“Frozen”  Frozen_(2013_film)_poster

Disney has a magic touch.  Either that or they just hire the RIGHT people for the RIGHT jobs.  Any which way you look at it, “Frozen” is a major success.  It’s not your typical Disney Princess storyline, and it has major vocal talent, a killer single from the movie’s soundtrack, and of course brilliant animation.  All of this rolled into one interesting tale, giving this Disney smash success a big thumbs up from me!

Since I’m an artist, I will talk about the artwork in this film.  It’s even better than “Tangled” – at that is saying a lot coming from me!  The process involved here is like a hybrid of traditional hand-drawn animated cells and CGI.  The film is also shot in CinemaScope – not going to geek it all over the place here, so instead, just read this:  Suffice to say it’s a favorite technique of mine, it is great way to shoot films that lend themselves to a more epic or cinematic look.  It is the classical definition of “widescreen” formatting.

Frozen” is inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen tale called the Snow Queen.  Apparently, that story was something Walt himself wanted to see animated, but – long story short here – it got shelved.  The proper way of stating it today is to say that “Frozen” was inspired by the Andersen tale.  John Lasseter helped to anchor the film in a relatable way, giving us a story not as dark as the original material and filled with characters that people would understand better.  What Disney has ended up with is the very compelling story of two sisters that are kept apart from one another because of one sister has developed magical powers that enable her to freeze things.

The story might seem to have a loop hole in there, phrased as “how did she get these powers?”  Truth is though, the answer to this question is irrelevant.  The powers are not the story.  The character is.  I have to say that Disney has done a way better job with Elsa than with Merida from “Brave”.  Merida bothered me because it was like she rebelled because she wasn’t living her life as she wanted.  Really?  That’s your big bitch?  Well, excuse me but this girl Elsa – she got problems.  Yes, yes – I am over-simplifying I know.  But it is so accurate.  Elsa is terrified she’ll hurt her baby sister if she TOUCHES her.  She’s afraid of herself and the strange powers she has.  Basically, she’s afraid of what she could do to others.  Okay, now THAT is something that wrecks a life.  Screw Merida, Elsa has it way worse!

The story of Elsa (wonderfully played and sung by Idina Menzel) would not have been enough to make a movie out of though – if not for her younger sister Anna, played by the sloth-loving Kristen Bell.  The story follows them from being toddlers to being all grown up.  There are twists to the story that many viewers will be taken by surprise with.  (By the way, Anna’s mannerisms are so life-like that it is jaw-droppingly good!)  Anna brings the heart to this story and it is cool.  Of course, there is an awesome little snowman named Olaf that almost steals the movie and he brings the funny.  Over all, the story is fresh and innovative and surprising.  I’d have to say, “Frozen” was way better than I thought it might be.

So, if you have missed this one at the theater, try to catch it as soon as you can.  I don’t think you should wait for Netflix on this one.  Disney has the magical touch and two new princesses join the ranks of Belle, Ariel, and the rest of the gang.  Welcome to the Magic Kingdom, Anna and Elsa!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.



“Epic” Epic_(2013_film)_poster

Animated films these days are getting better and better.  From “Toy Story” to “Epic“, these films are becoming more than just “cartoons for the big screen”.  Allow me to state clearly, I am not a fan of the “Ice Age” franchise.  I cannot abide the lazy-mouth voice-over work by John Leguizamo as the sloth.  And I don’t like the art work.  Just my opinion, but it looks very juvenile.  May that’s the way the artist’s wanted it?  Who knows?  Regardless, not my cup of tea.  Pixar has been making masterpieces though with movies like “Up” and each of the “Toy Story” films.  I haven’t seen “Planes” or “Monsters University” yet, but I am sure I will before long.

“Epic” is from the creatures of “Ice Age”, so I was not optimistic.  However, it was better than expected.  The whole estranged father-daughter relationship was barely developed.  The 3-legged dog was a quirky touch, but cute.  There was an awesome Queen of the Forest that SHOULD have been a Disney princess kind of character – seriously Disney, how did you miss this opportunity?  She was voiced by Beyonce – which was a little odd (and she ain’t in the film long) but she was awesome for the time she was in the film!  There’s an obvious attempt at a romantic storyline (which doesn’t ever get off the ground too well).  There’s the silly comedic relief courtesy of a slug and a snail.  And the villains look fairly gnarly.

