Tag Archives: Disney

DVD Review: Zootopia

zootopia

Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, faces up to life in the big city in Zootopia.

I admit it. I bypassed Zootopia when it first came out in March 2016. It’s common for me to be ‘all Oscared out’ at that time and I’d be too tired to go to the movies. However its buzz leading up to the Oscars led me to want to see it. I’m glad I finally had the chance.

The film has a very entertaining premise with a rabbit trying to succeed as a policewoman in a multi-species city. To make it work, the film had to create the city of Zootopia and make it work with all the animal species there. Disney is already renowned for its talking animals and having such would work here. However to have them in the city of Zootopia and existing together in its various areas took a lot of thought to arrange it properly. On top of that, having someone like Judy Hopps just move in adds to the complexity. As she experiences Zootopia and what it has to offer, we experience it too.

One thing about this movie is that with it coming from Walt Disney Studios, you know it has to have the ‘Disney Vibe’ to it. You know, the look, sound, and feel of a Disney show. All the shows on the Disney Channel are known for having that vibe. It’s evident as all the actresses act like Minnie Mouse. So it becomes expected that a film from Walt Disney Studios looks, sounds and feels like a Disney film. There’s no shortage of the Disney Vibe in Zootopia. Even with it being set in the present times, the Disney feel is very much there.

Top praise should go to directors Byron Howard and Rich Moore for directing an excellent animated film. The two have had past experience doing Disney films and Howard even goes as far back as Disney’s 2D animation days. Both Howard and Moore are two of seven who wrote the story for Zootopia of which, storywriters Jared Bush and Phil Johnston would do the final script. The final result is something entertaining and flawless. The vocal talents were also excellent with Ginnifer Goodwin as Judy Hopps, Jason Bateman as Nick Wilde and Idris Elba as Chief Bogo.

This is another plus for the Walt Disney Studios. For so many decades, they had the reputation of being the top animation studio in the business. However they faced a serious challenge from Disney partner Pixar once they became the game changer by making 3D animation the new norm. WDS knew they had to make the transition to 3D but it wasn’t easy. It was almost like Pixar was the professor and those at WDS were the students for a long time. However it’s become evident that Walt Disney Studios is now able to hold its own in 3D animation as it has delivered stellar hits in the last five years like Wreck-It-Ralph and Frozen. It even looks like it’s beating Pixar at its own game! Zootopia is another accomplishment for WDS as it continues to reclaim its #1 status in animation. Besides anything less than #1 should be taken as an insult by Disney.

Zootopia looks to be the top favorite to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. It’s top competition appears to come from Kubo And The Two Strings. Kubo has won most of the awards in that category but Zootopia has claimed most of the major awards like the Critics Choice, the Golden Globe, the Producers Guild and the Annie Award. However Kubo has won the National Board of Review and most recently the BAFTA. The Oscar result should be interesting.

Zootopia is another hit for Disney. It’s sweet and entertaining but smart and well thought-out. It’s easy to see why it’s arguably the top animated movie of the year.

 

 

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Double Movie Review: Paddington and Cinderella

Normally I don’t see live-action family movies unless the renown for it catches my eye. In the last three months, there were two that caught my eye: Paddington and Cinderella. I’m glad I had the chance to see them.

PADDINGTON

Paddington Bear was adapted into a movie for the first time. The movie is an impressive result.

Paddington Bear was adapted into a movie for the first time. The movie is an impressive result.

For the first time, Paddington Bear comes to the big screen. And in live-action format rather than animation. However this did involve taking some chances. The first chance was making a movie that could entertain today’s children. The second was not having to mess with the Paddington Bear people know and love.

The film does a good job of keeping many aspects of Paddington such as his love of all things British, especially marmalade. The film also does a decent job of not trying to resort to too many cheap laughs like one would come to expect in today’s children’s films. It’s not to say there were some questionable moments, like the scene where Paddington thinks the toothbrushes are ‘earbrushes.’ The film also does a good job in presenting Paddington in today’s world and meeting the Brown family who are actually reluctant to adopt at first.

I give kudos to director/writer Paul King and co-writer Hamish McColl for coming up with a very good adaptation of Paddington Bear into a feature-length film. It was no easy task to make such a film especially when Paddington has resorted to being simple children’s books since the 1950’s.  The plot where Paddington boats from Peru to London only to find a cold country, a reluctance to adopt from the Brown family and being pursued by the daughter of a poacher whose goal was to make him hers to kill and stuff worked well to entertain crowds. The inclusion of the effects in the film couldn’t be avoided as nowadays family movies have to have some special effects to win crowds. Even though Paddington wouldn’t be the type of movie for a lot of visual effects, the effects included did things right without messing with the story.

I also give them credit for not messing with the spirit of Paddington whose sweet charm is the reason why he has become one of the most beloved children’s book characters in recent decades. He’s even so beloved in England to the point there’s a bronze statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington Station where he got his name from. I also give them kudos for adding character to the Brown family. They may not be much like the Browns in the Paddington books but the character of the Browns do fit well in the movie.

Just as much deserving of respect are the performances of the actors. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins did a very good job playing the Brown parents. Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin also did well as playing the Brown children. They both played their roles well without being too overly-cutesy. Julie Walters succeeded in stealing scenes as the wise Mrs. Bird. Nicole Kidman also did a good job of playing the evil Millicent Clyde without becoming too hateable. Actually Millicent Clyde was rather entertaining as a villain. Finally Ben Whishaw did a very good voice-over as the voice of Paddington. Paddington needed a sweetness in order to make the story work and Whishaw was the right fit.

Paddington is now out on DVD and BluRay. For those that didn’t see it in theatres, it’s worth seeing. I don’t know if it’s the type of family movie one won’t need to see with a family of their own but it is entertaining and very good quality entertainment.

CINDERELLA

In ofor Cinderella to work as a live-action movie, the set design and costuming had to be top notch.

The live-action version of Cinderella had a lot of expectations placed on it but it delivered.

If you think making a film about Paddington Bear is difficult, try making a live-action version of Cinderella. And knowing that it will be Disney doing the work, you can understand they’d be under a lot of pressure. We’re talking about the film company that made their 1950 animated version a staple into many people’s hearts. So it would not be surprising that there would be a lot of questions surrounding the make of the new live action version. Will it have the same Disney spirit? Will it stray too much from the animated version that lives on in the hearts of millions? Or even the book? How will the sets and costumes be done? And will it entertain crowds of today?

