Film Review: Onward (2020)

Colorful cloudsWhen I saw the trailers for Onward, I thought the scene with unicorns trashing the garbage bins was a good sign. Onward wouldn’t not be the stereotypical fantasy with rainbows, evil godmothers and cotton candy. Unicorns are traditionally noble and honored animals yet in this scene they were fighting over the trash like a couple of grimy opossums. The film is introduced by the peculiar history of magic in the world of Ian & Barley Lightfoot (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt).

My favorite character was Barley. He was enthusiastic and courageous. It was fun to watch how, what started as his imaginary world, ended being closer to reality than his brother Ian (or me) was willing to believe. His enthusiasm seemed over the top when he pulls up to school to pick up Ian, but he also has a larger-than-life Fun Quotient.

One feature of the movie that was enjoyable was the many landscapes and sky scenes. They were varied and beautiful. One quirky scene shows a jet flying through the sky as the characters are looking for treasure. When I go back over the film in my mind, I can’t count how many different sets, characters and animated magical effects were there. It was obviously all hands on deck in coming up with the computer models for the film.

The second time I saw the movie, I was briefly distracted by knowing the famous voice actors behind Ian and Barley. It was a little jarring and didn’t add to my enjoyment of the film. Fortunately, after a few minutes, who the actors were drifted into the background and I wasn’t thinking about Spiderman and Star-Lord any more.

The film revealed a transformation of several characters. Ian and Barley, their mom Laurel Lightfoot  (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez) and The Manticore (Octavia Spencer) all were changed people by the end of the story. It was cool that the audience gets to see so many characters growing and changing. Perhaps Ian had the “primary” and most obvious transformation, but the story wasn’t just about him.

Hopefully, Disney make back it’s $1000-ish per frame that they invested in the movie. Based on how much I liked the movie, it would be a shame if it doesn’t pan out. I don’t want Disney to get cold feet and refuse to make more quirky animated films like Onward.

Review: Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019)

Popcorn
My first impression of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil questioned how much of the magical side of the river was animated. I wondered where did the performers end and the CGI teams jump in? At first, I felt that the movie used too much green screen.

However, there weren’t seams where a character didn’t mesh with their surroundings. They were all successfully placed in the fantasy world of the story. I needed to get over wondering “how?” so that I could enjoy the spectacle.

As I started to write this review, I realized that the synthesis was successful. I never thought of the fairies and the others in the magical world as actors and actresses. The seamlessness extended beyond perfectly aligned lighting. The movie made the Fey characters seem real.

Early in the film, there was some creative use of the camera. It flew playfully through the enchanted moor. All of the Fey characters were bouncy and energetic and full of life. The humans were plodding drudges in comparison. As the film progressed, the playfulness was lost. However, that matched the increasing danger of the climactic battle.

The castle was a weak spot to the illusion. The practical effects of the ramparts being crushed were incompatible with the magic of the continuing battle. It was jarring. The lacy castle seemed rooted in mangled physics rather than magic and imagination like the land across the river.

I was grateful that the film corrected my pronunciation of Maleficent. It is one of those words where changes at the end of a word affect how you say the beginning. I was thinking that the word started “MAL-e-.” That makes the rest of the word awkward and I wanted to add an extra vowel. However, the stress is on the second syllable “ma-LE-fi-cent” so that the name ends up easy to say.

In the credits, I noticed at least a dozen people labeled as apprentice or trainee. I liked that. That helps add to the talent pool of professionals who can present a story as magical and energetic as Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

Impression: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Thought bubble
The local AMC theater has been playing old movies for a few weekend showings. They have a couple different classics each week. That’s how I saw the original How to Train Your Dragon.

This afternoon I went to see the 1991 Disney Beauty and the Beast. They had it on twice today and the 2PM showing fit my schedule. I was the only one in the theater.

I don’t understand the economics of a movie theater. Much of their cash flow comes from concessions. They probably get money for the trailers that the show. They also have revenue from advertisers. Tickets haven’t been a substantial source of income for the movies I go to. Usually there are four or fewer in the audience. Is the fee for advertising prorated for the size of the audience?

In first run movies, the tickets are a big deal. Perhaps they just need to keep the doors open. It lets them make a net profit with the help of big movies while keeping the venue relevant by having a big selection that only few people watch. I usually go in the afternoon. That might give me a distorted perspective on how many are in an evening audience.

Perhaps the older movies are playing on behalf of Disney. It could be market research for their streaming service? Is there a corporate connection between AMC and Disney?

So, Beauty and the Beast was an ok movie. There were several songs. None of them stuck with me after the show. All of the characters were really rough caricatures and I couldn’t really identify with any of them. Of course, here’s not a lot of character development you can do in 84 minutes. I didn’t notice “adult” content that was meant to go over the heads of kids but be meaningful to adults (unless it went over my head too).

With 1991 being the release year, they could use technology to do some of the animation. I don’t think they did much. In the intro, you could see layers move as the perspective shifted on the trees; a good hint that it is cel animation. The characters were drawn primarily with cel techniques. A group of four or five animators were responsible for each character.

There was one place where you could see that they had help from computers. During the dance scene with Belle and the Beast, the stars, windows and chandelier were too complex to do as traditional cel animation. It was most obvious with the changing perspective as the camera went past the chandelier. I think the computer give the animators a starting point.

I noticed that this had a similar structure to the Aladdin that starred Robin Williams. The villain has a sidekick who is loud and obnoxious and is only played for comic relief. The sidekicks are throw away (and annoying) characters. There’s probably other tropesthat both films use.

It was a nice film for the AMCs A-List membership so that my only expense was the travel.

Down

I had to take down my dome yesterday. It had been collapsing more and more the past few weeks. Finally, I had to take it apart because it was getting dangerous to the neighbors.

Here’s an old picture with a crimson clematis. I have used it as a trellis for several years.

Dome with clematis


This year, one clematis was covered with dozens of huge blossoms. After a large rainstorm, the weight was too much and the dome started collapsing.

Although domes are aesthetic, they can have a problem: if one part fails, the rest has stress that leads to progressively more severe destruction.

It was only a matter of time until the dome collapsed. I wanted to ignore the warning signs and now I have a pile of broken wood behind my house.

I didn’t ever plan to take it apart. Now I’ve got to make sure my tetanus vaccination is up-to-date. The wood has dozens of nails that can’t be removed. I’ll have plenty of opportunities to get cut as I break it down.

Although I titled this “Down,” that is only in contrast with the movie “Up” written by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson and Tom McCarthy.

I’m leery of watching Disney movies. The studio is quite heavy-handed with movie scores. The studio uses the music to push the audience to feel the best mood for a lucrative box office.

“Up” had a scene with the characters Carl Fredericksen and Russell talking about Russell’s dad and ice cream. It was very emotional, but in a subtle and poignant way. It immediately struck me how, in those scenes, my feelings were genuinely tender. There was no orchestral music swelling in the background.

No one demanded that I have the correct feeling. Just the situation, dialog and facial expressions carried the mood. I think this is a sign of excellence by the directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson and the team that put the movie together.

I could be really sad about the dome being gone. After all, it was really a source of pride. However, I don’t have any Hollywood “true story” tragedy music playing in the background. I can feel whatever I choose and I choose to be glad that I had it while I did.