Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow first appeared in Iron Man 2 over a decade ago and died in 2019. Naturally, this was the perfect time to finally give her a solo film. I will acknowledge that Black Widow isn’t quite as easy to do a film about as Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel. Black Widow’s origin story is horrifying when you think about it hard enough. This movie, while it essentially montages over that period, makes it clear that she was essentially abducted as a child, tortured, operated on against her will, and brainwashed to be a perfect killing machine. Essentially, she’s the bad guy in most movies. So, doing a movie about her confronting that past, while it didn’t get as dark as it could have, was naturally going to have a lot of uncomfortable moments. The film tries, and largely succeeds, to balance this out with humor, but there are still a lot of parts of the movie where you will likely squirm a bit in your seat. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s definitely not what you expect from a Marvel movie.
The film takes place right after Captain America: Civil War with Natasha Romanov on the run from General Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt). After seemingly finding a good place to hideout, she receives a package that was sent by her sister, Yelena (Florence Pugh), and is attacked by the assassin codenamed Taskmaster. Escaping, Natasha reunites with Yelena to find out that the Black Widows and the Red Room that trains them are both still operating, despite the fact that Natasha believed she killed Dreykov (Ray Winstone), the man operating it, as well as his daughter Antonia (Olga Kurylenko). The pair decide to find the Red Room through their old handlers and fake parents, the Soviet Super-Soldier Red Guardian (David Harbour) and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz).
There are a lot of things this movie does well. It spends a lot of time taking apart tropes forced onto female characters in action films, with Yelena even calling Natasha a “poser” and those conversations are usually pretty hilarious. Actually the humor is mostly on point, particularly with the banter between Johansson and Pugh as well as David Harbour’s self-deluded super-soldier persona. The action sequences are excellent and contain some of the more fun entries into Marvel due to the fact that almost all of the characters in this film are not superhuman. It’s a little harder to know when something is dangerous when the characters can bench-press a bus or hold a helicopter in place. When most of the people can suffer collateral damage from explosions or getting punched a lot, then it seems like they’re in more trouble when they are being chased by an armored vehicle. The movie also does a good job of distinguishing itself from most of the other female-led movies by not trying to be an origin story and not trying to make its main character a paragon of virtue. Black Widow is almost a reformed supervillain and that’s not a common main character for a blockbuster film.
There are some downsides, though. The movie touching on the abuse that the girls suffer in the Red Room is deeply disturbing, but the fact that they end up bantering with Harbour and Weisz, their fake parents who essentially handed them over to be tortured, is almost more unnerving. They make jokes about genital mutilation at one point to make Red Guardian uncomfortable, but it still seems weird for them to not want to just put a bullet in his head for allowing them to go through that. While maybe you can forgive Red Guardian as he is kind of an idiot who really bought into the ideology that what happened to them for the best, Melina is a genius who helped design the program they went through. They should want her to die painfully, not be a surrogate mom again. Also, there’s nothing that can really happen in the movie that’s too surprising, because we know that Black Widow survives only to die five movies ago.
Overall, though, this was definitely a movie that was worth seeing.
I love this movie and if you don’t love it, drink ‘til you do.
Darby O’Gill (Albert Sharpe) is an Irish groundskeeper for the estate of Lord Fitzpatrick (Walter Fitzgerald). Darby is one of the few people in the town of Rathcullen that knows that the town is populated by a tribe of leprechauns. Darby continually tries to capture their leader, King Brian (Jimmy O’Dea), who actually tends to consider Darby a friendly rival. Lord Fitzpatrick replaces Darby with a new groundskeeper, Michael McBride (Sean Connery), something that Darby tries to keep secret from his daughter, Katie (Janet Munro). Brian, sympathetic to Darby’s loss, tries to imprison him in his mountain keep, but Darby escapes and ends up finally capturing Brian, who has to give him three wishes. Darby uses the first to force Brian to stay by his side (preventing him from just running out of earshot), but Brian tricks him into using the second to bring Michael and Katie together.
After a local bully (Kieron Moore) tries to steal Michael’s job and Katie’s hand, Katie finds out that Darby had lied to her and yells at both her and Michael. She then chases a horse and, unfortunately, contracts a fever. Because King Brian is with Darby, Darby sees a banshee appear for Katie and call a headless death coachman to take her away. Darby uses his third wish to take the place of Katie and is carried off towards death. However, while in the coach, Darby wishes that he could have Brian’s company as a friend in the afterlife. Brian points out this is a fourth wish, which voids the other three, meaning Darby cannot be in the Death Coach. However, Katie has now recovered and thus cannot be taken either. Everyone gets to stay in Ireland and live happily ever after. Except for the bully, because he tried to get between Sean Connery and a lady.
*Update* So, I watched the copy of the film that I already owned to write this. It turns out that Disney has uploaded an altered version of the film onto Disney+ which dubs over much of Jimmy O’Dea and Albert Sharpe’s dialogue. The explanation appears to be that Americans can’t understand Irish accents and don’t understand when people have short exchanges in Munster Irish. This is one of the worst decisions I can imagine.
