EarthBound Beginnings Review

EarthBound Beginnings

It’s been a long time coming. Mother – the predecessor of beloved cult classic Earthbound – was released on the NES in Japan back in 1989. It was intended to make its way to the rest of the gaming world, but due to the rise of the 16-bit generation, the game’s (finished) English translation went unreleased, as Mother wasn’t an immediate success even in Japan. Its Super NES sequel would create a cult following unlike any other in the world of video games, and for over two decades fans have waited (often hopelessly, or so it would seem) for Nintendo to give the original an official worldwide release. And now, after all this time, we finally have just that. Mother has been revived under the new English title of EarthBound Beginnings through the Wii U’s Virtual Console! But does it live up to its almost mythical reputation?

On the surface, EarthBound Beginnings is a tried and true, old school RPG. Players traverse an overworld where they encounter various locations and meet many characters as they progress through the plot, while a traditional, Dragon Quest-style battle system provides the action. What sets EarthBound Beginnings apart from other RPGs is its personality.

EarthBound BeginningsWhereas most RPGs of its day (and today, for that matter) boast traditional fantasy or sci-fi settings, EarthBound Beginnings is set in a contemporary American-esque backdrop. Swords give way to baseball bats, potions are replaced with hamburgers, and filling the roles usually reserved for orcs and goblins are hippies and bag ladies.

The world of EarthBound Beginnings is funny and charming, complimented by fun character designs (the main cast resemble Charlie Brown and company from Peanuts). Though some of the visuals show their age, the game’s personality shines through its technical limitations. Better still, the soundtrack is one of the most versatile in the NES library, with the overworld tracks ranging from upbeat and catchy  to melancholic and somber. The battle themes are similarly versatile, with riffs on rock and roll and more psychedelic inspirations accompanying appropriate enemy types. The music never quite reaches the heights of its successor, but it’s a standout NES track nonetheless.

But what of the gameplay? It’s here that EarthBound Beginnings, while mostly solid, can sometimes show the effects of both age and a lack of polish. The core gameplay itself is a fun enough RPG, and although it’s obviously retro, the simplistic battles grow on you the more you play it.

EarthBound BeginningsThe trouble is these battles occur in the form of the most poorly-aged of all RPG conventions: random encounters. These random battles happen at an annoyingly frequent rate, and often when you just want to get from one place to the next you find the trip takes considerably longer than it should because of the amount of random battles you’re bombarded with.

What’s worse is that you’ll still run into weaker enemies once you’re strong enough to make the rewards they give you not worth the time. You have the option to run away, but it only works so often, and when it doesn’t it just drags the battle on that much longer. EarthBound would later fix these problems by removing the random aspects from battles and having weaker enemies either run away or being instantly defeated upon contact.

Another problem arises in the game’s difficulty. There are various points in the game where the challenge takes a steep difficulty curve. Even in earlier portions you’ll find yourself running into enemies that are well beyond your level. This, of course, means that you are often required to level grind for large chunks of time before you can progress further. Grinding isn’t a problem in RPGs when it’s optional, but when the player feels forced to take extended periods of time to level up just so they can continue the story, it really breaks the flow of things.

If you’re used to the more refined EarthBound, then going back to EarthBound Beginnings can feel like a big step backwards in these regards.

EarthBound BeginningsThe narrative serves as another highlight overall, but it too is hampered by some underdeveloped aspects. The plot itself is simple, as an evil alien presence is creating a dark influence in the world. People and animals are acting strangely, robots are invading towns, and inanimate objects are coming to life and attacking people. It’s up to a young boy named Ninten (or whatever the player chooses to name him) to save the day. The plot is simple enough, but builds into something more profound, with the ending in particular being emotional in a way that’s rare to find even in today’s games, making it a piece of gaming narrative that was ahead of its time and then some.

On his travels, Ninten is joined by a young girl named Ana who, like Ninten, can use psychic powers in battle. A geeky boy named Lloyd, who makes up for his lack of supernatural abilities with his knowledge of fire crackers and laser beams, is the first mainstay partner Ninten encounters. Finally there’s Teddy, the leader of a local gang who uses more traditional video game weapons.