That’s the quick brush-over of the film.  Nothing too memorable there.

The filmmakers kind of missed 3 things in looking at “Epic”.  #1) If you want to do a love story, take the time onscreen to develop it and focus in on it.  #2) If you have some mystical fascinating thing happen to the main character in which she magically shrinks to become the size of the “tiny people’, please EXPLAIN WHY.  #3) When presenting villains that are out to rot the entire forest – allowing you an opportunity to speak to deforestation of this planet – please take the time to delve into it.

These are the areas where “Epic” failed.  It could have been so much more of a film had they just focused on one of those 3 things and taking their time with it.  But no, the filmmakers decided to throw all of it into the film blender and hit “HIGH”.  Sadly, the end result is a film that you can see had potential, but failed to complete its noble quest.

It’s times like these that I wish I could have been in the focus group or test audiences to screen the film.  If you want to say the villains are bad because they are out to turn the green, growing world of the forest to ash and rot, then don’t tell us – SHOW US.  Don’t say they are part of the balnce of all life and then portray them as “the bad guys”.  If they are part of the balance in nature, then I think you are  A) shooting WAY over the heads of the younger audiences, or B) you have confused the adults that care about the story.  (I fall into the latter category…I think.)

So, instead of developing a love story and throwing some song & dance numbers a la’ Disney, they only sort of dance around the perimeter of it.  You have the main characters kiss before it is over, making us foolish audience members think this is going somewhere, and then you have them return to their normal lives.  Oh, I did forgot to mention that normal for these two would be 1 is now a giant “stomper” and the other is a wee tiny “leaf man”.

Okay, so they failed on the love story.  They failed at presenting a proper villain in any clear-cut manner.  They delivered only so-so on the comedy, and the rest is fairly cliche’.  So, what are you left with?  Not much unfortunately.  Like I said, it had potential, but it just didn’t complete itself.  Get this though, the film was estimated to have a $100 million budget…and it grossed just over it’s budget.  How sad is that?  For that much money, you should be turning in something pretty …epic.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.

Wreck-It Ralph

“Wreck-It Ralph”  Wreckitralphposter

This is just a clever story.  Sadly, there are few arcades any more.  There used to be.  In my teenage years, THAT is where you went to “hang out”.  What “Ralph” has is a little nostalgia for the arcade gamers of the ‘80s and some great references to the early console games of the both the ‘80s and the ‘90s.  As a concept base for the plotline, this is a pretty great foundation.  It reminds me of “Toy Story” because it is a concept that has a LOT of potential!  True to Disney form, they keep it simple and focus on the moral of the story.  That moral dilemma is: can a bad guy actually be a good guy?

While the writing of “Ralph” is simplistic, what it focuses on and plays upon is this moral question.  In keeping it simple, the theme became much more effective.  It also allowed the writers to have a lot of fun in general when writing the characters.  It shows on every level.  The basic plotline is bad guy attempts to prove that he can be a good guy by acquiring a medal.  To this end, Ralph (the bad guy in question) decides to leave his own arcade game and travel to another video game to win such a prize.

The villains of multiple video games gather together and have a group therapy session to discuss their issues with being “bad”.  Video game characters gather at the local pub – another video game called Tapper’s – after hours to throw a few back.  Out-of-work game characters like Q-bert beg for food in the terminal that is the nexus between all the video game worlds.  They even reference a video game character that went rogue known as “Turbo” – whose name is now synonymous with game-jumping and how awful it can be.  Truth is, if a game is perceived as “glitch”, that game is retired forever.  So, nobody wants any of that because Turbo apparently did so and ruined not only his own game world but also the game he jumped into.

Set into this background is poor Ralph who is a little tired of not having any friends and is always despised by the people of his video game’s world.  When he returns home from his villain support group to find the people of his world celebrating the 30th anniversary of their game and throwing a lavish party to honor Felix, their game’s hero, Ralph loses it.  He decides he is leaving his video game to win a medal and prove to the people of his video game that he is more than just the bad guy.  Of course, Ralph leaves and now the game is deemed “glitchy”.  If Ralph does not return in 24 hours, the game will be unplugged!  Now, Fix-It Felix has must actually play hero outside of his game in order to save the game before it is turned off (Oh NO!) and marked as OUT OF ORDER permanently!

