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An Animated Dissection: Why most people’s general thoughts on Walt Disney’s “Cinderella,” are wrong

Do you ever get tired of seeing people claim something, and you know it to be wrong?

Along with the numerous rumors about Walt Disney over the years (the tamest being that his head is frozen, and hidden deep beneath the Walt Disney World theme park), there are plenty of others revolving around items related to his legacy.

One I have heard a lot in the last few decades, was how Cinderella in his studio’s animated feature, was a pushover who was just waiting around to marry a prince.

Much like how some assume that Belle from 1991’s Beauty and the Beast developed Stockholm Syndrome, I felt this was a pretty ridiculous notion. For this post, I thought I would lay out some observations about Disney’s 1950 animated feature, that some may not have considered.

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Why did Cinderella really want to go to the ball?

The short answer: because she was invited.

The palace sent out royal invitations to all the households in the kingdom, requesting that “every eligible maiden” attend.

It should be noted that it is the Stepsisters that jump at the mention of the prince being in attendance, and it is also the Stepmother who seems eager for one of her daughters to catch his eye. Cinderella’s main joy at the news is not related to any of their conclusions, but is simply the joy of knowing that she can attend, making it one of the first opportunities since before her father’s passing, that she can leave the grounds of the family chateau.

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Did the Fairy Godmother intend to help Cinderella marry the Prince?

My two cents: I don’t believe so.

At the very least, she came to help the poor girl fulfill her greatest wish. I personally feel that if allowed to go to the ball, Cinderella could have endured for the rest of her life under her step-family, being given this one request…but as we see, her step-family are unwilling to show her even the smallest of kindnesses.

Cind-4I imagine some assume the slippers were a way to lead the prince to Cinderella, but I also think this is simplifying things.

Though the Fairy Godmother claimed that “everything would be as it was before” once the spell was broken at midnight, Cinderella’s shoes still remained as glass slippers (with one still on her foot, and the other in the possession of the Grand Duke, after she fled from the palace).

I feel keeping the slippers as she transformed them, was the equivalent of the Godmother letting Cinderella have something she could keep to remember this magical night.

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Did Cinderella realize she had met the Prince?

In writing this post, this question suddenly crossed my mind for the first time!

Watching the film, we as the audience have already identified who the prince is, but it’s not like every household in the kingdom has a picture of the royal family. It is very likely that most do not know who he is until they are announced to him at the ball.

Cind-5It is notable that when Cinderella arrives at the palace, she doesn’t immediately make for the main reception area. Instead, she slowly wanders around, taking in the towering columns and architecture of the place she’s only seen from her bedroom window. When the prince notices her, she isn’t even looking at him, but is still just taking in the entire palace.

Some could wonder why he doesn’t ask her name, but it’s been a long, long evening of dozens and dozens of girls being announced to him. Maybe he sees her as a way to get out of this ‘royal rut,’ and do something besides just stand around ‘receiving’ guest after guest.

His interaction with Cinderella is all done in silence, though I think it’s assumed that he just quietly asks her for a dance. In Cinderella’s case, this is probably the first time she’s ever been asked by anybody to dance, and thinking that this is just what you do at a royal ball, she accepted without knowing who this man is. In her mind, it was just a magical evening getting to go to the ball, and dancing with someone from the palace.

I originally didn’t realize that her reaction the next day (when she accidentally drops some breakfast dishes), was the full realization of who she had danced with.

Plus, the fact that she reveals the other slipper to the Grand Duke, ends up being a triumphant moment for her, that not even her stepmother could prevent.

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Kindness can Help You

This doesn’t quite tie into the main theme of this post, but I felt it had to be said.

Though abused and humiliated by her step-family, Cinderella doesn’t try to take out her mistreatment on those around her like a bully. She still tries to keep a positive demeanor whenever she can, though she does get a little ‘snippy’ on a few occasions.

She definitely isn’t a robot, as we see her get upset at the house cat Lucifer several times, and after she receives the invitation from the royal doorman, she has a mischievous grin thinking of interrupting her stepsisters’ off-key ‘music lesson.’

In a number of Disney films, there have been examples of how kindness can be reciprocal.