There’s no question that making a live-action version of a fairy tale can be expensive in production. Cinderella wasn’t too expensive to make but $95 million is expensive enough. For a film like Cinderella to work, there’s no question that one of the top aspects to focus on would be the technical areas like set design and costuming. Dante Ferretti was a top choice for set design. We’re talking about a set designer whose works have earned him nine Oscar nominations and three wins for The Aviator, Sweeney Todd and Hugo. Ferretti did not let anyone down. In fact his set designs in all scenes worked perfectly for the movie. It was hard to notice a glitch.

Costumer Sandy Powell was another top pick with loads of cred including ten Oscar nominations and three wins. Here she again adds to the reputation by making costumes perfect not only for Cinderella but for all characters in the movie. My favorite costumes were actually the bratty looking outfits for Drisella and Anastasia. It fit their brattiness perfectly. However Cinderella’s glass slippers really caught my eye. They looked more like crystal slippers. The visual effects team also did a top job in adding the necessary visual effects for the film and giving them the magic that will remind people of the magic Disney movies are famous for. They even succeed in making the mice and lizards human enough without being too ridiculously cartoonish.

Credit should also be given to director Kenneth Branagh and writer Chris Weitz. People easily forget that Branagh is as much of a director as he is an actor directing films from Shakespeare (Henry V) to comedy (Love’s Labor’s Lost) to superhero action flicks (Thor). Now he ventures into the territory of fantasy films. The result is excellent. Just as excellent is the writing from scriptwriter from Chris Weitz. He does a very good adaptation by retaining the spirit of Disney and even including some aspects not included in the original. Actually his writing makes you forget he wrote American Pie!

Despite all those efforts, the success of the movie would have to bow down to the roles being done right. The inclusion of the king, the prince’s father, added to the story as did the appearances of Cinderella’s parents. The characterizations of the mice and lizards were well done and didn’t go over the top or even cheesy. The characters of the two stepsisters were very good depictions. They were nasty and bratty but you’ll actually find yourself laughing at how stupid they are rather than hating them. If there’s one character you will hate, it’s the stepmother Lady Tremaine. Cate Blanchett did an excellent job of depicting Lady Tremaine as both cruel and hurting on the inside to the point she feels she should hurt Cinderella. Her depiction also fits within the common Disney theme of featuring a female villain who’s beautiful rather than ugly. Blanchett’s depiction actually seems more like the queen from Snow White rather than the stepmother of the animated version.

There were some radical choices for character depictions in the movie. The first was the prince as being more of an awkward young adult rather than the flawless Prince Charming we come to expect. Even referring to himself as ‘an apprentice’ during the casual contact with Cinderella is something no one would have expected. The most radical of character depictions has to be Helena Bonham Carter as the fairy godmother. I found it very different to have a clumsy fairy godmother this time around. I wasn’t expecting another fairy godmother that sang ‘Bibbity Bobbity Boo’ but this was way different from what I expected.

Finally I focus on the character of Cinderella. Lily James did a very good job as Ella. She’s already an experienced actress in her native England and she does a very good portrayal here. She portrays Ella as a young woman who doesn’t make having an imagination look like a weakness. We shouldn’t forget her imagination has kept her holding her head high during the toughest of times such as the deaths of her parents and keeps her going strong with her stepmother and stepsisters whom even her father described as ‘trying.’ Hah, ‘trying’ is an understatement! However she does not come across as naive as most would come to expect of her or anyone with an active imagination. In fact it’s the scene where she says to her stepmother: “You were never my mother and you never will be.” shows Cinderella to have more inner strength than most thought.

Focusing on Cinderella lastly seems appropriate because she is essentially the epitome of the theme of the movie. The movie showed two people who had a lot of tragedy in their lives: Cinderella and Lady Tremaine. One was bitter about it. The other did what her mother said: “Have courage and be kind.” Cinderella’s courageous positivity upset Lady Tremaine to the point she had to hurt her however she can. Cinderella stayed strong. There were some points where her courage was tested but she still stayed strong. I guess that’s what this version of Cinderella was trying to say. That staying positive is not being oblivious. That having an imagination is not a weakness. That’s what was not only shown in Cinderella but almost every Disney movie.

Both movies have had their own box office success stories. Cinderella has grossed $197 million in North America and over $500 million worldwide. Paddington was not as big of a hit but it did have its own success with $76 million in North America and $259 million Worldwide. Impressive since it was done with a $55 million budget. The marketers of Paddington did a common job but a smart job in releasing it in most of Europe, South America and Asia first during the latter weeks of 2014 before releasing it in the US on January 16th. That’s a common technique used to plug movies with characters common in European pop culture. They did that with Tintin back in 2012.

Paddington and Cinderella are two family movies that have pleased the critics and will also please audiences alike. Both have what it takes to entertain children but they both also have elements that will please adults.

Double Movie Review: How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Big Hero 6

Normally I would do single movie reviews. Additionally, I never really had plans to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 or Big Hero 6. When it comes to animated movies, I mostly go to see the one or ones that look like they have the best chances of winning Best Animated Feature. All year I thought I had it all wrapped up when I saw The LEGO Movie and nothing else. Then the Oscar nominations came and The LEGO Movie was inexplicably snubbed out of that category. That led me scramming to see both movies. I saw Dragon 2 on a DVD while I was lucky to see Hero on the big screen. Here are my thoughts:

Dragon 2

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2

Making a sequel from a hit movie is always a challenge as commercial pressures will demand it. It’s sink or swim as it can either be a continuation of the original’s charm or simply a flavorless rehash of the original. Yes, the audience will distinguish between tried-and-true and tried-and-tired. We saw how Shrek burst on the scene back in 2001 but its excellence and flavor declined with each subsequent movie. Now How To Train Your Dragon has its sequel out. Will How To Train Your Dragon 2 measure up?

First off, the writers and producers did the right thing by releasing the sequel four years after the original and four years since they first started work on it as opposed to the three years between the Shrek films. For those unfamiliar with work on animated features, it takes four years to create from start to finish. The focus on the story this time is in the Fjords of Norway. The story begins with Hiccup, still awkward but well-respected. It also adds in a story where he experiences friction between his girlfriend and his father as well as an enemy he must fight.

I’m unsure if the story would remain true to what Cressida Cowell wrote in her dragon books but I do feel the story is not ‘spoiled’ as so many sequels as most sequels, both animation and live-action, are prone to do. It will continue to delight fans of the first Dragon movie too. The story was darker this time as this would include the death of Stoick and Toothless is under a spell which causes him to want to attack Hiccup. I believe the story would be more suitable for older children but one thing the story doesn’t do is lose the charm of the original. It also has its fun moments and a happy ending that should make it enjoyable for the whole family.