The voice of John C. Reilly is perfectly matched to Ralph, as is Sarah Silverman as Vanellope von Schweetz.  The animation is great and the lingo of video games is everywhere in the film.  So, if you are a gamer of the ‘80s or ‘90s, you will really enjoy this movie.  Still, “Wreck-It Ralph” has a lot for the kids and is truly a Disney movie: plenty of funny and plenty of fun.  It may not measure up to the quality of “Brave” and its story is little less mature than “Brave” as well.  If you have younger ones, this may be the better movie for your kids.  Over all though, “Ralph” is thoroughly enjoyable and worth seeing for something refreshing that I guarantee you have not seen before.

…that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.


“UP” Up_Poster

Folks, without question, this is the best movie of the year so far!  I cannot say enough positive things about this movie.  The latest from Disney’s Pixar Studios (thank you, George Lucas, and thank you, John Lasseter) this film is one of if not THE best of all such films!  That list includes “Toy Story”, “Toy Story II”, “Monsters Inc”, “Finding Nemo”, “Cars”, “Wall-E”, and “the Incredibles”.  From the trailer, the story appears to follow a grumpy old man that fills his house with balloons to escape the modern world or something like that.  Along the way, he is accompanied by a young boy who is trying to earn his latest merit badge for Boy Scouts.  Adventure ensues.  That appears to be the story, but it isn’t JUST that.

I was so pleasantly surprised by the story of this film that it just caught me all kinds of off-guard!  The story is – in true Disney fashion – a wonderful message about those we love and how we move on from loss.  The message is delivered by no less than 4 characters in the story!  The main characters are Mr. Carl Fredericksen (voiced by the great Ed Asner to perfection!), Russell the Wilderness Explorer, Dug the Dog (voiced by the co-director of the film, Bob Petersen), and the villain Charles Muntz (voiced by the as-always great Christopher Plummer) the famous explorer.  The message is so wonderfully delivered that you find yourself (this applies to audiences of all ages) nodding in agreement and true understanding.  Disney hit this one right on the proverbial head.

I hate to give away anything as far as the story goes, so I will attempt to say as little as possible about it.  This film will pull at your heart strings in the beginning.  It is both sad and wonderful.  Of course, there is humor that begins to creep into the film starting with “snipe” hunting!  The real humor though hits when our unlikely explorers, Russell & Mr. Fredricksen, meet Dug the Dog.  What a fantastic idea!  A collar that makes dogs talk?  Fantastic!  Dug had me cracking up so bad that my sides hurt!

I loved the “snipe” itself, named by Russell as Kevin.  It is a colorful character in its own right, even though it doesn’t speak.  You have to love the bird and his “relationship” with Mr. Fredricksen!  This film has so much funny stuff happening in it that even the appearance of some of these characters is enough to get you to crack up (I specifically refer to Ellie as a child, and “Kevin”)!  Another highlight was the riot of Alpha and his voice and the other dogs and their reactions are hysterical!  If you don’t laugh at this, go check yourself into the nearest medical clinic because you may be missing your funny bone!

I felt myself on a whirlwind of emotions while watching this film.  I was laughing, getting all choked up, and elated with the ending.  Disney does a fabulous job with the smallest of gestures; they always have.  The miracle of Dug groveling before Mr. Frederickson was but one of many images that went straight to my heart.  Russell is a delight and namely because he’s just a lovable character just as he is.  The lesson of “what matters” that he teaches both the audience and Mr. Frederickson is a true Disney classic moment!

On a side note: watch through the credits, or at least halfway through them.  The story sort of continues with pictures telling the future deeds of Russell, Dug, and Carl.  They are priceless!  Oh, and you may wonder about the film they go to see in one of those pictures.  The marquee reads “Star Wars”.  This is an homage from Pixar Studious to George Lucas who helped John Lasseter get his “project” off the ground.  Yes, folks, George Lucas is all about the technology in film and he even had a hand in Pixar’s animation.  (If you ever had any interest in learning more about exactly what technology Mr. Lucas has aided/created, you should look up his bio on-line.  Be prepared to be amazed!)

