Movie Review: Kubo and the Two Strings

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(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!?).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.)

Episode Review: Star vs The Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 6) – Starsitting / On the Job

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So far, season 2 of Star vs the Forces of Evil is shaping up to be a different entity than its first season.

It really does feel like Star Butterfly has become a different character in the last 5 episodes we’ve seen. While she still is a little crazy in how she acts, it feels like she’s become a bit more ‘grounded.’ We’ve had some nice episodes that showed her slowing down and trying to understand new things, and Marco Diaz seems to usually be there to try and (logically) wrangle her in on a few occasions.

We’ve also got a smaller, parallel story running under Star’s, as we’ve seen the villainous Ludo return, but doing a number of things that so far, feel like the first pieces of a jigsaw puzzle being put together.

And speaking of a puzzle, the segments from episode 6 definitely feel like a few more have been locked into place.

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Marco and Star are surprised when a familiar face from the past comes to call: Buff Frog, one of Ludo’s former henchmen.

After the events of last season, Buff found himself becoming a father, and now asks the two for help, watching his babies.

Both Star and Marco attempt to do things their own way, with Marco wanting to follow the rules set down by Buff Frog, and Star wanting to have fun with the babies. However, both soon begin to see the pros and cons of their methodologies, as the job takes a few unexpected twists and turns.

What was most surprising about this segment, was just how much fun it was at times. While there was some weird and wild stuff going on, it stayed pretty manageable. Plus, a familiar song from Season 1 reappears near the end.

It is also nice to see that the writers are keeping some level of neutrality going between Star and Buff, given that they were battling each other some time ago, in the first season of the show. This allows us to see some character growth with Star, showing how she’s become more understanding of ‘monsters’ since last season’s episodes Lobster Claws, and Mewnipendence Day. In fact, it may be fair to say that she has a much better understanding of her planet’s creatures, than most of the other people on her planet.

The episode may go a little overboard on Star fawning over the little tadpoles, but I think it works pretty well. It helps that the segment doesn’t become like those typical babysitting episodes that teach one about responsibility, like we’ve seen in other shows out there.

It is nice to have a ‘fun’ episode that actually leaves you with a smile at the end, and the segment also twists our brain with a strange Inception-style game setup in a few areas.

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Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): I ‘booped,’ Marco. I ‘booped’ so bad!

Final Segment Grade: B

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-On the Job-

Needing to provide for his babies, Buff Frog asks Star and Marco to babysit them, while he takes on a job. However, his cohorts wonder if the new father is up to the task.

So far this season, we’ve had a few segments, that tied together across several different episodes. This segment is a first, in that it ties into the previous segment in the episode, and fills in the blanks as to what was happening with Buff Frog, while Star and Marco were babysitting.

A positive in regards to the segment, was that we got to see a bit more about Mewni, and the situation regarding the planet’s monsters, let alone the disconnect between the planet’s Mew-mans, and other creatures. We even get some more insight into the planetary obsession with corn, which was touched upon in the segment, Mewnipendence Day.

Character-wise, we get to see some more creature/monsters that inhabit the planet, along with the return appearance of another of Ludo’s former minions, Boo Fly. Boo gets the most vocal roll he’s had yet, oftentimes trying to keep tensions at bay between Buff Frog, and the long-horned leader of the gang they are working with.

Unlike the previous segment that took a neat spin on the typical babysitting plot, this one focuses on the plotline of the tough guy, whose ethics and talents are put into question after a major change in his life.

While it does have its moments, the scenes where Buff Frog shows that his mind isn’t fully concentrating on the job, can get a little old. I can’t help but feel the writers on this segment, might have been channeling some of their own emotions, about returning to work after their life had had a major change to it.

We also get a few returning characters and settings in the background, that will surely jog some memories if you watched episode 4 of this season. Those little bits in the background, actually entertained me more than Buff Frog’s storyline, mainly because it looks like the wheels to an even bigger story, are still turning…

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Best line from segment (said by Buff Frog): You want me to change ‘your’ diaper?

Final Segment Grade: B-

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): You’re afraid to tell Jackie you have a crush on her, but you’re not afraid of bears? I don’t get you, Marco!

