Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 9) – Sleepover / Gift of the Card

starep29-0

When it came to this week’s episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil, many online got very excited upon seeing a teaser clip, posted by DisneyXD.

Past clips usually just give some weird blurb about what may happen, but the clip for this week’s episode, posited a portion of a question within the show, leaving many (most of them fanshippers) to speculate like mad on what was in store. Anticipation continued when a few people who worked on the show, tweeted that the segments included in this episode, were some of their favorites!

So, enough chit-chat. Let’s dive in!

__________

starep29-1

– Sleepover –

Star throws a sleepover party with Ponyhead, Janna, Jackie Lynn Thomas, and StarFan13 in attendance. When Ponyhead notices Marco trying to put the moves on Jackie (whom he has a secret crush on!), she decides they should all play a game called “Truth or Punishment.” Pretty soon, everyone is eager to tell the truth…at first.

One of the strong suits of any segment of Star, is to twist around the ordinary into the extra-ordinary, and that’s definitely the case here. We’ve all heard the stories about slumber parties and girls playing “truth or dare” before. Of course, in the case of this sleepover, we get a party with some inter-dimensional twists and turns.

These days, it feels rare to find a segment in Star’s Season 2 that feels satisfyingly balanced regarding its humor, and advancing some underlying story threads. In the case of Sleepover, the showrunners give us one of the most entertaining segments since Mr Candle Cares!

Sleepover also continues adding more development to supporting characters like Janna, but also opens the door further with others like Jackie Lynn Thomas, and StarFan13 (though one has to wonder if Star may need to get a restraining order on her soon). Much like Goblin Dogs, this is an ensemble story, where the majority of the segment depends on everyone participating. Fortunately, this thread of using multiple characters doesn’t get as messy as some past segments, such as Interdimensional Field Trip.

Personally, I was very satisfied that Jackie and Marco got a bit more interaction, that extended beyond just a few seconds here or there in previous segments this season. Plus, we get a few fun scenes of Marco trying to impress her (in a decidedly retro way at one point).

The “Truth or Punishment” ‘game’ I found to be a fun, manipulative foil, almost on the same level as the Monster Arm from the Season 1 episode of the same name. From the beginning, one figures that things will spiral out-of-hand, but like most segments, what it leads to can never fully be expected.

While most of the story works really well, the resolving of the main plot thread, gets a bit flimsy…though for many who watch Sleepover, they’ll probably sear the final moments into their minds for a very long time, and remember little else about this very entertaining segment.

starep29-2

Best line from segment (said by Janna): I just hate contributing to gender stereotypes.

Final Grade: B+

__________

starep29-3

– Gift of the Card –

While going through Marco’s wallet(!), Star finds an unused Quest Buy gift card, and pressures him to use it right away. However, upon going to the inter-dimensional department store, they find that the purchase of the card, contains some very specific fine print. And to top it off, Marco is very choosy about what he wants to use the gift card on.

At the same time, the former head of St Olga’s School for Wayward Princesses, Ms Heinous, assigns a bounty hunting lizard-creature named Rasticore, to track down Star and Marco.

During my review of the segment Quest Buy in Season 1, I had wondered if we’d ever see the store again, and this segment surprised me with the return to its maze-like aisles…though much like the Season 1 episode it was showcased in, there’s little time to show Star and Marco getting lost in its labyrinthine structure.

Like previous segments, the writers again take on an Earth-dimension custom (in this case, the giving and use of a gift card), and manage to twist it into a story idea that I don’t think anyone really saw coming. Some will probably find what goes into the Quest Buy gift card a bit hard to fathom, but I found the unraveling of just what Star had purchased, to be the gift that kept on giving regarding plot twists.

Much like Marco’s irritation with wet socks, his indecision on what to buy is something I could definitely relate to. Many a Christmas or Birthday-related gift card has often sat untouched by me, until I deemed something worthy of its value. In fact, Marco’s line that he uses to defend his stance, is something I intend to start using soon!

While the Quest Buy portion of the segment stays entertaining, the subplot regarding Heinous and Rasticore, felt like a letdown.

With his imposing voice and physique (not to mention a chainsaw variation on dimensional scissors!), Rasticore looked to be a new fan-favorite character (heck, he shows up in the new Season 2 opening title image!). Pretty quickly however, it is shown that he’s little more than the Boba Fett of this segment (if you’ve seen the original Star Wars trilogy, you can probably figure out what I mean by that).

The segment almost approached the ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ levels of story-jumbling, by adding Heinous and Rasticore to the plot, but where that side-story just feels tacked on, the questing and ticking-clock mechanism of Gift of the Card, makes it more entertaining than it probably should be.

starep29-4

Best line from segment (said by Marco Diaz): I’m not picky! I’m just…highly selective!

Final Grade: B

__________

starep29-5

Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Marco Diaz, in Gift of the Card): GET OUTTA TOWN!!

With episode 9 of Season 2, I found myself very surprised, and highly entertained! So far, this is the first episode that had two segments, that I felt I could largely enjoy back-to-back. So much of this season has felt like I get one good segment, and one ‘meh’ segment per episode.

Sleepover brings together multiple characters, in a twisted slice-of-life tale, that manages to be fun, while also advancing certain traits regarding a few of our characters.

Gift of the Card returns us to a familiar Season 1 location, and has some fun with the relatable dilemma of decisions and gifting. However, its subplot tying into the St Olga’s Reform School episode from Season 1, feels like it should have been its own story, rather than used as extra filler/pieces for this segment.