The game doesn’t include extensive moments of character development, but the moments it does have can be genuinely touching. Ana, Lloyd and even silent protagonist Ninten all leave their mark. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Teddy, who ends up only joining the party temporarily, leaving you to wonder why he was added to the game to begin with.

As stated, the story itself was ahead of its time in some ways. Sadly, the progression of  that story isn’t always consistent, and sometimes it can be downright cryptic where you’re supposed to go next. I had to resort to online walkthroughs for much of the game, often because I wasn’t sure where I was supposed to go.EarthBound Beginnings

Still, the game has enough novel ideas to keep players engaged even in its confusing moments. Having Ninten calling his largely-absent father in order to save is a nice touch, and the dialogue of just about every character you encounter further displays the game’s uniqueness, with NPCs saying things both trivial and contemplative. Rarely do they just point out the obvious goings-on with the plot.

When EarthBound Beginnings works, it’s a roaring success. The more dated elements do prevent it from reaching the same heights of its sequel that we’ve grown to cherish, but the simple fact remains that there are so few games that feel like this. Its personality, sense of humor and sentiment create a unique experience out of a tried and true foundation.

Mother was a unique oddity in its day, and its reputation has turned it into something of a legendary treasure. Today, EarthBound Beginnings feels like that treasure has been unearthed. It doesn’t always shine brightly, and may be a bit rusty. But in its own way, it’s a treasure nonetheless.

 

6

Advertisements

Super Castlevania IV Review

Super Castlevania IV

Castlevania is one of the most storied franchises in all of gaming. Renowned for its intricate action and grim atmosphere, the sidescrolling series would eventually reach new heights when it combined Metroid-style exploration and RPG elements into the mix with the classic, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. But before Symphony helped create the “Metroidvania” sub-genre, Castlevania’s most acclaimed entry was Super Castlevania IV on the Super NES, which many still hail as the best “traditional” Castlevania to date. In many ways, Super Castlevania IV lives up to the legacy its built in all these years since its original release. But in some areas, the game shows a bit of age.

 

Storywise, the game is a remake of the original Castlevania, with Simon Belmont venturing to defeat the evil count Dracula, after the vampire lord has resurrected from a previous defeat 100 years prior. But other then the simple plot, the game is entirely original from the previous games in the series, with new levels and gameplay mechanics that built on its predecessors and brought the series up to date for the 16-bit era.

The game takes place over eleven stages, and like any old school action game, the goal is to simply make it to the end of a stage and defeat its boss to progress further.

Super Castlevania IVSimon Belmont is equipped with a whip that can lash out in eight directions. The whip can also be used to swing across chasms in various points in the game. It can even be swung to shield Simon from projectiles. Additionally, secondary items such as throwing axes and boomerang-like crucifixes can be found throughout the stages, and require ‘hearts’ (think Magic Points with the collectibility of Mario’s coins) in order to be used.

The combat is undoubtedly the best aspect of the gameplay, as whipping down hordes of monsters becomes a thrilling experience.

Unfortunately, there are some areas in gameplay that haven’t aged particularly well. The most notable of which being the jumping, which feels both slow and stiff. Granted, Castlevania is based more on action than platforming, but theres enough jumping from one object to the next to make the clunky jumping become a major problem at some points in the game.

Super Castlevania IVAnother problem – strange as this may sound – comes from walking up and down stairs. When Simon sets one foot on the first step of a staircase, he becomes “glued” to the steps, unable to jump, which leaves him vulnerable to enemy attacks. The sense of control when Simon is walking on a staircase just feels awkward.

The extensive knockback that Simon receives from enemies also becomes a bit of a problem, and you may get more game overs from Simon being knocked back into a pit than from losing all your health. Notably, vertical-based segments become a particular pain, since previous platforms disappear once they fall out of the screen’s focus, so one hit from an enemy often sends Simon plummeting to his doom.

The game as a whole can get pretty difficult. At the best of times this is due to the game’s wonderful level design (with every level feeling distinct from one another), and at its worst due to the aforementioned stiff mechanics. There are some segments that should be reasonably difficult, but they are often made downright frustrating by the awkward control.