We see this on several occasions in this film, with the mice and birds Cinderella has befriended. They help her get ready to start the day, and when it seems she won’t have the time to alter her mother’s dress to go to the ball, they take it upon themselves to help her.

We also get a little guide to the household and her kindness, in the form of the little mouse she names Gus. At first caught in a trap, naked and afraid, Cinderella helps to free him, and provides him with his name and a new set of clothes. Cinderella even helps him out when he is unable to procure some corn for breakfast.

Gus isn’t the brightest of the mice, but he quickly becomes the sidekick to the main leader of the household’s mice, named Jacques. When the Stepmother locks Cinderella in her bedroom, the two mice struggle to overcome impossible odds to get the key to her, and help her persevere.

This leads to an interesting, reciprocal notation.

In the beginning of the film, it is Cinderella who helps free Gus from being trapped, and at the end of the film, with the help of Jacques and the other mice, Gus helps free Cinderella from being trapped.

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In the end, it seems Cinderella’s attempts to stay kind-hearted and persevere under the worst of circumstances, were rewarded. This is reinforced in several places by the main theme song, A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes. It’s a song that sounds bubbly and positive, but also includes talk of “heartache,” and “grieving.” But under it all, is the hope that things will turn out alright in the end.

It definitely isn’t the kind of film that would be made in today’s world (as can be attested to the changes made to the 2015 live-action rendition the studio produced), but one has to remember that the 1950’s film was a stepping stone in getting the studio back to producing animated features, following the end of World War II. Plus, the film helped cement the studio’s reputation for fairy tale stories revolving around princesses, that would become a staple of the Disney legacy as the years rolled by.

Retro Recaps: The Twilight Zone (Season 3, Episode 9) – Deaths-Head, Revisited

When it comes to Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, there are some who say that his being drafted into service during World War II, had a profound impact on his life.

Returning from the war, his mind seemed to be filled with a number of topics that he wanted to get out. From injustice to racism, Serling saw these topics being kept from the public’s eye, and sought to bring them to light via his writings and projects.

The Twilight Zone was where many of these ideas could be brought to life, usually with some form of the supernatural, or science fiction thrown into the mix. In November of 1961, the show would address a real-world atrocity, intermingled within the show’s fifth dimension.

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As the show opens, we see a man walk into a hotel and ask for a room. As he signs his name to the guestbook, the woman assisting him grows nervous. When she makes note of the name he’s signed (“Mr Schmidt”), she timidly mentions that the man reminds her of someone during the war.

TZS3E9-1Mr Schmidt seems amused by the woman’s nervousness, but claims he was actually stationed at the Russian front during the war. When he asks about a prison camp in the village, she claims he is talking about the Dachau Concentration Camp.

“Most of us, would like it burned to the ground,” she claims.

These words cause the man to narrow his eyes at her, before he heads out the front door. It is then that Rod Serling’s opening narration begins:

“Mr Schmidt, recently arrived in a small Bavarian village, which lies eight miles northwest of Munich. A picturesque, delightful little spot one time known for it’s scenery, but more recently related to other events, having to do with the less positive pursuits of man: human slaughter, torture, misery and anguish. Mr Schmidt as we shall soon perceive has a vested interest in the ruins of a concentration camp, for once some seventeen years ago his name was Gunther Lutze. He held the rank of a captain in the SS. He was a black-uniformed strutting ‘animal,’ whose function in life was to give pain, and like his colleagues of the time he shared the one affliction most common amongst that breed known as Nazi’s: he walked the earth without a heart. And now former SS captain Lutze will revisit his old haunts, satisfied perhaps that all that is awaiting him in the ruins on the hill is an element of nostalgia. What he does not know of course is that a place like Dachau, cannot exist only in Bavaria. By it’s nature, by it’s very nature, it must be one of the populated areas…of The Twilight Zone.”

Taking a cab to the abandoned camp, Lutze enters through it’s gates. Exploring the ruins, a smile graces his face, as he imagines the bodies of the dead hanging from now-empty gallows, or recalling how he joyfully denied water to a pleading prisoner.

