Tag Archive | Walt Disney Studios

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

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: Toy Story 4

Rated G

Nine years ago, PIXAR Animation Studios seemed to have wrapped up the adventures of Woody, Buzz, and their toy pals in a nice, emotionally-charged little package…or so we thought.

Toy Story 4 catches up with Woody (Tom Hanks) and the gang shortly after the events of the last film. While Woody struggles to help his new owner Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw), things get weird when a craft project Bonnie dubs Forky (Tony Hale), suddenly comes to life!

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Forky (Tony Hale) and Woody (Tom Hanks)

It is during a road trip that the manic creation wanders off, leaving Woody to try and return the new “toy” back to it’s owner. During the journey, they encounter some new toys…and a familiar face or two.

In watching the Toy Story films over the years, it has felt like their plots mirror human life, but in “toy terms.” If the last film was about Woody learning to let go of his owner Andy, then this film is him dealing with his retirement years. In that sense, Woody’s part in the storyline will probably go over the heads of the younger crowd, but for those getting on in years, they will probably see something of themselves in the cowboy doll’s struggles.

Compared to it’s predecessors, this film definitely feels like it’s trying to pay homage to it’s past stories, but also trying to embrace these characters with new eyes. Much of the original crew that created the first film have moved on, making this an effort largely created by a newer generation.

For a portion of the film, the character of Forky becomes our Buzz Lightyear: a toy that can’t quite accept what it is, and thinks it is something else entirely. I had hoped there would be a bit more interaction between Woody and Forky, but while Forky’s antics are quite entertaining, he soon seems to become little more than our macguffin for the story.

For those expecting to see some of their favorite toys in action, most of them are shuffled to the sidelines. Even Buzz feels quite under-utilized here. At one point, the story “equips” him with a running gag, but it quickly peters out after the first few uses.

In this film, our attention is given over to a number of “new toys.” From an antique doll named Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) to a pair of carnival toys named Bunny (Jordan Peele) and Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), the film gives these characters (and several others) a chance to shine.

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Bo Peep (Annie Potts)

One thing the film’s advertising has not shied away from, is publicizing the return of a character that was sorely missed from the last film: Bo Peep (played once again by Annie Potts). Her appearance here may be one of the most radical re-imaginings for a character PIXAR has done, as the once soft-spoken porcelain doll, has become quite independent in her time away from the others. One of Woody’s greatest fears is to be a lost toy, but Bo seems to prove that one may not always need a kid to survive in the world.

For most film series, the fourth film is usually the one that ends up crashing-and-burning, leaving people wishing the filmmakers had walked away a long time ago. While Toy Story 4 doesn’t quite top the toys’ last adventure in my book, it proves that PIXAR is still a major talent to be reckoned with.

I will confess that a whirlwind of emotions passed across my face through the course of the film, and while I was rarely ever bored, the flow of the film felt uneven at times. Still, when Toy Story 4 slowed down and took its time, that was where some of it’s most beautiful work “burned brightest,” and showed the company’s next generation of filmmakers may be quite capable of carrying the studios legacy to infinity, and beyond.

Final Grade: B+

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Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 21) – Cleaved

Well…here we are. After four seasons and over 76 episodes, it all comes down to this.

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With no way to fully take down the Solarian warriors under Mina Loveberry’s control, Star proposes a radical solution: destroy the magic power that controls them. Star reasons that if she can destroy the Realm of Magic, it will undo the spell her mother (Moon Butterfly) used to help Mina bring the warriors to life.

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However, such a decision comes with a heavy price: not only will Star and others who wield the magic lose their powers, but the dimensional portals the magic controls, will be closed forever, shutting off all access to the majority of Star’s inter-dimensional friends…including Marco Diaz.

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I don’t think any of us thought that when we first saw Star Comes to Earth four years ago, one of the biggest selling-points of the series would end up being the thing that had to be destroyed. At times, Cleaved almost feels on par with season 3’s episode Toffee, given that we’re dealing with the destruction of magic, but in a slightly different context.