The film is beautifully told, from an opening with little dialogue but tons of emotion to an end that is pure joy.  Mr. Fredricksen is perhaps one of Disney’s most lovable characters yet – and that’s saying a HUGE amount!  While other Pixar films have humor in them, this one has TONS of humor.  It may be that because of the film’s opening that the humor sort of comes at you sideways.  And because of that, I laughed all the harder!  As other reviewers have already written: “my review cannot do this film justice”.  Amen!

The bottom line, folks: do not wait, and go see this movie!  It is worth every penny to see.  The kids will love it, and so too will you.  This movie is pure joy!  If you see nothing else this whole Summer, see this one.  It is a miraculous film because of how truly touching it is.  You do NOT want to miss out on this humorous family film!  “UP” succeeds on every level and it raises the bar once more for other animated films.  I cannot recommend this movie enough!

….and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

Toy Story 3

Toy Story 3Toy_Story_3_poster

Once more, Pixar Animation Studios has done it again.  “Toy Story 3” is without question well worth the price of admission – no matter how you see it!  It is a fitting end on a storyline that launched this studio, way back in 1995.  That’s right, folks: Woody and Buzz are at it again!

The story for “Toy Story 3” follows our favorite plastic characters as their owner, Andy, is about to head off to college.  The fate of Andy’s toys seems grim and the choices are either get stored in the attic or get thrown out.  The toys fear the attic and seek to escape the trash, and somehow find themselves donated to a daycare center.  Not all is what it seems at Sunnyside Day Care, and it is up to Woody once more to help out his friends.  Before the movie is over, you’ll be crying and you’ll have this strange ache in your heart.  Pixar delivers a fine story that just grabs your heartstrings and never lets go!

I cannot say it enough, but Pixar (a subsidiary of Disney) is just fantastic.  They have a track record at the box office that is only surpassed by Disney itself.  Dreamworks could only dream – all puns intended there – to be as successful as Pixar.  You hear it all the time from audiences, especially the adults: how do they think this stuff up?  Truthfully, I think these geniuses don’t try too hard.  Sure, it’s a lot of effort to pull it together into these wonderful movies, but the stories they tell are so touching that they are almost simple.  Maybe that’s the magic touch there?  I don’t know, and I really don’t care.  I can recommend ANYTHING that Pixar does.  I remember having some doubt about “Up” when I saw the trailer for the 1st time, but those doubts were shattered by the finished film.

You will rejoice in seeing Woody and Buzz Lightyear once more.  The opening sequence will take you right back to the imaginary stories we all acted out in our youth with our toys.  Heck, I remember combining Star Wars action figures with GI Joe action figures and they battled fiercely against my action figures from Marvel and Star Trek.  I spent hours outside with my little green army men, setting up rockslides and practicing my sniper skills with a BB Gun.  The magic of any toy is what kids do with them.  I positively loved the opening sequence because it made me remember what *I* did with my toys.

The laughter really comes from 2 classic toys: the infamous Ken doll (of Barbie fame) and that damnable monkey with e cymbals.  I’m sorry, but that monkey has always creeped me out.  At least here in “Toy Story 3” he is just pure entertainment.  It was great to see the imaginations at Pixar come up with ways to incorporate so many toys that tons of people with recognize and relate to.  You might find yourself saying “oh yeah – I had that toy!”  It is just positively brilliant how they add personality to these toys and make them come alive!  And the voices for them are perfect.  I especially like Don Rinkles and Estelle Harris as Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head.  Jessie is voiced by the wonderful Joan Cusack and Ken is voiced by none other than Michael Keaton!

My hat is off to the animators at Pixar and John Lasseter for putting together the finest film of the Summer Season with “Toy Story 3”.  BRAVO!!!!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE

The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux: Taledesperaux

This is a charming film based upon the award-winning children’s book by Kate DiCamillo.  Let me say that one more time for the cheap seats: this film is BASED upon the book.  I am often saying to fellow movie-goers that films based upon books should not be judged by how accurate they are to the literature it is derived from.  It’s just unfair.  First of all, these are two radically different mediums.  What can be accomplished in a book is not easily translated to film.  Secondly, there’s little evidence in recent films to support the notion that a good book equals a good movie.  Let me also say that I have not read this book.

