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.
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.
12-year-old twins Dipper and Mabel Pines (Jason Ritter and Kristen Schaal) are sent to spend the summer with their great-uncle “Grunkle” Stan Pines (Alex Hirsch) in the town of Gravity Falls, Oregon. Stan manages the local tourist trap the Mystery Shack, staffed by Soos Ramirez (Also Alex Hirsch) and Wendy Corduroy (Linda Cardellini). It turns out that Gravity Falls is no sleepy little town, but is filled with monsters, mermen, mayhem, and madness… which makes for the best Summer ever.
So, to try and do something different this month, I’m going to spend each Sunday talking about a show that I think everyone should watch. Since I want them to be as broad as possible, every entry is going to be a show that I think works for both kids and adults, and is a show that I think works to try and make the audience better people, rather than just targets for entertainment. Despite what many people will insist, people, especially kids, are massively impacted by the kind of media they consume, and I wanted to shout out shows that I think help the world in different ways. Since this show is both the shortest of the four and the only one which I will insist has no “bad” episodes that should be skipped, I’m putting it up front.
Gravity Falls is not the most well-known show, but it deserves to be, and thanks to Disney now having a streaming service, it can get the attention it merits. It’s a show that has a pilot containing what I think is one of the most brilliant subversions in TV history and just keeps getting better from there, culminating in an unbelievably powerful series finale which features one of the most terrifying villains that you could put into a show that can be shown to children. I’d previously said as much when I added an episode of this show to my list of the 100 Greatest Television Episodes of All Time that started this blog. That episode actually pretty much crystallizes what this show does better than almost any kids show, or most shows in general: connections.
The show starts off with Mabel and Dipper, who, being twins, are naturally close despite their opposing personalities. Dipper is an introvert who often gets too caught up in his head, while Mabel is an extrovert who often has trouble bonding with people due to her eccentricities. Stan, the person that they’re forced to interact with, is an abrasive jerk who lives off of scamming people. Then we get Wendy, the cool and aloof girl who never seems to really connect with anyone beyond casual acquaintance, and Soos, the awkward people pleaser who is a little bit childish for a 22 year old. No matter who you are, you will see some, or a lot, of yourself in one of the main characters, because they’re all so well-developed that they seem completely human despite their exaggerated natures. That’s why it’s so much more powerful to see how these characters interact with each other and with the rest of the people in Gravity Falls. As the show progresses, all of these connections grow stronger, culminating in a finale where one of the only things that ends up saving the day is how the people of the town are able to come together, even characters that had formerly been rivals or even enemies.
Gravity Falls also distinguishes itself in that the heroes’ powers are not being the strongest or the fastest, but instead being the smartest and the most caring. Dipper is dedicated to finding out the truth behind things, even if the truth is hard to accept. Mabel, on the other hand, doesn’t need to look into things, she just tries to make everyone her friend. In the most powerful moment in the show, she looks into the eyes of a person who has seemingly lying to her the entire time she knew them, and risks her own to trust them. There is an entire episode dedicated to building up to Mabel choosing to believe in someone, to put her faith in the goodness of another, despite the fact that she can’t even articulate why. Almost everything else in the world nowadays seems to speak to the opposite, that nobody is really worth trusting, that everyone is out for themselves, but I will always applaud this show for trying to remind us that humans got where we are by trusting others, and we will get further if we continue to do so. It takes strength and bravery to put your trust in someone, but everyone has it within them to do so. Be stronger, trust more.
Beyond the message, the show decided to try and give its audience something to do in their off-hours, containing a number of puzzles throughout the series, including having an encrypted message at the end of every episode and an entire cipher language, similar to Futurama. Moreover, the ciphers get more complicated as the show goes on, going from a simple substitution all the way to a vigenère keyword cipher with hidden keywords throughout the show. Few shows ever try to make part of the enjoyment of the show having to think about it more and comb through scenes looking for keywords or backwards messages, but Gravity Falls made it so fun that they eventually did an international scavenger hunt at the end of the series. It’s a show that helps you get better at puzzle solving and logic, something that benefits everyone.