On a final note, I was surprised to see Janna appearing in both segments! After three segments in a row (including last week’s titled Girls’ Day Out), are we due to see Janna even more often than before? I guess we’ll have to see what next week will bring.

__________

starep29-6

Left poster by Sabrina Cotugno, Right poster by Becky Dreistadt

(Next week’s episode, returns with some familiar faces, and yanks at some loose plot threads. In the first segment titled “Friend-enemies,”  Star’s ex-boyfriend Tom returns to our dimension, but is looking for Marco this time! And, in the segment “Is Mystery,” Buff Frog sets out to investigate the forcefield hole left in the Mewman’s cornfield, as seen in the segment, “On the Job.” It’s probably a sure thing Buff will have an encounter with a familiar face…the big question is, what will happen next? See you guys back here in 7 days!)

Episode Review: Star vs The Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 8) – Game of Flags / Girls’ Day Out

starep28-0

With last week’s episode, Star vs the Forces of Evil returned to entertain us once again, after a short hiatus.

While Star and Marco continued to build their friendship by going on an inter-dimensional adventure, we also got some additional drama, when we finally saw Ludo and Star meet again.

It was definitely a way to get us re-energized, and the titles of this week’s episode segments, definitely got the fandom’s blood pumping for more.

__________

starep28-1

-Game of Flags-

Star invites Marco to her Royal Family’s yearly get-together, which quickly devolves into a shouting match, before the adults rush off to play a game of ‘flags!’

Star eagerly wants to participate, but her Mother forbids it…leading to Star finding her own way into the game.

For much of Season 2, most of Mewni has been seen from the point-of-view of Ludo, or other monsters/creatures, on the outskirts of the planet’s kingdom.With this segment, we get deeper introspection into the Royal Family, which like most, is quite dysfunctional.

There is a sub-theme about being stuck at the kiddie table, when you want to be doing cool things like the adults. Much like past sub-themes that dealt with the problems of wet socks, or juice pouches, this theme feels like something that is ‘grounded’ in a relatable way that many viewers can relate to (we’ve all sat at ‘the kiddie table’ at family get-togethers, at least once in our lives!).

What’s notable about this segment, is that we get to see both sides of Star’s family, with her Mother’s relations being very aristocratic, and her Father’s relations somewhat barbaric in nature (along with finding our the King’s last name!). This leads one to wonder just why and how Star’s parents ended up together…was it a way to end some territorial dispute, was it love…or something else?

Star’s father is quite one-note in this segment, though one of my viewing wishes came true, when we got to see more of Star’s mother, AND see her have some one-on-one interactions with Star! This is probably some of the most ‘caring’ we’ve seen the Queen of Mewni be towards her daughter, since that teensy bit in the season finale, Storm the Castle.

The segment also has a minor mention regarding Mewnian corn, which makes one wonder if the show writers are attempting to make this a semi-important segment (maybe Star’s relatives will return later on in the season, for a possible confrontation with Ludo?).

It feels like Game of Flags may be a distant cousin to last season’s Mewnipendence Day segment. Both deal with Star confronting something about her family’s royal history, and actually looking at it from a different perspective…which causes her to re-evaluate her own views.

It never digs too deep, but Game of Flags’ reveal on more of Star’s relations, let alone its little asides to how even being an adult does not necessarily make you mature, makes it one of the few really good segments so far this season!

starep28-2

Best line from segment (said by Queen Butterfly): I did a lot of things you won’t be doing.

Final Grade: B

__________

starep28-3

-Girls’ Day Out-

After freeing her homeroom class’ pet hamster out of sheer boredom, Star is put in detention, while Marco is tasked with getting back the runaway hamster (named Marisol).

While Marco deals with his task, Star is made the unofficial ‘Mayor’ of detention by a girl named Janna, and they set out to make their detention time a little more enjoyable.

The subplot about Marco recovering Marisol feels like previous segments, where the writers have to find some way to keep Marco in the story, even though it could have functioned just fine as a solo Star Butterfly adventure. Even involving the teacher Ms Skullnick feels a little forced (though we at least get to hear what her first name is).

During Season 1 of the series, Janna became a break-out supporting character in the series, and since then, the showrunners have slipped her irreverence into a few different segments. She seems to delight in subtle manipulation, but much like a trickster, it’s hard to tell if she just really likes messing with people, or if she does this just to see how they react to her weirdness.

Most of the time, Janna’s characterization seems pretty enigmatic, and it can be hard to tell what she does and doesn’t care about. If anything, maybe most of what she does, is to relieve her own boredom of a pretty normal outside world. Her most notable role in the segment, comes when she has to take the lead from Star, in asking Oskar Greeson for help (given that Star has become tongue-tied just at the sight of Oskar!).

The segment feels like it takes its time setting up the stakes, before 3/4 of the way through, it finally starts to get exciting. However, the momentum just never feels like it holds through, making it feel very ‘flimsy’ at times, as the writers seem to be trying to keep the jist of Star/Janna interactions afloat. Plus, one could easily see Star solving several of the story’s problems with magic, though if that were the case, the segment would be over pretty quickly.

Girls’ Day Out’s title also feels a  little odd, given that I would have expected a bit more ‘out’ in the overall story. Maybe it could have used a snappier play-on-words title, like Coup D’etention, given Star and Jenna’s machinations in the segment to turn the tables on what detention is for the small group of troublemakers.

I have noted in the past, that I welcome more character-building segments, that could possibly involve the students around Echo Creek Academy, but Girls’ Day Out felt more like ‘filler’ to me. While we get a bit more time with Janna, it definitely feels like the weaker of this week’s two segments, when put next to the universe-expanding storytelling on display, in Game of Flags.

starep28-4

Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): WE’RE ALL BORED!!