So, with that in mind, I believe this to be a fine family film.  There are two primary reasons for saying that.  The first reason is that the film touches upon the value of believing in who you are.  The message can seem a little diluted in places, but the underlying message is resolute.  The main characters falter at places along the story that is told, but in the end, these characters realize who they truly are and stand up for themselves.  I guess that was the appeal of this film to me.  For a children’s tale, it is surprisingly grown-up in its message.  I believe that the film really emphasizes this.  What a positive message to give to kids too!  The message is also delivered in a simple yet charming way.  I can’t say for sure, but I think Sigourney Weaver’s narration really helped the film in that department.  (Anyone that has seen “Planet Earth” should understand what I mean by that.)

The second reason is the never-ending appeal of that swashbuckling adventurous genre.  I love fantasy films!  Truly, I am a connoisseur of such movies.  A mouse as the main hero of the story?  Hey, I liked the idea of a fox as Robin Hood in the Disney movie! It’s just the idea of a mouse being very unlike a mouse that is a quick catch.  As our hero even states when asked if he is a man or a mouse, his answer is simply “I am a Gentleman”.

The greatest asset for a film like this is the voice work of many of Hollywood’s top-notch actors and actresses.  The list is enormous!  When the credits roll, I watched in amazement as the names just kept coming.  Stanley Tucci, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Matthew Broderick, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman, and Dustin Hoffman were among that list.  These actors supplied a wonderful edge to the film.  It is a far better “role” for Dustin Hoffman in this movie than that of “Kung Fu Panda”.

So, if you like fantasy genre films that convey a lovely message – and delivered by top-notch voice actors – then I highly recommend this movie!  It’s a wonderful movie!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE



Flat-out fantastic.  In summary, that’s my review of Disney’s 50th Animated filmTangled”.  Everyone should be well aware of my fine appreciation of Disney by now, but I am usually speaking of Pixar’s films.  After my recent honeymoon to Disney World this summer, my appreciation of “Beauty & the Beast” was rekindled.  (Thank you Amazon for helping a fan pay a reasonable price for a fine DVD!)  I suppose it was that which made me pay closer attention to this film.  Or maybe it was Zachary Levi?  Zach is after all a major star in my household for my family is addicted to the smash NBC TV hit “Chuck”.  He is awesome!

Or maybe it was my step-daughter?  She has never been so animated to see a film before!  It’s a passion that I LOVE to see.  (Aaah, there is nothing finer than to get completely psyched for a film.  The adrenaline!  The rush!  ….I digress.)  Yes, I am pretty sure that she is to thank for knowing anything at all about “Tangled”.  I knew when it was coming out.  I knew that it was Disney’s 50th animated film.  I knew who was in it.  I knew a couple of songs from it.  I knew ALL about “Tangled”.

This one is for you “lady”. 😉

Tangled” is the classic fairy tale of Rapunzel and her magical hair.  It’s a great story to begin with.  The princess is locked away in tower by this greedy hag that uses her magical hair (which has the power to restore youth and heal…and it glows) to stay youthful.  She was abducted as an infant by said greedy hag.  Automatically, you despise this villain for her selfish nature and her callous attitude to anyone but herself.  She is a GREAT Disney villain.  She measures up well with the likes of the Witch in “Snow White & the 7 Dwarfs”.  Rapunzel grows up wanting to see the outside world and specifically the lights which fill the nighttime sky every year on her birthday.  Little does she realize, these lights are lanterns released by her parents who honor their missing child every year in this manner.  You get the impression that mom & dad (who are King & Queen) are really nice folk – it must be how they are animated.

