Archive | June 2021

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 2) – Escaping Expulsion

With the second season release of The Owl House, we return to The Boiling Isles to find out what has happened to Luz Noceda, King, and the Clawthorne sisters, Eda and Lilith.

The previous episode showed us what life has been like for the denizens of The Owl House, but this episode brings us up to speed on some other characters, and also explores some new areas.

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With both Eda and Lilith now powerless, Luz has taken to teaching them how to use glyph-magic. While Lilith seems to be quite inquisitive, Eda is hardly enthralled to be learning.

Back at Hexside School of Magic and Demonics, Principal Bump is forced to expel Luz, along with her friends Willow and Gus. The reason? Amity Blight’s parents Odalia and Alador blame them for hindering their daughter’s studies. However, Luz is not going to take this lying down, and tries to figure out a way around this accusation.

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After a shadowy introduction last season, many were curious as to who Amity’s parents were, and it seems the showrunners waste little time in getting their official introduction out of the way. Of course, this does make me question, if we get everything we need to know about the Blight parents in this episode…or, if they are going to have a character arc as the season progresses.

Most surprisingly, it seems to be Odalia Blight who is calling the shots around the family business. Alador Blight on the other hand, is somewhat of an introvert, but quite skilled with altering Abomination magic with technology.

One area of excitement for this episode was seeing Luz, Willow, Gus, and Amity all back together (for the first time since last season’s episode, Wing It Like Witches), but the episode quickly scatters them after a few minutes together. It also feels rather repetitive that we have another episode wherein Luz is declared expelled/banned, after this declaration was noted in several of the first seasons episodes.

For the episodes “B” plot, we focus on Eda and Lilith studying glyph-magic in Luz’s absence. This is out first glimpse of the two sisters having to really deal with bouncing ideas off each other, and it proves to be quite an entertaining sub-storyline. There’s some humor mined in seeing Lilith become somewhat of a “teacher’s pet,” while Eda struggles with her own ego.

Plus, things learned from the previous episode are carried over, as demonstrated by some scenes showing Lilith and Hooty interacting.

This was an episode that once it got started, I was starting to feel like things were getting back on track with the familiar story structure of the previous season. However, much like the last episode Separate Tides, this story feels like it is a little too overloaded with stuff.

The “A” storyline is where this feeling was most prevalent. There’s stuff dealing with Odalia’s control over Amity, some new information on Willow’s parents, let alone Luz’s friends working together without her, but it all feels quite forced into the story. There even comes a moment near the end that could have had a much stronger emotional impact, if much of what we saw in this storyline had 2-3 episodes to “breathe,” rather than just being forced into this episode.

Surprisingly, the flow of the “B” storyline with the Clawthorne sisters proves to be the smoother-flowing element. It is also notable how the episode helps break down some more information about glyph-magic, let alone the possibilities of mixing them into more powerful spells.

Escaping Expulsion is so far the best episode of season 2, but the fact that it also feels a bit too full of stuff makes me wary for future episodes. Are the next episodes we encounter going to have this unbalanced feeling to a number of their storylines too?

Best line in the episode (said by Luz) : “Luz…you fool!”

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Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 1) – Separate Tides

Last fall, I was surprised when I stumbled upon the first season of The Owl House on Disney+. Creator Dana Terrace’s story about a human named Luz who has stumbled onto a bizarre fantasy world, definitely pushed my buttons in the same way that series like Gravity Falls and Star vs the Forces of Evil had done.

And now with the start of a new season, I’ve decided to review each episode, and see where the series will take me.

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Following the revelations at the end of the first season, Eda Clawthorne (aka The Owl Lady) and her sister Lilith have lost their ability to do magic. Events have also caused the doorway through which Luz entered the Boiling Isles to be destroyed, leaving Eda unable to sell human junk.

This leads to the group turning to bounty hunting to make money. Of the whole group, Luz feels that Eda is doing too much to try and make her comfortable, and sets out with King to capture a creature that will provide a sizable bounty.

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Like most series that have a long hiatus between seasons, this episode has the thankless task of playing “catch-up” with its material. This story takes place a few weeks after the events of the last season, and while there is some information given on Emperor Belos and his actions since then, it focuses primarily on our main characters.

The main focus of the episode is on Luz. There are some fun little moments to be had here-and-there, but it feels like something is missing to really make her out-to-sea adventure really stick in the mind (even the attempts to make King act like a parrot feel just…meh). A highlight however, is showing that Luz has been working on upping her game with the use of “glyph-magic” (aka, using drawn symbols in order to do magic), and how quick she has gotten in using them.

The secondary story focuses on Lilith. For much of the first season, she was moreso a supporting character (and always trying to get Eda to join the Emperor’s coven whenever they’d meet!), so seeing her trying to deal with having no powers and being ejected from her place of security is somewhat interesting. One can definitely sense a frustration with herself and her limited abilities, though the episode does mine some unexpected comedy out of Hooty (the sentient entity of The Owl House) taking a shine to her.

