Category Archives: Animated Films

Toy Story 4-2019

Toy Story 4-2019

Director-Josh Cooley

Voices-Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts

Scott’s Review #966

Reviewed December 10, 2019

Grade: B

Toy Story 4 (2019) is the fourth installment in the Pixar/Disney produced Toy Story series, now nearly twenty-five years old! The glitter is beginning to fade on a once endearing franchise and hopefully this is the last one- additional segments are not needed unless desperation develops.

After a slow start and too many retread moments, the film shows bombast and familiar heart and tenderness in the finale, presumably wrapping up the lengthy story with a neat bow. The animation is vivid and colorful, almost astounding, making up for an unnecessary story.

In a flashback sequence, nine-years after Toy Story 2, Bo Peep (Annie Potts) is donated to a new owner and Woody (Tom Hanks) begrudgingly decides to maintain his loyalty to owner, Andy. Years later and now a teenager, Andy donates a forgotten Woody to a young child named Bonnie, who lacks the affection for the toy that Andy had. When Bonnie makes and bonds with Forky, a toy made of plastic, Woody struggles to convince Forky that each is more than garbage.

When Bonnie and her parents embark on a summer road trip to an amusement park, Woody and other familiar faces are along for the ride. The group meets other forgotten toys, some benevolent and some sinister, at the park and a nearby antique store. Woody’s dear friend and comic relief, Buzz (Tim Allen), is in the mix and helps all the toys realize that they are not forgotten, and that they can still bring joy to children.

The film provides an unwieldy list of celebrities in major and minor roles. The incorporation of characters like Chairol Burnett, Bitey White, and Carl Reineroceros (voiced naturally by Carol Burnett, Betty White, and Carl Reiner) may not be necessary, but it’s fun to watch the credits roll and see who’s who from the cast. The minor characters are little more than window dressing, but the creativity is admirable.

The main story of abandonment, loyalty, and discarding of one’s toys is ample and nice, but has occurred in every segment thus far in the series. Do we need to see this again? Yes, it is an important message for both children and adults, but why not simply watch the first three installments of Toy Story, each brilliant in their own right? Ty Story 4 plays by the numbers with little surprises.

One glaring notice is how almost every single adult is either incompetent or played for laughs. I get that the main draw is the toys and outsmarting the adults is half the fun, but when Bonnie’s father assumes his navigation system is on the fritz, rather than catching on to the fact that one of the toys is voicing the system, one must shake his or her head. Suspension of disbelief is required more and more in these types of films.

Toy Story 4 picks up steam in the final twenty minutes with a thrilling adventure through the amusement park and a cute romance between Woody and Bo Peep. When long forgotten toy Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) emotionally rescues a lost child, she is rejuvenated and breathes new life into both the child’s life and her own. In a darling moment, Forky meets another creation named Knifey. Knifey suffers from the same existential crisis as Forky once did, and Forky immediately becomes smitten with her, both realizing that even though they are odd looking, they still matter.

The nice lesson learned is that even toys from the 1960’s and 1970’s can provide warmth and comfort to a young child and are more than “of their time”. This is a clear and bold message that correlates with human beings and how advanced age does not come with an expiration date. Everyone matters and brings importance. The overlying theme is heartwarming and central to the film, bringing it above mediocrity.

What should certainly be the final chapter in a tired franchise that continues to trudge along, the bright message and strong animations remain, but the film feels like a retread. Given that Toy Story 3 was made in 2010, Toy Story 4 (2019) needs to bring the series to a conclusion before installment 5, 6, 7 or 8 results in dead on arrival.

The Sword in the Stone-1963

The Sword in the Stone-1963

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Voices-Sebastian Cabot, Karl Swenson

Scott’s Review #896

Reviewed May 10, 2019

Grade: B

The 1960’s, while not known as the very best of decades for Walt Disney productions, offers a small gem of a film in The Sword in the Stone (1963). The film, flying marginally under the radar, is not typically well-remembered but is a solid offering, mixing elements of magic and royalty within a cute story. The production holds the dubious honor of being the final Disney animated film to be released before Walt Disney’s death.

While the film is not great, neither is it bad. Engaging and innocent it does not offer the ravaging tragedy of Bambi (1942), the emotion of Dumbo (1941) nor the beauty of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). What the Sword in the Stone does offer is an adventure with an appealing lead character, mildly entertaining supporting characters and a whole host of fun antics enshrouded around education.

Set during ancient times, the King of England has died, leaving no heir to the throne. This elicits peril and worry since with no successor in place, the country is doomed for war. One day a miracle occurs and an odd “Sword in the Stone” appears inside a sturdy anvil in London, with an inscription proclaiming that whoever removes it will be the new king.

Despite a myriad of attempts none of the strong townsmen succeed and England is reduced to the Dark Ages, leaving the sword and the stone forgotten. When one day a twelve-year-old lad named Arthur appears, he teams up with his tutor, Merlin the wizard, and the adventures commence. Inevitably Arthur can remove the sword from the stone and will go on to lead the Knights of the Round Table, accomplishing many amazing feats and becoming one of the most famous figures in history- King Arthur.

The Sword in the Stone entertains and pleases the eyes in many regards with vibrant colors and an array of bells and whistles creatively interspersed throughout a myriad of scenes. The main villain of the story, Madam Mim, is Merlin’s main nemesis. Haggard and dripping with black magic powers, she can turn from a pink elephant into a queen with the flick of her wrist as she giggles and prances about. Despite being dastardly she is also fun and zany and delights in her brief screen time.

The whimsical antics of Merlin are the best aspects of The Sword in the Stone as the senior gentleman bursts and bumbles from one oddity to another in earnest attempts to aid Arthur. Thanks to clever writing an educational angle is a robust incorporation to the story. Merlin can see into the future, at least in glimpses, such as knowing that the world is round not flat. What a great learning tool the film provides for young kids to discover.

The story risks playing too amateurish in some parts where I can see children under the age of twelve enthralled but adults finding the film too childish to take seriously. Despite my best efforts to stay tuned I noticed tidbits of the film that seem too cute for me. When Merlin and Arthur are turned into squirrels and strike the fancy of adorable but clueless female squirrels, the scene seems best catered to very young audiences.