Suddenly, the sound of a door catches Lutze’s attention, and he finds himself staring at the face of a man in a striped uniform.

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Lutze recognizes the man as Alfred Becker, but is surprised how it seems he hasn’t changed since he last saw him, 17 years ago. Lutze assumes Becker is the caretaker of the camp, when a howling sound catches the former officer’s attention, causing him to look uneasy.

When Becker keeps calling him captain, Lutze demands he stop, but Becker claims that it is who the man was.

“I was a soldier, Becker!” bellows Lutze in defense.

“No captain,” replies Becker, “You were a sadist. You were a monster who derived pleasure from giving pain.”

Lutze responds to this by claiming that Becker should not dwell on the past, when the howling sound is heard again.

TZS3E9-3Becker claims that it is the sound of the victims, moaning their disdain to the man’s denials that he was at all involved in the atrocities that he committed in this place.

Lutze attempts to escape through the front gates, but they are suddenly locked. It is then that Becker reveals some rather unconventional information: Lutze had escaped to South America after the war, but he left that safe haven to return to Dachau..but why?

Lutze confronts this question, claiming he felt enough time had passed, that people would forgive “the little mistakes of the past.”

Becker looks insulted that the deaths of many is considered a “little mistake,” but he explains that since Lutze is now here, he is to be put on trial for his crimes.

TZS3E9-4These words cause Lutze to attempt to flee once more, but he suddenly finds himself in Compound Six of the camp, with a group of people staring at him, as Becker reads the charges.

Lutze struggles with a nearby door, his voice growing louder as he tries to drown out the indictments being read, before the howling sound of the prisoners overwhelms his own voice, and he passes out.

When he comes to, he finds Becker next to him…telling the man that he has been found guilty. When Becker also claims it is time to pronounce sentence, Lutze merely laughs, claiming that there is noone there to do such a thing, and the caretaker is making something out of nothing.

TZS3E9-5“They’re in your mind,” sneers Lutze, “You’ve planned your vengeance out of a crazy quilt of your imagination, sewn together with thin level-threats of wishful thinking…why didn’t I kill you when I had the chance!?”

It is then that the man remembers…he did kill Becker, the night the Americans came to liberate the camp. Becker’s death was one of many, in the captain’s desperate attempts to destroy ‘the evidence’ of what had happened there.

Lutze charges at the man, but suddenly finds himself outside in the main area of the compound…where Becker’s voice is heard. The jury’s sentence is that the former captain be rendered “insane.” Soon, Lutze feels the pain of the tortures he inflicted on others: the bullets piercing flesh, the rope of a noose around his neck, and the unspeakable tortures put upon those, behind closed doors.

TZS3E9-6As Lutze cries out and lays in agony on the ground, Becker walks up behind him.

“Captain Lutze,” he says, “if you can still reason, if there is still any portion of your mind that can still function, take this thought with you: this is not hatred, this is retribution. This is not revenge, this is justice. But this is only the beginning, captain, only the beginning. Your final judgment…will come from God.”

A few hours later, the cab driver returns, and upon finding Lutze unresponsive on the ground, alerts the authorities.

TZS3E9-7A doctor has Lutze taken to a hospital, but is perplexed: he seems to be insane, but is unsure what could have caused such a thing. As he packs his medical bag, the doctor looks at the dilapidated structures around him.

“Dachau,” he says, with a tinge of distaste. “Why does it still stand? Why do we keep it standing?”

Serling’s voice returns, closing out the episode:

“There is an answer to the doctor’s question. All the Dachaus must remain standing. The Dachaus, the Belsens, the Buchenwalds, the Auschwitzes…all of them. They must remain standing, because they are a monument to a moment in time when some men decided to turn the Earth into a graveyard. Into it they shoveled all of their reason, their logic, their knowledge, but worst of all, their conscience. And the moment we forget this, the moment we cease to be haunted by its remembrance, then we become the gravediggers. Something to dwell on and to remember, not only in the Twilight Zone, but wherever men walk God’s Earth.”

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Revisiting the episode for this posting, I did notice a few more things than I did during my previous viewings.

