The Fourth of July 2022 Post

Happy Fourth of July, everybody! Here’s the customary picture of Captain America punching Hitler!

“Hell yeah!”

If only there were a follow-up panel of Cap kicking Hitler in the crotch…

The best Muppet. I mean besides Statler and Waldorf.”

I know these past few years have been a really rough time for America (and the rest of the world), and it sometimes feels like there isn’t reason to celebrate. But there is always room for hope. The spirit of America and freedom endures even when the physical America may fall short. Or something like that. I think you get what I’m trying to say.

So grab yourself some de-licious barbeque, set off some fireworks (safely, of course), and spend some quality time with friends and family. Just don’t get those really screechy fireworks that scare dogs and other animals. Come on, don’t be a jerk.

Happy America! Happy Fireworks!

And to everyone not from America: you have a super, swell day too!

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! Have fun, stay safe, and be good to each other!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge Review

More so than most other licensed properties, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have gone hand-in-hand with video games. The Ninja Turtles rose to prominence throughout the 80s and early 90s, the same time video games were reaching new heights. Not to mention the colorful characters, fun personality and emphasis on action of the Ninja Turtles made them a perfect fit for the video game medium.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles starred in many games during their initial boom period, most notably the beat-em-ups made by Konami, such as Turtles in Time. Over the years, however, Ninja Turtles games have become less frequent, and the beat-em-up genre has largely become a thing of the past.

That’s why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is such a breath of fresh air in the current gaming landscape. Developed by Tribute Games and published by Dotemu, Shredder’s Revenge is a beautiful revitalization of the beat-em-up genre, and a return to form for Ninja Turtles games.

Shredder’s Revenge is classic beat-em-up action at its best. You could argue that the genre isn’t exactly deep (simply fight waves of enemies on each screen, make your way to the end of the stage, beat the boss, and repeat), but there’s always been something very satisfying and entertaining about the simplicity of the beat-em-up, especially when played with others. That is especially true here.

Up to six players can take on Shredder’s Revenge, with players able to choose between one of the four titular turtles (Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo), their rat sensei Master Splinter, news reporter April O’Neil, and unlockable character Casey Jones. Each character plays identically, but with different levels of speed, strength and reach between them. By keeping combos going long enough (or taunting), players can fill up a meter that, when full, allows them to perform a special attack. Perhaps best of all, the game allows players to drop in and out of multiplayer at any given time, even when playing online. It really is a game that would feel at home in an arcade.

Naturally, players revive each other with a slice of peperoni pizza.”

That’s not to say that Shredder’s Revenge is stuck in the past, as the game makes some notable attempts to bring some modernization to its genre. The stages will spawn more enemies depending on how many players are present, something beat-em-ups simply couldn’t do back in the day. And most notably, Shredder’s Revenge not only features a traditional arcade mode (in which players go through the game’s sixteen stages uninterrupted with limited continues and no saving), but also includes a story mode that features a world map, sidequests, and a levelling up system.

The world map is a great addition in that it allows players to replay stages in the story mode whenever they want. The levelling up system is also a welcome inclusion, with players levelling up each character (up to level 10) based on the number of enemies they defeat. As the characters level up, they gain new special moves or get more health, extra lives and additional special meters (up to three), with the third allowing players to go into ‘Radical Mode,’ which temporarily boosts the character’s strength considerably. On the downside, the sidequests feel a bit half-baked, and simply consist of finding character cameos on certain stages, and then finding objects pertaining to those characters on others. Not only are the characters and objects barely hidden, but the rewards for finishing the sidequests are just points to help level up whatever character you’re currently using a little quicker. While I appreciate the idea of trying to implement sidequests in a beat-em-up, it is unfortunate that Shredder’s Revenge’s optional objectives feel so shallow.

It should also be noted that the game can get repetitious pretty quickly. There’s an argument to be made that such repetition is par for the course for the genre, but with the attempts Shredder’s Revenge makes with trying to modernize the beat-em-up, it feels like a missed opportunity to not include a little more variety in the stages. There are a few courses where the players ride on hoverboards that are automatically scrolling, but they aren’t very different from the standard stages otherwise. Even just a couple of shoot-em-up stages or mini-games would have added some variety without detracting from the simple pleasures the game provides.

Repetitious though it may be, that will hardly matter when you’re playing with friends. Though playing online with players around the world means there’s a better alternative to playing alone (in which the fun can only go so far), playing Shredder’s Revenge with friends brings out the absolute best in the game. Things may get so chaotic with all the enemies and special moves happening on-screen that you may even temporarily lose track of your character. But it’s the best kind of chaotic fun.

Perhaps Shredder’s Revenge’s biggest triumph is how well it captures the spirit of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. More specifically, the original cartoon that debuted in 1987. Every character, enemy and boss appeared in the ’87 series at one point or another (including some deep cuts), and through the game’s colorful graphics and vibrant animations, it brings out the personalities of each character. From Michelangelo’s taunt of a goofy dance while shouting “party dude!” to Raphael’s more intense animations, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is just oozing with charm.

Complimenting the game’s visuals is a terrific soundtrack that similarly captures the spirit of the Ninja Turtles, without simply aping all the same tunes from the show. The soundtrack was composed by Tee Lopes – who also did the excellent soundtrack to Sonic Mania – and also includes some vocal tracks from artists like the Wu-Tang Clan! It’s one of the catchiest, coolest and best video game soundtracks this year.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge works as both a revival of beat-em-ups and of Ninja Turtles video games. Some of its potential with modernizing the genre feels missed, and there’s only so much the game has to offer when going solo. But when playing multiplayer, especially with friends, Shredder’s Revenge provides an exceptionally fun throwback to the golden age of a genre and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Cowabunga!

