Disney’s centennial emerges as its animation division experiences an awkward crossroads. Do animators lean into princesses, swashbucklers or steampunk? Do they focus on hand-drawn or computer generated animation? Tried and true Menkens and Mirandas or other new voices? Chris Buck and Fawn Veerasunthorn’s Wish (C+) is evidence of creative inertia, compromise and the wrong kind of recycling as its makers craft measures of vintage atmosphere but draw too heavily on fan service origin stories over forging interesting new paths. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you: that’s actually a mixture of watercolor and CG, a literal tug-of-war for tone in cartoon compositions before you even fixate on the film’s undercooked but byzantine story. It’s all a mallet to the palette. The plot focuses on Asha (voiced by a spirited Ariana DeBose), who makes a passionate plea to the stars after sensing a darkness in her kingdom led by Magnifico (Chris Pine, all snark and bark). The so-so music by Julia Michaels and Benjamin Rice (frequent Selena Gomez collaborators) is a nod to contemporary sensibilities but feels overwrought against the frilly imagery; they feel like stand-ins for something more hummable. There are indeed some creative flourishes: the notion that the deepest wishes of a country’s citizenry live inside precious bubbles within a royal repository and must be rescued and returned to their rightful owners feels like the stuff of Pixar pop psychology fusing into Disney proper. Buck and Veerasunthorn have delivered a pleasant enough fairy tale with heart, but it’s not quite emotional or funny enough to score classic status. They don’t even score with funny sidekicks. For all the building blocks assembled in the service of a Disney formula, it rarely reaches its higher yearning.
Who would have guessed the mystifying problem with Rob Marshall’s live action remake of Disney’s The Little Mermaid (B-) would be subpar animated visual content? Seemingly rendered in a murky millpond leagues away from where James Cameron toiled twelve years on his recent underwater opus, Marshall’s nautical nightmare of unsure blue hues and realistic looking talking sea creatures threatens to sink this ship before it even starts. Parting the waters of this production design debacle is a stunningly watchable fresh-faced pair in the lead performances as star-crossed lovers: the instantly endearing Halle Bailey in gorgeous voice as spirited mermaid Ariel and Jonah Hauer-King as earnest intrepid explorer Prince Eric. Together this dreamy duo could enchant viewers with a charm offensive against a blank backdrop and frankly probably should have. Sequences set in the ocean left much of the cast, including a cerebral Javier Bardem as King Triton, floundering. The story feels oddly like a submerged Bachelorette season: Thirst trap induced longing for life on land prompts the titular heroine to make a Faustian deal with villainous sea witch Ursula (a committed but CGI compromised Melissa McCarthy) to sprout human gams, and fortunately the sequences set on land are the sweet fantasia here. The musical numbers are a mixed bag with “Part of Your World,” “Kiss the Girl” and the new “Wild Unchartered Waters” as standouts, but Oscar winner “Under the Sea” feels like a throwaway, and the less said of a final act sing-speak by a squawking Awkwafina the better. Sure the kitchen scene antics of “Les Poissons” have been excised, but a house of horrors embodied by uncanny valley crab Sebastian, fish Flounder and seagull Scuttle is an omnipresent trilogy of terror. When the movie does more than skim the surface and anchors its fortunes to the central romance with some modern-day thematic resonance, the film featuring curious choices and excellent voices finally begins to stand on its own two feet.
Click here for Stephen’s review of the 1989 animated movie.
The stop-motion animated musical fantasy Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (B+) co-directed by the titular moviemaking wunderkind and Mark Gustafson is not only a gorgeous creation to behold but deepens a timeless tale’s themes about the father-son bond. Set in 1930s Fascist Italy, the film’s every frame reflects meticulous craft and intrigue; and the sentimental story comes to life in unexpected and lyrical ways. The directors start pulling the heartstrings immediately in the prologue by depicting time spent between lonely woodcarver Gepetto and the son he lost before willing a merry marionette to life. David Bradley and Gregory Mann are solid in the father-son voiceover roles, and Ewan McGregor as a charming cricket is a spry standout in an ensemble including Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett and Christoph Waltz. The movie takes viewers to some familiar and exotic locations, with just enough change of venue to keep an oft-told story fresh. Alexander Desplat’s score is quite lovely too except his full-out songs which are more wooden than the protagonist puppet. The fable outstays its welcome a bit, and the title character could have used a central nervous system stimulant; but it’s largely a technical marvel with solid heart.
Disney’s latest animated adventure is a triumph of representation and style, but the film’s storytelling barely scratches the surface. Don Hall’s Strange World (B-) follows a legendary explorer family who must set aside their differences as they embark on a journey to the center of the earth filled with surreal creatures to protect an agricultural power source. Clearly an homage to pulpy serialized sci-fi magazines, this tale examines a spectrum of masculinity as hunters and gatherers unite for common good. The land under Avalonia feels like Pandora Jr., and the rules of this subterranean world don’t reveal themselves soon enough. The bumper crop of voice talent – Jake Gyllenhaal, Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union and Jaboukie Young-White – add wonder and whimsy to the lush landscape and painterly palette seemingly inspired by popping boba pearls and squishy slime toys. The shape shifting sidekick Splat is fun and Henry Jackman’s music soaring, plus if Epcot’s Land Pavilion needs a fantastical farming voyage, it’s all right here. The movie is saved by some tender moments even though the action only dazzles in spurts. A film with characters devoted to their fortune seems destined for the animation studio’s second-tier shelf.
