Descendants (1, 2, 3): These Were Cute – Disney+ Review/Reader Request

My niece forced me to review these, but they were fine.

My sister-in-law forwarded one of the cutest videos ever of my young niece singing a song I had never heard before, complete with some attempted choreography. I was told that the song was from one of the Descendants movies on Disney+. Unfortunately, this somehow snowballed into my niece being told that she could ask me to watch all three of these movies and review them. I tried to say no, but then she used the term “reader request.” I was stuck. Fortunately, they were surprisingly decent movies with increasingly good musical numbers. They’re not going to go down in history as the pinnacle of cinema, but they’re pretty fun movies that pay off more if you’re a big fan of Disney’s classic films.

You can tell which ones are evil because they dress like they listen to My Chemical Romance.

The premise of Descendants is that there is a country called Auradon ruled by Belle and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast (Keegan Connor Tracy and Dan Payne). As part of setting up their perfect kingdom, they banished all of the villains to the “Isle of the Lost” which is behind a barrier that eliminates magic. Belle’s and Beast’s son, Ben (Mitchell Hope), decides to offer a chance to come to Auradon to the children of the villains. It starts with Carlos de Vil, Jay the son of Jafar, Evie the daughter of the Evil Queen, and Maleficent’s daughter Mal (Cameron Boyce, Booboo Stewart, Sofia Carson, Dove Cameron), then eventually includes other children like Gaston’s son Gil, Ursula’s daughter Uma, Harry Hook, Dizzy Tremaine, Celia Facilier, and Smee’s boys Squeaky and Squirmy (Dylan Playfair, China Anne McClain, Thomas Doherty, Anna Cathcart, Jadah Marie, Christian Convery, and Luke Roessler). They basically attend high school with the children of the heroes, like Sleeping Beauty’s daughter Audrey, Dopey’s son Doug, Mulan’s daughter Lonnie, Fairy Godmother’s daughter Jane, and Cinderella’s son Chad (Sarah Jeffery, Zachary Gibson, Dianne Doan, Brenna D’Amico, Jedidiah Goodacre). Naturally, there are a lot of villain schemes that try to play out as the bad guys try to escape their prison and a lot of kids switch sides. There are songs and a happy ending for everyone that isn’t evil. 

And some very odd reveals along the way.

The idea behind these movies is actually pretty solid. It’s basically directly challenging the notion that you’re born good or evil and are rewarded accordingly by wealth, a thing which was so common among America’s founders that we are still dealing with it. Of course, most people nowadays recognize that most people are driven to bad acts by bad situations and the movies are about the adoption of this new ideology. It’s basically a generational story of how societal complexity forces the move away from people just being “good” and “evil.” The films point out that while most of the kids of the villains might start off with bad tendencies, that stems in part from the fact that they grew up in a poor area populated entirely by people who are literally condemned by society as irreparably evil by their nature. While many of their parents continue to be villains, most of the kids, when put in an area that rewards their hard work, grants them independence, and doesn’t say that they’re inherently evil, actually start to become better people. On the other hand, many of the heroes’ kids are a bit dickish because A) they’re rich and entitled and B) they’re literally told that they’re heroes and good people because their parents were. This plays out really well in the third movie. The songs are great and, honestly, they get better as the films go on. While the stories and conflicts get a little repetitive as they go on, the movies still have some fun moments. 

And some moments where you’re just wondering how we got here.

Overall, there are much better films, but these would be cute to watch with your kids, particularly since they have a message that will always apply more to the next generation than the current one.

Black Widow: Not Marvel’s Best, but Still Good – Disney+ Review

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.

As opposed to her posing repeatedly, which is heavily expected.

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). 

They kill people and look good doing it.

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. 

His knuckles say “Karl Marx.” He can punch you into class unconsciousness.

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.

At least Natasha tries to keep her sister safe.

Overall, though, this was definitely a movie that was worth seeing. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Cruella: A Great Movie Weighed Down by Forced Premise – Disney+ Review

This movie is like 90% great and 10% WHY?????