7

Lightyear Review

With all due respect to Woody, I think it’s safe to say that Buzz Lightyear is the fan favorite Toy Story character. With his myriad of gadgets, lasers, the ability to fly (or fall with style), and combat skills with which he saves the galaxy, it’s absolutely no mystery why Buzz usurped Woody as Andy’s favorite toy. It really was only a matter of time before Buzz Lightyear got his own movie. After twenty-seven years since Toy Story first hit theaters, Pixar has finally given Buzz such a movie in the form of Lightyear, a sci-fi adventure that serves as the in-universe movie that inspired the toy.

It’s a very fun and creative idea for Pixar to make the Buzz Lightyear movie that made Andy from Toy Story such a fan in the first place. Although it has to be mentioned that the idea technically already happened with the Disney animated series Buzz Lightyear of Star Command in the early 2000s. But now the origin story can be told by Pixar themselves. And as the Disney+ series Monsters at Work proved, Pixar’s creations are best left in Pixar’s hands. Being Pixar’s own take on the in-universe Buzz Lightyear concept, Lightyear is the definitive origin story for the iconic Space Ranger.

Definitive though it may be, Lightyear – while ultimately a solid and entertaining science fiction film – may not be the kind of science fiction adventure you would expect from its namesake character.

The story begins with Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) and the Space Rangers of Star Command – lead by Commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) – investigating an alien planet. They find that the planet provides the air and resources to make it habitable, but its monstrous creatures and plant life prove too dangerous, and Star Command issues an emergency retreat from the planet. Buzz takes control of Star Command’s ship, but a miscalculation during the escape leads to the Space Rangers being marooned on the planet.

Star Command makes the best of the situation and builds a colony on the planet over the next year. Buzz – taking responsibility for the current situation – volunteers to be the test pilot to see if he can make hyperspace, as Star Command’s primary ship won’t be able to leave the planet without it. Buzz doesn’t quite reach hyperspace, but finds that when he returns from his four minute flight that four years have passed on the planet’s surface.

Though Hawthorne objects to Buzz making any more flights, the Space Ranger is too determined to call it quits. With his robotic cat Sox (Peter Sohn) testing new formulas for fuel (using the method of “Crystallic Fusion” mentioned in Toy Story), Buzz continues flight after flight after flight, with roughly four years passing by with each unsuccessful test.

While Buzz has barely aged a day, his test flights have added up to him being gone a total of sixty-two years. During that time, Commander Hawthorne has passed away. Feeling he let his best friend down, Buzz is now more determined than ever, and with Sox perfecting his formula for hyperspace fuel over the past sixty-two years, Buzz finally makes a successful jump to hyperspeed. But in doing so, an additional twenty-two years have passed. In that time, the Star Command colony has been occupied by the robotic forces of a being known as “Zurg.”

Thankfully, a small band of ragtag, would-be Space Rangers have slipped away from Zurg’s occupation. This includes Hawthorne’s granddaughter Izzy (Keke Palmer), who hopes to live up to her grandmother’s legacy; Mo Morrison (Taika Waititi), a good-hearted but clumsy oaf; and Darby Steel (Dale Soules), an elderly convict trying to work off her sentence. Though this team may not seem cut out to be Space Rangers, Buzz will have to rely on them – as well as Sox – if they are to bring down Zurg’s robots and deliver the hyperspace fuel to Star Command.

I don’t want to say too much else as to avoid any major spoilers. But I have to admit that the setup to the plot as described above actually takes up a fair bit of the film’s runtime. And I imagine that may not exactly be to everyone’s liking. The whole ordeal of Buzz’s test flights provides some interesting storytelling, and is reminiscent of the recent Top Gun Maverick, with a little bit of Intersteller worked in there for good measure. It’s entertaining in its own way, but it’s probably a far cry from what you would expect from the Buzz Lightyear movie that supposedly inspired an eight-year-old’s obsession with the character.

That may be the biggest issue with Lightyear, although it’s ultimately a good movie, it seems to be the wrong kind of science-fiction story. Some might say that’s my own expectations getting in the way. But given all the information the Toy Story movies gave us on the Buzz Lightyear character and his world, I’d say Toy Story itself had those expectations. Given all the dialogue and bits of insight the Toy Story series gave us on Buzz Lightyear’s in-universe character, I think most people would probably expect a fantasy-adventure set in space, akin to Star Wars. So the more grounded science-fiction approach of Lightyear comes off as a bit jarring, even disappointing.

Yes, I understand that this movie and its characters are supposed to be separate from their Toy Story equivalents, but as is the case with many adaptations, you still expect a level of faithfulness to the source material. And bizarrely, Pixar’s own adaptation of a character they created feels strangely unfaithful to the world we’ve been teased with for nearly thirty years.

Buzz Lightyear the toy thought himself to be the actual character he was based on, and believed his undying heroism could do no wrong. So it’s kind of weird to see the “actual character” of Buzz Lightyear be depicted as he is here; making continuous shortsighted mistakes, rarely trusting others, being haunted by the past… It’s a more human Buzz Lightyear, but he seems far removed from the person that the toy Buzz Lightyear believed himself to be.

