Artemis Fowl Review

Yesterday I announced the seventh annual Christmas in July Blogathon! If you are interested in participating or want to know more, check out this announcement post.


Artemis Fowl movie posterSynopsis
When his father is kidnapped for his knowledge of a powerful fairy artifact, Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw) must use clues left in his father’s journal to find the artifact and rescue his father, Artemis Fowl, Sr. (Colin Farrell), from a mysterious figure.

Review
I’m aware that Artemis Fowl is adapted from a young adults novel series. I’m also aware of the troubled production history this film had from when its movie rights were sold until it was finally released. Then with the pandemic, this moved from a summer blockbuster slot to a Disney+ release. Between those issues and Disney’s difficulty adapting other popular young adult novels, such as A Wrinkle in Time, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this film is ultimately a let down.

For starters, the story is extremely shallow. There is a MacGuffin that both the heroes and the villains are trying to find because reasons. It’s never explained clearly what it’s for or why it’s so powerful, just that it is because magic. The main villain, who is played by the uncredited Hong Chau, is never really seen or given much motivation or backstory. The team of heroes band together because it’s needed for the plot to move forward. Oh, and there’s a disgraced fairy officer that is given his job back because the bad guy wants him to become a mole and no one seems to question it. So yeah, there’s a lot going on.

It is said it is better to show and not tell in cinema. Apparently, the writer of Artemis Fowl never heard that saying before because this film is littered with exposition. Between narration, news reports, and characters relaying back story, a good number of classic exposition tropes can be found in this film. We are constantly told how smart Artemis is, we are constantly told Artemis has a strained relationship with his father, we are constantly told how good of a thief Mulch Diggums is, but very little of any of that is actually shown.

Because we are always told things rather than shown them, this movie moves both too quickly and too slowly at the same time. The story and characters are constantly rushing from scene to scene and things happen for no rhyme or reason other than because the story needs them to. The break-neck speed of the story never really lets the audience get a good handle of what’s going on because by the time you think about think you know what’s happening in the scene, it’s on to the next one. This film moves too quickly for its own good. Yet with all the exposition, scenes themselves drag on. It’s truly a weird dynamic.

The actions scenes were really the only part of the movie that kept my attention. However, they were marred by middling visuals. Some of the set pieces were exciting, like a troll rampaging through Fowl manor, and actually kept the film from becoming a snooze fest to me. But as flashy as these scenes were, things looked a bit too cartoonish, which in the end took me out of the experience just enough to not get the full enjoyment.

I thought Artemis Fowl was OK 😐 I can’t convince myself to say this is a bad film but it’s close. Even with a non-existent story, mediocre visuals, and pacing issues abound, I must admit that I had at least a little bit of fun. Not enough to revisit it again but enough to call it mediocre at best. Too bad though, given the popularity of the novels. Once again we’ll have to settle for a book-to-film adaptation that doesn’t live up to its source material. Not even Disney, it seems, can solve that mystery.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Kenneth Branagh – Director
Conor McPherson – Screenplay
Patrick Doyle – Composer

Ferdia Shaw – Artemis Fowl
Lara McDonnell – Holly Short
Josh Gad – Mulch Diggums
Nonso Anozie – Domovoi Butler
Tamara Smart – Juliet Butler
Colin Farrell – Artemis Fowl, Sr.
Judi Dench – Commander Root
Nikesh Patel – Chief Tech Officer Foaly
Joshua McGuire – Briar Cudgeon
Hong Chau – Opal Koboi

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!

Frozen II Review

Frozen II movie posterSynopsis
When the spirits force the people out of Arendelle, Elsa (Idina Menzel), Anna (Kristen Bell), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad), and Sven venture to the Enchanted Forest to settle the spirits.

Review
Back in 2013, Frozen became a phenomenon. Children everywhere dressed up as Anna and even more dressed up as Anna’s sister Elsa. It seemed you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing β€œLet it Go.” I’m man enough to admit that I got swept up in the craze as well. It was no surprise that a sequel was announced, especially given Disney has had more of an eye towards making theatrical sequels to their films as of late. Given how much I enjoyed Frozen, I was excited to see what directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck had in store for Elsa, Anna, Olaf, and Kirstoff in the sequel. Despite my high expectations, Frozen II blew them away.

