Tag Archives: Disney Animation

Cars 3 – Movie Review

The third installment of the Cars saga follows Lightning McQueen at the twilight of his career. McQueen’s ego is challenged with younger, more efficient cars invade the racing tour.

Release Date: June 16, 2017
Writer:  Kiel Murray, Bob Peterson, Mike Rich
Director: Brian Fee
Cast: Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Christ Cooper, Bonnie Hunt, Armie Hammer, Nathan Fillion

For years, Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) has dominated the Piston Cup racing series. Life is good. He is still the hero of Radiator Springs and loved by all including Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy). Things take an ominous turn with the arrival of Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). Storm is the latest product of 21st century efficient and aerodynamic design as well as state-of=the-art cyber training.

With Storm’s arrival, more and more old racers are being replaced with newer cars and McQueen is struggling to stay relevant. In the final race of the Piston Cup season, McQueen’s attempt to beat the younger Storm results in a horrific accident. This forces McQueen to reflect with his friends at Radiator Springs and face the ghost of Doc Hudson’s past.

Deciding to give it one last try, McQueen finds himself at the new training facility run by the new owner of McQueen’s sponsor Rust-eze, Sterling (Nathan Fillion). He introduces McQueen to his new trainer Cruz (Cristela Alonzo). The two don’t quite see eye-to-eye.

Cars 3 is a fun and poignant member of the Cars trilogy. It focuses directly on McQueen’s personal journey, instead of the comic adventures of Mater in Cars 2. From the very beginning fans are rooting for Lighting to win and throughout the film, they root for his journey back to the top.

Cars 3 also introduces us to a lot of new characters, almost to the film’s detriment. There is his new trainer Cruz, who wanted to be a racer but the sexism of the racing circuit dashed her dreams instantly. There are also Doc Hudson’s mentor Smokey (Chris Cooper), who along with River Scott (Isaiah Whitlock Jr.) and Louise “Barnstormer” Nash (Margo Martindale) serve as Doc Hudson’s voice and motivation for McQueen.

One thing that stood out in Cars 3 were its visuals. A lot of effort from Pixar animators went into making the world of Cars look real. There were moments in its numerous outdoor and forest settings that the backdrop looked real and not like a photo mural behind the action. The scenery is breathtaking and beautiful.

There is a demolition segment in the middle of the film that is fun to watch, a source of great humor and beautiful to look at. It was real talking cars, in a real mud pit and really wrecking each other up using real car physics.

Cars 3 has heart. It is the story of coming from behind and never giving up. In the first movie, Lightning was a victim of his own grand view of himself. In Cars 3, he is a victim of age and better technology. The only downside is that it can be a little predictable. As the movie progresses, you realize that every misadventure and mishap is just another lesson to winning in the end. The ending itself is revealed a little too soon and its explanation was a little clunky. Can’t say much more without giving it away.

The only other problem is too many characters old and new. The gang from Radiator Springs feel like cameos, the two villains, who never meet, are almost carbon copies of each other and Doc Hudson’s friends are just too much. By the way, Lightning meets them in a “biker” bar with a ton of other characters. It’s just too many characters that we’re required to follow.

Cars 3 is a fun movie with a simple lesson to tell for the kids. The quality of animation continues to cement Pixar as the best in the business. It has enough heart to make you feel good about yourself and buy a lot of Cars merchandise.

Moana – Movie Review

The young girl, Moana (Auli’l Cravalho) is destined to be the leader of her people, but is she destined to be something bigger? Disney’s Moana is the story of a princess looking to find who she is…just like Rapunzel, Frozen, and every princess before her.

Release Date: November 23, 2016
Writer: Jared Bush
Director: Ron Clemets, Don Hall
Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’I, Mark Mancina
Cast: Auli’l Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk

As an infant, Moana was drawn to the ocean. As the future leader of her people, her father and chief Tui (Temuera Morrison) needs her to be safe on dry land and never venture away from the island. Meanwhile, many years before, the Demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) has stolen the Heart of Te Fiti, the Goddess of the Islands. Her heart takes shape in the form of a small pounamu stone. When Maui stole the heart, a cursed was placed over the island and over time, each island would slowly die.

