Brother Bear Review

Brother Bear

Released in 2003, Brother Bear arrived during one of Disney’s rougher periods. While Pixar and Dreamworks were seeing strings of success with the likes of Finding Nemo and Shrek, Disney was having trouble reclaiming their former glory. While some of the Disney movies released in this time attempted to branch out from the studio’s norm to try to regain an audience, Brother Bear instead opted for a safer approach. The end result is an honest effort at storytelling, but an ultimately uneventful one.

 

The story follows Kenai (Joaquin Phoenix), a young hunter who has come of age, and is ready to receive his spirit totem from the village elder. The totems are represented as necklaces in the shape of an animal, with Kenai’s older brothers Sitka and Denahi having the Eagle of Guidance and the Wolf of Wisdom, respectively. Kenai’s totem is to be the ‘Bear of Love,’ but he dismisses his totem, believing bears to be thieves.

When a bear takes some salmon from a fisherman, Kenai sets out to hunt the bear and prove himself a man in his own way. But the ensuing struggle results in the death of his brother Sitka, leaving Kenai to seek vengeance against the bear. Kenai succeeds in killing the bear, but is subsequently transformed into a bear himself by the ghost of his brother, so that he can see the world from a different point of view and live up to his totem.Brother Bear

The plot is a bit straightforward, with Kenai befriending a young bear cub named Koda, who serves both the roles of comic relief for younger audiences and giving the film some sentiment with his relationship with Kenai. There’s also the obligatory comedic duo with two moose brothers named Rutt and Tuke.

Most of the characters seem to be filling their roles at a basic level, never really breaking from their archetypes. The story also lacks surprises and moves at an uneven pace. Though Brother Bear does have some small bits of inspiration.

The movie has a unique take on its villain scenario, with Denahi taking the role of antagonist as he tries to hunt Kenai, mistaking him for the bear that killed Sitka and believing Kenai suffered a similar fate. Having the two brothers become inadvertent foes is a departure from Disney’s usual preference of hero versus villain, and the moments when Denahi comes face to face with Kenai are the film’s most exciting scenes.

Brother Bear also weaves some interesting visual techniques into its narrative. Although the animation in Brother Bear is quite basic by Disney’s standards, it cleverly switches styles during different points in the story. When Kenai is human, the character designs are more realistic and the colors are more Earthy. But once Kenai is turned into a bear, the characters become more cartoony, and the film becomes a lot more bright and colorful. Even the screen presentation shifts alongside Kenai’s transformation.Brother Bear

But that’s about where Brother Bear’s inspiration ends. The rest of the movie has a distinct lack of creativity. It has some well-intentioned emotional moments, but they never stack up to Disney’s better works. Similar to Tarzan, a number of background songs are performed by Phil Collins. It’s a decent soundtrack, but not entirely memorable when compared to those of other Disney movies.

In the end, Brother Bear provides some simple entertainment that younger audiences might really enjoy, but it lacks the extra effort in storytelling and animation that is often associated with the Disney brand. It’s a well-meaning tale of brotherly love, but it lacks in imagination and substance.

 

5

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Top 10 Video Game Duos

Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee, the Kickstarter darling from Playtonic Games, has already gained an impressive following for its ambitions to revive the 3D platforming genre of the N64 days. It’s also aiming to resurrect the old video game tradition of having two heroes share the spotlight. This got me thinking of some of the other great video game duos over the years, so I decided to compile a list of the top 10 twosomes in gaming.

The only real qualification for this list was that the two characters have to share in their adventures together. They can be two equal heroes or a hero/sidekick combo, but they have to both brave their adventures on a somewhat even level. Solid Snake and Otacon won’t be here, for example, because while Otacon may help Snake in some valuable ways, it’s usually from the sidelines.

Also, as much as I already love them, Yooka and Laylee won’t be here for the obvious reason that their game isn’t anywhere near release. Only established games for now.

Let’s get to it then. Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Duos”

Mega Man Review

Mega Man

When it comes to third party titles on Nintendo consoles, few have had the impact of Capcom’s Mega Man. Back in its day, Mega Man was as synonymous with the NES as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. Although it was Capcom’s first console exclusive title, it proved to be a successful debut. Mega Man spawned countless sequels, and its hero remains one of gaming’s most beloved characters. While the original Mega Man is not without its problems (which its two immediate sequels touched up), it remains a great game to play even today.

Mega Man was renowned for its non-linear structure, allowing players to choose between six different stages in whatever order they saw fit. At the end of each stage is a boss fight against a “Robot Master,” with each one giving Mega Man a new weapon upon defeat. Another unique aspect of the game was its rock-paper-scissors-like structure, with each Robot Master’s given weapon working especially effective against another one.