What would give the film some bombast would be a good solid theme song or a powerful love story. Both aspects, able to solidify a hit for Disney, are glaringly missing. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs contains the lovely “Someday My Price Will Come” while Snow White and the Prince offer a rich love story. While good, The Sword in the Stone can reach only second tier of Disney classics, missing the upper echelon with only so-so musical offerings.

A slight miss is the way Arthur’s voice changes back and forth from child to teenager going through puberty and this is drastically noticeable. The reason, rather perplexing when analyzed, is that three different actors were used to play Arthur resulting in some consistency issues. Why not just use one actor or age the character slowly and gradually deepen his voice? The back and forth feels sloppy.

At the end of the day the criticisms targeted at The Sword in the Stone (1963) are minor and forgivable as the film plays above average graded on its own terms. The film has a nice message for children about the importance of education and is a wonderful delight best served to the whole family.

Lady and the Tramp-1955

Lady and the Tramp-1955

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Peggy Lee, Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts

Scott’s Review #894

Reviewed May 5, 2019

Grade: A-

Released mid-way through a decade of prosperity, Lady and the Tramp (1955) is a lovely production representing an innocent time that still holds up well decades later. A Walt Disney film, the story, animations, and characters are charming with a wholesome yet sophisticated vibrancy. A year in the life of its main character (Lady) never was more richly created providing adventure, romance, and fun for the entire family.

During the turn of the twentieth century, presumed to be somewhere in the mid-western part of the United States, John Dear gives his wife Darling a Cocker Spaniel puppy that she names Lady. The couple are immediately smitten with Lady providing her with all the comforts of warm and lavish country living. As months go by the Dear’s become pregnant causing Lady to feel left out. When the baby arrives and the Dear’s go on a trip, their dog hating, and incompetent Aunt Sarah arrives, leaving poor Lady at risk for her life.

Meanwhile, a stray mixed breed named Tramp prowls the streets protecting his friends and avoiding the dog catcher. He dines on Italian leftovers at Tony’s and lives his own idyllic life, proud not to be owned, able to live on his own terms. He befriends Lady through mutual acquaintances Jock and Trusty who reside nearby. When Lady faces peril the duo embark on an exciting escapade that leads them to a dog shelter and a farm as they begin to fall in love with each other, eventually resulting in a candlelit dinner for two at Tony’s, the highlight of the film.

Each of the animal characters is a treasure and voiced appropriately providing Lady and the Tramp with life and good zest. Tramp is gruff yet lovable with a “footloose and collar-free” outlook, charming and bold in his determinations. The voice of Lady is the polar opposite- demure, feminine and proper. Her voice is cultured without being too snobbish. In supporting roles, Tramp’s fellow strays Peg (a Pekingese) and Bull (a bulldog) possess a New York street-savvy that is perfect for their characters.

Besides Aunt Sarah, the dog catcher, and a hungry rat, Lady and the Tramp contains no villains and each of these characters are somewhat justified in their motivations. The rat just wants to eat, the dog catcher is doing his job, and Aunt Sarah, a cat lover with two Siamese pets, is foolhardier and more clueless rather than dastardly. She can be forgiven for wanting Lady to have a muzzle because she misunderstands Lady’s intentions towards the newborn baby. These characters are more comical than deadly and Si and Am add mischievous shenanigans to further the plot along.

The heart of the film belongs to the sweet romance between Lady and Tramp. The two dogs immediately appeal to the audience with instant chemistry. The “Footloose and Collar-Free / A Night at the Restaurant / Bella Notte” medley is the best of the song arrangements as the duo share a delicious plate of spaghetti and meatballs. In the film’s most iconic and recognizable scene the pair lovingly munch from the same spaghetti noodle- if that is not love then what is?

Lady and the Tramp (1955) is a charmer containing innocence, vivid colors and a rich, welcoming story. Beginning on Christmas and ending exactly a year later, Lady and Tramp’s wonderful journey is topsy-turvy, but culminates in the birth of a litter of puppies cheerily celebrating life. The happy ending is a perfect bow on a Disney film that is enchanting, harmless, and inspiring. The quintessential American love story between the pampered heiress and the spontaneous, fun-loving pup from the wrong side of the tracks — has rarely been more elegantly and entertainingly told.

Song of the South-1946

Song of the South-1946

Director-Harve Foster, Wilfred Jackson

Starring-James Baskett, Billy Driscoll

Scott’s Review #893

Reviewed May 4, 2019

Grade: B+

Song of the South (1946) is a Walt Disney film buried in the chambers of cinema history, reportedly an embarrassment never too soon forgotten by the legendary producer and his company. The reason for the ruckus is numerous overtones of racism that emerge throughout an otherwise darling film. Admittedly the film contains a racial cheeriness that cannot be interpreted as anything other than condescension to black folk and numerous stereotypes abound.

The mysterious appeal of the film during modern times is undoubtedly because of the surrounding controversies that hopefully can be put aside in favor of a resounding positive message and glimmering childlike innocence that resonates throughout the course of the film. The hybrid choice of live action and animation is superlative, eliciting a progressive never before seen, experience that would be shameful to be spoiled amid the surrounding controversies.

Taking place during the Reformation Era in Georgia, United States of America, a period of American history shortly after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the film has quite the southern flavor and feel. Seven-year-old Johnny (Bobby Driscoll) is excited to visit his grandmother’s (Lucile Watson) lavish plantation outside of Atlanta along with his mother, Sally (Ruth Warrick), and father (Erik Rolf). He is soon devastated to learn that his father is to return to Atlanta for business, leaving Johnny behind.

Johnny plots to run away from the plantation and return to Atlanta but develops a special friendship with kindly Uncle Remus (James Baskett) who enchants the young boy with sentimental lesson stories about Br’er Rabbit and his foils Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear. Drama ensues when Johnny feuds with two poor neighbor boys and develops a friendship with their sister, Ginny. He also forms a close bond with Toby, a young black boy who lives on the plantation.

Thunderous applause must go to the creative minds who thought of the idea of mixing the animations with the live action drama which results in positive and compelling effect. As Uncle Remus repeatedly embarks on a new story for Johnny to listen to the audience knows they will be transported into a magical land of make-believe as a clear lesson results from these stories.