While he could bring about intriguing subject matter, Rod Serling could get a bit “wordy” in his scripts, and that does happen quite a few time during Death’s Head. Then again, maybe he feels that Becker explaining things to Lutze, is similar to schooling the naive members of his television audience about what happened in places like this (including Becker showing Lutze a number tattooed on his arm). There may have been some even after all those years, who still weren’t fully aware of what went on in the camps.

Reliving the past or going back to a place (or time) that held special meaning, has been viewed in a number of episodes of The Twilight Zone. However, Serling has shown that in many cases (such as in this episode and The Incredible World of Horace Ford), not all trips down memory lane are like we remembered them.

Watching the episode now, one thing that stood out was how the concentration camp looked more like a re-purposed film set…which it was. Apparently, the studio had built a fort for a western television series, and after a few changes, it became Dachau.

Oscar Beregi Jr plays Lutze in the episode with an aire of pomposity at times (he could almost be seen like a bullying high school jock, coming back to his old stomping grounds). An uncomfortable smile plays across his face, like that on a man who feels he has gotten away with his crimes…though when the tables start turning, one can see that Lutze is very much a coward trying to keep control as the rug is pulled out from under him. Beregi’s bellowing voice also shows him trying to regain some form of authority, as he finds his reality crashing down around him.

What is rather notable about the character, is how he doesn’t seem to question some information that Becker knows (such as how he escaped to South America after the war). This is where the character gets a tad questionable in my eyes regarding how Serling writes him.

Alfred Becker is played by Joseph Schildkraut. An Austrian-born actor, Schildkraut would be better-known for his portrayal of Anne Frank’s father Otto, in the Broadway and film productions of The Diary of Anne Frank. Schildkraut’s role plays Becker as a man who is almost like the voice of a conscience over Lutze’s shoulder. His voice never rises to the volume of the captain’s, but the way he conducts himself with “quieter” movements, seems to show he is in total control of the situation.

In many of Serling’s films, he often had little love for those that were the bullies, or looked down upon others. The Twilight Zone episode here shows Lutze being a man who got an extra degree of punishment for his crimes against humanity, though there is the thought that if punishment escapes men like this on Earth, it will eventually catch up to them after their life has expired.

In the end, Death’s-Head Revisited offers a brief history lesson in an okay episode. One has to wonder, as we seem to be headed into another dark area of human history…can human beings truly learn from the past, or are we forever doomed to be trapped in a neverending cycle?

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 6) – The Prisoner

Another week, another new episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+.

After time on two desert planets and a forested world, our leading man’s latest journey keeps him out among the stars, but not far enough out of trouble.

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) reaches out to a mercenary he knows named Ran (Mark Boone, Jr), looking for work. What he gets is a prison break job, where he’s teamed up with Ran’s assistant Mayfield (Bill Burr), a Devaronian named Burg (Clancy Brown), a crazy Twi’lek named Xi’an (Natalia Tena), and a droid named Zero (voiced by Richard Ayoade).

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal), Burg (Clancy Brown), Xi’an (Natalia Tana), and Mayfield (Bill Burr) encounter a mouse droid.

Mando finds there are added stipulations, but takes the job. However, it just feels like this deal is getting worse all the time.

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After a few minutes with this week’s crew, it feels like Mando has fallen into a combination of Suicide Squad and Rogue One with this episode. This is one of those scenarios where it seems the operatives were chosen for their skills, and if they happen to work well as a team…well, that’s just a bonus.

We get some hints of people having knowledge of Mando in this one. From Ran to Xi’an, there are small bits of information that their paths have crossed, but we’re left in the dark regarding most of those past exploits. There also is a continued mention of Mando’s disliking of droids, and a little more information on his ship, the Razor Crest.

Rick Famuyiwa directs his second episode of the season, taking us from open desert terrain, to the confining hallways of a New Republic prison ship. There’s definitely some flashbacks to the sleek-white interior of the Tantive IV from Episode III & IV, mixed in with some new elements as well (after the fall of the Empire, the New Republic now has the credits to afford droids to guard their prisoners).

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Mayfield (Bill Burr) encounters some deadly droids.