While Eclipsa and Moon have parts to play in this story, Star and Marco are front-and-center for the majority of it. We do get to find out what happened to Tom from several episodes ago, though it feels like one of the weaker revelations in this story (almost like the writers needed to get themselves out of a corner, and keep him in the story somehow).

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We also get some fan-related callbacks, as well as some unexpected revelations before the end of the episode, including just what “the whispering spell” incantation is (though it’s true purpose still is unrevealed).

For me, these 22-minute episodes have often been a way for the series to give us more emotional stories, and there is plenty of emotion to be had here (with one moment regarding Moon really getting me ‘right in the feels’). However, I also had to focus my attention on this episode’s story as a whole…and in that sense, Cleaved comes across as a good-but-not-great final effort for Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Maybe if the large, final storyline of the series had been packaged as a 2-hour movie, it might have felt more satisfying. Given what we’re dealing with in the 22-minute time-frame here, things feel a tad uneven, like there’s a rushed attempt to tie up a few loose ends before we get drawn into the final conclusion.

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Speaking of conclusions, I had some ideas just where the story could end, and I was surprised to find I was…maybe, 35% on-the-nose? The other 65% was definitely something I couldn’t have foreseen, but I do feel that some of the stories following the season 4 Coronation episode, were hinting at what the conclusion would be.

In the end, it’s interesting to think how far Star Butterfly has come as a character after 77 episodes. From a hyperactive girl creating flaming rainbows, to a young woman who is willing to make a major sacrifice if it will help others, it has been quite a journey.

This wasn’t the ending I would have envisioned, but from an emotional and dramatic storypoint, Cleaved manages to do a decent job. It didn’t feel quite as satisfying an ending episode as Toffee from last season (or the conclusion to another great Disney animated series: Gravity Falls), but I doubt there will be many upset with how it all turned out.

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Best line from episode (said by Star Butterfly): “Ho-ho-ho, you don’t have any skin!”

Final Grade: B+

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Best line from episode (said by Marco Diaz): “O-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho, down goes the zipper.”

When I first started watching Star vs the Forces of Evil over 4 years ago, I noticed a lack of people writing reviews after the first few episodes. That led me to start filling the hole I found online with these reviews of my own. Out of a number of things I’ve written about on this blog, this series is the only one I’ve reviewed from (near) it’s start, all the way to the end.

While Star has not had enough outstanding material to put it up with some of the best animated series I’ve seen, it’s weirdness and acknowledgments of “magical girl” anime, were what kept me watching, and to see what Daron Nefcy could bring to an American-made magical-girl series.

One of my biggest disappointments, was while Star did garner it’s own rampant fanbase online, it seemed that many did not share in a lot of the show’s mysteries that intrigued me. There were not hundreds of people trying to decipher the Mewni alphabet we saw, wonder about the backstory of obscure characters, or try to draw conclusions around the dozens of things we saw that were never given answers to. While the Gravity Falls fandom would have been analyzing everything being thrown at them, the majority of the fandom for Star, seemed more hung up on which of the fanships being shouted about online, was “the one, true faith.”

While I am sad I didn’t really find an all-inclusive community to discuss the show with during it’s run, I was happy that I did have the chance to meet some of the cast and crew.

Along with getting the chance to speak with Daron Nefcy and Dominic Bisignino at The D23 Expo a few years ago, a highlight was running into Adam McArthur outside the convention hall, and getting a one-on-one meeting with him (plus, Marco gave me a Birthday shout-out in one of the show’s livestreams a few years ago too!).

A lot of younger fans have expanded on the series in numerous ways, with all manner of fanart and comics that have shown up online. As for me, I took the ticket and rode the ride as far as the tracks would take me when it came to the series (and the un-finished Joe Books comic series and the two Disney book publications tied into it). Much like how the series Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 I read in my teens/twenties ended, Star vs the Forces of Evil’s final episode assures us that the adventures will continue, but for us in the visual realms of animation, it seems that the portal has officially closed.

This may not be the end of Star articles for me, as I may do a few more introspection articles on the series, or another Top 10 episode list. For now however, it’s time to wrap up this last episode review for Star vs the Forces of Evil.

Good night, and good luck.