All through her life, Moana’s father trained her to be a leader, but it was her Gramma Tala (Rachel House), who encouraged her to follow her heart and seek the ocean. Unbeknownst to the others Gramma Tala possessed the Heart of Te Fiti. When the trees of the island begin to produced rancid fruit and the fishing traps no longer catch fish, Moana decides to take the Heart of Te Fiti, find the demigod Maui and restore the gem to the Goddess Te Fiti.

Moana is a solid story about a princess discovering who she really is. It is an inspirational tale for young girls and it also shows a girl who has leadership thrust upon her and embraces it.

As a reviewer, I have to judge Moana as a standalone, but it’s hard not to compare Moana not only to the last few Disney princess film, but also the string of female empowerment tales. Almost from the very beginning, I could not help but notice, I’ve heard this story over and over again in Disney Princess movies. In Frozen, Elsa has to embrace who she is. Rapunzel is on a quest to discover her true identity. The problem with Moana is that it tells the same story, but differently.

Moana has your basic cast of adorable characters. Moana’s parents, Chief Tui and Sina (Nicole Scherzinger) are good but overprotective parents. Pua the pig is cute, but like Mulan’s Little Brother shows up only in the beginning and the end. Heihei the chicken is an incredibly stupid chicken that serves as comic relief and important in a spot or two.

Moana has wise counsel, no not her father, but her Grandmother Tala and the Ocean. Yes, the Ocean plays a role in guiding and protecting our heroine.

Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson shines as Maui, the Demigod. Arrogant, but likeable, Maui is powerful but wants nothing to do with the mission of returning the Heart of Te Fiti. He is a has-been Hercules and only wants to return to the fame and glory he once had. In order to defeat the foes, Maui needs to retrieve his staff, which is lodged in the back of the giant coconut crab, Tamotoa (Jemaine Clement).

Disney continues to perfect the 3-D animation project. Moana boasts some of the most gorgeous and colorful backgrounds. The water effects are perfect. I used to lament the end of hand-drawn animation, but ever since Tangled, Disney make me a believer in their ability to tell compelling stories with computers.

Moana is also a Disney musical. Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote all of the main songs, while Opetaia Foa’l provides the Polynesian songs. Background music is composed beautifully by Mark Mancina.

The world knows Lin-Manuel Miranda from his hit Broadway play, Hamilton and he brings a great deal of Broadway sensibility to Moana. That’s the main problem with the music of Moana. We have an opener, an inspirational ballad, comic relief song, villain song and pretentious callbacks to the inspirational ballad. It’s as if he took a broadway checklist and after each type of song is written, he would check it off and move to the next. It felt staged versus organic.

Some songs are such as Maui’s “You’re Welcome.” The inspirational ballad “How Far I’ll Go” barely reaches the line of pretentious before backing off to a beautiful song, but the rest is Broadway sing-talk and the villain song, “Shiny” is the wordiest song in the world and incredibly hard to follow. You miss the days of the clever wordsmithing of Howard Ashman.

Moana may not be the greatest of the Disney Animated film, but it still shines brighter than its 2016 competition.

Zootopia – Movie Review

In the long tradition of Disney animated features, a question is answered that overthinking fans have been asking, how did animals learn to talk and why do they wear clothes.

Release Date: March 4, 2016
Writer: Jared Bush, Phil Johnston
Director: Byron Howard, Rich Moore
Cast: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Jenny Slate, Idris Elba

The most remarkable thing about Zootopia is that it appeals to both boys and girls. No princesses. No robots in space. One would think that a world of animals that act like humans would appeal mostly to boys, but then Zootopia writers Jared Bush and Phil Johnston pulled the genius move and made the main character a girl.

Disney also has a tradition of movies that star animals acting in human roles. Robin Hood being the most notable example. Zootopia manages to explain how and why these animals speak a common language, walk on hind legs and dress in clothes. Which brings us to the world of Zootopia, the world where animals who are predators and prey are able to co-exist in one world.

The world of Zootopia is not by any means a utopia. There are problems. Zootopia addresses these problems in a brilliant way. Disney is using the story of animals acting as humans to teach children about tolerance and diversity.

Zootopia is the story of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who as a rabbit wants to grow up and become a police officer. The problem is the police force is completely staffed naturally by predators. Somehow predators are a natural fit for the role due to their strength, speed and cunning. Against animal common sense, Judy hears from everyone there is no place for a meek rabbit on the police force.

