Animation

ZOOTOPIA (2016)

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Despite being a bunny, Judy has always dreamed of becoming a police officer and helping make the world a better place for animals to live in harmony.  And thanks to the mayor’s new program to get underrepresented animals onto the police force, her dream is about to become a reality.  Judy is so excited to start her new job in the big city–until she finds out that the police chief doesn’t share the mayor’s faith in her and has assigned her to writing parking tickets.  But when Judy promises to help a distressed otter locate her missing husband, the chief gives her 48 hours to break the case–or else she must resign the force.  With the help of a cynical con-artist fox, Judy begins to follow the clues.  But as she begins to uncover a sinister conspiracy, Judy’s efforts to make the world a better place begin to tear her community apart.

My husband and I rented this movie for our grown-up date night (we saw the trailer with the all-sloth DMV and were instantly sold; well done, Disney marketing department), and we were not disappointed.  There was plenty of humor to appeal to kids and adults, they mystery was compelling, and the message about prejudice and discrimination was timely.  A great family film with appeal for a variety of ages!

THE IRON GIANT (1999)

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Director: Brad Bird
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 86 min.

Hogarth Hughes loves collecting unusual pets.  Unfortunately, his pets have a habit of getting loose and wreaking havoc—like the squirrel at the diner.  But when Hogarth discovers a giant alien robot in the woods behind his house, he is a little afraid to bring this particular creature home.  What would his mom say, after all!  The robot is determined to follow him, however, and once Hogarth discovers that a ruthless government agent is tracking the robot to destroy it (fearing it to be Soviet spy technology), Hogarth is determined to protect his giant friend.  With the help of a friendly junkyard artist, Hogarth is able to hide the iron giant for a time.  But the persistent government agent has no intention of backing down…

Although the animation leaves something to be desired, this story is sweet, suspenseful, and filled with the Brad Bird humor that made his later film The Incredibles (2004) so great.   It is not as good as The Incredibles (but then, few films are), but kids and parents will all find something to love in this great family film.  I highly recommend it!

WRECK-IT RALPH (2012)

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Director: Rich Moore
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 101 min.

As I was blogging Frozen (2013), I realized I never blogged Wreck-It Ralph!

In the arcade game Fix-It Felix, Jr., Felix is always fixing things, getting medals, and partying it up with the rest of the game’s characters in his penthouse.  Wreck-It Ralph, on the other hand, lives by himself in a pile of garbage—literally.  In their support group meetings after the arcade closes, the bad guys from other games are always encouraging Ralph to embrace his badness and be happy with who he is.  But on the 30th anniversary of his game, Ralph decides that he can’t take being the bad guy anymore.  He is determined to win a shiny gold medal so that the other characters in his game will be forced to accept him.  So Ralph infiltrates the science fiction war game Hero’s Duty in an attempt to win a medal for defeating the evil Cybugs.  But when his plan goes wrong, he and a rogue Cybug wind up in Sugar Rush, a candy-themed racing game, and Ralph’s only hope to win his medal back is to help a sarcastic young Vanellope—a “glitch” in the game—to sneak herself into the race against King Candy’s orders.  Meanwhile, Felix and the Hero’s Duty commander, Calhoun, have followed him into the candy world to get Ralph back and exterminate the rogue Cybug before both of the games are declared Out of Order.

Wreck-It Ralph was definitely one of my favorite things that Disney has done lately.  First, it has the “Toy Story” appeal factor—how fun to imagine what arcade game characters do when the arcade closes!  Second, the animation was really cool.  The style of the characters varied depending on the era and animation of their video game.  Third, this movie is hilarious for kids and for grown-ups.  Bad guys anonymous? Homeless Q*bert?  Obscure reference to the Konami Code?  There is a lot for adults to love.  Add to that a great cast of voice actors and a solid message about being yourself and true friendship, and you have a great family film!  I highly recommend it!

FROZEN (2013)

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Director: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time 102 min.

Princess Anna loves playing with her big sister Elsa, especially when Elsa uses her magic powers over ice and snow to transform the Great Hall into a winter wonderland.  But one night when the sisters are playing, Elsa accidentally hits Anna with her icy powers.  Their parents rush Anna to the magic trolls, but in order to save her life, the trolls must remove all of Anna’s memories of her sister’s power.  The king and queen decide that to prevent future accidents, they will shut their family off in the castle while Elsa grows to control her powers.  And so Elsa and Anna grow up isolated from everyone else—and from each other.

After a shipwreck claims the lives of both King and Queen, the time comes for Elsa to ascend to the throne.  Anna, who has grown up very cheerful and idealistic, is thrilled for the opening of the palace gates and the chance to finally meet some new people—maybe even her True Love.  Elsa, on the other hand, is terrified that she will not be able to control her powers.  Sure enough, in the middle of the Coronation Day ball, when Anna announces that she intends to marry a prince that she just met, Elsa loses control and reveals her icy secret.  Decried as a witch, Elsa flees into the mountains, accidentally plunging the land into an eternal winter.  Determined to save her sister and the kingdom, Anna hires a slightly grumpy ice salesman, Kristoff, and his reindeer to take her on an adventure to find Elsa.