Fortunately, The Prisoner ends up not relying so much on nostalgia like last week’s episode, The Gunslinger. The little shout-outs to certain areas of the Star Wars universe in this episode, are a little more unexpected. We get a minor reference to The Last Jedi, while one of the character’s call-outs to a certain prequel species, shows that racism is still alive and well in the galaxy.

With a crazy crew of characters, I was hoping there would be some faces here that would be more memorable. Alas, the characters are pretty much here to serve their basic purposes of being colorful scum, that feel like we’ve seen them in other popular culture materials. I’d dare anyone to watch this, and not think of Xi’an as a Twi’lek “Harley Quinn,” or Burg as the team’s “Drax.”

The highlight of the episode is seeing how resourceful the Mandalorian can be in a tight spot, and when things really start to go downhill at one point, some of what he does brought a smile to my face. Pity that I couldn’t have enjoyed the rest of the episode as much as one little scene at the end, where Famuyiwa gets a little “house of horrors” in how he stages a tense scene or two.

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Xi’an (Natalia Tena) sees red.

Just like last week, The Child is relegated to a smaller role, as our focus is mainly on Mando. All showings of The Child in this episode, seems mainly to let us know he’s still alive, but that’s about it.

In my humble opinion, The Prisoner is definitely better than The Gunslinger for an overall story that doesn’t rely on nostalgia, but it doesn’t give enough decent characters to really make me care much for plight of most on-screen.

With two episodes left in the season, The Mandalorian started out strong, and seems to have become rather middling with it’s recent stories. With two episodes left in this season, I am hoping the first season will conclude in a way that will make us eager for season 2.

Final Grade: B

 

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 5) – The Gunslinger

Half-way through it’s first season, The Mandalorian has become a runaway hit for the Disney+ streaming service. Each new episode has revealed a little more about the helmeted lead (played by Pedro Pascal), and opened our eyes to the galaxy beyond the live-action feature films.

For the fifth episode, writer/director Dave Feloni, takes us back to a familiar locale.

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After a space battle severely damages his ship, The Mandalorian is forced to seek repairs at the nearest spaceport…which happens to be in Mos Eisley on Tatooine.

Needing to pay for the repairs, Mando accepts a request to help a rookie bounty hunter named Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale). The assignment leads them out to the Dune Sea, intent on capturing an assassin named Fennec Shand (Ming Na Wen).

 

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) hitches a ride on Tatooine.

 

While we have seen some locations this season that reminded us of places we knew from the older Star Wars films, this is the first episode that drops us back into a familiar locale…but things have changed since we were last here.

Mos Eisley does not seem to be the bustling spaceport we once knew, with Feloni showing us a place affected by the downfall of the Empire (and most likely the death of local crimelord, Jabba the Hutt!). This could be a sign that while the New Republic may be good for certain areas of the galaxy, it might be hurting newer areas that have opened up in the often-overlooked Outer Rim Territories.

The search for Fennec Shand utilizes a bunch of touchstones we’ve come to associate with the planet over the years. From speeder bikes to dewbacks, the episode is a veritable drinking game of callbacks…pity that the story can’t really overpower the visual moments (or composer Ludwig Göransson’s “south of the border” musical flourishes) .

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Toro Calican (Jake Cannavale) relaxes in a familiar locale.

As a new bounty hunter looking to make a name for himself, Toro comes off almost like a mixture of Hayden Christiansen and Shia LeBeouf in tone. Canvalle’s acting reminds me of the way Hayden spoke as Anakin Skywalker, and I do wonder if this was intentional. Like Anakin, Toro is someone who wants to prove himself, and in some cases, is willing to do whatever it takes.

Much of the story between Toro and Mando is focused on the mission. I feel there could have been some moments where Mando could have opened up more and given Toro some deeper life-lessons, but The Gunslinger doesn’t want to slow down and smell the roses. It’s storytelling is pretty straight-forward, and there aren’t a whole lot of surprises to be found here.

Fennec’s role is also much more brief than I had expected. I was hoping we would have gotten more time with her, like with Gina Carano’s introduction in last week’s episode, Sanctuary. Alas, it feels like Ming Na’s role is over before she’s had much time to register with us.