Easily the stand-out feature of Frozen was the original songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. The songwriting couple returns for the sequel and once more they knock it out of the park! Idina Menzel again demonstrates how much of a powerhouse singer she is. β€œInto the Unknown” is bound to become this film’s β€œLet it Go” but “Show Yourself,” Menzel’s duet with Evan Rachel Wood, should not be ignored either. Jonathan Groff didn’t get much room to flex his singing chops in the last film but that was remedied this time around. Besides having a small part in the ensemble song β€œSome Things Never Change,” he gets his own song in β€œLost in the Woods,” which is presented in a boy band-esque way that had me laughing uncontrollably. And of course Kristen Bell and Josh Gad have their songs as well, so no one is left out.

Olaf (Gad) provided much (not all but a lot) of the comedy from the previous film. While Olaf still functions as the comedic relief, and even though he does have some of the funnier moments of this film, it feels like the humor is spread out more evenly throughout the cast. This makes the comedy feel more organic. Anna, Kristoff, and many of the new characters all get a few laughs in. Two new characters, Lieutenant Mattias, voiced wonderfully by Sterling K. Brown, and Ryder, voiced by Jason Ritter, aren’t on the screen much but they each have a handful of memorable moments that help them stand out in this sequel.

Frozen II is unsurprisingly done in an animation style very similar to that of Frozen. However, everything just looks… better. Similar but better. The character models look better and feel like they have more expression, Elsa’s ice powers look better and seriously jaw-dropping at moments, the environments look better and almost life-like. Just like most of the last film is spent in the snow, most of this film is spent in the Enchanted Forest, and the Forest look absolutely stunning. If you’ve ever been in the woods, particularly during the autumn months, you’ll know how vivid it can be, with a wide range of colors and textures. This film captures all of that in great detail. From the various colors of the leaves to the greens of the grass and moss to the grays of rocks and to the clear blue streams. Once again, the Disney animation studio has outdone themselves.

Every sequel should build on and expand the world from the film(s) before it and continue to evolve the characters. Both sisters grow considerably. Elsa’s journey takes her on a path of discovery about her powers and herself more so than the previous film. At the end of Frozen, she learns to embrace her powers and that they are not something to be feared. Throughout this movie, she embraces her powers even more. Of the two, Anna displays the most change and growth. I don’t want to spoil anything but she goes through a dramatic change that is perfect for her character and will serve as an inspiration for many young children. When we meet Olaf at the beginning, he has begin questioning the world in a more mature way than his more innocent and naive self of the last film. It’s played for comedy but is exciting to watch. As for Kristoff, we get to see how his feelings for Anna have deepened but it feels like his character does not quite have as drastic an arc as some of the other characters.

Out of everything I have talked about up to this point, I think what I appreciate most about this film is how well it rounds out and completes the story of Frozen. As I just talked about, the two central sisters go through tremendous character growth, especially if we look at where they started in Frozen. It’s awe-inspiring how much the writers were able to accomplish in just two films. While the movie could potentially have a threequel (even if Disney decided to actually make a third theatrical film for one of their animated franchises), I feel like the story is complete enough that a third outing is not needed nor would it be necessary.

I thought Frozen II was GOOD πŸ™‚ Despite all my positive comments, there are still a few flaws that can be found. However, those are minor compared to everything else I enjoyed in this film. There is a larger sense of adventure this time around and even more excitement than Frozen. While I usually feel most Disney animated films do not require sequels, this is an instance where I am extremely glad this sequel was made. Building on where the characters ended in the previous movie, this movie expands on them even further. WhereΒ Frozen II really shines is when it’s taken as a whole withΒ Frozen. Together, they tell a complete and complementary story, making both films better in the process.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Chris Buck – Director / Story
Jenifer Lee – Director / Screenplay / Story
Marc Smith – Story
Kristen Anderson-Lopez – Story / Original Songs
Robert Lopez – Story / Original Songs
Christophe Beck – Composer