After the rather blase segments of episode 5, episode 6 was a breath of fresh air! The one-two-punch of the stories working off each other, was a fun set-up.

Starsitting had some fun plunging Star and Marco into the world of babysitting, as it soon becomes a question if one can still have fun, and follow the rules when it comes to handling responsibility.

On the Job shows Buff Frog trying to get back to his old monster ways, while also trying to deal with the responsibilities of being a new parent. While the mission he finds himself on is not as entertaining, the story elements of what he and his cohorts find, is something that will make the show’s regular viewers excited for what might be coming around the corner.

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(And, it’s happening again. Just like last year, we’re entering another hiatus for the show! Word is that we’ll get more episodes in a few weeks, and unlike the current early-morning showings, Star will return to evening premieres, now that summer is ending. When the show does return, the first segment for episode 7 will be “Goblin Dogs,” where Star, Marco, Flying Princess Ponyhead and a few others, try to obtain the popular inter-dimensional delicacy. Following that, will be the segment titled, “By the Book.” Can’t say for certain what that will entail, but maybe it will involve Star taking a closer look at her wand’s tome of an instruction manual. See you all in a few weeks!)

Movie Review: Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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(Rated PG for action, peril and brief language)

While I did grow up with animated shorts and feature films from the Walt Disney Studios, I was not raised on the myriad live-action features that the studio had made. Yes, my childhood was ‘dry’ when it came to titles like Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, and Pete’s Dragon.

Of those three musicals, Pete is the one film that has been somewhat touch-and-go within the Disney fandom. While some have fond memories of the film, others wince at Pete’s singing, as well as the pre-Roger Rabbit attempts to bring an animated character to life in the real world.

When word came that a new film bearing the name Pete’s Dragon was coming out, it was met with a miniscule cry of uproar, from those who thought the 1977 film should be left alone.

Even so, the previews did make me curious as to how the filmmakers would handle this new take on an old classic.

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In the Pacific Northwestern town of Millhaven, its residents live on the edge of a huge forested area.

One day while out in the woods, Park Ranger Grace Meacham (Bryce Dallas Howard) is surprised to find a young boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley), who appears to have been living in the wilderness for some time.

Grace is curious as to how he could have survived, but grows even more curious when he mentions he has a friend in the woods, named Elliot.

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From the start, it’s very easy to see that the world of this film, is much different than the one from the 1977 film.

Gone are the early 1900’s with their dirty hillbilly family and traveling salesmen. Instead, the environment has moved into the 1980’s, with dually pickup trucks, record players, and not a cellular phone in sight! Plus, for those who aren’t into musicals, you’ll be pleased to know there’s no show-stopping musical numbers to be found.

Oakes Fegley plays the role of Pete, who is soon torn between wanting to stay with his big green friend, and to also be a part of the new family that he is welcomed into. Fegley quickly caught my attention, as he romped and jumped  through a few scenes, with a nimbleness that reminded me of The Jungle Book’s Mowgli.

Given when he first entered the woods, I was surprised just how well Pete’s vocabulary was for a boy who had been away from people for so long (he and Elliot communicate as well, but the dragon doesn’t speak in words). It’s almost like the filmmakers made a compromise, in making Pete talk a bit more (and know more words!) than he should. It seems a shame, as one could easily imagine Pete being almost completely mute when Grace first discovers him, and opening up more as the story progresses.

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(l to r): Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), Pete (Oakes Fegley), Jack (Wes Bentley), Natalie (Oona Lawrence)

While the other characters have some charm, they don’t do a whole lot that really makes them stand out. Howard’s Grace wears a caring smile most of the time, and her fiance Jack (Wes Bentley) is just…there. Robert Redford also has a small role as Grace’s father, though it almost seems like he could have been excised from the story completely. It feels like the one exception to the supporting cast is Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Lawrence), who quickly shows what an extrovert she is, when she keeps trying to get Pete to come out of his shell.