Without spoiling too much, there’s also a twist involving the villainous Zurg that I really think will prove divisive to longtime Toy Story fans. Sure, it’s a twist that makes thematic sense with the movie at hand, but it all goes back to the movie’s deviation of what Toy Story told us about these characters. It feels like a twist that belongs in a different movie, because the story itself often feels like it belongs in a separate movie. Though I didn’t predict the twist itself, I did predict that there was going to be a twist with Zurg quite a while ago, because there’s always a twist with villains these days. While I usually prefer deeper, more complex villains, I can’t help but feel Evil Emperor Zurg could have just been Evil Emperor Zurg and nobody would have had a problem with it. But evil emperors can’t just be evil emperors anymore, it seems.

That kind of sums up the issues Lightyear runs into. It wants to be Buzz Lightyear’s origin story, but simultaneously feels like it has its own sci-fi story it wants to tell that doesn’t really feel like it should be Buzz Lightyear’s origin story. Pixar is renowned for the maturity they impart in their animated features, but I feel like Lightyear should have been the one time Pixar went into full Saturday Morning Cartoon mode (albeit with the trademark Pixar heart at its core). Lightyear oddly feels like a more serious, grownup sci-fi movie that just happens to star Buzz Lightyear.

If you can get passed the misplaced tone of the film, Lightyear does have a lot to offer. As you would expect from Pixar, the animation quality is top-notch. While I would argue the film needed some more lively color, it still is interesting to see Pixar tackle a more conventional sci-fi aesthetic. The bulky armors, hefty machinery and insectoid aliens all evoke a loving tribute to classic science fiction, all brought to life with the studio’s impeccable attention to detail.

The film is also excellently cast. While Tim Allen is perfect for the often-delusional Buzz Lightyear toy, Chris Evans seems to be the perfect fit for the heroic “real” Buzz Lightyear. Evans somehow manages to capture the same bravado of Tim Allen’s Buzz, but in a younger, more serious way. The supporting characters are also well cast, with particular praise going to Pixar animator Peter Sohn as Sox, who gives the robotic cat a similar “innocent robot” appeal to Baymax from Big Hero 6 or Ron from Ron’s Gone Wrong.

Another fun highlight of Lightyear is the film’s references to Toy Story, with Buzz quoting his toy-self on a number of occasions, and other little callbacks sprinkled throughout. The film is never overburdened with the references, but it’s an appreciated way to keep the DNA of the Toy Story series intact.

Lightyear is ultimately an entertaining and thoughtful science fiction movie, but I don’t think it ranks among Pixar’s best largely because it seems to be emulating the wrong kinds of science-fiction stories, given the legacy of its titular character. It may not be the Buzz Lightyear movie we expected, but Lightyear proves to be another solid entry in the Pixar canon, even if it doesn’t soar to infinity and beyond.

7

Jurassic World Dominion Review

1993’s Jurassic Park remains one of the most revolutionary and innovative films ever made. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel pioneered visual effects in a way that continues to influence movies today, and it remains a captivating combination of adventure and horror to this day. It’s no surprise that it spawned an entire franchise.

A second Crichton novel was adapted into The Lost World: Jurassic Park, before the series ventured off on its own starting with Jurassic Park 3 and, after lying dormant for fourteen years, was revived with Jurassic World. Though Jurassic World couldn’t match the impact of the original, it did bring out the best entertainment in the series since the 1993 classic, and kickstarted a trilogy of its own.

Jurassic World Dominion is the final film in the Jurassic World trilogy, and seems to be aiming to wrap up the franchise as a whole (though much like the dinosaurs in the films, don’t be surprised if it’s eventually dug back up later). On the plus side, Dominion is a fun ride, and a marked improvement over its immediate predecessor, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. On the downside, Dominion doesn’t really seem to have any new tricks to help reinvigorate the series, and it even squanders some of the set-up of the previous Jurassic World films.

Dominion is set four years after Fallen Kingdom, whose ending saw a number of dinosaurs released into the wild. In those four years, the dinosaurs have repopulated the Earth (I don’t know how exactly, there were only so many that were released at the end of Fallen Kingdom, and even if I can suspend my disbelief that the flying pterosaurs bothered to fly across the world, it wouldn’t explain how the land dinosaurs have spread so far. Whatever). Humans now coexist with dinosaurs all across the globe, which I admit is a fun direction to take this series. Director Colin Trevorrow said he wanted to depict a world where seeing a dinosaur would be akin to a bear encounter. You probably won’t experience it, but it’s a possibility. Again, it’s a fun idea. Which makes it a shame that Jurassic World Dominion doesn’t fully commit to it.

Instead, the film quickly reveals that an extinct form of locust has also appeared, and are devouring crops at an unparalleled rate, threatening the food chain and life on Earth. These locusts eat all crops except those produced by the Biosyn corporation. Paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) suspect Biosyn has bioengineered the locusts to control the world’s food supply. So she recruits her former colleague and love interest, paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), to help her uncover the conspiracy. Their friend and fellow Jurassic Park survivor Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) is working for Biosyn, and can help get his friends into Biosyn’s headquarters.