 

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 20) – Pizza Party / The Tavern at the End of the Multiverse

As we move into the final episodes of Star vs the Forces of Evil’s fourth (and final) season, it looks like Mina Loveberry is not going to make things easy.

With a massive army of Solarian warriors and major threats to the monsters of the kingdom, things may be taking a turn for the worse in this latest episode.

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– Pizza Party –

In a shocking revelation, Moon reveals that Mina is actually working for her, but promises she can quell Mina’s bloodlust, if Eclipsa surrenders the crown to her, and leaves Mewni, along with Globgor and Meteora.

This story is one where there’s quite a number of revelations and head-butting to be had. It could have easily spiraled out-of-control between several of our characters, and ended up becoming a major shouting match, but I was surprised at how the story managed to weave everything together in a satisfying way. There’s plenty of things going on in this segment, that kept me eager to see what would happen next.

Earlier in the season, I was wondering about Moon’s feelings towards Eclipsa after events in season 3. I had a feeling she might harbor some ill feelings towards Eclipsa, but I definitely didn’t think she was capable of doing what she did. We also see that the Magic High Commission may have also wished Mina to return things to “normalcy,” but it looks like it is more for their benefit, and not that of the kingdom. In a pop-culture sense, it feels like Moon and the Commission, acted like the Mob in The Dark Knight, hiring an unstable individual to take care of their problem…but not realizing just what they were getting themselves into!

One other major surprise is in the opening, where we get a little backstory into who Mina was, before she was drafted into Queen Solaria’s Solarian Warrior program a long time ago. We also get our first animated viewing of Solaria in the flashback as well.

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Best line from segment (said by Eclipsa): “Oh to be perfectly honest, at this point I-I’ll skip the speech and be on my way!”

Final Grade: B

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– The Tavern at the End of the Multiverse –

Before Mina can attack them, Star, Marco, Moon, and Eclipsa are magicked away by Hekapoo, to the Tavern at the End of the Multiverse. The tavern functions as a neutral zone, and Hekapoo feels she’s saved the group from certain death. However, Eclipsa, Moon, and Star do not want to just sit around doing nothing, while Mewni is in peril.

While Moon and Eclipsa have a heart-to-heart over a game of pool, Star is surprised to find Glossaryck at the tavern, and forces him to have a discussion with her.

We also get some “ticking-clock” imagery from Mewni, regarding the fate of the monsters there, as well as what being attacked by a Solarian warrior’s sword can do to a monster (which is so shocking, it even freaks Janna out!).

This segment continues the trend of shocking revelations that we’ve seen over the last few segments. We get some regarding Moon, and a few regarding Star. Star’s revelations though, might be the most emotionally-charged of this entire segment. We get a return to The Grandma Room as glimpsed all the way back in season 2, to discuss something we saw there…and what it may mean for the future of Mewni.

It is very nice to see the writers didn’t waste their final 11-minute segment for the series. The talking that goes on here is quite revelatory, and it never feels like any of the time is being wasted.

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Best line from segment (said by Eclipsa): “My whole, entire life has been ‘a time like this,’ Moon. You learn to enjoy these moments.”

Final Grade: B+

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Eclipsa, in The Tavern at the End of the Multiverse): “That’s it! That’s it! You’re done-you’re all done! Game over!”

And then…there was one. One episode to go, and Star vs the Forces of Evil, comes to an end.

Join me soon, as I review the final episode: Cleaved. At the end of the first season, Glossaryck of Terms mentioned that something can be cleaved in two ways. It can be cleaved apart…or cleaved together.

Just what could this final title possibly mean?

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 17) – Sad Teen Hotline / Jannanigans

It’s been a little odd having Star Butterfly and Marco Diaz back on earth, after having spent quite a bit of time back on Mewni.

However, with 5 episodes to go before the end of the season (and the series altogether), it looks like the writers are revving up their engines, for the end.

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– Sad Teen Hotline –

Tom comes to visit Star on Earth, but while Star is excited to see him, Tom wants to speak to her about their relationship. Things get even more upsetting, when they find that they can’t communicate with, or get back to Mewni!

