Soul Review

Soul movie posterSynopsis
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle school band teacher and an aspiring musician looking for his big break. When he gets the opportunity he has been waiting for, he has an accident and finds his soul heading towards the Great Beyond. Not ready to move on, he escapes to the Great Before, where he meets the young soul 22 (Tina Fey) and together they try to return Joe’s soul to his body.

Review
Over the years, Pixar has told a variety of stories that have all been unique in their own way. Keeping with that trend, Soul is unlike any film Pixar has made before; the studio continues to find new and original stories to tell. This movie manages to stand out among Pixar’s other films as a masterful study of one’s perception of their purpose in life. It might not be the most kid-accessible plot but it is approached in a way that is meaningful to all ages.

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a musician who never quite got his big break. In between going to various auditions, Joe became a middle school band teacher. He enjoys being a teacher but nonetheless feels unfulfilled and still chases his aspirations of becoming a musician. When a former student, Curley (Questlove), calls Joe and invites him to audition for his quartet, Joe feels could finally be the break he has been looking for. At the audition, Joe gets lost in the music and makes a good impression on the quartets leader, Dorothea (Angela Bassett), who asks him to return later that night for the show.

The strength of these first few scenes is they expertly set up several characters and threads that will be important throughout the rest of the film. Just before going to the audition, we see the dynamic between Joe and his mother, Libba (Phylicia Rashad), who wants her son to find a stable job and not a career with the uncertainty that comes with being a full-time musician. It is clear that they have a strained relationship. It is also clear that Joe has respect for his mother and wants to make her happy but at the same time, wants to be allowed to follow his dreams and do what makes him happy. We see Joe’s passion for music as well when he zones out while playing the piano during his audition. His passion is seen, not just heard. We, as the audience, are pulled into his love of music and can feel how much Joe enjoys playing piano; we understand how important this opportunity is to Joe.

Excited to be offered the job he has been waiting for, Joe hurries home but in his rush, he becomes distracted and falls into an open manhole. He wakes up as a soul going towards a giant light in the Great Beyond. Not ready to pass on before getting his big break, he tries to escape from the Great Beyond and finds himself in the Great Before, the place where young souls reside before going to Earth. As Joe travels between the Great Beyond and the Great Before, we get the first glimpse at how varied the animation of this film his. The sequence of Joe falling was very Kubrick-esque to me, being both entrancing and intriguing at the same time. Once in the Great Before, the style of animation is much more fluid and abstract that the realism seen in the New York City sequences. It’s very similar to Inside Out, where there are no clear edges and the environment is very flamboyant and runs together. The appearance of Terry and the multiple Jerry’s is probably the most unique character design in all of Pixar, which is saying something.

In the Great Before, Joe meets Counselor Jerry (Alice Braga), who informs him that souls in the Great Before can reach Earth using the Earth portal. However, every time he goes through the portal, Joe is returned to the Great Before. Thinking Joe is a lost soul mentor, Terry takes him to the other mentors, who assist young souls in finding their β€œspark” to complete their personalities, displayed as a badge on the soul, before being allowed to Earth. Seeing a completed Earth Pass as his ticket through the portal back to Earth, he impersonates another soul mentor. In the mentoring program, he meets soul 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who refuses to go to Earth. The pair agree to complete 22’s Earth Pass so Joe can use it to return to Earth and 22 can stay in the Great Before forever.

Unable to find 22’s spark in the Hall of Everything, Joe and 22 go see Moonwind (Graham Norton) and the Mystics without Borders, a group who help β€œthe lost souls of Earth find their way.” When the mystics locate Joe’s body on Earth, Joe rushes to get back. In his haste, Joe accidentally brings 22 with him. When Joe wakes up, he realizes that he is in the body of a therapy cat and 22 is inside his body. Together, 22 and Joe set out to find Moonwind on Earth to help them return to their proper selves.

What follows is a extraordinarily crafted story of friendship and passion. Joe and 22’s journey throughout the course of the film sees the two discovering that there is more to life than either expected. The themes are geared more towards an older audience who might have more appreciation for the movie’s message, but I feel they are also laid out in a way that a younger viewer can understand as well. It might not be as exciting or adventurous as some of Pixar’s other films, but the characters and their journeys make the experience well worth your while.