Meanwhile, the Jurassic World mainstays, Owen Grady (Super Mario himself, Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are once again a couple, and are the adoptive parents of Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon), who is a cloned human wanted by Biosyn for research. Maisie – along with a baby raptor – is eventually kidnapped by goons hired by Biosyn (for an evil corporation, they really don’t do a good job at hiding their shady dealings). Owen and Claire then set out to rescue Maisie, with the help of a pilot named Kayla Watts (DeWanda Wise). Naturally, this means that the Jurassic World and Jurassic Park characters inevitably cross paths in order to bring down Biosyn and it’s corrupt CEO, Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott). Yes, Dodgson. As in “Dodgson! Dodgson! We’ve got Dodgson here!” Man, I wish Wayne Knight could still be in these movies.

The film’s strengths lie in two areas: the first and most obvious being the dinosaurs themselves, which are once again brought to life with both CG and practical effects (reportedly, Dominion features more animatronic dinosaurs than ever before). The film’s second strength is the interactions between the characters of the Jurassic World trilogy and the stalwarts from the original Jurassic Park. This makes it unfortunate that the film really takes its sweet time for the new and classic casts to get together. But once they do, there’s fun to be had between the different generations of Jurassic Park casts. And even before they all meet up, there is a nostalgic glee in seeing the original Jurassic Park trio together for the first time since the original movie (many Star Wars fans critique the sequel trilogy for never having a reunion with Han, Luke and Leia, so thankfully Jurassic Park has avoided that pitfall).

Going back to the dinosaurs, Dominion has a lot of fun showing us dinosaurs that have thus far gone unrepresented in the series, most notably the giganotosaurus (which the film repeatedly reminds us is the “biggest land carnivore that ever lived”). Of course, series favorites like the tyrannosaurus rex and velociraptors also show up. Although no Jurassic sequel could hope to capture the same degree of majesty, thrills and horror with its creatures as the 1993 film, Dominion does a pretty good job at it and still brings its dinosaurs to captivating life with state-of-the-art visuals.

Had the film stuck with the idea of dinosaur encounters being an everyday possibility, and brought the characters together through means other than the locust conspiracy, Dominion would probably have been a much stronger, more imaginative movie. I can’t deny that I had a lot of fun while watching Jurassic World Dominion, but the addition of the locust plot feels forced onto the proceedings, and Maisie’s role in how it can be resolved feels contrived, like a means to justify why the character needed to be a clone. With that plot tacked on, the movie feels like it’s going through the motions for the series.

Not only does that plot detract from the dinosaurs (!?) and the set-up from the end of Fallen Kingdom, but it also seems to undo what the first Jurassic World set in motion. To clarify, Jurassic World brought back the character of Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), Jurassic Park’s primary geneticist. Interestingly, despite only appearing in a single scene in Jurassic Park, Jurassic World reintroduced Wu as the new trilogy’s overarching antagonist, as he was secretly working to weaponize the dinosaurs he created. It was a nice twist that plucked a character from obscurity and made him the villain. But fast-forward to Dominion, and Dr. Wu is now an apathetic sad sack who helped Dodgson create the locusts, and is now remorseful for his actions. It’s a redemption arc that has seemingly come out of nowhere. So did he just give up on the idea of weaponized dinosaurs? Or did the filmmakers forget about that storyline? Retconning Wu to be the ultimate villain of the series was one of my favorite aspects of Jurassic World, so it’s a shame to see that element basically be dropped unceremoniously. And it makes for a less cohesive trilogy to just change course with something like that.

While no follow-up was ever going to top the impact of the 1993 original Jurassic Park, it is unfortunate that the first Jurassic World was the only sequel that felt like a worthy successor. And it seems the Jurassic World trilogy has followed the same pattern as the original Jurassic Park trilogy of starting with a good movie, followed up by a bad movie, and ending with a so-so movie.

I have to reiterate that I did have a lot of fun while watching Jurassic Park Dominion. Having the original cast back and seeing them team up with the newer characters is the good kind of nostalgic fanservice, and the dinosaurs still bring the suspense and scares. But whereas Jurassic World was fun just thinking about it after the credits rolled, I feel like whatever fun Dominion has ends as soon as the credits begin (to say nothing of whenever the locust plot takes center stage). It’s a more fleeting fun, but fun nonetheless.

6

The Bob’s Burgers Movie Review

When Bob’s Burgers debuted on Fox in 2011, it was the latest in a long line of animated series that the network greenlit in hopes of finding another success that could be a mainstay for their animation block, alongside The Simpsons and *groan* Family Guy. While Bob’s Burgers initially had middling ratings and a lukewarm reception, it eventually grew into the critically acclaimed stalwart of Fox’s animation block, with many considering it the spiritual successor to King of the Hill. Like King of the Hill, Bob’s Burgers focuses on dry, character-based humor, as opposed to the increasing gimmicks of The Simpsons (which has long-since lost its luster) or the desperate shocks and humorless cutaways of Family Guy (which never had luster). The series has now been on the air for over eleven years and 200 episodes, more than earning the right to have its own feature film. After numerous delays, The Bob’s Burgers Movie is finally a reality, with the finished product being joyous fun, even if it feels more like an extended episode than a proper movie.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie sees the big screen debut of the Belcher family: father and restaurateur Bob (H. Jon Benjamin), his wife Linda (John Roberts), and their kids; awkward 13-year-old Tina (Dan Mintz), goofy 11-year-old Gene (Eugene Mirman), and spunky 9-year-old Louise (Kristen Schaal), who is always wearing her bunny eared cap. Joining them is dimwitted but goodhearted handyman (and regular customer) Teddy (Larry Murphy).