Uncle Remus is an inspiring character- extremely rare to find a black character written this way in 1946. Often black characters were reduced to maids, butlers, farm-hands, or other servant roles. While the film does not stray the course with casting these roles aplenty, including Uncle Remus himself, his character is different because he is beloved by little Johnny and respected by the grandmother, treated as part of the family. His opinion counts for something and not merely dismissed as rubbish.

The musical soundtrack to Song of the South is particularly cheery and easy to hum along to. The most recognizable song is “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” which reoccurs several times throughout the feature. The best rendition is at the end of the film when the mix of live action and animation culminates with the sing-along. My favorite appearance is when the “blue bird” referenced in the lyric comes into play resting on one character’s shoulder, true to the lyrical content.

The accusations of racism are justified as keen viewers will understand the condescension towards blacks in several scenes. More than once a parade of black people is seen traipsing through the plantation, singing songs, not exactly cheerfully but not despondent either. The scenes have eerie slavery overtones- despite the black character’s all presumably being free to come and go, the reality is they all work for white folk. The black plight and struggle are completely sugar-coated and feels dismissed.

The animated characters are voiced by strong ethnic voices and are presumed to be ridiculous. The usage of a Tar-Baby character, completely enshrined in black tar seems offensive almost teetering on the implication of promoting a blackface, minstrel show moment as the character, once white, is then turned black because of the tar. Song of the South is not the only film of its time to face racist accusations- the enormous Gone with the Wind (1939) and Jezebel (1938) faced similar heat.

Song of the South (1946) is recommended for those who can recognize the racism that exists throughout the film but also can appreciate the films artistic merits. Wise and resounding friendships between white and black characters are evident as is a lovely story about determination, fairness, and respect. The film should be both treasured for its nice moments and scolded for its racist overtones.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse-2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse-2018

Director-Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman, Bob Persichetti

Voices-Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Lily Tomlin

Scott’s Review #881

Reviewed March 30, 2019

Grade: B+

There have been many film versions of Spider-Man. To my recollection the first series came in three installments and was directed by Sam Raimi: Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), and Spider-Man 3 (2007) with Toby Maguire in the title role. These were the good, old, days. Andrew Garfield took over in 2012 and 2014 to mixed reviews before the super-hero was merged into Captain America and The Avengers films as well as one or two additional solo outings. This is where I lose track.

Finally, through all the incarnations comes the very first computer animated film based on the Marvel Comics character. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) was an enormous box-office success as well as a critical success winning the coveted Best Animated Feature Oscar. My choice would have been for the dark and sarcastic Isle of Dogs, but the former has impressive merits and grand animation that are astounding to the eyes. Towards the climax the film teeters into familiar and predictable territory from a story perspective though admittedly the super-hero and animated genre is not my most cherished.

Miles Morales is a Brooklyn teenager, bright, energetic, and likened to your average city kid. His father, Jefferson Davis, is a muscled policeman who is no fan of Spider-Man, the heroic masked man who prevents city crime outshining the cops daily. While close to his father, Miles is much more connected to his uncle, Aaron Davis, despite his father and uncle having a distant relationship. When Miles is bitten by a hungry spider he immediately begins exhibiting Spider-Man like abilities and stumbles upon others with similar stories.

The teen meets super-villain Wilson Frisk, (a not so subtle Donald Trump parody if ever I saw one) who is intent on accessing a parallel universe to retrieve his deceased wife and son. Events involving a USB drive and the “real” Spider-Man, Peter Parker, also living in a parallel universe come into play. The overly complex story is not the best part of the experience and I began losing interest in the how’s and why’s especially when compared to the escapist and marvelous super-cool animations.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse deserves some great praise for making the film’s central character ethnically mixed a (Hispanic and Black), never done before in franchise history. This diversity, evident in Black Panther (2018) is all the rage now in the super-hero genre along with gender equality in a once deemed “guy’s movie” slogan. This is a delight to witness with hopefully even more of a slant towards richer diversity. Are Asian, gay, or physically impaired character’s coming next?

The film looks amazing with creative and slick modern animation and graphics across the board that never waver throughout the entire nearly two-hour running time, lengthy for an animated feature. Styled and bright the film’s most brazen appeal is with its colors and shapes and sized. The metropolitan New York City is a treat to witness as the creators not only focus on Manhattan, but on Queens and Brooklyn, boroughs too often forgotten in favor of the glitz and bustle of Manhattan. The clever re-titling of FedEx trucks to Red Ex is a worthy mention.

With a glitzy look, fast-paced action, and interesting villains, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) is an impressive feat and a deep-dive into the possibilities of incorporating more of the super-hero and animated genres. This is around the corner due to the critical, audience, and awards notice that surrounds this film. If only the story contained more twists and turns and less standard genre-pleasing qualities, the possibilities would be endless.

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2018

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2018

Directors-Alison Snowden, David Fine, Domee Shi, Becky Neiman, Louise Bagnall, Nuria Gonzalez Blanco, Andrew Chesworth, Bobby Pontillas, Trevor Jiminez

Scott’s Review #869

Animal BehaviourBaoLate AfternoonOne Small StepWeekends

Reviewed February 18, 2019

Grade: A

Having the honor of being able to view the five short films nominated for the 2018 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at my local art theater was pretty amazing. Far too often dismissed as either irrelevant or completely flying under the radar of animated offerings, it is time to champion these fine little pieces of artistic achievement. On par with or even superseding the full-length animated features, each of the five offers a vastly different experience, but each offers either inspired or hopeful messages or dark, devious, and edgy stories. The commonality this year is that four of them feature parent-child relationships. Below is a review of each of the shorts.