The film also takes a rather neutral approach when it comes to ‘bad guys,’ with the closest we get being Jack’s brother, Gavin (Karl Urban). A worker at his brother’s lumber mill, we see him overstepping boundaries on where the company can log, which irks Grace a few times (did I mention she’s also engaged to Gavin’s brother, Jack?). Soon after we meet him, Gavin pretty much becomes the equivalent of one of the adults in Steven Spielberg’s E.T., when it comes to Elliot.

Speaking of E.T., it almost feels like director David Lowery was trying to recapture a little of that 80’s magic, going with the “a boy and his ______” story, while in the midst of a nostalgic flashback to simpler times. However, the story has a long way to go to even come close to the emotional rollercoaster that that classic film was.

Even with a rather average story, the film does play almost like a lost 1980’s family film. Its semi-serious nature for most of the film, puts it a few heads above many other films that are considered ‘family films’ in this day and age (and it’s one of the few that doesn’t contain ‘mild rude humor’ for being a PG-rated production).

The screening I attended was in 3D, and I must say if you’re going to see the film, do so in the regular format. Several sequences take place at dusk or at night, and my friend and I found ourselves often straining to make out some things through the dimness of our 3D glasses. For example, there was one scene that seemed as if it was meant to draw our attention to something, but neither of us could make out what it was we were supposed to be entranced by.

Watching the credits, I was pleasantly surprised to see WETA Digital credited for the work on Elliot. The company seems to have a lock on big characters this summer (they handled The BFG‘s effects as well), and what they’ve brought to “the big furry dragon” for this film, seemed to please both children and adults alike in the theater.

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Young Pete (Levi Alexander) meets Elliot.

Elliot behaves almost like a huge dog at times, and quite a lot of care has been given to the expressions on his face. If anything, Elliot (for not being real) seems to be the character with the most emotional range in the film.

Overall, Pete’s Dragon hits almost all the right notes for being “a Disney film,” but in watching it, I couldn’t help but think, “this could have gone so much further!” From character development, to decisions that some persons make, it feels like we could have gotten a much stronger final product in the end.

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Final Grade: B (“Pete’s Dragon” gives us a new tale regarding a boy named Pete, and his dragon friend Elliot. With top-notch special effects, the film explores the realms of what friends and family can mean, but gives us little more than a decent family film, feeling at times like it could have soared to even loftier heights of greatness.)

Episode Review: Star vs The Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 5) – Starstruck / Camping Trip

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Ever since its first episode, a key mixture within the series Star vs The Forces of Evil, has been a potent combination of ‘weird,’ and ‘wild’ for each segment/episode.

In some cases, both items tend to balance themselves out well, but quite a few times, the show ends up tilting a bit too far either way, and some episodes can struggle to be enjoyable (or even coherent).

Several times, it has been sad to see a few intriguing concepts, just thrown aside for a series of quick gags. One example is the segment Matchmaker, where it looked like we could have had a more introspective introduction to the other kids at Echo Creek Academy. Instead, the story ended up drifting into a high-octane panic, with ‘distraction’ being the key word as the segment got under way.

This week’s episode, promised to introduce us to a new character, as well as send some familiar faces into unfamiliar settings. Just how weird and wild did things get?

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-Starstruck-

While dumpster-diving for donuts, Star is shocked when she encounters one of her planet’s greatest warriors: Mina Loveberry!

Like any ‘starstruck’ fan(atic), she immediately wants to spend time with her idol, but Mina’s babbling voice and wild eyes, makes Marco apprehensive that this woman has all her marbles.

Right around the time that DisneyXD started building up hype for Season 2 of Star vs The Forces of Evil, Mina’s visage was seen in a few images, and got a number of persons excited. Her outfit and hairstyle, gave off a definite Sailor Moon vibe, which some have noted the Star series, is a take-off in some areas.

However, Mina’s tattered outfit and somewhat blank stare for much of the episode, makes us largely question what is going on in her brain. Have the years of being a warrior caught up with her, and fractured her psyche? Well, it’s largely left up to interpretation, since the most we get, is word that she’s been ordered by her doctor to take a vacation.

Some had originally assumed she was another Mewnian Princess, but Mina lacks the cheekmarks we’ve seen in regards to female royalty, making us wonder just ‘where’ she belongs in the world of Mewni…and that’s just one of several things that just make the mind wander during Starstruck.

