Tag Archive | Disney

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 5) – Through the Looking Glass Ruins

Upon finding herself in The Boiling Isles, Luz Nocera soon found herself accumulating something she didn’t have back home: friends.

Out of all of them, one who seemed to be used mainly for comic relief in season 1 was Gus, a human-world obsessed witch whose main expertise was illusion magic.

Continuing the streak of learning a little more about some characters this season, episode 5 chooses to focus mainly on him.

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After accidentally getting Willow wounded, Gus begins to question himself and his illusion powers. Things take an unexpected turn when he encounters a group of kids from Glandus High, who invite him along on a quest to help them obtain some ancient relics.

Meanwhile, Luz continues her search to try and find information that may get her back to her own world. A diary in the library might hold the key…and it just so happens that Amity Blight may be able to help locate it.

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As Season 2 began, I did hope we’d get to learn a little more about Gus. This episode definitely reveals some more about him, though I was hoping some revelations would have been done alongside his friends like Luz and Willow.

As the “A” plot of this episode, we find out a bit more about what Gus is capable of, as well as just where his knowledge and principles lie. Plus, we get to see him wield glyph-magic (courtesy of Luz, who wishes to help him impress the other kids).

The group from Glandus is led by a girl named Bria (voiced by Felicia Day), and gives us a little more insight into the student body of Hexside’s rival school. Her associates Gavin and Angmar seem to mainly be her followers, making them feel like they are taking up the comedic slack that Gus would have provided.

A most unexpected surprise was the reappearance of Mattholomule, a student we last saw causing trouble for Gus back in Season 1. It turns out Mattholomule has some prior history with Glandus, and we get a little more on his backstory as well (though he’s still a jerk).

For the “B” plot, Luz meeting Amity at the library to try and find more information about a human who once lived on the isles, feels a little odd that it is not the main storyline.

The library sub-story brought back memories of my favorite season 1 episode, Lost in Language. Here however, the journey deeper into the library serves as a chance for Luz and Amity to have some time together, while also continuing a theme of unease between them in regards to recent revelations.

While some feel that Amity is growing into her feelings that go beyond being just friends with Luz, it feels like some of the focus this season may be on what Luz thinks. Last season saw her really wanting to be friends with Amity, but it feels like she is currently struggling with feelings of her own.

There also are some fun minor appearances by Amity’s older siblings, Edric and Emery, with Emery providing some sisterly help when Amity confesses a few things.

Some areas of the episodes storytelling, did seem to get a little sloppy. The opening happens after Willow’s injury, and it feels like a shoehorned “exposition dump” as the episode tries to quickly shift us into our main focus on Gus. There also is a rather convenient way in which illusion magic comes into play, but I wish it wouldn’t have felt as convenient as we see. It seems implied that what Gus excels in, is considered the weakest of the different coven magics.

Luz and Amity’s story also has some rather convenient resolutions, but a lot of what is done here definitely kept my attention. This is their first real interaction in awhile, and it feels like their story is much stronger than Gus’. Much like episode 2 this season, we get a moment with Amity that is sure to be a real crowd-pleaser for the show’s fans, and feels more well-earned than some reveals from this season’s second episode.

Best line in episode (said by the Keeper): “Excellent!…I’ll call the hounds.”

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 4) – Keeping up A-fear-ances

With each new episode of The Owl House in Season 2, creator Dana Terrace opens up the world of The Boiling Isles even more.

We’ve already learned more about King and Amity Blight, but in this episode, we get a little more insight into The Clawthorne sisters, Eda and Lilith.

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While Luz continues to try and find a way back to the human realm, the Owl House is thrown into turmoil when Eda and Lilith’s mother Gwendolyn Clawthorne shows up.

Eda’s mother claims she has found a way to cure her daughter’s curse, but Eda isn’t so accepting of her mother’s good intentions. This leads to Luz taking an interest in helping Gwendolyn, figuring Eda is just being stubborn.

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So far this season, the series seems to enjoy hitting us with stuff hard-and-fast. We just got off a major revelation with King regarding his origins, and now we’re leaning into past information about Eda and her family.

Right out of the gate, Gwendolyn seems to be well-depicted as a concerned parent. We get to see what she was like in a flashback, along with her current incarnation as a “mother knows best” kind of witch. There’s something very “real” about the way she’s depicted, especially given how Eda claims she’s been coming around on a yearly basis to try and cure her (I think most will feel like they too have experienced Eda’s “parental frustration”).