While The Child is involved in the story, it’s role is much smaller this time around. Much of the interaction with him is done through a docking bay mechanic (played by Amy Sedaris), who provides some minor comic relief during the story. Out of all the new characters in this story, Sedaris’ role was the only one that stuck in my mind after it was all over.

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A docking bay mechanic (Amy Sedaris), finds a hidden surprise.

The Gunslinger drops us back into familiar territory, but the storyline just doesn’t feel as engaging as in previous episodes. Toro and Fennec have their moments, but pale next to Sedaris’ docking bay mechanic who steals almost every scene she’s in. Writer/director Dave Feloni does manage to give us a teaser at the end of the story, possibly hinting that the adventure on Tatooine might have future repercussions for The Mandalorian’s journey.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 1, Episode 4) – Sanctuary

Since it’s premiere on Disney+, The Mandalorian  has become one of the most surprising things to come out of Disney since the acquisition of Lucasfilm Ltd.

Creator Jon Favreau (Iron Man) and showrunner Dave Feloni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), have managed to channel into the gunslinger/samurai mentality that George Lucas often cited in various parts of the Star Wars saga. The episodic nature of the series is one part Saturday afternoon serial, and one part Spaghetti Western, with each week revealing more about our title character, and his place in the world of Star Wars.

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The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and The Child

Following events at the end of episode 3, The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and his new companion (simply known as The Child) attempt to lay low on the planet Sorgan. However, Mando comes across two unexpected encounters.

The first is a woman named Cara Dune (Gina Carano), A former shocktrooper of the New Republic who has settled down in the area.

The second is a small group of villagers, who request Mando’s help to take care of some marauders that threaten their isolated community.

Given the action-packed pacing of the first three episodes, it stands to reason some will be disappointed with how “simple” Sanctuary is. However, it’s the first real “breather” we’ve had since the show began, and I welcomed the chance to see Mando and the Child interacting with other beings. It’s one thing to see characters in intense situations, but it’s another to learn more about them when they aren’t being fired on from all sides.

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Cara Dune (Gina Carano) teaches the villagers

Cara Dune proves herself to be another worthy addition to the ever-growing cast of supporting characters. Seeing her team up with Mando to assist the villagers, gives us some more insight into her, let alone how her own training can be utilized to help the people. While Cara may have turned her back on the New Republic, that doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of helping others in need.

The village doesn’t feel that far removed from a native tribe, intermingled with a Japanese village from the days of the Samurai (those who have seen Akira Kurosawa’s films will surely see some connections!). Our main contacts to this world are a widow named Omera (Julia Jones), along with her daughter, Winta (Isla Ferris).

While Winta happily acclimates The Child into the village’s younger ranks, Omera seems to quickly take an interest in the Mandalorian. Her character isn’t that far removed from the young woman we’ve seen in Westerns, entranced by a strong-but-silent newcomer. In Omera’s case, it almost feels like her type of character is a little “too soon” for the series. The writers still manage to keep her interesting, even if she seems a little “by-the-numbers” at times.

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Omera (Julia Jones) converses with the Mandalorian

The effects provided by Industrial Light and Magic in this story, really works within the environment. This is the first time we’ve seen The Child really stretch his legs, and while certain scenes may involve an animatronic figure, computer-generated effects are used in a sparing way, almost hearkening back to the days of Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park.

Episodes like Sanctuary are a great way to use the slower moments to understand more about characters. We learn not only about the galaxy post-Empire via Cara, but more about the Mandalorian code, and a few more hints about our lead character’s past. The storytelling of Mando being tempted with a life of simplicity however, feels a little too soon to tell, given we’re only four episodes into our adventures with him.

Most will probably discount this episode given it’s tone, but for managing to “simplify” where others want a lot more, I feel it’s a bit more worthy of praise than most will give it credit for.

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Final Grade: B+

Movie Review: Frozen II

Rated PG for action/peril and some thematic elements

I remember 6 years ago being hyped for Frozen, after the 2013 D23 Expo gave us some exciting sneaks and imagery beyond the hackneyed American marketing campaign.

