New Super Mario Bros. Review

New Super Mario Bros.

When New Super Mario Bros. was first released on the Nintendo DS in 2006, it was something special. It was the first Mario sidescroller in nearly a decade and a half. NSMB resurrected the core Mario gameplay in its purest form, introducing a whole new generation to the fun of Mario sidescrollers. It’s no wonder that New Super Mario Bros. would become one of the best selling video games of all time.

Nine years and three sequels later, and New Super Mario Bros. has reemerged through the Wii U’s Virtual Console. Although it remains a fun game, time has proven that New Super Mario Bros. doesn’t quite measure up to Mario’s greater adventures.

New Super Mario Bros. takes the Mario series back to basics. Sidescrolling stages are complimented by a world map, with a fortress and a castle waiting in the middle and end of each world, respectively. Toad Houses return, where Mario can gain additional lives or power-ups. True to the series’ lineage, the game has a grand total of eight worlds to traverse, though NSMB added an original touch by making two of those worlds optional.

New Super Mario Bros.The core gameplay remains largely similar to the 2D Mario’s of old, though Mario has retained some of the moves he learned in Mario 64 such as the triple jump and wall jump. Power-ups include the returning Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Starman, but New Super Mario Bros. also introduced three power-ups of its own.

The Mega Mushroom works like a more extravagant Starman, with Mario becoming an invincible giant who crushes anything in his path for an allotted time. The Mini Mushroom adds a fun twist to Mario’s power-ups by downsizing the plumber. Whereas the other power-ups make Mario more durable, the Mini Mushroom makes Mario even more vulnerable to enemy attacks. But Mini Mario also jumps farther, can run on water, fits in small spaces, and is required to unlock the aforementioned optional worlds, so it has its perks. The Blue Koopa Shell is New Super Mario Bros’ best addition to Mario’s arsenal, and it’s shocking it still has yet to make a return appearance in the series. Mario can withdraw into the Blue Shell to become an unstoppable force, bouncing off walls and plowing through enemies with ease.

The level design is fun and varied, with some later stages introducing fun gimmicks to keep things fresh. But it is with these levels that New Super Mario Bros. falls short of its predecessors. As fun as the game is, the stages lack the intricate challenge of Super Mario Bros. 3 or the boundless imagination of Super Mario World. The stages of New Super Mario Bros. boast the series’ trademark sense of polish, but lack the genius and creativity of Mario’s best.

New Super Mario Bros. also ranks as one of Mario’s easiest 2D platformers. You can get through the game in a few short hours with very little effort, with only the final world and some of the optional stages providing any notable difficulty.

The game’s real challenge comes from tracking down three Star Coins on every stage. The Star Coins become progressively more difficult to find, and in some later instances require some clever maneuvering in order to nab them. The Star Coins are used to open up branching pathways on the world map and gain access to the Toad Houses, so they’re necessary if you’re seeking one-hundred percent completion. Finding every last Star Coin adds some replay value to the package, but it’s a shame the stages themselves don’t have the depth to hold their own.

The game features some nice aesthetic touches, with the then-new 3D character models allowing for more dynamic animations than its 2D predecessors. The music, while one of the lesser Mario soundtracks, remains catchy nonetheless.New Super Mario Bros.

For those who want to take a break from the platforming adventure, New Super Mario Bros. also features an assortment of mini-games that provide some quick bursts of fun. A multiplayer Vs. mode is present in the game’s original DS incarnation, but absent from the Virtual Console release. It was a simple multiplayer addition, so its absence isn’t a game-breaking loss, but it is a downer nevertheless.

New Super Mario Bros. is still a very fun title for its tight gameplay and smooth progression, and it serves as a great introduction to Mario games for beginners. But for those who know what else Mario has to offer, there is a notable shallowness in its imagination. At the time of its original release we may not have noticed, we were just happy to see Mario return to his roots. But with a much meatier Wii U sequel available, and some of Mario’s best games at the ready on the Virtual Console, the nostalgia factor of New Super Mario Bros. can only benefit it so much. It remains an entertaining piece of game design, but it is humbled by Mario’s own past and future.