The narrative also paints an intersting picture regarding how the Clawthorne sisters were treated by their mother. Most notable is there seems to be a tinge of of jealousy on Lilith’s part, as feelings surface that she feels her mother doted on Eda more than her. I would have liked to have seen some more development on this, but this information gets shoved down into the smaller “B” plot of the episode.

Much of the “A” plot revolves around Luz interacting with Gwendolyn, as the two work together to cure Eda. However, Luz has some misgivings about the methods they are using, leading to an interesting conundrum. Even though this is fantasy, it feels decidedly “real-world” in the depiction of how a parent’s desperation can cause them to lose focus.

After the last episode felt like The Owl House was getting its balance back, this episode feels like it’s a bit lopsided in its storytelling. The introduction of Gwendolyn is notable, but it feels like the episode pushes a little too much on some gags, when it might have used some of that time to give us some more moments between the sisters talking about their mother.

That isn’t to say there isn’t some good stuff given out (just not enough to make the episode better in my opinion). The episode does lean into a bit of horror-style visuals in places (notably where Eda goes mentally when the curse takes over her body). There also seem to be bits of information that may be hinting at things to come in future episodes (notably one that will surely make many persons jaws drop!).

Best line in the episode (said by Lilith): “Mother visits Edalyn…regularly!?”

Final Grade: B

Movie Review: Luca

Rated PG for rude humor, language, some thematic elements and brief violence.

One name at PIXAR Animation Studios that has stuck in my mind over the years, is Enrico Cassarosa. Hailing from Italy, he has been a story artist at the studio for some time, and even directed their 2012 animated short, La Luna.

Cassarosa also has a distinctive drawing style that borrows from the designs of Japan’s Hayao Miyazaki, in numerous pencil and watercolor works he has done over the years.

Needless to say, when I heard he was going to be directing a film for the studio (in a style that seemed to shake things up from the norm), I was definitely looking forward to seeing what he had come up with.

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Close to the seaside community of Portorosso in Italy, liveS a small community of sea monsters. One of them is Luca, a well-behaved kid, who slowly grows enchanted with the world above when he befriends another young monster named Alberto.

Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Luca (Jacob Tremblay) head off to the village of Portorosso.

Wanting to learn more about the world up above, the two head off on their own to find adventure in the nearby village, where they have to stay dry to appear human…lest the monster-wary villagers figure out what they are.

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After watching Luca, a thought went through my mind: “Given how we hold Pixar films to such a high standard, is it okay for a film of theirs to just be…good?”

Luca is a film that does not go as deep as past films such as Ratatouille or Soul. In some respects, it reminded me of a film I rather enjoy that a lot of people despise: Cars 2. That film was one that still tried to be entertaining, while also having some emotional content to it. In fact, One has to wonder if this style of filmmaking may be something we will see from the studio going forward (maybe “good” films can stave off more sequels like Toy Story 5 or The Incredibles 3?).

The simplicity of Luca is quite notable. Aside from being sea monsters, Luca and Alberto are pretty ordinary. Luca is the kid who is curious, but just needs someone to give him a shove, which (first) comes in the form of Alberto. Naturally, since Alberto has adapted to land for some time, it is a given that Luca believes almost everything that comes out of his mouth (like claiming the lights in the night sky are fish).

Alberto and Luca meet Giulia (Emma Berman)

Another influence on Luca comes in the form of Giulia Marcovaldo (Emma Berman) a chatty redhead who helps her father Massimo (Marco Barricelli) at the local pescaria. She recognizes that the two boys seem “out-of-place” in the village, and does her best to make them feel welcome. She also welcomes their interest in entering the local Portorosso Cup triathlon, when the boys feel it may win them the means to acquire a Vespa scooter to see more of the human world.

Naturally, any group of kids needs someone to rain on their parade, and this is where Ercole Visconti (Saverio Raimondo) comes in.

With Ercole, it feels like a long time since we have had a villain character that was just a bullying jerk in a Pixar film. He doesn’t play as prominent a role, but he’s somewhat like Portorosso’s Gaston, who seems to hold quite a bit of sway over the town, though we are never privy as to how or why (maybe his parents hold a prominent place in Portorosso’s social hierarchy?). He does have a few funny moments, but an attitude that will make many eager to see him get some of what he dishes out.

Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) encounters Giulia and her new friends.

Even with some storytelling areas that seem familiar, there are places in the film that surprised me by not going for the easy way out.