Animal Behaviour-2018 (Canada)

The strangest in the group, Animal Behaviour is also the most humorous and the best in the bunch, but only by a narrow margin. We witness a therapy session led by a prim and proper dog, who clearly has his own issues. In attendance are a blood-sucking leech, a praying mantis, a cat, a pig, and the newest attendee, a gorilla. All are happy to participate except the gorilla who sees the session as a waste of time. As eating jokes, butt jokes, and other adult humor encases the camaraderie each character develops a clear identity and the gorilla learns, in comedic fashion, that he really does require therapy. This short plays out like an intelligent television sitcom. Grade: A

Bao-2018 (USA)

The most mainstream of the contenders, Pixar creation Bao is cute and heartwarming and an ode to motherhood. A perfect Mother’s Day offering, the story tells the tale of a Chinese mother who imagines one of her delicious dumplings to be her son. She takes him to soccer practice, rides the bus together and are inseparable. As the dumpling matures, he wants to be alone, see friends, and eventually meets a young woman and proposes marriage. The mother is aghast and in a state of panic swallows the dumpling! Depressed, she is awakened by her real son and the two form a sweet bond made from of respect and love. The story is blooming with colors and nuanced with kindness so is easily the crowd favorite. Grade: A-

Late Afternoon-2018 (Ireland)

Some will undoubtedly find Late Afternoon a bit of a downer, but I found its honesty uplifting and fraught with creativity. An elderly woman suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is visited by a caring nurse each afternoon. The nurse is kind and her actions, serving a hot cup of tea or giving the woman a book to read, trigger memories of her youth with so much promise lying ahead of her. Eventually, she can recognize that the nurse is really her own daughter. The short is filled with compassion and while melancholy it is also inspiring, not to mention the creativity immersed in the colors and design. Grade: A

One Small Step-2018 (USA/China)

The most conventional in the lot, One Small Step will be perceived as empowering to women and a story of both loss and courage. A Chinese-American girl is raised by her patient and caring single father in California. She is taught to reach for the stars and he kindly repairs a shoe of hers and secretly stores it away. Over the years she is determined to become an astronaut and while she loves her father, she oftentimes takes him for granted. She is denied admission into a prestigious school and, depressed, gives up her dream. When her father dies suddenly the girl redoubles her efforts and finally becomes a successful astronaut in dedication to her father. The short champions energy and a never give up attitude. Grade: A-

Weekends-2018 (USA)

Weekends is my second favorite of all the shorts, barely runner-up to Animal Behaviour. The most complex and confusing, the short also features the most interesting hand drawings and art-work with a surreal and beautiful touch. A child of divorce spends his weekdays with his mother and his weekends with his father. His mother is depressed and lets the house languish while his father lives a metropolitan bachelor style life. When the mother begins dating an abusive man the boy is terrified imagining birthday candles that turn into the frightful man. The mother wears a neck brace which implies physical abuse. The short is moving and hits home on a personal level. Grade: A

Isle of Dogs-2018

Isle of Dogs-2018

Director-Wes Anderson

Voices-Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton

Scott’s Review #831

Reviewed November 15, 2018

Grade: B+

Anybody who is familiar with a Wes Anderson production knows what they are in store for and Isle of Dogs (2018) is par for the course. With zany narratives and fantastic art direction, the film has a familiar stamp. Obviously most resembling his other notable stop-motion film, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Isle of Dogs offers what is to be expected- an intelligent and odd project by a visionary creative mind.

Anderson provides the film with a timely, corrupt Government type message that strongly resonates in 2018. In this way Isle of Dogs, while animated, is so much more than a cookie-cutter story or a wholesome film for kids. This is a show of bravery by the director to focus on corruption prevalent in today’s world and the fight for justice by ordinary people living among authoritarian control.

Set in dystopian Japan, a recent outbreak of canine flu causes corrupt Mayor Kobayashi to banish all dogs from society to the vast wasteland of Trash Island where they will live out their days with other ostracized canines. A brave twelve-year-old boy named Atari, who happens to be the mayor’s nephew, steals a plane and crash lands on the island to rescue his beloved dog, Spots.

With help from a pack of dogs led by a former stray named Chief, the group sets out to find Spots and to ultimately expose the government conspiracy. Obstacles abound as the mayor has sent a robot dog to return Atari and make mincemeat of any dog in its path. Meanwhile, a professor is on the cusp of discovering a serum as outspoken American exchange student, Tracy Walker, investigates the conspiracy.

Isle of Dogs is incredibly original and offers bravura visuals. From the lush and bright Japanese culture to the tired and haggard look of many of the dogs living on the island, the film is a treat for the eyes. The shimmering richness of the city is elegant and feels alive and powerful.

What I admire most about the film is the creativity and the blast of left-of-center story-telling, blowing away most animated offerings of today. Many contain a robust helping of “cute”, which can turn off a mature viewer. With a target audience of the tween age, what is in it for adults? To sit there with a youngster and pretend to be jovial? Isle of Dogs is not the crowd-pleaser, it is better than that. Anderson crafts a serious and timely message begging to be absorbed by the careful viewer.

Assuredly, Anderson cannot escape providing a subtle allegory on an evil leader stirring the pot against the most helpless in our society. This point, especially in the tumultuous United States is timely and well thought. Could this be why an American character (Tracy) was added?

As dynamic as Anderson’s creativity is, the story in Isle of Dogs does not always embrace the viewer and the jarring dialogue is tough to follow. Standard in his films, the pacing is strange, the conversations between characters are odd, and the film lacks a truly welcoming or warm quality. Therefore, the film is not an easy watch. And the dogs all speaking English rather than Japanese, with American accents simply must be overlooked.

Critics and detractors of Wes Anderson need not see Isle of Dogs (2018) as they will be in store for typical Anderson fare. In addition, those seeking a standard mainstream animated feature will be disappointed. For those with a more open-minded approach to cinema will revel in the stunning look the film achieves and the powerful message bubbling under the surface.

Oliver & Company-1988

Oliver & Company-1988

Director-George Scribner

Voices-Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Cheech Marin

Scott’s Review #818

Reviewed October 8, 2018

Grade: B

Oliver & Company (1988) is a darling animated film released by Walt Disney Pictures, the twenty-seventh Disney feature film to be produced. The film is based on the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist, but Oliver is now a homeless kitten who joins a gang of dogs, and the setting moves from London to the dangerous streets of New York City- present times.

We meet Oliver (Joey Lawrence) as he huddles with other homeless kittens in a cardboard box, chilly from a driving New York rain. As all of the other kittens are snatched up by adoring animal lovers, Oliver is inexplicably left on his own. He eventually meets up with Dodger (Billy Joel), a mongrel with street smarts, and the duo steal hot dogs from an abrasive food vendor. When Dodger swindles Oliver out of his share, the kitten follows the dog to a barge, which turns out to be the hideout of Fagin (Dom DeLuise), a human pickpocket. Fagin houses a gang of assorted dogs as he is bullied by loan shark Sykes.