The episode also introduces a new character into the mix, with a figure called The Golden Guard (voiced by Zeno Robinson). This character seems to have taken Lilith’s place in Belos’ staff, and the episode manages to give us some notable moments with this mysterious character, leading us to wonder just how he’ll figure into the rest of this season.

Watching the episode a few times, I was trying to figure out whyit didn’t seem to stick in my head. The final conclusion I came to, is that the episode is a little too “busy.” It feels like it could have been better space out over two episodes, but was combined into one, making it feel like we get a lot to process, but not enough time to really hold onto the little moments that should mean something.

With this being the first of season 2’s 20-episode lineup, I’m hoping we’ll get some better episodes soon.

Best line from episode (said by King): “Ha-ha, you’re a traitor!”

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Final Grade: B-

Movie Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Rated PG for some violence, action and thematic elements

Over the years, Walt Disney Feature Animation has created a number of films that have shown Asian/Pacific Islanders on the big-screen. Coming from a partial-Asian heritage, I remember being excited for the release of Mulan in 1998, and seeing the kind of Japanese influence that was brought to the studios’ 2014 release, Big Hero 6. For their latest release, Raya and the Last Dragon borrows from Southeast Asian culture, with an eye to telling an original story of its own.

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In the land of Kumandra, a sacred object known as the Dragons Gem is broken into pieces, and scattered across the five regions (Fang, Heart, Spine, Talon, and Tail). The shattering of the sacred item, has led to entities called the Druun, rising up and destroying the people and their livelihoods in these regions.

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) converses with Sisu (Awkwafina).

It is Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) from the Heart region, who seeks out the last dragon named Sisu (Awkwafina), in hopes that the creature can help restore the gem, and bring an end to the devastation.

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Right off the bat, Raya as a film quickly sets up that it is going to tell its story in a much different light that what we have come to expect. It feels like It has been quite awhile since we had a new film break from the expected, and that was what quickly grabbed my attention.

Once the story gets going, Raya herself is our eyes and ears, as we make our way through each of the regions. Tran’s vocals give the character a few playful moments here-and-there, but Raya is probably one of the more serious lead heroines the studio has had in awhile.

Because of Raya’s demeanor, much of the humor is left to Sisu (aka the last dragon). When she first appears, it isn’t too hard to think that she seems like the love-child of Aladdin’s genie, and Mulan’s Mushu the dragon. Sisu cracks wise and acts quite aloof, but in quieter moments, can be a voice of reason to Raya. However, the character is rather hit-or-miss at times for me, along with some of what Awkwafina brings to the table.

Namaari (Gemma Chan), with warriors from the Fang region.

One character whom crosses paths with Raya several times, is Namaari (Gemma Chan), daughter of the Fang region’s royal family, and someone who was instrumental in giving Raya trust issues in her past. There are times where it feels like the film wants to open up more in regards to Namaari (almost like it wants to really make the story about her and Raya’s viewpoints), but the film feels like it has to narrow its focus, and in doing so, Raya’s journey wins out.

That seems to be one of the big issues I had with the film. Much like Big Hero 6, it has a number of characters thrown into the mix, but they are mainly here for the action, and not to have us get too deep into whom they are. Much like how Big Hero chose to keep its main focus on Hiro and Baymax, the focus here stays mostly on Raya and Sisu, even as they gather new acquaintances along their journey.

It feels like the films editing at times even has some odd choices. Some scenes have some rather jarring fades, almost like the filmmakers were at a loss regarding where to go for some scenes. Given the film was made during the Pandemic in the last year (and sports 4 director credits and 8 writers credits!), I do wonder how precarious it was to keep balance on the film.

When it comes to focusing on particular story elements, it is in “trust and hope” that the film mostly concerns itself with. At times, it feels like the filmmakers are using the film as a mirror to our own world (much like how Zootopia tackled topics such as racism and prejudice), but it doesn’t feel like it manages to come through strong enough with what it wants to say.

This isn’t to say that the film is bad.

A scene from Raya’s journey through Kumandra.

I did find my attention perking up more as the film moved into its second act, and it was nice to see an animated feature that showcases some great artistry in bringing the worlds onscreen to life. I was very taken by the rendering of water in a number of scenes, feeling like what had been learned on Frozen II had been taken to a new level.

It is also nice to see the filmmakers forego the “loner who doesn’t need friends” cliche that we’ve seen in other films, or making Raya a character hellbent on revenge for what has happened to her and her family. The film even subtly hints at her royal heritage, but the film manages to spare us from giving her a royal moniker.

Raya and the Last Dragon is an action film from Disney that has heart, but to me, it needed some extra TLC to really stand toe-to-toe in the story department of some of the studio’s stronger films in the last decade.

Final Grade: B

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