Perhaps the thing that is least believable about this film is what it was made in 1959. While most of us nowadays are familiar with forced perspective thanks to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, this film took that to an entirely different level and did so back when the only way to film a chariot race was to build a giant racetrack and just reenact it. In order to film several scenes in this film, the practical effects had to be pushed beyond the limit of what existed at the time, something that Walt Disney himself loved to do. To put it more in perspective (PUN INTENDED), just lighting these complicated scenes pulled so much power that it blew out a local substation. Additionally, there are many scenes in the film that clearly are not done solely through forced perspective, but through a combination of perspective and Chroma-Key work, something that was still mostly in its infancy at this point. The main reason they could pull it off was actually because Walt Disney had previously used it for his live-action/animated “Alice” shorts in the 1920s. Because of this use of careful and, mostly practical, effects, this movie holds up unbelievably well for its age. I’m sure that the version on Disney+ has been further retouched from my childhood, but if you had the old VHS copy of this movie growing up, you know that the magic of the scenes held up pretty well. Oh, and the Banshee/Death Coach scenes still creep me out.
It’s pretty clear that this movie would not have gotten made if it had not been a passion project for Walt Disney. He spent over a decade working on the script and the premise, even studying Irish folklore at the Dublin library while developing it. He picked Albert Sharpe to play the lead because he enjoyed him in a stage play years beforehand (his original pick, Barry Fitzgerald, declined to do the movie). Jimmy O’Dea was cast because Disney saw him doing pantomime. Connery was borrowed from Fox because Disney thought he was good looking enough to be a love interest with little screen time (which ended up getting him noticed by Albert R. Broccoli and thus auditioned for James Bond), while Munro was a contract player for Disney. Interestingly, in order to preserve the illusion that the leprechauns were real, Disney did not credit the actors playing the wee folk, instead giving “thanks” to King Brian and his subjects. He even had a special episode of Walt Disney Presents titled “I Captured the King of the Leprechauns” in which he and Albert Sharpe chase down King Brian to ask him to help make the movie. It’s all the little extra efforts that pay off in the end.
As far as the film itself, I do love the story. Most of the film is Brian and Darby in their strange bromance and that’s genuinely a great relationship that grows over the course of the film. The performances are all great, although I admit that Sean Connery doesn’t really sell the song as much as they probably hoped. Still, “Pretty Irish Girl” is a great song and it really captures the small-town Irish vibe that the film was going for. It helps that it is used perfectly within the movie as a shortcut to believably move Katie and Michael’s relationship forward quickly.
Overall, just a great movie. Grab a Guinness and check it out.
Disney brings us a story of a young woman trying to heal a broken world.
Kumandra was a great country of men and dragons until 500 years ago, when it was suddenly besieged by the Druun, evil energy spirits that turn people and dragons to stone. A war ensued and the Druun turned almost everyone to stone. The dragon Sisu (Awkwafina), the last of the dragons, used her energy to forge a gem that turned the humans back to normal and banished the Druun, but the dragons stayed stone and Sisu disappeared. Six years ago, Kumandra had fallen into five nations that are constantly at odds. Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) is the daughter of Benja (Daniel Dae Kim), the chief of the Heart Land, the guardians of the dragon gem. When Benja attempted to unite the land, it backfired and the dragon gem was broken, resulting in the return of the Druun. Now, Raya seeks to find the long-dormant Sisu and banish the Druun again while avoiding her enemy, Namaari (Gemma Chan), daughter of Virana (Sandra Oh), the chief of the Fang Land. Fortunately, this is a Disney movie, so she has an animal companion named Tuk-tuk that is voiced by Alan Tudyk, and some friends she meets along the way, including Boun (Izaac Wang), a young boat captain, Tong (Benedict Wong), a warrior, and a bunch of other cute characters. Unfortunately, it turns out that “legendary dragons” might not be quite what she expected.
This was a heck of a film. While I don’t know that it’ll enter the top class of Disney movies, I think it’s at least up for consideration. It was good enough that, despite the fact that it’ll be on Disney+ for free in a few months, I don’t regret buying this movie. Watch it with a friend and the cost of the purchase is basically the same as if you went to the movie in a theater. I will say that this would be a movie that would be absolutely improved by watching it on the big screen, because it is beautiful and colorful and has some wonderful action sequences. Unfortunately, this ain’t the year for that. Maybe in 2022 they’ll put it back up for a limited run.