As Oliver bonds with the miscreants, his life suddenly takes a positive turn when he is rescued from the streets by a kindly, wealthy little girl named Jenny and her bumbling butler, Winston. Jenny’s parents are on holiday in Europe, leaving she and Winston running the house. Along for the ride is Jenny’s sophisticated and spoiled pet poodle, Georgette (Bette Midler), who takes a disliking to Oliver.

By the 1980’s Disney films were hardly the hot commodity they once were, and the small budget is evidence of that. To be fair Oliver & Company is not on par with classic, lovely offerings such as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), or Dumbo (1941). In fact, the film has a severe and decidedly “1980’s quality”, mostly due to the upbeat soundtrack, that decades later make the film feel rather dated. Speaking of the soundtrack, the highlight is a treat entitled “Why Should I Worry?”, a tune sung by the ensemble cast and impossible not to hum along to.

The film features an array of famous voices that are perfectly cast. The film makers wisely cast plenty of native New Yorkers, which results in a huge measure of authenticity. Brazen voices like Midler’s, Joel’s, and Cheech Marin’s as feisty chihuahua Tito, give credibility to their characters. The odd romantic pairing of Georgette and Tito, on the surface completely mismatched, gives a good dose of comic relief to the story.

The story written for Oliver & Company is really the best part of the entire production.  Anyone familiar with the famous Dickens novel or Oliver! (1968), the most famous of the film incarnations, knows how the story will end. This did not hinder my enjoyment of the animated film though, a compelling and charming experience. Sykes makes a great villain, drawn with a long face and enormous chin, interesting, but not too scary to frighten young children.

One conspicuous emission is the elimination of the important character of Nancy. As fans know, Nancy played a vital role in the original story. Perplexing is the decision not to include her, but perhaps her ultimate death would have made the story too dark, so this can be overlooked.

Surely not the best in the Disney bunch, Oliver & Company (1988) is nonetheless a decent offering sadly overlooked by fans and critics alike. In fact, the film is nearly forgotten and suffers from a dated quality if not for the widespread knowledge of the classic novel. The film is not one of the storied Disney treasures, nor should it be dismissed altogether. The result is a darling, innocent experience meant for pure enjoyment.

The Breadwinner-2017

The Breadwinner-2017

Director-Nora Twomey

Voices-Saara Chaudry, Ali Rizvi Badshah

Scott’s Review #769

Reviewed June 7, 2018

Grade: B

Certainly a timely and politically charged story, The Breadwinner (2017) provides relevance and a progressive women’s empowerment message. This should be championed above all else and for that reason alone is recommended as a worthy watch. The film itself is dark and not entirely a children’s movie nor necessarily family friendly either, but rather a good lesson learned. Dragging just a bit throughout, this is small potatoes compared to the importance of the overall story.

The animated feature is based on the best-selling novel by Deborah Ellis, which focuses on life in dangerous Afghanistan (circa 2001) under constant threat by Taliban rule. Since women are not allowed to leave the house and any men daring to question the Taliban are either slaughtered, beaten, or arrested, the film is quite the heavy compared to typical animated fare.

The Breadwinner’s main character is a likable eleven year-old girl named Parvana, who lives in metropolitan Kabul, Afghanistan. Along with her father, she sells items on the city streets to support the rest of the family- wife, daughter and male toddler. Parvana’s older brother has died years ago.  Parvana’s father, Nurullah, is a former teacher left crippled by an injury sustained during war. When he is arrested, Parvana must disguise herself as a boy and work to support her family as she traverses the city with her best friend Shauzia in tow.

The animation is lovely and a definite high point of the film. All of the details look crisp and fresh- from the stark village houses to the vegetable stands and other more metropolitan aspects of the bustling cities, the film just looks very good and professional. The flawless art direction and visuals aid in the believable nature of the story.

Another high point to The Breadwinner is the substance that the story contains- it is not fluff as commonly seen in modern animated films.  All throughout the film I knew that I was watching something of meaning. Parvana faces true danger; if she is found out not to be a young boy but instead a young girl she could be beaten, raped, or worse. Unwisely, early on in the film she makes an enemy of a young, sadistic soldier, who continues to resurface and threaten Parvana throughout the film.

More than a handful of frightening scenes occur, evidence that director Nora Twomey’s intentions are not for a family friendly affair. Given the subject matter at hand this is a wise move. Toning down the violence and treachery of the Taliban would make the film feel insincere and dishonest. Rather, because of the violence and deaths and beatings that occur throughout, the film feels genuine and the characters emotions real.

If I were to point out a shortcoming to the film, The Breadwinner suffers a bit from an erratic approach. I adore the straightforward aspects of the main story and enjoyed not only the survival instincts and female empowerment, but of her innocent friendship with Shauzia. However, a handful of times the film goes in a different direction as Parvana tells stories of a young man’s journey to retrieve seeds stolen from him. Frankly, this slowed down the main plot and one has little to do with the other making them seem disjointed.

With a worthy and meaningful central story line, how nice to feast one’s eyes on an artistic animated production so marvelously made. The Breadwinner (2017) is a treat for those animated film fans yearning for something more intelligent than the standard “kid’s film”. Perhaps not a perfect “A”, but something of quality nonetheless.

Loving Vincent-2017

Loving Vincent-2017

Director-Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman

Voices-Douglas Booth, Saoirse Ronan

Scott’s Review #738

Reviewed April 5, 2018

Grade: B+

Loving Vincent (2017) is a highly unique animated feature that is quite the artistic experience and vastly different from any typical film of this genre. Being the first of its kind to be a completely painted animated feature, hopefully other films will follow suit, as the result is an exuberance in creativity. While the biography of Vincent van Gogh is interesting, I was oftentimes left wondering the accuracy of all the details as the plot is rather dramatic. Still, the film is to be celebrated for its progressive  and edgy nature.

In clever fashion the actors starring in the vehicle simply act while they are subsequently drawn so that the viewer can imagine the action as if it were a standard film, since the drawings mirror the actors involved. For example, Saoirse Ronan can clearly be distinguished as the daughter of a local boatman, who was rumored as keeping close company with van Gogh before his death. We know it is the actress, but in painting form, eliciting a surreal experience.