Final Grade: B

__________

starep28-5

Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Star Butterfly, in Game of Flags): I’m sorry I tried to trick you with my corn-twin…

So far in Season 2, it’s been hit-or-miss when it comes to enjoyable segments that keep a good pace, AND advance our knowledge of the world of our characters.

With Game of Flags, additional insight is given into the world of Star’s Royal heritage, let alone gives us a character-building story that allows her to grow in her own way. Though the game seems to fly by very quickly, the introspection of Queen Butterfly during the course of the segment, helps give it its unique flavor.

Girls’ Day Out sounded like a fun concept, but tying it into a school-related segment, it dawdles and just never feels fully fleshed out. Marco’s subplot feels like it could have been dropped, in favor of just focusing on Star and Janna, whose ‘mission’ part of the segment, is the only part that really made me take notice.

__________

starep28-6

Poster Art by Becky Dreistadt.

(Next week’s episode, has been gaining some excitement, given several of the show creators on Twitter, have called it their favorite episode so far this season.  The first segment, “Sleep Over,” looks to involve quite a few of the supporting cast (including Jackie Lynn Thomas!), though the title design and the strange box make one wonder what is up. The next segment, “Gift of the Card,” is the more intriguing of the two posters, notably with the jewel-eyed lizard-creature, whom we’ve seen so far in the Season 2 opener. See you guys back here in 7 days!)

Movie Review: Blair Witch

bw0

1999 was a year that stands out in a number of ways, when it comes to film. Not only did we get a new Star Wars episode, and an amazing sequel to PIXAR’s first animated feature, but a little indie company by the name of Artisan Entertainment, took us by surprise that summer, with The Blair Witch Project.

Claimed to be the edited footage of a lost expedition to explore the legends of a haunted area of The Black Hills forest in Maryland, a clever internet marketing campaign, had some believing that the film’s found-footage was real.

The economically-budgeted hand-held film, would go on to become Artisan‘s most successful release, grossing more than $140 million that summer.

The studio quickly started work on a sequel, and a year after the first film, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was released. However, Shadows tanked, and talk of a third Blair Witch film, quickly evaporated.

Then, at Comic-Con this year, many were surprised when a new film being touted as The Woods, was actually revealed to be a new continuation of the film series.

The news was greeted with some excitement, rekindling memories of the first film for many, including myself.

__________

20 years after the group in the first Blair Witch film disappeared, a mysterious DV recording pops up on Youtube, claiming to be recently-found footage, possibly revealing more clues about the Blair Witch mystery.

One viewer of the footage, is a man named James (James Allen McCune), who is convinced that it contains visual proof that his sister Heather (who was with the group that disappeared in the first film), is still alive.

bw1

The film’s cast. L to R: Brandon Scott, Corbin Reid, James Allen McCune, Valorie Curry, and Wes Reid.

Gathering some of his friends, they head off to the Black Hills forest, equipped with all sorts of cameras and recording items (including a mini-drone). Along the way, they pick up two Burkittsville residents who found the DV tape, and are also fans of the Blair Witch legend.

However, once they make their way into the woods, things definitely start to get out-of-hand…

__________

Unlike the 1999 film, Blair Witch is put together by a new filmmaking team.Written by Simon Berrett, and directed by Adam Wingard, these two have run tag-team on a number of horror films in the last few years (including hand-held segments on the V/H/S/ film anthology). What they bring to the table with this film, almost feels like what I imagine some expected Book of Shadows to be.

One major problem I had while watching the film, is that it soon had my brain thinking of other found-footage films, which contained some familiar story points I’d seen before. A few of these films that came to mind, were Mr Jones, and Devil’s Pass. If you’ve seen those films, I’m pretty sure you’ll be seeing some similarities like I was.

An annoyance that Wingard seems to also delight in before the real ‘meat’ of the story, are constant loud sound effects, as we switch on and off certain cameras, and their footage. It feels like he’s trying to get in a few cheap jump scares, and it almost makes one wonder who (film-wise) edited this footage together.

Over the years, a number of persons have come up with theories as to what could have happened to the first film’s group, and one theory online intrigued me enough, that I wondered if the film would run with it…and, for the most part, it did! Once one character spouted one line, the film had me hooked to see where it would go.

Of course, the filmmakers don’t stray too far from the first film, and we are given some touchstones, that brought to mind certain remembrances I hadn’t been thinking of in years. For a few, there is a sense of the familiar…but with a twist!

While we do get a few comedy moments from James’ friend Peter (Brendan Scott), much of the cast is pretty ‘regular.’ Though in a surprising way, much like the cast of It Follows, they never develop the kind of traits that make you eager to see them killed off.

Storywise, I was disappointed that we didn’t get more focus on James’ predicament. One almost expects him to explain more about his sister’s disappearance and how it affected his life, but that’s largely left to our imagination. There’s so little talk about Heather after awhile, that you almost forget the search through the woods, is about her.

On a more positive note, the film gets the obligatory argument scenes out of the way quickly (it isn’t a found-footage film without at least a few of those).

In a way, Blair Witch seems to be to The Blair Witch Project, what Terminator: Genisys was to Terminator 2: Judgement Day: a modern reconfiguration of a film series, that attempts to excise some of the less popular ‘chapters,’ and mess with our familiarity of the series.

Seeing the film, I was reminded of a question I’ve often wondered regarding these found-footage films: who are the people in these worlds that find these pieces of film, and edit them together? Is there some secret group whose sole purpose is to uncover hidden footage, leak it to the public, then leave cryptic messages about how they are ‘exposing the truth?’