I mentioned it previously but I can’t review an animated film and not talk about the animation. New York City is a city full of movement and excitement. Soul captures that with such realism that if the characters themselves were not caricatures, it would be hard to tell this is animation. The opening scenes provide a look at the beautiful animation to come in the film but when Joe and 22 set off in New York City together is when the animation of the bustling city becomes truly breathtaking. The sights, the sounds, the colors, the energy, everything is authentic and gorgeously rendered. Pixar continues pushing the boundaries of what is possible in animation.

I thought Soul was GREAT πŸ˜€ The story provides a fantastic and emotional study of inspiration and purpose. As we get older, we forget that there is beauty in life around us. Soul serves as a reminder that no matter how mundane things become, never lose sight of what makes life truly beautiful and worthwhile.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Pete Doctor – Director / Writer
Kemp Powers – Co-Director / Writer
Mike Jones – Writer
Jonathan Batiste – Jazz Compositions and Arrangements
Trent Reznor – Composer
Atticus Ross – Composer

Jamie Foxx – Joe (voice)
Tina Fey – 22 (voice)
Graham Norton – Moonwind (voice)
Rachel House – Terry (voice)
Alice Braga – Counselor Jerry A (voice)
Richard Ayoade – Counselor Jerry B (voice)
Phylicia Rashad – Libba (voice)
Questlove – Curley (voice)
Angela Bassett – Dorothea (voice)
Cora Champommier – Connie (voice)
Donnell Rawlings – Dez (voice)
Margo Hall – Melba (voice)
Rhodessa Jones – Lulu (voice)
Daveed Diggs – Paul (voice)

Onward Review

Onward movie posterSynopsis
When brothers Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt) receive a gift from their late father that would allow their father to return for 24 hours, they embark on a quest to find the gem required for such a powerful spell.

Review
Of all Disney’s acquisitions over the years, it could be argued that Pixar is their crown jewel. Despite having made over twenty films since their debut feature film in 1995, the studio has had an impressive consistency of quality in both storytelling and pushing the boundaries of computer animation, with only a few slip-ups along the way. Driven by the voice talents of Marvel Cinematic Universe favorites Tom Holland and Chris Pratt and inspired by director Don Scanlon’s personal relationship with his older brother, Onward seeks to build on Pixar’s amazing legacy. While there is a lot to enjoy and take away from this film, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Pixar’s best.

The world of Onward is unique among the Pixar library, taking place in a fantasy world that feels like it was created by JRR Tolkein or JK Rowling. We’ve seen unique creatures in Monsters, Inc., so there is a familiarity to the inhabitants but they still maintain a freshness that prevents the character design from feeling rehashed. This film takes inspiration from fantasy stories of yore so of course there are plenty of call backs to be found. Having watched The Lord of the Rings films for an anniversary celebration a few years ago, one of my favorite references was a diner advertising β€œsecond breakfast.” That’s just one of many found throughout the movie and I’m sure someone more versed in the fantasy genre than I am will notice many more easter eggs than I did.

Being a fan of action-adventure films and fantasy films, I found this film to be very fun. It was full of excitement and laughs. There is some good physical comedy from the Dad legs, particularly some Weekend at Bernie’s style comedy that gave me some good chuckles. The musical score primarily consists of strings, giving the film an acoustic flavor. It fit the fantasy theme of the movie very well. There was also some guitar riffs reminiscent of Van Halen, perfectly apt of Barley’s rebellious nature.

Ian and Barley’s relationship is the core of Onward. The two brothers are brought to life by Peter Parker and Peter Quill – I mean Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. As an older brother myself, Barley’s protectiveness of Ian resonated with me. Throughout the film they were laughing together, fighting each other, and being supportive of one another, like the relationship I share with my siblings. There is a clear growth of the Lightfoot brothers, both individually and together, culminating in an emotional conclusion. Of all the things Pixar has done well in their films, portrayal of families has always been one of their strengths and their expertise is on full display here.