Aside from the great stuff the series does for you, Gravity Falls is just so easy to watch. It’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s animated well, and it has Kristen Schaal shouting “GRAPPLING HOOK!” What more could you want?
Look, part of why I started this blog was to convince people that there are episodes of television out there that can help them grow. This show is filled with them. Please, no matter who you are, give it a try.
Dana Terrace, formerly of Gravity Falls and the DuckTales reboot, brings us this story of an imaginative young girl.
Luz Noceda (Sarah-Nicole Robles) is a teenage girl with an affinity for fantasy stories and a lack of restraint. She gets in trouble after her imagination gets the best of her and is sent to “reality check camp” by her mother. However, along the way she sees a small owl stealing her property. She gives chase through a magical doorway and finds herself on the Boiling Isles, a magical land that is responsible for most of human mythology. The owl is revealed to belong to Eda, the Owl Lady (Wendie Malick), the most powerful witch in the land… who makes her living selling stuff she stole from the human world. Luz proves to be an expert on human “artifacts,” so she’s taken back to Eda’s home, the Owl House, and introduced to the two other occupants: Hooty the house’s sentient door knocker and King, an adorable demon (Both voiced by Alex Hirsch from Gravity Falls). After helping save Eda from local authorities, Eda agrees to make Luz her apprentice… despite the handicap that humans can’t do magic.
I’ve mentioned several times that I love Gravity Falls, even putting one of its episodes on my list of the 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. Dana Terrace was the storyboard artist on that episode. I’ve repeatedly stated that I loved the first season of DuckTales (2017) and Dana Terrace directed six episodes of that season, including “Woo-oo,” the pilot that told me something was going to be amazing about this reboot. So, when they announced that she would be creating a show involving a number of veterans of Gravity Falls, DuckTales, and Star vs. The Forces of Evil, all great recent Disney shows, then I knew I would have to check it out. Unfortunately, A) I don’t have cable and B) the show isn’t on Disney+ yet. So, I checked out the pilot on YouTube and enjoyed it enough to merit buying the first season on Amazon. I’d say it helped that one of the first lines in the show was “My only weakness: DYING!!!!!!”
The key to this show, much like the shows that I’ve already mentioned in this review, is that even though it’s targeted mostly towards younger people (in this case, teens), the show tends to focus on generally relatable themes, mostly individualism vs. conformity. Luz is a person who doesn’t want to conform because of her love of nerd culture and Eda is a criminal because of her refusal to conform to her society’s rules on magic (and that she commits a LOT of petit theft). If you’re a nerd, or really anyone who has some kind of hobby that they’re passionate about, it’ll strike home a lot.
The dialogue is generally both charming and clever. Luz has a kind of naivety about her that makes her willing to tolerate a lot of the absurd or dark things about the Boiling Isles (such as the random skin-eating pixies) with a cheerful and sunny disposition. It allows the show to be darker than you would expect without ever really feeling that way. Eda, meanwhile, is basically Wendie Malick if she went to Hogwarts. She’s snappy, she’s fun, she can blow a hole through a large building with little effort, and she constantly has a scheme to make herself money, despite the fact that she’s a wanted criminal. King is just adorable, even though he is constantly advocating things that are morally questionable (like forcefully taking over a toddlers playground) and is a huge fan of classifying monstrous demons.
Honestly, great show, recommend it for any parents of kids between 6 and 14 as a thing you can watch with them without going insane. Also, Luz seems to be at least bi-curious, possibly making this the first Disney animated series with an LGTBQ lead… only a decade or two behind most of the other networks.
The Gold Standard of Reboots continues upholding its standard.
