Was anyone else assigned A Wrinkle in Time in middle school but couldn’t remember the plot if your life depended on it? Well fear not because it’s hitting the big screen on March 9th. To get you ready for this trip down faded memory lane, here are some fake spoilers:
(B&B is in the public domain of everyone’s childhood so Boblius refuses to acknowledge plot details as “spoilers.”)
Before he’s THE BEAST, Beast is a tax-and-spend Prince. He vacuums income from the subjects of his French village to throw lavish parties where he prances around like Agador from The Birdcage (but somehow isn’t the gay character people are up in arms about?). The villagers are happy to RSVP in the affirmative for pre-Beast’s parties as long as he doesn’t mock them.
When a disheveled and smelly (one assumes) crone stumbles into pre-Beast’s latest party offering a single rose in exchange for shelter during a horrific storm, he laughs her offer away. Only pre-Beast gives out the roses in this edition of Bizarro Bachelor. For his haughtiness, the crone reveals herself to be an Enchantress (we wouldn’t want to call her a witch in a movie starring Hermione) then transforms pre-Beast into THE (CGI) BEAST. Finally. Now he looks like the Beast from our childhood. Whew. (more…)
*SPOILER WARNING* This essay heavily uses textual evidence from throughout the film.
The name “Zootopia” (a portmanteau of “zoo” and “utopia”) works ambivalently as the declaration of what this animal society wants to be and as an ironic joke about its failure to meet those aspirations. The joke is on us though since it’s one large Aesop’s fable about prejudice in the real world. The city motto is “anyone can be anything [and not be limited by what they are],” an ideal that protagonist Judy Hopps takes as her own personal motivation to become the world’s first bunny police officer. However the anthropomorphic pretense of the film forces characters to test their devotion to the ideals of this claimed post-racial utopia. Judy believes that foxes can be trusted, despite personal experience and warnings from well-meaning though racist parents, but is she willing to bet her life on it? This is the “Chekov’s gun” of the film, represented by something that literally goes where Judy’s police issued side-arm would be if this weren’t a cartoon. Judy reaches for the “gun” when fear overwhelms logic for the film’s argument about how we don’t live in a society rid bigotry, but only a society that wants to be rid of it.
It’s a very daring choice to make a world full of prejudice and have this spread over into other marginalized characters as well as the main characters. It’s writing 101 to throw the worst and most unfavorable traits at your villains, not the heroes. Supporting lead Nick Wilde (a fox) carelessly calls Judy “carrots” and “cute,” which the rules of the film sates are racist slurs for rabbits. Judy accidentally performs a micro-aggression on Nick, praising him as a “real articulate fella.”. (more…)
I went to see Zootopia last week expecting a solid children’s movie. What I didn’t expect was arguably the most libertarian children’s movie in recent memory. Seriously, Ayn Rand could have written this thing. Zootopia can teach kids about all sorts of libertarian ideals, such as citizen accountability, skepticism of government officials, civil liberties, and the rejection of majority rule justification.
We start with a relatively simple premise common in kid’s movies: our lead character has a dream that the world says will never come true. In this case, that lead character is a bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who wants to be a police officer. A bunny has never been a police officer before, but Judy works hard and becomes the first one. What makes Zootopia somewhat unique is that it spends relatively little screen time telling us how that dream comes true. Instead, the movie focuses on all of Judy’s struggles after she becomes a cop and how sometimes dreams aren’t everything we thought they would be.
If the title wasn’t clear enough; the second section of this review will contain ALL THE SPOILERS.
If you’ve somehow stumbled into this post by mistake, don’t worry, you’re still safe… for now. I’ll start with a basic, spoiler-free synopsis & review and then dig deeper into the good stuff a bit farther down in the post. It will be ridiculously obvious where the spoiler section will start, but if you haven’t seen the film and don’t even want to risk it, then you’d better make the jump to light speed and get out of here now to avoid any plot or character-related spoilers for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” .