Another strength of Pixar is their emotional moments and for me, that’s where this film falls short. I will admit that the ending did surprise me; I thought I knew how Ian’s and Barley’s journey would end but I was pleasantly surprised that I was wrong. However, it didn’t hit me emotionally as hard as other Pixar outings did. However, I could easily see others getting hit more in the feels than I did. And that’s kind of how I felt throughout the entire film. While there are many fun, exciting, and wholesome moments, I didn’t find anything truly memorable. It took a second viewing for me to be like β€œOh yeah, I remember that.” It shouldn’t take multiple viewings to make moments stand out.

I thought Onward was GOOD πŸ™‚ Pixar has far and away established themselves as some of the best storytellers in Hollywood. Onward‘s tale about the bonds between siblings in one many can relate to and is sure to strike all the right emotional cords. Unfortunately, besides those strong emotions, and perhaps some good action sequences, this film lacks much else to really place cement itself as a top-tier Pixar films. Still, it is far from their worst and provides a feel-good story that is more than worth checking out.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Dan Scanlon – Director / Writer
Keith Bunin – Writer
Jason Headley – Writer
Jeff Danna – Composer
Mychael Danna – Composer

Tom Holland – Ian Lightfoot (voice)
Chris Pratt – Barley Lightfoot (voice)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Laurel Lightfoot
Octavia Spencer – The Manticore (voice)
Mel Rodriguez – Colt Bronco (voice)
Lena Waithe – Officer Spector (voice)
Ali Wong – Officer Gore (voice)
Grey Griffin – Dewdrop (voice)
Kyle Bornheimer – Wilden Lightfoot (voice)

Weathering With You Review

Weathering With You movie posterSynopsis
In Tokyo, Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo / Brandon Engman) meets Hina (Nana Mori / Ashley Boettcher), who has the ability to make the constant Tokyo rain stop for a short time. The two soon learn that Hina’s power does not come without a cost.

Review
I, like many people I’m sure, was introduced to Makoto Shinkai with Your Name, his body-swapping romance. Your Name has become one of my favorite animated films so of course I was not going to miss Shinkai’s next film and my expectations were high. Weathering With You has a lot to live up to and will, for better or worse, be compared to Your Name. I tried to stray away from comparing the two too much but I couldn’t break from that myself, so you will find much of it here, for better or worse. With Weathering With You, Shinkai cements that he knows how to create a deep world and compelling characters.

Once again, Weathering With You shows that traditional cel animation is still alive and well. Today, many animated film studios, including Disney, have moved to computer animation. I don’t have an issue with this but there’s something about hand-drawn animations that make them special. A lot of care gets put into every frame; in every detail. There’s something there that you don’t feel with films animated with CGI. 2D animation isn’t common anymore but I’m glad there are still studios that make use of the style because I enjoy seeing the format still flourishing.

With that said, this film has a similar art style to Your Name. One major difference is the presence of rain throughout the majority of the film. This causes the film to have a more muted color palette. However, this movie is still amazingly colorful. Even with the constant gloom of the rain, or maybe because of it, nearly every frame is bursting to life with color, rivaling Your Name‘s vibrant feel. And never have I seen rain feature so prominently in an animated film and Weathering With You‘s rain effects are easily some of the best looking in animation, period. Shinkai and his team have created yet another downright gorgeous animated film.

As of writing this review, I haven’t seen any of Shinkai’s work prior to Your Name. But from what I’ve read about them, star-crossed lovers seems to be his shtick. As a result of his comfort zone, the story of Weathering With You might feel similar to Your Name. And in a way they are similar. Thematically, and even at times structurally, this film borrows from its predecessor. However, they approach the love story from different angles. Your Name tells a story about how love overcomes distance and time. Weathering With You, on the other hand, tells a story about the lengths someone is willing to go for the ones they love, regardless of the consequences. It’s a story that has been told time and time again but the consequences are much more far reaching and permanent than I think I’ve seen before in any film, animated or otherwise. In the end, it maintains a feeling of uniqueness, despite its similarities to Shinkai’s previous works.