SUMMARY (Spoilers for Seasons 1 and 2)
Welcome back to Duckburg, where birds are people, but also sometimes are birds. Seriously the opening shot of the series was a normal seagull being shooed off by an anthropomorphic bird. The most prominent citizens are Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant) and his family members: Huey, Dewey, and Louie Duck (Danny Pudi, Ben Schwartz, Bobby Moynihan), Donald Duck (Tony Anselmo), Webby Vanderquack (Kate Micucci), Bentina Beakley (Toks Olagundoye), and Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett).
In season one, the Duck/McDuck family worked together to defeat Scrooge’s most dangerous adversary Magica De Spell (Catherine Tate), only for the audience (but not the characters) to find out that Donald’s Sister Della (Paget Brewster), the mother of the triplets, was still alive and stranded on the moon.
In season two, Della finally makes it home, only for the Moonlanders, led by General Lunaris (Lance Reddick) to invade Earth. He is thwarted by the Ducks, Darkwing Duck (Chris Diamantopolous), and Scrooge’s rival Flintheart Glomgold (Keith Ferguson), but it turns out that this threat has forced an even greater evil power to escalate their plans: F.O.W.L. (the Fiendish Organization for World Larceny).
Now, the Ducks have set out to locate a collection of the lost treasures of Scrooge’s idol Isabella Finch while F.O.W.L. plots to get them first.
This has been a solid three-stage development for this show. The first season was mostly about acclimating the audience to the new world of DuckTales, which, while it still resembled its 1987 counterpart, had been updated in both tone and animation style to be more in line with Disney’s new animated series like Gravity Falls or Star vs. the Forces of Evil. It also abandoned the original series’ episodic nature and instead was a serial, which allowed the show to build up Magica’s threat gradually over the series, as well as the mystery of what happened to Della.
Season two didn’t expand the adventuring, but instead doubled down on expanding the series emotionally. It showed us the backgrounds of several of the characters from the last season and recontextualized their actions, which is a great storytelling device when done well (like the Ice King in Adventure Time) and expanded on the emotional loss felt by the Duck family over Della going missing. Then, when she returns, it’s not quite the happy reunion with her kids that she’d hoped for, because they’ve spent ten years without her. While they’re fighting giant golems or robots, the show still demonstrated that Della’s return was affecting everyone emotionally and that it was a gradual process to deal with it. It also gave us a little taste of nostalgia by bringing back the Three Caballeros and Darkwing Duck, which was basically a set-up for this season.
The theme for season three is “nostalgia.” It was advertised a while ago that the third season would contain almost every character from Disney’s ‘90s afternoon lineup and so far it has delivered on it and then some. I don’t want to say who has appeared so far, but I can say that making them canon to this show bodes well for future episodes. There’s even an episode which takes place in a ‘90s sitcom, just to make sure that everyone gets a full blast of that extreme pre-financial crisis optimism that is so hard to even remember now.
It’s the fact that the show was willing to be patient with their properties that makes it work. They didn’t bring Della back in season 1, nor was it just a “she’s back, everything’s normal now” situation. Season 2 gave us Darkwing Duck in an amazing reboot, but they only used him sparingly. Similarly, Season 3 is giving us several characters, but even when they appear it’s only ancillary to the storyline. It’s not overloading us on anything, instead just making us want it more. Really, I’m impressed with the restraint.
Overall, still love the show, recommend it highly.
This review is dedicated to the amazing Timothy Omundson, who I first saw here and who almost made this film great.
Kyle Johnson (Ryan Merriman) is a high-schooler who is supernaturally lucky. His love interest Bonnie (Alexis Lopez), the head of the Heritage Committee, asks him about his family lineage. His parents, Bobby and Kathleen (Paul Kiernan, Marita Geraghty) both claim they’re from Cleveland, acting very suspiciously, and refuse to explain anything further. On the way home from basketball practice with his best friend Russell (Glenndon Chatman), he sees the symbol on his lucky coin advertising an Irish festival. He attends, meeting a strange old man (Henry Gibson), and watching a performance by Seamus McTiernan (Timothy Omundson), an irish folk dancer. He gets knocked down at the festival, but thinks nothing of it.