 

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Yoshi Touch & Go Review

Yoshi Touch & Go

Yoshi Touch & Go was one of the earlier games released on the Nintendo DS. As such, it fell under the category of early DS titles that were more about showcasing the DS’ capabilities than they were about delivering deeper gameplay experiences. The good news is that Yoshi Touch & Go provided a good example of touchscreen controls and took advantage of the DS’ duel screens in innovative ways. The bad news is that Yoshi Touch & Go can only hold your interest for so long, and its translation onto the Wii U’s Virtual Console can be a bit of a mixed bag.

 

Yoshi Touch & Go uses the setup and aesthetics of the SNES classic Yoshi’s Island, complete with cute visuals and simple but sweet music. Yoshi sets out to save a baby Mario from the clutches of Kamek and his minions, just as he did in the SNES original. The twist here is it places the events into a score attack game.

The gameplay is separated into two segments: One in which Baby Mario falls from the sky, with three balloons tied to his back, while the other sees Baby Mario riding on Yoshi’s back through a quasi-platformer.

The first segment has the top screen fixed on Baby Mario, with players needing to draw paths on the scrolling bottom screen to help guide where Baby Mario will go next, being sure to collect as many coins as possible for a higher score, and avoiding enemies so Baby Mario doesn’t lose any of his balloons.

The second segment turns things into a sidescroller, with Yoshi moving on his own on the bottom screen, requiring players to draw paths over gaps, tap the screen to throw eggs in order to defeat enemies and collect out of reach coins, and tap Yoshi himself to make him jump. Unlike Baby Mario in the first half of the gameplay, it only takes one hit to get a game over in Yoshi’s stage.

Both of these segments provide some fun, and no doubt they will have players trying to outdo their best scores. But the game has a distinct lack of variety. If you perform better during the Baby Mario portion, the Yoshi segment will see minor tweaks to make things more challenging for expert players, which is a nice touch. But you’re still more or less going through the same stage on repeat.

The game adds a little flair by including multiple modes: Score Attack sees things wrapped up in a complete little package, with Yoshi’s stage having a definitive end, leaving players to try and best their top scores within this miniature adventure. Marathon, on the other hand, has no end, and players are simply tested to see how far they can go.

Additionally, players can unlock Time Attack and Challenge modes, where they must continuously defeat enemies and grab coins to add time to a constantly ticking clock and put their skills to the test against enemy-riddled obstacle courses, respectively. The multiple modes all add nice spins to the formula, but the sheer lack of variety in the core gameplay prevents Yoshi Touch & Go from feeling like anything more than a fun little tech demo.

Yoshi Touch & GoIt should be noted that the game’s original release included a multiplayer Vs. mode, but that it is no longer functional in the Wii U Virtual Console release. So if you want to experience the game’s multiplayer mode, you and a buddy will need to play the game in its original form.

Another downside to playing the game on the Wii U is that Yoshi Touch & Go requires careful attention to what’s going on in both screens at all time. The Wii U features several play styles for DS rereleases, so look for the ones that put both screens onto the Gamepad, as anything else is more than a little tedious.

In the end, Yoshi Touch & Go can be a difficult recommendation today. Back in 2005 it was a nice showcase of the innovation the Nintendo DS brought to the table, and today its price of ten dollars is more reasonable than its full retail value of yesteryear. But given that you can download a classic like Super Mario 64 for the same price, Yoshi Touch & Go still costs more than it needs to.

Yoshi Touch & Go isn’t a bad game, it’s innovative and even provides some fun. But it’s an overall shallow experience that Nintendo could have expanded on to create a more complete game. A fun little diversion, but when you know what else the Virtual Console has to offer, Yoshi Touch & Go will probably be pushed to the back of the “must-haves” line.

 

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Electroplankton Review

Electroplankton

When the Nintendo DS was first released, many of its games were little more than technical displays of the DS’ features. One such game was Electroplankton, which ranks among the strangest titles Nintendo has ever made.

That’s not to say it’s strange in the usual Nintendo sense of whimsy and surrealism. Rather, Electroplankton is a strange game because it’s hardly a game at all. It’s a title that allows players to tamper with nine different sound tests (each categorized by a different Electroplankton) to create unique melodies and sound effects. You can even record your own voice.