I’m sorry but the comparisons to Your Name are not finished yet. Despite my love for Your Name, there is one aspect I think this movie did better than Shinkai’s last: the humor. Your Name used its body-swapping premise for some pretty good laughs. However, the humor in Weathering With You feels more natural. Throughout the film, there are more laugh-out-loud moments. While Your Name tells an overall better story, Weathering With You tells a funnier one.

I thought Weathering With You was GOOD πŸ™‚ Shinkai has yet again created compelling characters within a detailed world, telling a beautiful story about love and the lengths one is willing to go for it. I still lean towards Your Name as my favorite between these two films but as a follow-up to the massive success that was Your Name, Weathering With You is a worthy successor.

Trivia
Be on the look out for Your Name‘s Taki and Mitsuha, who both make appearances in the film. According to director Makoto Shinkai, Weathering With You takes place shortly before Taki and Mitsuha’s reunion at the end of Your Name.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Makoto Shinkai – Director / Writer
Radwimps – Composer

Kotaro Daigo / Brandon Engman – Hodaka Morishima (voice)
Nana Mori / Ashley Boettcher – Hina Amano (voice)
Shun Oguri / Lee Pace – Keisuke Suga (voice)
Tsubasa Honda / Alison Brie – Natsumi Suga (voice)
Sakura Kiryu / Emeka Guindo – Nagisa Amano (voice)
Swi Hiraizumi / Mike Pollock – Yasui (voice)
Yuki Kaji / Riz Ahmed – Takai (voice)


The submission period for the Ultimate 2010s Blogathon is going on now and is open until February 9th, 2020. If you would like to participate in the blogathon, all the details can be found in this announcement post.

Ranking the Songs Of Frozen II

Β Frozen II movie poster

Hello, friends!

As you might have heard, Frozen II released a few weeks ago and has done quite well at the box office. You can check out my review of it here. In the time since watching this movie in the theater, I have seen several people do their own ranking of the songs from the film and thought to myself, “what a great idea!” Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t thought before to this myself, either with Disney’s latest animated feature or any of their others. Well it is time to remedy that!

Below is my ranking of the seven songs from Frozen II. In this list, I am not including the Panic! at the Disco, Kacey Musgraves, or Weezer versions of the songs, nor am I including “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People (Cont.)” since it’s only 30 seconds long and it is really just an intro/prelude to “Lost in the Woods.” I have linked each song title to a video of the song on YouTube so you can check them out for yourself, after you’re done reading the full list here of course!

Alright, enough chit-chat. Onto the rankings!

7) When I Am Older

I’m not exactly sure what it is about Olaf’s song this time around, it has a similar tune and naivete as his song “In Summer” from Frozen, but I am not as entranced by “When I am Older.” It’s fun and it’s whimsical but it doesn’t have the same foot tapping potential as “In Summer.”

6) The Next Right Thing

I appreciate the message of “The Next Right Thing;” it’s about getting up, dusting yourself off, and moving forward when you are at a low point. However, I haven’t found the song to be one that I find myself randomly start singing like I do some of the other songs on this list. So to recap: great message, not a catchy melody.

5) All Is Found

Like “Frozen Heart” from Frozen, “All Is Found” foreshadows the events of the film. It’s a sweet lullaby sung by Anna and Elsa’s mother, Queen Iduna, voiced by Evan Rachel Wood. As an opener, I’d say it is a little better than “Frozen Heart.” I can see many parents singing this song to their young children while lying them down to bed.

4) Some Things Never Change

“Some Things Never Change” feels the most like the songs from Frozen than all the other songs on this list, which is one of the reasons it is smack dab in the middle of the ranking. There is a nice beat and it feels ripe for Disney’s sing-a-long treatment. Every major character gets at least a few lines to showcase their talents before their own numbers later in the film.

3) Lost in the Woods

In the theater, “Lost in the Woods” had me nearly crying from laughter. Lyrically, it’s actually sweet. The song is a rock ballad, reminiscent of something you might have heard in the 80s. The film goes all in on that angle, too, with the sequence. I give credit to Disney and the directors because this one is definitely for the parents who have to endure watching the film with their young children.