The story here is that Bob and Linda are turned down for a business loan and have only one week to make the month’s payment or face repossession of their restaurant equipment. Already a tough task, things are made more complicated when a sinkhole appears at the front of their restaurant, blocking access to customers. The city plans on filling in the sinkhole as soon as possible, until the skeleton of a missing carnival worker named Cotton Candy Dan is found in the hole, and it becomes a crime scene. Given the unique circumstances, Linda asks their eccentric landlord Calvin Fischoeder (Kevin Kline) and his brother Felix (Zack Galifianakis) if the Belchers can delay their month’s rent in order to make their loan payment. Calvin’s response is a resounding “maybe.”

Things get yet even more complicated when Calvin Fischoeder becomes the prime suspect in the murder of Cotton Candy Dan and is arrested. Desperate to save their business, Bob and Linda sell their burgers from a makeshift cart created by Teddy, despite not having a license to do so. Meanwhile, the Belcher kids try to clear Fischoeder’s name, so that he can help the family out by waving the month’s rent.

The plot is good, simple fun. But aside from the presence of a murder, it does feel like the same kind of plot you would see in an episode of the series. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given the quality of Bob’s Burgers, but you can’t help but wish the film would have aimed a bit higher. The Simpson’s Movie (which is somehow fifteen years old) almost went out of its way to have a bigger scope and scale in story than its series, to justify its movie-ness. I can’t help but feel that Bob’s Burgers missed the opportunity to do the same. Though to be fair, I’d rather have a good extended episode than a disappointing movie. And between the Bob’s Burgers and Simpsons movies, Bob’s Burgers is the one that falls into the former category.

A few elements are present that make The Bob’s Burgers Movie feel more cinematic. The most immediate being the animation itself, which is more fluid and detailed than ever. The characters look more three-dimensional than in the series, with a heavier focus on lighting and shading throughout. This higher quality animation even adds to the film’s humor. The characters of Bob’s Burgers always looked like something of a cross between classic Simpsons and the Muppets, and to see such goofy and endearing characters move with the fluidity of an animated feature is in itself funny.

The “movie quality” is really brought out during the film’s musical numbers, which are much bigger than they are in the series. The songs themselves are also surprisingly good (the opening number “Sunnyside Up Summer” deserves mention for Best Original Song awards come next award season, for its infectious melody and lighthearted humor). These songs are so catchy, in fact, that you can’t help but wish there were more of them. I feel like it may have been another missed opportunity by not making The Bob’s Burgers Movie a full-fledged musical.

Still, it’s easy to recommend The Bob’s Burgers Movie to fans, and it may even convert audiences who haven’t seen the series (despite the film’s many callbacks to past episodes, it still serves as a perfectly accessible entry point for first time viewers). The movie has the same irreverent yet wholesome humor of the show, and it gives its characters some good development (particularly Louise, who seems to be the de facto main character of the film, as she tries to prove herself capable of growing up). The voice work is as funny and quirky as ever, and the film on the whole is a lot of fun.

The Bob’s Burgers Movie maybe could have been a little more “movie.” But a little more Bob’s Burgers is always a good thing.

7

My Second Trip to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

“Yeah, I’m awkward when it comes to pictures. And also when it doesn’t come to pictures.”

I made my second trip to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on May 22nd, so it’s been a week ago now, but I still wanted to write about it. So sue me.

Unlike my first trip to the Academy Museum, where I tried to see as much as possible, this time I simply spent the day visiting the Hayao Miyazaki exhibit, since that’s sadly going to be leaving the museum in June. Goodness gracious, what a magical exhibit! Filled with so much artwork, sketches, character designs, even sculpted recreations of locations from Miyazaki’s films (the model of the house from My Neighbor Totoro even hides some Soot Sprites to find). They even have a little mock patch of grass that you can lay on to look up at some clouds (as characters in Miyazaki films often do)!

I’m really going to miss this exhibit when it goes. I mean I’m REALLY going to miss it. Like, the idea of going to the Academy Museum and that exhibit no longer being there makes me genuinely sad. Sure, there will still be other interesting exhibits. But sadly, the ‘magic’ will no longer be there.

I’ve often said Hayao Miyazaki is my favorite filmmaker, and that his films are my favorites. But really, that doesn’t even begin to do justice to what his films have meant to me. Now, I say this with all due respect to the many great filmmakers throughout history, but for me, none of them can even begin to compare to Miyazaki. I have a friend who claims that the original Star Wars (that is to say Episode IV – A New Hope) transcends all of their favorite films and is in a category all its own as a perfect film. And I guess for me, that’s what Miyazaki’s films are like (it’s also why I’m not satisfied with any of the reviews I’ve written for them and have thought about rewriting them in a way that differs from all my other reviews). Sure, not all of Miyazaki’s films are equals (though Howl’s Moving Castle is the only one that’s notably ‘weaker’ than the others), but his style, tone, voice and artistry are simply beyond anything else in movies. They really are magical.

In short, I’m really going to miss the Miyazaki exhibit, and so my entire second trip was spent revisiting it. I even went back into the exhibit around closing and had it practically to myself for a while. That was pretty darn cool.

Once again, they didn’t allow pictures within the exhibit itself (and boy, was it difficult to resist the urge to photograph everything). But I got some pictures of the outside of the exhibit again. This time with me in them!

