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 “second 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 “Oh yeah, I remember that.” It shouldn’t take multiple viewings to make moments stand out.

I thought Onward was GOOD 🙂 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)

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 “Let 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. “Into the Unknown” is bound to become this film’s “Let 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 “Some Things Never Change,” he gets his own song in “Lost 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 🙂 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. Where Frozen II really shines is when it’s taken as a whole with 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)

Playing with Fire Review

Playing with Fire movie posterSynopsis
Jake Carson (John Cena) and his crew are an elite squad of smoke jumpers but when they rescue Brynn (Brianna Hildebrand) and her two siblings, they realize fighting fires might be easier than taking care of three children.

Review
When going into Playing with Fire, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. Family comedies can be hit or miss for older audience members. However, I was intrigued given it starred Keegan-Michael Key, one of my favorite comedic actors at the moment, so I was willing to check it out. In the end, I found it to be a lot of fun.

One good thing about this film is no matter your age, there are plenty of laughs to be had. For me, Key steals the movie with his performance. As I’ve said before, I am a huge fan of his skit show, Key and Peele, and he channels much of that same energy into his performance in this film. He also had great chemistry with everyone around him, particularly John Cena, which only makes him even better. Speaking of Cena, his performance as the buff leader was entertaining but many of his jokes or gags fell short for me. I haven’t seen many of his other comedic roles but based on his performance here I felt he was eclipsed by some of the other actors. Besides Key and Cena, the rest of the cast also each had their moments, generating a fair number of laughs throughout the film.

As for the story, it was fairly predictable. It treads similar ground of movies like Vin Diesel’s The Pacifier, where the premise is taking muscular men and putting them in charge of or taking care of young children, clearly being out of their element. Playing with Fire also incorporates gags seen in many other films before, such as one character being silent for most of the film then shocks everybody when they finally open their mouth or the tough guy not getting the hint the girl likes him. So don’t expect any new ground to be covered.

Despite the unoriginal story, this movie has a big heart. What Cena lacks in the comedy, he makes up for with warmth and genuineness. His moments with Judy Greer, and Brianna Hildebrand in particular, form the emotional backbone of the film. Cena’s Jake Carson also isn’t just a pretty face. He receives a lot of development that is well explored for a 90-minute family comedy.

I thought Playing with Fire was GOOD 🙂 While it’s not entirely original and fairly predictable, this movie doesn’t try to take itself seriously and the cast’s dynamic makes it fun and entertaining. If you go in with an open mind and don’t take the film too seriously, like the actors, you might find something about it to enjoy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Andy Fickman – Director
Dan Ewen – Writer
Matt Lieberman – Writer
Nathan Wang – Composer

John Cena – Jake ‘Supe’ Carson
Keegan-Michael Key – Mark
John Leguizamo – Rodrigo
Tyler Mane – Axe
Judy Greer – Dr. Amy Hicks
Brianna Hildebrand – Brynn
Christian Convery – Will
Finley Rose Slater – Zoey
Dennis Haysbert – Commander Richards