It does help that there is a simplicity to the storytelling that focuses mainly on the kid characters, but never makes their problems too insurmountable. At times, it feels like the film could have been adapted from a picture book in how the story is woven together. Even with so many people in the village, the film rarely strays from a set number of characters to focus on.

Where the film falters at times, seems to be as a result of some of the supporting cast, such as Luca’s parents. The film tries to mine some humor out of them, but it often feels like they don’t necessarily flow well with the rhythm of the story as it moves along.

There also is a theme of accepting others even if they are weird or strange, but it feels like this message gets somewhat buried in the storytelling. The film even attempts to shoehorn in a revelation around this train of thought, but it just doesn’t feel natural.

The seaside village of Portorosso.

One area that is never a place for criticism, is in the crafting of the environments of the film. There’s a rich coloration both below and above the sea. We get dazzling blue hues in the water, and bright sunny yellows throughout the hills and town, that feel warm and inviting.

There are also moments where the film dips into some flights of fancy that the boys have. From leaping Vespas to floating planets, the daydreams are cute little moments, but one could almost see them being put into a short-subject of their own.

Along with channeling Miyazaki-esque stylings, one can’t help but feel like Cassarosa has made something that feels akin to Studio Ghibli films like Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Porco Rosso. Luca definitely won’t crack the top 5 for most peoples favorite Pixar films, but it’s got a charm to it that makes it hard to dismiss.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Owl House (Season 2, Episode 3) – Echoes of the Past

With the second season release of The Owl House, each of the episodes we have so far encountered, have filled us in a little more on some characters.

From Eda Clawthorne’s sister Lilith to Amity Blight’s parents, our knowledge has been expanded upon in several ways.

With their latest episode, the show sheds some light on the backstory of one of its main characters.

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Hearing King prattle on about his past and being “The King of Demons,” Lilith feels certain that the little creature’s claims are nothing but a story.

Determined to prove her wrong, King takes Lilith, Luz, and Hooty to a mysterious island…an island that might hold an even more terrifying secret.

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After his rather low-key appearance in the season two opener, it is nice to see King being a bit more of his typical self, even if some moments feel a little “forced.” Being around Luz has definitely “tamed” him, and while he can be bombastic at times, this episode is so far his most emotional.

Even though this episode is largely King’s, Luz has some notable moments. We see that she has continued to expand on her research of glyph-magic, and how she has even found a way to make new spells. There are also moments where we see how she tries to be a good friend to King, notably in how she can handle his demands and claims.

One exciting thing about the episode is a return to that feeling of exploring some strange new environment like in past episodes. The ruins encountered here feel like there is quite a bit to be deciphered, let alone the acknowledgement by Lilith that her knowledge of the Boiling Isles, mysteriously does not include the island. It is also notable that the creepy atmosphere is helped along by the music played over the scenes.

Speaking of Lilith, The episode also continues our character development with her. From her use of glyph-magic to being chummy with Hooty, she fulfills the Eda role for much of the episode. Hooty also gets some interesting moments, as the episode brings him along for the adventure (with one scene that is quite funny, yet disgusting at the same time).

This is one episode that breaks away from the typical “A/B” storylines, and just focuses on King. Eda even shows up to give us some information about him, though there is one moment that feels a little “too convenient” in some information she provides.

Echoes of the Past feels like the second season has found its footing after some rather over-bloated first episodes. The pacing is good, though some revelations and a few areas feel a little hokey in how some of the material is handled. However, what holds our attention are the characters and the new setting that reveals more information about King’s past…let alone the promise that there are still more secrets to be revealed in the future.

Best line in the episode (said by Luz) : “This environment is not conducive to learning…it’s conducive to death!”

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Final Grade: B+

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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Movie Review: Soul

Rated PG for some language and thematic elements

Ever since they were founded back in 1986, PIXAR Animation Studios has often looked to utilize their animation and storytelling skills, in unexpected ways. 25 years ago, rather than adapt a fairy tale or do a musical like The Walt Disney Studios, they created an original film about toys that would surprise many of us.

Since then, they have often looked to do concepts most would never consider. From culinary rats to a dystopian romance between two automatons, they have (usually) sold us on their often unusual ideas.

Five years ago, writer/director Pete Doctor took one of the studio’s biggest conceptual leaps with his film tied into the human mind (2015’s Inside Out). And now at the tail-end of 2020, in a world where life-and-death seem balanced on a knife’s edge on a daily basis, he tackles another concept that no other studio would dare consider.

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Musician Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) has spent his life longing to hit the big-time, and become a successful Jazz musician. However, just when his dream is poised to come true, an accident sends Joe into an out-of-body experience.

Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) takes a stroll through New York City.

Determined to get back to his body, Joe ends up in a place called The Great Before, where souls are prepared to be sent to Earth. Taking on the role of a mentor, Joe is assigned to the troublesome 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who has spent a long time refusing to find anything worthwhile about living.

Even so, Joe is willing to try anything (and everything), if it can mean him getting back to make his big break.

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To most of us, Pete Doctor has created some of the studios’ most memorable films. His work on Monsters Inc paved the way for even greater success with Up in 2009. As I went over his films, I felt that Doctor tended to do quite well when it came to emotional beats (the relationship between Sully and Boo still stands out), but in regards to the connective tissue of his films, it often feels like he’s jamming together a lot of ideas and such, that get a little too cumbersome to achieve equilibrium (just how did Charles Muntz survive for so long in Up, anyways?).

While I did feel Doctor made strides in Inside Out to try and pull together a more cohesive storyline, I have felt that maybe in some cases, he gets a bit too enveloped into the worlds or concepts he wants to tackle, and that can cause little kinks in his stories in places.

As a character, Joe Gardner may put some in mind of Up’s Carl Fredericksen. Both are people who hold on deeply to a dream, and can come off as a bit obsessive when it comes to making that dream come true. Joe’s passion for Jazz and his own daily struggles were something I could latch onto though, but it did feel at times that Joe ends up maybe being used a bit more for comic relief than he should.

Joe (Jamie Fox) attempts to find something that will interest 22 (Tina Fey) to give living a chance.

In the case of 22, I feel Tina Fey does decent work with her character, but like Joe, it feels like maybe there could have been a bit more to her than what we get. 22 is portrayed almost like someone who has had the world explained to them through virtual reality, but is someone moreso able to learn-by-doing. There are some fun little moments of interaction she has with Joe on her journey, but it felt like she just needed something extra to really make her stick with me.

For most of the film, we alternate between the Real World environment of New York City, and the more abstract visuals of The Great Beyond/Before. Much like Doctor’s alternating environs for Inside Out, the artists and technicians at Pixar once again assault our senses in a number of ways that will inspire and amaze. Each place also has hyper-stylized figures, with New York filled with caricatured humans, and The Great Beyond/Before filled with flat/abstract beings (most of them named Jerry). A highlight is the soul-counter named Terry (voiced by Rachel House), who is determined to find Joe.

Jerry (Alice Braga) and Terry (Rachel House) keep count over souls heading to The Great Beyond.

Soul also marks the first time some new musicians and composers have been brought into the mix, with a soundtrack that tag-teams Jon Batiste doing Jazz arrangements for the film, and Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose using their electronic music skills to set the mood of the The Great Beyond, and some of the quieter moments. It’s an unusual mixture of sounds and instru,entals that is quite a lovely breath of fresh air from some of the more regular composers we’ve heard. A highlight is one track where all three men manage to combine their skills into a piece that is one of the more memorable musical pieces I’ve heard all year.

To me, Pete Doctor is not a bad director, but I just wish his storytelling and filmmaking skills would rise to the levels I’ve seen from other directors like Brad Bird (The Incredibles), and Lee Unkrich (Coco). Soul weaves a tale about how our experiences and movements through life tend to make us who we are, but stumbles on it’s way to greatness (in my eyes).

When Doctor hits us with the emotional moments here (like with Up), those will be what washes over most viewers. However, in the process of doing this, he manages to easily distract from the flimsiness and flaws that are often a part of his storytelling process. After 2 decades, I’m starting to think this may just be the way Doctor is “wired” into filmmaking.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 7) – The Believer

As we near the end of Season 2 of The Mandalorian, it’s been a bumpy-yet-enjoyable ride. There have been quite a few callbacks to Season 1, with some new revelations adding to the story of Mando and his young charge, Grogu. The show has also twisted in ways I didn’t expect, and still it has proven itself to be one of the most enjoyable things associated with the words Star Wars in quite some time for me.

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Thanks to some help from Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Mando manages to spring a mercenary named Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr). A former Imperial, Migs is Mando’s key to finding Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), who is now in possession of Grogu.

With an assist from Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison) and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), the group head to the planet Morak, where Mayfield can hopefully put his former skills to good use.

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It feels like just when our momentum was building up in relation to the closing of Season 2, the series once again puts us in a “holding pattern.” The Believer is another “heist” storyline (directed by show alumni Rick Famuyiwa), but with a few tricks up it’s sleeves.

