Inside Out Review

Inside Out

Pixar has had a reputation for making emotional films, with some of their works being famous for bringing audiences to tears. It shouldn’t be all too surprising then, that Pixar has decided to make a film about emotions themselves.

Inside Out tells the story of an eleven-year old girl named Riley. More accurately, it tells the story of the emotions that live inside her head: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust.

Inside OutJoy, Riley’s first and most prominent emotion, is the leader of the bunch, and makes sure Riley’s core memories are happy ones. Sadness is there whenever Riley needs to shed some tears, but she has to be careful not to tamper with Riley’s emotional state too much. Fear is the voice of reason (and caution), as it’s his job to keep Riley safe. Anger is there to keep things on the defensive, and longs for the day when he can finally allow Riley to use a curse word. It’s Disgust’s job to influence Riley’s likes and dislikes.

These emotions are, as they put it, what make Riley Riley. They use a control panel in the “headquarters” of Riley’s mind to shape her every day life and her memories. The most important of these memories in turn shape the “Islands of Personality” within Riley’s mind.

Things are suddenly thrown into disarray, however, when Riley and her family move from their Minnesota home to San Francisco. Riley’s emotions don’t know how to handle the situation, and Sadness is compelled to tamper with Riley’s memories. Amidst all this chaos, Joy and Sadness accidentally get sent to the further reaches of Riley’s mind (including “Imagination Land” and “Long Term Memory” among others). Joy and Sadness must then work their way back to headquarters, as all five emotions are needed to keep Riley’s personality intact.

If the premise sounds a bit weird, that’s because it is. Inside Out is, quite beautifully, the weirdest movie Pixar has ever made. It’s also their most imaginative and their most visually unique, as its setup allows for its story to think outside the box like no Pixar movie has before. While the likes of Cars may feel creatively limited by their gimmick, and Brave was a missed opportunity to do something wondrous with its fantasy setting, Inside Out is constantly – and fittingly – coming up with new ideas that bring out the most of the concept’s humor and heart.Inside Out

Joy and Sadness befriend Riley’s long-forgotten imaginary friend, for example. He’s a part elephant, part cat, part dolphin made out of cotton candy who’s become something of a vagabond as Riley got older and left him behind. We also learn that Riley’s dreams are her mind’s equivalent of movies, and are put together by a film studio that regularly casts a unicorn in the lead role. We even get to see little peaks into the minds of Riley’s parents, leading to a series of gags of their own.

Inside Out is a movie that’s always looking for new ways to delve deeper into its premise in the most creative ways possible. From simple gags to deeper storytelling elements, Inside Out never lets up with its imagination. It’s one of Pixar’s most ingenious concepts, and it’s used to its fullest. Some concepts work better than others, sure, but even its lesser ideas still boast more creative spirit than most movies. And you can’t fault Inside Out if some of its ideas don’t quite match up to others, considering it has so many great ideas going for it.

Inside OutBest of all is how deep and emotional the story ends up being. Inside Out deals with subjects like depression and the hardship of growing up in ways that you won’t find in most animated films aimed at children. It’s a surprisingly deep movie that really makes you care about the characters. As Riley struggles to adapt to her new life, you can’t help but feel for her. Both Riley’s story and the adventures of her emotions tie together beautifully.

Inside Out is the most heartfelt movie Pixar has made in quite some time. I may sound a bit cynical for saying this, but even Up and Toy Story 3 could feel a bit mechanical at times. As good as they were, there were some moments in those films where the emotion felt a bit contrived. But with Inside Out, it would be difficult to imagine the sentiment could feel more earnest.Inside Out

The quality of Pixar’s films may have waned in recent years, with Cars 2 and Brave – the studio’s two weakest features – being released back-to-back, followed up with the good but ultimately unremarkable Monsters University. But Inside Out shares the spirit of Pixar’s greatest efforts of the past. This is the Pixar that made films like The Incredibles, Wall-E and Toy Story. Whether Inside Out is the beginning of a new Pixar streak or a one-time return to form, it deserves to be ranked favorably alongside any of the studio’s highlights.

Inside Out is a wonderful film. It is a constantly inventive, emotional and visually arresting work that will – appropriately enough – etch its way into your memory. It’s an absolute joy.

 

10

The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Age of Ultron

The Avengers: Age of Ultron is now one of the highest-grossing movies all time. That’s not too surprising, since it seems like all a movie needs to do to make such a claim these days is have a lot of super heroes and visual effects. But, Age of Ultron is an enjoyable movie, which is more than you can say about most billion-dollar movies. Age of Ultron is more entertaining than more cynical nerds would want to admit (“I found one tiny flaw so now everything about it sucks and it betrayed the comics!”), but it also has its share of problems. Here are the things I loved about Age of Ultron, followed by the things I, well, didn’t.

