When 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.
Frozen II is a journey from the comfort and joy of home into an alien and dangerous world. The danger centers on broken trust. Elsa (Idina Menzel) learns that she must resolve a betrayal that happened before she was born. In addition, the trust between the sisters is fragile. Anna (Kristen Bell) wants to help magical Elsa against the new dangers while Elsa wants to stride out on her own.
There is a legend about an enchanted forest that is the focus of the film. It has been walled off from the rest of the world with no way in or out. Elsa hears an ethereal voice and remembers a story from her childhood about the North country. To solve the mystery, Elsa explore the North with Anna, Olaf (Josh Gad) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff).
Memory is an recurring theme in the movie. Elsa goes on a kind of vision quest to learn what a magical river knows about the past. To resolve that past requires Anna’s fortitude when she realizes what Arendelle might need to sacrifice. The friends come to accept the history of their family, even though it is sad and painful.
The classical four elements, Fire, Earth, Air and Water are important forces in the enchanted forest. They seem dangerous and hostile, but they are gradually tamed. To understand the mysterious forest requires perseverance from both Elsa and the rest of her friends. They find the truth and liberate the forest so that its people can become part of the greater world again.
From the outset, Frozen II lets the audience know that they don’t need to see the first Frozen to appreciate it. In the first scene you see that Elsa & Anna’s childhood had been revised. The movie doesn’t look back and it stands strong on the new foundation.
Often filmmakers strive to bring out a specific emotion at the close of their film. The producers try to close the story with an exclamation point instead of an ellipsis. Frozen II does that better than most by eliciting an emotion that is rare in films. In the coda, that feeling is reinforced with the joy and freedom that fills the new Arendelle with magic.
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.