While the controls often damper the experience, the adventure as a whole is still memorable, and more than worth a look for fans of classic action games. The level designs are creative, sometimes even genius, as the game took advantage of the SNES’ capabilities of scaling and rotation in inventive ways.

Super Castlevania IVThe game still looks great, and sounds even better. The character designs are detailed, and the graphics are appropriately gloomy, with even the title screen setting up its dreary atmosphere. The soundtrack is a highlight in both the Castlevania series and the SNES library, which is no small feat, considering the hefty soundtracks to be found in both categories.

There’s certainly a lot to love about Super Castlevania IV: Its hard to imagine its presentation could get any better for its time, the combat is fun, the boss fights are memorable in a “difficult but fair” kind of way, and the level design is a constant delight. The downside is that as great as the overall game is, Simon’s slow and often awkward sense of control can hinder the fun. The overall package is something to behold, but Simon himself seems to have aged in the years since the game’s initial release.

Super Castlevania IV is an epic, eerie quest. But it lacks the timelessness and seemingly perfect execution of design that Symphony of the Night boasts. A classic for its time that’s deserving of a revisit, if maybe not a timeless classic in its own right.

 

7

RIP Satoru Iwata

Iwata

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game designer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.” – Satoru Iwata

On July 11 2015, the gaming world lost a legend, as Satoru Iwata, President and CEO of Nintendo, passed away at the age of 55. The world of video games will never be the same.

IwataSatoru Iwata found his way into the video game industry as a programmer for HAL Labratory, Inc., which saw the rise of a fruitful career that spanned decades working on many beloved games, ultimately leading to Iwata working his way up Nintendo’s ranks to the role of President and CEO.

It was at the top of Nintendo where Iwata made his biggest splash in the gaming world. As Iwata found that video games were becoming too exclusive to who they appealed to, he lead Nintendo in a new direction to make games with a more universal appeal. This lead to the creations of the Nintendo DS and Nintendo Wii, which not only brought an unparalleled success to Nintendo, but also changed people’s overall perception of the video game medium. No longer are they simply a “nerd’s pastime,” now they are recognized as a mainstream hobby.

IwataIwata would also take an active role in promoting Nintendo’s games to fans, hosting the majority of Nintendo’s “Nintendo Direct” videos as well as his “Iwata Asks” segments, where he would interview game developers as they worked on their newest releases.

Satoru Iwata improved both Nintendo’s image and that of the gaming industry as a whole with his creative directions and leadership. He brought a new attitude and sense of humor to gaming, always willing to make himself the butt of internet jokes in the process.

Although the last few years have seen Nintendo through some financial struggles, the company had still produced numerous great video games under his leadership. Satoru Iwata has left behind a legacy that few in the industry could ever hope to match. He helped bring some joy to the lives of many people. May that joy find its way – directly – back to him.

Rest it peace.

Minions Review

Minions

The Minions, the self-explanatory henchmen of the “despicable” villain Gru, were the breakout stars of the Despicable Me movies. With their fun character designs (simple enough for a kid to draw, but flexible enough to give them variety), gibberish speech and cartoonish antics, it’s not hard to see why the Minions have won audiences over. It was only inevitable that they’d end up with their own movie. The only question is how well could these show-stealing sidekicks carry a movie on their own?

That’s a question that, in a lot of ways, still has yet to be answered. The Minions may get the title role this time around, but they end up sharing much of their screen time with various human characters, with latter parts of the movie in particular focusing on the super villain Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock).

The story serves as both a prequel to the Despicable Me series and an origin story for the Minions. It turns out the Minions are as old as life on Earth, and their only natural instinct is to serve the baddest boss they can find. Through many millennia, they’ve served the likes of a T-Rex, a caveman, the pharaohs of Egypt, Count Dracula, and even Napoleon. But the Minions aren’t always good at their job, and have caused the accidental demise of these past masters, leaving them to search for a new master for extended periods of time whenever they bump off an old one. Fearing they simply aren’t good enough to serve a master, the Minions isolate themselves in Antarctica. But without a master to serve, the Minions have no purpose and fall into depression.