Idina Menzel – Elsa (voice)
Kristen Bell – Anna (voice)
Josh Gad – Olaf (voice)
Jonathan Groff – Kristoff (voice)
Evan Rachel Wood – Queen Iduna (voice)
Alfred Molina – King Agnarr (voice)
Sterling K. Brown – Lieutenant Mattias (voice)
Martha Plimpton – Yelana (voice)
Jason Ritter – Ryder (voice)
Rachel Matthews – Honeymaren (voice)
Jeremy Sisto – King Runeard (voice)
Ciaran Hinds – Pabbie (voice)
Alan Tudyk – Northuldra Leader (voice)
Mattea Conforti – Young Elsa (voice)
Hadley Gannaway – Young Ana (voice)
Aurora – The Voice (voice)

The Lion King (2019) Review

The Lion King (2019) movie posterSynopsis
Simba (JD McCrary/Donald Glover) is the prince of the Pride Lands. When his father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones) dies in a tragic accident, Simba flees until his responsibilities to his pride draw him back.

Review
As a kid, I watched a lot of the animated The Lion King, not nearly as much as Aladdin or Toy Story, but still quite a bit. Of the three live-action remakes Disney released this year, this was the one I was most worried about. How can you add to an already amazing story? The answer is apparently you can’t. I mentioned in my review of the live-action Aladdin that the remakes of the more recent films remain largely the same as the animated versions and this film is the biggest culprit of that. While the film itself runs an extra half hour longer than the 1994 version, the story and characters are exact mirrors of their animated counterparts. One of my criteria for a remake being worthwhile is if it brings something new. Usually I’m referring to the story or characters but this movie does bring something new: showcasing the realism possible with animation today.

I hesitate to call this film β€œlive-action” because it is all computer generated. If a movie tries to use a lot of CGI and it’s not great CGI, it can take the audience out of it. However, despite every character being CGI, it never once took me out of the experience. Everything seemed so real and life-like I’m very impressed. This film will have you questioning whether or not you are watching live animals and not computer generated ones. While this being seeped in this level of realism is breathtaking, it unfortunately comes with some downsides. For one, it is really difficult to tell the lion characters apart. Like the animated version, the characters have different shades of fur but this time, they are so similar, it can be hard to discern them apart, particularly during any kind of fast movement. Another downside is the CGI animals are also less expressive than what 2D animation provided their predecessors. Animal faces naturally don’t have the same range of displaying emotions as human faces. Cartoon can circumvent this pitfall but such a realistic looking movie such as this cannot get around this shortcoming so easily.

I thought The Lion King was GOOD πŸ™‚ Much like the Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin live-action remakes, this remake follows the story of the animated version very closely, even more so than the others. That being said, it is a good story and this film does show off beautiful life-like animation. But the lack of individuality prevents it from receiving my same rating as the original.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Jon Favreau – Director
Jeff Nathanson – Screenplay
Hans Zimmer – Composer

Donald Glover – Simba (voice)
Beyonce – Nala (voice)
James Earl Jones – Mufasa (voice)
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Scar (voice)
John Kani – Rafiki (voice)
John Oliver – Zazu (voice)
Billy Eichner – Timon (voice)
Seth Rogen – Pumbaa (voice)
Alfre Woodard – Sarabi (voice)
Florence Kasumba – Shenzi (voice)
Keegan-Michael Key – Kamari (voice)
Eric Andre – Azizi (voice)
JD McCrary – Young Simba (voice)
Shahadi Wright Joseph – Young Nala (voice)

Aladdin (2019) Review

Aladdin movie posterSynopsis
With the help of the magical Genie of the lamp (Will Smith), Aladdin (Mena Massoud) becomes a prince to impress Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott). Meanwhile, the royal vizier Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is also trying to get his hand’s on the magic lamp to use Genie’s magic for his own nefarious purposes.