Now that could be a film idea worth exploring.

__________

Final Grade: B- (“Blair Witch” plays like a heightened version of the first film, but the added intricacies of what goes on in the Black Hills forest, is what kept the ‘mystery box’ appealing to me. The characters are relatively neutral, and the filmmakers’ constant attempts to keep jump-scaring us can get a little lame. However, where the film takes us, shows there could be enough to still keep us guessing, about what is going on out in the woods.)

Episode Review: Star vs The Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 7) – Goblin Dogs / By The Book

starep27-0

Boy, that hiatus felt like it went on forever!

The good news is, we’re due for a number of Star vs The Forces of Evil episodes for a few more weeks now, though it stands to be seen how long this will last (if I know Disney, another hiatus can’t be too far down the road!).

But, let’s not think about that now. We’ve got a new episode (with two new segments) to review!

__________

starep27-1

-Goblin Dogs-

At the request of Flying Princess Pony Head, Star and Marco go to another dimension, in order to taste one of the most talked-about food sensations: The Goblin Dog! However, their road to getting one of the coveted meat products, may be a bit rockier than they imagined.

With a journey to obtain a much sought-after item, I seriously expected this segment to turn into The Banagic Incident. Luckily, that wasn’t the case.

Though Marco and Star do figure into the story (along with Pony Head’s green-haired friend, Kelly), the segment feels like it is moreso channeling a story about keeping together as a group, through thick-and-thin.

Seeing how the writers and the showrunners handle the modern-day horror of standing in long lines, I couldn’t help but be reminded of some of my own lengthy stands (such as in comic convention lines, or going to Disneyland). I’m sure the writers dipped deep into their own well of past experiences for this segment.

Jenny Slate returns to voice Pony Head, her character’s first appearance after being freed from St Olga’s School for Wayward Princesses. It almost seems like that experience has done her some good, as Pony Head is not as abrasive as she was before, and actually made me chuckle quite a bit in this segment. Plus, she provides some added story on what has become of the imposing institution.

When it comes to Goblin Dogs, the creature holding the keys to them, is a little goblin named Roy (voiced by Jerry Trainor). Jerry voices Roy, almost like a combination of an internet troll, and Gene Wilder’s take on Willy Wonka. Half-the-time, it’s hard to tell if Roy is being genuine, or if he’s just trying to get our goat.

Like other segments, there is a very minor subplot interspersed into this segment, and this one deals with lying. However, it comes and goes, almost like an unneeded afterthought.

Much like Star vs Echo Creek, the fun in this segment, was seeing just where all the twists and turns on the journey, would lead. If you’re like me, the last few minutes will stick in your mind (though I can’t tell you why).

starep27-2

Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): Oh come on, Marco! Pony Head didn’t mean that. She’s just a liar!

Final Segment Grade: B

__________

starep27-3

-By The Book-

Back on the planet Mewni, Ludo is still attempting to get the hang of using his new wand. However, he soon thinks that a trip to Earth may be just what the ‘wand’ ordered.

On Earth, Glossaryck of Terms is attempting to get Star Butterfly to learn new spells, via her enormous tome of an instruction manual. However, Star’s attention-span is not eager to do these lessons, and she ends up accidentally insulting Glossaryck, who soon refuses to emerge from a box of donuts.

By the Book joins past segments like Wand to Wand, as we see more about what has become of the Mewnian Royal Sceptre, now that it has been cleaved in two.

Most notable about this segment, is that Glossaryck ‘almost’ attempts to make an effort to assist and train Star. Though it’s clearly opposite day, as he’s attempting to get something done, and Star is being counter-productive.

The attempts to get Glossaryck to become pro-active again, may put some in mind of the antics from last season’s segment, Cheer Up, Star. However, they aren’t quite as humorous.

Star’s personality in this one almost reminded me of her youthful stubbornness from Star On Wheels, given that for much of the segment, she doesn’t want to do something, before finally giving the idea a try at the end…and finding out the thing she was against doing, actually can help in big ways.

What really made my eyes go wide, was that after 7 episodes, we finally got to see Ludo and Star face off…though it wasn’t quite the massive magic match-up that I had hoped for. If anything, it shows how the cleaving of the wand has affected the power contained in both halves of the star-shaped symbol.

Plus, there is the rather ominous addition that the wand can now ‘talk’ to Ludo. As we’ve seen in previous episodes, a miniature unicorn powers Star’s wand…so who (or what) is powering Ludo’s wand?

The storyteller’s attempts to tie together more information about the wand, with some minor character-building for Glossaryck, almost works, but it still feels like the storytelling is trying hard to tie everything together in a nice little package.

starep27-4

Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): We’re friends! I just don’t have, ‘fun’ with you!

Final Segment Grade: B

__________

starep27-5

Best honorable mention line from episode (said by buff female creature in line for Goblin Dog): In mah mouth! I want it in mah mow-!

Episode 7 of Season 2, seems to continue the trend of trying to steer us away from the rather random storytelling of Season 1, with one segment acting as a puzzle-piece to what is hopefully going to be an exciting end-game for the season.

Goblin Dogs is a decent group segment, that fills us in on what Pony Head has been up to, while also giving us some relatable real-world situations, but taking place in another dimension.

By the Book brings Glossaryck of Terms a bit more into the spotlight, which becomes a battle against the segment’s second storyline, with Ludo facing off against Star, pitting their wands against each other.