In order to save his fellow Minions, a tall Minion by the name of Kevin decides to search the world for the baddest boss he can find. He is accompanied by the short Minion named Bob and the cycloptic Minion named Stuart in a quest that ultimately takes them to 1960s New York, Florida and England.

MinionsThat serves as the setup for Minions, and it is arguably the most consistent portion of the film, as its segmented nature works wonderfully for the Minions’ comedy. The rest of the movie has its share of humor, but in trying to make a bigger plot, it often feels like it doesn’t know what to do with itself.

The Minions themselves remain a highlight, as their often-bizarre mannerisms and speech have yet to wear thin. Kevin, Stuart and Bob keep the comedy strong even in the movie’s weaker moments. So while ‘Minions’ may stumble in regards to storytelling, the lighthearted nature of the titular characters themselves should keep audiences entertained, with plenty of jokes aimed at both children and the adult crowd.

The problem with this Minions spinoff is that it often feels like the filmmakers didn’t quite have full faith in the Minions to carry their own movie, so more human characters are added in an attempt to keep the story tighter. Unfortunately, the people they end up interacting with aren’t particularly memorable. This is especially the case with Scarlet Overkill, who seemingly steals the spotlight from the Minions during the film’s second half. Though Sandra Bullock’s voice work is well done, the character herself is neither funny or memorable enough to justify the movie’s shift of focus to her. The character at first shows promise (she flies into a villain convention via rocket-propelled dress) but she ultimately lacks any standout character features other than her presentation.

MinionsWhen the movie works it’s a lot of laughs, but the story ends up feeling too thin for for its own good, with too many scenes feeling like padding. Some fans of the overall franchise may not be too upset by Minions’ relatively shallow storytelling. After all, the Despicable Me movies are far from animated masterpieces, emphasizing cartoonish silliness over deeper storytelling. But the Despicable Me movies at least employed a bit of heart into the mix. They may not have been thematically rich, but they added some sentiment to go with the gags, and that isn’t found here.

Some might say that the nonsensical nature of the Minions might not lend itself to anything more than slapstick. If this movie were strictly focused on the Minions that may be a good point, but with so much attention given to the human characters, you kind of wish that the filmmakers would have continued what they did with the Despicable Me films, instead of minimizing the characters’ personalities to simple punchlines.

If I sound largely negative, I apologize. Minions is a fun movie with a lot of humor, and its titular characters still have some charm. But it isn’t quite the Minion-centric extravaganza we may have hoped for, nor is it quite on equal footing with its Despicable Me predecessors. It does, however, provide enough Minion-y goodness to make for some decent entertainment, particularly for younger audiences. At the very least, it’s a nice appetizer for Despicable Me 3.

 

5

Is Ocarina of Time Holding the Zelda Series Back?

Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time is a great game. It transitioned a series from 2D to 3D almost flawlessly, and provided a polished, groundbreaking experience that remains influential to this day. However, it seems that in some ways, Ocarina of Time’s legacy has become something of a double-edged sword for the series.

In a way not dissimilar to how Final Fantasy VII has lead many fans to turn their heads away from subsequent entries in the Final Fantasy series, it seems there are a number of Zelda fans who are ready to dismiss newer entries in the Zelda series on the sole grounds that they aren’t Ocarina of Time. It doesn’t matter how good these games might be, so long as they aren’t the 1998 N64 title, there are gamers who will indulge in their biases against them.

If Ocarina of Time is still a favorite game for many people, that’s all good and fine. But the whole “Ocarina of Time is the unapproachable best game ever and no other game will ever compare to it” attitude that often seems to surround the game is nonsense. It’s just detrimental to subsequent Zelda games (and other games in general) to deny them the possibility that they could be as good as Ocarina of Time.

The Wind WakerThis attitude was never more prevalent than it was with The Wind Waker. I’m one of the few people who actually loved Wind Waker’s ambitions from the get-go, but for most gamers, the “cartoony” graphics were some kind of act of blasphemy against Ocarina of Time’s relatively brooding atmosphere. Wind Waker went through countless ridicule upon its reveal, and a number of gamers outright refused to play it. It didn’t matter how good the game might have been (I personally would say it outdoes Ocarina in every category by quite some margin), the fact that it was different than Ocarina of Time and did things its own way meant it was poison to many gamers. Thankfully, most have warmed up to Wind Waker in the years since its release, and a growing number of journalists and critics have slowly began praising it as the best 3D Zelda game. But there are still those out there who claim Wind Waker, and other such Zelda games, are simply inferior to Ocarina of Time by default.

