Zootopia (2016)

No, this movie isn’t out on DVD yet. This is actually the first movie I feel like I have to review before I own it. For a few reasons:

  1. I’m leaving Disney and well, this is Disney. It fits in here and I’ll do it here.
  2. This movie pertains to SO MUCH going on right now in The U.S. and the world. I really want to bash this movie over everyone’s heads.

I will start by saying that I have been excited about this movie since I heard it existed. Why? Because Lasseter was excited about it when it was pitched to him. And we all know I believe Lasseter = Disney God.

I was also excited because it joins a handful of other Disney movies that do NOT feature humans (the others being Bambi, Robin Hood, The Lion King, and Chicken Little). Also excited because it was said to be a mystery, and existed in a land where animals weren’t just anthropomorphic but maintained their animal adaptations and habitats. As a biology person who loves mysteries, I was EXCITED.

Needless to say there are SPOILERS ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet. It goes a little something like this (go with me as I’ve only seen it once and this is liable to be a LONG synopsis):

We open and get to know one of our main characters, Judy Hopps. She’s a kid in a talent show giving us the history of the land we’re in. Apparently predators used to eat prey but they’ve since evolved and now they live side by side. We also learn that Judy wants to become a cop in Zootopia, a feat which has never been accomplished by a rabbit before. Her parents (who are hilarious, btw) tell her to settle and just be a carrot farmer, but she has higher dreams.

We also see her get bullied by a fox named Gideon, which leads to her parents not trusting foxes. Then we’re thrown into a montage showing her living her dream and becoming the first rabbit ever to go through the police academy and assigned in Zootopia city center as part of Mayor Lionheart’s Mammal inclusion program. Except… Chief Bogo puts her on Meter maid duty while all the other cops are assigned to missing mammal cases (14 in total. This will be important later, I promise).

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Not willing to let it get her down, Judy gives herself the goal of writing 200 tickets before noon, which she hits before getting conned by a fox and his partner (a fennec fox) posing as a father and son wanting to buy a popsicle from a pachyderm establishment. She helps them out only to learn through following them that they melt the larger popsicle down into smaller ones to sell and make a profit (again… will be important later). She confronts him, but it doesn’t go well, and he shuts her down.

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It’s pretty good con, using a Fennec Fox as a kid.

Later she’s busy meter maid-ing when a weasel runs out of a grocery store, having robbed the place. She gets excited and pursues him until he is arrested, only to learn that he stole onions. Bogo is not happy she left her post and is ready to fire her when Mrs. Otterton comes into his office begging for someone to help her find her husband, Emmett (Emmet Otter… anyone? anyone?). Judy agrees much to Bogo’s dismay, and with the assistant Mayor Bellweather in the room, he can’t tell her she can’t. So he gives her 48 hours to find Mr. Otterton or she relinquishes her badge.

Upon getting the case file from front desk man Clawhauser (who I swore was Josh Gad for the entire movie only to learn it wasn’t…) she only has a single picture from his last known location. However, upon noticing he is carrying one of the popsicles the fox who conned her was selling, she has a starting point.

So she finds that fox, whose name is Nick, and pretty much blackmails him into helping her.

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Luckily he knows everyone in the city and through his reluctant help, they track Mr. Otterton’s whereabouts to a completely clawed up limousine. After speaking with the owner of the Limo (I won’t spoil who it belongs to), he sends them to the driver, who talks about how Mr. Otterton went all “savage” and began destroying the inside of the car after he started talking about something called the “night howler.” Judy and Nick then watch as before their eyes the driver too turns savage and they must escape.

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I would run from that too!

She calls for backup, but of course when backup, including Bogo, gets there, the savage panther driver that she had handcuffed is no longer there.

Bogo is disappointed in Judy and tells her to hand in her badge, as obviously she could not produce Mr. Otterton (and quite honestly, he doesn’t believe her about the savage story.) This is the moment Nick has a change of heart and pretty much tells Bogo off, telling him that they still have 10 hours to produce Mr. Otterton, and they will be going.

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With Nick on board completely, Judy has Assistant Mayor Bellweather pull up the traffic cams only to find that a van came by and wolves came and took the savage driver. Assuming these are the “night howlers,” they track them to a facility to find all 14 of the missing mammals. They are all savage (and all predators – that’s important too), and the Mayor has been trying to figure out what went wrong and how to get them back to normal, but no one can figure it out (this is all discovered covertly, of course). Judy sends a video of Mayor Lionheart admitting he kept the police out of it to Bogo, who goes on to arrest Lionheart.

Judy becomes a hero and respected at the police office for finding all of the missing mammals, and when they interview her, she gets a bit flustered on how to answer the questions (despite some coaching from Nick) and begins to quote what the scientist in the facility told Lionheart – that it might come down to biology and the fact that predators are hard-wired this way. Obviously this interview has some fallout. Nick can’t believe that she believes that and leaves her. Animals begin to suspect predators will turn “savage” at any moment. Lionheart is removed from office and Bellweather becomes Mayor. She in turn wants Judy to become the new face of the ZPD, to which Judy declines and turns in her badge bc this isn’t why she became a police officer, and she needs to fix this.

She returns home, where she learns through a random encounter that a “night howler” is not a wolf, but a plant (a flower actually) that will turn anyone savage – even a rabbit. With this new information, she heads back to Zootopia, finds Nick and begs forgiveness, then they’re off to find out who’s behind the plot and who’s been causing the animals to turn savage.

I’m actually going to end it here because, well, I can’t give away everything!

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so OMG this movie. How how how did they do this?

This movie is about prejudice. It’s about race and discrimination. It’s about feminism and judging people based on what they look like or do, not what they are. AND IT MAKES SENSE TO KIDS. AND IT DOES IT WELL.

This movie should belong to Pixar. Because it takes this incredibly deep message and tackles it head-on without looking back or being sorry its doing it. And it succeeds. It succeeds without bashing it over a person’s head because this is just how things work in this world. It makes sense in the world that is so unlike ours but yet… it is… so… much… like… ours.

The elephant refusing service to Nick and his partner in the beginning because he’s a fox. Discriminating against Judy because she’s a rabbit and not “big enough” to be a real cop. Nick’s entire backstory (omg i’m going to tear up). The whole thing with “only rabbits can call each other cute. When someone else says it it’s…”

Predators being affected and targeted by the Night Howler to instill fear in the general public, which we’re told is 90% prey animals. Suddenly they can’t go anywhere and do anything. They’re judged simply for being who they are. Hmm, sound familiar to a certain issue we’re all dealing with right now with syrian refugees and religious fear (not to mention the more domestic racism this country deals with on an everyday level)??

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Zootopia is a movie that starts out saying “Sly fox, dumb bunny,” but in the end it’s really about how to break those stereotypes. Judy and Nick do it. “It’s a place where anyone can be anything.”

Let’s talk about our characters for a bit. There are a lot so I am really just going to focus on our two main characters, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde.

We’re in a day and age at Disney where female characters really are capable of doing anything. We saw that in Frozen, Tangled, The Princess and the Frog, and we see that again in Zootopia. Judy doesn’t care about what rabbits “should” do. She just knows what she wants to do, and puts her mind to it and accomplishes it. She’s strong, brave, smart, and sly enough to outwit many characters she comes in contact with.

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She’s from a podunk little town where everyone has the same beliefs…. and the same prejudices. Her parents don’t trust foxes. They even give her fox repellant when she leaves for the city. She has a bad experience with Gideon (a fox) as a kid, and so of course has this preconceived notion as to what foxes are like. But even we can see in the beginning that she’s trying to fight that and be impartial. She tries to help Nick and his partner in the beginning almost to prove to herself that not all foxes are horrible. Of course this backfires, as he is what she thought, until she gets to really know him (but more on that later).

Judy is voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, who I think was a great choice. She’s got a naivety to her but a very can-do attitude and the ability to talk circles. I LOVE that they use a rabbit’s natural adaptations of good hearing, speed and jumping to her advantage. I also love that through Judy we almost get a lesson as to how Cops are supposed to behave. She has this picture in her mind about what being a cop in Zootopia is going to be like, and, well… it doesn’t turn out the way she wants it to. When she’s asked to be the face of the ZPD and turns it down, she does so because she says she was brought in to help all people, and this would be turning her back on some of them. That that’s not what cops do (or something like this… I’m not quoting obviously). It’s another interesting (and timely, in the U.S.) lesson that Disney chose to stick in there quickly.

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Also, if the whole story about Judy doesn’t correspond to “women can do and be anything,” you’re just not paying attention to this movie.

Now let’s talk about Nick. He’s voiced by Jason Bateman who honestly I’m surprised took this long to voice a Disney character. I’m a fan of Bateman, especially Arrested Development, and I was excited to hear him. He does pretty well giving Nick a layer of sass and confidence that gets stripped away as the movie goes.

I’m going to give away his backstory, so if you want it a surprise… well, skip the next few paragraphs. Whereas Judy has been fighting her stereotypes her whole life to become a cop, Nick gave in to his. The only thing he ever wanted was to become a scout:

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Seriously cute

But then just as he gets an invite, he’s bullied and tormented as a kid by prey animals who said they would “never let a predator” into their scout group without a muzzle. They attack and muzzle him, humiliating him and disillusioning him in that one action with how the world really is and how predators really are seen and treated. So… he became what society wanted him to be. He became the sly fox. The con artist.

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Look how suave he is.

Is this who he really is? No. But no one ever gives him a chance to be who he’s capable of being until Judy comes along. And not even that. In the beginning when she is blackmailing him he continues to be suave, and purposefully sabotaging her investigation because, well, he thinks she’s just a dumb bunny. But then there’s the scene where they lose the savage limo driver and Bogo tells her to hand in her badge, and that she wasn’t cut out for this. In that moment, he understands. This is her moment of humiliation and disillusion that he had when he was a kid. And he’s not going to let that happen to her. In that moment, he understands that they are more alike than different. Neither of them are like their stereotypes.

Their relationship is one of the things that makes this movie so special. This is one of the few Disney movies where there really isn’t a romantic relationship central to the story, and this movie really excels BECAUSE of this. Judy and Nick have a friendship that ends up based on acceptance. Is it perfect? no. But they understand each other, and their chemistry is great.