Part of what makes this film great is that it walks a very tough line. This is a dark film in a lot of ways. It takes place in a dystopia literally populated by omnicidal balls of energy and a bunch of countries that are basically at war all the time. Children, families, etc. are shown to be victims of the Druun, and trust me, they make sure you understand that the attacks are completely indiscriminate. The leaders of these countries are frequently shown to be willing to stab each other in the back, as are many of the people. In order to balance out this dark undertone, the film often has some extremely cute moments, as well as a wider assortment of comic relief sidekicks than many other Disney films. It also just has some better comedy routines than most other kids movies, made much better by the presence and delivery of Awkwafina. She plays Sisu as someone who lacks intelligence at times, but has great wisdom. It results in some hilarious cognitive dissonance.
The film’s moral is one of the most important ones that a Disney picture has attempted in a while and, surprisingly, it does a pretty great job of pulling it off without being overly preachy. Most of the film is just about how you need to give people your trust sometimes in order to move forward. It’s one of the hardest things to do, but sometimes you really just need to believe in the ability of other people to do the right thing when asked. Now, the movie is not written by idiots, part of the reason why some characters can do this is that they are capable of dealing with the consequences of having that trust betrayed. But sometimes you do need to believe in people even if it means putting yourself on the line. At the end of the movie, I was reminded of the MLK quote: “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” Truly a message that the world needs if we’re going to deal with the problems facing us in the future.
Overall, this was a really great movie. I recommend it. I would even say that, if you have kids or are a Disney fan, this one was worth the money.
A young girl makes the most unusual friend you can find.
Flora Buckman (Matilda Lawler) is a ten year old girl whose parents (Ben Schwartz and Alyson Hannigan) are getting divorced. Her dad is a failed comic book artist who is now working at an office supply store while her mother is an award-winning romance novelist who is suffering from major writer’s block. She is also dealing with her new hysterically blind friend William (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth). Later, Flora’s neighbor has issues with her “evolving” robotic vacuum, resulting in it sucking up a squirrel. Flora adopts the squirrel, naming it Ulysses. Soon, she discovers that the incident with the vacuum has given Ulysses powers. He has the strength of a dozen squirrels, can understand humans, and can even write some poetry. Unfortunately, after an incident at a diner, the public believes that Ulysses is rabid and he now must avoid animal control officer Miller (Danny Pudi), while possibly helping bring a family back together.
I didn’t ever read the children’s book this is based on, but a quick look at the book’s Wikipedia seems to indicate it had nothing to do with superpowers, just a squirrel that got smart enough to write poems. However, since Disney owns Marvel, it seems like a natural way to use your IP. Oddly, though, while there are a lot of mentions of Marvel heroes in the series, as well as the fake superheroes that her father supposedly created, there were more than a few mentions of DC comics characters. I guess even Marvel can’t ignore Batman’s popularity.
This isn’t the best film, but it’s definitely pretty cute. It’s supposed to be a family film, so it has to focus largely on kid-friendly gags. Some of them still work for adults, including some of the jokes about her mom’s profession, and a few are inside gags for people who are fans of Disney. For example, at the beginning of the film, a comic book shop owner played by Bobby Moynihan is reading a DuckTales comic. With Kate Micucci appearing as a waitress, this film features Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby from the new DuckTales series. It doesn’t really pay off more than that, but it’s still a nice touch.
Overall, though, it’s still a kids movie. If you aren’t watching with a young child, you’ll probably get pretty bored.
Lego knows how to make things fun, and they nailed it this time.
It’s Life Day, which is like Christmas for the Wookies, and all of the characters who survived the end of Star Wars Episode IX have journeyed to Kashyyyk, the Wookie homeworld. Rey NoLastName (Helen Sadler) is training Finn (Omar Benson Miller) in the ways of the Force, but it isn’t going well. Rey discovers that there is a lost Jedi temple on the planet Kordoku. She heads off with BB-8 to seek guidance while Finn helps Chewbacca, Poe Dameron (Jake Green), and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) set up the Life Day party. Eventually, Rey finds the temple and discovers that it has a rock that allows her to travel through time and space, eventually running into the cast of the original trilogy, the sequel trilogy, and even the prequel trilogy. In the process, she might accidentally destroy the galaxy.
If you’ve seen The Lego Movie or the Lego Batman Movie, you probably understand that Lego films can actually be pretty good. While this film wasn’t in the same ballpark as those, it still captures the right balance between showing love for the source material and taking some huge shots at its flaws. Regardless of how big of a Star Wars fan you are, you probably have at least something about the series that you don’t like, and this film will likely give you a funny scene addressing it. Yes, that includes whether Han or Greedo shoots first, and they have multiple jokes about that.
The actual plot of the film ends up being one of the funniest premises ever once it starts playing out. It does require a number of out-of-character moments, but since everyone is a lego character already, it really doesn’t seem inappropriate. It also allows the characters who would never be able to interact due to being from different trilogies to share the screen and it is kind of amazing. It does make you realize, though, that the events of all nine movies only take place over 67 years’ time, when you see young Anakin Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Kylo Ren all in the same few scenes. It also drives home that only a few families were responsible for almost all of the events.
