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poster_zootopiaComplex isn’t exactly a word I use to describe a lot of Disney movies. However, this one was. It was dark, intense, humorous and complex. Complex how? The Theme of all things.

Usually, from Disney movies, the theme doesn’t go much past “Good will always conquer evil” or “Honesty is always the best policy.” With this latest romp from Walt’s legacy, the theme is layered in things like “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “A cylinder peg fits better in a square hole than a square peg in a circular hole,” “Sometimes you have to do what’s morally wrong for the salvation of the greater good,” “Miseducation and lack of exposure can lead to harmful stereotypes,” and so on.

Zootopia had a lot to say…politically. What?!

Especially during an election year when stereotyping, racial or not, is used as a political debate issue and topical means of mudslinging, this move from Disney comes at a relevant time. However, this movie is far more engaging and entertaining than any of the bullshit political rhetoric one would find in at least MY Facebook feed.

For me, Zootopia is a mystery. A newbie cop attempting to prove him or herself with a big break in a lead-less case. That part of the storyline we have seen versions of before. But as Officer Judy Hopps, a bunny voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin (He’s Just Not That Into You), and hustler Nick Wilde, a fox voiced by Jason Bateman (The Gift), stumble across a couple hot leads on a missing person case, the political unravel of the mystery becomes more interesting as the movie progresses. It the mystery itself which supercedes anything about the film which I would normally call “done before,” even by Disney’s own library.

After the greatness of the mystery in the story, the message is second best about this movie. I think socially it was interesting to see the lands of Zootopia had evolved from predator and prey into a peaceful society which observed tolerance. But of course, under the surface, some predator characters are seen abusing prey characters, while a handful of prey characters are seen bullying defenseless prey characters. Tolerance was not exactly a social foundation, and some lingering stereotypes of both predator and prey lingered and created social tension.

When finally a situation comes up where the general population’s fear is at a pinnacle and ONE person in a position of leadership blames the situation on a stereotype, substantiated or not, it turns the “tolerance” of the social dynamic on its ear. This is essentially what this movie is about.

Outside of the best aspects of the movie, the vocal performances enhanced everything as they should. My favorite was J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) as the Lion mayor of Zootopia. He just has that mayoral voice, and I almost wish HE would run for president. Idris Elba (Pacific Rim) as police chief Bogo was also very effective.

The action sequences are high quality and not wasteful of adding beats to the pacing or the story. Overall it was high quality filmmaking and I see this getting nominated for an Academy Award for best full length animated film IF its remembered that long.

If your kids is asking to see Disney’s Zootopia, they may find it a little scary. My two girls said it was scary but they enjoyed it and asked for me to buy it when it is on DVD. My son snuggled up close to me for the intense parts, but he didn’t feel it was all that “scary.” It also kept his interest from start to finish and he is three years old.

Also, if you DO end up taking your child to see it, you should enjoy it like I did and find it equally interesting on a political level. If you’re tired of all the political crap in YOUR Facebook feed, maybe you save seeing Zootopia until AFTER this coming presidential election.

For an additional take on this feature, read the review from my movie corner co-hort Brian G. Felts.

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poster_kungfupanda3Short. Sweet. The kids seem to like it. Good villain. Couple subplots that weren’t nearly as strong as the main plot, and that’s what we have with this latest installment of Kung Fu Panda.

Kung Fu Panda 3 follows Po once again, once again voiced by Jack Black (Nacho Libre), as a spirit warrior named Kai, voiced by Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons (Whiplash), out for vengeance against anything trained by the late master Oogway hunts down the Dragon Warrior defeating all Kung Fu masters along his path and stealing their Chi, using their spirits to amass a huge jade army.

Meanwhile, Po learns the key to the mastering of Chi is supposedly contained in a secret panda village where his biological father resides, must to the dismay of his adopted father. Soon, having adventured to the village, Po learns Kai is hunting him down there and the dragon warrior must train the other pandas in the ways of Kung Fu in hopes of defending the village and defeating his first supernatural opponent.

I’ll start with the weaknesses; the subplots. I know it’s a family movie and most of the plot points are supposed to stay at kid level so they don’t get lost, but the subplots here were shallow and predictable, especially the father-father subplot. It would have been a much stronger subplot if Po’s adopted father had been the one to selfishly disappoint Po instead of his biological father Li, voiced by Bryan Cranston (Trumbo). It was very obvious Li was lying to Po to get him back to the village so when it came out in the story, it was a severe Meh moment.