For most of the segment, Star willingly follows whatever Mina tells her to do, while Marco largely watches from the sidelines, not wanting to get his hands dirty. This makes the episode one where Star has to learn and observe, and draw her own conclusions about how far she’ll go to follow her idol.

This was an episode like several others, I really had high hopes for. However, its meandering plot and use of Mina, just made it feel as flimsy as Pixtopia, from Season 1.

The writers try to milk out Mina’s crazy personality, but it gets tiresome pretty quickly. It feels like there are plenty of more entertaining paths the segment could have gone down (we even get a Super Saiyan reference at one point!), but it just seems to dissolve into flimsy-whimsy as it goes on. There’s also a subplot about freedom vs anarchy, but it seems to be more of an afterthought near the end of the piece.

The last few seconds seem to hint at something ‘more’ in regards to Mina’s personality, but it feels too brief to properly make for a satisfying ‘what if’ of an ending.

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Best Star Butterfly line from segment: No! We are not leaving, until the old donuts get thrown out.

Final Segment Grade: C+
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-Camping Trip-

The Diaz family goes on a camping trip, with Marco eager to show Star the famous geyser, Old Youthful.

However, the two are surprised when Star’s father shows up, behaving somewhat erratically.

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a full-on encounter with the King of Mewni, and much like how Mina Loveberry seemed to wander into the story in the previous segment, the King does so here, in an entrance reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, from The Terminator.

His erratic nature and babbling voice, quickly put us in mind that he’s suffering from some sort of midlife crisis, though just what sent him into the wilderness (and zeroed in on his daughter and Marco), is largely left to our imagination.

Unlike Starstruck, this segment actually feels a bit tighter when it comes to the story, though it can get a tad irksome with how the King bounces from different situations.

What saved this segment from also falling into  ‘C+’ territory like Starstruck, is that there actually seemed to be a bit of character development, let alone some father/daughter moments, and a fun scene near the end, as Star, Marco, and the King try to get to Old Youthful in time to see it erupt.

One thing I had noted in previous encounters with the King, was that when Marco was present (like in the segment Royal Pain), the King never mentioned him by name. Here, he does so a few times (and even thinks it’s possible that he is Star’s boyfriend at one point), which was rather enjoyable, seeing as the King has never addressed any Earthling we’ve seen, by name.

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Best Star Butterfly line from segment: *gasp* Nature’s touching me!

Final Segment Grade: B-

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Mother with Baby): “You know, when they turn 18, they become the government’s problem…”

So far, it sadly feels like episode 5, is the ‘weakest’ one so far this season.

I was hoping Starstruck would have given us a more entertaining story with Star’s meeting of Mina Loveberry. However, it just devolves too much into a crazy romp that becomes a bit too off-the-handle to enjoy properly. There are a few things at the end that make one think the segment could have been developed a bit further, without leaving us hoping a future segment might give us a little more understanding on Mina.

Camping Trip is an okay segment, with some more time spent with Star’s father. It ran the risk of also seeming too crazy like Starstruck, but some of the quieter moments, and a little more character development for the King of Mewni, made it rise a little further above, and prove a decent viewing.

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*Well, here’s hoping that with a rather blase episode 5, episode 6 will be a bit more entertaining. Next week, we get the return of Ludo’s former henchman, Buff Frog, who has become a father. “Starsitting” will find Star and Marco babysitting Buff Frog’s babies, while the second segment, “On the Job,” is said to deal a bit more with Buff and his children. Just what will happen? See you guys back here in 7 days.*

Movie Review: The Little Prince

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(Rated PG for mild thematic elements)

In 2010, director Mark Osborne began a 5-year odyssey, to develop an animated feature based on Antoine de Saint-Expury’s 1943 story, The Little Prince. Unlike a typical work-for-hire director, Osborne had been inspired by the book both in his youth and adult life, and set out to tell a story that sought to be true to the original text, as well as intertwine a tale on how the simplest of things, can influence us in the deepest of ways.

As the film starts, we see an overly-concerned mother (Rachel McAdams), trying to get her little girl (Mackenzie Foy) enrolled into a private academy. The little girl prides herself on being studious, but upon moving to an upscale neighborhood near the school, she encounters an old aviator (Jeff Bridges) living next door.