The actual jokes in the film are pretty solid. They’re kid-friendly, but they get a laugh out of you. There are a ton of jokes that work on a basic level that pay off better if you’re familiar with some of the Star Wars extended canon, as well, ranging from Shadows of the Empire to Knights of the Old Republic and more. Yes, that includes the original Star Wars Holiday special. While they don’t reference it heavily, obviously this film was designed as a better take on that event. By virtue of being half the length and not causing massive depression, this is the superior special.
Overall, if you’ve got little kids, you should watch this with them. Or if you just like Star Wars and have an hour. Tomorrow, my Christmas gift to you is the real Star Wars Holiday Special. I regret this decision immensely.
This movie is the ultimate tribute to Halloween and a fun family story combined into one.
Marnie Piper (Kimberly J. Brown) is a 13-year-old who is obsessed with the occult despite the fact that her mother, Gwen (Judith Hoag), has banned Halloween in their house. Marnie’s younger brother, Dylan (Joey Zimmerman), tends to side with their mother, while her younger sister, Sophie (Emily Roeske), tends to side with Marnie. On Halloween, Marnie’s grandmother, Agatha Cromwell (Debbie “Singing in the Rain” Reynolds), visits. Marnie spies on her mother and grandmother talking and finds out that her grandmother is actually a witch from another world called “Halloweentown” which is populated by all of the monsters we associate with the holiday. Something evil is attacking the town and Agatha needs another witch to help her. Gwen refuses, so Marnie and her siblings follow their grandmother to Halloweentown. They quickly meet some of the residents, including warlock Mayor Kalabar (Robin Thomas), skeleton cabbie Benny (Rino Romano), and local bad boy Luke (Phillip Van Dyke). Together, the Cromwell/Pipers have to figure out who is trying to take over Halloweentown and stop them.
If you’re in my age range, you probably remember this movie from when it first came out. It was one of the better Disney Channel original movies from the window in the mid-90s to mid-00s when those were a big deal. It’s just the right level of campy-scary for a Disney film. It’s never going to have anyone crying or shaking, particularly since there aren’t any jump scares and the soundtrack is consistently playful and upbeat, but it does have some dark moments involving the villain when they finally reveal themselves. Despite the fact that the world of Halloweentown is filled with monsters, they all intentionally look like cheap holiday masks, so they’re never much more than colorful characters. It helps that a running gag in the film is that the monsters act almost exactly like normal people, doing things like yoga or bowling or running an ice cream shop, only doing so while having extra eyes or horns.
The performances in the movie are pretty solid for a Disney made-for-TV film. Debbie Reynolds has been charming and funny since the 1950s and having her play a slightly kookie but loving grandmother works out perfectly. It helps that they actually give her some fun stuff to do and say, including things like having a microwave which can duplicate the effects of the Weird Sisters from Macbeth, spitefully putting chicken wings back on the chicken, or having a Mary Poppins-esque a bag of holding. She always comes off as sincere and it helps sell the goofy premise. Both Reynolds and the kids consistently seem to be having fun, which adds to the effect. Also, the kids are a step above the usual level of bad acting that you’d find in a television film, particularly Kimberly J. Brown as Marnie and Joey Zimmerman as Dylan. I think that’s probably why they brought her back for two sequels and him for all three.
Mostly, though, the movie is just fun. It captures the spirit of Halloween that we all love when we’re younger. It’s not about scares as much as it’s just about enjoying the unusual and the unique. It isn’t super complicated or deep, although there is a nice message about not trying to make major decisions for your teenage children without their knowledge or consent.
Overall, it’s just a great film to put on during the holiday.
I take a look at a movie I loved from my childhood that wasn’t quite right for its time period.
Cliff Secord (Billy Campbell) is a pilot in 1938. While testing a new plane, he accidentally encounters a car chase between the FBI and the mobsters of Eddie Valentine’s (Paul Sorvino) gang, resulting in the plane being hit by gunfire and crashing. When he and his mechanic Peevy (Alan Arkin) return to their hangar, they discover that one of the mobsters hid their loot there: A prototype jetpack designed by Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn). It turns out that the mobsters had been hired by swashbuckling film star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) who sends his giant henchman Lothar (Tiny Ron Taylor) to find the missing rocket. By coincidence, Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelly) is set to be a bit part in Sinclair’s next film. When Cliff, apologizing for a recent fight, comes to talk to her, Sinclair overhears him mention the rocket.
At a local air show, Cliff uses the rocket pack and a finned helmet designed by Peevy to rescue another pilot, leading the press to dub him “The Rocketeer.” However, this alerts Sinclair, the FBI, Hughes, and the Mob that the rocket has been found. Lothar kills Cliff’s employer Otis Bigelow (Jon Polito) and attacks Cliff and Peevy. The FBI arrives and drives Lothar off, but Lothar steals Peevy’s schematics for the rocket. Cliff and Peevy try to hide at a diner, but the mobsters find the pair. They discover that Sinclair is taking Jenny to dinner and leave to attack the pair, with Cliff following by rocket. However, the rocket was damaged, so Peevy patches it with a piece of Cliff’s lucky gum.