Mega ManPlayers take the role of the titular Mega Man, a young robot boy trying to save the world from the nefarious Dr. Wily, who corrupted the six Robot Masters created by Dr. Light and repurposed them for his evil schemes. It’s the kind of simple but honest-to-goodness setup of many games of the time that adds to the game’s charm, even if plot was rarely present in the game itself.

Mega Man’s gameplay remains tight and intricate. Mega Man can jump like Mario, but he must use his “Mega Buster” arm canon, or one of the Robot Masters’ weapons, to defeat enemies. The weapon-based gameplay added a new spin on the platforming gameplay, and it gives the Mega Man series a sense of uniqueness among other retro platformers.

Also of note is that this is the only Mega Man title with a scoring system, as Mega Man is awarded points for defeating enemies, picking up items and completing levels. It doesn’t add a whole lot to the experience, but those who want to beat their personal high scores may find reason to revisit the game numerous times.

The level design was some of the most difficult of its age, and the game arguably remains the most challenging entry in the series. The game is fun, but some players may find the difficulty close to unfair, as some of the stages’ challenges require such precision in their platforming they teeter on unforgiving. The bosses (and even some standard enemies) can take Mega Man down in a few quick hits, and replenishing items and extra lives seldom appear. The entire Mega Man series is known for its steep difficulty, but the original is the one that may be off-putting to some players for the sheer level of its challenge.

One retrospective drawback to the original game is knowing how the sequels improved on the formula, leaving some aspects of the original to feel less fleshed out. The sequels would add sliding moves, charged blasts, and even sidekicks to the mix. The original, by comparison, feels stripped down and straightforward. A fault only in hindsight perhaps, but the comparison to its sequels is inescapable by this point.Mega Man

Visually, the game is one of the more approachable NES titles to revisit. The colors and characters are simple, of course. But the game has a distinct, fun look about it, and the great character designs add to its retro charm. The music remains one of the better NES soundtracks. It may not reach the same heights as some later entries, but Mega Man’s soundtrack is still one of the most iconic in the NES library.

Mega Man remains a classic of the medium. Its sequels may have bettered it, with the two following installments still being considered the ‘definitive’ entries in the series, but the original Mega Man remains, in its own right, an absolute blast.

7

Atlantis: The Lost Empire Review

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

The early 2000s were a rough time for Disney animated features. The Disney Renaissance had come to an end, and audiences were more wowed by the CG works of Dreamworks or Disney’s own sister franchise, Pixar. On the upside this period saw Disney stretch their creative muscles a bit in an attempt to rekindle interest in their brand. On the downside, very few of these creative departures were successful for the House of Mouse. Perhaps no other film better represents Disney’s bold ambition and muddled realization of this period than 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

In case the title wasn’t already early 2000s “edgy” enough, Atlantis: The Lost Empire all but abandoned the more kid friendly nature of past Disney movies in attempt to appeal to a more mature audience. It was a respectably bold move on Disney’s part, the problem is that Atlantis lacks the well structured storytelling of those kid friendly Disney movies. It’s so busy with its emphasis on action scenes (some of which are quite well done) that it often loses its plot and characters. In doing so, it also lacks the sophistication needed to make it an interesting animated feature for adults.

Atlantis: The Lost EmpireThe story follows Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), a linguist and cartographer who dreams of finding the lost city of Atlantis, despite being labelled a loon by his peers. Milo gets his chance to discover the lost city when he is recruited on an expedition by an eccentric millionaire, who was friends with Milo’s grandfather.

Milo is joined on his expedition by an assortment of characters: Vincenzo is an Italian demolitions expert, Audrey is a teenage mechanic, Dr. Sweet is the crew’s enthusiastic medical personnel and Moliere is a French geologist who behaves like a mole, to name the more prominent members of the crew. Also onboard are Commander Rourke and Lieutenant Helga Sinclair, whose behaviors leave no secret to their ulterior motives.

To be honest, the film actually has a nice setup, with the first several minutes introducing us to Milo and the other characters in effective and fun ways. But once the crew sets off for Atlantis much of the film’s character rapidly disappears. Milo ends up falling in love with the Atlantian princess, but he never gets any real moments of character development, and the personalities of the supporting cast feel dictated by their introductory jokes.

Atlantis: The Lost EmpireThe story itself falls prey to just about every action adventure movie cliche you can think of. As previously stated, the buildup works just fine. But once the crew makes it to Atlantis the story feels like it’s leaving checkmarks on an adventure movie’s to do list. It even borrows some elements from Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, but to say it doesn’t use these elements nearly as effectively is a drastic understatement.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is far from all bad though. The animation takes on a comic book visual style, which makes it look distinct in the Disney lineup. The style is complimented by Jules Verne-inspired aesthetics, which adds to its overall visual appeal. The action scenes are exciting, with the climactic sequence in particular being close to stunning (if only the rest of the film were as good). And Michael J. Fox brings the same sense of enthusiasm and personality to his voice over work as he does his live-action roles, which is always appreciated.