Review
I’ve been feeling conflicted about these live-action remakes Disney has been releasing these last few years and plan to release in the foreseeable future. On one hand, I enjoy seeing these wonderful animated classics realized and interpreted into live-action versions of themselves. On the other, most of them are so beloved that it will be hard to top the originals for most audiences. For me, I grew up on the 1992 Aladdin, and is so ingrained in my history as a cinefile that I highly doubted this remake would do anything to surpass it. However, not one to dismiss a film before I watch it, I went into the theater with an open mind and ended up leaving pleased.

One thing that Disney has been nailing (mostly anyway) about these remakes are the leads. Firstly, Naomi Scott is absolutely stunning as Princess Jasmine. She updates the character to be more than just a damsel looking to escape the confines of the palace. Scott’s Jasmine is confident and determined, characteristics seen in her animated counterpart but Scott takes that foundation and elevates Jasmine to whole new heights. Her song, β€œSpeechless,” perfectly captures Jasmine’s spirit and is nailed by Scott. β€œSpeechless” is bound to become a classic Disney song belted at the top of their lungs by many.

The titular character is played by Mena Massoud. While he doesn’t capture the same spirit of his character the same way Scott captured the character of hers, Massoud plays the part well; he captures the charm of Aladdin well enough. He also has good chemistry with his co-stars, especially Scott and Will Smith. I’d say his biggest weakness is he doesn’t have the same singing chops as Scott or Smith. Songs like β€œOne Jump Ahead” or his parts in β€œA Whole New World” lack the same energy of Brad Kane, Aladdin’s singing voice actor in the animated version.

Leading up to this film’s release, there had been a lot of talk as Will Smith as Genie. Robin Williams famously voiced Genie in the animated version and brought his unique energy and comedy to the character. Smith smartly didn’t try to emulate Williams. Instead, he played Genie in a very Will Smith way, creating a different kind of Genie that worked within the context of the film. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that Smith doesn’t become the characters, the characters become Smith. Smith’s Genie is still larger-than-life and zany but doesn’t have the pizzazz of Williams’ Genie. Instead, Smith’s Genie is infused with Smith’s hip-hop and brand of comedy you’ve come to know and love over the years. While it garnered some criticism when he was announced to be playing the character, Smith’s Genie, like Williams’ before him, is one of the most entertaining and exciting aspects of this film.

I don’t bring up a film’s production design much in my reviews but dammit was this film gorgeous. The streets of Agrabah were filled with all sorts of vivid colors. Most of the time here is spent following Aladdin as he travels and runs through it. Another viewing just to pick out more details in the streets and bazaars would be worth it. Then the palace is even more extravagant. The architecture and set design is unlike any other. Last but not least are the costumes. Like the rest of Agrabah, they are bright and lavish. Jasmine’s outfits in particular are dazzling and truly fitting of a princess.

As for the film’s villain, Jafar left me wanting. Marwan Kenzari wasn’t bad in the role, he just wasn’t the right fit for it. He doesn’t have the menace the animated Jafar is known for. Like Jasmine, Jafar’s backstory and character was expanded on but unlike Jasmine, his changes don’t add much to the character, only seeming have been added to make a scene in the latter part of the film work better. Kenzari’s Jafar simply lacked the iconography that made the animated Jafar such a great villain.

Like the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast, and as this year’s The Lion King live-action remake appears to, Aladdin follows the animated source material pretty closely. Jasmine and Jafar are given more backstory and Genie gets his own love interest in Jasmine’s handmaiden Dalia, played by the humorous Nasim Pedrad, but if you’ve seen the Disney Renaissance version, then you’ll know exactly every story beat and exactly how the story plays out.

I’ve noticed a trend in these Disney live-action remakes: remakes of older films, such as Dumbo or The Jungle Book, don’t stick so closely to the story of the animated versions they are remaking. But for remakes of more recent films, such as Beauty and the Beast and this, they stay more faithful the the characters and story. I’ve said that for a remake to justify its existence, it needs to provide something new, either with the characters, story, or both. For example, Dumbo, tried to tell a similar but fairly different story as the 1941 Dumbo, or Maleficent told the story of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s perspective. As my feelings on these vary, at least they did enough to warrant their presence. Aladdin, while enjoyable, doesn’t do enough to properly answer the question β€œwhy?”