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

Estella Miller (Emma Stone) was born a bit of an outcast due to her black-and-white hair, but it certainly isn’t helped by her mischievous streak. Her only friend growing up is a young girl named Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). Her mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham), decides to move the two of them to London, but when she stops to get help from a “friend,” Estella wanders into a fashion show and gets caught, resulting in a pack of Dalmatians chasing after her. The Dalmatians attack her mother and kill her. Yes, that actually happens. Now orphaned, Estella meets two street urchins named Horace and Jasper (Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry). The three grow up as thieves until Estella finally manages to get a job working for famed fashion designer The Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson) and befriends local fashion shop owner Artie (John McCrea). Soon, however, Estella decides she needs to pull a heist on her employer and debuts herself as the new face of fashion: Cruella. 

She makes all of her own outfits.

END SUMMARY

I will start by saying that having Cruella de Vil’s mother killed by Dalmatians is possibly the absolute dumbest thing they could have done. Moreover, it doesn’t even make her hate Dalmatians, not even the ones that actually orphaned her, thus making it completely useless to her origin. Combine that with the idea that Cruella de Vil’s black-and-white hair is somehow natural and the terrible “this is how I died” set-up and I’ll admit that at the 10 minute mark, I was about ready to call this movie a disaster (despite a great performance by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland as young Cruella). Surprisingly, though, once the movie kind of settles into its ultimate 1970s London location, the film actually gets pretty entertaining and impressive.

She. Was. Born. With two-toned hair.

First of all, the makeup and hair design and set design in this movie might both merit Oscar nominations, if not outright wins, but the costume design takes it to another level. The costumes in the film have to be beautiful, diverse (they are coming from multiple designers, after all), thematically appropriate, and inventive as heck. Somehow, they pull it off repeatedly. At one point, without spoiling anything, it’s revealed that Cruella is wearing almost the entire shot and I legitimately shouted at the brilliance of it. As far as makeup and set design goes, this movie looks absolutely gorgeous. Spots are hidden everywhere to reference the Dalmatians, the colors are bold, they look period appropriate while also containing references to locations of famous art shows (if you just watched Halston, then you’d probably recognize some stuff), and they’re just cool looking. 

Welcome to the future. It involves a lot of spray paint.

Emma Thompson and Emma Stone are both amazing. They’re both strong women with more similarities than they’d like to admit, particularly since Emma Thompson resembles the person that we are told Cruella will one day become. She definitely seems a bit influenced by Glenn Close in the live action version as well as Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. Emma Stone plays Estella as a bit of a split personality with Cruella, changing quite a bit as she indulges further and further into her criminal persona, which starts to actually behave like a young version of her future self. Paul Walter Hauser and Joel Fry both give a lot more personality to their characters which is helped by the fact that they deal with both Estella, who treats them like close friends, and Cruella, who treats them like lackeys. It’s interesting to see them react to the change, because at first they just try to deal with it because they care about her, but then they slowly get worn down by her abuse.

I literally don’t know if this is a wig. We see dye, but then we see wig later.

The biggest problem, though, is that the film can’t actually let Cruella be the villain. While she does START to do a turn towards darkness, she never actually falls to it. By the end of the movie, she’s basically just a successful fashion designer with no indication that she’d ever order the murder of a bunch of Dalmatians just to make a coat. In fact, a big part of the movie is that one of her closest companions IS A DOG. Even when she is actually given the chance to be cruel to animals, the film makes it clear that she is not even considering it. At the end of the film, there is absolutely no way that the character we’ve been following will EVER be Cruella de Vil except in name. It’s not that she’s a bad character, in fact, she’s very interesting, but she’s not Cruella de Vil. Oh, and the mid-credits scene only drives that home way more.

She even has a dog. And Horace has the cutest chihuahua ever.