The way the game goes about these “mini-games” can be creative: One Electroplankton allows you to record voice samples to four fish-like creatures, which then play the samples back in unison as they swim by. Another has players change the trajectory of arrows, and as four different colored Electroplankton follow them, they create different melodies. These are among the more fun experiences in Electroplankton, but to say that the fun is short lived is an understatement.

Other Electroplankton games are so simplistic it’s close to shocking that they got their own category, instead of complimenting another: One Electroplankton has five records that the player can spin with the stylus to create (admittedly lovely) sounds, but spinning these records one way or another can only hold one’s interest for so long. Another game has players tapping the touchscreen to make Electroplankton eggs appear, which hatch seconds later to produce sounds. It’s games like this that require so little input they’d be better suited among WarioWare’s myriads of micro-games.

Possibly the game’s biggest downside is that you can’t save any of your work. Even if you’ve managed to create a cool and catchy little musical number, you’ll lose it as soon as you hit the B button and exit the mini-game in question. It’s a baffling piece of game design. Electroplankton is a game about creating music and sound that doesn’t let you keep any of your creations.

ElectroplanktonAt the very least, Electroplankton has some interesting aesthetics going for it, with its visuals being colorful and almost ghost-like, and its sound design is appropriately catchy (one of the more memorable Electroplankton lets you tamper with the invincibility theme from Super Mario Bros.). Its look and sound is unique enough that Nintendo’s decision to adapt them into a Super Smash Bros. stage isn’t too surprising.

The problem is that Electroplankton, despite its honest intentions at making a creative and soothing gaming experience, is just far too shallow to succeed. Perhaps with a host of additional Electroplankton or the ability to combine the existing ones, the game may have been a little more hefty. But Electroplankton ultimately feels flat, and the inability to save what you create just makes it sting all the more. Even in its day, Electroplankton felt a bit unfulfilled. Today it would barely even pass as an app on the 3DS’ home menu.

 

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Mega Man 2 Review

Mega Man 2

Although Capcom’s 1987 classic “Mega Man” introduced the world to the titular Blue Bomber, it was with the series’ second entry in 1989 that Mega Man became a superstar. Playing it again today, it’s not hard to see why. Mega Man 2 is still an incredible achievement in gaming even today.

From the moment you first boot up the game, and the screen scrolls upward to reveal Mega Man (without his helmet!) standing atop a skyscraper, ready to take on the world, you know you’re in for a treat.

The overall setup of the game remains similar to the first game: You play as Mega Man, a good-natured robot out to save the world from the evil Dr. Wily and his band of Robot Masters. Players select the order they want to tackle the game’s stages, and at the end of each, Mega Man comes face-to-face with one of the Robot Masters. Each Robot Master grants Mega Man a new power upon defeat and, in an elaborate game of Rock-Paper-Scissors, each Robot Master’s ability is particularly useful against another.Mega Man 2

Mega Man 2 is a game that excels at virtually everything it sets out to do. It takes the foundation of the first game in the series, and expands and refines it in every regard. The original game’s six Robot Masters has been upped to eight, which remained the series’ standard from that point onward. It included new items like the rare, energy-refilling E Tanks to the mix. Mega Man gained some non-combat powers that were needed to reach every nook and cranny of the stages. And the Robot Master abilities introduced here were so well thought out that Capcom resorted to recycling most of them in subsequent games (just how many derivatives of Wood Man’s Leaf Shield have we seen over the years?).

Simply put, Mega Man 2 became the standard for the long-running series. You won’t find many sequels that so perfectly defined their franchise.

Mega Man 2Mega Man 2 retains much of the first game’s difficulty, but here it’s better balanced and more accessible. Healing items appear more frequently than they did in its predecessor, and the level design feels more fair. Mega Man 2 even features two difficulty modes, with Normal Mode giving Mega Man twice as much power against Robot Masters, and Hard Mode keeping the bosses at max difficulty. The tweaked difficulty curve ensures that Mega Man 2 remains a very challenging game, but a more welcoming one than its predecessor.

Mega Man 2 includes the gameplay of the series in its purest form. Mega Man wouldn’t get his sliding ability until the next entry, but here his simple mechanics of running, jumping and shooting were utilized to their very best thanks to the clever and varied level design. The Robot Master abilities were also well implemented. As fun as it was that later entries allowed Mega Man to charge his Mega Buster, it also largely overpowered Mega Man, leaving the Robot Master powers feeling downplayed. But here they were used to their fullest.