The next morning, Kyle finds his luck has soured, his mom has a pronounced Irish accent, and he’s shorter and uncoordinated. The day goes horribly, including Kyle almost costing his Basketball team the semi-finals. The day after that, he finds that he’s even shorter, is growing red hair, and that his lucky coin has been replaced by a fake. He goes home to find that his mother is now only a few inches tall. It turns out that she’s a leprechaun, making Kyle half leprechaun. As long as they had their coin, then all of his clan, the clan O’Reilly, could appear human.
Kyle’s mom says that the old man he saw at the fair was her father, Reilly O’Reilly, owner of a local factory. Reilly didn’t agree to his daughter marrying a human, so he had cut her off from the rest of the family. Kyle goes to meet with his grandfather, who reveals that the person who stole the coin was likely Seamus McTiernan, a Far darrig, or an evil leprechaun. Reilly, Russell, Bonnie, and the Johnsons all go to find McTiernan, who leads them on a car chase and escapes using corned beef and cabbage (it makes sense in context).
Eventually, they catch up to Seamus and Kyle gets his luck back, but Reilly is captured. Knowing a Far darrig cannot resist a bet, Kyle wagers the coin in a contest, saying he can beat Seamus at “sports.” Using his wording against him, Seamus challenges Kyle to the ancient Tailteann Games, most of which Kyle can’t physically win. Through a combination of luck and the fact that magical judges apparently like breakdancing, Kyle ties, but Seamus points out that since Kyle didn’t “beat” him, Seamus won the bet. Kyle wagers his freedom against the coin and his grandfather, saying that he can beat Seamus at basketball even without luck. Russell and Kyle are transported to the basketball finals and find themselves playing against Seamus and his crew. Kyle manages to win and, through clever wording, banishes Seamus to the shores of Lake Erie. He gets his luck back and performs an Irish dance at the heritage festival, before he and Bonnie lead the crowd in a chorus of “This Land Is Your Land.”
I selected this film, rather than Darby O’Gill and the Little People, mostly because I realized the other day that this was the first movie I saw featuring Timothy Omundson, one of the most underrated actors working today. For years, I have had the image of him shouting “I am the Saint of the Step” in my head whenever I see him, even though I’ve since seen him in better roles, because somehow he really stood out in this film despite his limited screen time and generic villain status. Also, I love his car-chase expressions.
However, what I had apparently forgotten over the years is how very dated this film was. This movie came out in early 2001 and it is an interesting combination of patriotic “rah rah, America!” and globalist “immigrants are all Americans” that didn’t exactly continue after 9/11. Much of the film is about celebrating heritage while also celebrating America as the Land of Opportunity. Both Bonnie and Kyle make speeches about it, and not much is said about some of the downsides of America, aside from that “things used to be rough for immigrants.” At one point, in a moment that I had completely forgotten, Bonnie says that when they got here they Irish were paid far less than their labor is worth, only for Russell, an African-American, to say “AT LEAST THEY GOT PAID,” which is summarily ignored in favor of talking about the beauty of the American Dream. Like I said, it represents the last months of a distinct time period.
I don’t know whether or not this movie is offensive to Irish people, since I’m only of Irish descent, but I admit that it’s a little weird that the film indicates that accents, dancing, and flute playing are genetic. I guess that might only be for Leprechauns, though. That is also among the long list of things that turn out to be quite odd and yet completely accepted by the characters. For example, while Leprechauns exist, we don’t really get an idea that they have any magical powers beyond “lucky” only for us to quickly be shown that at least Seamus is capable of all sorts of insane magics. Despite how sudden the reveal that “oh, hey, Leprechauns have magic” is, not a single character really responds by asking if Kyle has any powers. If the O’Reilly Clan’s sole benefit is that they’re lucky, that’s not bad, but I feel like they only touched the surface of this mythology. They did, however, get that the fae love wordplay and will always honor a deal to the letter, not the spirit.