Twilight PrincessWith the kind of backlash Wind Waker received, it shouldn’t be too surprising that its follow-up, Twilight Princess, looked to appease these critics. Twilight Princess, though a technically great game, ultimately suffered due to its pandering to Ocarina of Time’s fanbase. It had a few nifty ideas of its own, but too much of Twilight Princess seemed like a retread of Ocarina of Time. It became a “me too” experience that could have been something more if it had the courage to branch out and do its own thing like Wind Waker (and Majora’s Mask, for that matter) did. In trying to cater to the “Ocarina or nothing” crowd, Twilight Princess – great as it was in terms of polish – lacked much of a creative identity of its own.

Skyward Sword2011’s The Legend of Zelda: Skywayrd Sword was a brave departure from Ocarina of Time’s influence. And although Skyward Sword had some notable stumbles in terms of progression later in the game, it seems many of its missteps are magnified to gargantuan levels by those who compare it unfavorably to Ocarina of Time. Perhaps Skyward Sword didn’t have the expert pacing of Ocarina of Time, but at the very least it was willing to rewrite how Zelda games are played. One could argue that Ocarina of Time simply copied and pasted A Link to the Past’s blueprints, put them in 3D, and called it a day.

Unfortunately, to many gamers, none of the accomplishments of these “other” Zelda games matter. To them, Ocarina of Time is simply perfect. And that’s fine, until it gets in the way of acknowledging any merit in other games. Having a favorite game is one thing, but punishing other games for not being that game is another.

It probably doesn’t help that Eiji Aomuna, who has helmed the majority of Zelda titles since Ocarina of Time, continues to claim that Ocarina is still the Zelda he strives to “beat” with every new entry. This is in stark contrast to the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto or Yoshiaki Koizumi when they create a new Super Mario title. They acknowledge Mario’s hefty past accomplishments, but they never seem as though they are intimidated by any beloved fan favorites of the past. New Mario games seem approached with a “back to the drawing board” mentality, why should Zelda be any different? Why should Zelda games be in the shadow of a singular predecessor?

Yes, Ocarina of Time is a great game, but that shouldn’t stop other Zelda games from reaching that same level of greatness. Mario has Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, 64, and Galaxy all sitting at the peak of its series. Meanwhile, it seems many of Ocarina of Time’s fans want to ensure that The Legend of Zelda’s mountaintop is an isolated one, with Ocarina of Time sitting all by its lonesome.

Inside Out and Jurassic World: Proof That Classics Can Be Topped

Jurassic World

I’m going to make two very bold statements: I think Jurassic World is better than Jurassic Park. And I think Inside Out is the best Pixar movie to date.

Again, two very bold statements, considering the former blatantly says that *gasp!* I think a modern sequel in a franchise is better than the nostalgic favorite 90s originator, and the latter states that I think the newest entry in the Pixar canon is superior to their incredible back catalogue of classics, which includes the likes of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many others.

That’s just the point I’m trying to make. Sometimes, classics can indeed be topped.

Now, I’m not one to suggest that newer automatically equates to better. I’m normally quite the opposite, and usually think that classics that prove their timelessness are indeed quite difficult to surpass. But I also roll my eyes at the growing trend that people seem to think older automatically equates to better as well. Sure, a good deal of my favorite films (and video games, and other things) would be considered retro, but I’m also open to the idea of newer things sitting alongside old favorites, provided they’re good enough.

I know Jurassic Park was revolutionary and influential for its groundbreaking visual effects, and that just about every visual effects-heavy blockbuster that has been released since 1993 owes a debt of gratitude to it. I know that Jurassic World can’t hope to have that same kind of revolutionary impact. But that doesn’t mean it’s a lesser movie.