__________

(Next week’s episode, by the looks of some poster art on creator Daron Nefcy’s Twitter account, looks to take a break from the current Ludo-based subplot. First up, is “Game of Flags,” which appears to possibly involve barbarians, with some form of ‘capture the flag’ antics(?). This will be accompanied by “Girls’ Day Out,” and with fan-favorite supporting character Janna on the poster image, it looks like she’ll be getting one of her biggest appearances since “Interdimensional Field Trip” last season. See you guys back here in 7 days!)

An Animated Dissection: The Growth of “Spirited Away’s” Bou

bou0

Even after 15 years, I feel there’s still plenty of things to find in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. At the time of its release, it quickly gained fame for being the first film to unseat James Cameron’s Titanic from the top of the Japanese box-office heap (and it’s held that distinction ever since!).

When I saw the film for the first time, I was mesmerized at all the twists and turns that were presented! This wasn’t a ‘safe’ animated feature, but one where you truly felt that the lead character Chihiro, could very well find herself trapped forever in this other-world.

My observations on the film’s enigmatic No-Face have been one of my most-read blog postings, but it seems that almost every character in the film could be put under the microscope. Today, I decided to look at one of the film’s biggest characters, and how meeting with Chihiro, changed him.

__________

Once the film’s focus shifts to the Spirit World, Chihiro’s journey surely reminded many Western minds of similar journeys, such as Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, or Dorothy’s to the land of Oz.

bou1One of the more shocking moments in Spirited, comes when Chihiro and Yubaba get into a shouting match as Chihiro demands she have a job. Suddenly, the room is shaken, before a loud cry is heard. Following this, we see a door splinter, as a giant infant’s foot pushes through it! Yubaba rushes to the shattered doorway, and unseen by us, tells someone to be quiet, raising her voice in a ‘sweet’ tone to whomever she’s talking to.

A few days later, Chihiro finds herself in the other room, which is a giant nursery for Yubaba’s baby, Bou. Though he is a human-sized infant, Bou can reason and speak.

bou2After Chihiro hides from Yubaba under some pillows, Bou grabs her arm, demanding she stay in the nursery and play with him. Bou explains that his Mother says that there are germs and things outside of the nursery that will make him sick, which is countered by Chihiro, claiming that staying where he is and doing nothing will make him sick as well.

She attempts to leave, but Bou threatens to break her arm, and alert his Mother if she doesn’t play with him. Chihiro manages to scare him, showing some blood on her hands.

After throwing a noisy tantrum, Bou follows Chihiro out into the main room, where he once again demands that she play with him, or he’ll start crying. As he starts working up some tears, a little paper ‘bird’ that had followed Chihiro, emerges from behind her. It addresses Bou, telling him to be quiet, and calling him a rather ‘rotund-like’ name.

bou3As everyone watches, a transparent figure emerges from the paper bird, resembling Yubaba (and even Bou calls it by his Mother’s name). The figure then chastises Bou for confusing it with his Mother, before sending a wisp of magic at him, shrinking Bou down into the shape of a portly mouse. It also changes the other denizens of Yubaba’s office around, turning her Yu-bird into a little crow-fly, and her three hopping heads, into a recreation of Bou.

Shortly afterwards, the three heads take advantage of their new body, and start trying to squash the mouse-sized Bou. Luckily, he and the Yu-bird manage to get away, clambering onto Chihiro’s shoulder for safety.

bou15The moment takes a shocking turn when Chihiro, Haku, and the two little creatures fall down a pit that Yubaba’s three heads had been trying to push Haku down mere moments ago! In the descent, the Yu-bird attempts to keep Bou aloft, before Chihiro cradles them in her hand, as the descent quickly becomes a wild ride!

The journey ends when the group crashes into the bathhouse’s boiler room, where Chihiro manages to purge a strange black slug from deep within Haku. In a rather gross moment, she ends up squashing the creature under her foot, leaving a black smudge on the boiler room floor. She freaks out at what she’s done, before the boiler room’s caretaker Kamaji, demands she put her thumbs and forefingers together, and ‘breaking’ them with his hand, declaring the bad luck she has received from killing the slug, is now lifted.

bou4

As Chihiro and Kamaji tend to Haku, Bou and the Yu-bird have been watching the little Soot Sprites gathering around the blackened footprint where the slug once was. Bou goes over, and wandering into the center of the group, re-enacts what Chihiro did. After the ‘cleansing’ move (with one of the soot-sprites acting as Kamaji), Bou raises his paws in the air in triumph, and the little creatures cheer!bou5

The little Sprites delight in the game, but when Chihiro calls them to help her, they quickly abandon Bou, who seems a little sad that his pretend-fame was fleeting.

When next Bou figures into the story, is when Yubaba confronts Chihiro, to take care of No Face. However, the conversation is interrupted when the little Yu-bird lifts Bou before her face, with him giving a little ‘Chu!’ sound, and wiggling his ears.

bou7Obviously, Bou is greeting his Mother in his mouse form, but she just wonders why Chihiro has this ‘ugly mouse’ with her. Chihiro is surprised that Yubaba doesn’t recognize her son in this form, and even Bou is hurt by this, first appearing sad, and then scowling at his Mother.