The action begins one year following tortured artist, Vincent van Gogh’s, tragic suicide. Postman Joseph Roulin asks his son Armand to deliver Van Gogh’s last letter to his brother, Theo. Suspicion surrounds the artist’s death as mere weeks earlier his mood was calm and level-headed making his death cause for alarm. From this point, Armand traverses throughout France to spend time with those who had dealings with Van Gogh during the last days of his life. Those characters include his doctor, an inn keeper, and others who may hold clues to the mystery surrounding his death.

From a story perspective, Loving Vincent is a compelling piece as mystery and suspicion is cast around the actual death of the artist. This is not so much a whodunit as we know of the resulting suicide, however, the film certainly casts some doubt about the why of that fateful night. Did someone drive Van Gogh to suddenly take his own life? What was the romantic situation between either Marguerite or perhaps even Adeline? The supposed copying of Van Gogh’s art by his doctor, Dr. Paul Gachet is an interesting point. Through all of these dramatic and intriguing facets I did begin to wonder what was factual and what was not.

The brilliant part of Loving Vincent exists in the unusual and artistic method in which the film is created. The fact that the film is about one of the most respected and appreciated artists of all time is no accident and this perfectly encases the overall tone of the film in wonderful fashion. Throughout the one hour and thirty four minute duration of the film I was continually enamored by the “look” of the film. Exquisite and quite beautiful, the film makers chose classically trained painters over traditional animators and I feel this makes all of the difference.

The use of actual Van Gogh paintings were an instrumental part of the film and modified to fit into the allotted screen room. The cast performed the film, as if a play, in front of a green screen, and then the painters created their magic- pretty incredible! Also mind blowing is the use of colors to change the time of day (brightness and darkness) that results in a highly effective tone.

By creating a visual masterpiece of cinematic beauty, Loving Vincent is a feast for the eyes. Unknown if the story is true to form or whether facts are embellished, the film succeeds as a work of art and a good glimpse into the life of one of the worlds most beloved and tortured artists.

Coco-2017

Coco-2017

Director-Lee Unkrich

Voices-Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt

Scott’s Review #737

Reviewed April 4, 2018

Grade: B+

Winner of the 2017 Best Animated Feature Academy Award, Coco is an exuberant and colorful affair filled with marvelous lights and a Mexican cultural infusion that serves the film well, making it feel robust with diversity and inclusion. The overall theme of family, traditions, and musical celebration is apparent and makes for good razzle dazzle with lots of upbeat song and dance. Mixed in is a lovely inter-generational theme, where older folks are respected, something all too lacking in today’s real world.

Miguel Rivera is a twelve year old boy living in Mexico with his extended family, including his elderly great-grandmother, Coco- sadly suffering from intermittent dementia. Through flashbacks we learn that Coco’s father, (Miguel’s great-great-grandfather), was an aspiring musician who abandoned the family for greener pastures. Subsequently, all music has been banned by the Rivera clan in favor of a modest shoe-making business.

As Miguel realizes his passion for music, he comes into conflict with his family, who have other aspirations for the young man. Miguel embarks on a fantastic journey to the magical and somewhat frightening land of his deceased ancestors, coinciding with the festive Day of the Dead celebration, a tradition of Mexican culture. There he realizes the true nature of his great-great-grandfather’s sudden departure.

Coco is a film that can really be enjoyed by all members of the family and is structured in just that way. The blatant use of multiple generations holds great appeal for blending the family unit together. Pixar successfully sets all the right elements in place for a successful film, and the well-written story only adds layers. The film is quite mainstream, yet appealing to the masses.

Perhaps very young viewers may become frightened by some of the skeleton laced faces of Miguel’s ancestors in the other world where he visits, but these images are somewhat tame and mixed with vibrant colors and wonderful production numbers. These images are undoubtedly meant to entertain rather than be scary and the creatures possess a friendly vibe.

Having viewed the film on an airplane traveling cross-country (admittedly not the best way to watch a film), I was entranced by the lovely and touching  musical number, “Remember Me (Lullaby)”, so much so that I was moved to tears right on the plane. How’s that for effectiveness? The emotional level reached via this song impressed me immensely about Coco, even when the story occasionally is secondary to the visual or musical elements.

In fact, for me, the story began to lag slightly until the aforementioned big musical number came into play. The song really kicked the action into high gear in an emotional way, and I became more enamored with the characters and the connections they had to one another. The love that Miguel and his relatives share became clearer to me and the conclusion is fine and satisfactory.

A slight miss to the film, corrected mid way through, is the bratty and entitled nature to Miguel. Heaving sighs when he does not get his way, this seems more apparent early on and was quite the turn off- at first I did not care for the character, yet I knew I was supposed to. Thankfully, the character becomes, naturally, the hero of the film and ultimately a sweet, likable character. I began to ponder,  “is that what kids are really like these days”?

Pixar does it again as they create a family friendly experience with a positive, yet non cliched message of belonging, forgiveness, and the importance of family connections, that feels fresh. In current times of divisiveness, especially with immigration and other cultures being attacked, how appropriate to experience a feel-good, yet not contrived project.

Cinderella-1950

Cinderella-1950

Director-Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, Wilifred Jackson

Voices-Ilene Woods, Eleanor Audley

Scott’s Review #731

Reviewed March 7, 2018

Grade: A-

Cinderella is a lovely 1950 Walt Disney production and a film that rejuvenated the animated film genre after a sluggish 1940’s period, thanks in large part to the ravages of World War II. The film glistens with goodness and bright colors, offering a charming fairy tale based story based on hope and “happily ever after”. Cinderella is enchanting on all levels.

Told largely in narration form especially to explain the history of the story, we learn that Cinderella’s parents have both died, leaving her an orphan and living with her wicked stepmother, Lady Tremaine. Her stepsisters Drizella and Anastasia are jealous of Cinderella’s natural beauty and she is abused and berated regularly, forced to work as a servant in a rundown chateau- tending to the trios needs and demands. Despite her unhappy life, Cinderella makes the most of it and befriends mice, birds, and many other animals she meets, singing and dancing in a cheery way.