Jurassic World, I feel, managed to capture the same spirit of Jurassic Park in a way that the previous sequels never could. But it also benefits from having an overall more entertaining cast of characters than the original film. Sure, there may not be any character in the franchise quite as memorable as John Hammond (who is an infinitely more compelling character on screen than his generic villain counterpart in the original book, but that’s besides the point). But let’s face it, Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler were a pretty stock hero and heroine. They were there to move things along, but didn’t exactly give us enough reason to care about them specifically. We may not have wanted them to get eaten by a T-Rex, but you could also easily imagine any other character in their shoes (which may be why Ian Malcom, a supporting character in the first film, was promoted to the main role in the ill-fated second installment).

"A great movie, but rather bland main characters."
“A great movie, but rather bland main characters.”

Now, I’m not about to say Jurassic World introduces a whole new depth for characters in an action/thriller blockbuster, but it does give enough attention to the characters to make you care about them individually.

Owen Grady would feel right at home as a 90s action hero, but he has a more grounded, everyman aspect to his personality and a good sense of humor (courtesy of Chris Pratt) that make him feel more relatable (and mortal) than the 90s heroes that probably inspired him. Claire Dearing is also a much more memorable heroine than Sattler before her, since she gets some good character development (growing from thinking of the dinosaurs as mere “attractions” into appreciating them as living creatures, for example) which makes her more interesting than Sattler, who could be summed up as “the female lead” in the original film.

Jurassic WorldJurassic World also does a terrific job at meshing suspense and action in a way that not only does the first film justice, but may actually surpass the original Jurassic Park in this regard. Of course, this could be the benefit of being a sequel, since a large portion of Jurassic Park’s first half needed to explain all the “how did it happen?” in regards to the dinosaurs which, admittedly, could sometimes feel slow. Jurassic World can bypass all that exposition and use the added time to let us know more about the characters and double up on the action and suspense. We all know the premise by this point, now we’re given time to just soak it all in and enjoy the ride right from the get go.

This is not to say anything against the original Jurassic Park, as that film holds a special place in my heart for numerous reasons (it’s honestly the earliest film I can remember seeing in a theater, and then there’s that theme music!). But I’d be lying if I said Jurassic World isn’t everything I look for in a Summer blockbuster. It’s pure, unbridled entertainment through and through.

Inside Out

But now let’s address the bigger question: Is Inside Out really Pixar’s best? I’ve certainly come to think so.

Now, I’ll probably write more in-depth about the finer details of what makes Inside Out so mind-blowingly awesome at a later date, but for now I’ll just run down some of the more obvious things to avoid spoilers and such.

The idea of Pixar films making audiences cry has almost become a running joke at this point, given the studio’s penchant for bringing audiences to tears. But in all honesty, Inside Out really did make me cry my eyes out. Even long after seeing it, as it ruminated in my mind, just thinking about the depth and delicate beauty of its story continued to make me misty-eyed. I always find it wonderful when any film can move me in such a way, and it’s true that some other Pixar movies have had a similar effect on me, but not nearly to this extent.

One thing I was beginning to question about Pixar movies, even with their quality, is why the most emotional moments were always depicted through montage. There’s nothing wrong with an emotional montage, of course. But it was becoming such a habit for Pixar that I actually began wondering if it was simply an easy way out. A convenient means to bring on the tears through melancholic music in case the writing couldn’t get the job done on its own. The melancholic music is still there in Inside Out (in fact, I’d say it’s the best score of any Pixar film), but much to my surprise, I found the film had a profound way of creating emotion in simpler, quieter moments in a way not unlike the films of Hayao Miyazaki. I do not mean to dismiss the likes of Up or Toy Story 3 for their use of montages, as they are lovely films, but there’s something to be said about the emotional impact Inside Out can create even when it’s doing so little.

Inside Out also has a wonderful sense of invention in just about every scene. Pixar has always used a particular “schtick” for each of their movies (toys, bugs, fish, etc.), but it kind of got to a point where they were beginning to corner themselves with these motifs (you can only do so much with anthropomorphic cars, after all). Up was previously the closest thing Pixar made that could have potentially set their imaginations free to run wild without being confined to a singular motif. But Up’s best ideas all come and go within the first twenty minutes, after that it’s a great, but admittedly less whimsical movie than its opening suggests. Not so with Inside Out, as its idea of exploring the mind – fittingly – gives its filmmakers the opportunity to throw in seemingly whatever fantastic ideas popped up in their heads. And it never lets up with its creative genius, and in some moments it goes into such levels of whimsy and surrealism that I must once again say it’s comparable to Hayao Miyazaki’s features.