One thing I have often been interested in (and wish the writers would do more of), are these real-world connections when it comes to relationships. If you’ve been through one, you can clearly see that the persons who are writing this stuff, are putting their experiences into these characters.

There are extra bits of situational comedy worked into the story, though none of them really succeed in working that well. Probably the one that functions well enough, is Mr Diaz’s calling up the Sad Teen Hotline for comfort over Tom and Star’s relationship woes.

There are some decent bits of emotional drama interspersed throughout the story, but it feels like the emotional ennui drags on for a little too long.

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Best line from segment (said by Female Officer): “I’ve never known true happiness, ever since I got dumped over twenty years ago. I ‘m sad a lot.”

Final Grade: B-

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– Jannanigans –

Star, Marco, and Tom are still unable to return to Mewni via their magical conveyances. However, Star soon believes Janna may know a way to get them back. Unfortunately, Janna claims she doesn’t know how she got to Mewni recently, and leads her friends on a journey to jog her memory.

Earlier in the season, Janna suddenly appeared on Mewni without explanation. Given how most unexplained happenings on the show are shrugged off, this was definitely a surprise to me to see this brought up.

One fun moment is getting to see Janna’s home life, particularly her parents (which was definitely not what I expected to ever see, or experience!).

This segment even ends up tying into others we’ve seen, from one in the last episode, to another all the way back in season 3. That season 3 connection was one that I didn’t think was going to have any bearing on the future (though how Star in this scene is able to remember it, feels like some fact-fudging when it comes to the writer’s logic).

Even with those eye-opening connections, this just felt like a rather ‘meh’ Janna story. I sometimes figure Janna is the substitute Ponyhead at times, when the writers needed someone to be annoying to our characters on their quest, and throw a wrench into things.

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Best line from segment (said by Marco Diaz): “Janna, I didn’t realize how much this was affecting you. Plus, I didn’t realize that, you actually had, human emotions.”

Final Grade: C+

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Janna’s mother, in Jannanigans): “I hear Vancouver’s nice.”

Well, it seems like the final story arc of the series, has begun with this very episode! The inter-connectivity of the two segment storylines, seems to guarantee that this might be a story on par with The Battle for Mewni from season 3. We get some emotional turmoil and some surprising callbacks, but this episode has that thankless task of getting the ball rolling, leaving us to hope that where the story ends up, will be well worth it.

Next episode, we return to the Realm of Magic, in Mama Star. Then in Ready, Aim, Fire, a major skirmish begins to take place against Eclipsa. See you soon for the next review!

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 16) – Beach Day / Gone Baby Gone

Now that it seems Mewni is in good hands via Eclipsa and Globgor, Star is all set to just relax on earth with her best friend, Marco Diaz…or is she?

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– Beach Day –

Before The Battle for Mewni took place, Father Time gave Star an instant-camera picture of her and Marco, that was labeled “beach day.” The picture was taken some time in the future, and Star has been waiting to experience the day when the picture was taken. When she sees Marco’s father using an instant camera, she believes that day has finally arrived!

This is quite a fun situational episode. There’s some shades of The Banagic Incident here given how erratic Star is in trying to obtain her goal, but that actually helps make the story more entertaining. Plus, when some of her magic ends up not being compatible with the earth-dimension, she’s forced to handle a few issues like a normal girl.

Marco is kind of dragged along for the ride this time, but the writers manage to make him very entertaining. He obviously knows that the events in the photo mean a lot to Star, and like the old days, he wants to help his best friend have a good time.

It feels like a long time since there has been an 11-minute segment that felt so entertaining from start-to-finish. Most segments for SVTFOE have the habit of not getting good until the story is almost over. Here, there is such an enjoyable flow to the events, even within the last few minutes of the story,  where the logic of what happens may end up twisting viewers’ brains into pretzels.

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Best line in segment (said by Marco Diaz): “How much of my life would be affected by what I choose to do with my zit?…do I have free will?”

Final Grade: B+

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– Gone Baby Gone –

While babysitting both Meteora and his baby sister Mariposa, Marco is surprised when Hekapoo visits. Unfortunately, the portal she came through was left open in Mariposa’s room, and the two babies go through it!