2) Into the Unknown

I think “Into the Unknown” is expected to be Frozen II‘s “Let It Go.” It was the first have the in-film sequence and already has a multi-language version released online, just like “Let It Go.” Once again, Idina Menzel proves that she is an incredible powerhouse of a singer. While “Into the Unknown” is not quite the anthem that “Let it Go” has become, it is still amazing to both listen to and watch.

1) Show Yourself

Even after listening to “Show Yourself” many, many times, I still get emotional. Visually, be the best looking sequence in the entire film. However, it is during this song that Elsa finally becomes who she was meant to be since where we met her in Frozen. Throughout both movies, Elsa feels like she is an outsider; like she belongs somewhere else. During this song is when she finds what she has been looking for for two films. On my Disney playlist, I have “Let it Go” and “Show Yourself” back-to-back because these two go together thematically. Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez most popular song might be “Let it Go” but “Show Yourself” is their most powerful.


And that is my ranking of the songs of Frozen II! What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? How would you rank the songs of Frozen II?

Until next time, cheers!

The Polar Express Review: Christmas in July Blogathon 2019

Hello, friends!

Merry Christmas in July! I hope you’ve enjoyed the blogathon so far. I know I have! For the finale, yours truly will close out the blogathon with a review of the Tom Hanks-led animated holiday film that turns 15 this year: The Polar Express.


The Polar Express movie posterSynopsis
On Christmas Eve, a young boy embarks on a magical adventure to the North Pole on the Polar Express, while learning about friendship, bravery, and the spirit of Christmas. (via IMDb)

Review
As long as there has been cinema, there have been Christmas films. Many struggle to become holiday staples. Some take a while (like Miracle on 34th Street) while others become instant classics. The Polar Express is the latter. It has the traditional holiday messages but it wraps them in an adventure unlike any other film. I’ve heard people say this movie’s animation is too far in the uncanny valley but I would disagree. While it is more realistic looking than many films around the same time, it has enough of a cartoonish feel to not go over into that territory. I really enjoy that this tells the story through a child’s eyes to really helps captures the movie’s sense of wonder. Tom Hanks plays five parts throughout the film. Despite being so prevalent, each of his characters feels different from one another, showcasing his talents. I forgot how musical this film is. Not in the Broadway musical sense, although there are some great musical numbers like β€œHot Chocolate,” but how much the score complements what is going on on screen. Although I shouldn’t have been surprised once I learned the extraordinary Alan Silvestri was the composer.

I thought The Polar Express was GREAT πŸ˜€ Its sense of adventure is unlike any other Christmas film but with a message just as powerful. Accompanied by terrific animation, a great score, and Tom Hanks at his best, it’s no wonder that fifteen years later, this movie is still a holiday staple.

Trivia
The Polar Express was the first β€œall-digital capture” film, where all acted parts were done in digital capture. The film used 3D motion capture techniques to digitally record the actors’ physical performances before “skinning” them with their animated forms. The children’s roles were acted by adults, using oversized props to get the movement right. (via IMDb)

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Robert Zemeckis – Director / Screenplay
Wiliiam Broyles, Jr. – Screenplay
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Tom Hanks – Hero Boy / Father/ Conductor / Hobo / Santa Claus
Daryl Sabara – Hero Boy (voice)
Nona Gaye – Hero Girl (voice)
Jimmy Bennett – Billy the Lonely Boy (voice)
Eddie Deezen – Know-It-All (voice)
Andre Sogliuzzo – Smokey / Steamer (voice)


As for my guest, I have chosen none other than Princess Jasmine and Kimberly Hart (aka the Pink Ranger) herself, Naomi Scott.

Naomi Scott

And that’s the final post for the sixth annual Christmas in July Blogathon! If you’ve missed any of the entries or you can’t wait to see the full guest list, the wrap-up post will be posted later today, so be sure to check that out.

Until next time, cheers!

Toy Story 4 Review

Toy Story 4 movie posterSynopsis
At her first day of school, Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) creates a new toy named Forky (Tony Hale). It’s up to Woody (Tom Hanks), Buzz (Tim Allen) and the rest of Bonnie’s toys to keep Forky safe while on a road trip.