Inside OutThere’s much more I could say about Inside Out (and I no doubt will), but suffice to say I think it has all the hallmarks of Pixar’s classics of the past, but takes them to a whole other level in terms of imaginative storytelling and emotion.

I must repeat that I normally am not so easily swayed to say that a beloved classic is bested, with the only other recent example I can think of being Frozen, which I’ll happily say is the best Disney animated feature in the studio’s history. But seeing as Frozen was released in late 2013, and Jurassic World and Inside Out now join this club of quality newness, that’s three movies in less than a two year timespan that I can claim trump their beloved predecessors, which once seemed untouchable.

Could this be a new trend in quality that I can expect to see more of in the near future? Probably not. But it is wonderful for me personally to have had two animated masterpieces and one of the best popcorn movies ever released within a relatively short timespan, as I feel it’s lifted some of my jadedness towards the modern movie scene. At the very least, it has me eagerly anticipating if Star Wars Episode VII can join this club.

Horton Hears a Who Review

Horton Hears a Who

Horton Hears a Who is the 2008 animated adaptation of the classic Dr. Seuss book of the same name. It was the first feature-length animation based on a Dr. Seuss book, as the previous two film adaptations of Seuss properties were live-action movies that left many fans sour. Horton Hears a Who proved that Dr. Seuss stories are better suited for animation, and it made for a more faithful adaptation.

The film tells the same story as the book. In a jungle called Nool, an elephant named Horton (Jim Carrey) finds a clover on the ground. Atop this clover is a small speck. Much to Horton’s surprise, his elephant ears can hear a faint voice coming from the speck. As it turns out, the speck is, in fact, its own little world. The people of this world are the microscopic Whos, who live in the city of Whoville. The mayor of Whoville is Ned McDodd (Steve Carell), who can communicate with Horton from a device on his roof.

The fragile world on this speck is now in jeopardy, as even the slightest nudge of the flower it sits on can cause massive earthquakes in Whoville, and Horton’s constant traveling can create severe changes in the weather. Horton then sets out to place the speck in a cave on Mt. Nool, the safest place in the jungle.

Horton Hears a WhoThings won’t be so easy, however. The self-appointed boss of the jungle, the aptly-titled Sour Kangaroo (Carol Burnett) resents things that go against the social norms of her jungle, and that includes animals believing that a speck could be a tiny world filled with people. Kangaroo is determined to see Horton give up his belief in this tiny world, and is even willing to have the speck destroyed to do so.

The plot is simple, but has a good message. The animation is colorful and vibrant, and brings the world of Dr. Seuss to life much better than its live-action predecessors. There’s even a segment that takes on a simplified anime look (though unfortunately, it comes with the usual mentality of anime parodies that all Japanese animations work like Speed Racer). The voice actors also bring the story up to date with a good sense of humor, though some incessant pop-culture references do clash with the nature of the original story.

Horton Hears a WhoOne questionable change to the source material is that Mayor McDodd now has 96 daughters and one son. The son ends up becoming a major character in the film, while all of the daughters are simply a recurring joke based around the sheer number of them. Dr. Seuss’ original book certainly wasn’t made exclusively for young boys, so it’s a bit of a mystery why the movie brushes aside most of its female characters (even McDodd’s wife only gets so much screen time). I’m not saying it needed to shoehorn any of the characters into bigger roles, but when all of McDodd’s daughters just add up to a big joke, while his sole son ends up playing such a pivotal role, it feels a bit thoughtless.

Overall, Horton Hears a Who is an entertaining movie that serves as a faithful recreation of a classic Dr. Seuss story. Not all of the jokes work to its benefit, with the movie being at its best when it isn’t trying to be a comedy. But it’s a fun and colorful ride that builds to a surprisingly suspenseful finale and, most importantly, it does its source material justice.

 

6