Now on to the technical bits. Whenever I watch a 3D animated movie, I especially pay attention to the quality of the images and effects. I know that each image has to have 100% detail in order to succeed. Any glitch or inconsistency will hurt the movie. I didn’t notice any glitches in the images. I felt the detail was very accurate from the scales on the dragon to the fire they unleashed. The characters’ mouths were always in sync with the dialogue. The film’s images also continued to give the audience a thrill-ride. Naturally when you have a film of people travelling on dragons, you would expect there to be images of the various flights and even parts in the movie that get the audience feel like they’re flying on their own dragons too. The audience will come expecting that. People come to such movies for the escape and the thrill-ride of it all. It succeeds in doing so and it does a top notch job of doing so.

I’m sure that most of you expected The LEGO Movie to win Best Animated Feature even before the nominations were announced. I did too. An interesting bit of trivia to know is that Dragon 2 actually beat out The LEGO Movie in that category to win major awards like the National Board of Review award, the Annie Award and the Golden Globe. Now with The LEGO Movie snubbed out of that category, it appears safe to assume that Dragon 2 will win the Oscar. However that snub reminds us nothing is a foregone conclusion as it is possible Big Hero 6 or The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya could pull an upset.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 was faced with the common pressures of a movie sequel but was able to overcome them to the point they again deliver a movie that’s entertaining and a thrill-ride and still maintains the charm of the original without appearing to exhaust it or stray too far away from it.

Big-Hero-6

BIG HERO 6

Now moving on from a sequel to an original. And moving from one I saw on DVD to one I was lucky to see on the big screen. This time a Disney film: Big Hero 6.

Big Hero 6 is based off of characters from the Big Hero 6 comic series from Marvel comics that first hit shelves in 1998 and went under the Marvel name in 2008. However the story for the film is nothing like the comic series. In the comic series, the characters were all heroes commissioned and created by the Japanese government. Hiro Takachiho was a 13 year-old whiz kid who became part of the team after his mother was kidnapped and creates a Godzilla-style monster hero off of his deceased father’s brain named Baymax. The comics come with the type of over-the-top violence and imagination that you would come to expect from Japanese comic books. The comics have won a following here in the US.

Here for the film, we have a much different story. Hiro is an orphaned boy who lives with his brother Tadashi in San Fransokyo. Hiro commonly gets himself in trouble as he tries to win bot-fights for money but Tadashi takes him to his polytechnic. Hiro thinks it will be the ‘nerd school’ he thinks it is but is amazed with what he sees created by Tadashis’s friends –including his brother’s creation: Baymax, the inflatable virtual doctor which is kept at home–and tries to win a scholarship in a young innovators contest held by the school. After winning the scholarship, a fire breaks out killing Tadashi and a professor.

Hiro feels alone at first even distancing himself from Tadashi’s friends but Baymax suddenly becomes a friend-like to him despite Hiro being unwelcome at first. Later as Hiro learns more new truths about what really happened at the school that night and how his brother really dies, Hiro gets Baymax and the friends to team up to get his brother’s killer. All of them don costumes in the images of the Big Hero 6 comic book characters except Baymax who has an outfit more like Iron Man.

I don’t think the movie was meant to be a film version of the main comic book characters. Remember writers can adapt stories into whatever they want. It’s obvious Walt Disney Studios wanted to do their own story with the characters and have it as a family-friendly film. It succeeds in doing so as it creates a story that’s thrilling, entertaining and imaginative. The story also has a good message for children too as justice is better than any revenge. It also doesn’t try to be too dark in the situations involving Tadashi’s death and Hiro being an orphan.

Although this is an original film, it’s not to say it was without its pressures. We shouldn’t forget this movie comes a year after Walt Disney released the phenomenon Frozen. It wasn’t simply a hit movie. It became a marketing phenomenon and even spawned a release of a sing-along version. Already you could tell there would be pressure upon the release of their follow-up. Big Hero 6 doesn’t exactly deliver to the dame length Frozen has. It has its charm and is a likable film on its own. Whatever the situation, Big Hero 6 was not hurt at the box office as it has already grossed more than $200 million and has been nominated for Best Animated Feature.

Another thing Big Hero 6 succeeds in doing is it adds to the recent resurgence to the Walt Disney Animation Studios. For decades the studios reigned supreme in the world of animated motion pictures. It had very few challengers save for Spielberg animation in the 80’s but made a comeback in the 90’s with 2D masterpieces like The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast and The Lion King. However the studios knew that the world of 3D animation was coming and it did become the case as soon Disney’s partnership with Pixar would create the 3D revolution in animated features. The flavor of the 2D movies from the main Disney Studios were running thin as they couldn’t compete with the Disney/Pixar movies. Eventually Walt Disney Animation Studios did acquire the skills and know how to create their own successful 3D animated movies starting with 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph which rivaled Pixar’s Brave that year and Frozen from last year. Big Hero 6 succeeds in keeping its comeback alive. The Disney/Pixar partnership is still there but it’s good to see Pixar now has a rival with Walt Disney Animation Studios back on its feet.

Big Hero 6 may not be a phenomenon like Frozen nor is it the best animated feature of the year. Nevertheless it succeeds in being entertaining on its own and is another plus in the comeback of the Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Movie Review: Frozen

Frozen

I’ll admit it’s rather late for me to be reviewing Frozen. I wasn’t interested in it at first. However its success at the box office coupled with its Oscar buzz helped me change my mind.

Normally I’d give a description of the film in my reviews but I won’t here since most of you have already seen Frozen by now. I’ll just go in to what I have to say. There are a lot of unique and great aspects of this movie. First is its unexpected twists. You’d first think it would be Kristoff that would save Elsa, Anna and the kingdom but it turns out to be Elsa. Already there are a lot of writers and bloggers comparing Elsa to Merida in Brave in terms of heroine status. I’ll bet you never thought Kristoff would be one of the bad guys. Second is its animation that truly mesmerizes. I was dazzled when I saw Elsa’s snow-spell and even the ‘ Castle Of Ice’ created on screen. Watching Frozen was like being taken to a world of ice at times.

Thirdly is the musical aspect of the movie. For many decades, even as close to about twenty years ago, animated movies were commonly musicals and excelled in telling the stories with catchy songs. From Someday My Prince Will Come in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to Hakuna Matata in The Lion King, you could always rely on an animated feature to deliver charming music. When 3D became the staple of animated features, the features were predominantly non-musicals and the movies were more focused on the story and the animation. When was the last animated feature done as a musical that dazzled you? Yeah, that far back. Frozen is the first 3D animated musical that has won the movie-going public by storm. It’s refreshing to see the musical aspect come back in animated movies and even added to 3D animated movies successfully for the first time. I think the success of Frozen will churn out more musical-styled 3D animation features.