The other subplot which seemed to start as something but went no where was the interest of Yoo, the ribbon dancing female panda with eyes for Po. Seriously, went no where after her introductory scene. It almost as if Angelina Jolie-Pitt, who voiced Tigress once again, said she would only come back for a third movie if they created a decent character for her kid, Pax Jolie-Pitt, and BOOM, Yoo is born….but goes no where.

The best part of this film for me was the new villain, Kai. My kids said he was scary. I thought it was his confidence and his “finishing move” that made him intense and unique. His backstory, being a former fighting comrade of master Oogway (he was the old turtle guy who named Po dragon warrior in the first place and who passed in the first Kung Fu panda movie), was well written and presented. I enjoyed watching him and learning about him and really believed Po had no chance of defeating him, which means the filmmakers “sold” him to the audience well.

I also loved Simmons as a casting decision for Kai’s voice. Scenes where Kai was yelling made me flashback to the actor’s work in Whiplash and gave me a small chill. In other scenes, Kai was cold and confident, providing a different kind of chill.

I also thought the key new characters from the panda village were also well done and heightened the film overall. The story’s solution to training them for defense against the jade army was established well given Po’s backstory of training in the first movie. It was a nice way to subtly tie to the two installments together.

Story wise, it was also nice to see Po reach true dragon master level finally after bumbling his way through greatness by necessity in the prior two films. Adding Chi to his bag of tricks and adding the epic battle between he and Kai in the spirit world was a nice touch.

There was a couple things I didn’t think we’re clear however. How did all the pandas, Tigress and Po’s father actually achieve a level of Chi which would save Po in another realm? Strength in numbers? That’s all I could come up with but it wasn’t addressed really. It just happened because the story required it.

The second thing that bugged me was how did Kai actually managed to come back from the spirit realm. How did he manage that after all those years? Why then? Maybe the reason was explained during the six minutes I took my twins to the potty but I believe it was a small fault in the writing.

In closing, I really enjoyed it. I liked Kung Fu Panda 2 a bit more than the first and I would say this third movie comes in a very close second in overall awesomeness, as Po would say. If you have kids, this one is worth taking them to see it; however, you may have to explain to them the scenes where Kai takes opponents’ Chi. It is actually pretty intense for some young viewers.

My 3-year-old twins have seen the Avengers movies, and the more intense scenes didn’t seem to phase them. Let that be a rule of thumb for you.

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poster_megamindThis was a cute animated movie that didn’t seem to me to appeal to kids. I have three kids aging 5 to almost 3 (my twins). The oldest child stayed interested in this feature, while it didn’t hold the attention of the younger twins.

I mostly think it’s because the story didn’t have enough to appeal to children. The plot included a TON of adult themes and I think it may have gone over at least my kids’ collective head.

Megamind is the story of an antihero sent from a distant planet at the same time a young superhero, much like Superman, is sent to Earth as well; one falls into fortune and becomes Metro Man, voiced by Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith), while the other falls into misfortune and becomes super villain Megamind, voiced by Will Farrell (Stranger Than Fiction). Years later, Megamind finally manages to destroy Metro Man and without his longtime adversary, the evil-doer gets bored and figures out a way to infuse Metro Man’s powers into an average citizen in an attempt to get the fight back in his life.

The subplot of the movie becomes the main plot with this Dreamworks animated attempt. Megamind falls for the tv journalist damsel and disguises himself as a museum curator to get her to return his affection. So basically, Megamind is simply trying to live a portion of his life like everyone else; meet a girl, fall in love, have someone love him for him.

Is this a theme for kids? No. It’s a nice sentiment to learn at any age, but is it material that appeals to toddlers and young children? No. It’s a theme which appeals to adults since only adults can identify with this situation.

Another adult theme is (SPOILER ALERT–even though the film has been out for six years and if you were going to see it you probably already have) Metro Man faking his own death so he can get “out of the game.” His desire to find something more fulfilling and not live his life in circles drove him to fake his demise. Again, can a toddler or young child identify with feeling his or her life is hollow and redundant? No. Again, this is a theme which requires adult level life experience to identify with Metro Man’s inner motivation. A kid doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a ‘rut.’

That’s the fault of this movie as a whole. Too many adult themes for appeared to be an animated film for children. I don’t mind adult gags in these types of movies, because it helps adults enjoy the movies with their kids. However, when the central themes are only things to which only adults can relate, it’s not exactly a “family” picture. Shrek 2 is a perfect example of a story for kids filled with gags to entertain adults.