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This is near the very end of the movie. Yeah that carrot pen is more important than you’d think

I’m not going to go into great detail, but a lot of the other side characters are great. Clawhauser (Nate Torrence – Not Josh Gad…) is the bumbling but sweet front desk cop with a love for all things “Gazelle” (a singer in Zootopia) Chief Bogo (Idris Elba… apparently he is just voicing Disney characters now)  is firm but you kinda get he’s not exactly the smartest guy in the world. We’ve got Flash the sloth, mayor Lionheart, and others to round out our cast. None of them are really that blah. They’re all funny or needed. And the jokes are good, so we’ll keep them.

But then there’s Judy’s parents (Don Lake and Bonnie Hunt), who definitely (IMO) steal the supportive character show with probably all of 10 minutes (if that) on screen. They have some of the best lines and the banter back and forth and with Judy is comic gold. How they have time to spend with one of their 389 (or something) children is beyond me, but hey, they must be awesome parents, or she must be their favorite.

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The last character I want to talk about is the villain. That being said, there are major SPOILERS ahead. I’ve kept it major spoiler free for the most part so far, but I really can’t discuss this without naming names. You have been warned.

I’ll admit it. I should have seen it coming. Disney is sort of getting into a rut with their villains these days. It’s always the person you least expect. King Candy (or Turbo), Hans, Robert Callaghan. I’m not saying this is necessarily a bad way to do it (and i’m all for twists in movies), but… let’s just say in Moana I’m going to assume the bad guy is really someone who early in the movie was thought of as good.

Case in point: Bellweather. Criminal mastermind.

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In a lot of ways, it makes sense. She’s a smaller animal that feels disrespected and undervalued not only in her job but I’m sure her life. She makes jokes about it almost the entire movie, and tells Judy more than once that “us little guys gotta stick together.”She works for a lion and thus has a underlying hatred towards predators. Whereas Judy is our character who tries to defy her stereotype and Nick was one who sank into his, Bellweather represents the person who got mad at her stereotype. She blames everyone who’s not like her for the way things are and the way she’s treated, gets mad, and seeks revenge. She views the predators as having some type of edge on the world and in her mind they are the “villains” for always putting the little guys last. In her mind, she’s freeing the world from their tyranny.

I’ll come right out and say it. Bellweather is a terrorist. She uses the Night Howler to create fear and panic in the city and targets a specific group, the predators. As she says, they are in the minority (Zootopia is 90% prey animals), so the majority should go along with her, right?

Except she doesn’t speak for all the small animals, just as those savage night-howler predators don’t speak for their kind. Terrorists (as we’ve learned from our real life experiences) are typically in the minority of whatever group they come from. They don’t represent their group as a whole. And this is another thing this movie shows us.

Seriously. This movie just gets smarter and smarter the more I think about it.

Alright enough on characters. I want to talk about not only how great this animation is but OMG the world they created is unbelievable!

They could have easily just made this a busy metropolis with no character. A “look at the animals that live in a city like us” thing. But they didn’t. Instead, they took the idea of neighborhoods like in NYC and designed the city based on how animals would design it. We have Sahara square, where all the desert animals live. We have Tundra town, and the Rainforest District. And each is a different habitat, and animated beautifully. I can’t begin to tell you how brilliant and creative this is. Again. This is the kind of thing we typically expect from Pixar.

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I really wish we could have seen more of it. We got to the Rainforest District and got to see a bit of Tundratown, but I want to see all of it! Again, am I the only one wishing for a Zootopia 2?

The only other thing I’m going to say about this movie is that it is (unsurprisedly?) chock full of references. Some are extremely apparent, some are incredibly subtle (I suggest going to youtube and searching for “Zootopia Easter Eggs” if you’re curious – there are way too many to put down here). Some had me laughing so incredibly hard, some my husband didn’t catch (or didn’t know about) and some we both went “Did they really just do that in a Disney movie?”

A few of my favorites that are pretty blatant:

  • The Character of Emmett Otterton. Come on. Obviously a play on “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas (both the book and the more well known muppet adaptation)
  • The weasel that steals from the grocery store in the beginning then holds the key to uncovering the villain at the end’s name is Duke Weaselton, obviously a play on the Duke of Wesselton from Frozen. Not only is he voiced by the same person (The ever awesome Alan Tudyk), but they actually call him “wesselton” in Zootopia and he corrects them “It’s Weaselton.” hahaha.
  • The Godfather reference in Tundratown. Classic.
  • And of course, the Breaking bad reference. I haven’t even seen the show but even I knew when they got in that rail car and saw the blue flowers that they were going for that. Even better when there was a knock on the door and voices go “It’s Walter and Jesse.” 10 points for Disney for that one.

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  • Also anyone notice Mrs. Otterton has the same coloring as Rapunzel from Tangled? and Nick looked an awful lot like Robin Hood?

Like I said, there’s a ton of other references. But those were some of my favorites.

This movie is… well, it’s awesome. I could probably go on and on about it and it’s pertinence to the world today, but I really don’t want to turn this into a political or incredibly depressing post. The point is that this movie teaches about prejudice, judgements, and in it’s 3 more important characters represents what happens with each road you decide to take. It’s got some amazing visuals, unforgettable characters, incredible heart and some quick wit and hilarious jokes. This movie requires more viewing by me to determine where it falls on my Disney list, but I’d be safe to say it’s probably at least in my top 10-15.

I give Zootopia (2016) a 4.5 out of 5. Solid entertainment.

Up Next: Toy Story (1995)

 

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Enchanted (2007)

I feel like I can’t move out of Disney Animation without reviewing this movie first. Half animated, half live action, I could have stuck it with when I review classics like Mary Poppins and Pete’s Dragon, but it just won’t fit as well there. So I’m putting it here.

When I saw the first trailer for this movie, my first thought was “Oh God that looks AWFUL.” It looked like a horrible mix of rehashed Disney movie and RomCom with way too much strangeness. I figured there’d be horrible songs and it would be campy as hell. So needless to say I didn’t go see it. Instead, I let it pass in the theaters, then I kept hearing people talk about it and how funny and great it was. Three (I think?) of the songs were up for an academy award. And that got me to thinking “hmm, maybe this movie isn’t as weird/campy as I thought? I’ll give it a watch.”

And I. Loved. It.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear about this movie. It IS campy. It IS weird. It IS a weird mix of Disney movie and RomCom. And somehow… it works at being incredibly charming.

Our movie starts in Animation, in the fictional land of Andalasia. A beautiful Maiden named Giselle dreams of finding her true love, and will know so based on their first kiss. Meanwhile, Prince Edward is hunting trolls and hears Giselle singing and must go find her. He rescues her from a troll, they sing together and are ready to be married. But just before the wedding, Prince Edward’s stepmother, Queen Narissa, pushes Giselle down a well that transports her to Life-action land and NYC.

Trying to figure out where she is and cope and get back to Edward, Giselle and her Naivety are taken pity on by Robert and his daughter (ok at this point mostly his daughter) Morgan. They take her back to their condo and Robert allows her to stay the night.

Meanwhile, Giselle’s chipmunk friend Pip tells Edward what happened, and he heads to Real-world land to find Giselle, along with Queen Narissa’s Henchman Nathaniel, who is tasked with making sure he doesn’t find her.

Hijinks ensue as both parties deal with being in the real world, and slowly Giselle and Robert bond. Giselle and Edward are eventually reunited, but at this point she has changed immensely from having learned about the real world, but still agrees to go back to Andalasia after going on “A date.”

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Aka: let’s do everything touristy in New York!

This date culminates with a dance, in which Queen Narissa, after losing faith in Nathaniel, shows herself in the real world and poisons Giselle. After attempting to bring her back to life and failing, Edward realizes her true love is Robert. He kisses her and brings her back to life. Upset, Queen Narissa turns into a dragon,and fights not Edward but Giselle at the top of the building. She wins, the dragon plummets to the ground, Giselle stays with Robert, Roberts Fiance goes to Andalasia with Edward, and no one in NYC seems to pay any attention

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This movie could have so easily been awful. It has a lot of Homages to classic Disney movies, it has a lot of strangeness, and it pretty much makes fun of the Disney way of thinking about love. But. It. Works.

Here’s why:

Disney took itself seriously, as did every single actor and actress that worked on this movie. You can tell that although they are making fun of Disney EVERYTHING (songs, falling in love at first sight, true loves kiss, etc) they also LOVE these things.

And that, my friends, is why this works as a perfect parody. It’s the same reason Mel Brooks Parodies are good, and all those “not another [insert type of movie here]” movies are horrible. Mel loves his source material. To truly do a good parody, you need to also love the thing you are making fun of. Everything has something “wrong” with it if you look close enough. parodies are meant to poke fun of these things. But with love.

Another reason this movie works is the actors. Amy Adams in the multiple years after this movie has come out has established herself as an A-list actor, appearing in a huge range of films and having an oscar nomination out of it. But back in 2007, I knew her as “that girl that had that small part in Catch me if you Can.”

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Yeah… that’s really her.

Amy Adams OWNS Giselle. She is essentially playing a Disney princess who gets disillusioned by real life. But instead of being depressed about everything that isn’t the way she thinks it should be, she instead takes the differences of the real world and tries to impress upon Robert that you can act crazy and romantic and it will work. That women like that (clue to guys: they really do!!). She injects a little bit of Disney simple life into the real world in the same way that he injects some real world onto her. As the movie progresses she becomes much more realistic but still holds onto that bubbly personality that believes in true love and happy endings and that singing will make you happy. She has this child-like Naivety that I think we all wish we had.**

I would also like to give a shout out to the costume and hair people who did an amazing job helping Giselle make this transition from “cartoon” to “more realistic.” I mean, they took her from this:

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To this:

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Kudos. This helps mirror her inner changes 🙂

On the flip side we have Robert. He is an “actual” adult. He has a job, responsibilities, is working on keeping a relationship afloat, and has been left by his wife and forced to become a single parent to his daughter, who he is trying to teach can be anything and can be confident and powerful.

You could argue that Robert teaching his daughter to be confident and that she can be anything is almost negated by the fact that a “princess” shows up and plays into all of her fantasies, but I think that’s almost the point of this movie. Confidence comes in a lot of different ways. You just have to be confident in yourself and what you believe. And Giselle is. She doesn’t care she’s walking around New York City in a dress made from curtains. She isn’t embarrassed to start singing in the middle of central park. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks because she is confident.

On the other hand, Robert acts how many of us would act given the circumstance. He doesn’t want to help her. He wants her to only stay a night then leave. You can almost sense that he thinks this woman is on drugs (he does tell his daughter Morgan to sleep in his room that night). He is a down to earth, serious adult.