However, the performances in the movie manage to make it charming despite the seemingly meandering plot. Ryan Merriman gave a solid performance in both this and Smart House, even though his character tends to be a little forgettable. Henry Gibson is just naturally hilarious from his years on Laugh-in and he had previously played a leprechaun on Bewitched. Then there’s Omundson. Despite the fact that his lines are nothing short of terrible at many points, he delivers them so sincerely that they come off as just a megalomaniac who genuinely believes he’s infallible. It helps that when Merriman or Gibson or Chatman says something extremely unusual in response, Omundson genuinely looks confused or annoyed by it. Acting is reacting, people.
Overall, I still have a soft spot for this movie. If you have Disney+, give it a try.
Disney finally gave us the Star Wars side story that we secretly always wanted and I’m pretty happy about it.
SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free if you have the internet)
It’s 5 years after Return of the Jedi and most of the Galaxy’s collective sh*t is pretty broken. A lot of soldiers are now working as private armies, a lot of formerly powerful Imperials are trying to resist the new Republic, and bounty hunting is a viable business model.
The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is a bounty hunter who operates alone and tends to be fairly brutal in combat. His bounty hunting guild leader Greef Karga (Carl “Apollo” Weathers) informs him that there is a client (Werner “Holy sh*t, Werner Herzog” Herzog) with a special bounty request. When the bounty price is revealed to be a cache of Beskar steel, sacred to Mandalorians, the Mandalorian agrees. After gaining the assistance of a vapor farmer named Kuill (Nick Nolte) and a robot bounty hunter IG-11 (Taika “What Waititi Do in the Shadows” Waititi), he succeeds in finding the target, but discovers that it is a child from the same species as Yoda. Having a change of heart, the Mandalorian goes on the run with The Child, earning enemies everywhere.
Let’s get it out of the way: Baby Yoda is about the cutest damned thing out there. It’s what happens when someone looks at baby Groot and goes “I’ll top this.” Is it bad writing to have a character whose main trait is just that he’s adorable? Maybe, but also HE’S SO ADORABLE YOU GUYS. Also, I think they’re going to name the child Yoda just so that, in retrospect, everyone isn’t wrong about what they call him.
Star Wars has had a lot of great stuff and a lot of crap over the years, but mostly it’s created an amazing world that manages to combine the possibilities of almost every frontier. Any scene can take place, justifiably, in almost any environment. You can have a representation of a futuristic armada intercut with a sequence of desert survival and nothing about that is inconsistent with the Star Wars universe. That means that, in Star Wars, you can imagine almost any background for a character or culture and it will still fit. Star Wars doesn’t stifle the imagination, it feeds it. That’s why it’s so great to get a show like this, where we just see a completely different story playing out parallel to the rest of the series.
While Star Wars was based on the old Buck Rogers serials and their sci-fi action/adventure roots mixed with Japanese jidaigeki films (mostly The Hidden Fortress), The Mandalorian is its own melting pot of genres. The main character is based on the Man with No Name figure typically associated with Clint Eastwood, a taciturn gunslinger who travels alone and has his own code of ethics. However, once he becomes attached to The Child, the series shifts slightly to be more like Lone Wolf and Cub, the famous Samurai manga and film series about a father doing horrible killings to protect his son. By blending the Western and Eastern influences with the sci-fi and fantasy setting, the show can justify making episode-specific genre shifts. This means that rather than having to focus on maintaining a consistent tone, the series allowed the writers and directors to explore more when they had control while still being true to the characters. For example, we have a heist episode that ends up also playing out a number of horror tropes and it still works.
The action sequences in the show are among the best in the Star Wars universe, partially because there are more people with guns and fewer space wizards. Not that I don’t love a good lightsaber battle as much as the next guy, but that’s been the majority of sustained action sequences in the franchise. Instead, we get to watch a bounty hunter use a combination of fantastic weaponry, tactical planning, and training to take out small armies of enemies. Hell, we get to see a single person fight a TIE fighter and, well, it’s everything that Star Wars videogames told me it would be.