Cliff tries to get Jenny away from Sinclair, but the Mob arrives and Sinclair kidnaps her. At his home, Jenny discovers that Sinclair is actually a Nazi sleeper agent. The FBI pick up Cliff and Peevy and introduce them to Hughes, who informs the pair that the Nazis have plans to build an army of jetpacks, but have so far been unable to develop a successful prototype. Hughes demands the rocket back, but Cliff escapes and confronts Sinclair and the Mob. However, Sinclair is surprised when Valentine and his goons immediately switch sides due to their patriotism. German forces surround the group, but the FBI arrives and the combined forces of the mafia and the Feds drive Sinclair onto a Nazi blimp. Cliff flies to the blimp and fights the Nazis. Ultimately, he rigs the rocket to explode by removing the gum after handing it over to Sinclair. Sinclair explodes, destroying the LAND from the HOLLYWOODLAND sign, and Jenny and Cliff are saved by Peevy and Hughes. Later, Peevy finds his blueprints and decides that he could build another rocket pack.
This one was picked by one of my cousins (the one I’m closest to), because my brother could not be trusted to give a suggestion that wasn’t “Debbie Does Dallas” (which he suggested 3 times). I could have asked my sister, but as she was slightly older than me, we didn’t watch a lot of movies together. Also, I already did Dirty Dancing. When we were little, my cousin and I would watch this film all the time and it’s still one of my favorite memories, so I think this was appropriate for the category. The only movie that was more appropriate was already selected for later this week.
This film is the pinnacle of “should have worked.” When I rewatched it for this challenge and tried to be a little more objective, I realized that there were definitely flaws in the movie, but not enough that it should have been the “flop” that Disney seemed to judge it to be. I think it’s less to do with the movie and more to do with when it was released. See, this movie came out in 1991, shortly after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze came out and the week after Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. This means that the little kids had a movie they’d rather see (this was the height of Turtlemania) and the older kids had a movie they’d rather see. This movie was not quite as lighthearted as the former, nor as dark as the latter, and not attached to an existing property like either one of those.
The strange thing is that the tone of this film is very similar to the tone of the early Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. It has a number of legitimately dark moments, usually involving Lothar and his tendency to mangle people, but largely has a hefty dose of quippy comedy lines combined with some slapstick to keep it light. Add in the 1930s setting and the Nazi enemies and the film actually feels pretty similar to Captain America: The First Avenger mixed with the classic Pulp Serials of the 1930s. Given that The First Avenger was directed by the same person that made this movie, that really is understandable. It’s definitely a popcorn movie, even compared to the MCU, but it’s still a fun film if you’re willing to just enjoy the camp.
Cliff is a likable protagonist, although he tends to suffer a bit due to his blandness. While I know people probably blame Billy Campbell for that, it’s more the fact that his character is a little too good at times. Yes, he’s a little selfish and forgettable, but he always has an “aw, shucks” aspect that keeps him pretty monotone. Jennifer Connelly’s role is similar, and she suffers a little bit of damsel syndrome, lacking almost any active control over her story arc. Alan Arkin’s Peevy is a memorable part of the movie and he’s such a good actor that he manages to perfectly blend the comic relief, tech genius, and elderly mentor roles into one solid character. However, I think the most notable part of the film is Timothy Dalton. Dalton absolutely chews the scenery in the best way possible as a pastiche of Errol Flynn, but then, when his actual allegiances are present, he starts being the over-the-top mustache-twirling Nazi you want in a movie.
The special effects in the film haven’t aged great, but they don’t take you out of the movie. Some of the uses of the rocket are pretty clever and they make for great sight gags. The backgrounds and sets in the movie all seem a little intentionally cheap as a tribute to old-school films, but they’re still stylistically appropriate.
There are a few flaws in the movie, though. First, some of the jokes or the killings are a little more “adult” than the rest of the movie. Not that they’d be out of place in most modern superhero films, but for this time period they were not typical. Second, the film is a bit too long. It’s 108 minutes and, honestly, has a bit too much exposition. It should really be cut down to around 90 minutes.
Overall, though, this movie was really solid and maybe even a little ahead of its time. If you didn’t watch it when you were a kid, you should watch it now.
I revisit the first movie that I ever saw in the theater.
Belle (Paige O’Hara) is an educated woman living in a village in France. Naturally, reading causes her to be ostracized. Singing about how provincial and boring the town is probably doesn’t help her reputation, either. She is constantly harassed by the local huntsman, Gaston (Richard White), whose entreaties she rebuffs. One day, her father, Maurice (Rex Everhart), goes to a fair to showcase his invention, but gets lost on the way back. He seeks refuge in a castle, but it turns out the castle is owned by a Beast (Robby Benson), who imprisons Maurice for trespassing. The Beast is, in fact, a prince who was turned into a monster for refusing to give shelter to a disguised witch when he was eleven. Yes, when he was eleven, an age which isn’t an adult even by ancient standards, but apparently is legally competent if you’re a tricky witch. The Beast was given until a magical rose wilts to learn to love someone and earn love in return.
