severe paths to be taken to combat the situation rather than make everything a HUGE deal like they did.

(end spoilers)

But both of these complaints are altogether really minor when you look at the film as a whole. Frozen accomplishes what it set out to do, which is to provide good, clean family entertainment, and it even manages to ask some good questions and explore familial love better than Disney/Pixar’s 2012 film Brave did (my review). The voice cast is great, the animation is beautiful, and you might even walk out of the theater with some good music stuck in your head.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for some action and mild rude humor

P.S. – I should briefly mention the animated short that appears before the film, titled Get a Horse. It starts off as a sort of flashback to simpler times, with it first appearing to be a black-and-white cartoon in the style of older Disney cartoons, such as 1928 Mickey Mouse short Steamboat Willie, before incorporating today’s more standard 3D, colorful animation as well, providing a fun back-and-forth between the two animation styles. It’s a fun short film despite a couple of awkward moments (Clarabelle Cow is…strange, to say the least). Not as great as other Disney shorts, but it’s still pretty enjoyable, especially the juxtaposition of the two polar opposites of animation.

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Monsters University (2013)

monsters university

If I saw Disney/Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. in theaters when it first came out back in 2001, I don’t remember it. To make up for it, I made sure to catch a showing when it was re-released in theaters in 3D back in December 2012…and it was fantastic. Oh, sure, I had seen it dozens of times at home on the DVD player, but nothing beats seeing a film on the big screen. The magic of the world that Pixar created is incredible; the colors are bright, the characters are lovable, and the story is both entertaining and valuable. That’s what I wanted to walk away with when seeing Monsters University on the big screen, and I’m happy to say that I did.

Monsters University opens with first-grader Michael Wazowski’s (voiced by Noah Johnston) class field trip to Monsters, Inc., where an encounter with scarer Frank McCay (John Krasinski) convinces Mike then and there that he wants to be a scarer too. He studies and works hard until he finally arrives at Monsters University, where he (now voiced by Billy Crystal) plans to study to be a top scarer. We are re-introduced to younger versions of familiar characters, such as the nerdy Randy Boggs (Steve Buscemi), Mike’s new roomate, and, of course, Jimmy Sullivan (John Goodman), who comes to class thinking that he can coast through on the reputation of his well-known scaring family. Mike and Sulley begin to compete with each other, both trying to prove to Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren) that they have what it takes to be top scarers. Along the way, they make new friends, including Don Carlton (Joel Murray), Terri and Terry Perry (Sean Hayes and Dave Foley, respectively), Squishy Squibbles (Peter Sohn), and Art (Charlie Day).

Watching this film brings me right back to my childhood in the best way possible. The world is familiar, the characters are familiar, and the overall feel of the movie is like stepping into a pair of comfortable shoes. The movie manages to make plenty of references and homages to the original film without being a slave to it; it stands alone excellently, but it also adds to the world of Monsters, Inc. without forcing it. The voice actors are great, especially Crystal and Goodman, of course. Their comedic timing is perfect, and they bring laughs to the table just as skillfully as they did twelve years ago. The relationship between these two characters builds appropriately, with the twist of them being “enemies” rather than best buds adding a lot to their characterization. Helen Mirren plays a memorable Dean Hardscrabble, a record-breaking former scarer (perhaps the record that Mike and Sulley are trying to beat in the future?) who now uses her tactics to intimidate her students.

One of the aspects of the film that I thought was particularly done well was the idea of college life, something that, as a current college student, I can relate to. From the awkward interactions of the upperclassmen with the freshmen on move-in day, to the extreme measures taken to be prepared for an exam (i.e. excess coffee), to the social stigmas attached to being a member of certain on-campus organizations, to the pressures of adult expectations, everything feels like a reflection of life at a human university. Sure, certain aspects are exaggerated, sometimes even extremely so, but the atmosphere is close enough to be familiar.

Another part of college that is represented well is the need to take chances, something that Mike does quite a bit; he breaks rules, he stands up to authority, and he throws himself head first into a field of study where he has a natural disadvantage. But taking chances is important in life, no matter what the result, and Mike’s willingness to do that in this movie shows his strength as a character. Pixar also took a chance in making this film in the first place; it’s their first prequel, and it arrived after two less-than-stellar Pixar films (Cars 2 and Brave; my review). But, like Mike, their leap of faith seems to have paid off. It’s certainly not a perfect film (though the amazing commitment to lame jokes is admirable – the late-for-class slug in the film is painful), but Monsters University does a great job of both honoring its predecessor and bringing charm and heart back to Pixar films, something that has been sorely missed since Toy Story 3.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: G

P.S. – The Pixar short shown before the film, titled The Blue Umbrella, is maybe the first Pixar short that I just didn’t like. While I enjoyed the interactions and facial expressions of the random inanimate objects in the environment, the umbrellas as the main characters just felt strange. The story of the short itself is also familiar, but not in a good way…it’s just a lame rehash of the awesome Disney Animated Short Paperman, attached to last year’s Wreck-It Ralph (my review), which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Where Paperman is touching and sweet, The Blue Umbrella is stiff and bland. Thankfully, the movie following the short was great!

