Impression: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

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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.

Review: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

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Dora Explorer Márquez is a precocious girl who loves the jungle. Madelyn Miranda plays young Dora. She and her professor parents, Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria) are explorers. They encourage her inquisitiveness and enthusiasm. When Dora is six, her older cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) moves to the city with his parents which saddens Dora.

Dora’s parents have been trying to find Parapata, The Lost City of Gold. Once the parents find enough clues to locate the mysterious city, they emphasize that they are not treasure hunters. They are only in pursuit of knowledge to find the city. Despite Dora’s protests, her parents do not bring her with them in their search. They send her (now older and played by Isabela Moner) to the big city to live with her high school age cousin Diego (now played by Jeff Wahlberg).

At the high school, Dora’s unlimited positivity is scorned by stereotypical high school students. She knows more than the other students. She especially annoys the stuffy Sammy (played by Madeleine Madden). On her first day, Dora also meets the awkward Randy (played by Nicholas Coombe).

On a school field trip to the natural history museum, those four teenagers reluctantly form a team for the class treasure hunt at the museum. A staff member lets the team into a restricted basement to see ancient Egyptian relics. That was not the best move because treasure hunters who are on the trail of Parapata kidnap the four. They hope the kids will find Dora’s parents and unwittingly help them find their bounty.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark-style, they must escape dangerous traps beforeo they find the treasure. Randy names these challenges “Jungle Puzzles” that he is familiar with from computer games. The obstacles require the four to develop bonds of friendship and trust to succeed in the quest.

The film is filled with lots of lighthearted humor. Even the villains are more humorous and bumbling than scary. Dora’s pet monkey Boots adds more humor to the film with his playful resourcefulness. The film has its moments of suspense but Dora and her friends handle them with grace.

Dora is a really enthusiastic and positive person. The hidden gold is the attraction for villains while Dora, her friends and parents do not want the wealth. After returning from their adventure, Dora and her companions have a new freedom. Their negative classmates can’t reduce their enthusiasm. Dora has the opportunity to do more exploration with her parents. However, Dora decides to leave the rain forest so that she may study the “indigenous people” of her new high school.

Review: How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

a film reelAs the animated How to Train Your Dragon opens, you enter the colorful world of the Vikings living in their seaside village for generations. Surprisingly, all of the buildings are new. As the story unfolds, you learn why. The Vikings, their village and livestock often get attacked by dragon hordes that carry away the animals. Dragons, being known for breathing fire, set the village alight during their attacks.

Everyone in the village is devoted to their life by the sea and hunting dragons. However, it’s not long before you meet a youth who doesn’t fit in. Hiccup wants to help in the battles, but his temperament and physique aren’t tailored to the rough Viking life. Although he is an assistant to a blacksmith, he’s barely able to pick up the swords and axes they make. He is notorious for misguided inventions. Despite his reputation, in the opening battle, his catapult throws a net that catches a Night Fury.

Night Furies are rare and terrible dragons so mysterious that the books of dragon lore don’t describe them. When Hiccup finds the Night Fury that his net caught, he wields a knife to kill it. Then Hiccup berates himself when he dropped the knife and couldn’t kill the dragon—it was just as frightened as himself. He became even more demoralized and lost hope that he could ever become a real Viking. He was also confident that he couldn’t handle the shame if other villagers knew he couldn’t kill a dragon, so he kept his charge secret.

Soon, Hiccup was pushed to join the other teenagers in dragon hunter training. At first, he struggles to avoid getting burned during the challenges. He also gets in the way of the his classmates. However, the Night Fury teaches Hiccup many things that no Viking ever knew about dragons.

Hiccup’s life changed. With his inventiveness, he gets to experience the freedom of flying through the sky riding the dragon he befriended. The movie shows exhilarating flights through the clouds and exotic cliffs. During one of their flights, Hiccup and the Night Fury find a truly terrifying dragon. That dragon is destined to be the target of the Vikings’ biggest hunt.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010) is a humorous fantasy that offers a story that will be appreciated by an older audience. The Viking that is different and ostracized by the others finds that he can be useful and valued for his differences.