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Though they meet under very unconventional circumstances, her curiosity becomes piqued, when he begins telling her about meeting A Little Prince in the desert. At first, she dismisses this rather absurd tale…but then, becomes curious about just why a little boy would be in the desert, alone.

Though this film is titled the same as the original story, some might be a bit perplexed that the Prince himself, is largely enfolded into the story of the little girl, and her friendship with the strange aviator next door. It should also be noted, that there are no names given to any people in the film. They are largely named by who they are, or ‘what’ they are.

When it came to the visuals for this film, I was most surprised by how the film mixed a number of animation styles.

When the aviator is telling about the Little Prince, the world of his story becomes stop-motion animated, drawing you in to the rather strange tales, that most grownups would find hard to grasp. Plus, a few of the original book illustrations are given life through hand-drawn animation.

In regards to the ‘real-world’ in the film, much of the color is drained, and the housing development we see the mother and daughter living in, is largely comprised of square shapes (even the door knobs!). As much as the style caught my eye, I couldn’t help but feel some parallels to the look and tone of Metroville, from PIXAR’s The Incredibles. Where the designers do have some fun, is in the helter-skelter of the aviator’s dwelling, making it a colorful oasis in a sea of conformity.

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Speaking of Pixar, it also feels like the character designs for several of our main characters, borrow a little of their design style, notably in the big brown eyes of the little girl.

Animated by Montreal’s On Animation Studios, I was pleasantly surprised at their level of quality on-screen. These guys definitely were given the proper time to get character animation right, and even when it came to scenic color palettes, they handle the atmospherics with the kind of tonal dexterity, that the best of the best in the animation biz can pull off.

I just wish I could have been as thoroughly engrossed in the film’s story, as I was in its visuals.

The premise of a little girl whose mother is trying to send her down the right path to success, felt like a good place to start, but the film feels like it doesn’t know how to follow-through with that part of the story, once the aviator starts showing up.

Pretty soon, much of the super-strict study guidelines are all-but-shirked as the film tries to push us deeper into the friendship between the little girl, and the aviator. While a few of these moments are sweet, it never really feels like the friendship between the two becomes wholly concrete.

Of course, what might throw some fans of the book off in a big way, is when the film shifts into its ‘third act.’ That’s when The Little Prince suddenly shifts gears from a Peter Pan-like story that questions the ramifications of growing up, and then detours into the realms of Steven Spielberg’s Hook.

Though it is a bit jarring in where it chooses to go, Prince is a little less painful than other story change-ups we’ve seen in more recent book-to-film adaptations. A prime example is The Lorax, which sacrificed its integrity for cheap slapstick and product tie-ins.

Vocally, the film’s cast is pretty hit-or-miss. Though a lot of big name actors are included (some additional voice-actors include Marion Cotillard, and James Franco), many of their voices only register for less than a few minutes of screen time. There was also a disconnect to me, between some voices and the characters.

Mackenzie Foy provides the voice of the little girl, and several times, her vocals just didn’t seem to fit the proper emotion. Riley Osborne (the director’s son), does a decent job of vocalizing for the Little Prince, and is probably one of the few characters, whose voice just clicks perfectly. As well, the tone Bridges gives to the aviator, proves him once again to be a decent ‘mentor’ figure for animated characters, much like his Big Z role in the animated feature, Surf’s Up.

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Director Mark Osborne impressed me greatly with his work on the 2004 Spongebob Squarepants Movie (I wasn’t a fan of the show, but the film entertained me with its off-kilter humor!), but here, even with the best of emotional intentions, his film adaptation of The Little Prince is a visual wonder, but has been paired with a rather muddled story.

The film feels like it yearns to give us a proper message on how one can grow up, yet not grow up, but it never feels like we fully comprehend these things by the time the credits roll.

The Little Prince was originally to be released stateside in March of 2016, but in a surprising move, Paramount Pictures pulled it a week before its release date. Fortunately, salvation came in the form of Netflix, where one can view the film through their channel, as of August 5, 2016.