Star and Marco follow, only to find that in the span of a few minutes on earth, the two babies have grown into teenagers in the other dimension, and formed a sisterly bond.

When it comes to adventures into the dimensions where Hekapoo dwells, these kinds of stories are the ones that have proven the most entertaining to me. From Running with Scissors to this one, it feels like there could still be even more entertaining stories to be told in this largely-unknown realm.

Much like how Marco experienced all sorts of (unseen) adventures, so too have Meteora and Mariposa. As they were so young when they first arrived, Star and Marco seem like strangers to them, and they seem somewhat untrusting of these newcomers. The story here feels like it could have been “borrowed” from some anime or manga, right down to the diva-ish baddie that our characters face off against. This type of villain feels rather unconventional, and I think that’s what makes his appearance here so enjoyable.

Just like Beach DayGone Baby Gone has an entertaining story from start-to-finish, and makes me wish we could have possibly gotten a few more stories out of Meteora and Mariposa’s time in this other dimension.

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Best line in segment (said by Meteora): “I don’t know why, but something about you…makes me angry!”

Final Grade: B+

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Brunzetta, in Gone Baby Gone): “Wait…did you summon me all the way out here just to ask for directions?”

After last episode’s rather ‘meh’ segments, this one proved to be quite surprising with it’s stories revolving around time and space. Beach Day delved into resolving a story element that was set in place all the way back at the end of the second season. Gone Baby Gone took a concept that I could never have conceived of, and took a number of characters on an adventure that just kept surprising me at every turn!

As we close in on the final five episodes of Star vs the Forces of Evil, one wonders how things are going to start winding down. Next episode, the first segment titled Sad Teen Hotline, deals with some issues that Tom has with Star. Then, in Jannanigans,we see Janna return to (hopefully) assist our group. See you back here soon!

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 15) – Doop-Doop / Britta’s Tacos

Well, after a rather emotional high-point with last episode’s coronation, we return to our regular, two-segmented episode format.

So now, what are those crazy kids gonna do next?

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– Doop-Doop –

Following the events of Eclipsa’s coronation, a number of our main characters have decided to scatter to the winds.

While Marco and Janna return to Earth, Star and Tom decide to take a little vacation. However, Star claims she wants to say goodbye to all her Mewni friends before they go…which seems to take awhile.

This story almost feels like an extended “cameo” segment, wherein we get to see Star and Tom interact with all sorts of characters she wants to say farewell to. The writers also throw in a few that we haven’t encountered before.

What ended up saving the story from falling into “C-grade territory,” was a bit between Tom and Star at the end. What the writers have done with Tom’s character still impresses me, given that it seems he truly has matured beyond his more volatile temper from the beginning of the series. There are some things that are bugging Star, and Tom actually chooses to tackle these issues…by talking!

An okay storyline, but one that feels like it could have used a much better set-up, to get to it’s conclusion.

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Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): “Mm, that’s good mewman.”

Final Grade: B-

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– Britta’s Tacos –

Star goes along with Marco and his new baby sister Mariposa, to Britta’s Tacos. Marco is eager to finish his punch-card from the place and get their mystery prize, but as he attempts to complete his card, he runs across a number of people he hasn’t seen in awhile.

This story almost feels like the yang to Doop-Doop’s ying. While that segment showed us a number of creatures Star knew, this episode becomes a veritable cavalcade of characters we haven’t seen in awhile, associated with Marco and Echo Creek. Notable among them is StarFan13, who is almost like our “in-the-know” narrator about what has been going on in Marco’s absence.

This story is pretty much Marco-centric, with Star just finally allowed to “relax” after the last year(!?) of craziness on Mewni. One bit of emotional craziness Marco finds himself second-guessing himself on, was his treatment of Jackie Lynn Thomas when they were dating some time ago. The ‘was I a bad boyfriend’ vibe that Marco deals with, is something that is very real, and I do wonder if the show’s writers brought that element out of their own pasts, and put it up on the screen for all to see.

Much like Star’s emotional ennui in Doop-Doop, it is Marco’s own questioning of his feelings that keeps this an okay storyline.