Overall, this is just a great show. Does it have a huge character arc for the main character? Not really. Does it have a ton of lines that are profoundly quotable and meaningful? Nope. Does it teach me things about myself that I would never have found otherwise? Not at all. BUT IT’S JUST SO FUN. It’s got a space cowboy kicking ass to protect the cutest creature in TV history, a phrase that also describes Firefly, and that’s all I wanted out of it.
Darkwing Duck, the terror that flaps in the night, is getting a dark and gritty reboot that no one asked for… especially not Darkwing Duck.
This is your spoiler warning. This episode is on Amazon right now. Spend the 2 dollars. It’s worth it.
Within the reboot of DuckTales, Darkwing Duck is a television show from the 90s which starred a stuntman named Jim Starling (Original Darkwing voice Jim Cummings), famous for doing all his own stunts. Most of the world appears not to remember the series, but Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) is a huge fan of the character. His passion is so great that it tends to infect others with an affection for the show. It’s also mentioned repeatedly that the show ended on a cliffhanger.
Jim Starling, the former Darkwing Duck star, is signing autographs. Launchpad, along with another nameless die-hard Darkwing fan (Chris Diamantopoulos) tries to get an autograph, aided by Dewey Duck (Ben Schwartz), but keeps fainting from nerves. When Dewey tries to tag the pair in a photo, he discovers that Darkwing Duck is trending online, because they’re making a movie of the series. Believing that he’s naturally going to be asked to reprise the role, Starling heads to the studio making the movie, which happens to be McDuck Studios owned by Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant).
Scrooge and the director of the Darkwing Duck film, Alistair Boorswan (Edgar Freaking Wright!!!), are having creative issues. When Louie, Launchpad, and Starling bust into the meeting, they’re shown the trailer, which portrays it as a grim and gritty reboot which satirizes a number of terrible superhero movies. Everyone agrees that this movie is terrible, including Scrooge, who puts Dewey in charge of directing the finale of the film. Starling is willing to be in it anyway, only to be surprised when the fan from earlier is introduced as the actor now playing Darkwing Duck in the movie. Starling attacks him, resulting in his and Launchpad’s expulsion from the studio. Starling talks Launchpad into helping him get back in so they can get him in the movie, with Launchpad trying to lock the new actor in his trailer. They fight briefly, but it’s revealed that the actor was inspired his entire life by Darkwing Duck and, while he knows the movie’s bad, wants nothing more than to try and help give another generation of kids the same hero he had. He and Launchpad quickly become best friends. The actor tries to confront Starling and suggests they work together to make the movie great, but Starling refuses to let anyone else be Darkwing Duck. He locks the actor in a closet and goes on set to film the finale.
When told that Darkwing surrenders in the last scene, Starling refuses to follow commands and instead starts wrecking the props, before grabbing the fully functional lightning gun that the film’s villain Megavolt (Keith Ferguson) was using and attacking the crew. The actor, now dressed in his Darkwing Duck costume, shows up to stop him. The two fight, with Starling growing increasingly more insane and villainous, until finally Launchpad tries to convince them to stop. A prop starts to collapse, and after the actor tries to save him, Starling jumps in and saves them both, sacrificing himself.
While the final fight was filmed, it’s revealed that Dewey recorded over it with a video of himself dancing. Scrooge declares that there will never be a Darkwing Duck movie. The actor is saddened that he can’t bring Darkwing Duck to a new generation, but Launchpad tells him he should just do it for real. The actor, revealed to be none other than Drake Mallard, agrees to give it a shot. Unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, it’s revealed that Jim Starling survived the explosion, but now is insane, with the colors being washed out of his costume to reveal that he is now Darkwing’s arch-nemesis: NEGADUCK.