Okay, so here’s where the story gets a HUGE wrench thrown in it.  A dashing rogue named Flinn Rider has partnered with 2 thugs (the Stabbington Brothers!) and has stolen the crown of the missing princess.  A chase ensues.  Flynn escapes the guards, but his nasty cohorts are captured.  However, 1 guard doesn’t give up the chase for Flynn.  That guard is Maximus…who is a horse.  Flynn attempts to hide from this horse, who behaves like a bloodhound.  In his attempt, Flynn discovers a secret passageway that leads to a lone tower with no visible door.  Flynn decides to climb the tower to gain access to the solitary window and hide within.  Here is where Flynn meets Rapunzel…and her frying pan!

For the rest of the story, you will have to go watch the movie.  Yep, that’s right.  I am recommending that you go see “Tangled” now.  Looking for some family fun?  Go see this movie.  Want a great film filled with humor that will crack up both the young and the old?  Go see this movie. If you were searching for just a feel-good flick, then go see this movie!  Seriously, it is THAT good!  Disney knocked one right out of the park with this one.  I didn’t see “the Princess and the Frog” because it just didn’t seem that interesting.  Trust me when I say that “Tangled” is VERY interesting!

The real joy of this animated bit of awesomeness is that it changed up what could have been a real ho-hum of a story.  Blah-blah-blah…hero rescues princess….blah-blah-blah…they fall in love….blah-blah-blah…they defeat evil hag and live happily ever after.  It wasn’t so much that Flynn & Rapunzel were more modern as it was that the story itself felt much more connected to this day and age.  Rapunzel is resourceful.  Flynn matures before you on the screen.  The hag showcases her ugliness in what she does and not how she looks.

Mandy Moore was perfect as Rapunzel.  She was a little spunky, a little sweet.  Mostly though, she had the right voice for the look of Rapunzel.  Disney has the right touch when it comes to putting actors voices into the right animated bodies; that’s what I know.  On that note, how about Zach Levi as Flynn?  I knew he could act and that he was a pretty funny guy, but he sings too!  (On a completely unrelated note, Zach and I share the same birthday and we both love the Chicago Bears.)  Pretty darned well, I might add.  Kudos to Donna Murphy as Mother Gothel (the evil Hag) as she chews up whole scenes with her musical numbers.  A fantastic character!  All of the actors were superb, and the supporting cast is a plethora of talented and famous actors.  That list includes Ron Perlman, Jeffrey Tambor, Brad Garrett, and the awesome Richard Kiel!

When you get right down to it, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone that “Tangled” is an uber-success for Disney.  You’ve got Alan Menken doing the music for the film!  You remember that name don’t you?  He’s the talent behind a lot of other incredible Disney tunes from other incredible Disney pictures.  You may have heard of them: “Enchanted”, “Pocahontas”, “Aladdin”, “the Little Mermaid” – oh AND “Beauty & the Beast”!  Menken combines the music right into the story, which sounds a lot easier than it probably is.  In “Tangled”, Menken has blessed us once more with pure Disney magic.  This man does for Disney what John Williams does for Spielberg and Lucas.  What an absolute talent!

And now, I finally speak to the artwork of this film.  Computer animation is nice, but this is something completely new: CGI that looks and feels like a painting.  As an artist myself, I can say that the Disney animators are LEGENDARY talents.  “Beauty & the Beast” featured the 1st ever animated 360 degree pan and it was jaw-dropping.  I still look at that scene and I shake my head – just look at their shadows!!  “Tangled” is exceptional in the art department (every pun intended there).  The animation of the characters felt fresh and lively.  It was like going to see an old friend’s most recent art show, when you haven’t seen their work in a couple of years.  It had gorgeous colors and a luminous quality to the exact right parts.  Not too surprising when one of the animators said the film’s visual style was inspired by a famous Rococo painting called “the Swing”.  How cool is that?!  The same animator said the process used to make the film gave it a very “painterly” feel.  Glen & Kyle, it worked beautifully.  Without question, this film features the best artwork from Disney’s animators that I have seen since “Tarzan”.

I could not write this review without talking about 2 characters in the film that really gave me a belly laugh: Maximus and Pascal.  Maximus is the bloodhound of a guard’s horse and Pascal is Rapunzel’s only friend, an understated chameleon.  I could not stop laughing at Maximus the horse!  Every time that horse behaved like a dog, I chuckled.  It was reminiscent of my childhood when I laughed at Robin Hood the fox as he outsmarted Sir Hiss and the cowardly Prince John.  For characters to not have a single line in the film and have this much effect is amazing!  BRAVO!