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How most of us would react if someone randomly starting singing in the middle of Central Park

In the same way that he changes her and makes her become more realistic (all while maintaining really who she is deep down), she changes him to see some of the “magic” and “fun” that can be had, even as an adult. This is the best message in this movie. Adults, sometimes it’s ok to be silly, sing at the top of your lungs, and believe in fairy tales and true love. It’s ok to let your kids be kids and love Princesses. There will be plenty of time to teach them about empowered women, but what exactly is “empowerment”? Like I said before, as long as someone is confident, I don’t see the difference.

Our side characters are a bit hit or miss for me honestly. James Marsden plays Edward, and you can tell he is having a blast with this role. He’s crazy and over the top. He’s really stuck in Andalasia and unlike Giselle has no want or ability to change. But man is he fun to watch. Same goes for our little animal sidekick (who doesn’t talk during the majority of the movie but is fun to watch all the same)

The same goes for Nancy, Robert’s Fiance (Idina Menzel). First of all, I love Idina, but she plays this part kinda wooden. Maybe that’s the point. But she’s a woman who wants all this fairy tale stuff and isn’t getting it with Robert. by the end of the movie she’s better suited for life in Andalasia, and that’s where she goes, to live out her fantasy and live Happily ever after.

Our villains Narissa and Nathaniel are complete Disney Tropes, but again, you can tell that  Susan Sarandon and Timothy Spall (who is typecast here as he always seems to be) are having a blast in their rolls. I was a bit disappointed that they couldn’t think of a villain more original than a wicked witch/Maleficent hybrid, but eh. I will say, however, that I kinda loved it that they gave Nathaniel a bit of motivation for always doing Narissa’s bidding. I also loved that he realized as the movie went on that he was being used and the relationship wasn’t exactly “healthy.” It’s an interesting way to go in delving into the motivation behind why bad henchmen follow the bad guy, and although I could take or leave Nathaniel’s character, I enjoyed that aspect of it.

The songs in this movie are almost, again, “typical” Disney songs, but they are enjoyable. I like to think that this movie, not The Princess and the Frog, was actually the one to herald back the era of Disney musicals that I missed oh so much. The songs do what they’re supposed to do, and are a bit forgettable to be honest. Although I have a personal affinity towards “so close” (the “single” – totally not a disney song…) and “That’s how you know.” That song is just so freaking adorable, and we’d all act completely like Robert in that song…

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The “I’m doing it because you’re making me” look

All in all, Enchanted (2007) is an enjoyable Parody that exists on its own as a relatively enjoyable, albeit campy movie. If you try to think too much while you’re watching it, it won’t be enjoyable. So just get yourself to believe in fairy tales for an hour and a half, and you won’t be disappointed.

I give Enchanted (2007) a 3.7 out of 5

**I totally have a friend like Giselle. I love her to death because through everything she hasn’t given up on anything. She reminds me to stay happy no matter what. We all need a friend like that and I think this is most of the reason I love this movie…

Up Next: Zootopia (2016) BC I can.

 

Meet the Robinsons (2007)

I would attempt to name them all L to R, but I can't...

I would attempt to name them all L to R, but I can’t…

 

I want to start this review by talking about John Lasseter:

Animation GOD!!

Animation GOD!!

If you don’t know who that man is, you can’t call yourself a Disney/Pixar fan. You just can’t. As far as I’m concerned, this man is the animation GOD.

Why is he God? First of all, he’s pretty much responsible for directing Pixar’s first three movies, and now he acts as executive producer on literally EVERY SINGLE MOVIE DISNEY PUTS OUT (Disney animation as well as Pixar, with the exception being Cars 2).

In 2006 when Disney bought Pixar, Lasseter was named Chief creative officer. Suddenly, this guy was put in charge of not only Pixar, but Disney Animation as well.

BEST. CHOICE. EVER

I’m not saying that Disney animation had been in a lull. Ok, maybe the fact I’m not reviewing Chicken Little and Home on the Range means something (those are generally agreed upon as being the WORST Disney movies ever…), but I’ll be the first to admit the the age before Disney’s so called “revival” isn’t as bad as many people think.

Now why am I talking about Lasseter on a movie before the Disney Revival? Because this is the first movie he oversaw as part of his new assignment. And while this movie is super messy, it has things about it that you can just “tell” are him. Starting with this movie, Disney movies (to me at least) begin to feel a bit more “Pixar-ish.” The sad part is I can’t even explain what I mean….

(meanwhile, Pixar would be starting to go “downhill”… according to everyone but me. But we’ll get to that later…)

So! Meet the Robinsons. This crazy little movie is kind of in a league of its own. It’s not really like Hercules and Emperor’s new Groove, but I suppose I have to put it there…? It’s sort of by itself. Let’s dive in and see what I think of this one. I’m going to be brief with the synopsis, because I could explain it all day and you might still not understand it….

This movie centers around an orphan named Lewis. Lewis is a “special” kid – he’s insanely smart, loves inventing things (and often fails), and doesn’t understand why no one wants to adopt him. After believing no one will ever want him but his own birth mother (who dropped him off when he was a baby), he invents a machine for the science fair at school called the “memory scanner,” which scans your brain for a desired memory and displays it in picture form on a screen.

But things don’t go so well for Lewis at the science fair after he runs into a kid named Wilbur who says he’s a time cop from the future and is after a man in a bowler hat who stole a time machine. Lewis of course thinks he’s crazy, but we see the bowler hat guy and his hat, who he calls Doris (it’s actually DOR-15, and she’a robot) sabotage Lewis’s memory scanner. It blows up, causing Lewis to leave in a frustrated state.

Back at the orphanage, he meets Wilbur again, who has followed him. Wilbur tells him he has to go back and fix the memory scanner or the time stream will be ruined. Lewis thinks he’s crazy until he shows him his own time machine and takes him to the future, hoping that will make him realize he has to go back to the science fair.

But Lewis has other ideas. Now that there’s a time machine, he says the memory scanner is pointless. He can just use the time machine to go back and find his real mom. He messes around with the time machine and it breaks. Wilbur freaks out, saying his parents are going to kill him because he wasn’t supposed to take it. He’s not really a time cop but instead a kid who’s trying to make up for a mistake he’s done.

He and Lewis manage to get the time machine back to Wilbur’s house, where Wilbur makes lewis a deal: if he can fix it, Wilbur will take him back to see his mom. Lewis attempts with no avail. Wilbur heads off into his house and orders Lewis to stay there. Of course this doesn’t work, and Lewis manages to meet all of Wilbur’s family.

His mother Franny is super welcoming and has him stay for dinner, where Lewis is part of a sort of insane… thing. He attempts to fix an invention of theirs and fails (again). Ready to apologize and run out, he’s surprised when they all clap and tell him that failure is good.

Meanwhile, the bowler hat guy is back in the past trying to pass off the memory scanner as his own to change the future. When it doesn’t work, he and Doris work to kidnap Lewis to get him to fix the memory scanner so he can help them. There are a few mishaps at seizing the boy.

Some stuff happens, Lewis is asked to join the Robinson family (but can’t – according to Wilbur), the future manages to change (for the worse) and only Lewis can fix it.

I don’t want to give away a lot of the last part of the movie, because I think it has a lot of good twists and plot points. You don’t really see it coming, and I enjoyed watching it the first time because of this. I want to keep this review spoiler free.

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In a lot of ways, this movie is just one giant ridiculous mess. You spend half of the movie wondering if any of this craziness even has a point. I think that’s why a lot of people just write this movie off. Strictly put, I don’t think a lot of people “get” this movie.

Yes it is crazy. Yes it is ridiculous. There’s a good solid 20 minutes that just leave you scratching your head going “what?” There’s a giant squid as a butler. There are singing frogs. There’s a man who delivers pizza via space ship. There’s a meatball canon, and a guy who thinks his puppet wife is real (and somehow they managed to have kids…?).

Just… do yourself a favor when you watch this movie. Don’t get caught up in trying to rationalize all the weird. Just enjoy the ride. Because in the end, this is what all the weirdness boils down to:

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Right there. That last line. “They’re family.” The Robinsons are crazy and weird, but they are a family unit. A completely cohesive family unit. Nevermind that the movie literally has to take a break from the plot to explain how everyone is related to each other (culminating in that scene above), and never mind I still don’t really know if even I understand how everyone is related. Wilbur is the most normal of all of them, and he’s even a little bit bonkers and wacky. But no matter what, they’re still a family. They stick together no matter what. Even if a giant dinosaur is coming after them. They are a huge, crazy, insane family.

That’s right. This is another Disney movie that somehow manages to convey the importance of family. It’s imbedded in this movie so centrally because it’s the main want of our main character.

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I adore Lewis. I think he is a great, well developed protagonist. Ok yes he’s a typical trope of a nerdy smart kid, and he really looks the part. But let’s not think about his looks for a second. Let’s really dive into the psychy of this kid.

Lewis was dropped at an orphanage when he was a kid. He’s had a ton of adoption interviews, all of which have ended in heartache or disaster. This fact alone is what shapes this kid’s personality and character. He’s desperate for a family, so much so that he’s willing to invent a memory scanner to see the only person who at one time or another actually cared about him! He almost gives up on the past when Wilbur’s mom offers for him to be a Robinson, something that could have screwed with the space-time continuum. He’s a smart kid – he should have known that! But his desire to be loved, accepted, and part of a family overrode all rational thinking.

Another thing I think is interesting about Lewis is that BECAUSE all of his adoption interviews have failed, he believes that failure is the worst possible thing in the world. He’s used to his inventions failing and people getting mad at him. Only when he goes to the future and meets the Robinsons and “fails” does he realize that there can be another way to look at it. “From failing, you learn.”

This is an incredibly unique lesson for Disney to teach in a movie. It’s one I don’t think they’ve ever taught before, and believe it or not, it’s well done. Because we’ve all been that kid who gets pissed because we just can’t get it right. we’ve all apologized when something we did screwed up and hurt someone, physically or emotionally. It’s good for everyone to just remember that failing is just a part of life. Without failing, you don’t learn what’s wrong, and you don’t learn what to try next. By failing you can even create something you never set out to create.