Frozen is a welcome relief in terms of animated movies for 2013. This year was a rather quiet year in terms of animated movies. Sure this summer featured the excitement of the comeback of the monsters of Monsters University and Despicable Me 2 took ‘minion mania’ to new heights but there was nothing new to create new buzz. Nor was there anything with writing that stood out. I’m sure that became apparent to a lot of my subscribers when I published my blog about Pixar appearing to have lost its spark. Frozen may have come late in 2013 but it sure came to the rescue. Its excellence is not just in having a thrilling story but also in having excellent animation.

Also Frozen has a bonus aspect: catchy songs. It’s not just something that’s been missing from animated movies but movies in general since the new century. You may remember before the 2000’s came there were many catchy songs that came from movies. Since 2000, the presence of a catchy song or even a hit song from a movie is something that has been very rare. I think the last hit song from a movie before Frozen was Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho. I was especially surprised during 2006 when Dreamgirls was in theatres, none of the songs were released as singles despite Beyonce’s chart-topping prowess at the time. I know most of North America was in a hip-hop coma at the time but still… Frozen helped bring back the catchiness of movie music. Already two versions of Let It Go are on the charts right now: Idina Menzel’s version is currently #18 on the Hot 100 and Demi Lovato’s version is at #56 having peaked at 38. Recently Do You Want To Build A Snowman? started hitting the charts and is now at #57. I guess it’s no wonder that the movie has been re-released in a sing-along version.

It’s hard to pick who first to compliment. First off, I’ll say the animation was top notch. The Walt Disney Animation Studios did an excellent job in creating a charming trip to the past and a mesmerizing world of ice. Secondly, kudos should go to Christophe Beck and Kristin Anderson-Lopez for providing music that was not only entertaining but the catchiest movie music in years. Thirdly a great job in the acting and singling by both Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel. They’re already established actors and they’ve also had musical experience but this has to be the best combined singing/acting efforts from both of them. The supporting actors were also great in their roles too including Jonathan Groff and Santino Fontana. However it’s Josh Gad that steals the show as the goofy Olaf. Finally great acting/writing efforts from Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and Shane Morris. It was something to take Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen and turn it into an animated musical. They really delivered a winner. In fact you remember how Disney movies would give animated adaptations of children’s stories like Snow White, Cinderella, Pinocchio and The Lion King and turn them into beloved classics? I think Frozen is destined to go that same route over time.

Funny thing about Frozen is not just simply its current total success with its box office run but its lack of success when it first started. I’ve noticed on Box Office Mojo that it was only on one single theatre when it opened because it didn’t want to compete with the opening of the latest Hunger Games movie. It got better the following week when it was spread across North America and grossed $67.4 million that weekend but it was still in second to the Hunger Games by $7 million. The funny thing is while most movies came and went during the six weekends since, Frozen stuck around in the Top 3 and was even #1 on two different weekends. It was even #2 the weekend of January 31-February2nd: its eleventh weekend. Okay, the sing-along version release may have something to do with it but it just goes to show its lasting power. In fact it wasn’t until this weekend, its thirteenth, that it finally left the Top 5 and currently sits at #8 with a total gross of over $375 million.

Frozen has been the animated movie both moviegoers and fans of film alike have been waiting for all of 2013. It was definitely worth the wait because it delivers in terms of quality and entertainment value. Maybe I should go back for the sing-along version.

Has Pixar Lost Its Spark?

The release of Monsters University shows Pixar putting more emphasis on commercialism and less in remarkable writing.

The release of Monsters University shows Pixar putting more emphasis on commercialism and less in remarkable writing.

Remember how for many years Pixar animated movies would be some of the best made of the year? Monsters University showed signs of Pixar heading in a more commercial direction with more emphasis on profit than on script quality. The question is will Pixar return to the greatness it had for many years?

Pixar started off as a small animation studio that made computer animated shorts. Actually shorts was as far computer animation got as far back as 20 years ago. That all changed when they received a phone call from Disney. There they teamed up to make the first ever animated feature. The end result, Toy Story, was history in the making. Released in the fall of 1995, it won over the critics and was a big hit at the box office. Director John Lasseter even received a special honorary Oscar for his achievement.

Eventually over the years the success of Toy Story would pave the way for successes of other 3D animated features over the years. Much of which was done by Pixar itself with the successes and critical renown of A Bug’s Life in 1998 and Toy Story 2 in 1999. In fact in teaming up with Disney/Buena Vista, it became clear that 3D would be the next big thing in animation as it would even fare better with the critics and outgross 2D animated movies from Disney like Mulan in 1998 and Tarzan in 1999.

However it would soon be clear that Pixar would soon get some rivalry in terms of 3D pictures. DreamWorks animation would release Antz just weeks before A Bug’s Life. Then they’d release Shrek in 2001 which did even better critically and financially than Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. that year. The rivalry would eventually lead to the eventual domination of 3D animation in shelling out animated features.

Pixar teamed up with Disney would have continued success and critical renown with other pictures like Finding Nemo in 2003 and The Incredibles in 2004. The movies were not your typical Disney movies in terms of marketing characters in toys but they did continue to score well with the public with both grossing over $250 million and score excellently with the critics. However 2006 gave a sign that Pixar was leaning into commercial directions with Cars. The movie scored 74% on Rotten Tomatoes—the lowest for a Pixar feature at the time—but the movie succeeded in toy merchandise. Its gross was also an impressive $244 million.

2007 to 2010 saw continued success and critical renown with Pixar’s features like Ratatouille in 2007, Wall-E in 2008 and Up in 2009. The big bang came in 2010 with the release of Toy Story 3, the finale to the Toy Story series. Like most of Pixar’s previous movies, it scored excellently with the critics. Its box office result was also excellent as it grossed $415 million: the most ever for a Pixar feature.

Vanity Fair saluted Pixar for its fifteen years of remarkable entertainment with this picture in its Oscar issue.

Vanity Fair saluted Pixar for its fifteen years of remarkable entertainment with this picture in its 2011 Oscar issue.

I still remember right after Toy Story 3 came there was countless mention of the success Pixar has made both financially and critically over the years. Entertainment webpages around that time made note of the successes they gave over the years. Rotten Tomatoes even pointed out that except for Cars, each Pixar movie up to then scored 90% or higher on its Tomatometer. Even Vanity Fair had a picture during the time of the Oscars of all the characters of Pixar movies. It was almost like around that Oscar time there was a big salute to Pixar for the 15 years of entertainment they gave. 15 years of excellent quality entertainment. 15 years of entertaining families and charming critics. A total of almost $3 billion gross. Forty-one Oscar nominations and eleven Oscar wins including seven wins in the Best Animated Feature category. In fact you could give credit for movies like Toy Story or Toy Story 2 for why the Best Animated Feature category was added by the Academy back in 2001.