For its inaugural summer season, the “Big Screen” at Central Plaza in the Town at Trilith south of Atlanta will showcase the REEL Tuesday at Trilith Summer Movie Series on select weeknights in June and July. Family-friendly films will be the featured attraction on the 25-foot permanent screen with a powerful sound and projection system. Bring a chair or blanket, kick back, and relax to watch these fun, upbeat movies:
Tuesday, June 14: Sing 2
Tuesday, June 28: Captain America: The First Avenger
Tuesday, July 12: Luca
Tuesday, July 26: Jungle Cruise
Movies will start at 7:00 p.m., weather permitting. Admission is complimentary and open to the general public. Participants may park for free in the retail parking lot on Trilith Parkway and at Piedmont Wellness Center.
Before and after the movie, attendees can enjoy the evening strolling the Town at Trilith, shopping at charming boutiques, enjoying dinner at one of the variety of restaurants and topping off dinner with a delicious dessert. Honeysuckle Gelato’s ice cream cart will be on site, and additional activities will be available.
The Town at Trilith is located at 305 Trilith Parkway, Fayetteville, Ga. To stay informed of activities throughout the year at Trilith, follow @TownatTrilith on social media.
Along with the ever-expanding retail and restaurant district, Trilith’s 235-acre master-planned residential and mixed-use development is known for balancing small town community charm with big city creativity and storytelling for its residents, many with ties to the film industry. The award-winning new urbanist community includes nearly 1,400 residential homes, ranging from micro homes and treehouses to gated custom estates and Provencal cottages, all within walking distance of retail, restaurants and parks.
The Town at Trilith is located in south metro Atlanta, Georgia, adjacent to Trilith Studios. Envisioned as a gathering place for creatives, artists, storytellers and makers, this European-inspired community will include 750 single family homes, 600 multi-family lofts, 300 hotel rooms and 270,000 square feet of remarkable restaurants, retail, office, and commercial space. The residential neighborhoods at Trilith comprise one of the largest geothermal communities in the United States, with 51% of the development dedicated to green space that is currently home to more than 1,000 trees. Upon completion, residents will have access to 15 miles of nature trails, 54 acres of forest, 19 superbly landscaped parks and one of the most sophisticated and welcoming dog parks in the world.
Worse than modern Disney flops Tomorrowland, BFG and A Wrinkle in Time combined, Kenneth Branagh’s Ireland-set Artemis Fowl (F) is an unmitigated disaster, a hopeful tentpole blockbuster and young adult franchise starter completely devoid of magic and wonder. Banished to the phantom zone of a Disney+ debut after COVID-19 shuffled the studio’s theatrical releases, this misbegotten fantasy is a moribund and completely incoherent bore. At its center is a listless titular performance of a boy genius by newcomer Ferdia Shaw, who is all dressed up with nowhere to go and presumably was instructed to play the part as a boring adult tax accountant. When the boy’s father (Colin Farrell) goes missing, the tween must battle with a variety of elves, fairies and goblins, grapple with unpleasant performances by the likes of Judi Dench and Josh Gad and parade through undistinguished low stakes landscapes. At an hour and a half running time with exposition in narration form for its duration, the film teases what happened before and after but forgets to furnish much of a coherent plot within. Even while free to Disney+ subscribers, it should be skipped.
Times of quarantine can benefit from a little elf help, as a major animated theatrical release careens quickly to the home screen with video-on-demand and Disney+ providing a safe social distanced landing. Dan Scanlon’s Onward (B-) is mid-tier Pixar, no doubt, filled with fanciful frames of kid-friendly highjinks before culminating in the emotional payoffs adults will dig. The medieval pixels are summoned for brotherly buddy comedy as two elf siblings in an alternate modern suburbia filled with formerly magical and mythological characters invoke an ancient spell and embark on a quest to bring back their deceased father for just one day. The story and script are a bit bland, the character renderings and landscapes a touch unappealing and the adventure pedestrian at best, but then every once in a while there’s magic in this gathering. A charming dance moment and a heartfelt hug just may touch the heart and tickle the tear ducts. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt perform the two main voice roles, and what they lack in interesting things to say is often eclipsed by solid enthusiasm. The half-dad effect, the elves themselves and a dragon-infused denouement all fail to impress, but even a sometimes lackluster lark can pass muster and time in a moment of uncertainty.