What a magical experience it was to see this Hayao Miyazaki exhibit. Finally, a place here in the US for Studio Ghibli fans to appreciate (and maybe geek out) about the world’s greatest animation studio. From entering a woodland tunnel greeted by “The Path of the Wind” from My Neighbor Totoro, to seeing the Kodama from Princess Mononoke appear on the walls, to finally exiting via the tunnel from Spirited Away (complete with Stone Spirit guardian), I absorbed every last drop of that exhibit. The fact that I actually got to see original artwork and concept sketches from Miyazaki’s films firsthand… that’s something that will stick with me forever.

It’s going to be really sad to see the Miyazaki exhibit leave (though I don’t know why the museum can’t at least keep the merchandise in the gift shop), though I can’t blame Studio Ghibli if they want their stuff back in their native Japan. But what a delight it’s been to be able to experience it.

Also, a big shout out to the little girl waiting in line for the exhibit who freaked out with enthusiasm at the sight of Totoro and Ponyo. What a cool kid! Warms my heart to know that kids these days have that kind of adoration for Miyazaki’s films.

Thanks for the Miyazaki memories, Academy Museum! It was a magical experience.

“Me and my main man, Porco Rosso.”

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Turns 12!

“Why isn’t Lubba a character in Mario Kart yet?”

Well, this makes me feel old. Today, May 23rd 2022, marks the twelfth anniversary of the release of Super Mario Galaxy 2 in North America! May is apparently a fantastic month for Mario, seeing as we already had the anniversary of Super Mario RPG earlier this month. That’s two all-time greats in the same month!

Yes, somehow, it’s been a full twelve years since Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released on the Wii. The first Super Mario Galaxy (released on Wii in 2007) was already one of the most acclaimed video games of all time, and it may seem odd to remember that when Galaxy 2 was announced, the hype was somewhat restrained, with many claiming it looked like more of the same, and that it couldn’t live up to its predecessor.

Boy, were those people wrong! Despite the lofty standard set by the first Super Mario Galaxy, Galaxy 2 managed to meet and even exceed expectations, becoming every bit as acclaimed and heralded as its predecessor. And to call it more of the same couldn’t be further from the truth. Similar to how Majora’s Mask would create an identity of its own while using many of Ocarina of Time’s assets, Galaxy 2 is structurally and philosophically its own beast, despite using its predecessor as a backdrop.

“The very first image of Super Mario Galaxy 2 I ever saw.”

It’s also important to note Galaxy 2’s impact because when it was released in 2010, the video game world was all in with the weird “games aren’t art unless they emulate movies” mentality. Unless something was a Mass Effect or a Red Dead Redemption or some “atmospheric” indie darling, it couldn’t be art. I can recall at least one major gaming website once IGNorantly claimed that Limbo was a better platformer than Galaxy 2 because Limbo “had atmosphere.” But who the hell talks about Limbo anymore? Then again, people thought Ken Levine was like gaming’s greatest auteur back then. It was a confused time.

Thankfully, Super Mario Galaxy 2 prevailed in showing that pure, unadulterated game design in itself can be art. Galaxy 2 is a game as perfectly structured as any, comprised of one imaginative idea after another, each one creative enough to be a game in their own right. It’s a game of no wasted energy.

Yes, even though Galaxy 2 went against what was seen as “highbrow gaming” at the time, it has stood tall these twelve years later, and outlasted the games that were “supposed” to be the new artistic standard.

In the years since, the Souls series and Breath of the Wild have reached a similar level of acclaim to the Super Mario Galaxy duo. But with all due respect (particularly to Elden Ring) it’s fitting that Super Mario Odyssey is perhaps the only game since to match the non-stop inventiveness and pitch-perfect execution of Galaxy 2. It’s been a hell of an act to follow.

The first Super Mario Galaxy was pretty much perfect, but Galaxy 2 somehow became something more. Twelve years later, it’s still – quite easily – one of the best video games of all time.

Happy twelfth anniversary, Super Mario Galaxy 2!

“One of Mario’s best-ever power-ups. And one that’s in desperate need of a comeback.”

Now, why wasn’t Galaxy 2 included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars again?

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) Review

*Review contains minor spoilers*

When Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, it was a defining moment in animation history. Not only did the film meld live-action and animated characters so seamlessly it still hasn’t been matched since, but it also created renewed interest in animation itself. This renewed interest led to Disney’s ‘Renaissance’ era, in addition to inspiring other studios to throw their hat in the animation ring. Roger Rabbit’s meshing together of beloved animated characters has also had a reverberating effect, with films such as Wreck-It Ralph, its sequel and Space Jam: A New Legacy all trying something similar in more recent years. This influence even found its way into weekday and Saturday morning cartoons (remember those?), with Disney in particular creating a slew of animated programs in the late 80s and early 90s that repurposed their animated characters from yesteryear.

Goof Troop reimagined Goofy as a single father and Peg-Leg Pete as his nosey neighbor. TaleSpin featured characters from The Jungle Book in a period piece setting and focused on aviation. DuckTales – the most famous of the lot – saw Scrooge McDuck and his nephews on Indiana Jones-like adventures, much like Scrooge’s old comic books. And Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers saw the titular Chipmunks as detectives who, along with some new friends, would solve cases that were “too small” for the police to handle.

In this day and age where nostalgia (particularly for the 80s and 90s) has a strong influence on pop culture, it makes sense that we’re seeing these shows get resurrected in one way or another. DuckTales saw a successful reboot series that ran from 2017 to 2021, and now Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers has been given its own feature film on Disney+. Though it’s probably not the Rescue Rangers movie you would expect.