Then it seems like right after Toy Story 3 and the glory that followed, things went downhill for Pixar. First came Cars 2 in 2011 with a lot of hype and merchandise. The film grossed a humble $191 million at the box office. However it was the Rotten Tomatoes result that was the big shocker. 39%: the first Pixar feature ever to be certified a Rotten Tomato. It even became the first Pixar feature to fail to receive a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination ever since the category’s inception. As for the merchandise…

2012 gave a bit of hope that Pixar would be back into the swing of things with Brave. Brave was also a milestone as this would be the first Pixar feature with a female protagonist and would include two female co-writers and a female co-director. Unfortunately Brave received 78% at Rotten Tomatoes: falling short of Pixar’s finest efforts. The film did gross $237 million at the box office but still something was missing.

2013 seemed like another year where Pixar was aiming for quantity instead of quality. Monsters University, the prequel to Monsters Inc., was the only Pixar feature released in 2013. That hit a 78% on Rotten Tomatoes but still grossed an impressive $260 million. In terms of merchandise…

This weekend came Planes, a movie that was going along the same line as the Cars movies. It’s not necessarily a Pixar movie but it did have John Lasseter create the story for it. It scored only 24% on Rotten Tomatoes and opened the weekend with a paltry $22.2 million. That could be bad news about Lasseter’s creative juices.

It’s a question to what happened to Pixar as they always aimed for quality not just in terms of animation but also in the story and script. In fact seven of Pixar’s features have also been nominated in the screenplay categories and it’s those that have stood out as Pixar’s finest achievements. However as seen in the past, the desire to go more commercial does make the quality take a backseat. The animation is still top-of-the-line however the lack of inventiveness in its writing is making itself more evident.

It’s not to say that this is the end of Pixar’s legacy. 2014 will have The Good Dinosaur coming out. This was made from a concept of John Lasseter and will introduce a new scriptwriter to Pixar’s dream team. 2015 also shows Pixar keeping its creativity active with The Inside Out and also giving another commercial try with Finding Dory. How these movies will do both commercially and critically is something only time will tell.

Pixar has left a legacy of animated movies over the past twenty years. However it has been right after the release of Toy Story 3 that they appeared to be taking their legacy for granted. Their upcoming releases should send the message if they’ll return to it or not.

Movie Review: Wreck-It Ralph

Wreck-It-Ralph

I am bad

And that’s good.

I will never be good

And that’s not bad.

There is no one

I’d rather be

Than me.

I saw Wreck-It Ralph many weeks after its original release. I know it’s late but I finally had the chance to see it. I’ve always wanted to but I waiting too long. Now that I’ve finally seen it, here’s what I think of it.

Wreck-It Ralph is a video game villain in the early 80’s game Fix It Felix Jr. He wrecks the apartment that Felix fixes. Every time Felix completes the fixing, the tenants celebrate by throwing Ralph off the top of the building. It’s been like that for the thirty years Fix It Felix Jr.has been in Litwak’s Family Fun Centre and Arcade. When the arcade closes, all the arcade characters stop what they’re doing and lead normal lives even to travel between game to game. In Fix It Felix Jr., the tenants go to sleep and Ralph sleeps in a pile of bricks. Thirty years of this is very overbearing for Ralph as he tells his story at a ‘Bad-Anon’ meeting for video game bad guys like House Of The Dead’s Cyril, Street Fighter’s Zangief and the ghost of Pac-Man. The Bad Anon group try to reassure Ralph that his villain status is good like theirs but it doesn’t help much especially since Felix and the tenants are celebrating their 30th Anniversary at Litwak’s and leave Ralph completely out of the picture.

So what does Ralph do? He tries to find a video game to make himself a hero. He pursues it in Hero’s Duty, an army game where soldiers shoot cyber bugs in pursuit of a medal of honor. Ralph does a clumsy job but receives the medal. Finally a hero. Only problem is Ralph accidentally hatched a Cybug during that time. This also leaves Fix It Felix’s game malfunctioning and in the danger of being taken out for good. This would leave Felix and the apartment tenants homeless. Any video game taken out of Litwak’s leaves the characters homeless. Just ask Q-Bert.

Ralph continues on amongst video games where he finds himself in a candy-themed kart-racing game called Sugar Rush. Here he meets a bratty girl named Vannelope who likes teasing Ralph and dreams of racing. She even steals his medal in order to race in the game. Problem is she’s not allowed to race according to King Candy, the King of the game. Ralph wants her to race in order to win his medal back. In the meantime, one of the Cybugs is in danger of multiplying inside Sugar Rush and both Fix It Felix and Sargent Calhoun, the female sergeant in Hero’s Duty, are searching for Ralph: Felix to get him back to the game for it to function and Calhoun to stop the Cybug from multiplying and destroying the Sugar Rush game.

Ralph soon learns Vannelope lives in Diet Cola mountain shunned away by the racers. He helps build a car for Vannelope and teaches her how to race for the win. In the meantime troubles mount. Sargent notices the Cybugs have multiplied and could wreck the Sugar Rush scenery. Felix searches for Ralph and falls in love with Calhoun only to remind her of a previous relationship. King Candy offers to give Ralph back his medal to prevent Vannelope from racing as she is a ‘glitch’. He smashes it up right in front of Vannelope. And the tenants of Fix It Felix’s apartment pack their bags anticipating the worst. Looks like Ralph wrecked more than what he bargained for.

Things change when Ralph notices on the Sugar Rush game unit’s side–noticeable because Fix-It Felix’s screen faces Sugar Rush– that Vannelope was intended to be in the game in the first place. Ralph then proceeds to do the right things. He breaks Felix out of the prison King Candy put him in and gets him to fix Vannelope’s car. He then gets Vannelope out of the dungeon and gets her racing. Soon Ralph, Felix and Calhoun have to fight the Cybugs while Vannelope attempts to chase down King Candy while he leads the race. Soon it’s revealed that King Candy is the incarnation of Turbo: a racing character from an early 80’s racing game that went on to sabotage other video games upon his declining popularity. The race and the battle with the bugs lead to a somewhat predictable ending that does manage to both thrill, entertain and will leave the audience happy with the ending.