Disney’s Mouse House has found a way to corral more currency out of Casa Mufasa and despite critical carping blowing across the savanna will likely have hakuna mutata (no worries!) about doing so. Jon Favreau’s remake of The Lion King (C-) is a largely joyless and superfluous affair, replacing traditional line drawing with a photo-realistic nature documentary CGI animation style. Not one element improves on the original, even though most of the content about a lion’s exile and return to assume control of his kingdom is still there. Voice actors Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen make the most of their Timon and Pumba characters amidst the dirge-like proceedings, riffing with abandon amidst an otherwise overly reverential storytelling format. Some of the best sequences in the original still work once transmitted through the Favreau facsimile, while many other emotional moments are rendered toothless. Donald Glover and Beyoncé deliver more lemon than lemonade in the voice talent department with indifferent line readings. The cuddly animated Simba cub will sell a lot of plush toys. Nostalgia factor and escape from the summer heatwave will lure folks in to the multiplex, but those expecting to have their pride rocked may be better served with a viewing of the delightful original.
Welcome to playland purgatory as Woody and his island of misfit toys ponder the post-Andy afterlife. Josh Cooley’s Toy Story 4 (B+) explores what lies beyond for the playthings of yesteryear as their very reason for being – the owner who needed them for years – fades to a distant memory. The characters must heed their inner voices to summon what comes next. Told through the joint metaphors of a creepy antique store populated by capricious and dead-eyed vaudeville dummies who cling to the past and a kaleidoscopic carnival full of color, imagination and possibilities, there is more subtext afoot in the film than meets the very entertained eye. Lushly rendered and tenderly told, this tale takes a moment to gain momentum but ultimately delivers solidly. Although most of the usual ensemble members are sidelined so the cowboy protagonist can seek his fortune while playing guardian angel to the timid little girl Bonnie, mentor to her Gumby-esque arts and craft project Forky and potential love interest to Bo-Peep, the streamlined approach enlivens the quality of storytelling. Bunny and Ducky (played by Key & Peele) are hilarious additions as mischievous mavens of the midway. This is a splendid family film with messages at work for multiple generations about the stories we still have to tell, about trashing assumptions and treasuring the next chapter.
The bar is set low for movies based on video games, and Rob Letterman’s Pokémon Detective Pikachu (D+) lurks right below that threshold. Justice Smith is a bit adrift as an insurance agent who lost his estranged father in a mysterious accident near a lab on the outskirts of a utopia where humans and Pokémon (plural!) live mostly in harmony (like humans and toons in Roger Rabbit‘s milieu). Smith’s reluctant hero is joined by the spry voice of Ryan Reynolds as the titular adorable yellow creature at the heart of the story. The film fails to take full advantage of its film noir set-up nor does it add many compelling layers to chase and action sequences, so it basically isn’t interesting, funny or exciting enough to justify all the average special effects bouncing around its screen. Because Pikachu’s dialogue can only be heard by his human friend, there could have been something wry or subversive here, but alas it’s all aimed at a very young audience. And to that end, it doesn’t really set much of a life lesson or warm the heart either. Perhaps there’s a demographic to whom this will have exact appeal, but Letterman and his intrepid detectives didn’t make the case to many new fans with this one.
A fun hybrid of Big and The Goonies, the DC Universe gets a lively dose of life and levity with the introduction of David F. Sandberg’s Shazam! (B). The film’s teen protagonist is grappling with new powers which cause him to toggle back and forth between awkward adolescence and transforming into a full-fledged adult superhero just as he joins a foster family with a bunch of precocious step-siblings. Asher Angel and Zachary Levi are superb and funny as the boy and his adult alter ego, respectively, and the film’s family includes Jack Dylan Graser as a cunning sidekick and Cooper Andrews as a lovable lug of a foster dad. The movie is aimed squarely at a family audience, despite a few early scares courtesy of Mark Strong’s viciously one-note villain and a bunch of beguiling CGI monsters. It’s a touch overlong, but the comedy, action and surprises pile high with fairly consistent success, and there are even a few moments of genuinely moving domestic drama. The movie creates characters for whom the audience can truly cheer in an environment largely well imagined. Expect the origin stories explored here to bring further marvels to DC.
Constructing a clever comedy requires a lot of bright component parts, and I suppose even Henrik Ibsen would marvel at the master builders behind this month’s blockbuster sequel! Veteran animator Mike Mitchell’s The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (B+), wisely written by the original film’s writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, is a deft deconstruction of the walls governing plot and pacing. The result is a madcap bricks-and-mortar tour de force filled with hilarious highjinks, industry in-jokes and winning life lessons to be enjoyed by all ages. Chris Pratt (two roles), Elizabeth Banks (heroine) and especially Tiffany Haddish (shape-shifting emerging villain) shine in voice roles as the heroes face “Ar-mom-ageddon,” basically becoming toys thrown in the storage bin. The film blasts its ensemble of heroes and superheroes from a Mad Max style dystopia to an outer space world, with time travel and live action thrown in for good measure. It’s a pretty great musical too, following up “Everything is Awesome” with a variety of enjoyable new tunes including an earworm called “Catchy Song.” Just when you think you know where the plot is going, the creators have a few more bricks up there sleeve. There are so many great throwaway lines and creative gags that this second part may require a second viewing.
Review of the original film here