Life chugs along for our heroine, until one day the King of the royal palace decides to throw a lavish Ball in order for his son, the Prince, to finally find his soulmate and marry her. The King requests that all eligible unmarried women attend. As Cinderella excitedly requests to go, Lady Tremaine cruelly grants her request, provided all of her work is done, having no intention of making things easy on her. In true fairy tale form, the Prince falls madly in love with Cinderella while many hurdles face the pair on their way to happiness.

Given the time period when Cinderella was made (1950), the timing was excellent for a lavish production, to say nothing of the fantasy that many young girls undoubtedly experienced of a handsome prince rescuing them, whisking them away from a life of doldrums to undying love. Female empowerment had not yet taken hold during the 1950’s, so the male rescuing female message was palpable and appealing to many. Dated not in the least, a story of true love overcoming hardship can always find an audience.

The colors and animations of the production are lush and powerful, oozing with perfection and drizzling with fantastic elements of romance and spectacular wealth. An example of this is the lavish ball at the palace- as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother  transforms the young girl and her transportation into a magical fantasy of horses, gowns, and carriages, it is quite extravagant in its beauty.

Engaging, with a bit of humor mixed in, are the supporting characters of the three evil ladies and the bumbling Grand Duke- interestingly voiced by the same person as does the King. As Drizella and Anastasia attempt to impress Prince Charming, their awkward and haphazard mannerisms and scowls perfectly counterbalance the charm and grace of Cinderella in sometimes comical fashion.

Comparisons must be made to 1937’s masterpiece, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and both films could easily be companion films to each other, being watched in sequence for better study and marveling about similarities. Both Snow White and Cinderella are purely “good” characters, singing lovely tunes, embracing animal friends and various forms of wildlife- they are both more or less also “saved” by men. In present day, instead of this being offensive or “old fashioned” , it still remains enchanting and a celebration of true love.

Cinderella is a treasure to be enjoyed after all of these years, never aging nor becoming dated or irrelevant, which is a true testament to the power of film. Carving a story of values and honesty, of hard work and of good payoff, generations of fans can appreciate this everlasting treasure.

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2017

Oscar Nominated Animated Short Films-2017

Directors-Glen Keane, Florian Babikian, Dave Mullins, Ru Kuwahata, Jan Lachauer

Scott’s Review #727

Reviewed February 21, 2018

Grade: A-

Having the honor of being able to view the five short films nominated for the 2017 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film at my local art theater was pretty amazing. Far too often dismissed as either irrelevant or completely flying under the radar of animated offerings, it is time to champion these fine little pieces of artistic achievement. On par with or even superseding the full length animated features, each of the five offers a vastly different experience, but each offers either inspired or hopeful messages or dark, devious, and edgy stories. Below is a review of each Short.

Garden Party-2016

Perhaps the strangest of all the shorts,  the viewer is transported into an eerie world of amphibians. Seemingly a pair, but unclear to me if this is so, they seem to either expand or multiply as they follow their primal instincts, navigating a wealthy mansion. Containing spilled champagne, a revolver, and various items that evidence a party, the amphibians jump around and communicate from room to room. When eventually they descend on a dead and bloated fat man in a vast swimming pool, the film ends in mysterious fashion. The short was impressively a French animation school’s graduation project. Grade: A-

Lou-2017

An impressive Pixar product, Lou is the more accessible of all the entries with a heartfelt and uplifting message. In this age of school bullying awareness, the piece is an important one. Chubby J.J. takes pleasure in snatching other kids toys on the playground, keeping them for himself. A sweet creature named Lou collects lost toys and shapes himself using the toys, returning them to various parts of the playground for the kids to find the next day. When Lou and J.J.’s worlds collide, Lou teaches J.J. a valuable lesson in goodness and fairness. Lou is a wonderful short film that must be seen by small children and adults alike to experience a humanistic, wonderful tale. Grade: A

Dear Basketball-2017

The shortest of all the entries, Dear Basketball is a piece written by NBA superstar Kobe Bryant that features a lovely narrative by a young boy (presumably Bryant himself), who develops a love for the game of basketball and his inevitable rise among the ranks of athletes. As he ages, his body wears down and he realizes his time on the court has come to an end. The storytelling in Dear Basketball is inspiring to young boys and girls everywhere and, never mind that it is a piece about basketball, can be an inspired message really about anything. My one slight gripe to this Short is its minimal length and I wonder if it could have been fleshed out slightly. Grade: B+

Revolting Rhymes-2016

By far my favorite of the bunch and also by far the longest in length, the offering based on the book of the same name by legendary author, Roald Dahl, Revolting Rhymes is a dark and disturbing collection of fairy tales, all intertwined. As a wolf engages an old woman in a coffee shop and regales her with stories of his two nephews, he incorporates the stories of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and the Three Little Pigs into his story telling until the wolf does something dire to the woman. The short is only part one of a two part collection as part one concludes with a cliffhanger assuring the viewer will see the next chapter. With a crisp written story and intelligent premise, Revolting Rhymes is the most unique and most deserving of the Oscar statuette since the complexities alone make it the most cerebral. Grade: A

Negative Space-2017

Negative Space, another wonderful French nugget, is an exemplary stop-motion story about an odd relationship between a father and son. The pair, whose psychological elements are not too heavily dissected, but with a longer piece, could be, clearly have some bonding issues. The father works as a frequently traveling businessman, and father and son strangely bond solely over packing a suitcase and the efforts to never leave an inch of suitcase space under-utilized. As the father eventually dies and lies in a coffin, the son is bothered by the leftover space the coffin leaves. A macabre and humorous Short, I was left wanting more backstory of said father and son but what a clever tale Negative Space is. Grade: A

Pinocchio-1940

Pinocchio-1940

Director-Ben Sharpsteen, Hamilton Luske

Voices-Cliff Edwards, Dickie Jones

Scott’s Review #723

Reviewed February 1, 2018

Grade: B+

As a follow-up to the marvelous 1937 Walt Disney production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1940’s Pinocchio is a darling tale  of a wooden puppets longing to become a real boy. The film is vastly different from its predecessor in that the protagonist is male and the thematic elements are Italian (based on an Italian children’s novel), but similarly, Pinocchio is a touching experience and is magical and whimsical, telling a humanistic story about wishes and dreams coming true.