It’s rather low-key compared to the main story regarding Chihiro, but since his introduction, Bou has slowly been developing as a character. He’s a lot more mobile than before, and he has obviously gotten over his fear of germs, shown by his stepping in the remains of the slug. Though that was pretend-heroism, he gets a chance to shine when it looks like No Face may try to take, and consume Chihiro.bou8

Just when it looks like No Face is going to envelop her head with his outstretched hand, Bou jumps forward, chomping into it! This causes No Face to stop, and attempt to swat the pesky rodent, before the Yu-bird picks up Bou, and returns him to Chihiro’s shoulder. It is Bou’s chance to be a hero on his own merits (albeit small ones), and not requesting glory for it.

bou9Soon after, Bou and the Yu-bird make their way outside of the bathhouse, following Chihiro. We see Bou grow curious at a little bug that clings to the side of a train platform, as well as see his attention being drawn out the window of the train-car, as Chihiro and her companions head to Swamp Bottom, where Yubaba’s twin-sister Zeniiba resides. This is all new to him: the immensity of the Spirit World, must surely pale in comparison to the confining nursery he’s largely known throughout his life. Plus, the immensity of the world at his smaller size, must make his journey an even bigger event in his young mind.

bou10Bou soon after shows another example of selflessness (following his ‘saving’ Chihiro from being consumed by No-Face some time ago). When the group finally gets to Swamp Bottom, the little Yu-bird finally begins to tire of carrying the little mouse around.

After landing on the ground, Bou thinks for a moment, and then begins to walk on his own, carrying the tired little creature without any prompting. Chihiro even offers to put him on her shoulder again, but Bou refuses the offer.

Once the group finally gets to Zeniiba’s place, Chihiro asks her to change Bou and the Yu-bird back to their original forms. Zeniiba informs the two that the spell they were put under can be undone if the changed persons wish to change back. However, both Bou and the Yu-bird refuse (for the moment).

From here on in, Bou takes advantage of his little size, getting some exercise (and spinning thread) on Zeniiba’s spinning wheel, as well as snacking on the cookies she has put out for her guests.

bou11

After this, Bou is even seen learning how to knit, as Zeniiba coaches him and No Face. In fact, some of his new-found skills went into the new headband that Zeniiba presents to Chihiro, with the old woman claiming it is a gift made possible through her new friends.

bou12When it is finally time for everyone to leave, Zeniiba addresses Bou and the Yu-bird, happily requesting they visit her again. Bou actually makes contact with his Aunt, kissing her on the nose (“Chu!”), and waving as the Yu-bird carries him away.

Upon returning to the bathhouse, Bou returns to his previous form. Yubaba is surprised that her child is able to stand on his own, but grows even more surprised when Bou chastises her plans to test Chihiro.

bou13Bou speaks positively of his journey, claiming he had fun. Even though Yubaba tells Bou that the test is part of how their world works, he shocks her when he says he won’t like her anymore, if she makes Sen cry.

His being vocal towards his mother regarding caring about another’s feelings, is a great example of showing how much Bou has matured.

One has to wonder if after this, his baby-ish ways we saw in the beginning of the film, are now a thing of the past. Though he does have a baby’s body, surely what he has been through, may very well shape him into not becoming greedy or arrogant like his mother.

bou14

It should also be noted that on a smaller level, the Yu-bird does not change back to its previous form. Maybe like Bou, it too has grown to understand a few things, and may no longer be a spy and lackey to the bathhouse owner.

__________

And thus, another Animated Dissection regarding Spirited Away has come to a close. Though like I explained earlier, there are still other characters and themes to examine. I wonder what I’ll cover next?

Retro Recaps: The Adventures of Pete and Pete ( Season 3, Episode 4) – Splashdown!

PeteSplash0

As Season 3 of The Adventures of Pete & Pete rolled around, it was plain to see that the town of Wellsville (where the show was set), was changing.

Artie (the strongest Man in the World) had taken leave of (little) Pete, and it seemed that Ellen had just become to (big) Pete what he claimed in the earliest shows: just a girl, and a friend.

The final season of the show, would ping-pong between the older and younger siblings of the Wrigley household, with a few episodes even pitting the two against each other.

Splashdown, would be one of those episodes.

__________

Another Summer is upon Wellsville, and this year, (big) Pete has a job: as junior lifeguard for the Wellsville Municipal Pool! Along with the job, (big) Pete has his eye on 2 things: a beautiful brunette named Linda, and the throne of Senior lifeguard Matt Uplinger: The Krebstar Hydro-Thrustinator 2000.PeteSplash1

Unfortunately, (big) Pete has to pay his dues like all lower ranking “officers” must, by performing menial duties. These including such character-building jobs, like cleaning out the pool after it’s closed for the day.

One evening, Matt informs (big) Pete of two problems. One of them, is an unidentified “urinator” who has been reported in the pool. The other, is (little) Pete, whom Matt feels could stir up trouble.

While Matt explains an added chemical agent in the water will help them catch the first culprit, (big) Pete gets a little help keeping lookout, when local Kreb Scout member Monica Prime, eagerly volunteers to help.

PeteSplash2Matt’s thoughts on (little) Pete prove true, when the younger Wrigley brother declares war on Adult Swim – the one time during the day, when all kids must leave the pool, and the adults take over for one hour.

After an incident with (little) Pete and electric eels, Uplinger ups the stakes for (big) Pete: if he can prevent (little) Pete from ruining Adult Swim, he can become a Senior Lifeguard…which will allow him to sit upon the Hydro-Thrustinator 2000!

(Big) Pete tries to have a casual conversation with his brother about leaving Adult Swim alone, but as expected, (little) Pete has his reasons.

“Adult Swim is a disease,” the younger Pete explains to his elder. “The pool is for everybody. Why do they get to hog it?”

PeteSplash3The next day, as Adult Swim begins, (big) Pete sends a dog running off with a tape player around its neck…playing a cassette that sounds like Mr Tastee’s ice cream truck music!

The sound causes all the kids at the pool (including (little) Pete), to give chase, clearing out the pool, and making the transition to Adult Swim painless…impressing Matt!