*Be warned: spoilers ahead!*

Continue reading “The Good and Bad of The Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Fantasia 2000 Review

Fantasia 2000

Fantasia 2000 is, as its title suggests, the 2000 sequel to Disney’s classic musical experience film, Fantasia. The original Fantasia was never intended to be a singular film, as its segments were meant to be replaced and rearranged during different runs. Audiences could see some new material as well as returning favorites, making Fantasia a different experience every time. Luckily, that plan fell through, so Fantasia was allowed to endure as a more definitive classic in the Disney canon.

This would, of course, eventually lead Disney to produce an all-out sequel instead. It would end up being delayed a bit, as Fantasia 2000 was released six decades after the original.

Fantasia 2000 continues the same setup as the original film, with various animated segments bringing classical pieces of music to life. Pines of Rome, for example, is expressed through flying whales in the arctic, while Rhapsody in Blue depicts the lives of various citizens of New York City as 1930s cartoons.

Fantasia 2000Most of the animated segments work just fine, and they are all lovingly animated. Though some lack the extra oomph of others, with The Carnival of Animals, Finale (which depicts a flamingo troubling his flock with a yo-yo) feeling lackluster with its brief running time and unfulfilling of its fun premise.

An overall downside to the movie is that it is nearly a full hour shorter than the original Fantasia, but it has just as many animated segments, and the live-action introductions in between feel longer than those in the 1940 original. By making this sequel shorter but including more filler, it makes the entire “Fantasia experience” feel diluted.

It also doesn’t help that this “filler” mainly consists of celebrity cameos, as opposed to the conductors introducing the segments like the original movie. Some of these introductions – like those of Steve Martin and Penn & Teller – are entertaining in their own right, but something about all the cameos makes it feel like Disney was just showing off their budget. It feels more commercial and less earnest than the original.

Fantasia 2000In keeping with the original vision of Fantasia, one of the segments from the first film returns. Naturally, Disney decided to reuse The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, as it stars Mickey Mouse. It’s a fun segment in both films, but given the movie’s already short running time, you kind of wish Disney had cooked up an additional new segment to squeeze in the film instead.

Donald Duck gets his own portion of the film with Pomp and Circumstance, in which he plays a role in the story of Noah’s Ark. It serves to compliment Mickey’s role in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and while not one of the more powerful Fantasia segments, it nonetheless adds some extra fun to the package.

Fantasia 2000Fantasia 2000 follows suit of the original film by saving its best segment for last. In this instance the final chapter is Firebird Suite, which displays gorgeous animation and fantastic imagery of nature, destruction and rebirth. Other segments of note are the aforementioned Rhapsody in Blue and Shostakovich’s Piano Concert No. 2, which retells the story of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Steadfast Toy Soldier.

Overall, Fantasia 2000 is a solidly entertaining addition to the Disney canon that should delight most audiences, no matter their age. But it does suffer from being in the shadow of its predecessor. Fantasia 2000’s segments are less consistent than those of the original, and its short running time leaves a lot to be desired. It’s fun, but Fantasia 2000 falls short on being the same level of experience as its predecessor.

 

6

In Defense of Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland has quickly turned into a bomb for the Walt Disney Studios. Failing to win over the box office and garnering a mixed reception from critics, Tomorrowland is already drawing comparisons to another Disney bomb, John Carter (another live-action sci-fi flick directed by a former/future Pixar director). This is an unfair comparison since, unlike John Carter, Tomorrowland is actually entertaining.

Yes, Tomorrowland is a flawed film. It often can’t decide whether it wants to be a whimsical, bewildering sci-fi adventure (in which it mostly succeeds) or a fast-paced action flick (in which it’s less consistent). Some of the visual effects aren’t nearly as convincing as others, leaving one to wonder how Disney of all studios could skimp in that department.

But Tomorrowland is, in its own way, a beautiful movie. It has a sense of imagination that is uncommon in (would-be) blockbusters, and it has a lovely, earnest message that goes against the increasing cynicism of today’s movies (and culture in general).

The setup of the film is that the titular Tomorrowland (which is only referred to by name once in the movie) is a community within another dimension founded by the likes of Nikola Tessla and Jules Verne, where scientists, artists and other such “dreamers” are transported in order to make their creations without the burdens of Earth getting in the way. Of course, these dreamers do this to help make a better future for a troubled Earth.