This is one example of how a fun movie like this can have excellent and creative writing. It was great to see how it was able to create ‘lives’ for these video game characters and even help given them focuses from their point of view. Mind you it had to do such in order to make such a storyline like this work. It also had to take in consideration of the cyber world of not only living in a video game but going from game to game to even being one of the games unplugged for good. The sign on a ‘homeless’ Q-Bert was also a good example of creating ‘lives’ for characters of video games past. Interesting universe of Litwak’s arcade. Makes it fun and entertaining to watch. What’s also great about this is that the story is like a maze of stories and plots coming together and making for a story that’s not too confusing and fun to watch. It all comes together in the end.

This is one of three animated features released by Disney this year. The first was Brave which was done by the Pixar studios. The second was Frankenweenie done by Tim Burton Productions and this was done by Walt Disney Studios. No doubt this has been Disney’s year in this genre. The film is co-written by Pixar writer Jim Reardon and directed by Rich Moore: writer for episodes of Futurama and The Critic. The film features vocal talents of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman and Ed O’Neil. The film features a music score by Henry Jackman and songs from Skrillex, Owl City and AKB48. Ironically the film’s theme song Wreck-It Wreck-It Ralph! is performed by Buckner & Garcia, the duo responsible for the 1982 novelty hit PacMan Fever.

For me I consider this movie a salute to video games from its early heydays of the 1980s to the present. I’ve often said the 80’s is to video games what the 50’s is to rock and roll. It was a fun romp into the world of video games while having an excellent story to go with it. Another thing too. As you may have noticed, video game movies have had a history of being lousy. Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and its sequel: all lousy and forgettable even if a hit. Now we finally have a video game movie that’s as well-written and well-acted as it is entertaining. And to think it’s mostly featuring characters of fictional video games. It took a while but glad one finally came along.

Wreck-It Ralph is one of the best animated movies of the year. A creative take on video games past and present, real and fictional. It gives audiences young and old entertainment enjoyment. Also it’s a reminder that video game villains have feelings too. Never forget that.

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

DISCLAIMER: Okay I know this is a delayed review but I have lacked ambition in the last while with so much happening. Now I’m glad to be back and posting.

You’ve heard of Frankenstein? How about Frankenweenie? Tim Burton goes animated but can it charm like his other movies?

Victor Frankenstein is a creative boy growing up in New Holland. An only child who spends a lot of time with his dog Sparky making films and doing science experiments, his parents wonder if he’s able to make friends. His father encourages him to play baseball. it turns out to be a bad decision as Sparky chases the ball and gets hit by a car. Victor is heartbroken but not down. He still remembers the science class where his teacher Mr. Rzykruski showed the power of electricity on a dead frog. He digs up Sparky one day in hopes of bringing him back to life via electricity. It works!

However secrets don’t stay secret for long. Victor’s classmate Edgar wants to learn from Victor how to bring the dead back and even promising to keep it as a secret, albeit with fingers crossed. The two perform the experiment and the goldfish are revived but invisible due to doing something wrong. Edgar shows the other students and that sparks interest in reanimation of their own.

The children get the chance to learn about reanimation as Sparky goes missing around town. They discover Victor’s reanimation technique in the science room and attempt reanimating of their own on dead animals: Nassor on his mummified hamster, Edgar on a dead rat he found, Toshiaki’s turtle Shelley, Bob’s sea monkeys, and a dead bat Weird Girl’s cat found. The experiments go badly wrong. Edgar’s dead rat becomes a were-rat, Bob’s sea monkeys become amphibious monsters, Shelley is covered in a huge growth formula and becomes like a huge monster turtle, Colossus becomes a giant monster and Weird Girl’s cat bites the dead bat while electrocuted becoming a vampire cat.  This is especially hellish as New Holland is preparing to have its town festival.

Victor finds Sparky but notices the monsters causing havoc around the town fair. In the meantime the parents are angry at what the children have learned and Mr. Rzykruski is fired. The townspeople blame Sparky for all this madness and chase him to the town windmill. It’s all up to Victor to make things right. He does succeed in the end with results both surprising and thrilling.

One thing people will like about this animated movie is that it has the familiar charm of Tim Burton’s movies. Right at the beginning when you think ‘not another story about a creative boy who has trouble making friends’, you’ll know why. The main reason why Victor can’t make friend is because he’s one of the few normal kids while almost every other kid acts like they belong in a haunted house. This is very much a trademark of Burton and nothing new. Sure he’s done animated movies before and Halloween-style characters seem to be his specialty but he succeeds in keeping it enjoyable and entertaining. The story of Frankenweenie succeeds in being charming, haunting and entertaining.

Frankenweenie is something of Burton’s own but this animated version is not something fresh. Frankenweenie was originally a live-action 30-minute film Burton did back for Disney way back in 1984. It was intended to be both a spoof and a homage to the monster movies of the 1930’s. However this did not sit that well with Disney as they originally fired him because the movie was considered too disturbing for kids. Funny how 28 years have passed and Disney actually welcomed him back to remake Frankenweenie.

Mind you it’s not just about Tim Burton’s style of filmmaking and storytelling that makes it so appealing. It’s the way that it will oddly remind you of many of the monster movies of the past. As has been stated before, this is both a satire and a homage to the 1931 movie of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There are additional tributes in the movie too: Elsa’s pet poodle has a hairstyle similar to the Bride Of Frankenstein; Nassor has a voice and face resembling Boris Karloff; Mr. Rzykruski is inspired by Vincent Price. Even with its stop-motion animated style all in black-and-white, it has its charm with it being entertaining to today’s kids. Adults will also find it enjoyable too.

Frankenweenie is not just another animated movie. It’s a movie from Tim Burton that offers a lot more. Fans of monster movies will like it and admire it.

Movie Review: Brave

Brave is the latest movie from the creation of the Disney/Pixar team. Disney/Pixar already has quite a stellar reputation of churning out first-rate animated movies since 1995 and they promise Brave to be another story with a top quality cast, top-notch animation and a story that’s thrillingly entertaining. The question is do they deliver well enough to keep the Disney/Pixar legacy happening?

The story revolves around Merida: a young Scottish princess who’s first-born of King Fergus of Clan DunBroch and Queen Elinor. Merida is an energetic princess from the start as she gets a bow and arrow for her birthday and her passion for archery grows. Her pursuits include encounters with a will-o’-the-wisp to the demon bear Mor’Du. The bear is successfully fought off at the expense of the king’s leg. Years would pass. Elinor would have triplet boys who are totally mischievous. Merida would grow up to be a free-spirited teenager who has a passion for archery and sword fighting. This charms her father but doesn’t go well with the mother as she wants Merida to grow up to be a traditional princess. Merida doesn’t look forward to the traditional life of the princess. She wants more to be the hero and the fighter instead.