Next thing we knew, Elsa dolls were flying off the shelves, Idina Menzel’s Let It Go drove parents insane, and it looked like Walt Disney Feature Animation was back on top.

While the studio’s micro-managers during the “Eisner Era” sequelized as much as they could with cheaply-done animation, sequels made within the big-budget Burbank Disney Studios were few-and-far-between. The company recently embraced big-screen sequels again with Ralph Breaks the Internet, and now are hoping it’s icy cash-cow still has what it takes to fill seats and sell merchandise.

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When the kingdom of Arendelle is threatened by magical forces beyond their borders, Anna (Kristin Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel), Olaf (Josh Gad), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), and Sven set off to find out what is going on.

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L to R: Sven, Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna (Kristin Bell), and Elsa (Idina Menzel)

Their journey leads them into an enchanted forest, cut off from the rest of the countryside. Within it’s shrouded wilderness, the group finds new creatures, humans, and the chance to learn a little more about Anna and Elsa’s royal heritage.

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Frozen II attempts to do what most sequels do, which is send it’s characters off on a bigger and more eye-popping journey than the first foray. Directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck return to the director’s chairs, while caught in a quandary: how to continue telling the story, when they can’t seem to escape the shadow of the first film.

The filmmakers try to utilize some connective tissue to the Arendelle royal family and expand our knowledge of them, but we get a few too many winks to the audience’s knowledge of Frozen (even Toy Story 2 was able to reference it’s predecessor more sparingly than what we see here).

After 6 years (and two animated shorts), we see that there have been a few changes to our main cast of characters. There’s still a small wedge between the two sisters on how to handle certain situations, with Elsa wanting to do things by herself, and Anna still wanting to be there for her older sister.

Most of the film’s humor comes from Olaf, who seems to be entering the “motor-mouthed kid” portion of his being alive. This time around, Kristoff is pushed to the back, with a running-gag “proposition” narrative that seems to be a continuation from what we saw in the 2015 animated short, Frozen Fever.

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L to R: Destin Mattias (Sterling K Brown), Anna (Kristin Bell)

The film does expand on it’s cast once we get to the enchanted forest. From the introduction of a native tribe, to Arendelle Lieutenant Destin Mattias (Sterling K Brown), it at first seems like we’re going to get a larger cast of characters to go on this new journey. In the end however, they feel like minor bumps in the road.

While the first film focused on Anna learning more about life and coming into her own, this film gives over much of it’s character development time to Elsa. There also is the added mystery as to how the enchanted forest came to be, but it never feels like we really get a concrete understanding about this new location. Still, the visuals do show that Disney’s R&D team have taken some amazing leaps when it comes to real-world environments and lighting.

What also doesn’t help the film, is it’s pacing. From the beginning, the film feels like it’s in a hurry to get us to Elsa’s story. There are some moments where the film could take the time to slow down and allow us to catch our breath, but by the end of it all, you feel like stuff has happened…but how much of what you experienced do you actually comprehend, or care about?

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Elsa (Idina Menzel)

Songwriters Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez are back, with plenty of new music that hits the big Broadway sound, while also dipping into the power ballad arena. Idina Menzel delivers the two big show-stopper pieces, while Kristin Bell and Josh Gad are given songs that just don’t hold much water. I don’t see any of the music becoming the new “Let it Go,” though a song sung by Jonathan Groff will either have you in stitches, or leave you scratching your head.

Frozen II gives us a chance to catch up with old friends, but it feels a little too invested in connecting itself to the first film, and too eager to give us more time with Elsa than to focus on keeping us just as emotionally invested in the rest of it’s cast, both old and new. We’re fortunate that it’s not just a “re-skinned” sequel like Mary Poppins Returns, but it just comes off as a good story, that could have been something far greater (like The Incredibles 2!).

Final Grade: B-

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Movie Review: Klaus

Rated PG for rude humor and mild action

As a former animation student, I like many was saddened at how the hand-drawn medium became sidelined in the early 21st century. While Disney would attempt to revive it stateside with The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Winnie the Pooh (2011), the films did not make much money, and the studio let any further hand-drawn plans sink from sight.