This being a movie, something goes wrong in this seemingly perfect community of creative minds, and the promising world of Tomorrowland abandons its original goal of helping Earth, and Tomorrowland itself is left behind to all but a select few.

Although marketing would have you believe George Clooney’s character, Frank Walker, is the star of the film, he’s only a supporting player. The movie’s real focus is on Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), an optimistic tech-genius, and Athena, an android bearing the likeness of a young girl, who is still following her mission to bring more great minds to Tomorrowland.

"Why weren't we featured more in the marketing again?"
“Why weren’t we featured more in the marketing again?”

Both of the female leads are a highlight of the film, as neither of them fall under the tropes that most other movies would blindly follow when it comes to female characters (even Age of Ultron largely reduced Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow into little more than a romantic interest for Bruce Banner). It’s baffling that Disney hasn’t played up the “girl power” heroines of this movie more, given the wild success Disney has seen in that area in recent years. Casey and Athena serve as the real heart of the film. Sure, George Clooney brings the star power, but it’s time we stop pretending that George Clooney ever plays any character other than George Clooney in every movie he’s in.

"I'm only the villain because people suck!"
“I’m only the villain because people suck!”

What I most appreciated about Tomorrowland was its sheer optimism. It is cynical only towards cynicism itself. The film has a message about how the popularization of pessimism and the embracing of doom and gloom are disgusting trends of modern society. We constantly reinforce the bad and feed the negative, despite that we can make our futures better with a little work and effort. Even the film’s antagonist (portrayed memorably by Hugh Laurie) is fed up with the defeatists of today. As he so eloquently puts it:  “In every moment there’s a possibility for a better future, but you won’t believe it. And because you won’t believe it you won’t do what’s necessary to make it a reality.”

In this day and age, when even the Avengers ends on the sour note of two robots discussing how doomed mankind is, it is infinitely refreshing to see a movie that is not only hopeful and optimistic, but that outright dismisses cynicism itself. While just about every other big budget movie aims for dark and gritty, Tomorrowland can’t think of anything more annoying than just that.

I have also heard a number of people write off the movie as “weird.” But its weirdness is one of Tomorrowland’s best qualities. I grow tired of sci-fi and fantasy movies feeling the unnecessary need to explain their every last detail to their audience. Movies these days are so afraid that they might alienate some of their audience with imagination that they either over explain or under develop their fantastic elements. There’s no awe to sci-fi and fantasy when they spoonfeed audiences their every detail.

Tomorrowland is a weird movie. But weird is wonderful. I love that it only went into detail with what needed to be addressed, while a good deal of other things were gleefully left unexplained. There’s even a fun line of dialogue that more or less dismisses audiences wanting more exposition. There’s something admirable about a movie so defiant in wanting to be itself.

“Looking up even when the box office is looking down.”

As mentioned previously, Tomorrowland does have its share of problems. It is the weakest of Brad Bird’s five directed films due to the aforementioned inconsistency in its tone, as well as some story mishaps (the movie makes the unwise choice of ending on an explosion-heavy action sequence, which undermines its feel-good intentions). Some may also find the insistent Disney references eye-rolling, but what were you expecting in a film called Tomorrowland?

Ultimately though, Tomorrowland is far more enjoyable than it’s getting credit for. Its box office failure has been discouraging enough for Disney to cancel its long-gestating Tron 3, and it looks like the studio will go the John Carter route with Tomorrowland and slowly but surely pretend like it never existed. Again, this is a shame, since Tomorrowland – despite its obvious flaws -boasts more honesty and originality than a lot of the movies that are making a billion dollars these days.

Tomorrowland is dismissed for being weird, but that’s what makes it unique among more cliched genre movies. It’s been written off by critics and audiences for its optimism, but that may just prove the movie’s commentary on cynicism to be more than a little accurate.

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.

 

7

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.

 

6

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

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

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

Ranking the Disney Renaissance Films

Now that I’ve reviewed all ten films from the Disney Renaissance, what more logical way to follow it up than by ranking them all in a top 10 list? If you’ve read my reviews for the ten films, you may already know where each one ranks based on their numerical score . If you haven’t read them, I’ve included links to said reviews within each entry, so you can get a more in-depth idea of my opinion of them.

Now, let’s roll back the clock to the 1990s. Here are the 10 Disney Renaissance films, ranked from least to greatest.