Review
Like many, I was skeptical when a fourth Toy Story movie was announced. Toy Story 3 had wrapped the story of Andy’s toys up to that point superbly. Several shorts have been made since then (which are perfectly okay with me) but another full-length feature felt like an attempted cash grab. Going into this movie I was torn. On one hand, I love the Toy Story films and welcome the chance to play with these characters. But on the other, as I said, the story of Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the crew felt complete. Even though it doesn’t quite hit the emotional highs as previous films in the franchise, Toy Story 4 offers a good conclusion for the characters many of us have grown attached to since 1996.

Firstly, if you thought the animation of Toy Story 3 was top-notch, then you’ll be blown away from the animation of Toy Story 4. As the toys go to different environments, from Bonnie’s room, to Bonnie’s family’s RV, to a playground, to an antique store, and many places in between, each place has its own aesthetic and feels unique. Toys are not made from the same material. Toys like Buzz Lightyear are completely plastic, Woody is a mix of fabric and plastic, and Bo Peep is porcelain. Buzz has a pretty matte look, you can see the pilling on Woody’s shirt, and Bo Peep has a shine to her Buzz and Woody do not, and all the other toys have similar characteristics. Look at the character posters to see examples of what I’m talking about. It’s honestly breathtaking the amount of detail that has gone into making these characters look as realistic as possible. The bar of what of animation is capable of just keeps going up and up.

For the first three films, or β€œAndy Trilogy” as I’m going to start calling it, the toys mostly shared the spotlight. There was more of a focus on Woody and Buzz but characters like Rex, the Potato Heads, Jessie, and Bullseye shared the screen pretty evenly. However, this time around the focus is on Woody, who becomes the sole heart and soul of the film, with everyone else being demoted to support duties. One of my favorite parts of the previous film was seeing all the different personalities of the toys together so it was disappointing I didn’t get to see as much of that in this film.

One of my biggest, if not my biggest, concern with creating a follow-up film to the wonderful Toy Story 3 was where the writers would take the story, as Toy Story 3 added a perfectly fitting ending to the story of Woody, Buzz, and the gang. In typical Pixar fashion, they proved that there is almost always more story to tell, and they told it well. I’m not a huge fan of how they made Woody the central character like I mentioned above, mostly because of how it shifts the narrative of the whole franchise, but I won’t get into that here. However, once again, Pixar created a story that has a lot of heart.

I thought Toy Story 4 was GOOD πŸ™‚ While I’m still not ecstatic that this movie was made in the first place, I still enjoyed it. This series serves as breadcrumbs to track how far computer animation has come, as this is one of the best looking computer animated films I’ve ever seen. Toy Story 4‘s heart is in the right place but it ultimately falls short, which isn’t too surprising given it had to follow the emotional franchise-ending of Toy Story 3.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Josh Cooley – Director / Story
Andrew Stanton – Story / Screenplay
Stephany Folsom – Story / Screenplay
John Lasseter – Story
Valerie LaPointe – Story
Rashida Jones – Story
Will McCormack – Story
Martin Hynes – Story
Randy Newman – Composer

Tom Hanks – Woody (voice)
Tim Allen – Buzz Lightyear (voice)
Annie Potts – Bo Peep (voice)
Tony Hale – Forky (voice)
Keegan-Michael Key – Ducky (voice)
Jordan Peele – Bunny (voice)
Keanu Reeves – Duke Caboom (voice)
Ally Maki – Giggle McDimples (voice)
Christina Hendricks – Gabby Gabby (voice)
Madeleine McGraw – Bonnie (voice)
Jay Hernandez – Bonnie’s Dad (voice)
Lori Alan – Bonnie’s Mom (voice)
Bonnie Hunt – Dolly (voice)
Kristen Schaal – Trixie (voice)
Jeff Garlin – Buttercup (voice)
Wallace Shawn – Rex (voice)
John Ratzenberger – Hamm (voice)
Blake Clark – Slinky Dog (voice)
Don Rickles – Mr. Potato Head (voice)
Estelle Harris – Mrs. Potato Head (voice)


Entries for the Christmas in July 2019 Blogathon are due in two weeks! To find out more, check out the post here.