And so, I end this glowing review by simply stating the obvious: “Tangled” is worth the price of admission.

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.



“Rio” Rio2011Poster

Well, you know how sometimes you just go into watching a film with the lowest expectations and you expect truly nothing more than pure tripe?  That was me with “Rio”.  The trailers made it look like an animated film featuring the voices of some popular ethnic celebrities and that was it. No humor was showcased.  No hint was given to a storyline.  There wasn’t even a blip of quality shown to us.  In a nutshell, the film looked like an utter waste of time.

As it turns out, “Rio” had a lot to offer.  For one thing, the film centers on a cute little blue macaw that gets snatched up in Rio de Janeiro and accidentally gets dumped off on Minnesota.  Here, he is adopted by a cute little girl with big glasses named Linda.  Flash-forward through the years of Linda’s adolescence to adulthood and we see Lind and Blu (the macaw) enjoying a simple but meaningful and fulfilling life.  The real story centers on Blu being the last male of his kind and needs to travel to Rio to catch up with (we assume) the last female of his kind named Jewel.  From the safety of a lab we the two birds are supposed to mate, the birds are stolen by poachers who mean to sell the exotic birds to the highest bidder.  Adventure ensues.

Does that sound like I am short-changing the film?  Well, I may be doing just that – and deliberately too.  You see, I want anyone interested in this movie to know enough to go into it with an open mind.  A favorite philosophy of mine is “expect little and you will be rewarded”.  I’m applying that here.  What I do want to tell you is that “Rio” offers up some humor, a predictable storyline, AND a dazzling portrayal of avian life in CGI.  In other words, it’s a colorful and bright and a just overall really enjoyable film.

I enjoyed the monkeys, but the cockatoo named Nigel was the real show-stealer.  Voiced by Jemaine Clement, Nigel is one of the best animated villains in years!  The songs are fun, the story is upbeat, and nothing too scary for the little ones.  The animation is fantastic!  Not “Tangled” kind of fantastic, but very good none the less.  (On a completely baffling note, did you know that this film went to the MPAA and they gave it a PG rating for “mild off-color humor”?  The studio was upset by this, re-edited the film and re-submitted it and got the G rating.  Once again, the MPAA shows just how ridiculous it can be.)

I recommend “Rio” as good wholesome family entertainment, and if you expect little form it, you will be pleasantly surprised by it.  Enjoy!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE


How to Train Your Dragon

How to Train Your Dragon”  How_to_Train_Your_Dragon_Poster

So, with much hype and the most aggressive merchandising campaign I’ve seen in a long time, “How to Train Your Dragon” was released in late March.  I cannot believe that it took me a month to make it to the theatre to see this film!  (Thank you, Alexa!)  Then again, my life has been especially hectic lately.  My apologies for my lack of reviews lately.

The whole family made it out to see this one, and I have to say it is a wonderful family film!  “Dragon” is the tale of an awkward young Viking named Hiccup that isn’t quite up to the standards of his Viking clan, especially his Chieftain father (voiced wonderfully by Gerard Butler).  The Vikings are locked in a never-ending battle against the dragons that raid their village and steal their livestock.  The Vikings seek the nest of the Dragons, to put an end to the eternal plague of these winged beasts.  Amidst the flying menagerie of dragons is the elusive Night Fury, a shadowy flyer that attacks under cover of darkness with his extremely accurate breath weapon.  Hiccup manages to “capture” a Night Fury dragon and in secret begins to learn about the dragons through his new-found friend, whom he calls Toothless.  Toothless teaches Hiccup that the Vikings impressions about the dragons are not quite accurate.

There’s a lot of underlying “subversive” story themes in this movie, according to some other critics.  These critics have said some harsh things about the movie, like that it teaches the message that “everything you know about the world is wrong”.  I think these critics are ludicrous in these high-brow hyper analyses of an obvious family film.  I’m not saying that animated films can’t be high-brow entertainment, but I am saying that there is a place for those kinds of reviews and this just isn’t that kind of material.  Folks, it’s an animated film.  It has no hidden subtext to the storyline!  Why do people insist on writing such nonsense about a film that is designed to be simply a fun film?  I mean seriously, why?

