In Review: Raya and the Last Dragon

Disney’s latest computer-animated spectacle Raya and the Last Dragon arrives amid pervasive division that continues to define the current moment, and the film is an earnest attempt by the studio to meet it headfirst thematically. Now, the Mouse House is no stranger to stories of heroes who save the day by bringing opposing factions together. Nor has the larger corporate entity shied away from stories that telegraph their timeliness or cultural urgency to overly simplified, emptily hashtaggy results (think Elsa’s hyper-vaguely examined queerness, Captain Marvel‘s even vaguer ideas on female power, etc.). Emotion is also something that Disney’s brand of filmmaking has fallen into more cynical and mechanical tactics of late. But in presenting a divided world brought together by its titular heroine, Raya and the Last Dragon succeeds at telling a story of reconciliation thanks to its well-developed emotional underpinnings, achieving in something that resonates in quite welcome and modest ways.

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In Review: Frozen 2

Rather than stepping forward in usual fairy tale sequel fashion, Frozen 2 looks backward. Perhaps not in ways that are expected or all that desired, a strange pivot for one of the most clamored-for sequels in recent memory. Yes, audiences get to be reunited with the ice-spewing queen Elsa and her less emotionally guarded sister Anna, along with her boyfriend Kristoff, his reindeer Sven, and that snowman terrorist named Olaf. Packed with even more tunes than before, this film takes us back to the mythos of the sisters’ departed parents and their association to the lands that surround their kingdom of Arendelle.

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In Review: Incredibles 2

Time has not diminished Pixar’s beloved superhero family. Fourteen years after their debut, Incredibles 2 arrives as spry and genuinely thrilling as to suggest they never left. As superhero stories have begun to feel strained and perfunctory, this is not to be underestimated. Proving anew why the first installment is one of the most exciting superhero films of the modern era, this sequel is why we show up to these movies. It’s not just like The Incredibles ever left, but we forget how dull these movies have become while we watch it.

Picking up shortly after the first film, we’re also spared the now-common narrative of watching a group we’re familiar with deal with later stages. Instead, this chapter is more of a reversal of the first but with the characters as they already were. Elastigirl is now rightfully, as she always truly was, the best and coolest damn hero of the family.

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In Review!: “Coco”

In an attic hideout, young Miguel not only hides a stash of memorabilia of legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz, but also his own secret longing to become a musician himself. Trouble is, his small village life in Mexico is already predetermined to follow in his family tradition of making shoes and shunning music. But the discovery that Cruz is the great-great grandfather that abandoned the family and spurred their rules against music sends Miguel on a journey to the spirit world to reconcile the two halves of his heart. In so many ways, Coco feels deeply personal.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot!: “Zootopia”

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I’m not among the many vocal admirers for Zootopia. The amusing character design and relationships are a delight, and of course it has a fiercely progressive (and unpreachy) message for children that is hard not to root for. While the film’s upsides are front and center, they still don’t mask the film’s flatness and unpropulsive energy, and even the social commentary becomes a little muddled by the end. On first glance the animation looks unrefined, but there’s an expressive attention to lighting and tone that probably does more to push the emotions than the screenplay itself.

But Zootopia‘s core is so warmhearted and well-thought out that focusing on its faults feels a bit mean-spirited, and downplays how accomplished it is visually.

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