Overall, the only parts of this movie that don’t work are the ones that seem to be forced to make it a “Cruella de Vil” movie. If you just let it be independent of that, the movie was actually pretty enjoyable and, again, damned gorgeous.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Amphibia: One of Gravity Falls’ Proud Progeny – Disney+ Review

Disney is getting some real talent on their shows.

SUMMARY (Spoilers for Season 1)

Anne Boonchuy (Brenda Song) and her best friends Sasha Waybright (Anna Akana) and Marcy Wu (Haley Tju) steal a music box from an antique store. When they open it, they are sucked through and end up in the land of Amphibia, a world populated by sentient frogs, toads, and newts. Separated from the others, Anne meets the Plantar family, a trio of frog farmers living in the small town of Wartwood: Anne’s best friend and partner-in-crime Sprig (Justin Felbinger), Sprig’s pollywog sister Polly (Amanda Leighton), and their grandfather Hopediah AKA “Hop Pop.” Anne, who is perceived as a freak by the population, eventually grows to be liked by the people of Wartwood, only for it to be revealed that Sasha has become the chief lieutenant of Captain Grime (Troy Baker), the vicious head of Toad Tower that controls the region of Amphibia that includes Wartwood. After Anne and Sasha fight and the tower is destroyed, they end up separated again. Now, the Plantars and Anne set off for the capital, Newtopia, to find something that may help Anne get back home… and maybe to find Marcy.

Renewed for Season 3.

END SUMMARY

I have made at least a dozen statements on this blog about my absolute love of Gravity Falls. I think that, in many ways, it’s one of the most impressive shows ever made, managing to make a kid-friendly version of Twin Peaks while also creating some of the most memorable characters and most powerful scenes of emotion you can get in an animated show. One of the episodes even was added to my 100 Best Episodes of Television and I genuinely considered adding another. The creator of this show, Matt Braly, was not only a director of 8 episodes of Gravity Falls, but was the Key Animator of “Not What He Seems,” the episode that I consider the peak of that show. Whatever experience he got on Gravity Falls clearly helped shape this show, because Amphibia manages to push many of the same boundaries of television that Gravity Falls did while also delivering the kind of show that can be loved and enjoyed by people of any age. It’s a show that families can watch together, something that I think we really need more of. Along with The Owl House and The Mitchells vs. The Machines, there’s a whole generation of great talent making animated shows.

Show knows how to design a city.

Part of what makes this show successful is that the characters are all likably flawed. Anne has more issues than almost any protagonist you could have on a kids show, but she does always keep trying to do the right thing. More than that, she learns from her mistakes and, while she ends up making more, there’s never a doubt that she’ll get better. She has very different relationships with all three of the Plantars: She’s Sprig’s emotional confidant and closest friend, she’s Polly’s source of both femininity and also athleticism, and she’s both Hop Pop’s surrogate daughter and, occasionally, the one who bonds with him over the childish behavior of the younger Plantars. All of the relationships feel natural and they keep the show fresh because there’s always more to mine as the characters grow. 

It also has TROGDOR!! The Burninator.

The setting of the show manages to be completely alien and yet familiar. Everything in Amphibia is just a bit off from Earth, but you can still find common ground with it. That particularly applies to the citizens of Wartwood, which include the corrupt politician Mayor (Stephen Root), his well-named yes-man Toadie (Jack McBrayer), and local weirdo Wally (James Patrick Stuart). The technology is a bit irregular, with most of society being at Feudalism, but other aspects being in the 1930s or even 50s. The old-timey society makes it more understandable when there are monsters or cannibals (seriously) or other crazy things populating the area. I think they honestly get away with some of these horror figures only because most of the characters are frogs and therefore less “real.”

There’s a lot of diversity among amphibians.

Overall, the show just really gets a lot of stuff right. I really recommend it, particularly if you liked Gravity Falls (which does get a tribute episode).

Stan Ponds. Perfect.