I thought Aladdin was GOOD πŸ™‚ I had mixed feelings about one of my favorite Disney animated movies being remade but I went in hoping for the best nonetheless. Even though it doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from the 1992 animated classic, this film still manages to be entertaining. And really, for a remake of a film that is so dear to me, that’s the least I could have hoped for.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Guy Ritchie – Director / Screenplay
John August – Screenplay
Alan Menken – Composer
Benj Pasek – Lyricist
Justin Paul – Lyricist

Mena Massoud – Aladdin
Naomi Scott – Jasmine
Will Smith – Genie
Marwan Kenzari – Jafar
Navid Negahban – Sultan
Nasim Pedrad – Dalia
Numan Acar – Hakim
Alan Tudyk – Iago (voice)
Frank Welker – Cave of Wonders (voice)

Dumbo (2019) Review

Dumbo (2019) movie posterSynopsis
A young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly, helps save a struggling circus, but when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer. (via IMDb)

Review
Dumbo, Walt Disney’s fourth animated feature, is a beloved film. It tells the story of a baby elephant who is ridiculed for is enlarged ears but learns to embrace his differences and gains the confidence to be himself. When it was announced that this cherished classic was going to be remade with Tim Burton at the helm, I thought he was the best director to bring everyone’s favorite baby pachyderm to live-action. I was mistaken in my assumption.

Until my recent rewatch of the 1941 original, I forgot how bright and colorful the film was. Vivid watercolors brought the world to life. Towards the end of the film is the famous β€œPink Elephants on Parade” sequence. This psychedelic scene is what I remembered most about Dumbo and why I believed Burton was a perfect fit for the remake. However, looking back at the original, as well as Burton’s past filmography, the styles couldn’t be more different. Burton didn’t stray away from his usual visual style so the colors were very neutral and muted. Compared to the source material, it’s a stark contrast.

If you don’t remember, Walt’s Dumbo clocks in at 63 minutes. One reason why it was able to have such a comparatively short run time is because it completely focuses on the titular Dumbo, maintaining a minimal list of side characters. Burton’s take can’t decide if it wants to put the spotlight on Dumbo, elephant trainer Holt Farrier (Collin Farrell), or his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). This lack of focus creates a lack of cohesion. No one character feels fully developed. And in a sense, that doesn’t make Dumbo’s own movie about him. Rather, he is used more as a device to move the story along.

With any remake, there is should be a fresh take on the source material or expansion of the story. Burton opts for the latter. He moves the second half of the movie away from the circus and to an amusement park run by Michael Keaton’s mustache-twirling entertainment mogul VA Vandevere. This creates even more complexity in the story, and attempts add depth to Danny DeVito’s character, making the story even less focused.

I should probably at least talk about some of the things I like before you think I’m eviscerating the film. Even with not knowing who exactly to focus its attention on, it does tell its story through Milly and Joe. This works well because it allows the audience to see and experience the awe of a flying elephant through a child’s point-of-view.

Dumbo, along with the other CGI animals, all look fantastic. Burton does have an eye for grandeur, so both the circus environment and Vandevere’s amusement park, aptly called Dreamland, feel big and boisterous. Despite my feelings about Burton’s style for the film, his style was well suited to make an elephant fly and the environments feel fantastical.

I thought Dumbo was OK 😐 I don’t mean to compare it to the 1941 original so much but when Disney’s goal is explicitly to adapt their animated classic into live-action, it’s hard not to. And when you compare the two, there really is no comparison. I do appreciate Tim Burton’s effort to add to the original story and adding his own style to it. Unfortunately, in doing so, he removed much of what makes the original so timeless and revered.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Tim Burton – Director
Ehren Kruger – Screenplay
Danny Elfman – Composer

Collin Farrell – Holt Farrier
Nico Parker – Milly Farrier
Finley Hobbins – Joe Farrier
Danny DeVito – Max Medici
Michael Keaton – VA Vandevere
Eva Green – Colette Marchant
Alan Arkin – J. Griffin Remington
Roshan Seth – Pramesh Singh
Deobia Oparei – Rongo
Sharon Rooney – Miss Atlantis