Belle ventures out to try and find her father and the Beast agrees to release Maurice if Belle becomes his prisoner. She agrees to the switch, which is good for the plot. The Beast gives her a room that is likely larger than her entire former house and doesn’t smell as much like an old Frenchman. The Beast’s staff, who are similarly cursed, because that’s totally fair, attend to her needs. The staff consists chiefly of Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers), the clock and majordomo, Lumière (Jerry Orbach), the candelabra maître d’hôtel, Mrs. Potts (Angela “I love her so much” Landsbury), the teapot cook, and Chip Potts (Bradley Pierce), her chipped teacup son. Yes, those were their names before they got transformed, so I guess the curse has a sense of humor. Bad luck for Monsieur Latrinè (in fairness, the name used to be Merdehouse).
While Belle gets along with the staff, she enrages Beast by wandering into the forbidden West Wing and finding the rose. Beast yells at her, so she flees the castle, getting attacked by wolves in the process. Beast saves her from the wolf pack, and the two end up finally bonding as he shows his gentle side. Or as the Stockholm Syndrome sets in, depending on your point of view. At the same time, Maurice has tried to convince people that Belle is captive, but they dismiss him as crazy. Gaston uses his apparent insanity as part of a plan, bribing the local warden of the insane asylum, Monsieur D’Arque (Tony “I was also Frollo” Jay), into committing Maurice. However, Maurice sets off for the castle to rescue Belle before he can be committed. The fact that no one seems to notice that Belle has been missing this whole time is very concerning.
After having a romantic evening with the Beast containing a song that will make me a little misty anytime I hear it, Belle sees Maurice lost in the woods. Beast lets her go save him, giving her a magic mirror as a gift. When she rescues him and takes him home, Gaston tries to imprison Maurice as leverage to convince Belle to marry him, but Belle uses the mirror to prove that Maurice is sane. Also, magic is real, which should be a bigger deal than it is in the film. Gaston and his sidekick Lefou (Jesse Corti) rally the locals into a mob to kill the Beast while trapping Belle. She escapes and heads to the castle while the servants fight off the mob, and the Wardrobe (Jo Anne Worley) murders a man and I don’t feel like that’s addressed enough. Gaston confronts the Beast, but after Belle comes back, Beast wins the fight. After Beast spares him, Gaston stabs him and falls off a roof to his death. Beast dies in Belle’s arms, but because this is a Disney movie, her love (and also magic) brings him back as a human. They get married, and no one ever mentions that the Beast’s name is Adam.
I should clarify that this is the first movie I made it all the way through in theaters. I did try to go to other ones, but I mean, I was four and kids are dumb. I think the fact that this is the first movie that I actually sat through is a big part of why I am so enamored with the power of cinema. I have watched this movie at almost every stage of my life, from child to adolescent to adult to cancer patient to broken soul in the shape of a man to adult again, and this movie has never been anything less than a masterpiece.
This was the first animated film to be nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture, beating out other contenders like Thelma & Louise, City Slickers, Terminator 2, Doc Hollywood, Barton Fink, The Fisher King, Fried Green Tomatoes, and, of course, Highlander II. It was one of the most pronounced times since the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs that critics were really forced to acknowledge that animation can be an art form for everyone, not just for children. In a few years, Toy Story and Pixar’s revolution would follow, which would eventually lead to the creation of the Best Animated Film Oscar, but even that would not have likely happened if this film had not used computer aided drawing through the CAPS (Computer Animated Production System) program created by Pixar. The ballroom scene involved heavy use of computers and that sequence proved the use of CGI as a way to create bigger and more impressive effects than would be possible using traditional animation for the same budget.
Actually, budgeting was a major concern for this film, because it had been stalling since the 1950s when Walt Disney first tried to make it work. After Who Framed Roger Rabbit finally started to revitalize the Disney animated division in 1987, the film was put back into production, but as a non-musical film. After they worked on it for over a year, Jeffrey Katzenberg ordered it scrapped and told the team to start over. This led to the previous director, Richard Purdum, to leave the project. Now having already hemorrhaged money, Katzenberg demanded that the film be a musical like The Little Mermaid and put Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise in as directors. To give you an idea of how crazy a move this was, their only prior directing experience was doing the animation for “Cranium Command” at EPCOT. Now, to cap it off, they were ordered to finish the movie in 2 years, because Disney slotted four years for production and had already used two up on the rejected version of the film, and using the same budget that had already been half-spent by the last crew. Producing a movie of this caliber out of these circumstances is like being called in as a first-time designated hitter in the world series, told you’re down by three in the bottom of the ninth and hitting a grand slam with a wiffle bat.
