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.

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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.

Beauty and the Beast: Still a Masterpiece – Disney+ Review (Day 1)

I revisit the first movie that I ever saw in the theater.

SUMMARY

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.

Who’s a cursed boy? You are! You are!

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).  

There’s also a feather duster who didn’t merit a name in the film.

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. 

Monsieur D’Arque was probably never going to be a good guy.

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.

The bad guy has the black horse with red eyes. Man, if only life was this simple.

END SUMMARY

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.

I left Ernest Scared Stupid because of the child murder. Again, four.

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.

Yeah, CGI has come a long way, but this is still a great use of it.

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.

I’d put this in a museum, and they said this was the rushed production.

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. 

Not having hands everywhere was a good change, although I love Cocteau.

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. 

Animation makes visual storytelling easier, but it still takes talent to pull off.

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. 

Replace “eggs” with “whey protein” and you definitely know him.

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.

He’s also a bit insecure. Can’t imagine why.

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.

You couldn’t start one book club in a town that can sustain a book lender?

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. 

This is how you start a movie.

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.

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.

Disney+ Review – Artemis Fowl: How Did This Fail So Hard?

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.

Remember when this outfit didn’t help the kid in Blues Brothers 2000?

END SUMMARY

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.

Not least of which being generic costuming.

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. 

If you can’t get Judi Dench to be riveting, you need to burn the script.

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.

And there are like 3 subplots that amount to nothing.

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.

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.

Disney+ Op-Ed – Why Everyone Should Watch Gravity Falls

Give me 5 minutes to change your life.

SUMMARY 

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.

Question Mark, Pine Tree, Weird Fish, Shooting Star, Too Cool to Have a Symbol

END SUMMARY

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.

The lowest-rated episode of this show has Lance Bass voice an entire boy band. Awesome.

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.

Mabel says: Hugs are a good sign of connecting.

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.

Invite some strangers to a party. Sometimes it stops ghosts.

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. 

Mabel is the strongest of us all.

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. 

This puzzle is supposed to be sung to the Sailor Moon theme.

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? 

A small child has a grappling hook. You can’t do better than this.

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.

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.

Disney Review – The Owl House: A Magical Family Show

Dana Terrace, formerly of Gravity Falls and the DuckTales reboot, brings us this story of an imaginative young girl.

SUMMARY

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.

OwlHouse - 1Cast
The fearsome demon is on the left.

END SUMMARY

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. 

OwlHouse - 2Wanted
Eda’s reward poster has a LOT of zeroes. 

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.  

OwlHouse - 3Circle
The system of magic in this show is pretty interesting, although they haven’t fully explained it.

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. 

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.