The other message in this movie again is another unique one for Disney to explore, and it’s done actually pretty well and surprisingly subtly (for kids at least). It’s best illustrated again with the help of Tumblr:

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Now I know it’s just a silly mashup of Disney contradicting themselves, but it’s really not. That there is the man in the bowler hat, or (one of) our villains. He’s in the past telling Lewis’ roommate Goob how best to live his life. See, this is what the man in the bowler hat has done his whole life. He’s let his hatred fester and rot him deep down, and in the end it gets him nothing. He dwelled on a few random incidences that happened in the past, and it destroyed him. Only at the end of the movie when he let’s go and decides NOT to dwell on the past is he able to move past it.

DOR-15 is the same way. She was created to be a helping hand, but when Mr. Robinson decided it didn’t work and she was getting out of control, he shut her down. She (the hat) is taking this and running with it (although to be fair she’s just super evil… the man in the bowler hat is a better example of this lesson…)

Heck, they even illustrate this point with Lewis. He’s so set on finding his family in the past by visiting his mom that he refuses to think of what “could be.” He’s not willing to wait to see his life develop and get good. Instead, he pours himself into this invention to find something in the past that he probably can’t change. Dwelling on the past only ends in heartache and destroys your personality to open itself up to the possibilities.

It’s like Wilbur’s dad’s motto: Keep Moving Forward.

With all the amazing good things about this movie, I will say that it isn’t perfect by a long shot. It’s a mess. You can almost tell that someone came in a tweaked this movie to try and make it flow a bit more. LASSESTER! 60% of this movie was changed when he came in. You can tell, but it’s not without its flaws.

It’s hard to understand sometimes. It’s hard to follow others. Sometimes you don’t understand the purposes of our characters, and other than Lewis, Wilbur, the man in the Bowler Hat, DOR-15, and maybe Frannie and Bud (Wilbur’s mom and grandfather), you don’t know the other characters more than just as caricatures.

But at the same time… that’s ok. Because this movie IS itself a caricature. It’s a wacky crazy ridiculous movie that a lot of people will brush off because to them, it doesn’t make sense. I’m not saying it does. I’m not saying there aren’t ridiculous plot holes (because there are). I’m not saying they did time travel perfectly (because they didn’t…) but what I AM saying is that this movie TRIES. It tries to give us something we’ve never seen before. It tries to give us lessons we’ve never heard from Disney. GOOD lessons. It might take a few watches to really get it, but when you do, it just clicks, and you realize how smart this movie really is.

It’s hard to write this review without spoilers, but trust me, if you’ve never seen it, you’ll be glad I didn’t ruin it. The way this movie plays out is fun. It has twists and turns you might expect, and it has some you don’t. Just buckle yourself in for a wild, crazy ride.

And if you don’t at least tear up at the end when Rob Thomas’ “Little Wonders” song starts, you’re dead inside. Best. Song. EVER!

I give Meet the Robinsons (2007) a 3.4 out of 5.

(btw, it’s getting insanely hard to put these in a “my favorites” list….)

Up Next: Bolt (2008)

Brother Bear (2003)

 

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“Sure your mom didn’t ditch you, Ko-Duh?”

It’s fitting I’m starting this review now. I’m sitting in a Panera in Wooster, Ohio, in town for my college’s homecoming. Why’s that fitting? Well, I feel like Disney hit a giant void during my college years (2003-2007). Of the four movies that came out when I was in college, I only ended up ever seeing 2 of them. The other two I’d rather not talk about. I think a lot of people would rather not talk about them.

but it worked. I was too busy to even care about going to see movies, and stuck on a campus without a car meant that I couldn’t see them even if I wanted to. This movie, however, I got as soon as it came to DVD without even seeing it. I remember seeing the trailer for it and crying because of the message Disney was going to convey with this one.

A lot of people hate this movie. They pan it, saying it’s a retread, or that they’ve heard the story a million times, or that there’s nothing really special about it. I’ve determined that those people aren’t worth arguing with when it comes to this movie. I have my opinion, and they have theirs. I understand what they’re saying, but I don’t believe it and I don’t agree with them one bit.

What do I believe? This movie is a freaking underrated GEM in the Disney Canon. I LOVE this movie. I don’t care what people think or people say. I’m happy to admit it. I will defend this movie until the day I die. It is certainly not just a retreat. In fact, I hear people say that, and I legitimately wonder if they were watching the same movie I was.

I will explain the plot of this one, simply because I want to prove that it’s not just a retread:

We open in beautiful ice age Alaska or British Columbia or somewhere up there. We meet three Native inuit brothers: Sitka, Denahi, and Kenai. It’s the day of Kenai’s manhood ceremony, and he’s excited to get his totem from the shawoman of their village: It’s a small rock carved in the shape of an animal which is said to be the thing that will help guide him through his life. Wheras some people get an animal that signifies bravery, wisdom or guidance, Kenai receives the Bear of Love.

Upset at the result and believing that bears are beasts incapable of love, he and his brothers leave the ceremony to find that a bear has gotten into the fish they spent all day catching. Kenai goes after it. This leads to a stand off between the three brothers and the bear, and Sitka sacrifices himself, collapsing a glacier to keep the bear away from his brothers. Sitka dies and the bear runs off.

Wanting vengence, Kenai tracks the bear to the top of a mountain, where he fights and kills the bear. This is when the spirits come down in the form of the aurora borealis and transform Kenai into a bear. His brother Denahi, who had tracked Kenai to talk some sense into him, sees a bear walking away and torn clothes and assumes the bear destroyed his brother: now he’s out for vengeance.

Kenai awakens to the shawoman of his village telling him that this is a test: the spirits have something big planned for him, and if he wants to be human again he has to take it up with the spirit of Sitka at the mountain where the lights touch the earth. She mysteriously vanishes, leaving Kenai on his own with no idea where that mountain is.

It’s not long before he meets a pair of mooses, Rut and Tuke, who don’t believe he was a human. Kenai wanders off right into a bear trap, where a cub named Koda comes out, makes fun of him for not seeing the trap, and helps him out with the promise that Kenai will take him to the salmon run (he and his mom were separated and he knows she’ll meet him there).  Kenai does it simply because the mountain where the lights touch the earth is right next to it.

Koda gets Kenai out of the trap and soon Denahi shows up. Kenai is excited to see his brother, but of course Denahi doesn’t know Kenai is a bear and attempts to kill him. Koda and Kenai run to get rid of him, and Kenai deals with the fact that he was just attacked by his brother for seemingly no good reason.

The middle part of the movie is Kenai and Koda traveling to the salmon grounds, trying to lose Denahi and Kenai getting some lessons about perspective. He explains to Koda as they near the salmon grounds about how bears are killers, to which Koda doesn’t understand: Denahi attacked them. They get to the salmon grounds, which is surrounded by bears, and Kenai expects to be mauled, but instead learns that bears really aren’t the killers he thought they were.

The real kicker comes when Koda finally tells the story of when he and his mom were separated. *Spoilers ahead* Turns out the bear that Kenai killed was Koda’s mother. He runs off, Koda finds him, and Kenai has to come clean and tell Koda what happened. Koda (obviously) is upset and runs off. Thinking there’s nothing he can do, Kenai heads up the mountain, begging for Sitka and the spirits to change him back. Denahi shows up, still hell bent on revenge, and Koda does as well after realizing that he cares about Kenai. There’s a fight between the three, and as Denahi goes after Koda, Kenai intercepts them, willing to give his own life for the cubs. It is only then when the lights appear on the mountain and Kenai is changed back into a human.

Things are seemingly happy until Kenai explains to Sitka’s spirit that Koda needs him.  He has them change him back into a bear.

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ok – now you name me another Disney movie that teaches about perspective and walking in someone else’s shoes through transformation. What’s that, you can’t? That’s what I freaking thought. See? not a retread. Disney has does movies on seeing your enemies perspective (Pocahontas comes to mind) or transformations (Beauty and the Beast technically, Mulan you could argue too). But never have the two come together before.

To me, this movie felt like old school Disney Renaissance. It was hand drawn, had heart, had characters not insanely deep but easy to follow, sidekicks, talking animals, etc. It was a Disney movie that felt like it could have been based on a fairy tale. It felt like a kid movie (as opposed to marketed at teenagers…) that adults could still enjoy. I really really will never understand those critics.

This movie does have things wrong with it, but those things aren’t what the critics pointed out as this movies’s worst problems. I will get to those at the end, but right now, I want to defend my movie:

#1: This movie has a culture, belief systems, and a species spanning religion

This is what I love the most about this movie. The same thing that made The Lion King such a hit (in my opinion) is what makes me love this one. We have a group of ice age inuits who survive by believing very much in the power of nature, the connections they have with it, and the magic of the spirits. In this movie, the spirits take their shape as the beautiful Aurora Borealis, or as Koda calls it, “The night rainbow.”

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This could have been extremely corny. Spirits live in the lights in the sky. They’re responsible for the changes in the world, and when you die, the lights come down and suck you up. But it works in this movie because it takes everything seriously. I LOVE when movies take themselves seriously because it makes the audience take it seriously.

Another thing I love about the way they do this is that it’s one thing for a group of people to believe in something. It’s another for it to actually exist. In this movie, these beliefs are grounded. Magic and the unexplained actually exists in this movie, and we get to see its proof. Now you could argue that it takes a bit of the reality out of the movie. You don’t need proof in something to believe in it. That’s true. Every single religion is based on that idea. But at the same time, not every single person in Kenai’s tribe gets to witness these things. It’s just Tenana, the shawoman (which makes sense) and Kenai and Denahi at the end. They get to witness it because it’s part of their test. It’s “divine intervention” if you will. All the other people in the tribe have to take the words of those who have witnessed it that it’s true.

It’s also cool that this “religion” spans species. Koda knows exactly what the night rainbow is, that his grandparents are up there, and that they’re responsible for the changes in the world. It’s a small scene with him and Kenai, but it’s a powerful one, because Kenai’s in shock that he knows about the great spirits. it’s just another aspect of the movie that subtly points out that we’re all the same.

I also want to mention how much I love that even though Kenai’s brother dies, his “spirit” stays within the movie. His Totem was an eagle, and not only do you see Sitka portrayed as the spirit of an eagle (see above), but you also see an actual Bald Eagle floating around in the movie, guiding the two brothers to interact.

#2: This movie has a main character who is relatable and actually changes.