I enjoyed this film a lot; it was funny, and the music was great (Idina Menzel does Elsa’s voice!).  But I don’t think it was as good as Tangled or Wreck-It Ralph, largely because of the pacing.  The opening was great with their childhood and growing up apart—very powerful storytelling that brought tears to my eyes. But once the actual adventure started, everything felt very rushed.  I think part of the problem was that the “eternal winter” lasted like one day… And although a major theme in the film is that “love at first sight” is not as genuine and powerful as slowly-grown relationships, the Anna-Kristoff relationship develops over one night—not much better than Anna and Prince Hans.  And they spend most of their time together frantically driving from one point to the next: from Arendelle to Elsa’s castle, away from Elsa’s castle, to the trolls, back to Arendelle, away from Arendelle again–there’s a lot of motion crammed in there, making everything seem rushed.  So again, I enjoyed the movie, laughed a lot, and have had the songs stuck in my head for a week now, but I don’t think the storytelling was as solid as the Disney greats like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King—or even the more recent Tangled. 

I would definitely point out, however, that this is a much better movie for the easily frightened child than many Disney films.  There is briefly an abominable snowman, but otherwise no really scary monsters/villains.

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011)

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Director: Steven Spielberg
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 107 min.

Tintin, an investigative news reporter, and his dog, Snowy, purchase a curious looking model ship in a market and immediately find themselves swept up in a mysterious adventure.  The model of the Unicorn holds a secret that will lead to the real Unicorn, a sunken ship full of treasure.  Tintin’s model is just one of three, and the evil Sakharine is determined to collect them all and find the treasure himself.  Believing Tintin knows something of the Unicorn’s secrets, Sakharine kidnaps him and imprisons him on a ship bound for Morocco.  But thanks to Snowy’s able assistance, Tintin escapes and finds Captain Haddock, the true heir to the Unicorn’s treasure.  Unfortunately, Haddock has been drunk so long, he’s forgotten the secrets that his grandfather revealed to him.  Tintin, Haddock, and Snowy continue to unravel the mystery as they race Sakharine to the end of the trail and the treasure that lies buried beneath the sea.

Writing credits on this film include Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim) and Steven Moffat (the Eleventh Doctor story arc of Doctor Who, as well as some of the coolest episodes of the Russell T. Davies story arc: “The Girl in the Fireplace” and “Blink”)–so you know it has to be good!  Also, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost play the bumbling Interpol inspectors, Thomson and Thompson.  The film brought the Tintin adventure to life with impressive animation, plenty of action, and a good dose of slapstick comedy.  If you like the comics, definitely go see the film.  It’s a lot of fun.  (And if you like the film, check out the comics!)

TANGLED (2010)

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Directors: Nathan Greno and Byron Howard
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 100 min

When his pregnant wife grew ill, a King sent his courtiers out searching for a legendary magic healing flower that could save her life.  They found the flower and made an elixir which saved the Queen’s life.  But what they didn’t realize was that the flower had been guarded by the evil witch Gothel, who used its power to keep herself young and beautiful.  When Gothel learned that the Queen’s baby had inherited the flower’s magic in her glowing golden hair, she broke into the palace to steal the hair.  Unfortunately, when the hair is cut, it loses its power, so Gothel stole the child, locked her in a high tower, and raised her as her own daughter.

At age eighteen, Rapunzel believes that Gothel is her mother and is completely happy with her life in the tower–except that she longs to see the outside world, especially the golden lanterns that the King and Queen release each year on the lost princess’ birthday.  When a handsome young thief named Flynn breaks into her tower to hide a stolen crown, Rapunzel realizes that she has a unique opportunity.  After incapacitating Flynn with a frying pan, she hides the crown and refuses to return it until he takes her on an adventure to see the golden lanterns.  Because Gothel is out of town for a few days, Rapunzel thinks her mother will never know.  But when the witch returns early and discovers that her daughter–and her daughter’s hair–have run off, she begins to devise a plan to get Rapunzel back before she discovers her true identity.

This movie is adorable and very funny.  It does not rank among my all-time Disney favorites, but it has some great characters, hilarious lines, and fun action sequences.  I greatly enjoyed it and will probably watch it again!

If you are a teen (or older) who liked this somewhat fractured fairytale-adventure, you may also like the graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge by Dean, Shannon, and Nathan Hale.

THE INCREDIBLES (2005)

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In the “Glory Days,” Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, and other superheroes used their powers to protect the citizens and keep the world free from crime.  But when a series of lawsuits force all of the supers to stop their hero work and adopt their secret identities as their only identities, Mr. Incredible (Bob Parr) finds himself stuck in a miserable, dead-end job, listening to police scanners at night just to try for a little excitement.  Elastigirl (Helen) disapproves of her husband’s moonlighting hero work, because every time he gets caught, they have to uproot the family and go into hiding somewhere else.  After a moment of violent anger loses him his job at the insurance company, Bob discovers a message from a mysterious woman named Mirage who addresses him as Mr. Incredible and offers him a high paying job capturing a government-designed attack droid.  Bob tells Helen that his company is sending him to a conference, and flies off to a volcanic island to meet Mirage.  But it quickly becomes clear that there is more going on that a simple government mission.  In the end it will take all of the Incredibles–Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl, Violet (who can turn invisible and create force fields), and Dash (whose power is speed)–to take down the super villain and save the world from destruction.

This is one of my favorite movies of all time.  The characters are brilliantly imagined, the realistic family tensions weave beautifully into the superhero/action/adventure story, and the screenwriting is hilarious.  It’s a great movie for both kids and adults!