Then the day comes. Merida learns that she is to be betrothed to a first-born son from one of her father’s allied clans. Even though Merida is disappointed, Elinor tells Merida the story of a boy who did his own thing and it led the kingdom to ruin. Even though Merida is still unhappy, she decides for archery at the Highland Games to be the decider for her future husband. Disappointed with the contest Merida openly declares open to compete for her own hand and devastates the efforts of the other boys. This disappoints Elinor greatly and the two have a falling out as Merida goes into the woods.

In the woods she’s led by will-o’-the-wisps to a witch disguised as a wood carver. The witch agrees to give Merida a spell to change her mother but in the form of a cake. To both of their surprise, Elinor turns into a bear after eating the cake. Merida heads back to the witch’s cottage only to find the witch gone. The potion in the cottage contains an automated message from the witch that the spell will be permanent unless undone by the second sunrise. She also leaves a riddle to undo the spell: “mend the bond torn by pride.” As Merida attempts to patch things up with the mother, she sees how her mother has become more bear-like. She also flees an attack form Mor’Du and learns that Mor’Du received the same spell from the witch many years ago. She learns she has to mend a family bond to prevent her mother from being like Mor’Du. To make things crazier, her brothers discovered the cake, ate it, and turned into cubs.

Meanwhile tensions grow at the castle as the clans fight over Merida’s behavior. Merida quells the fighting by declaring that children should get married in their own time. The suitors and the lords all agree. Meanwhile the time for Merida to restore Elinor into a human is running out. Merida and Elinor try to head out of the castle only to be stopped by Fergus who mistakes her for Mor’Du. Fergus pursues Elinor while Merida has to free herself to stop them both. It isn’t until all are confronted by Mor’Du that something has to happen. Elinor lures Mor’Du to a falling menhir which kills him. It isn’t until one final professing from Merida that the spell can be cast free and peace can be restored amongst the clans.

Overall Brave does not rank as one of the best Disney/Pixar movies ever nor does it have one of its best-ever storylines. In fact it was Pixar’s goal to make a more mature movie as compared to their mostly kid-friendly movies like Cars, Up, Ratatouille and Toy Story. That could be why many may feel the typical Disney/Pixar magic is lacking here. What it does do is live up to the promise of a story entertaining for any movie audient of any age even with its darkness at times. It also delivers in bringing charming characters to the table and a heroine that succeeds in making the audience want her to win in the end. That is reason enough to consider Brave an excellent movie in its own rite. The unique thing about Merida is that she’s Pixar’s first ever female protagonist in a feature-length film.

The story itself was even written by a woman: Brenda Chapman. She wrote the story to have it in the same tradition as Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm. She was also to be Pixar’s first female director but was replaced by Mark Andrews following creative disagreements. The presentation of Merida as a strong young woman who defies traditional convention but has a heart of her own also gives a positive female role model for young girls. Good to have since reality show bimbos seem to be the popularity contest winners right now.

The voice acting had excellent choices in terms of picking some of the biggest names to come from Scotland: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson and Kevin McKidd. The addition of English actors Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane and Julie Walters also added to the charm of the story. John Ratzenberger, a favorite of Disney/Pixar, again makes a return appearance. The animation was top notch as one would expect from the Pixar team. Once again detail and accuracy pay off. The music, composed by Patrick Doyle, was meant to have the Celtic feel of being in Scotland and included many authentic Scottish instruments and Scottish rhythms in the score’s mix.

Brave is not amongst the best Disney/Pixar movies ever made. Nevertheless it does take the Pixar team in new directions in terms of storytelling and it succeeds in being entertaining to the audience. That should keep the Disney/Pixar continuing on their positive streak.

A Tale of Two Snow Whites: Seven Dwarfs vs. Huntsman

Most of the time I do reviews of movies. This article is different as I do a side-by-side comparison of two versions of the same story. There’s Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs that generations of moviegoers are familiar with. There’s now Snow White And The Huntsmen that aims to be a modern version of the famous fairy tale character. The question is how do they compare side to side?

First off, let’s run down the first nitty gritty factors of the movies. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfsis more than just a delightful animated

Some present moviegoers would view Disney’s Snow White as too naive.

movie. It’s a part of filmmaking history. It’s the first ever feature-length animated movie. And it was made against incredible odds. Walt Disney took five years to make this movie as it involved a lot of drawings and a lot of effort. It was expensive for its time at $1.5 million and Walt had to take out a lot of loans for this movie. And during the Great Depression to boot. In the end, it became a huge hit in 1937 grossing $8 million worldwide and world propel further animated movies in the future. To this day the American Film Institute still ranks it as the Best Animated Movie ever.

Now Snow White And The Huntsmen isn’t really much of a filmmaking breakthrough. It’s a life-action version of the Snow White story, which has been done before. It features familiar actors Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth and Sam Claflin. While this film is not much of a cinematic breakthrough, it is a personal breakthrough for director Rupert Sanders. He has directed commercials and TV episodes in the past. This is his first direction of a feature-length film and it cost $170 million to make. It has so far grossed $152 million at the North American box office: $370 million worldwide.

To compare the actual Snow White character, let’s give a bit of a rundown in terms of the times. First off Snow White And The Huntsmen is done in the present by modern-day director. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs was released in 1937 and done by Walt Disney. You can be sure both films would be reflective of the ideal female roles for the two main female characters and both would reflect the directors’ visions at the time. The Disney Snow White has a very happy and cheerful attitude but is very naive to the threats that surround her. She lost her parents and is exiled in the woods but still holds her spirits high even after the queen’s assassin tells her to flee. The modern Snow White, played by Kristen Stewart, is a girl scorned. She has had enough of the imprisonment and wants out. However she feels there’s no way out. It isn’t until after she sees an opportunity escape and seizes it that it’s revealed she has a determination in her to fight to be free, even if it means walking through castle sewage to get it.

The reflections of the different types of Snow White characters is also reflective in their biggest desires. Disney’s Snow White wants to be free but she feels she found it in living with the seven dwarfs. Her biggest desire is to find her ‘prince’ as evident in the song ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’. Modern Snow White wants love too but she wants her freedom more. She knows she has to continue fighting even after she is free from the prison. She knows the queen and her men and she knows the threats will continue as long as the queen is alive.

The Snow White of Kristen Stewart could be seen by some as too much of a ‘warrior princess.’

Both Snow Whites are subject to negative opinions from some about the way they’re depicted. First off modern audience goers would find the Disney Snow White, voiced by Adriana Caselotti, as too naive for the present and very lacking in ‘street smarts’. Kristen Stewart’s Snow White could also be subject to negative opinions as Disney fans may feel she lacks the cheerfulness and many other moviegoers could think she makes Snow White into Xena: Warrior Princess.