Rather than go for a straight feature film adaptation, this 2022 Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a satirical, meta live-action and animated hybrid movie that features many beloved characters from animation history… kind of like Roger Rabbit. So we’ve basically come full circle. The results are mostly enjoyable, even if the film ultimately can’t compete with the film that inspired it (or should I say ‘the film that inspired the show that inspired it?’).

Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers chronicles how Disney’s chipmunk duo first met in early 80s (strangely ignoring the characters’ history in Disney shorts decades before then). Chip (John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) became close friends and struggled in Hollywood until getting their big break with the aforementioned series. With Rescue Rangers a big success, Chip and Dale were finally living their dream. But Dale, tired of being looked at as the goofy sidekick, tried to branch out and get a show of his own, a Bond spoof called Double-O-Dale. But Dale’s conflicting roles lead to the cancellation of Rescue Rangers, and Double-O-Dale wasn’t even picked up as a series. The Rescue Rangers cancellation caused a riff between the chipmunks, with Chip leaving Hollywood behind to sell insurance. Dale, meanwhile, continues to milk his former glory, making appearances at fan conventions. He even went so far as to get “CGI surgery” in order to stay relevant in the changing world of animation.

Fast-forward to the present, and both Chip and Dale get separate calls from their former Rescue Rangers costar, Monterey Jack (Eric Bana). Monty needs Chip and Dale’s help, as his cheese addiction has landed him in hot water with a crime boss named ‘Sweet Pete.’ If Monty can’t pay back his debt, Pete will have Monty ‘bootlegged’ (a process that alters a character to avoid copyright laws, so they can be shipped overseas and make bootlegged versions of Hollywood movies). Chip and Dale promise to pay Monty’s debt, only for Monty to end up kidnapped that same night. The police, led by the claymation Captain Putty (J.K. Simmons), are looking into it, but have their hands tied with a series of other toon disappearances. So Chip and Dale begrudgingly set aside their differences to start an investigation of their own to find their missing friend with the help of human officer Ellie Steckler (KiKi Layne). All the while, Dale hopes the team-up leads to an eventual Rescue Rangers reboot.

The setup is a lot of fun. Using a real show from yesteryear as the backdrop for a Roger Rabbit-style comedy is a really entertaining idea. And the movie is clearly having a ball with all the characters, cameos and references it can cram in. One benefit this film has is that animation has changed a lot since Roger Rabbit hit theaters, so there’s a lot more types of humor and visual styles they can squeeze in.

Not only do we have toons interacting with humans, but the toons themselves (whether existing characters or ones made up for the film) come in a range of styles, from anime to stop-motion to Michael Bay’s Transformers to the 80s incarnation of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Sweet Pete’s gang even consists of “uncanny valley” CG characters like Bob the Viking Dwarf (Seth Rogen), who is based on the Polar Express/Beowulf era of motion-capture (complete with dead eyes and lifeless movements), and a polar bear based on the old Coca-Cola commercials. Perhaps best of all is that one of the minor characters in the film is none other than ‘Ugly Sonic‘ (Tim Robinson). That is to say, the original character design for Sonic the Hedgehog for the 2020 film that haunted that initial trailer, before internet backlash delayed the film for the redesign of the character. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is full of visual surprises and variety that helps keep the film’s concept fresh throughout.

With that said, there is a bit of an asterisk to all this, since most of the characters are done with CG, even when they’re supposed to be traditionally animated or stop-motion characters. The most glaring examples being Chip, Monty and fellow Rescue Rangers characters Gadget (Tress MacNeille) and Zipper (Dennis Haysbert), who are obviously created with a cel-shaded CG meant to mimic the look of traditional animation. This not only feels like a shortcut was taken, but it also kind of deflates the whole joke that Dale had cosmetic surgery to become a CG character when the supposedly hand-drawn characters around him are also CG.

That’s not to say anything against CG, of course. All forms of animation can create things of beauty and wonder. But given the premise of the movie, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity that it didn’t go all out and capture the different characters with their appropriate medium (there are a few delightful exceptions, such as a quick cameo from Roger Rabbit himself. Because of course he’s in this movie).

While Rescue Rangers is often very funny – sometimes outright hilarious – it does admittedly have a few jokes that it doesn’t know when to let them go. Most notably are the constant remarks about reboots, which after a while may become as insistent as the reboots they’re commenting on. The humor can even feel a little bit smarmy at times, which is a trap the more earnest Who Framed Roger Rabbit never once fell into.

Something else I have mixed feelings about is the film’s villain, Sweet Pete. I guess this is something of a spoiler (though the trailers already blatantly revealed it, and the reveal happens somewhat early in the film), but Sweet Pete is revealed to be a fat, balding, middle-aged Peter Pan (Will Arnett). On one hand, the idea of a middle-aged Peter Pan and Arnett’s voice work are funny. But on the other hand, the idea of “evil Peter Pan” is becoming almost as cliche as the evil Superman trope. Plus, Sweet Pete’s motive is that he became bitter once he got older and Hollywood forgot him, which seems kind of weird since the Disney version of Peter Pan is still a decently popular character who shows up here and there (this origin story is made even weirder with how Peter Pan is inexplicably the only toon in the movie who has aged). It seems like Disney could have used a more genuinely forgotten character to go with the backstory, like McLeach from the Rescuers Down Under, or Gurgi from The Black Cauldron. But now I’m overthinking things.