With those disclaimers out of the way, here goes.
Currently holding strong at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m only adding my voice to a growing chorus when I say that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a fantastic film.
Director, J.J. Abrams and co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan & Michael Arndt, managed to flawlessly capture the look, tone, and feel of the original trilogy. I’m not going to waste time beating up on the prequels too much, but for the first time since 1983, everything about this actually seems like the Star Wars I fell in love with as a kid.
The universe depicted in the original trilogy wasn’t exactly shiny and new.
Spaceships like the Millennium Falcon were falling apart and didn’t always work perfectly; droids like C3P0 and R2D2 were dented and scuffed; and the locations were populated by strangely believable creatures going about their daily business. These kinds of imperfections and the physical reality of everything on screen, combined with John Williams’ luscious and emotionally powerful score, gave the world a visual realism and emotional depth that the cartoonish CGI perfection of the prequels completely failed to accomplish.
The magic in those original films has had a profound impact on now several generations of young people who would – like myself – grow up to be film-makers and creative artists. I’m beyond thrilled to say that “The Force Awakens” reminded me of the creative inspiration I felt as a kid seeing Star Wars for the first time.
But the record-breaking success of this film will be owed to far more than style and tone.
There is something about the pending arrival of The Force Awakens that I find to be deeply unsettling. As December 18th approaches, that feeling in my gut grows and those nagging voices in my head hound me as I fall asleep. Now, I converted to Star Wars when I was six years old, and have been a devout follower since. I’ve attended Celebrations and multiple Fridays at Comic-Con, yet something haunts me about this latest installment of the franchise.
At first I thought it was Lucas’s lack of creative involvement. But let’s face it, while George Lucas is a masterful storyteller; some of his greatest decisions as a filmmaker where to employ talented individuals to help him bring his vision to life. When we look at one of the greatest films ever made – The Empire Strike Back – Lucas brought on Irving Kershner to direct, and Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan to convert his story to screenplay. Lucas is still involved in this project as a creative consultant, and maybe this film will not fall victim to the same snags that prequel trilogy did with an oversaturation of Lucas’s involvement.
Then I considered that maybe my fear was that the new Star Wars film, wouldn’t feel like a Star Wars film. Any true Star Wars aficionado experienced culture shock when watching the prequel trilogy, resulting from an over-exposure to CGI. JJ Abrams has maintained that he will remain true to the practical effects used in the original films. Based on Abrams earlier films, we know that he is no stranger to preserving the integral magic of cinema with astonishing, practical effects.
Maybe my disappointment rested with the issue of “cannon”. Surely, this new film could not exist within the realm of the expanded Universe which has grown exponentially in the past three decades? However, the Expanded Star Wars Universe is in fact, expansive; and there are many contradictory story lines already within. One of the best examples of this was when the origins of Boba Fett were “rewritten”, after the revelation in Episode II that he was in fact, merely an imperfect clone. I made peace with that blasphemous information (though I still maintain that Fett’s original origin story is the better of the two) and I imagine that I will learn to make peace with future revelations, no matter how harmful.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I even knew Pinocchio was a children’s novel and not a fairy tale out of Grimm’s or the like. And, boy howdy, is it a doozy; thirty-six chapters of absolutely bizarre Italian children’s literature circa 1880s. Granted, the chapters fly by like in Moby Dick, with each only being about three or four pages long. The book actually reads like an epic fable with very simple moral that is omnipresent: go to school and mind your parents.
The main differences between the book and the Disney film (I’m sticking with that adaptation for brevity’s sake) consist of a larger role for Jiminy Cricket in the film, who is only referred to as the Talking Cricket in the book; a smaller role for the fairy in the film, who is the Blue Haired Fairy in the book; and the actual character of Pinocchio, who is sweet and naive in the film as opposed to an amoral ass in the book.
I hoped to like Tomorrowland a lot more than I actually did.