****SPOILERS FOR SEASON 2 FINALE****

So, you may have seen this show trending a month or so ago. That’s because Disney ended up cancelling the finale of Season 2 shortly before it aired. So shortly, in fact, that the episode ended up being available on iTunes for a few hours before it could be pulled. Fans, as well as the creators and their fellow people in the animated series industry, rioted, because this was done without any real explanation. Having now seen the finale, I notice two things: 1) They put a warning before the episode about its potential impact on small children and 2) they made the actual broadcast of the finale be followed up by a sample of season 3’s opening. I think they had to do this because the second season finale of Amphibia was one of the most shocking things I have ever seen, completely destroying what I thought Disney’s standards and practices would allow. While the show regularly puts members of the cast in mortal danger, it’s still a kids show, so you would not expect them to, hypothetically, violently impale a character with a sword and then end a season. But they did. I think they made them air the season 3 opening just because it reveals that the character is still alive (albeit in a tube). I am actually a little sad that they weren’t willing to perma-kill a character, but it is a character I really like, so… I’m torn. In any case, I still think they shouldn’t have delayed the finale, but I do understand it.

Darby O’Gill and the Little People: The Perfect St. Paddy’s Day Film – (NOT) Disney+ Review

I love this movie and if you don’t love it, drink ‘til you do.

SUMMARY

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. 

Having a nice time with a small friend.

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. 

The violin is a key plot point.

END SUMMARY

*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.

When rotoscoping going wrong actually goes right.

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. 

Walt Disney had a bigger pot of gold than him.

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. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Raya and the Last Dragon: A Disney Movie We Really Need – Disney+ Review

Disney brings us a story of a young woman trying to heal a broken world.

SUMMARY

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.

Sisu’s like a dragon mixed with a puppy mixed with Nora from Queens.

END SUMMARY

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.

Raya wields a chain blade, like in Brotherhood of the Wolf. It’s awesome.

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. 

Yes, this movie makes it clear that babies are dying.

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.

Sometimes you need to trust people who’ve broken it before.

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.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Flora and Ulysses: Squirrel Superhero Makes For Cute Film – Disney+ Review

A young girl makes the most unusual friend you can find.

SUMMARY 

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.

Step one for Disney film, have adorable animal scene.

END SUMMARY

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. 

Superhero landing is pretty adorable on a squirrel.

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.

Ben Schwartz is always entertaining.

Overall, though, it’s still a kids movie. If you aren’t watching with a young child, you’ll probably get pretty bored. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special: Everything You Want and More – Disney+ Review

Lego knows how to make things fun, and they nailed it this time.

SUMMARY 

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.

The Chewbacca Lego always looks wrong.

END SUMMARY

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. 

Admit it, you wanted to see this fight.

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.

We get bonus fun fight scenes on the Death Star II.

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.

If you made this joke, you know what you’re doing.

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.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Halloweentown: It’s Cute, It’s Fun, and It’s Great for Families – Disney + Review / 13 Reviews of Halloween

This movie is the ultimate tribute to Halloween and a fun family story combined into one.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

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. 

This was before Pumpkin Spice Lattes threatened the holiday pumpkin surplus.

END SUMMARY

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. 

Plus they have pumpkin bowling balls.

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. 

It gets a little weird.

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. 

And it’ll make you invested in a $50 light prop.

Overall, it’s just a great film to put on during the holiday. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

The Rocketeer: An Underappreciated Superhero Story – Disney+ Review (Day 13)

I take a look at a movie I loved from my childhood that wasn’t quite right for its time period.

SUMMARY

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. 

It was a bad crash.

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. 

Lothar is one of the most ridiculous and awesome parts of this film.

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. 

END SUMMARY

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. 

I always wanted to see the movie Dalton was making in this.

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 movie didn’t have enough Rocket Car.

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.

The “this is my new symbol” moment.

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. 

He threatens Paul Sorvino with a sword, which is a baller move.

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.  

Has a great “rah-rah, America” moment. Cuz Nazis suck.

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.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.