The game remains visually appealing thanks to some colorful graphics and creative character designs, though the game does suffer from some notable slowdowns when too much is going on onscreen. There are also some instances of “NES flickers” on the edges of the screen. But overall the game’s presentation is still impressive.Mega Man 2

Mega Man 2 also boasts what is arguably the greatest soundtrack in the entire NES library. Mega Man 2’s soundtrack, despite its technical limitations, managed to capture so much character and so much energy that it still goes toe-to-toe with the great scores in gaming. The theme music of Dr. Wily’s Castle is still one of the most iconic pieces of video game music for a reason.

 

Mega Man 2 succeeds in not only improving on its predecessor’s blueprints in virtually every way – from gameplay to level design to music to difficulty, and everything in between – but in being one of the best sidescrollers and NES titles ever made. Video games have come a long way since Mega Man 2 was first released in 1989. But in so many ways, Mega Man 2 is still one of the all-time greats.

 

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Shovel Knight Review

Shovel Knight

On the surface, Shovel Knight might resemble any one of the countless retro-inspired indy titles that have been released since Mega Man 9 made 8-bit graphics popular again. While most such NES-inspired indy games seem to completely fallback on nostalgia, Shovel Knight is a much wiser game. It doesn’t bother to hide its inspirations of Super Mario Bros. 3, Castlevania and, most prominently, Mega Man. But Shovel Knight understands that there were more to these games than 8-bit sprites and chiptunes. These games aren’t remembered for nostalgia alone, and they continue to endure because of the genius of their game designs. Shovel Knight seeks to replicate a similar genius, and while its inspirations are obvious, it does so in its own way. If you didn’t know any better, you’d be forgiven for thinking Shovel Knight was a NES classic from gaming’s earlier days.

Shovel KnightShovel Knight works like many platformers from the 8-bit era, though its titular character has two primary means of attack: A simple strike with his mighty shovel or – pulling a page from Scrooge McDuck – a pogo stick-like jump. Shovel Knight also gains magic items throughout his adventure, akin to Castlevania, which grant him additional attacks or defensive actions.

Naturally, wielding a shovel as a weapon also means that Shovel Knight can dig up dirt to find gold and gems, which he’ll need in order to buy upgrades to his armor, shovel, hit points, magic points and the aforementioned magic items. But be weary, because defeat means that Shovel Knight loses a chunk of his collected treasure. If Shovel Knight can return to the spot he fell he can reclaim it, but should he fall again before regaining his lost treasure, it’s gone. The game lacks a traditional ‘lives’ system, so game overs are never a concern even in the game’s most difficult moments, but losing your collected goods is a fun, modernized compensation for the traditional game over.

The gameplay really is as simple as that. Run, jump, shovel, dig. But the game uses these simple mechanics to their fullest, and through some incredible and varied level design, it ends up being a deep gameplay experience.

Shovel KnightThe stages are strewn together through a Super Mario Bros. 3 style world map, separated into four different segments. Shovel Knight allows players to select which order they want to tackle the levels in each segment, but every main stage in each must be completed before moving on to the next segment.

The main stages are lengthy platforming romps that not only grow progressively more challenging, but also more creative. Each main stage is capped off with a boss fight against a different themed knight (all of which includes the title of “Knight” at the end of their name, in a nice tribute to Mega Man’s Robot Masters). Additional challenges, boss fights and optional stages can be found on the world map, should you want to go the extra mile for completion and treasure.

Like many such indy games that build on old school blueprints, Shovel Knight is a challenging game. But whereas many of its peers feel the need to throw insurmountable obstacles at players right out the gate to prove their difficulty, Shovel Knight instead has a nice difficulty curve. It starts off with a simple introductory level to ease players into the game, and continuously becomes more difficult as the game goes on. This helps Shovel Knight’s difficulty feel more fair and, as a result, more fun than its contemporaries.