Kenai

Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix) is not the most interesting major character. I’ll admit that. But he’s driven. He’s also a very good representation of kids his age (I’m going to guess late teens? I honestly have no idea, but he’s young, no older than mid-twenties…): He doesn’t really believe in anything his elders do. He’s embarrassed when love is his totem, because it’s not “manly” enough. He lives in the moment, and believes everything that he believes is right. He’s stubborn to the point that it’s dangerous.

This movie is a coming of age tale, but it’s one that’s unique for Disney because it tells the story of a man who becomes a man by learning how to love. I want more stories like this for little boys. Stories that show the repercussions of blind hatred and violence. Stories that teach that not all people that are different than you are evil. Stories that teach respect and value to this world we’ve been given. Stories that show that to be a man you don’t have to be violent or “manly.” That in fact it takes a true man to love another with all your heart.

Kenai learns this throughout the entire movie, but it’s never forced. He changes gradually through meeting characters and having experiences. It’s such a natural thing that by the end of the movie he’s almost unrecognizable. It’s extremely well done.

#3: This movie is unique in that we can relate with the villain – even if he’s not the best

 

They did an amazing job making him look insane...

They did an amazing job making him look insane…

There are actually a few villains in the movie, and it’s all about perspective. First, we have the giant bear that steals the fish in the beginning of the movie and Kenai eventually kills. To the humans, this is everything a giant monster and villain should be.

When Kenai gets turned into a bear, it’s suddenly his brother, Denahi, that’s after him. He can’t understand and even mentions “It’s not like him.” Koda just says “that’s what they do!” To Koda, Denahi is everything a giant monster and villain should be.

Denahi is not Disney’s best villain by far. But I would argue he’s the most relatable. For once, we have a straight picture and storyline of how the villain became the villain. He was pushed to do the unthinkable out of fear, anger, and vengeance. He’s not just out to ruin someone’s life because. In fact, he doesn’t even realize he’s ruining someone’s life, lest of all his brother’s. In fact, Denahi didn’t even want Kenai to go after the bear in the first place. He didn’t blame the bear for Sitka’s death. Kenai did. He understood that some things just happen. It’s only after seeing the clothes of Kenai that something inside him snaps. The same anger that raged within Kenai now filled him, turning him into the very “monster” he said didn’t exist.

This movie is as much about Denahi learning a lesson as it is Kenai. Denahi’s totem is wisdom. You could argue he becomes wise because of this ordeal. He learns that love is very powerful, and that perspective is everything.

#4: This movie has some unbelievably memorable scenes in it.

They could be entire scenes, or even just a few single lines. This movie has a bunch that have stuck with me. The best part is, they’re not “words of Wisdom” scenes that feel like they were just stuck in to show off their message. They were stuck in there to up the message, but it’s not forced. It’s real.

First we have the discussion that Koda and Kenai have about the “night rainbow.” This one is just a line, but I love it. Kenai tells Koda that he has a brother up there, and that he wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for him. Koda asks his brother’s name, then turns to the sky and goes “Thanks Sitka. Without you, I would have never met Kenai!”

The second scene is when Kenai and Koda come upon a cave with drawings done by cave men, depicting mammoths, deer, etc. Kenai stops when he sees a scene of a ferocious bear being attacked by a hunter with a spear. He grows a confused, concerned face. Then Koda pops out from behind him and goes “Those monsters are really scary. Especially with those sticks.”

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The last one is the big “Bam!” in the story (*spoilers*) but it’s the one that really get me, and should. I think i like this one because it’s almost that moment that Kenai realizes something about himself. It’s the “No Way Out” scene. Koda has just told everyone the story about his mother on the glacier, and Kenai had to get out after realizing it was Koda’s mother he killed. Koda joins him in the middle of nowhere. Kenai has to break the news to Koda about his mother, but doesn’t know how to do it. So he starts by telling Koda he has a story to tell him.

“What kind of story?” Asks Koda.

“Well… It’s kind of about a man, and kind of about a bear. But mostly, it’s about a monster…”

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It’s then we get the song starting, and probably the best done scene in the movie if not any Disney movie ever. How do you explain you just killed someone’s mother? It’s a dark thing for Disney, and they do it incredibly well. Best use of a song, EVER. It’s a scene that will stick with you and make you tear up. I love it.

#5: This movie stresses the idea of family, relationships, and love.

I mentioned a few reviews ago how the 00s was a time in Disney’s Canon that they seemed to focus more on original ideas and the idea of family. You don’t really notice it a lot in these movies because most of the time they’re focusing on the idea of “what makes a family?” In the 00s, you have a lot of extended family, or friends as family. This movie is no different.

It’s called “brother bear” for a reason. That’s because at the heart of this movie is the relationship between Kenai and Koda. It’s also about the relationship Kenai has with Denahi and Sitka.

This movie teaches us all that love is important, and that it can happen between anyone. It teaches us that all love isn’t romantic: love between siblings or two unrelated individuals can sometimes be as strong if not stronger and move everlasting. It teaches us that love is putting someone else first, even if it means risking your own life. Love means putting aside your differences and understanding what the person (or in this case, bear) is going through and how they see the world.

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This movie teaches us that relationships are not always going to be perfect: brothers fight, bicker, quarrel, and may even try to kill each other. But in the end, they’re still your family, and you would do anything for them.

I'm not sorry for two Gifs in a row...

I’m not sorry for two Gifs in a row…

#6: This movie’s message about perspective is one of my favorites.

Remember my review for the Fox and the Hound? I heralded this movie for the way it dealt with such a grown up idea in such an amazing way. This movie, in a lot of ways, does the same thing.

We have this idea that villains and monsters are those that don’t see eye to eye with us. They’re things, people, cultures, and creatures that we don’t fully understand, so we label them as “evil.” What’s amazing is that even in our own lives, the social norms of those we live around almost determine what we view as “evil.” Someone can be afraid of spiders because their parents are. A whole culture can hate another because that’s what everyone else is doing. It’s only when one person changes their minds that the whole culture can begin to move forward.

That’s what the message of this movie really is. We have two cultures: Bears and Humans. Both view each other as “evil” or “monsters” or “scary.” Why? because they don’t understand each other and that’s just the way that time has progressed. There’s always a hindrance that stops the understanding. In this case, it’s the actuality of not speaking the same language. (wouldn’t it be nice if things were that easy in real life?) Oh and look, once someone of one culture has to be reliant on an individual from the other culture, they begin to see eye to eye and realize that they have more in common than they thought.

Alright. Now here’s some problems that even I have with the movie:

#1: They could have done more with the culture.

There, I said it. I enjoy the culture part of this movie, but there could have been more. We know the other animals believe in the same thing, but we only get Koda explaining that. Why not the Mooses? or the other bears? Why couldn’t this carry throughout the movie about lessons the spirits teach us, as opposed to just that the spirits change things? That could have been a cool thing to add in. That Kenai isn’t the first one they’ve taught a lesson to.

#2: The characters aren’t that great

I will agree with this one. The characters ARE the weak point in this movie. I’ve already talked about some of them and will talk about others below, but this is a legit criticism. They’re nothing that special and this is not where the movie’s strengths are.

#3: Koda, Rut, and Tuke can get a bit annoying

I’m actually putting this one in here because I have heard it from other people. I don’t experience this myself, but I can see where everyone is coming from. So even though I’m putting this in my “problems” list, it’s not really for me. In fact this will probably turn into me justifying them.

A lot of people really dislike Koda. He’s an annoying kid that talks to much about nothing. He’s a smart alec. Then there’s Rut and Tuk. They’re a bit pointless in some ways, and you could argue they’re just there for comedy.

I do agree with both of these points, and they are both incredibly right. We all know I hate most Disney little kids. Mowgli annoys me, and even Simba bugs me with his smug attitude. But for some reason, Koda doesn’t. wanna know why? He’s realistic. Not that the other two aren’t, but Koda seems more like a kid I would actually know. In fact, I do know kids like him. kids that won’t shut up and like to tell pointless stories but really are sweet at heart and don’t realize how annoying they are. They just like to share things with you.

I'm pretty sure I see both of these looks on parents and kids alike...

I’m pretty sure I see both of these looks on parents and kids alike…

Rut and Tuke to me are hit or miss, so I am more likely to agree that they are annoying than with Koda. They’re voiced by the Canadian comedy duo of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, and I kinda like the (stereotypical?) “eh”‘s and the Candian accents they give their characters. They do play into the story a bit, and they almost represent an intact brother duo to help Koda later in the movie. They serve their purpose, and some of their lines are funny. (Why don’t we get a back seat or something? It looks like you hunted me!)

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#3: The songs don’t fit in to the storyline, and most aren’t needed.

I actually love these songs, but they’re fluff, for the most part. They don’t fit in to the movie, they don’t really convey emotions or move the story along in the way that, say, Beauty and the Beast’s songs do. That’s a shame, because it’s the ever talented Phil Collins back again! I think the problem with him doing this movie was that he tried to do it like Tarzan. But Tarzan had a lot of time passing, and needed songs in the background to be good for montages. Brother Bear doesn’t need that. In fact, the one song it needed as a montage song (On my way) is probably my least favorite song. It’s about nothing!

Now to be fair, some of the songs are done very well, and I do like the fact that Phil doesn’t sing all the songs like he did in Tarzan. “Great Spirits” is a good song that fits in well to the beginning of the movie, and is sung by  Tina Turner. The song “Transformation” is unique because it’s in another language, and it fits in, although I don’t know if it was entirely needed. Same with the song “Welcome,” although that one does convey a sense of Kenai’s emotion. Just a little bit…

Then there’s “No Way Out,” which upon initial viewing of this movie was my least favorite song. Now it’s my favorite, because it’s the only one that should actually be in the movie. It conveys emotion, it’s worked into the scene incredibly well (see my #4 above for more on that) and it’s perfect.

And I’m sad Denahi didn’t get a song. Not really, cause that would have NOT fit in. Just because of who voiced him… (Jason Raize (RIP): The original Simba on Broadway! He had an AMAZING voice. If you don’t believe me, Google “Endless night.” UNBELIEVABLE!)

As you can see, I have a lot more “likes” about this movie than “dislikes,” and I even cheated with my dislikes. The truth of the matter is, I love this movie. It’s hard for me to find things wrong with it. That being said, I really do understand why a lot of people don’t like it. I can see it being that type of movie. As for a retread? Yes, it has things similar to other Disney movies. I compared it to a lot of them in my review: Tarzan, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, The Fox and the Hound. But it’s got components of these movie. It isn’t these movies. It’s its own thing. And I hope, if anything, I’ve shown you all that.