P.P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Randy Newman, here!


The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)

From the people who made Wallace & Gromit and Chicken RunThe Pirates! Band of Misfits is one of the five animated films nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year’s Academy Awards.

This film tells the story of Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant), the leader of a group of the strangest “pirates” you’ll ever see. He yearns to be named “Pirate of the Year” in the annual awards ceremony, but he just doesn’t quite measure up to the other booty-gathering pirates he competes against. Setting sail with his crew and his trusted bird Polly, Pirate Captain attempts to plunder ships for gold with no luck, succeeding only in capturing Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Darwin, recognizing that Polly is in fact the last living dodo, convinces Pirate Captain to travel to England, where a science competition will bring him the treasure he needs to win the Pirate of the Year award.

Pirates is filled with references to modern-day items or situations, such as the idea of reversing a boat into a dock like a car, Pirate Captain sipping out of a “World’s Best Captain” mug, or even the cannonballs being treated like a classic arcade skee-ball game. There is even a scene that involves elevator music and references to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (or the film that borrowed it from that, The Shining) with “Heeeeeere’s Polly!” In fact, it’s the humor found in this film that makes it so much fun; the only moral message that I can derive is that you don’t need to be adored by everyone when you have the love of your friends, an idea that isn’t even hugely stressed.

There isn’t much else to say about this movie. It’s funny, it’s enjoyable, the incredibly unorthodox Pirate Captain and his crew are incredibly amusing, and it simply tells a good story, with entertaining twists on historical figures such as Charles Darwin (who is called “Chuck” once or twice and has a pet chimpanzee wearing a tuxedo) and Queen Victoria (voiced by Imelda Staunton; called “Vicky” by Pirate Captain). None of the humor feels forced or uninspired, which is refreshing among so many of the so-called “comedy” films released nowadays. I don’t think it’ll win Best Animated Feature, but The Pirates! Band of Misfits is certainly better than Disney/Pixar’s Brave was (read my review here), making it one of the top four animated films of 2012.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for mild action, rude humor and some language


Brave (2012)

I’ll say this now: lots of this review is going to be negative, but be patient…I did enjoy this movie and will give it a not-terrible rating. I just have lots of things to say about it.

I don’t know whether to praise or criticize the people who were in charge of promoting Brave. For a year, we were shown various trailers and posters that were vague about the plot of the movie, and, for a while, the film looked very uninteresting. As in, I had absolutely no desire to see it. However, a couple of months before its release, we were finally treated to a trailer that made me a tad bit excited, resulting in me attending the midnight showing.

None of the trailers or promotional material (that I saw) gave any indication as to what the movie actually turned out to be. A good thing, usually. Judging from trailers, I thought that I would be watching this girl with a bow and arrow shoot stuff all the time and gain her freedom. The trailers were completely misleading, though; as it turned out, the bow and arrow had very little to do with the plot of the film. At first, I felt a little bit cheated…this wasn’t what I paid to see! But, as I said, I did enjoy it, though it was much different than I expected it to be.

My biggest complaint of this film is the title. Just about the only relevance that it has to the plot is a line spoken by Merida merely seconds before the end credits flash. What did she do that was brave? She didn’t take charge of her own life, she didn’t stand up against anyone (she argued with her mother, but I wouldn’t call that brave), and the main plot resulted from her running away from the castle in anguish…in other words, not brave at all. I feel like “Fate” would have been a much better title. I don’t want to give away any plot details here, but trust me: “Fate” would have been a better title.

Brave also featured several things that were very – how should I say it? – un-Disney. Bare rear ends and ample cleavage are both displayed prominently, and there’s even a moment when a toddler dives into said cleavage…very, very un-Disney.

But still, the plot, while not the one the trailers seemed to promise, was sweet, and there were lots of great moments throughout that encouraged laughter, provoked thought, and asked us to make amends with our loved ones rather than do something drastic. Brave does have its moments where it seems to rush or it gets all too predictable, but the spectacular animation, the fitting score by Patrick Doyle, and the enjoyable story make it worth the watch. Also, the animated short attached to the film, La Luna, is fantastic. I highly recommend this film to mothers and daughters especially, though boys will find things to enjoy as well.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG – for some scary action and rude humor

Note: I normally have no qualms with 3D films, but this film is often dark, meaning that the 3D glasses make it even darker and more difficult to see…a painful strain on the eyes. Unfortunately, both the second and third screenings I saw were presented in 3D (2D wasn’t available on the Disney cruise ship); I’m glad that I first saw it in 2D.