Despite Shovel Knight’s challenge, it finds a brilliant means to cater to players of varying skill levels through its checkpoints. The levels all feature numerous checkpoints, so more easygoing players don’t have to fret about starting a stage over should they run into a particularly difficult section. But those wanting to test their abilities can destroy the checkpoints – gaining additional treasure in the process – to render them moot, meaning they’ll have to go through the whole stage all over again should they fall. It’s a simple but genius mechanic that adds an interesting twist on difficulty and balance.

The game features an appropriately simplistic story, with Shovel Knight traveling to defeat the knights of the Order of No Quarter in order to unlock the Tower of Fate, hoping against all odds to defeat the evil Enchantress and rescue his (presumed dead) partner, Shield Knight. What’s interesting about Shovel Knight’s story is that, simple as it is, the game finds time to provide some quiet story moments to make Shovel Knight a more sympathetic character than most of his 8-bit kin. And despite what the game’s title and its hero’s weapon of choice might suggest, the game and its story never once feel tongue-in-cheek. It earnestly pays homage to retro games and their simplicity, never falling prey to cheap and easy parodies.

Shovel KnightNaturally, Shovel Knight also includes a soundtrack reminiscent of the 8-bit classics that inspired it. Shovel Knight’s soundtrack is full of personality and energy, and can be compared favorably to many of the Mega Man soundtracks, which is no small feat. It also takes advantage of modern hardware by allowing more colorful visuals than the 8-bit games of yesteryear.

It’s hard not to be wowed by everything Shovel Knight accomplishes. Its tight, polished gameplay is complimented by fantastic level design, a nice difficulty curve, fun visuals and stellar music. It not only draws its inspiration from Mega Man, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Castlevania, but it can sit comfortably alongside them in 8-bit glory.

 

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The Emperor’s New Groove Review

Emperor's New Groove

Released in 2000, The Emperor’s New Groove was one of the earliest “post-Renaissance” Disney animated films. The film originated as an entirely different, more traditional Disney musical before being reworked into a buddy comedy, leading to a highly turbulent production. But the change ultimately paid off, as The Emperor’s New Groove was one of the best Disney movies of its time, and its emphasis on comedy makes it one of the more unique Disney features.

 

The Emperor’s New Groove tells the story of Kuzco (David Spade), a Mesoamerican emperor who’s young and spoiled. Kuzco lives a pampered lifestyle, and has become so selfish that he can’t seem to think of anything other then himself. In one of his routine acts of selfishness, Kuzco plans on having a small peasant village destroyed, to make room for a Summer getaway as a birthday gift to himself.

Kuzco’s life gets turned upside down, however, when he fires his longtime advisor Yzma (Eartha Kitt). Yzma, seeking revenge for being fired, plots to kill Kuzco and take over the throne. But her dimwitted manservant Kronk (Patrick Warburton) botches the murder. Instead of poisoning Kuzco as planned, Kronk accidentally slips the emperor a potion that transforms him into a llama. Kronk can’t bring himself to finish the job, and through a series of mishaps, Kuzco ends up in the very village he plans on having bulldozed, where the peasant Pacha (John Goodman) and his family live. Kuzco and Pacha form a reluctant partnership to get back to the palace and change Kuzco back to a human, with Pacha hoping his help will change the emperor’s mind about destroying the village.

It’s a very simple story, but The Emperor’s New Groove isn’t aiming to be one of Disney’s grandest features. The Emperor’s New Groove is all about the laughs, and in this regard it’s a wild success.

The Emperor’s New Groove is, in a lot of ways, more cartoon than an animated movie. In this case, that’s not such a bad thing. It uses slapstick and fourth wall-breaking liberally, and features some genuinely hilarious dialogue. Best of all, its four main characters are wonderfully entertaining personalities.

Emperor's New GrooveKuzco starts off downright unlikable, but the sheer magnitude of his ego makes for some entertaining banter with the good-natured Pacha. Even when Kuzco inevitably starts to ease up, his sarcasm keeps his comedy intact. Pacha is interesting because, if this worked like any other Disney movie, he’d probably be the main character, but here he’s humorously relegated to the buddy role (at one point, the movie even pauses to make a joke about it).

Yzma is one of Disney’s best comedic villains, with Eartha Kitt’s vocals giving the character boisterous energy and charisma. It’s Kronk, however, who steals the show. Kronk could have easily been another throwaway villainous henchman. Instead he’s made more unique for being kind-hearted and often well-intentioned, he just happens to be working for the antagonist. He’s also a lot more capable and knowledgable than his bumbling exterior suggests.