Needless to say, (little) Pete is furious about the trick, and sends the dog back with a message of his own: “Vengeance will be mine, blowhole!”

Not wanting to spend the rest of his Summer hunting for the Urinator, (big) Pete leaves that hunt to Monica Prime, and steps up to take charge of Adult Swim. Matt then relays the rules: (little) Pete will get three strikes. Once he uses them up, he’s banned for the rest of the summer.

(Little) Pete almost gets away with (literally) pulling the plug during Adult Swim (disguised as an older woman named Mrs Blotard), but (big) Pete catches him in the act. The first strike is given, and (big) Pete tries to plead with his brother to stop…but (little) Pete promises not to give up.PeteSplash4

Soon after, (little) Pete’s friends Nona Mecklenberg and Wayne Pardue, attempt to summon Pete with a special call (that Wayne saw on Flipper). Nona questions Wayne’s logic, when suddenly, (little) Pete appears…riding a jet ski! Adults scatter from the pool, but soon, (big) Pete appears with a jet ski of his own, and the second strike is given.

This time, Nona and Wayne are placed in the ‘docking zone’ area of the pool, along with (little) Pete. While (big) Pete tries to stay firm, Ellen and Pete’s parents feel that he’s being too hard on his little brother.

(big) Pete attempts to patch things up, but mainly to tell his brother that “adults have rights, too.”

“Not to kick us out anytime they want,” expounds (little) Pete. “The whole world is theirs! All we’re asking for is one, stinking, pool! We belong here, and you know it!”

“Pete, things are different now,” says (big) Pete. “I’m a lifeguard.”

“No you’re not,” responds the younger. “You’re a traitor! To all kids…everywhere!”

PeteSplash5(little) Pete’s words hang in (big) Pete’s head as he cleans the pool that evening. While doing so, he is surprised to see Linda taking a late-night swim…but the mood turns sour, as he sees she’s swimming with Matt, who claims (big) Pete still has to prove himself, if he wants to move beyond pool-cleaning.

This pushes (big) Pete over the edge, and the next day, he attempts to take full-command over Adult Swim (“Kids, OUT! Adults, IN!”). With Adult Swim’s 60-minute time limit, (big) Pete goes into monitor-overdrive. The minutes tick by, until finally, only a minute remains.

Matt congratulates (big) Pete on having put his little brother in his place, but (big) Pete is still convinced his brother will do something.

But in a matter of seconds, Matt makes (big) Pete forget his problems, declaring him Senior Lifeguard, and allowing him to ascend to the kingly seat, overlooking the pool!

(big) Pete begins to relax in his new perch…until he sees (little) Pete on the high-dive board! (big) Pete yells for his brother to just wait for Adult Swim to end (in a matter of seconds!).

“Why blow your whole summer?” yells (big) Pete.PeteSplash6

“Because there are some things in life worth dying for,” replies the younger brother. “You used to know that. You used to care!”

As everyone watches, (little) Pete ignores his brother, and dives into the pool! The kids cheer at (little) Pete’s defiance, but Matt demands (big) Pete finalize his brother’s banning from the pool.

“I hate to do this Pete,” says (big) Pete, rising from his chair, “but you leave me no choice!”

However, everyone looks on in shock, as (big) Pete cannonballs into the pool!

This seems to break the mood, and everyone takes to the water: kids, and adults! Pete’s rebellious act shows that the pool can be enjoyed by all!

All are fine with this, except Matt , who swims out to (big) Pete, to relieve him of his post…only for (big) Pete to point out…that Matt seems to have ‘relieved himself!’PeteSplash13

The water-changing chemical agent shows a green bloom around Matt, and Kreb Scout Monica Prime appears. She tells that she figured Matt didn’t put the actual chemical in the pool, to keep himself from being caught. Monica though, being an honorable and decent Kreb Scout, happily did her civic duty by helping out!

With Matt exposed, his authority is all-but-destroyed, and the Wellsville Municipal Pool becomes a haven where all are welcome now!

___________

And that, was Splashdown.

Word was that as Season 3 went along, it entered into uneven territory. Even so, Splashdown is one of its most notably fun episodes.

The gags fly fast and furious as (little) Pete digs in with his attempts to make a stand for the kids. A lot of the ridiculousness of the gags (like how he managed to appear on a jet ski in the pool!), keep that strange charm that the show began with.

PeteSplash8Along for the ride with (little) Pete are Nona Mecklenberg, and Wayne Pardue. While Wayne is the ‘third wheel’ of the group getting little respect, Nona’s attitude at times makes her a good match for Pete in several situations.

It sometimes seems that (big) Pete should be the more grounded one, but here, (little) Pete definitely manages to show his older brother the error of his ways.

We also see more of Ellen just being relegated to the “girl-and-a-friend” territory, with Pete setting his eyes on Linda. Over the course of Season 3, Linda would be one of several girls that (big) Pete would go after, almost as if the writers were just scrounging for ways to keep (big) Pete’s teenage love life afloat. In this episode, Linda serves as little more than another pretty face for (big) Pete to try and impress, as he attempts to seem like an authority figure.

PeteSplash7Much like some earlier episodes, it is fun to see some things taken to extremes, like the Krebstar Hydro-Thrustinator 3000, which looks like the most awesome throne a lifeguard could want…and a definite explanation as to why (big) Pete would want some of that power (as well as a vantage point to eye Linda.

I recall first seeing this episode without total concentration…so I almost missed the first time when (little) Pete disguised himself as the portly Mrs Blotard, in an attempt to pull the plug in the pool (the costume worked out pretty well). Plus, the showrunners have a little fun with showing the adult swim people, doing fancy water ballet routines (I wonder how long that stuff took to film?).