Give it a watch if you’ve never seen it. If you have a son, show it to him. We need more movies like this.

I’m going to give Brother Bear (2003) a 3.7. I know that’s higher than a lot of people would put it, but I don’t care. It has too many good things going for it to put it lower.

Up Next: Brother Bear 2 (2006)

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

 

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This movie makes me so insanely sad. Why? Because this movie could have been awesome. It could have been an amazing movie. Instead, we get the snore-fest that is Atlantis: The Lost Empire. (I know this movie has fans. lots of them. I’m probably going to offend you in some way during this review. Be forewarned.)

With this one, Disney was trying to appeal to the older crowd, the pre-teens or teenage boys who never went to see Disney movies. For some reason they thought that what they were doing wasn’t working. Remember the last time they tried doing that? Let me refresh your memory…

The Black Cauldron

How’d that go? yeah, not so well. The funniest part is that that movie and this one almost suffer from the exact same problems! The Black Cauldron was a convoluted plot with characters that weren’t fleshed out. Atlantis is also a crazy plot with insane amounts of characters who aren’t fleshed out. Just like with The Black Cauldron, you can see that this movie had potential, but somewhere, somehow, Disney lost it.

Before I go into my rant, let’s run through the plot:

We start with a quote from Plato about Atlantis, then get a bit of a prequel, where we, the watcher, find out exactly what happened to Atlantis: it was attacked by flying machines bringing a tidal wave, and we watch as a mother is torn away from her little child by a glowing light and a crystal around her neck. We then see the city center grow protected by giant robot things that control a forcefield, and it sinks into the ocean.

Cut to the early 1900s, where we meet Milo (voiced by Michael J Fox), a man who is trying to prove to the people in the museum he works that he knows the location of the Shepard’s journal, one of the only remaining pieces that could lead them straight to Atlantis. After they laugh at him, he’s persuaded by a woman named Helga to meet with her employer. Turns out this guy was a friend of his grandfather’s and he’s found the shepard’s journal and is willing to fund a team to go down and find Atlantis – they just need Milo because no one else but him can read what’s in that book (it’s in Atlantian).

Milo gets on board the submarine ship thing and we meet a plethora of characters, including the captain, Rourke. They begin their journey but soon they’re being attacked by this machine giant prawn thingy. (This is called let’s kill off anyone who we don’t care about!). Only a handful survive and soon they found an underground tunnel that is supposed to lead to Atlantis. They travel, we get Milo attempting to bond with the rest of the group, we lose a few more when something else happens, and eventually a handful finally reach Atlantis only to find that there are still people living there.

They go to meet the King (Leonard Nimoy), who wants them to leave. Milo has come all this way and wants to stay a bit, and Rourke talks the King into letting them recharge before they head out. Kida, the King’s daughter, takes an interest to Milo because he can read their language. See, apparently, they can’t. She takes him to help her try and figure out how to fly a machine she found. It’s all centered around the crystal. Realizing he’s interested in learning more, Kida takes him underwater, where Milo reads a mosaic describing the “heart of Atlantis.” It’s somehow connected to the crystals.

They come back to the mainland only to find that the entire crew has turned on them, lead by Rourke and Helga. Milo let’s the “heart of Atlantis” slip, and Rourke assumes it’s a treasure. He orders Milo and Kida to take them to it after he mortally wounds the King. They go down a tube thingy under the palace to a chamber with floating rocks and a solid light center. Milo mentions how the heart of Atlantis is acting like it’s alive, and how it’s the center for all their magic and how it’s what’s keeping Atlantis alive under here. Kida then becomes “chosen” or “possessed” by the heart, walking out onto the water and lifted into the air. The heart has chosen her to live in, as it does it times of danger. This doesn’t sway Rourke, who captures her and takes her away from Atlantis.

The city begins to dry up, and Milo and the rest of our characters (who have a change of heart) ride the mechanical fish machines to rescue Kida.  They manage to rescue her as Rourke and Helga destroy each other, but they’ve been gone from Atlantis too long. The volcano it lives in is waking up, sending lava toward the city. Milo gets Kida back, and the heart releases her and sends the Robots to put up the forcefield as the lava encases them. Everyone’s saved, the others leave with a few riches, Milo decides to stay.

————————————————————————————

You know, I remember seeing the trailer for this movie and thinking it was going to be cool. They did a cool scene and ran through some of the characters, and I thought “Oh this is gonna be great, those characters sound really interesting.” Yeah… they did sound interesting. When I got into the movie, imagine my surprise when that scene in the trailer was the ONLY thing we got about those character’s personalities!

There are a MILLION characters in this movie, and what drives me crazy is that NONE of them have the depth to them enough that we should care what happens to them, except maybe our main character Milo. And Kida (But I’ll get to her later).

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Pictured above are most of our side characters, save our two villains (Rourke & Helga), Milo, and Kida. I would not be able to look at that picture and tell you their names (except maybe Mole..? is that right for the dude on the far right?). You want to know why? Disney seemed to not care. These characters are all tropes. There is one thing they’re known for, and that’s it. L to R: Cookie (oh I remembered a name!) is a hillbilly who can’t cook. Grandma there smokes a lot and is really sarcastic and deals with radios. Sweet (?) is the doctor who reminds me of John Henry and has a few funny lines. Mustachio man speaks in a strange accent and likes to blow up things but really wants to open a flower shop. The girl with big lips is an engineering prodigy, and Mole is a strange hermit man who likes dirt so much it borders on mental.

That’s all we ever know about any of their personalities, because that’s all there is to them. It’s kinda sad, because some of them (mustachio and big lips) actually give us a little hint into their backstories, but it never amounts to anything. It just drops. They seem useless.

Now let’s talk about our “villains.” I put those in quotes because all of those listed above are at one point or another so called “villains” because they went along with the plot to destroy Atlantis. But I’m really talking about these two:

Wow... they really look like they like each other...

Wow… they really look like they like each other…

Now again, I didn’t remember their names until I literally had to do a search for a picture. Apparently that’s Rourke and Helga. Shows how much of an impression they made. Part of that isn’t their fault. They have to play nice until they get to Atlantis, then Rourke shows his true colors. And to be fair, when he does, he’s scary. But until then, he’s just a greedy, over demanding man. He does his best to try and be sincere, but I dunno. If they wanted to keep his villainy a secret, they didn’t do a good job. My husband guessed as soon as he saw him that he was the villain.

Helga on the other hand… well, my husband thought she was the love interest. To which I laughed. If she doesn’t look evil, I don’t know who is. She’s Rourke’s right hand, uh… woman, and is just as greedy as he is. She’s also his undoing, which is a bit of a unique situation for a Disney movie: The villains do each other in. She’s also what happens when Disney tries to sell sex. That’s right, this lady is what will get teenage boys into the theaters! Too bad I don’t remember seeing her on any of the trailers…

Alright now let’s move onto our main character, Milo.

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Dear god Disney, did you really have to make this guy this much a geek? No one is ever gonna give him a chance! Milo is actually one of the most developed characters in this movie, even if he looks like a caricature just like the rest. (Don’t get me wrong – he’s totally a caricature…) He’s out to prove the skeptics right. He’s out to untarnish his grandfather’s name. He’s willing to do anything to prove that he’s right about Atlantis. He’s having the adventure of his life and once he gets to Atlantis he can’t believe what’s actually there. But, at the same time…. that’s kinda all we get from him. There’s not really any time to develop him because there’s so much random stuff thrown in with all these other characters and attacks and…. stuff. More stuff. It’s a shame, because he could have been much more interesting.

I want to talk about one more thing I like about Milo, and to discuss that I have to sort of digress onto another topic; one that I think this movie actually did well. That’s Atlantis itself and the Atlantians. Even if they didn’t do enough of it.

There is a whole freaking culture in this movie. There’s a language. There’s magic and science that no one in the movie or even watching the movie can wrap their heads around. Atlantis was dragged into a volcano to protect itself, and there its people have stayed, getting older and older, living in the ruins and losing memories and abilities of what they once could do. Losing their language to the point they can’t read any more – and these are the same people that were alive when it disappeared into the ocean!

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See? Ruins…

 

They all wear a crystal around their neck and they forget why. They have a religion. We don’t know much about it, but when Kida sees the stones of her old Kings, she drops everything and starts praying! To completely invent a culture like this… it’s extremely unique thing for a Disney movie to do, and it KILLS me that they didn’t delve into it more.

Ok, with that explained, I want to talk about another storyline arc people have been using for decades: White man saves natives. You see it with countless movies, from The Last Samurai to Pocahontas to Dances with Wolves to Avatar. While I do have to admit that I’m a sucker for a majority of these movies, the point that people don’t like about this type of story is that it belittles the Natives and their abilities. In most of these movies, the Natives could have dealt with the situation themselves. The white man is there to learn something, fall in love, and save them, even thought they probably could have saved themselves.

Atlantis is similar, but different enough that this whole storyline idea is actually OK with me. Yes Milo “rescues” their culture, but at the same time, this culture actually needed help. It’s not just like the other ones where you have swords and spears and arrows going up against guns. In this one you actually have this unbelievable power in the Natives of Atlantis – they just don’t know about it. They actually NEED someone to help them because of what they lost. They can’t read the language, they don’t understand. It’s a difference that I think was very well done and in a movie full of caricature and trope, very refreshing.

NOW I wanna talk about Kida. The daughter of the King of Atlantis, she was just a little girl when she watched her mother be “chosen,” which led to the protection of their city under the ocean. She’s lived her life sheltered but she’s curious – she wants to know more about the culture that seems to be slipping out of her fingers. She finds one of their flying contraptions and wants it to work. Milo to her is like a Godsend. Finally she can uncover the mysteries of her people.

Kida is by far the best character in this entire movie. Don’t get me wrong, she’s not as developed as she could be, but she’s close. She’s the most interesting character in this movie because in a lot of ways, she represents Atlantis. Through her we get a feel for what culture they do have. We feel for her and grow angry when her ailing father tells her not to pursue anything, but instead to protect their way of life. She’s independent and brave. She’s everything you want in a leading female character, just not quite enough. It always annoys me that she’s not considered a “Disney Princess.” Maybe it’s the fact she’s like…. 8,800 years old. Does that detract? It doesn’t matter. I’d be her fan.