When it comes to Mayfield, I think like many of us who saw him in the season 1 episode The Prisoner, we figured he wasn’t ever going to be seen again. Much like the character of Mythrol a few episodes back, Mayfield is a reluctant part of the crew. While abrasive and a bit of a motormouth (he feels like the Joe Pantoliano of the episode!), the writers manage to give most of his ramblings a purpose to the story. A highlight comes during a transport scene, where he attempts to engage Mando in conversation.

Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Mando (Pedro Pascal), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and Migs Mayfield (Bill Burr) plot their next moves

For much of the story, Mando’s companions take a backseat as he and Mayfield are front-and-center on their mission. It almost becomes an impromptu buddy storyline, and even gives us some further insight into just how strictly Mando is willing to stick to his Mandalorian code given where his journeys have taken him.

In terms of new worlds on the show, Morak is one of the first jungle environments we’ve seen, and one that manages to give us callbacks to Rogue One in terms of the types of troopers we see. There’s also an action-scene involving a turbo tank-style transport vehicle, that definitely feels like it could have been plucked right out of a video game. The planet stop-off gives us another glimpse into the remnants of The Empire working to rebuild in the shadow of The New Republic, and offers a brief glimpse into Imperial ideologies, in the form of an officer named Valin Hess (Richard Brake)

Imperial officer Valin Hess (Richard Brake) shares a drink with some troopers

Unlike typical Imperials, Hess’ drawl seems a little out-of-place coming from the mouth of an officer. Even so, the character manages to be quite intriguing given his limited appearance. The show has done a commendable job so far making even the post-ROTJ Imperials interesting characters to watch.

Overall, The Believer feels like previous Season 2 episodes The Passenger and The Siege: it gives us a chance to catch our breath, before plunging us into what will hopefully be an even more exciting episode. Even so, it might be one of those episodes that may age better with time, given some of what is discussed and revealed regarding its characters, and their ideologies.

Final Grade: B-

My Top 10 Episodes for The Owl House (Season 1)

When it came to the recent Disney animated series The Owl House, I didn’t know what to expect. It started innocently enough, watching four episodes in one night on Disney+, and soon snowballed into completing the series over the Thanksgiving weekend!

With a start somewhat akin to Alice in Wonderland, Luz Noceda follows a little owl through a doorway, and winds up in a place called The Boiling Isles. It is here she meets a rogue witch named Eda and a demon named King. Rather than return to the real world where her mother thinks she is at a camp to calm her “creative impulses,” Luz decides to stay with Eda, where she hopes to become a witch and learn magic, before she has to return home one day.

Each episode seemed to bring new character revelations and new information about the world of the isles, that soon had me wanting to know more. With a structure very much like Gravity Falls mixed with the strangeness of something like Star vs The Forces of Evil, the nineteen episodes soon wouldn’t get out of my head…leading to me deciding to make a Top 10 list of the episodes I felt were some of the first season’s best. And so…off we go!*

*This list contains my own personal choices regarding favorite Season 1 episodes. It may not be the same as a number of other lists out there, and I have tried to keep most episode spoilers to a minimum.

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10. Wing it Like Witches

This is kind of a throwaway episode given those that came before it, but it is nice to see Luz, Willow, and even Amity Blight standing their ground in a Grudgby sports match, after Luz takes a stand against resident Hexside mean girl, Boscha. Plus, given revelations that came to light in the previous episode (Enchanting Grom Fright), Amity has some entertaining moments of awkwardness. The subplot where Eda and her sister Lilith play their own Grudgby game is okay, but felt like the writers were struggling for what to do to bring the two sisters together, before the final two episodes of the season hit them hard in a big way.

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9. The Intruder

This is one of the first episodes that serves as a stepping-stone to Luz understanding a little more about magic and demons. When a dark creature attacks the Owl House during a dangerous storm, it’s up to Luz and King to stop it. The set-up acts like a horror film at times in how it’s paced, let alone revelations and parts for the main players to all have a hand in. It serves as a nicely-balanced story with mood, while also giving us some additional history regarding Eda’s past.

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8. Covention

I almost pushed this one down a bit more, but it is an integral storypoint introducing Eda’s sister Lilith, along with revealing more about covens and witchcraft, and how they are set up in this world. We also get some more insight into Amity Blight and what seems to be her dream to one day be part of the Emperor’s Coven, which is the most powerful coven in the land. Most of this moves along well enough, that King trying to snag convention freeebies from the event can be overlooked, though a highlight for many is an action-oriented scene near the end.