I love Brad Bird. Iron Giant and The Incredibles are both two of the finest animated films ever created. When he announced that he was directing a secret Disney project, I was intrigued. When we found out that it was going to be called “Tomorrowland”, I was thrilled. When I saw the first trailer, I had no reason to doubt that this would be an exciting and original piece of Asimovian science fiction. And parts of the movie are definitely that.
Without spoiling anything, here’s the set-up:
A brilliant, optimistic, yet rebellious young adult, Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), is given a mysterious pin which transports her mind to a fantastical futuristic utopia (“Tomorrowland”) where anything is seemingly possible. When the pin stops working, she goes on a mission to discover where it came from and find out how she can get back to the place she saw.
At first she heads to a novelty shop in Texas, where her questions about the pin’s origin wind up getting her attacked by androids with laser guns. She’s rescued by a 12-year-old girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) and ultimately dropped at the doorstep of Frank Walker (George Clooney), an exile from Tomorrowland with a clock counting down the end of the world.
I should love almost everything about Big Hero 6.
I love science fiction and I love comic-book movies, and this movie is both. I love Isaac Asimov and his bright vision of a future driven by fantastic innovations in science and technology. This movie has that in spades. I love robots (who doesn’t?), but I especially love robots with innocence at their core, like Brad Bird’s “Iron Giant”. This movie has that too.
I really, really want to love “Big Hero 6.” But alas, I only kind of liked it.
There’s a lot going on in the movie that is really cool on a conceptual and visual level. And yet its whole script is surprisingly weak. With 3 credited screen writers and 2 ‘heads of story”, perhaps it was a problem of a film being written by committee.
Note: I can’t make some of the points I’m going to make without giving away plot details and a few hints and minor spoilers. You’ve been warned.
It’s a pretty good set-up for a while, but even within the first major scene, I started to wonder about some of the writers’ choices.
Tadashi is an engineering student at San Fransokyo University, and Hiro is a brilliant robotics prodigy more interested in hustling for money at illegal robot fighting tournaments with his home-built robot than doing anything more important with his talents. In a really short amount of time we get to see who each of these guys are, and how much they care about each other.
The problem is, all this would be a lot better if the writing during this set-up wasn’t also pretty bad.
Take the way in which we learn that the brothers’ parents are dead and that they live with their aunt Cass. There are numerous subtle and emotionally compelling ways to convey that kind of information in a film, but Hiro literally blurts it out to his brother while riding a Vespa, as if it was news to the both of them.
Sadly, this was just the first of what will be several instances of aggressively on-the-nose exposition stated from one character to another, including one moment toward the twist reveal where T.J. Miller‘s character, Fred, loudly announces that “This is a revenge story!”
Thanks for clearing that up, Fred.
Truthfully though, what bothered me the most about the first act was the introduction of the most cliched and underdeveloped character in the movie, Alistair Krei (Alan Tudyk), resident nefarious tech-billionaire, and his supposedly good-guy nemesis, robotics pioneer Dr. Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell) – who also happens to be Tadashi’s mentor, and a celebrity crush for Hiro.
Callaghan tells Hiro that his students “go on to change the world”, and to get in to the program, he must invent something amazing.
Enter Hiro’s microbots.
Hiro creates tiny robots controlled by a neural transmitter that magnetically link together to form any shape or do any task the user can dream up. It’s a huge breakthrough for construction, transportation, and literally any field that you could imagine. It’s one of those incredible concepts buried in the movie.
But what happens next is where things go wrong again.
Like any reasonable person with a successful technology company would have done, Alistair Krei offers Hiro “more money than a fourteen year old boy can imagine” for the patent. But when Dr. Callaghan angrily paints Krei as a villain motivated “only by his own self-interest” (a truly ironic statement in this case), Hiro turns down the sale so he can go to college instead.
I guess in this world, making billions of dollars from an incredible product you invent when you’re fourteen and also studying robotics is impossible?