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The romance between her and Milo is completely forced, but it’s a Disney movie, so you have to have it….? (actually I think it detracts. Friendship would have been much better!) They didn’t have time to do anything in this movie to actually develop their relationship, or anyone else’s for that matter. You don’t get connections between the characters at all. It makes me extremely sad, because this could have been so good!

I just… I don’t know what else to say about this movie. It’s boring. There’s a lot that goes on, but it’s not the right stuff. Sometimes I wonder why I own this movie, but at the same time, I can’t bring myself to get rid of it. The idea of Atlantis tugs at the hearts of so many, I think just that keeps me from tossing it. I think it’s because every time I watch it, I think it’s going to be better than it is. Because those ideas disney had about what happened to Atlantis are so good. Gah, it kills me. I wish someone would redo this movie. I know it has fans, and good for them! They can look past everything I can’t, I guess. I want to like this movie so much more than I do. I’m really torn. I just… I am.

I give Atlantis: The Lost Empire a 2.7 out of 5, making it my lowest ranking Disney movie. I’m sorry, but I’m not…

Up Next: Lilo & Stitch (2002)

The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

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It’s a good thing you’re not a big fat guy otherwise this would be REALLY difficult…

Fun (but maybe sad) fact: This is the first Disney Animated movie since The Little Mermaid I didn’t see in theaters. I remember going “wow ok that looks stupid. Disney’s lost it.” To be fair, I was 15, had just moved to New Jersey and was trying to fit in. I didn’t know many people and didn’t know if it was “ok” to like Disney or not. But yeah, I never saw this movie, and none of my high school friends (to my knowledge) ever saw it in theaters either.

We should be extremely sad we didn’t. When I finally did see this movie my freshman year of college, it was followed by a adventure in the night to remove a brick from a path (long story but a tradition at my college – although we were bad and did it freshman year instead of senior year… Then did it again senior year…) in which we operated with our own theme music, complete with dramatic freeze sound effect.

Oh yeah... that one.

Oh yeah… that one.

If you’ve seen this movie, you understand that completely. If you haven’t, you’re probably thinking I’m a complete idiot. This movie continued to make everyone in my dorm laugh for the entire four years of college, and it became a go-to for me during finals week. Why? because it’s hilarious.

Watching it now, 7 years after leaving that place, I will admit the humor is extremely immature. But it’s still ridiculously funny.  This movie, like Dinosaur, is just so out of place in the Disney canon. The only movie I would even think of comparing it to is Hercules, simply because it knows what it is and it’s a little “off” from typical Disney fanfare. But even Hercules is tame compared to this.

So what’s this one about? We have another original story here. Let’s see:

In the Andes mountains of South America we have Kuzco, the 18 year old Emperor. He’s selfish and spoiled and has his own theme music. He invites a man from a nearby village, Pacha over strictly to tell him he’s going to build his summer house where his village used to be. Distraught, Pacha gets ready to head home.

We also meet Yzma, Kuzco’s advisor who wants nothing more than to get rid of him. She’s a witch-like character, with potions, one of which will kill him. During dinner that night, she has her sidekick Kronk poison him. But the vials get confused and they end up turning Kuzco into a Llama. Yzma tells Kronk to get rid of him, but Kronk can’t bring himself to do it. He drops him down the stairs, and Kuzco the Llama ends up on the back of Pacha’s cart.

Pacha gets back to his village where we meet his family. He finds Kuzco the Llama in his cart, and he orders the man to take him back to the palace so that Yzma can change him back. Pacha agrees, but only if he promises to build his home somewhere else. They head out, taking on all sorts of dangers while in the meantime Pacha trying to explain to Kuzco how what he’s doing isn’t fair and wondering how he can be that heartless.

In the meantime, Yzma finds out Kronk didn’t destroy Kuzco and those two set out to find and kill him. At a restaurant, Pacha overhears Yzma and her diabolical plan. He tries to tell Kuzco, but the Emperor doesn’t listen and instead is so excited that Yzma is there that he dismisses Pacha and goes after Yzma. But then he overhears Yzma’s plan, grows sad, and can’t find Pacha.

Distraught, Kuzco wanders in the jungle, deciding there’s nothing he can do and he better jut get used to being a llama. He runs into Pacha again, who agrees to help him change back into a human. They run home to get supplies only to find Yzma and Kronk there. After Pacha’s family helps distract them, Pacha, Kuzco, Yzma and Kronk all race back to the castle. There’s a bit of a fight over the vials but in the end Kuzco ends up a human, deciding not to build a palace in the village where Pacha lives, but his own little house so he can be with his friends.

The end.

——————————————————————–

This movie’s largest strength is its humor. My God this movie is hilarious. We get slapstick. We get humorous characters. We get great interactions between these characters. We get amazing one-liners and ridiculous speeches and ridiculous… everything. There’s fourth wall, there’s smart jokes, there’s immature jokes, there’s ridiculousness beyond compare. At times it plays more like an old Looney Toons short than a Disney movie…

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I could literally just post a ton of quotes or gifs from this movie and laugh my ass off and have all of you think I am the weirdest person alive because quotes never come across as funny. But instead of doing that, I’m just going to tell you to watch it. Some of these jokes are great, smart, hilarious, immature, etc. There’s a mix of everything. It’s great. But I will leave you with a favorite:

.... OR to save on postage, I'll just poison him!

…. OR to save on postage, I’ll just poison him!

Let’s talk about these characters for a second. First we have Kuzco, the main character and emperor of the Incas. Kuzco is, quite easily put – a jerk. He doesn’t care about anyone but himself, and is willing to do anything to get what he wants. Only through becoming a llama and having to put his trust in someone else does he learn how good it can feel to care about others. He’s rude and immature. He’s typically a character that I wouldn’t be able to stand, and sometimes I honestly can’t (part of that is David Spade, who I’m not a fan of). I have to be in the right mood to watch him. But at the same time, I’m a bit more forgiving with this character because he just doesn’t know any better. He’s never had anyone tell him no, he’s never had anyone tell him how to act, and it’s gotten to his head. He’s the spoiled little rich boy we love to hate, and for a while we honestly don’t think he can change. Then he just surprises everyone and actually learns what a jerk he’s been and how good it is to care about people.

He's also the only Disney character to EVER interrupt the movie to remind people that HE'S the protagonist...

He’s also the only Disney character to EVER interrupt the movie to remind people that HE’S the protagonist…

Of course, he wouldn’t be able to do without Pacha. Voiced by the ever prevalent John Goodman, Pacha is the complete opposite of Kuzco. He has a family he cares about, a modest but well appreciated living, and a big heart. He’s the first person who’s actually stood up to Kuzco and told him “no,” but he’s the only one who’s been in the situation to do that. He believes the guy can change and that he does care. Honestly, Pacha is a nice guy, but he’s a bit “blah” for a character. It’s like he’s the only semi-serious guy in this movie (I guess it needed one, right?) But without Pacha we wouldn’t have a story. He’s important, sweet, and a good friend.

Pacha’s family are the more hilarious ones in this movie. His wife Chicha is pregnant (a first for Disney!) and always reminds me of “small but mighty.” She’s got an attitude on her and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. She’s smart and a good mother. She loves Pacha and all she’s looking to do is protect her family and their way of life. Then we have Pacha’s kids, Chaca and Tipo. Disney somehow managed to capture the insanity of childhood. It’s like they thought of the most annoying/funny things that kids could do that put it with these characters. They’re hilarious and sweet at the same time.

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At the very last we have our villains (this is an insanely small cast!). Remember how I said back in Hercules that Hades really made that movie for me? Well, same here.

First we have Yzma, Kuzco’s advisor who wants nothing more than to get rid of him and become empress. She’s a secret magician/witch with an underground lair (Pull the lever Kronk! Wrong Lever!…. Why do we even have that lever!). What I love so much about Yzma is how smart she seems, but really isn’t. If she was, she wouldn’t keep Kronk around. She would also be smarter about how to get rid of Kuzco.

But in the end she’s an enjoyable villain simply because she’s ridiculous and she has this insane drive and hatred for this child she’s had to serve. She can’t stand him and believes she could do a better job. What’s interesting is that she really has no insane takeover plan. In any other movie, you could swap these two characters and Yzma would be the hero. Kuzco IS a jerk. She’s trying to rescue the empire. Sure she’s selfish too, but it’s not like she has any diabolical plan to turn people into slaves. She just wants to rule. There’s something to be said for her. She’s not crazy evil. You can relate to her.

Then there’s Kronk. Kronk is by far a lot of people’s favorite characters in this movie, and he’s mine too (although I enjoy the play that he and Yzma do more than him as a character).

This picture explains their personalities perfectly...

This picture explains their personalities perfectly…

Kronk is Yzma’s sidekick, and he’s so insanely dumb it makes you wonder why she keeps him around. He’s got the mindset of a child, and he’s so innocent that again, he’s not really evil. He just does things because Yzma tells him to, it’s not like he’s actually aware of what he’s doing (except when his shoulder angel/devil pops up). Kronk actually has a good heart, and I think that’s why a lot of people love him. He’s evil but not. It makes for some very funny scenarios.

Emperor's New Groove

I do want to talk about this story, because although it got good reviews, critics weren’t that enthralled because it didn’t “feel” like a Disney movie. Personally, this one feels more Disney than Dinosaur, but who am I to say that? It wasn’t ambitious. The animation wasn’t over the top and unbelievable. This was just a cute little hilarious buddy movie.

There’s a reason: This movie went through production HELL. First it was a huge picture started after The Lion King in 1994 with Sting doing all these songs (Shoutout to “funny friend and me.” LOVE that song). It was called Kingdom of the Sun, and was more akin to The Prince and the Pauper than the movie we got. Honestly? it sounded interesting. Apparently it didn’t do well with test audiences, and there was a general lack of direction with the movie. In 1998 there wasn’t much progress done on the movie, so there were threats made and the director quit. The movie got a huge overhaul and due to the lack of time before the 2000 release, quality of the animation suffered.

Here’s what I have to say: Is there something wrong about having a smaller picture? This was certainly different for Disney. While it may not have garnered as much attention, this movie is one of a kind – in a good way.  Why does every movie have to be big and ambitious? You know, this movie, in that aspect, reminds me of the Fox and the Hound. That was a “smaller” movie, but look what it did. It focused on a good lesson, and did it well.