Anyway, I thought the film was terrific.  I think what the film is really trying to say is that you don’t have to follow the herd to be okay with who you are.  Ironically, it takes a misunderstood reptile that is wounded rather permanently by Hiccup to help this message become a reality.  There are a lot of positive things going on in this animated film that I saw.  Here are a few examples.  Hiccup’s love interest, Astrid, wants to be a dragon slayer and make her clan proud.  However, when she sees the truth about Hiccup’s discovery concerning the dragons, she acknowledges it by helping him out.  She doesn’t “turn him in” or decry Hiccup as bad for their clan.  Hiccup never once admonishes his peers for being who they are or how they are.  He doesn’t even take issue with his father – except when it concerns a suicide mission.  All over this story, I see countless examples of someone of great character and rather positive messages about friendship and heroism.  A quick note on the heroism comment: it can be a heroic thing to truly be yourself and go against the “popular” trends surrounding you – and THAT is more than okay in my book.

There’s laughter to be had in “Dragon”, but really I found it to be a light-hearted tale with a lot of fun and some fantastic animation.  It’s sure to be a hit with nearly any kid, myself included!  The dragons aren’t too scary-looking and Hiccup and some of his friends pretty comical in appearance to boot.  The flying sequences are pretty funny, as are the interchangeable “hands” of Gobbler the Belch.  It’s a delight to see animators having fun with some great material on the big screen again.  This might not be on the level of “Up”, but it sure is fun to watch!

…and that’s it for this edition of “THE REEL VOICE”

Puss in Boots

Puss in BootsPuss_in_Boots_Poster

We’re all in agreement on the thought that the last two Shrek movies (“Shrek 3” and “Shrek: the Final Chapter”) have NOT measured up to the hilarity of the first two (“Shrek” and “Shrek 2”), right?  So it was with some trepidation that I viewed this spin-off franchise.  Well, I WAS hesitant about seeing this film until I saw the “Ooooo” cat trailer for “Puss in Boots”.  THAT and that alone sold me on it.  Maybe it’s just my sense of humor, but I thought that was hysterical.  (On a sad note, he’s not in the film enough – I would have used him in about 15 more scenes!)

Puss in Boots” tells the origin of the swashbuckling rogue of a cat.  I love the setting and the storyline really.  However, t is the charm of the character though that makes this movie a success at all.  When you start combining “fairy-tales” into a twisted re-vamp of origins, there’s a lot of fun to be had.  The film focuses on Jack & Jill, Jack and the Beanstalk, Humpty Dumpty, and of course Puss in Boots.  There’s so much fun to be had in this film that it is easy to watch and laugh at it.  The great part about animated movies like this is that you know not one once of it is taken seriously.  You are free to laugh at the silly and the crash moments with abandon.  I guess in that way, “Puss in Boots” harkens back to the original “Shrek” film that got us all laughing at the absurdity of Robin Hood and his Merry Men doing their musical number.

There isn’t much to tell about this film without spoiling the storyline.  I liked the choice of Salma Hayek as voice for Kitty Soft Paws.  The studio could have gone with Penelope Cruz or some other Latino woman for the voice, but I wouldn’t have understood the character as well I think.  Antonio Banderas is great as a voice actor too (I cannot imagine how he delivers some lines without cracking himself up!).  Humpty Dumpty is a little disturbing as a character.  An egg with little arms and legs and a face – it’s just weird.  I did like the choice of Zach Galifianakis for him though; it just worked well.  And Billy Bob Thornton and Amy Sedaris as the assassins/thieves known as Jack & Jill – that’s hysterical!

The animation is great – especially around the top of the Beanstalk.  I also liked the score for the movie (done by Henry Jackman), particularly when used for the chase scenes.  Beyond that, all I can say is that I found “Puss in Boots” to be thoroughly enjoyable and I would recommend it to anyone that enjoyed the humor of the 1st two “Shrek” movies.  Keep an eye out for that cat and his fantastic line of “Ooooo”!  That’s just great!

…and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.