That’s enough background, let’s get to the movie itself. This story is, as the song famously says, a tale as old as time. Before this film came out there were multiple versions of Beauty and the Beast on film and television, including Jean Cocteau’s famously surreal 1946 rendition from which the Disney movie borrows heavily. Despite the number of adaptations, this tends to always be seen as the quintessential telling of the story, and I think it’s actually the changes that this version made to the characters that really make it stand out.
First, all of the supporting characters have big, bold personalities. While several versions of the story describe Beast as having magical attendants, they’re usually depicted as silent magical spirits, whereas this film gives them all distinct personas. Lumiere is the aggressive and passionate one, Cogsworth is the worrywort, and Mrs. Potts is the mother figure. They all come across as the kind of people that would feel dedicated to looking over the Prince lovingly, even after they were stuck in this situation for ten years. Similarly, Maurice comes across as a quirky person but a loving father and a kind soul, despite his limited screen time.
Then there’s the bad guy. Gaston provides a villain with one of the most detestable personalities out there: Someone who has never been told no and refuses to hear it. He could literally have all three Bimbettes (yes, that’s what they’re called, don’t blame me), but instead he refuses to have anything less than the most beautiful woman in town, despite the fact that they have nothing in common. It’s even worse because Gaston IS actually good at hunting and providing, something that would make him celebrated during that time period, as the film points out. Gaston can have anything except Belle, which, of course, makes him more of a d*ck for going to such lengths to get her. He is a great addition to the story, because you probably know someone like that.
The main characters, too, are different than in any portrayal I’ve seen before this one. In both the original story and Cocteau’s version, the Beast is a gentleman who attempts to woo Belle with his wealth and lavish lifestyle, something that she reciprocates. In this version, the Beast is not initially a kind person, but is in fact bitter and temperamental. Given that he was cursed when he was eleven (no, I’m not letting this go), this may be justified, but these flaws make the love story even stronger because he is the one who has to change inside as opposed to the burden being just on Belle to look past his outer appearance. He has to learn to care about something beyond himself.
Belle, while she does initially recoil from his appearance, quickly gets past that and instead is more focused on how he treats her. As opposed to just being overwhelmed by materialism or pining for a prince like her traditional counterparts, Belle in this version is focused on adventure. While people may point out that she doesn’t end up traveling to the “great wide somewhere,” but instead marrying a prince and living in a castle like 20 miles from her house, I would point out that she’s still in a magical castle finding a connection with a cursed prince, which is still a freaking adventure plotline. Part of her journey is realizing that adventures don’t all have to be grand journeys, but can be found in just recognizing the truth within another person. Plus, she has the most outspoken and independent personality of any female lead in a Disney movie up until that point (including Ariel) and never really dreamed of finding a man. Instead, she dreamed of being part of a great story, which is what she gets. Compared to the previous versions, having a Belle who is more focused on the internal than the external is a massive step-up in protagonist. While she’s not the pinnacle of self-actualized lead (I mean, there’s still the Stockholm Syndrome discussion everywhere), she still set the stage for many more empowered women to come.
The music of the movie is… well, it’s Ashman and Menken, so it was always going to be good, but this movie contains as many iconic and memorable songs as any Disney film. “Belle,” “Be Our Guest,” “Gaston,” and, of course, “Beauty and the Beast,” are all perpetually played at Disney parks and are the subject of numerous covers and parodies. I imagine there are not a ton of people out there who have never heard at least some version of the songs in their lives. The ballroom scene would not have its grandeur without the song accompaniment. At the Oscars, Beauty and the Beast got 3 of the 5 nominations for best song. However, I want to point out that it’s not just the songs that this movie nails, but also the score. The movie consistently uses the score to heighten the tension and, given that Menken composed it, it is a master class in emotional manipulation. Guess that’s why it also got him an Oscar.
Overall, this movie does almost everything right. It dazzled me as much rewatching it this time as it did when I first saw it as a small child on the big screen. It’s part of why I consider animation to be a valid art form and why I love film as much as I do. It helped make me who I am, and, for that, I will forever be grateful.
The first episode was rough, but it started to get back to roots as it went on.
The Muppets are back and trying to break onto the internet. Muppets Now is a streaming show featuring a number of vignettes designed to replicate online shows. It’s run by Scooter (David Rudman)… poorly. Recurring segments include:
“Lifesty(le)” with Miss Piggy (Eric Jacobson), where the lady herself dishes out lifestyle tips; Økėÿ Døkęÿ Køøkïñ, a cooking competition between the Swedish Chef (Bill Barretta) and a special guest; Muppet Masters, in which Walter (Peter Linz) interviews the Muppets; Mup Close and Personal, in which a Muppet, sometimes Kermit (Matt Vogel), interviews a celebrity; Muppet Labs, in which Beaker and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew (David Rudman and Dave Goelz) conduct science experiments; and Pepe’s Unbelievable Gameshow, featuring Pepe the Prawn (Barretta) making up the rules to humiliate and amuse.