This movie is similar. For such a ridiculous movie, it could have easily been forgettable. But here’s why I keep coming back to it. This movie has heart. Serious heart. Not as much as other Disney movies, and not nearly as much as The Fox and the Hound, but it’s there, and in more doses than Dinosaur or Pocahontas. We connect with these characters because we are these characters. Every. Single. One. Of. Them. We’ve all been selfish. We’ve all wished to get rid of someone we don’t like. We’ve all been naive. We’ve all been a pushover with a big heart. We’ve all said what’s on our minds. We root for Kuzco because we believe, like Pacha, that “no one can be that heartless.”

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Would it have been cool to get a huge movie about the Incas and sun-gods? Yes. I hope Disney rethinks South America as a setting (Maybe if Moana does well…). But for what it is, I’ll take it. It’s a great little movie with laughs and heart. I’m sorry I never saw it in theaters, but I’m glad I saw it later.

I give The Emperor’s New Groove (2000) a 3.2 out of 5.

Up Next: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

 

Dinosaur (2000)

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Ah, Dinosaur!

Sadly, this movie means we are officially out of our Disney Renaissance days. The next decade is going to see a few things that the 90s did not, for better or worse: 1) more original stories, 2) strange re-imaginings of classic stories/tales, 3) the rise of computer animation (for better or worse), and 4) the disappearance of Disney songs (in the majority of movies… a few sneak in).

I’m sad already.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hidden gems in this era, much like there was in the Disney Dark Ages of the 70s and 80s. We’ll get to those later. This movie, Dinosaur, isn’t what I would call a “gem,” but it certainly isn’t bad. There are far worse movies in Disney’s canon than this one, in my opinion. This movie is just… it’s familiarly weird. That’s the only way I can describe it.

What I mean by that is that literally everything about this movie just isn’t what you’d think of when you think of “Disney Animated movie.” Back in 2000, I knew Disney put it out, but I didn’t think it was part of the animated canon until I literally saw it listed on the list on Wikipedia, I dunno, like 8 years ago?

What do I mean when I say this movie isn’t Disney? You have to understand something. Until this point, my childhood had been filled with Disney movies that were musicals. They were adaptations of fairy tales or books. They were everything I just listed up there. This movie wasn’t any of those things, so I think my teenage brain stored it somewhere else.

So this movie is weird. I’ll try to explain that more as I go, but for now, so I don’t get off topic and start rambling, here’s the plot:

In the beginning of this movie (which is insanely well done btw), we see the attack on an Iguanadon nest/herd by a predator called a Carnataurus. This attack leaves one little egg all alone. It soon gets picked up by another smaller predator, who loses it, and eventually this egg is carried down the river and then in a Pterasaur’s mouth to an island, where a group of Lemurs find it and decide to raise the little Iguanadon, Aladar, as their own.

Fast forward some number of years later, and the lemurs are having their annual pairing-off ritual. This is cut short, however, as they watch a giant meteor plummet into the ocean just past their island. Aladar manages to get off, rescuing only part of his lemur family: Yar – the grandfather, Plio – his “mother,” Suri – her daughter, and Zini – Plio’s brother. They reach the mainland and start their search for a new home and other animals.

Their search isn’t for too long, because eventually they run into a herd of miss-mosh species that were also driven from their homes from the fireball and are now on their way to the “nesting grounds,” which is believed to have been shielded from the blast.

Apparently this fireball left this world a complete dustbowl...

Apparently this fireball left this world a complete dustbowl in a matter of days…

Led by a socially darwinistic iguanadon Kron, Aladar and his family struggles to fit in, seeing as they believe everyone should have the chance to survive. They travel, we get a love interest in Kron’s sister Neela, and Aladar decides to lend a hand and stay in the back with the older, slower dinosaurs Baylene (a Brachiosaur) and Eema (a Styracosaurus). At one point they get separated because they weren’t moving quick enough and get stuck in a cave after hiding from the ever evil Carnataurs. After fighting them and causing a landslide, they get stuck in the cave and travel to the back to find the way blocked except for a little sliver of light. Baylene saves the day by breaking through it and low and behold, the nesting grounds were behind it!

But of course, there’s a problem. The way they used to get in is all blocked. Knowing that Kron is going to send the herd up and that they will die from the drop, Aladar races back through the cave and to the rest of the herd. He has an argument/fight with Kron, Neela stands up for him, and he begins to lead the herd past. However the way is blocked by the one surviving Carnataur. Aladar tells the herd to “stand together” so he can’t pick them off, and they manage to get past. Well, everyone but Kron, who refused to go with them. the Carnataur goes after him, Neela and Aladar follow to rescue him, but both end up dying. Sad.

But happy! Everyone ends up at the nesting grounds having babies. The end.

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The most agreed upon criticism of this movie is that that plot is crap. We’ve seen it before, it’s nothing new, and the characters don’t do anything to make it memorable. While I will agree that the plot is very familiar, I don’t think it’s fair to go so far and say that it’s exactly like The Land Before Time or any other dinosaur oriented movie. There are differences not only in actual plot or the actual characters but the motivations and relationships between characters. Some of them can thoroughly be enjoyed.

In Dinosaur, you have this really unique set-up idea that different types of animals have a different worldview. It’s not prejudice, it’s just differences of opinion. You have the dinosaurs who see their lives and actions governed by Social Darwinism: survival of the fittest. If someone drops dead, too bad, you just leave them. Then you have the mindset of the mammals (the lemurs in the movie) that if you work together as a team, everyone will reach their goal. (wow that sort of sounds like communism. ah well)

A dinosaur is actually helping another one! Blasphemy I say!!

A dinosaur is actually helping another one? Blasphemy I say!!

Yes I know. A biology person like me should have major issue with this because that’s obviously not the mindset of mammals and technically all animals do the whole “survival of the fittest” thing, but I’m willing to look past it because this is a movie and they’re using it to explain a point and the lesson of the Disney movie.

Straddling this gap between the dinosaurs and mammals we have our main character, Aladar. He’s a dinosaur but was raised by lemurs, so his mindset is more like them. He struggles to fit in wherever he goes, and can’t help but try and explain his views to the others because to him, it’s common sense. He’s an enjoyable enough character even if he is a bit “bland.” His difference is this mindset and his compassion, which does make him different enough (in my opinion) to be memorable.

D2

 

The dinosaurs Aladar and his family are traveling with are not viewed as “bad” (save one), but instead, they just need help. You could say Aladar is more selfless than the other dinosaurs because of his mindset, and this might be the lesson Disney wanted you to walk away with. Travel slow and help others, and everyone is happy in the end (I honestly don’t know what I think about that lesson…). Our stubborn leader, Kron, could be argued as a bad guy, but I don’t think this is actually fair to him. He’s just stubborn and set in his ways. He views Aladar’s help as a challenge and can’t give in and seem weak.

Here's Kron with another minor character, Bruton

Here’s Kron with another minor character, Bruton

We also have another villain, the more prehistoric (as in, apparently doesn’t have the smarts to talk in this movie…) Carnataur. He’s what instills fear in the hearts of our dinosaurs and leads to this belief of survival of the fittest in Kron – if someone else is getting eaten, it means you’re not! It’s kinda interesting we have this 2-tiered villain structure, and to a point it works, but I wonder if focusing more on Kron (even if the Carnataur is an off-screen villain) wouldn’t have worked better.

Along with Aladar, we have his family of Lemurs, including Grandpa Yar, rational and sweet Plio and her daughter Suri, and wise-cracking Zini. Most of these characters are sadly forgettable, although they are enjoyable (if that’s possible).

On Aladar’s side with the Dinosaurs we have the elderly but dainty Brachiosaurus Baylene, tough Styracosaurus Eema, and ankylosaurus Url (who again is apparently dumb enough he can’t talk). It’s nice to have some older characters in a movie like this, and it’s nice that our young protagonist isn’t too “good” to make friends with them. They see how nice that is too, claiming that Aladar made them feel wanted again. They’re good characters and central to the plot and motivation of our characters, but again, they’re all a bit forgettable.

Aladarfriends

Finally we have Neera, Aladar’s love interest. She doesn’t get enough screen time in my opinion, but I like her story. She’s the one who has her mind changed during the course of the movie, and begins to believe what Aladar believes in and falls in love with him because of his compassion and bravery. He instills in her hope, and she’s the one who eventually stands up for what he believes in even when he’s not there.

Ok, so I’m with the critics on this one. The plot and the characters are just eh. They’re good for the movie, but on the whole they’re forgettable. The ideas and the lesson are also kinda blah. It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think it was executed in the best way.

Now let’s talk about where this movie excels. And this is why I think this movie is “weird.” First of all. The animation is GORGEOUS. I’m not talking about the backgrounds, because those are actual live-action filmed backgrounds. I’m talking about the dinosaurs themselves. This movie was made 14 years ago. You would expect us to be able to tell that these are CGI. But you can’t. The way the muscles move on them. The detail on the skin. The coloring. Sure their movement is a bit awkward, but I’m willing to forgive that. It is still unbelievable. This is why I keep posting pictures in this review. Gorgeous!

The live-action backgrounds were a stroke of genius. I remember when I first learned that they were actual backgrounds. I almost figured they were cgi too because of how good the dinosaurs were. The two fit seamlessly and you forget you’re watching a hybrid movie like Pete’s dragon. The trees and water are all real. The caves and mountains are all real. Even when Aladar’s escaping his island and getting blasted with bits of exploded ultra hot meteor? Real! (they launched fireballs from the trees on a path to the ground… crazy!) It’s gorgeous and I would watch this movie strictly for the animation.

I would also watch this movie strictly for the music. Yes there are so songs (I think that was a good call… that would have completely and utterly ruined this movie…), but the score is drop dead gorgeous. James Newton Howard’s score fits the movie beautifully and fills it with emotion that the characters might not be so good at conveying. It’s one of the saving graces for the movie. I own this soundtrack and still constantly listen to it.

I also want to say that this movie has a strange but awesome voice cast (except D. B. Sweeney… he’s kinda flat…) including Juliana Margulies, Ossie Davis, a young Hayden Panettiere, Samuel E. Wright (Sebastian!!) and Max Casella…

That's right, Newsies fans. Race is back!

That’s right, Newsies fans. Race is back!

This movie isn’t great. It’s not good even. But somehow, it manages to be enjoyable. It’s forgettable characters and familiar plot might hurt it, but at the same time, sometimes you just need a movie like that. I agree with the critics and what they say about this movie. I hate that it’s not better, but I’ll take it for what it is. I still like it.

I give Dinosaur (2000) a 2.9 out of 5

Up Next: The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)