None of these complaints are dealbreakers, however. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is a fun and funny movie that should be doubly entertaining for fans of animation and the people who grew up during the time when shows like the original DuckTales and Rescue Rangers were still airing. It’s a film filled with visual delights and fun callbacks and references for fans. The smart-alecky attitude of the film holds back some of the humor, and no, it’s certainly no Roger Rabbit. But Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers is certainly one of the better Roger Rabbit imitators. And it may be the only time we ever get to see Ugly Sonic in a movie.

7

Super Mario RPG Turns 26!

Today, May 13th, 2022, marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of the release of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars on the Super Nintendo in North America (it was released in Japan two months prior). I know, you’re probably thinking “twenty-six is a random anniversary to point out for something like this.” And you may have a point. But last year I (of all people) failed to write about Super Mario RPG’s twenty-fifth anniversary! I wrote a bunch of anniversary posts for other things in 2021, yet failed to acknowledge the anniversary of what is most likely my favorite video game of all time. So consider this my recompence.

Come to think of it, I failed to mention Paper Mario’s twentieth anniversary in 2021 as well (and its twenty-first a few months back)… I’ve become everything I’ve ever hated.

Anyway…

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was released on the Super NES twenty-six years ago, and instantly became one of the most beloved Mario games and RPGs of all time. Although its release being so late in the SNES’s lifecycle – as well as the release of the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 a few months later – may have affected its sales somewhat at the time, Super Mario RPG would still prove to be a success. And true to its name, it became something of a legend in the video game world, with word of mouth helping its reputation grow over the years.

“The best battle system.”

Sadly, Super Mario RPG seems to be the one Mario game that won’t get a sequel. Although it would inspire the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi sub-series (and influence many other RPGs outside of the Mario series), Super Mario RPG itself has only continued on through a few cameos and a couple of snippets of music in subsequent Mario games. Despite fans’ persistent yearning to see the characters and elements of Super Mario RPG make a return, their pleas continue to fall on deaf ears.

There is a glimmer of hope, as Chihiro Fujioka, the director of Super Mario RPG, has recently expressed his desire to create a sequel to the SNES classic as his last game before retirement. Fingers crossed that Chihiro Fujioka gets his way.

Even without a sequel, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars has left an indelible mark in Nintendo history and earned its legendary status. It’s the game that gave the Mushroom Kingdom a story, introduced the world to Mallow and Geno, made Bowser the most likable character ever, and made turn-based battles way more fun! A legend? Oh, you better believe it!

“In what other game can Bowser do battle with a giant cake?”

Happy Twenty-sixth anniversary, Super Mario RPG!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to that godly soundtrack again!

Happy Star Wars Day 2022 + The Avengers Turns 10!

Happy Star Wars Day, everyone! May the Fourth be with you and all that!

Yes, today (May 4th) is the fan holiday in which we celebrate all things Star Wars. The good, the bad, and the Jar-Jar.

Star Wars has seen a lot of ups and downs over the years, but its place in pop culture history has long-since been solidified. It’s the movie world’s most indelible mythology, and has won over our hearts so strongly that it endures even passed its most egregious mistakes (“Somehow Palpatine returned…“).

Happy Star Wars Day you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herders! May the Fourth be with you!

“The ultimate counterargument to people who say the prequels had the best fights. Ugh.”

Today also marks the ten-year anniversary of the release of Marvel’s The Avengers! Yes, much like Palpatine’s return, somehow it’s been a full decade since The Avengers was released. Man, I feel old…

Back in 2012, there had been no big superhero crossover movies. Marvel had been slowly building up to it since 2008, when Iron Man kicked off the MCU. We all take it for granted now (and perhaps even Marvel itself does), but in 2012, seeing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, and the B-Team of Black Widow and Hawkeye come together for the first time was magical.

One could even argue that the Marvel Cinematic Universe peaked with the first Avengers film. The “Battle for New York” is still probably the best battle sequence in the entire mega-franchise. While later Avengers movies would tread darker, more serious territory, 2012’s The Avengers was a pure fun delight that remains as entertaining now as it was ten years ago, long after the initial hype has died off (something not a lot of MCU films can boast).

I remember, on this day ten years ago, I actually saw The Avengers twice! I saw it at one theater with one group, and then immediately went to another theater and saw it with a different group. I can’t say I’ve done that with a whole lot of movies.

“Back when Loki was interesting. Man, this movie really is old!”

The Avengers also proved to be one of the most influential films of recent memory, with every studio under the sun trying to construct their own “Cinematic Universes” in an attempt to replicate what Marvel accomplished with The Avengers (though only Legendary’s Godzilla and Kong-fueled “MonsterVerse” has somewhat succeeded). It’s the kind of influence I’m sure James Cameron wished Avatar had.

The MCU has gone a lot of places in the past ten years, with bigger crossovers and larger storylines. But some of that “pure fun” of The Avengers has been lost along the way. Sure, the MCU films are still mostly good (Eternals was a glaring exception. And Loki was kind of a “jump the shark” moment for me). But as the MCU has grown bigger it’s also become a bit too in love with itself, and at times cynical (again, Loki basically said every MCU event before itself was meaningless. Way to pay off fan investment). And the standalone stories are kind of giving way to everything being about the overarching plot, as if Thanos never left.

But in 2012, it was just six super heroes banding together, in a movie that had all the unadulterated enthusiasm as a kid playing with their action figures. And it was good.

Happy tenth anniversary, Avengers! And one more time, May the Fourth be with you!