So, the first segments of the first episode of this series were kind of a let down. The initial cooking competition with the Swedish Chef just seemed like a series of obvious jokes and the Muppet Masters discussion of Photobombing had only one joke that really made me laugh. The Lifesty(le) section was inherently a little more amusing because of the celebrities involved and the fact that Miss Piggy is always amazing. However, it really turned around a bit when Kermit the Frog was interviewing a celebrity and everything went off the rails. Despite that, I still considered the first episode a bit of a bust and I was worried for this series. It didn’t seem to have the same kind of enthusiasm that I usually expect from a Muppet production.
But when I gave the show a second chance, I found that it did start to regain that wonderful blend of childish and adult humor, but with a more modern touch. The show is trying to adapt itself to the modern world, where people tend to want to consume more short-form media, by focusing more directly on short vignettes than having an overarching narrative. Moreover, each of the segments is a parody of an existing style of content, ranging from the personal interview show to the cooking competition to the science experiment web series. Having the Muppets enter into these well established frameworks not only adds a level of natural insanity to it, but allows them to add a level of cynicism at times without it becoming inherently dark or mean-spirited. For example, a big part of Pepe’s Gameshow is Pepe arbitrarily humiliating the guests and Scooter, his co-host. If it were coming from a person, it would seem cruel, but coming from a tiny King Prawn puppet, it comes off as hilarious.
Overall, while this isn’t the apex of a Muppets series, it does have a lot of potential, particularly since it’s only got one six episode season and time to learn from what does and doesn’t work before the next one.
Seriously, there’s dropping the ball then there’s firing it into the ground and trying to hit magma.
SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free, but who cares)
Artemis Fowl, Jr. (Ferdia Shaw) is a 12 year old supergenius son of Artemis Fowl, Sr. (Colin Farrell), a wealthy businessman and folk tale aficionado. One day, the older Artemis goes missing, having been accused of stealing a number of artifacts, and the younger one gets a call from his abductor, Opal Koboi (Hong Chau). It turns out Artemis had stolen a rare magical item called the Aculos. Domovoi Butler (Nonso Anozie), the Fowl family butler, reveals to Artemis that the Fowls have been dealing with magical creatures for generations. Artemis will have to deal with fairy police officers Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) and Julius Root (Dame Judi Dench), a giant dwarf named Mulch (Josh Gad), and other magical troubles to get his dad back with the help of Domovoi and Juliet Butler (Tamara Smart), Dom’s niece and Artemis’s best friend.
This movie sucks.
I have been told by a few parents who watched this movie that their small children enjoyed the film, but I have a difficult time believing anyone who has gotten to middle school will find any happiness in this experience. It suffers from some of the worst flaws you can find in the cinema.
First, it’s a lot of tell, not show. The entire movie is narrated by Josh Gad’s character, who apparently is the mega hype man for Artemis Fowl, so rather than actually see Artemis be smart, we’re just told that he’s the smartest person on the planet. Despite that, he chooses to say that he knows everything more often than he actually uses that knowledge.
Second, it’s unbelievably boring. If you’re not going to focus solely on action, then people need a reason to focus on dialogue or plot development. Here, there are a lot of sequences of people having conversations in which the audience has no vested interest. Saying that a character’s dad died doesn’t make it tragic unless we have a feeling as to what everyone’s emotional connection to them was.
Third, the acting wasn’t able to overcome weak characterizations. The lead isn’t strong enough to sustain the focus, the supporting characters aren’t strong enough to buoy the soft parts, and the villain is mostly non-existent within the film. It mostly hurts that they changed Artemis Fowl from the underaged head of a criminal empire to a generic child hero. Having a cold antihero as the lead can at least force some memorable performances, but the version of Artemis from this movie could have been pulled from half a dozen other movies.
Last, the plot sucks. It’s way too convoluted while not being as smart as the film wants it to be. The fact that Artemis Sr has been kidnapped doesn’t really have that much bearing on the actions of the fairy forces attacking Artemis Jr, which make up most of the movie. It’s tangentially connected, because they’re related to the same item, but the whole film feels disjointed.
I spent much of the movie wondering if you can even do an adaptation of Artemis Fowl to begin with. The project languished in Development Hell for 18 years, following the first book’s popularity and riding off of the Harry Potter young adult lit boom. This film tried to combine two books, similar to what the Jim Carrey A Series of Unfortunate Events film did, but the thing about Artemis Fowl is that a lot of the book is pretty intricate in how it represents Artemis and crew, which allows for more development of their reputations and capabilities. Also, they tried to make Artemis athletic in this film, something that he mostly averts in the original story, which, again, seems like more of a generic child hero than the character in the book. Honestly, a major studio probably just can’t make a children’s film with a morally conflicted lead.
Overall, avoid this movie. I’m sorry, guys, but maybe if this fails the way it should, someone will finally green light it as a TV series, which is probably a better way to handle the novels.