Thanks to Zootopia forward thinking, Judy proves that she has what it takes to be a police officer. Judy finds that gaining the respect of her predator co-workers and the public is not going to be an easy task. She has to work hard to prove she belongs on the force.

In Zootopia, there is an epidemic of predators reverting back to their natural predator-state. For example, a tiger devolving into a feral tiger and hunting its natural prey. The police are called to solve the mystery. Of course, Judy has ideas and theories about what is happening, but no one takes her seriously. In comes the sly con-fox, Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), who comes to Judy’s help but being a fox, no one can seem to trust him.

As with any good Disney film, it is littered with fun cameos and supporting roles. Idris Elba played the police captain Bogo. J.K. Simmons is Mayor Lionheart and his assistant Mayor Bellwether is voiced perfectly by Jenny Slate. A little Easter egg in the film is that Alan Tudyk plays the same character in this film that he does in Frozen, Duke Weaselton. He’s actually a weasel in this one.

Zootopia presents the ideas of cultural diversity head on. Tigers are ferocious creatures, because they are tigers. Rabbits are farmers, because they are rabbits. Bears are dangerous because they are bears. The story my daughter learned is she can be whatever she wants, but she has to want it bad enough and work hard to get it.

Disney has finally reached the level of Pixar in the world of storytelling and most importantly…merchandising. Zootopia is great fun for the whole family and merits repeat viewings.

The End of Hand-Drawn Animation

During the 2013 Disney Stockholder meeting, Walt Disney Company President/CEO Bob Iger was asked if Walt Disney had any 2D/hand drawn animation in the pipeline. Here was his response:

”To my knowledge we’re not developing a 2D or hand-drawn feature animated film right now. We’re not necessarily ruling out the possibility [of] a feature but there isn’t any in development at the company at the moment.”

Does this mean that the age old tradition of hand drawn animation is dead? Probably or at best will take on some kind of hybrid form. Disney killed hand drawn animation before under the Eisner regime. When he was booted and the company was run by Iger and Lassister, Disney produced two traditional animated features: The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Winnie the Pooh (2011).

The other major studios have long since abandoned hand drawn animation. Disney appears to be the last.

Why abandon the age-old tradition? It’s easy money and effort. Money is always an issue when it some to movie making. Sadly it’s man-power that’s the issue. One computer animator now takes the place of a lead animator and several in-betweeners. Not to mention that a single animator can work with numerous characters in one scene as opposed to several lead animators working together to produce one scene.

Effort is easier in a few different aspects. In hand drawn animation, a scene is designed and drawn and changes even small elements are a large task. Computer animation allows you to tweak and perfect every scene. Also computer animators have the luxury of framing scenes and employing camera angles after the scene is animated.

But is computer animation able to achieve art. For the longest time, I preferred hand drawn to computer animated from an art standpoint. For some reason drawn art looked more real than anything a computer could generate. Even when Disney produced the photo realistic Dinosaur, it missed a lot of beauty because it replicated reality and could not develop it’s couldn’t render an artistic style.

The Incredibles is the first time an overall artistic style of how human characters are designed. As great as that film was, it was far from perfect in capturing human qualities. In other words, it still felt like a computerized version of 2D animation.

When Iger and Lassiter took over Disney, their first project was to bring back hand drawn animation. With great excitement the Princess and the Frog was announced as a project. As much as I loved the movie, it simply underperformed at the box office. Kids just don’t have an appreciation of tradition.

My sadness for the scarcity of hand drawn animation changed when Tangled came out. It was the first time I felt that a computer animated movie captured everything I loved about hand drawn animation. Watch the movie and you’ll discover that the backgrounds, landscapes and buildings all have a hand drawn feel to it. The bright and vibrant colors created a hyper real fantasy world. The character design looked very “Disney” in style.

To me it was tangled that told me that they finally got computer animation right. On top of that this year’s Oscar winning animated short, Paperman was an example of computer animation replicating hand drawn animation. It was a well produced short that told an amazing story and if you didn’t know better you’d swear it was a traditional movie.

Has hand drawn animation gone the way of the dinosaur? From a major motion picture standpoint, yes. The technology has proven itself successful and the intended audience, children, could care less whether it was drawn or computer generated. They just want you to tell a fun story.