It’s an especially odd choice coming from a kid who, minutes earlier in the movie, waved a wad of cash around excitedly after having cleaned up at robot fighting. Not to mention the fact that in reality, the only way to really “change the world” with your invention is for millions of people to know about it and use it every day – which is the one thing that will never happen if you keep to yourself in a workshop.
For me, though… The way that the evil businessman trope is so clumsily pushed the into the first act was really an early signal of a script filled with heavy-handed cliches, just like the dozens of bits of flatly expository dialogue.
Still, the worst part about this kind of writing is that it telegraphs way too much about the rest of the story.
Shortly after Hiro’s presentation, a fire breaks out that supposedly destroys his microbots and kills Tadashi, setting up for his real journey to begin. When Hiro and Baymax discover that someone had actually started the fire to steal his microbots, the film has already tried so hard to make everyone assume it was Krei that the plot contains no real surprises from then on. Even the “twist” was so obvious by the time it was finally revealed that I was just annoyed that Disney went down such a cliched road in the first place.
All that said, there are some things to absolutely love.
After we make it out of the first act, the movie gets really good. It’s got a ton of wonderfully fun moments.
The action sequences and the richness of the world of San Fransokyo are really well crafted, as is the supporting cast of Hiro’s friends.
Baymax (Scott Adsit), a healthcare robot invented by Tadashi who befriends and protects Hiro, is worth the price of admission by himself. Especially when he goes bobbling around like an almost-human bouncy castle through the streets of the city. Baymax is both the movie’s heart and its comic relief, and somehow the balance is perfect.
It’s just too bad that all these great characters and concepts didn’t get a plot built on a stronger narrative foundation.
Whoever once said less is more must have watched this newest trailer for “Tomorrowland.” Either that, or the creators behind this mysterious project took that ages-old phrase to heart when marketing this puppy.
Opening on a young girl Casey (Britt Robertson) being released from some sort of juvenile detention center, we see she’s obviously been through some stuff. As she collects her belongings before being let go, there’s a small pin left behind, which she adamantly claims does not belong to her. Without thought, she grabs the pin to bring it to the officer’s attention and in that instant, she is momentarily transported to another world. So Casey has the natural reaction of one who is instantaneously transported to another world and FLIPS out. When she drops the pin on the ground, she immediately finds herself back in the detention center. Cue the mystery music and a voiceover from the enchanting George Clooney, who asks us, “What if there was a miraculous place where you could actually change the world?” All of this plays over some beautiful scenery of Casey once again touching the pin and finding herself in what is assumed to be Tomorrowland. It’s a “magical” place alright from the looks of it, although she’s seemingly standing in some sort of wheat field. But as we pan around, we see a large city far in the background. Cut just in time to see a glimpse of Clooney’s character asking an un-seen character if they would “want to go” to this miraculous place. Then, “TOMORROWLAND” fades into the screen.
Boom. Done. Sold.
This trailer (or teaser rather) was so simple, yet so effective. I wish there were more out there like this. This is the kind of creativity that will get people to pay the $15 to go see this thing! Not only is it directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles), but the imagery is stunning to watch and the editing was seamless as Casey jumped between the real world and Tomorrowland. Maybe I am biased, but if all creative teams would take the understanding that less is more and stop revealing TOO much information months before the release of the film, they might actually see a hike in profit, as people may actually feel the need to see the film instead of feeling like they watched the whole thing in two minutes! Whew, I digress.
Anyway, if any of you Hollywood producers out there end up reading this, you can give me the credit for boosting your ticket sales.
I’ll definitely be catching this one next year. Anyone else!?
I think these seven movie characters deserve their shot at the lead role. And as an added bonus, I’ll even use my excellent casting director skills to cast the roles.
1 & 2 – Clemenza and Tessio from The Godfather I & II (1972, 1974)
3 – Quint from Jaws (1975)