When all is said and done, however, the story ultimately falls flat. Atlantis is a Disney movie that doesn’t want to be labelled a “kid’s movie,” but it’s also one that lacks substance. It aims to be mature with lots of action and explosions without stopping to think that, maybe, maturity means a bit more than that.

 

5

Top 5 Nintendo Games That Should be Universal Rides

In case you haven’t heard, Nintendo has struck a deal with Universal Studios to add Nintendo-themed attractions to Universal’s theme parks. Although there’s no word yet on what lies in store for these attractions, the seemingly limitless potential of the concept should grab any longtime gamer’s attention. It seems like everyone has their own ideas of what Nintendo games would make the best rides, and I am no different. Here are the top 5 Nintendo based rides I’d like to see.

 

5: The Legend of Zelda: The Ride

Wind Waker

Truth be told, I had trouble thinking what kind of ride Zelda could be. The puzzle-solving, dungeon-crawling gameplay wouldn’t really make for a fast-paced ride (maybe another type of attraction, but not a ride).

But then it hit me, what about a water ride? Something akin to Splash Mountain or Jurassic Park: The Ride. You could be placed in a boat and traveling through Hyrule, complete with recreated scenes and characters from the games. You would start in a forest area (naturally), then move on to see some Zoras, maybe a Goron or two, following Link on his journey throughout. It would all culminate with one final drop just as Ganondorf is about to strike!

If I had things my way, it would be Wind Waker themed. Because Wind Waker makes everything better. But any Zelda ride will do.

4: Star Fox: The Ride

Do a Barrel Roll

A Star Fox motion simulator in the vein of Star Tours just makes perfect sense! The line could be decked out to look like you’re joining the ranks of General Pepper’s army, complete with expository videos detailing the plot of the ride (Andross would probably be involved).

Once the ride starts you and your fellow riders would join Star Fox and company on one of their missions. You’d receive messages from the Star Fox team and even help them in battle. Naturally, simulated barrel rolls are a must!

3: Super Mario Galaxy: The Ride

Super Mario Galaxy

Seriously, this one should be a given! Imagine Space Mountain, but with Mario. Boom! Perfection.

A dark, indoor roller coaster with colorful Mario Galaxy elements strewn about. C’mon, it speaks for itself!

2: Mario Kart: The Ride

Mario Kart 8

This is probably the most obvious choice of the bunch. How can there not be a Mario Kart ride? It could combine go karting with bumper cars. Unfortunately, it’s hard to imagine the power-ups being implemented (getting smacked with a Koopa shell could be a lawsuit in the making), but otherwise Mario Kart could make a great transition to a theme park ride.

It could work like the Test Track ride at Epcot, with riders designing their own vehicles while in line. It could even have multiple tracks (Rainbow Road)! Mario Kart just has so many possibilities as a theme park ride.

1: Donkey Kong Country: The Ride

DKC

A Donkey Kong Country mine cart roller coaster ride would pretty much be the greatest thing ever. For safety reasons they may have to omit the intricate jumping, but it’s a small price to pay. Just imagine riding in a mine cart while that amazing Donkey Kong Country music drowns out your screams of excitement. The entire ride would be adorned with Donkey Kong Country aesthetics (just think of the atmosphere!), and you could catch a glimpse of DK and Diddy riding a mine cart of their own every here and there. Naturally, Cranky Kong would host the safety instructions videos, belittling the guests and shaming the ride itself in typical Cranky Kong fashion.

If those mine cart levels don’t scream “make this a roller coaster” then I don’t know what does.

There’s so much potential to be had with Nintendo and Universal Studios. There are a number of other games I’d like to see translated to theme park attractions, and I feel bad for not listing them. Let’s just hope Nintendo and Universal make the most of this deal. It could be a gold mine.

A Bug’s Life Review

A Bug's Life

Pixar is now one of the world’s leading forces in animated features, but back in 1998 they were just getting started. They had released Toy Story – the first full-length computer animated feature – three years prior and revolutionized the animation industry, but A Bug’s Life was out to prove that Toy Story wasn’t a fluke, and that Pixar was here to stay. At the time it did just that, giving Pixar another hit that ensured they would be a staying power in animated cinema. In retrospect, however, it is easy to see A Bug’s Life as one of the studio’s lesser films.