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Best line from segment (said by Star Butterfly): “If we’re gonna do this, Mama needs a horchata.”

Final Grade: B-

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by Seahorse, in Doop-Doop): “If I go outside, I’ll explode!”

As is the norm, when we come back down from a 22-minute episode, the 2-segment episode that follows usually doesn’t succeed in outdoing it.

Doop-doop unfortunately feels like a story that could have been much more entertaining regarding Star’s emotional baggage. Britta’s Tacos on the other hand, deals with Marco’s pasts in a number of different ways, and causes him to wonder about his past actions.

In the next episode, it looks like Star and Marco are finally going to have their Beach Day. And in Gone Baby Gone, baby Meteora and Marco’s little sister accidentally go through a portal, leading to our teen couple to rescue the two, before it’s too late. See you back soon!

Episode Review: Star vs the Forces of Evil (Season 4, Episode 14) – Coronation

When it comes to 22-minute episodes of Star vs the Forces of Evil, the showrunners usually reserve these rarities for something big.

And with a title like Coronation, it looks like this could definitely fit the bill.

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– Coronation –

Star has helped Eclipsa to put on an official, royal coronation. All seems to be going well…until it’s revealed that someone has unfrozen Globgor from his crystal imprisonment!

When it comes to her relationship with Eclipsa, Star has often seemed a bit more open-minded than most in the kingdom (including her Mom). While she has strived to help Eclipsa, there have been a few times this season where she has found herself questioning the former Queen’s motives. While this is Eclipsa’s coronation episode, Star does most of the “heavy-lifting” story-wise.

It is a little surprising that we are shown Globgor so soon after the last storyline. I had expected that maybe we’d get a little time to catch our breath, but here he is! There are also some embellishments made to his monster powers that we saw in The Monster and the Queen segment, and we get to see a number of persons freaked out by Globgor’s imposing form. However, if you saw his previous, un-crystallized appearance, you’ll see plenty of familiar touches to his character here.

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What is notable about parts of this story, is how there are several threads from episodes we’ve already seen, that actually get tied into this one. That has been a saving grace for a number of stories this season, given how it seemed fairly common in previous seasons to be shown stuff that would never be resolved, or simply go nowhere.

We also get a small sub-plot in regards to Moon Butterfly, as well as the small mewman colony she and her husband River oversee. While Moon strives to just provide a safe-haven for displaced mewmans, the centuries-old thought that “monsters are evil” still has not totally washed away with Eclipsa’s taking back the throne (let alone the thought that she’s favoring monsters over them). This is something one rarely sees in an animated cartoon series, and the show has decided to not just wave a magic wand and make everyone see logic or reason, but prove that this is something that may take awhile to be resolved in this world.

There is also a rather mild sub-story, wherein during the emergency crisis, Marco, Tom, and a few others from the castle attempt to distract the coronation crowd with a talent show. I will admit it’s okay for a few laughs, including one scene that just feels like something that teenagers would totally do when performing.

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By the time the episode ended, I was surprised to realize how satisfying I found the entire thing! There was not only drama, but emotion, action, fun, and a number of callbacks to various characters and plot-threads we’ve seen over the last few seasons. While I felt there were a few story hiccups here-and-there, the overall story was strong enough, that I found myself giving it one of the highest grades so far for season 4 episodes yet.

Coronation is definitely one of those “turning-point” episodes, and one can only wonder how the actions of what takes place within it, will shape the last seven episodes of Star vs the Forces of Evil.

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Best line from episode (said by Janna): “Nice job, Eclipsa. I get it now.”

Final Grade: A-

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Best honorable mention line from episode (said by random coronation attendee): “I don’t know how to respond to this shift in the paradigm!”

I wasn’t sure just what to expect with this episode. To me, it could have ended up as another Bon Bon the Birthday Clown, but instead, came out on top with a revelatory tone and feel, that made me as emotionally-involved as I was with last season’s episode, titled Toffee.

The next episode sees a return to the two-segment episode format. First up is Doop-Doop, where Star and Tom decide to take a little trip. Then, in Britta’s Tacos, Star goes back to Earth, and attempts to help Marco with a little quest of his own there. See you soon!