The film has fun, simplistic animation. It’s not the most ambitiously animated Disney feature, but it’s colorful and fun enough to perfectly compliment the film’s cartoony nature.Emperor's New Groove

If the film has one notable drawback, it’s that its third act is surprisingly lacking in substance. Yes, The Emperor’s New Groove is more cartoony than most Disney movies, so one shouldn’t expect a grand finale. But the film’s final moments feel rushed and incomplete, a possible side effect of the movie’s countless production and scheduling problems. The rest of the movie is briskly paced, but the last act, while still funny, feels like it’s speeding through the remainder of its running time. It’s a shame, because with just another ten or so minutes to give the film a proper ending, The Emperor’s New Groove might have been one of the Disney greats, instead of “merely” being a really, really good Disney movie.

In the end, The Emperor’s New Groove is far from the biggest film Disney has ever made, but it isn’t exactly trying to be. It’s content with simply introducing a quartet of fresh, funny characters, giving them some witty dialogue, and setting it all free with nonsensical, cartoonish antics. It’s an undeniable good time.

 

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Treasure Planet Review

Treasure Planet

During Disney’s slump in the early 2000s, the famed animation studio tried its hand at some unfamiliar territory to try and win back audiences from competing animation studios and their CG films. Disney’s tradition of colorful musicals all but disappeared, and they started producing some more action-oriented features during this time. 2002’s Treasure Planet is one such feature. Although Treasure Planet became a bomb at the box office, it features enough creativity and character to lift it above some of Disney’s other films of the time.

 

Treasure Planet is a retelling of the classic story Treasure Island, but reconfigured into a science fiction setting. A young man named Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) grew up hearing the stories of the notorious pirate Captain Flint, and the insurmountable wealth he kept in a mysterious world called Treasure Planet. One day, a dying space sailor gives Jim a chest containing a strange orb, warning Jim that a gang of pirates lead by a cyborg are after the item.

Treasure PlanetJim soon learns that the orb is indeed a map that points the way to the fabled Treasure Planet, and he, along with his dog-like friend Delbert (David Hyde Pierce) recruit a crew for the expedition. The crew consists of Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) and her trusted First Mate, Mr. Arrow, as well as a band of more unsavory figures, including the ship’s cook, Long John Silver (Brian Murray). It’s no secret to anyone who knows the story of Treasure Island that Silver is the one-legged man (or cyborg, in this case) who plans a mutiny and steal the map.

Treasure Planet does a decent job at retelling the story, with the relationship between Hawkins and Silver being a strong point. Under his rouse as a kindly cook, Silver and Hawkins form a kind of father-son relationship, and both gain a mutual respect for one another, even after Silver reveals his initial intentions. The fluctuating friendship and rivalry between the two is well reflected in Treasure Planet.

The film is well animated for the most part, with fluid, energetic visuals and fun character designs (particularly with the alien creatures). There are some moments where the hand-drawn characters and CG backgrounds clash a bit too much, but overall the film is pleasant to look at.Treasure Planet

Treasure Planet also includes some top notch action scenes, with the finale being especially exciting. The film takes advantage of its animation and setting to provide a series of fun action sequences. It may have benefitted the movie to have a couple more breathes in between these action scenes for additional character development, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun.

I suppose it’s necessary to address the elephant in the room: the sci-fi setting.

As previously stated, placing Treasure Island in the depths of outer space is an interesting concept that makes for some good action, but is it also a bit gimmicky? It can be a bit distracting in the film’s earlier moments, and even once you get used to it, you may still wonder if a more direct adaptation would have worked better. It’s a nice twist in some ways, but it can be off-putting in others.

Treasure Planet holds up better than similar Disney movies of the time, such as Atlantis: The Lost Empire, since the movie’s core relationship keeps the story afloat and the action scenes are well done. But its whole schtick can come across as something of a gimmick, the animation techniques don’t always mesh, and the story could dedicate a little more time to the characters. It’s a more solid entry in the Disney canon than its contemporaries were, and better than its box office performance suggests, but it ultimately didn’t have the extra oomph Disney needed to get back into the game.

 

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