Taking a page from The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven, A Bug’s Life tells the story of an ant colony under oppression by a gang of grasshoppers, lead by the appropriately-named Hopper (Kevin Spacey). Every year the ants surrender most of their food to the grasshoppers in exchange for their safety. One such offering goes afoul when an ant named Flik (Dave Foley) accidentally destroys said offering. Without their expected food, the grasshoppers grow angry, and they demand a second offering as compensation. The ants have no choice but to agree, even though a second offering would lead the ants to starvation.

Flik takes it upon himself to find an alternate solution to the problem, and sets off to find a band of warrior bugs to fight off the grasshoppers, so that the ants can finally live in peace. The catch here is that, unlike Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven, the warriors Flik ends up recruiting aren’t warriors at all, but circus performers.

A Bug's LifeA Bug’s Life is a fun story that is littered with entertaining characters, particularly the aforementioned circus performers, which include but are not limited to Francis the ladybug, whom everyone mistakes for a woman on the sole grounds that he’s a ladybug, Heimlich the caterpillar, who has a limitless appetite, and Slim the walkingstick, who prides his thespian abilities despite constantly being cast as a prop.

The only downside to A Bug’s Life’s story and characters is that, when compared to Pixar’s later works, they all feel a bit basic. A Bug’s Life doesn’t capture the same level of emotion in its storytelling or the depth of character of films like Ratatouille or Finding Nemo (or even its predecessor Toy Story), and in many ways it feels like a pretty straightforward animated adventure. Exceptionally crafted, but straightforward nonetheless.

Countless CG animated films since have used the whole “misfit hero learns to defy convention and follow his heart” setup, and a lot of that actually started here with A Bug’s Life (which strangely makes A Bug’s Life more imitated than Toy Story as far as narrative is concerned). It’s better than most of what it inspired, but it’s also a bit on the generic side, lacking the extra layers that Pixar made with Woody and Buzz Lightyear.

A Bug's LifeWhile A Bug’s Life animation may not be as advanced as what we see today, it has visually aged much better than most CG animated fair, which can probably be attributed for Pixar’s love of caricatured character designs over ‘realistic’ ones. The film is still a colorful treat to the eyes, and the character animations express a fine attention to the differences in the insects’ behaviors, while not at the expense of more exaggerated animated touches.

The many things Pixar was able to do with their bug-based world is impressive. There are countless sight gags and puns that take advantage of the film’s bug perspective. At the same time, tackling the world of insects isn’t quite as imaginative as Toy Story or many of Pixar’s subsequent films (it is, however, a more robust concept than anthropomorphic cars). It’s fun and Pixar makes the most of it, but I’m afraid a talking bug movie just doesn’t capture the imagination as strongly as something like a world of closet monsters and the like.

When it comes to pure entertainment value, A Bug’s Life delivers with a good story and humorous characters. But it is also proof that not everything Pixar makes stands on a pedestal of greatness. It’s charming, if maybe not remarkable.

 

6

100th Blog Spectacular!

"I've already amassed THIS many blogs!"
“I’ve already amassed THIS many blogs!”

I tried to avoid making a self-aggrandizing blog such as this, but in the end I caved into the temptation. I just had to celebrate this milestone in some capacity. What better way to do that then with a blog that basically just reiterates this milestone again and again?

Wizard Dojo has now reached the 100 blog mark, which I must admit I’m a bit proud of considering I only launched this site back on Christmas day. Sure, there are plenty of blogs that have done more, but with how long-winded my writings tend to be, I’m perfectly content in giving myself a pat on the back for how many blogs I’ve managed to produce in that time.

Why, I may have to give myself a promotion!

Promotion

Sure, I’d rather be taking the time it takes to write this blog to write another review or something, but I must let the world know that Wizard Dojo is now in the triple digits! It’s a cause for celebration.

It's a Wonderful Dance
“When George Bailey dances to your success you know it’s legit.”

Rest assured that after I’ve finished this blog, my reviews and opinionated rants on video games, movies and animation will once again take center stage here at the dojo. Then everything will go back to being (relatively) serious. But for now… 100 blogs!

Duke of Weselton

I guess I could also take this opportunity to thank my growing readership, which has quickly started gaining steam. May more of you figure out how to click that Follow Button.

Fix-It Felix Jr.

Over the past few months I’ve tried to update this site as often as possible. It hasn’t been easy, but hopefully I’ve amused some of you in one way or another with all this stuff I write. I must say I enjoy adding more content to Wizard Dojo, so it isn’t exactly like reaching 100 blogs has been a chore or anything. May it continue to flourish.

Here’s hoping I can continue to provide you lovely people with something to read. Now let’s all take a moment to celebrate 100 blogs.

Sakurai

Sakurai

Once again, I thank you kind readers for giving me some extra incentive to keep writing these things. I would also like to thank myself, because 100 blogs! Here’s to many, many hundreds more. Thanks for reading!

Yooka-Vengers