All that being said, I enjoyed the character writing of Megamind as a different kind of villain. An antihero with a character arc in an animated movie is rare and I enjoyed that part of it. I also enjoyed the twist with Metro Man faking his death. I didn’t see that coming and it’s nice for an animated picture to surprise me when usually they don’t. It’s a different kind of superhero movie and that’s about the best thing it has going for it.

Ultimately, Megamind was decent at best. It may be a decent watch with older kids but for the younger ones I’m convinced it would bore the crap out of them. I found it for $5 in the bin at my local department store. It was marginally worth the buy.

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Inside Out (2015)

This one was a sneaky little bugger. Excited about Pixar Studios having another release, I wasn’t exactly sure where the theme or message of the movie was going until way late into the movie.

By then, I thought it was the most adult theme a Disney movie could have expressed to a family market.

The five main emotions of Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear run the mind of a young child named Riley like the bridge of the USS Enterprise during pre-teen age when the girl’s family uproots from Minesotta to San Francisco. While Joy attempts to take charge of the changes to keep Riley happy and subdue the unusual behaviors of Sadness. Soon, Joy and Sadness are lost in the deep memory catalogue of Riley’s brain while Fear, Disgust and Anger attempt to keep Riley afllat during this difficult adolescent time.

As usual with most Pixar stories, this one was very well scripted and thought out. Through I would say at least two-thirds of the movie, however, just before Act III, the movie is simply comedic fluff. Most laughs come from situations between the five emotion characters inside Riley’s head, using a handful of childhood scenarios of which pretty much all adults can identify. The story also did great by placing Riley in very mature situations which many of us have been through before. Although the story is essentially about the emotion Joy, we start to empathize with Riley because of what she’s going through.

When Joy gets seperated from Sadness and seamingly stuck in an impossible situation with an imaginary friend from Riley’s toddler years named Bing Bong, that is when the film true message is revealed. And truly, it’s a great ah-ha moment for the viewer. SPOILER ALERT: Basically it says we cannot live happy all the time. We canot surpress sadness and that sadness is as important in our lives as any other emotion. Mostly because it is the one emotion people respond to most and helps you realize who around you truly love you. … At least that’s what I took from it.

Amy Poehler (Baby Mama) voices Joy amd through the third act, the Saturday Night Live alumn handles the spectrum of what her character goes through with her own emotions. Bill Hader (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) voices Fear with much laughs as does comedian Lewis Black (Accepted) as anger. However, the creme de la cast is Phyllis Smith (TV’s The Office) as Sadness which was maybe the most perfect casting decision ever in a Disney release. It’s not easy to voice a character with dynamic range while sounding depressed all the time, but she does it and makes the character as important to the audience as Sadness herself is to the story.

What was also masterful from a filmmaking standpoint was how we as the viewer are easily able to grasp the complex and growing infrastructure of the human mind as depicted in this story. For those who enjoyed Pixar’s Monsters Inc., it was similar to understanding the infrastructure of the scream company and the monster world altogether. Just brilliantly thought out and very well presented to the audience. And remember, this is for both adults and kids to understand, so again, not easily done.

Overall, Inside Out is cute as shit. I enjoy my copy on DVD and watch it regularly with my kids. I’ve yet to get tired of it. Although it’s not exactly the mega-slam dunk which Pixar Studios has produced in the past like Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc. or even Ratatouille, but it commands respect as a high-quality achievement.

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Pixar Studios has never made a bad move. With this one, it shows an example of how you can take a bunch of done-before scenes and a done-before story but tweak them just a little so that it has an original brand on it.

The good dinosaur follows the story of Arlo, the runt of an apatosaurus family frightened of everything chases down a human child Arlo later names Spot whom Arlo blames for the death of his Poppa. The chase leads Arlo literally into dangerous waters and the runt dino now has to rely on Spot to help him through the wilderness and return to the family farm where his aging mother desperately needs him help.

There are several identifiable themes in the picture, including the desire to make your mark on the world, live up to a parent’s expectations and learning to overcome fear to learn what you are truly made of. This is where Pixar stories excel. Yes it’s an animated film, but it involves scenes most adults can have an emotional connect to as well.

The weaknesses of the film are generated in its unoriginal plot points, but again Pixar finds a way to make them their own and thus add a uniqueness. One example is when Arlo saves Spot from danger and comes to safety with Spot unconscious. Instead of doing the same hero-victim scene where the hero starts crying thinking they’ve lost the victim, The Good Dinosaur recalls a previous scene where Arlo and his late father used to ignite prehistoric fire flies by slowly blowing on them. Arlo, in the rescue moment, decides to try and revive Spot by blowing on him in the same way. This put a fresh take on that scene we’ve watched before in a hundred other films.