When I first reviewed DuckTales, I mentioned that I consider it one of the more successful reboots I’ve ever seen. It takes everything that was good about the original, adds in some more source and expanded universe material, but also updates, enhances, expands, and, let’s be honest, sometimes corrects the source material (particularly some of the female characters). It strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and originality, while also being clever and funny. This episode exemplifies that balance even better than the rest of the series.
The concept of Darkwing Duck as a show within the show was an interesting way to reintroduce the character, though it seemed like it mostly closed the door on the actual character ever appearing in the series. However, it seems like, in retrospect, much of this was a carefully planned build-up to this episode. When the original surprise announcement that Darkwing Duck would appear in the new series was made, one of the producers, Frank Angones (who is the best at Twitter), mentioned that it was difficult to introduce Darkwing Duck, because once you put Darkwing in an episode, he just naturally becomes the focus. Despite, or perhaps because of this, they put relatively little of Darkwing Duck in the first season, limiting it to a single scene in a cold open, a fun gag about the catchy closing theme song to the show, and a bobblehead that said “let’s get dangerous.” It was extremely restrained, making this episode even more impactful.
The brilliance of this episode is that it is a reboot of a character within a reboot of a series and the episode is a parody of bad reboots. The most obvious part is the “trailer” for the film, which contains explicit references to the gratuitous slo-mo pearls falling from Batman v. Superman as well as the strange flaming letters scene from Daredevil, both of which have been mocked by everyone who has seen the films. The movie that Alistair Boorswan is making is dark and desaturated, much like Batman v. Superman, and Boorswan’s primary concern is conveying his dark and edgy “study of man’s inhumanity towards man.” Boorswan doesn’t actually care about what made Darkwing Duck good, only about his “artistic vision.” He also dislikes even presenting a heroic character as heroic, thinking that making someone darker and more morally compromised makes them automatically better. I’m not saying that’s a shot at DC films, except that of course I’m saying that. Meanwhile, Scrooge himself is a parody of studio interference in film, being so out of touch that he admits he didn’t see a movie since 1938 and says that “color’s all the rage nowadays.” He then gives the movie to Dewey, who tries to insert a musical number just because he likes it.
The core to this episode, though, is Drake Mallard. In the original series, Darkwing Duck was a hero because he wanted to be one. Sure, he wasn’t perfect, often egotistical, fame-hungry, histrionic, and sometimes just flat-out selfish, but he did have a strong moral center and a desire to be a hero. In this series, Drake Mallard is a hero because he wants to give children something to look up to, the way that he looked up to Darkwing Duck. This is the strongest rebuttal to the type of movie that this episode was satirizing: A movie where the heroes aren’t really heroic. This version of Darkwing wants to inspire the good in the world, rather than just combat the bad, like the well-written versions of Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, or even Batman. These heroes are supposed to show us what we can do if we believe in fighting for justice and they’re not tied to a person but to an ideal because people fail, ideals don’t. This isn’t a new concept – hell, it’s one of the books of Plato’s Republic – but that’s why even if we have the “grittier, more realistic” heroes, it’s still important to have heroes out there who are focused on inspiring and presenting a better version of the world to fight for. Real heroes make us want to be better.
Just a few more notes: Much like in Into the Spiderverse, the focus in this episode is on the hero always getting back up when they get knocked down. It’s genuinely moving to watch Drake continue to take a hilarious beating and keep fighting to protect everyone, and that’s one of the few things that anyone can relate to: the desire to just fight one more time for what’s right. It’s also appropriate that this would happen in a show featuring David Tennant, a man famous for being such a superfan of a character that inspired him that he grew up to be one of, if not THE, best versions of that character. If you don’t know what character I mean, please read this.
Overall, I loved this episode, if that’s not obvious. I think it gave us a bunch of solid gags, the set-up to a whole bunch of potential storylines and maybe even a spin-off, and it reminded me of why I love some superheroes over others. Plus, it got me to re-read part of the Republic, so that’s fun.