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7. Enchanting Grom Fright

This episode is often at the top of most fan-lists for the show given it’s revelations near the end, but while it does bring about some nice and enjoyable moments, I feel the overall story structure can be a bit unwieldly. The main plot involving Amity and Luz worrying about the events of Hexside School’s Grom Night is the superior story, while there is the hammering in of a very minor subplot revolving around King and Luz’s school friend Gus doing Grom Night emcee duties. We also get a reminder that in the human world, Luz’s Mom thinks she’s at camp, and Luz wrestles with her emotions regarding not telling her Mom the truth. This ends up being a nice tie-in to something Luz fears, while reminding us that her time in this world is limited.

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6. Witches Before Wizards

While the first episode of the series was okay as an introduction, this second episode was what got me curious as to what was in store for Luz on the Boiling Isles. Being the only human in this world (that we know of), Luz wonders if she may be a “chosen one” figure like in some of the fantasy stories she reads. This episode functions as a nice dose of fantasy vs reality, as Luz goes off on a quest with Eda and King not far behind. Seeing it for the first time, there is the enjoyability factor as we accompany Luz on her quest, before the episode wraps up to a nice conclusion.

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5. Adventures in the Elements

With this episode, we get one of the most involved storylines of Eda working to train Luz, in the traditional style of “the master frustrates the student with her weird teaching methods.” The journey takes us to another part of the Boiling Isles, let alone brings us an encounter with Amity and her older siblings. King gets his own solo B-story, using some of Eda’s magic to create minions of his own…until his brash demands end up backfiring on him. Fortunately, the A-story manages to be quite interesting as we see the Blight siblings, Eda, and Luz interact in ways we haven’t before, let alone learn a little more about the isles.

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4. Understanding Willow

When Amity ends up accidentally damaging Willow’s memories, she and Luz go into Willow’s mind to fix what has happened. The episode is a window into not only showing us some of who Willow is, but that she and Amity have a history before their time at Hexside School. We also get another episode showing how Luz and Amity work together, while also building up new understandings. A subplot about their classmate Gus struggling to find someone to interview for a school project is a little weak, but the main storyline dealing with Willow keeps the interest going.

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3. Lost in Language

A trip to the library ends up being a most interesting storyline, that opened viewer’s eyes to see that Amity Blight might not be as bad as we first thought. Along with introducing us to her playful-yet-abrasive elder siblings, the story also gives more insight into Luz, including how she may willingly throw herself into a dangerous situation, even if she isn’t fully prepared to deal with it. The B-plot of Eda and King dealing with an unexpected babysitting gig had its entertaining moments, and fortunately was entertaining on its own terms.

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2. Young Blood, Old Souls

Though the final episode of the season, this one managed to provide a little information about the mysterious Emperor Belos, along with just why Eda’s sister Lilith has been trying to get her sister to give herself over to the coven. Luz and King also team up to try and get Eda out of Belos’ cluthes, showing how much Luz has grown to care for her mentor, and demonstrating what she can do using magic in her own way. These storypoints manage to override what feels like a shoehorning in of a secondary subplot that seeks to turn public opinion on how Belos feels about non-conforming witches (such as Eda). It could have been a stronger concept, but it feels like it suffers from having other revelations revealed, but still, one of the stronger episodes of the first season…but not as strong as…

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1. Agony of a Witch

The season has had little moments of emotion here-and-there, but this episode really amped them up in a number of ways. As Eda’s magical curse becomes more unwieldly, Luz uses a school field trip to the Emperor Belos’ castle to try and find a magic relic that might cure her. Unfortunately, she has the misfortune to run into Lilith, who decides to set a trap for her uncooperative sister. This leads to one of the most action-packed scenes in the season, let-alone gives us probably one of the most emotional moments seen on-screen for the series.

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And there we have it.

While not perfect, there were definitely more good things than bad about the first season of The Owl House. The Boiling Isles as a locale is rather grotesque yet fascinating, and unlike my frustrations with Star vs The Forces of Evil, we’re often provided with enough answers to satiate most of the questions I have about the world.

There’s some very entertaining character development that sucked me in, let alone Luz’s adorkable personality and trying to be positive in the face of often overwhelming odds. The optimism ends up being one of her best traits, and the show can often show a nice contrast between creativty and conformity.

Having premiered at the start of this year, word is a second season is currently in production. Needless to say, I have a feeling that this time until the next premiere will be a great way to draw more people into the series, and build even more anticipation regarding what is in store for Luz and her friends coming up.