Overall, the movie had what Pixar always delivers; excitement, engagement, laughs, heartstrings, etc. There are some adult themes and intense scenes for kids to deal with but my kids handled the whole picture without issue and they are each under five years old. This was actually the first movie in the cinema I took my 2.5 year old twins to see.

I will own this DVD proudly in my Pixar collection at home; however, between this and Inside Out, also released by Disney from Pixar Studios in 2015, I had a stronger connection to Inside Out.

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Wall-E (2008)

Between Ratatouille and its latest, Wall-E, Pixar appears to be back on top of the family motion picture genre with another heart-warming exciting tale.

“Wall-E” is about a trash removal robot who has survived on Earth 700 years after the planet has been evacuated from waste overgrowth. Humans have taken to space to live on a series of barges, the lead of which named the Axiom.

Having spent 700 years as the only animated object on Earth, besides a friendly cockroach, Wall-E learns about affect between two souls thorough a found copy of the musical “Hello Dolly.”

Soon, Buy N Large, existence’s ruling corporation of everything, operated by robots, sends a probe to Earth, named Eva, to find evidence that photosynthetic life can survive there once again, signifying humans can now go home.

Wall-E falls for Eva and follows her back to the Axiom where the story and conflicts really take off.

This picture was absolutely adorable. I expected nothing less from Pixar. Pixar has never made a BAD movie. Although I’ll say “Cars” was their most disappointing effort. “Ratatouille” repaired their storytelling reputation in my mind, and “Wall-E” follows suit.

The plot takes its time without getting slow to show Wall-E’s life on Earth, develop the relationship between him and Eva, and follow their adventures and conflicts together back on the Axiom.

I also enjoyed how we had several characters to cheer for, many of who got to have their own moments of heroism, for example, when Cpt. McRea stands for the first time to fight Auto, the ships mutinous auto-navigation system.

It was also great to see how much emotion and plot points the film could convey without having any speaking characters except for a couple of humans.

I love Wall-E’s inner motivation. Yes, he had feelings for Eva and fairly fast-why not, being 700 years alone-but his biggest goal was to have a moment to hold hands with her like he saw during a duet in “Hello Dolly.” Like I said…adorable.

As for the animation, hello, it’s Pixar. It’s the benchmark for all other animated production companies and has been since “Toy Story.” There were parts of this picture that looked far more real than anything computer generated in this year’s “The Incredible Hulk.”

The only flag I have to throw on the story is-Brian will like that I used a football reference just then, we are shown several space barges launching from Earth while the Operation: Clean Up begins. But once, we’re in space, the Axiom is the only barge we follow. What about the other barges? Are they still in space? Do they come home automatically too? What gives? That’s my only problem with the movie.

Overall, I can’t recommend this feature enough. Adults, go late if you want to avoid the kids, but there’s hardly any dialogue, so there’s not very many lines to miss if the kiddies are being too loud.,br>

I also say see this one in the theaters where the animation really gets to shine.

Although I haven’t gotten to see a whole lot of them, I would have to say “Wall-E” is the best picture of the year thus far.

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I really enjoyed this picture. I’d made be chuckle, but it didn’t make me laugh out loud like the short film franchise which inspired it. 

“Wall & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” follows animator Nick Park’s (Chicken Run) popular title characters as they run into a HUGE rabbit problem. 

While trying to change the genetic thinking of the rabbits Wallace has captured–to cure them of wanting to steal from people’s gardens, an accident causes an oversized rabbit to rip terror through the town’s vegetable festival, but only during the full moon. 

British humor helped make this picture a delight. I also thought the big twist of the story, which I should have seen coming but didn’t, carried the film through the last 40 minutes, leaving me with a big smile. 

However, I sort of get the feeling that anyone who hasn’t seen and likes the Wallace & Gromit short films won’t get into this first full-length feature. People unfamiliar with the duo’s antics may not get into their comedic gestalt, their shtick. 

I do feel Nick Park had better laughs to create with his shorter films. “The Wrong Trousers,” which won Park one of his two Academy Awards for short animated film, is absolutely hilarious, and if you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s very smart and hilarious. 

“The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is equally as smart, just as enjoyable, but simply not as laugh out loud funny. I will say there is some humor involved for adults, so don’t think this is JUST another kids animated movie. 

Overall, I say “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” is worth seeing, but it may be worth waiting until it’s on DVD. I don’t think it’ll lose much going from the big screen to the TV screen

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