Review: The Dark Tower (2017)

A movie reel
In the center of the universe stands a dark tower that protects the universe from chaos and destruction. Although we see the tower only briefly, the film The Dark Tower from 2017 shows repeated attacks that threaten the worlds that it protects. Earthquakes and mysterious lights in the sky are becoming more frequent in New York and other cities.

The Man in Black is orchestrating these attacks, trying to use the minds of children which he believes could destroy the tower and unleash devastation and death. The movie begins with a horror sequence showing an attack. We see the tower assaulted by an energy beam, but the tower is sturdy. Jake is woken from a troubled dream by the ensuing earthquake.

The characters of the movie, the Man in Black, played by Matthew McConaughey, the Gunslinger, played by Idris Elba, and Jake, played by Tom Taylor, battle over the tower. To connect the different sites of the story, door-like portals allow travel between worlds.

When the movie opens, children are in a playground until a klaxon sounds and alarms on a few children’s wrists activate. The kids walk robot-like into a dark building with a conical roof. Soon, the reason for their alarm becomes clear.

As the movie progresses, the Gunslinger’s prowess with a six-shooter becomes more and more amazing. For his part, the Man in Black can control other people with a whisper. For example, he can tell someone to stop breathing or probe their memories to help find Jake. Early in the film, Jake escapes from the Man in Black’s agents who are identified by a seam in the fake skin covering their face.

The movie struggles to balance the horror genre, westerns and fantasy. The three aspects dance around each other, starting the movie in horror and ending with a fantasy western style. As the story unfolds, we see more and more of the Man in Black’s powerful skills. The Gunslinger is empowered by the Gunslinger’s Creed that forms the foundation of his talents. As the film progresses, Jake discovers his own power, his shine.

At his mother and stepfather’s home, Jake is tormented by vivid dreams. He has been compulsively drawing scenes from the dreams because they are too real to be a dream. His family blames the visions and psychological distress from the death of Jake’s father. However, when Jake meets the Gunslinger, he learns that his dreams have been real.

Sometimes when I see a movie trailer, I’m not interested in learning more. This movie is an exception to that pattern. In the trailer, I saw a scene of an attack on the tower. I was hoping for more appearances of the tower, but those scenes are precious and kept brief and infrequent. Perhaps the attacks on the tower would seem repetitive and lose their horror if they were over-done.

As a film, The Dark Tower is successful and meeting its promise of a battle between good and evil. Evil seems to have the upper hand throughout the movie because of the Man in Black’s extraordinary skills. He can catch bullets and kill people with a phrase. The Gunslinger is tentative in his abilities, but Jake inspires him to continue fighting.

Arrival

clapboardThis week, I was impressed by the movie Arrival (2016), directed by Denis Villeneuve.

There can be different essences that permeate a movie. One builds an adrenaline rush as the winners conquer their foes. Another thrills the audience with fear and suspense. Others gush with emotions like pathos or euphoria. Further movies purpose is to misdirect and then surprise the audience.

I don’t think Arrival fits neatly into those categories–it comes closest to the misdirect & surprise-the-audience theme. However, mostly, it gave me reasons to think. The movie didn’t feel like an attempt to market products to me–I didn’t even notice who manufactured the computers that were everywhere. It only asked me to spend time engaged with the story and to think about the human experience.

Once I watched the extra features on the disk, I saw attributes that make me appreciate the film more. Those nuances weren’t overwhelming. On first viewing, they didn’t draw me away from my embedding in the creators’ imagination and my suspension of disbelief.

The essence of my review is that am glad that I saw the movie.

Another dimension of success for the movie is that I am interested in seeing more movies by director Denis Villeneuve or with actress Amy Adams, who played the protagonist Louise Banks. Thanks to IMDB, that’s a lot easier than it was 40 years ago.

As a side note, one of the final credits thanks Stephen Wolfram. He is the creator of the tool Mathematica and the web site wolframalpha.com. I doubt that he remembers me, but about 30 years ago I visited his research lab in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois which was an exciting experience.