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Final Grade: B- (“The Little Prince” is an animated feature film, that bucks the trend of most animated fare that we are subjected to these days. Its story attempts to intertwine a classic piece of children’s literature, with a more modern-day problem, but never is able to properly feel as emotionally balanced as we wish it could be. The story feels like it takes the easy way out in a few situations, and its third act feels like the film suddenly nosedives into a whole other film realm. Some positives are the well-handled animation techniques, with computer, hand-drawn, and stop-motion, all integrated in a rare, entertaining way. )

Episode Review: Star vs The Forces of Evil (Season 2, Episode 4) – Star vs Echo Creek / Wand to Wand

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Four episodes into Season 2 of Star vs the Forces of Evil, and it’s pretty clear that the style of storytelling, already is much different than what we experienced during the first season.

Most series tend to be this way, with the first season putting the series’ feet on the ground, and pretty soon, it learns how it wants to walk, and where it wants to go.

We’ve had quite a few revelations so far that tied into the first season, as well as seen some character development in the last few episodes.

With episode 4 of Season 2, we get the chance to open the door a little wider regarding Star Butterfly, as well as the enigma that is, Mewnian magic.

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-Star vs Echo Creek-

After Star wrecks a Police Car while on a major sugar-high, Marco is concerned that she might end up going to prison for what happened! Fearful of what might be in store for her, Star decides to run away. However, her journey from Inter-dimensional Princess to local fugitive, leads her down a few paths she didn’t expect.

Star vs Echo Creek is a bit more of an introspective experience than a comedic romp like last week’s Star on Wheels segment, and I welcome these kinds of stories into the show’s episode mix.

From the start, the title made me think that Star would end up on some sort of rampage that could lead to bad news. What we get instead, is an episode focused moreso on studying how she copes with making a rash decision. This almost feels like a continuing ‘growth’ study of Star, after last week’s segment Fetch, where we saw how she handled various problems.

The journey here, leads to Star meeting several different characters, each with their own personality quirks, who guide her along on what she’s done. In a way, the episode almost plays like those after-school specials I saw as a kid. The specials would show a kid making a bad decision (running away from home, doing drugs, etc), and then try to have them work through their decisions, to come to a sensible solution.

So far this season, director Giancarlo Volpe has seemed to find just the right buttons to push, when it comes to showing us more about Star Butterfly as a character. In episode 2’s Mr Candle Cares segment, Star slows down to a point where we get to see her worried about one day becoming a Queen. Here, we see Star wrestle with external and internal thoughts, in a way that works perfectly for a show such as this one.

The humor of the episode may be a bit uneven for some in where it goes, but it never gets too crazy. Given that the segments are storyboarded rather than written, it does make one wonder how the group of writers come up with a lot of the strange things we encounter. Star even gets to be a part of a song that has a rather catchy beat, almost putting one in mind of something from Alice in Wonderland.

Marco has a very small role in this segment, but overall, his minimal appearance is used very well (though maybe he did go overboard in being worried about Star going to prison, and what could happen to her in there). I’m also pretty sure that like some parts of Mr Candle Cares, Starco shippers will also end up reading more into this segment than was intended.

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Best Star Butterfly line from segment: Food is anarchy, dude. Live by your own rules!

Final Segment Grade: B

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– Wand to Wand –

At the end of Season 2’s first episode segment, titled Ludo in the Wild, Star’s diminutive nemesis found the remains of her ‘cleaved’ wand. Just what that could mean for the planet Mewni, we were left to ponder.

As Wand to Wand starts, we see that Ludo is still getting acclimated with the other half of Star’s wand. However, as he attempts to figure out how it works, he has to contend with quite a few new problems.

Meanwhile, on Planet Earth, Star is tasked with helping to clean the Diaz’s house, and summons a creature she knows named Cloudy…however, something about her wand seems to have changed Cloudy…and not for the better.

This segment (also directed by Giancarlo Volpe), attempts to walk a fine line in explaining more about Star’s ‘cleaved’ wand. We were given some little glimpses at its changes earlier this Season, but still have not had anything concrete regarding just what the ‘cleaving’ of it has wrought.