One person who believed in the medium, was Sergio Pablos, who had actually worked for the Disney company on a number of past projects before striking out on his own.

For over a decade, Pablos tried to find investors to bring his film Klaus to life. Finally, Netflix came calling, and the animator’s vision was unleashed to the streaming service, and the world.

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After shirking his Postal Academy training, lazy and over-privileged Jesper Johansen (Jason Schwartzman) is transferred to the isolated island town of Smeerensberg, with the caveat that he establish a postal service there within a year. However, the town is the home of two feuding families (the Ellingboes and the Krums), who would rather see the other side defeated than send each other a letter. Even the town’s lone school teacher Alva (Rashida Jones) sees little future in getting through to the citizenry.

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Jesper Johansen (Jason Schwartzman)

Beyond the town, Jesper comes across a bearded man named Klaus (J.K. Simmons). Seeing a large assortment of toys the man has made, Jesper feels that if the kids send letters to request toys from the lone woodcarver, it might be his ticket out of this crazy place.

However, as Jesper begins to put his plan into action, strange things begin to happen to the little island community.

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Like a number of productions in the last 20 years, Klaus comes off as another “you don’t know the whole story” story, but it manages to do things a lot more…”traditionally.”

Pablos’ take on the tale of Santa Claus, definitely feels like it borrows from the older Rankin-Bass Holiday specials (right down to the backwards-thinking jerks who want to quash anything happy). Unlike most films these days, this one treads very lightly into the pop-culture references or “music inspired by” graces of American-made productions. It is quite a feat when the story being put on the screen…is actually focused on telling you a story!

Character-wise, Jesper Johansen isn’t that different from the likes of Emperor Kuzco or Lightning McQueen when we first meet him. He’s your typical character who has it all, and then gets knocked down a few pegs. However, Jesper as a character is not quite as “abrasive” as I had feared.

He does have some work ethic, but he just needs to find a way to focus it. It also helps that we do see him doing quite a bit of action when it comes to helping deliver Klaus’ gifts. The fact that he is quite pro-active for much of the film, definitely helps make us start to feel for his character, even if he isn’t entirely truthful at times.

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Jesper (Jason Schwartzman) and Klaus (J.K. Simmons)

Speaking of Klaus himself, the film portrays him as an enigmatic character: a large figure who seems intimidating, but has a story of his own to tell. Much of his characterization is through little bits of action, and while J.K. Simmons does decent voice-work, it never feels like his voice truly belongs to the gentle giant.

There are also some additional subplots that just feel like overkill for the story.

The subplot regarding the town’s feuding families does get a little flimsy at times. While we do get some scenes regarding the heads of the family, their business within the film just never feels like they’re that much of a real threat.

The town’s school teacher also figures into the plot in a few areas, but it feels like they mainly put her in to give Jesper someone to talk to about the state of Smeerensberg from the inside. She is also given a small character arc, but it doesn’t really seem to be that strong.

The children in the film are what really makes the town seem more alive. As rules are established for the receiving of toys, the children begin to become the more responsible of the citizenry. It is rather fun to see in a few montages, the kids setting a good example to the more “childish adults” around them.

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The art style of the film is inspiring as well. The less-is-more approach to the snow-covered backgrounds, will probably put some people in mind of animation production artists like Mary Blair, or Evyind Earle. There is the use of computer-generated imagery for sure, but it blends in so well to the film, that my brain soon stopped analyzing the techniques and got pulled into the story!

Even so, there are moments that did take me back to what hand-drawn animation could do. From the elasticity of Jesper’s facial expressions, to the “heaviness” of Klaus’ overcoat, this is a film that feels magical in more ways than one.

Klaus is definitely a rare film in this day-and-age, and not just because of the artistry on hand here. While some of the story points woven into it feel a little too much like overkill, the tale of how Jesper and Klaus come together really sticks in your mind long after it’s all over. When there’s an emotional scene to be had in the film, it comes across as genuine and sincere…something that often feels missing from a lot of animated features foisted upon the public these days.

Netflix has helped Sergio Pablos create a wonderful new film, that may surely gain a following of it’s own over the years.

Final Grade: B+

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