For Season 3, Splashdown would be one of a couple episodes that would pit the Wrigley brothers against each other. Most of the final season, would separate the brothers into their own group of age-appropriate friends, as they maneuvered their way through school, bullies, driver’s ed, and a few other things, before their adventures would come to an end.

__________

Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo0

(Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images, action and peril )

In the last 7 years, I was surprised to find my love for animation studios within the United States, taking a crazy detour.

Though I had been a huge fan of PIXAR Animation Studios during the early 2000’s, I soon became enamored by a smaller studio located in Oregon, by the name of Laika.

Founded in 2005 by Travis Knight (son of Nike CEO Phil Knight), the studio would soon attempt the impossible, when they decided to become a production house, specializing in stop-motion animated features.

2009 saw the release of the film Coraline, which became one of my favorite films of that year (sorry people, Up just didn’t feel as satisfyingly ‘whole’ as Coraline to me).

Since then, we’ve seen that Laika is a studio that isn’t afraid to scare people, or even delve into some of the darker sides of human nature. This was evident in their last feature films, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls.

Though the studio’s productions have not made the kinds of money that other big-name animation studios have, their methods of making a film based on quality work mixed with unique stories, has often made me eager to keep coming back for more.

When it was announced that Mr Knight (who had been a lead animator on previous Laika productions) was actually going to direct Kubo and the Two Strings, I was immediately on board (plus, how many times do you hear of a company’s CEO also directing a film for his company!?).

__________

The film centers around a young boy named Kubo (Art Parkinson), who lives high above a small seaside village, with his mother.

One day, apparitions from his family’s past appear, causing Kubo to flee far away. It is then that he finds he must go on a quest to find an ancient suit of armor, that can possibly protect him from those that are pursuing him.

Accompanying him on his journey, are a talking monkey (Charlize Theron), and a man/bug/warrior named Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).

__________

In a talk with Travis Knight following a screening of Kubo I attended, he told interviewer Steve Prokopy (aka “Capone” from Aintitcoolnews), that he hoped that the studio could make a stop-motion feature in each genre, and it looks like Kubo has filled the slot for a Samurai film.

Much of the film takes its visual cues from Japan, with a number of settings and scenes, stylized around classic Japanese art prints, and sword-and-sandal pictures. Travis Knight also adds in some intimidating monsters to the quest, with a few seeming to be inspired by the creations of Ray Harryhausen.

Kubo1

For much of the film, Kubo mainly plays his three-stringed shamisen, which is soon shown to help unleash special powers he has. His first use of it to make origami figures come to life, is one of the most fun scenes I’ve seen all summer (almost making me wish that origami figures could spring to life so easily). Of course, the young man soon finds out that his powers can be utilized in other ways, too.

Laika films often have very memorable supporting characters, and Monkey and Beetle end up being two that surprised me greatly. Some claimed it was odd hearing Theron’s voice coming from the mouth of a Monkey, but the tone and seriousness that she brings to her character, works perfectly in tandem with this creature that has chosen to become Kubo’s guardian. She’s probably one of the most serious sidekicks I’ve seen in an animated feature so far this year.

Beetle on the other hand, is a little more aloof, and a bit scatterbrained. Though just how this person came to become a man/bug hybrid, I still had questions about after the film was over. Even so, he definitely has the kind of skills one would want on an epic quest.

Kubo2

Just as impressive, was the back-and-forth bantering regarding the small group. I don’t know who is responsible, but they managed to make these moments work in regards to having the right amount of humor, and character development. While other animated films would have had someone overstay their welcome with some talking, it surprisingly never goes that far.

Where Kubo might lose some points with the audience, is in regards to its story. While it is not as overly-layered as The Boxtrolls, its overall tone and message never seems to get as strong as Coraline, or Paranorman. It’s a very simple story, with not a lot of layering, which might surely make it a little easier for most to follow. I did want a few extra twists and turns here or there (given it was an epic journey), though one revelation I enjoyed, might be a bit hard for most in the audience to fathom.

The screening I attended was in 3D, and though I rarely ever champion the use of it, the 3D in Laika’s films often works well (I still have fond memories of seeing Coraline in 3D!). Also a plus, was that unlike the dark 3D scenes I saw recently in Pete’s Dragon (that seemed to render the imagery into a black ‘mush’), the dark scenes within Kubo actually are lit with enough light, that the dimensional imagery still registers!

Kubo3

Also like Pete’s Dragon, Kubo is a family film that doesn’t fall down the rabbit hole of ‘easy pandering’ like we’ve seen in many Hollywood productions. You’ll have quiet moments, and those where the audience is actually allowed to catch its breath. This is a film where not everyone watching is a winner, and will surely be a treat for those who crave the not-so-pedestrian in their entertainment.

Even though it is not as strong in the storytelling as the first of the studio’s films, I still strongly recommend seeing Kubo and the Two Strings. So much of what is shown on the screen, feels like it was meant to be seen ‘big.’ The fights, the artistic details, the communal experience of both children and adults getting something out of a rarely-seen art form…they all combine into something that I do hope many will partake in upon its release.

__________

Final Grade: B+ (“Kubo and the Two Strings” shows that Laika can still release amazing work, and show the beauty and wonder that stop-motion can achieve, massaged by subtle CGI. While Kubo himself is not as a strong of a lead character, he is buoyed on by a supporting ensemble cast, that manages to be entertaining, and thought-provoking. The story can get a little simplified at times in regards to Kubo’s quest, and a few revelations might not be so easy for the average audience member to wrap their brains around.)