 

10: The Rescuers Down Under

Rescuers Down Under

While The Rescuers Down Under holds the distinction of being Disney’s first ‘true’ sequel, it also holds the dubious honor of being the weakest movie of the Disney Renaissance. The animation is great, but the story has a notable lack of direction, with the returning characters from The Rescuers feeling shoehorned into an unrelated story. Although there is some fun to be had, The Rescuers Down Under ultimately falls flat as both a sequel and as its own movie, as neither of its two halves can find unity. Read the full review.

9: Pocahontas

Pocahontas

Pocahontas boasts beautiful animation and a great soundtrack, and even some fun characters (that Wiggins!). But Pocahontas and John Smith can be a little on the bland side, the villain never lives up to his potential, and some story elements just feel a little clunky. Pocahontas is a better movie than it’s often made out to be, but it still has some notable flaws that prevent it from living up to the majority of Disney films from its time. Read the full review.

8: Aladdin

Aladdin

Most Disney fans would be ready to form a lynch mob and lay siege to my castle for only ranking Aladdin at number 8.

Aladdin is a fun movie, no doubt. But the majority of its characters and its story are a bit on the generic side. Thankfully, Robin Williams’ iconic Genie is one of the best of all Disney characters, and he, along with the great soundtrack, help liven things up. I might not put Aladdin on the same pedestal as most, but it would be impossible to not be delighted every time that Genie is on screen. Read the full review.

7: The Lion King

The Lion King

If putting Aladdin relatively low on this list would make me a target for mobs of Disney fans, than Lion King’s placement would turn things into a full-on townspeople versus Frankenstein monster ordeal.

The Lion King is one of Disney’s most beloved films, and one of the most popular animated movies of all time. But while The Lion King succeeds in a number of areas – including a great story and some memorable characters – it falls short in others. Some of the comedic characters clash with the movie’s otherwise serious tone, and the songs are a bit inconsistent, and don’t live up to some of the other soundtracks of the Disney Renaissance. A really good movie, but it’s not quite the king. Read the full review.

6: Hercules

Hercules

Hercules is one of the more underappreciated films from the Disney Renaissance era. It produces laugh-a-minute gags and combines them with colorful animation and a pretty good soundtrack. Best of all is its villain. Hades is one of Disney’s best bad guys, as he steals every scene he’s in and runs away with it. It is admittedly a bit formulaic, but Hercules was one of the most fun Disney movies of its time. Read the full review.

5: Tarzan

Tarzan

Another underrated gem, Tarzan ended the Disney Renaissance on a high note. Tarzan boasts exquisite animation that blended hand-drawn and digital visuals in groundbreaking ways. It also features strong characters and emotional moments. If it weren’t for the lackluster comic relief and inconsistencies in its songs, it might rank even higher. Read the full review.

4: The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is the film that launched Disney’s successful run known as the Disney Renaissance. That already gives it some brownie points. But the best part is that it remains one of Disney’s most entertaining movies even today. The animation is lovely, and the soundtrack is one of Disney’s best. Aside from Prince Eric being an incredibly bland character that undermines the whole love story at the center of the film, The Little Mermaid tells a charming tale and features Disney’s first truly memorable heroine with Ariel, and one of their best villains with Ursula. Read the full review.

3: Mulan

Mulan

Mulan has never been as renowned as the likes of The Lion King or The Little Mermaid, but it was one of the brightest stars of the Disney Renaissance. Mulan features strong storytelling, some good song work, great action sequences, and a unique and vibrant visual style. Best of all is Mulan herself, one of Disney’s best characters, and their strongest female lead until Frozen introduced us to Anna and Elsa. The only downside is the so-so villain. But Mulan remains one of Disney’s better films, carried by one of its strongest characters. Read the full review.

2: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Hunchback of Notre Dame

Yet another Disney movie that doesn’t get the credit it deserves, The Hunchback of Notre Dame was divisive in its day for its mature themes and dark subject matter. But those aspects are the very things that make The Hunchback of Notre Dame such an unique entry in the Disney canon. It boasts great animation and some of Disney’s most powerful songs. It also claims more fleshed out characters than most Disney fair, including one of the studio’s most sympathetic heroes in Quasimodo, and undoubtedly its darkest villain in Claude Frollo. Read the full review

1: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast.

Few Disney films are as iconic as Beauty and the Beast, and it’s with good reason. Few Disney films are as good as Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty and the Beast remains a magical film, with a romantic, heartwarming story, beautiful animation, an absolutely stunning soundtrack, and one of Disney’s most memorable casts of characters. From Belle and the Beast to Lumiere and Cogsworth to Gaston and LeFou, Beauty and the Beast features a strong cast of characters so charming that they are synonymous with the Disney brand itself. It’s everything Disney does, done right. Read the full review.