The character of the queen has a common similarity: beauty. Walt Disney wanted a beautiful queen in his film as part of the reflection of the queen’s desire to be the ‘fairest of all’ and her evil envy of Snow White. We shouldn’t forget that sometimes evil can be disguised as something beautiful. The modern evil queen is given a name, Ravenna, and is played by Charlize Theron who is renowned for her beauty. The dissimilarity between the two evil queens is that the Disney queen is seen as very stockish in her desire to see Snow White dead because of her envy, and only because of that. Ravenna is shown as the killer of Snow White’s father, whom she killed on her wedding day and had Snow White imprisoned. It’s the familiar evil stepmother role in fairy tales. Ravenna is shown not only as a queen of envy over Snow White but as a victim herself. She learns from the mirror that has to destroy Snow White for the sake of her immortality or she will be the mortal one. Even giving Snow White the poisonous apple would show two differing means of disguises. The Disney queen would take a potion to tune her into an old lady. Ravenna would metamorphose into William, son of Duke Hammond, to give Snow White the fatal apple.

The other notable difference of the two Snow Whites is the differing their main supporting character, or characters. In Disney’s Snow White, it was the seven dwarfs. All seven were cute with cute names and charming personalities. They worked hard but they sang, danced and lived cheerfully. They were first surprised to see Snow White and thought of her as an intruder but would come to welcome her, love her, and even avenge her against the queen after she gave Snow White the poisonous apple. In the modern Snow White, the dwarves are seen as a minor supporting character in the movie who assist with the Huntsman in her well-being and warriors with Snow White and the Huntsman against the queen. It’s the Huntsman in the modern Snow White who’s the main supporting character now.

The Huntsman in the modern Snow White is under command from the queen to kill and receive the hand of her brother’s deceased wife in marriage. He learns from Finn, the brother, that it was a false promise and then becomes Snow White’s ally helping her escape with the help of women disfigured by Ravenna and the help of the seven dwarves. The Huntsman is the man who kisses Snow White back to life but it’s not happily ever after yet as they must battle Ravenna before Snow White can be married to the Hunstman. In Disney’s Snow White it is the prince whose kiss revives Snow White and marries her. The Huntsman is only seen at the beginning as the one who tries to kill Snow White but can’t and gives the queen a pig’s heart to trick her into thinking Snow White is dead.

It’s not just the characters themselves that make the two Snow White movies different but also the stories themselves. The beginning especially. In the Disney movie we’re given a storybook narration of what has happened in the past and leads to the beginning with the queen at the mirror saying “Mirror, mirror on the wall…” Snow White and the Huntsman goes back to when Snow White is a young girl and her favorite playmate is the Duke’s son William. Ravenna is prisoner of the Dark Army rescued by the recently widowed King Magnus, father of Snow White. King Magnus is actually killed by Ravenna after he marries her, imprisons Snow White and seized control of the kingdom leaving it lifeless and full of sadness. Even the setting of the forest is different as Disney shows a charming forest full of happy creatures while the modern Snow White shows a nice forest that’s not immune by threats like insects and other dangers.

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs and Snow White And The Huntsman are two differing movies of the same story. As for which is the best depiction, I can’t say because I have not read the original Snow White story by the Brothers Grimm. Nevertheless both have their entertainment values and one would appeal over another depending on their movie preferences.

Movie Review: John Carter

John Carter is not a superhero character invented for a movie. John Carter is actually a protagonist for an 11-volume series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs known as the Barsoom series. The first John Carter movie comes courtesy of Disney. Does it deliver?

The movie starts detailing that Mars is a dying planet with warring civilians. The live-action begins with a nephew of John Carter’s learning he’s dead, or maybe he’s not. He’s buried in a mausoleum that can be unlocked by a secret code.

Impressive beginning that leads to the origin of John Carter which actually comes across as too predictable. We learn that John, a citizen of the Confederate state of Virginia, is seen as an outlaw in New York. The opening shtick which leads John being a rebel in New York to being sent to Mars is all too common and formulaic for superheroes to be first learning of their superpowers.

The developing story of how John Carter learns of the race of four armed Martians and of the warring cities of Helium and Zodanga give promise to more climax. Additional climax is possible by possible cease fire if the princess of Helium being offered to marry the Jeddak of Zodanga. Often the quests that lead to battles and even gladiator matches become too predictable to a point. Even the gladiator-like scene looks like it was added in more for the sake of thrills than for the story.

If there’s one place that is out of the ordinary, it’s the ending. At first the triumph of John Carter at the end appears to be the ending but there is a surprise which leads us back to the framing story of John’s nephew that leads to an unexpected ending. That was one part that did impress me.

The problem with the movie is that it shifts too much. We don’t know if John Carter is supposed to be a superhero character or a gladiator-type character. Even seeing how it appears to have borrowed from too many movies also adds to the problem. John Carter landing on Mars appears like many superhero movies when they first learn of their superhuman trait. The gladiator scene comes across too much like Gladiator. There were even times I thought they borrowed a scene or two from Thor. The movie is good in terms of special effects and especially the costuming but its storyline’s confusing in terms of plot and character development. Even the acting appeared one-dimensional because the characters were mostly the stock type that one would come to expect from a superhero movie. They’re there to put on a show but lack depth. The script was what you’d expect for a superhero movie: stagy events thick on emphasizing the drama in the plot and full of high-climax moments but little depth. There was a bit of comic relief with the Martians calling John Carter “Virginia’ but not much else.

In terms of box office, John Carter is not looking all that good. The movie cost $250 million to make. Its opening weekend only amassed $30.2 million. Currently it sits at $62.4 million. It’s questionable how well it will finish. One thing to take into account is the record for the biggest money-losing movie of all time. It belongs to 2002’s Pluto Nash with a loss of $93 million. I hope John Carter doesn’t break that record. Already there’s talk that the movie will lose an additional $100 million it spent on advertising. Overseas things are looking better as it has so far grossed almost $172 million outside the US, according to Box Office Mojo. So all is not lost. Lots but not all. Nevertheless there’s probably no chance for a sequel. A bit of a shame because the ending looked like it was made to be the set up for the beginning of a sequel. Guess not. It’s even questionable whether this will be the star boost for Taylor Kitsch. Maybe his next big movie.

John Carter is an ambitious attempt from Disney at getting a new movie series off the ground but looks like it fell flat. If you’re going to start a movie series, a lot is expected, and it just didn’t deliver.