Unlike some of the more straight-forward segments, much of what goes on with the episode, may take viewers a few returns to figure out just what is going on. Even the normally useless Glossaryck of Terms, might have given us a small hint about what can influence the wand.

Ludo’s segment almost feels like it could have picked up right where we left him the last time we saw him. Though given where he is currently on his journey, one wonders how soon we’ll get him and Star to face-off. The title Wand to Wand, almost made it sound like Ludo would confront Star on Earth, and we’d get to see what would happen when both wands clashed.

The show’s attempts to juggle both parts of the Royal Mewnian Sceptre, feels like a struggle, as if the writers were afraid that another Ludo-only segment might be a bit too blase after having one a few episodes ago.

It has some okay moments, but overall, Wand to Wand doesn’t work for me. It feels like trying to fit together two parts of a mis-matched jigsaw puzzle.

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Best Star Butterfly line from segment: …no help as usual.

Final Segment Grade: B-

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Marco): Keep your sacrilege off my taco!

If there’s one thing that stands out to me most about this week’s segments, it’s that their titles could have used a little more work.

Star vs Echo Creek sounded like she was going to possibly wage war on the small California community. I feel a more appropriate title could have been Runaway Star, or maybe Star’s Big Mistake.

Even so, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise, in showing more about character development for Star, but not falling too far down the rabbit hole for off-the-wall craziness.

Wand to Wand attempts to give us more clues on the ‘cleaving’ of the Mewnian Royal Sceptre, now in the hands of both Star, and Ludo. Both end up in unexpected situations with their portions of the wand, though we are still no closer to fully understanding what happened to the wand following the end of Season 1.

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*This week’s episode had some introspective points, with the first segment to me, being the highlight. Next week, we get the titled segments “Starstruck,” and “Camping Trip.” We get to see Star encounter another magical princess, named Mina Loveberry, and also a return of her father, the King of Mewni. Mina’s been seen in the new opening credits image, so I think many like myself, are eager to know more about this other crazy, unkempt princess. See you guys back here in 7 days.*

Episode Review: My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic (Season 6, Episode 13) – Stranger Than Fanfiction

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At the start of the 21st century, the internet allowed fandoms from many different mediums and walks of life, to thrive in a way, that had never been seen before.

Suddenly, you weren’t just a smalltown boy with a few friends who knew what you were talking about, when you mentioned something obscure from a film…you could find like-minded persons on the world wide web…and feel like you were a part of something greater!

Of course, the internet has also reared up a dark side to fandoms. Messageboards would often have threads go on for many posts, while various fans argued over who was right or wrong, regarding some little detail. Something you considered okay, might then be thrown back in your face as being ‘the worst thing ever,’ and let’s not get started on persons who consider themselves, ‘True Fans.’

Even the series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has seen its fair share of different walks of (fandom) life. While some like myself watch the show and purchase a few things here or there, there are also some fans who go all-out, writing fanfiction, and even critiquing the show and its characterizations, down to the minutest detail.

Such fan machinations, seem to have been the basis behind this week’s episode, Stranger Than Fanfiction.

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Rainbow Dash eagerly attends a Daring Do Convention, where an appearance by author A.K. Yearling (also secretly Daring Do in real-life!), is scheduled to take place.

While walking around the convention floor, Dash meets up with another fan of the series, named Quibble Pants (voiced by Patton Oswalt). At first hitting it off with their deep knowledge of fandom details, the two soon come to an impasse, when Quibble claims that the first books were the best, and everything beyond is badly written. Of course, Dash can’t reveal that she knows how Yearling writes her books, so she finds it difficult to explain why she feels Quibble is incorrect.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Daring Do’s arch-nemesis Dr Caballeron, shows up at the convention looking for Daring, and a relic she has recently acquired. This then leads to Rainbow and Quibble getting caught up in the madness, with Quibble ‘quibbling’ along, every step of the way.

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So far, it seems we have been given a Daring Do-based episode, every other Season.

At the start, Daring Do was simply a character in a book (as seen in the Season 2 episode, Read it and Weep). It served as a great motivator to get Rainbow Dash to consider reading as something positive.

Then came Season 4’s episode, Daring Don’t, in which we found out that author A.K. Yearling, IS Daring Do, and all her stories are based on actual adventures she’s gone on!

While some were willing to accept this, I was with those who felt this was a bit too far of a stretch to accept.

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And that, brings us to this Season 6 episode.

Writers Josh Haber and Michael Vogel do tag-team duty on the episode’s writing chores, but it feels like this leads to a tug-of-war on where the story should go. They want it to combine storytelling in regards to fandoms, but also bring forth another Daring Do adventure. This is very similar to how Daring Don’t brought fiction and reality into a head-on collision, but it never comes to a point where I could fully accept the circumstances here.

They even throw in a few references to the past episodes (mention of the Ring of Destiny, which was the artifact Daring was looking for in her last show appearance), as well as some references related to other films or series (I had to chuckle at one related to a film about a certain, ‘Last Crusade’).

Overall, the episode almost feels like some crazed mish-mash of the episodes Look Before You Sleep, and Slice of Life. The theme is to find common-ground amidst what may seem to be irreconcilable differences, but even Look Before You Sleep still seemed a more entertaining episode to me, despite its own cliches.

For me, one of the highlights in anticipation for this episode, was hearing that Patton Oswalt was guest-voicing as Quibble Pants. Oswalt is like a ‘friend of geeks’ within many fandoms (he’s guest-voiced and appeared on a number of shows like Gravity Falls, and Doc McStuffins), and I’m always eager to see him when he comes to town to perform stand-up comedy.

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However, it feels like Quibble Pants might not get the same kind of fan-love as we’ve seen for other guest-voiced characters, like Cheese Sandwich, or Coloratura. Quibble’s constant need to verbally be right so much of the time, is a double-edged sword for much of the episode. While he may prattle on at times and be a bit too full of his fan-based knowledge, there are some times where that knowledge actually does come in handy. However, maybe scaling back a bit of his know-it-all personality, might have made him a bit more palatable.

The story also intends to combine fantasy with reality, when Quibble and Dash encounter the real Dr Caballeron, one of Daring’s old foes. However, Quibble’s encounter with him falls into that story plot of the doubting-thomas character, not realizing they’re in danger…until something comes along later that gives them a wake-up call.

One positive, was seeing A.K. Yearling having softened a bit from her rather non-plussed attitude in Daring Don’t (her ‘I work alone’ attitude in that episode was one of the factors that kept me from liking her). Here, she’s a bit more toned down, and seems more willing to accept other’s help in certain, dire situations.

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One thing I did find myself questioning, was just how big of a fandom there is, to have a Daring Do Convention. There appears to be a lot of effort put into different booths and attractions on the convention room floor, but it feels like the world of Daring Do is largely confined to the book series.

One can see that it surely is meant to be a parody of the likes of the many different fan conventions for Friendship is Magic, but FIM has the TV show, an upcoming movie, the Equestria Girls spinoff, comic books, toy lines, and a number of different items to justify such conventions.

If anything, given the range of what the Daring Do fandom is given in Equestria, one could more easily see local book nights, where fans can meet in small groups.

Another small nitpick, is that Rainbow Dash ended up being included in a Daring Do story (along with being on the cover of the book, Daring Do and the Ring of Destiny), and noone on the convention floor calls Rainbow out on this (like maybe thinking she’s a Rainbow Dash/Daring Do character mash-up with her costume). Then again, many also rarely go ga-ga when they see that Twilight Sparkle is an alicorn, or that the show’s ‘Mane 6’ have saved Equestria several times over.

Overall, Stranger Than Fanfiction feels like an episode that was intended to be built with the best of (fan) intentions, but in the end, just feels like a hodge-podge of action, with not enough material to guide it to a satisfying conclusion.

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Final Grade: B- (Final Thoughts: “Stranger Than Fanfiction” wants to act as an ode to the rigors of being part of a major fandom, but it never end up feeling wholly satisfying. It relies a bit on meta humor in the form of Quibble Pants, while also trying to squeeze in a new adventure, and send Quibble off on a wild ride with Rainbow Dash, into the real world of Daring Do. In the end, it comes off as a tale, where style, trumps substance. )

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