As narrated by a fantastic, cheerful little insect named Jiminy Cricket, an elderly wood-carver, Geppetto, creates a wooden puppet named Pinocchio and wishes upon a star for the puppet to be turned into a little boy. A mysterious, yet lovely Blue Fairy arrives one night and tells Pinocchio that he must be brave and truthful for the desired effect to occur- Jiminy serves as his conscience. Throughout the remainder of the film  Pinocchio’s morals are tested by unsavory characters, who attempt to steer him down a dark path.

Certainly Pinocchio is intended as a message film to little boys and girls everywhere regarding the importance of being honest and truthful, but with some comic elements mixed in so as to not make the experience too dark or scary. This is evidenced by the , by now legendary, way in which Pinocchio’s nose grows longer with each fib that he tells.  What a valuable lesson the film preaches, and is a main reason the adorable story holds up so well in present times. Some values never go out of flavor.

In wonderful Disney form, Pinocchio features an emotional, tearjerker of a scene towards the end of the film as Geppetto mourns the loss of his son.  The scene is sweet, touching, and will fill even the hardest of hearts with feeling- regardless of age. In this way Pinocchio becomes even more of a timeless treasure, and is a film that the entire family, generations upon generations, can enjoy together. Films of this nature are so important as a bonding form.

Enough praise cannot be given to the incredibly effective theme song of Pinocchio, “When You Wish Upon A Star”, belted out by Jiminy Crickett. The resounding tune is as emotional as it is timeless and bold, belted out at just the ideal time during the film and is still identified with the legendary film. In fact, over the years the song has come to be identified with the Walt Disney company itself.

One slight oddity of the film is how Geppetto- clearly at the grandfather age- is the father of a young boy, which perhaps in 1940 might be perceived as sweet, but in 2018 may be perceived as a bit creepy or at least unusual. Still, this is a minor flaw and easily overlooked. In fact, I have come to assume Geppetto serves as the grandfather in the story.

For those in the mood for a charming, classic animated Disney picture, 1940’s Pinocchio is a mesmerizing and creative experience, and at its core is a timeless benevolent lesson in goodness and purity. Artistically filmed and told, Pinocchio is a film that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender.

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Sleeping Beauty-1959

Director-Clyde Geronimi

Voices-Mary Costa, Bill Shirley

Scott’s Review #721

Reviewed January 30, 2018

Grade: B+

Sleeping Beauty is a 1959 musical fantasy film and the sixteenth animated production from Walt Disney.  By this point Disney was a master at crafting wonderful and magical productions and Sleeping Beauty is a solid work. However, due to mixed reviews and a poor box office performance, Disney films were retired for a number of years. The effort achieves a lighter tone than heavies like Dumbo and Bambi, but is enjoyable nonetheless.

In a magical land of royalty, fairies, both good and evil, King Stefan and Queen Leah, the benevolent leaders of the land, are finally able to conceive their first child, named Princess Aurora. After proclaiming a special holiday and celebration, a festive scene turns dark when evil and powerful fairy, Maleficent, jealous with rage, puts a curse on the innocent baby. Thanks to a kindly fairy, the curse of death on Aurora’s sixteenth birthday is slightly blocked in favor of Aurora falling into a deep sleep- only to be awakened by true love’s kiss.

The characters in Sleeping Beauty are quite lovely and, by and large, sweet and kindly. My favorite characters are the three fairies- Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather.  Each has her own personality, but wields special magical powers- all of them of good-natured variety. While Flora and Fauna possess song and beauty, which they bestow on Aurora, it is Merryweather who arguably saves the young girls life. The three women are also instrumental in being the unsung heroes of the film, while the handsome Prince Phillip getting star billing.

Compared to many other Disney films, Sleeping Beauty is quite the grandiose showing, and lush with colors bright as stars. The sparkles which drizzle from the fairies wands ooze with magic that will make children giggle with delight and adults marvel with adoration. In this regard, Sleeping Beauty is extravagant and the most expensive Disney production created up to this point.

Maleficent is a fantastic villain and when she finally turns into a lethal, fire breathing, dragon, this is sure to scare youngsters watching the film for the first time. Sure to mention, Maleficent’s web of thorns that she uses to surround Aurora’s castle is a spectacle in and of itself.

Upon watching the film I continue to draw comparisons to another of Walt Disney’s famous films, 1937’s beautiful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, as both films resemble each other in a sheer mass of ways. The beautiful and innocent main female characters, both in peril from devious, older women, clearly jealous of the enriched goodness of Snow White and Aurora are the most obvious. In addition, both contain dashing princes to come to the rescue in just the nick of time, and kindly little things who assist in the drama.

Perhaps it is Sleeping Beauty’s similarities to  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs- in fact the pair would be perfect to watch together on a rainy Saturday afternoon- that lead me to conclude that Snow White is the more charming and grabbing of the two films. Also, Sleeping Beauty does not triumph in the important humanistic lessons that the aforementioned Dumbo and Bambi (my favorites of all the Disney films) have.

Sleeping Beauty contains all of the elements of an empathetic , feel-good animated experience. A King, a Queen, a Prince, a vicious villain, giddy fairies, and a beautiful heroine are all represented in this fine and satisfying Disney venture- not the greatest in the pack, but assuredly a good time.

The Boss Baby-2017

The Boss Baby-2017

Director- Tom McGrath

Voices- Alec Baldwin, Tobey Maguire

Scott’s Review #713

Reviewed January 12, 2018

Grade: C

True confession- I was not expecting much from the 2017 offering of the animated film entitled The Boss Baby (a brooding, sarcastic newborn offered no appeal). However, since the film was nominated for a Golden Globe award, I decided to throw caution to the wind and settle down for a viewing. Predictably, the film fulfilled my hunch and resulted in a fair to middling experience- the attempt at a nice message was offset by cliched and silly characters and an over-produced film rather than a directed one, but yet held interesting  and sometimes even beautiful visuals.

Seven year old Tim Templeton (voiced by Tobey Maguire), as an adult, narrates a story of his childhood  days, living with his parents Ted and Janice, both busy marketing professionals, who work at Puppy Co.. One day, his parents return home with a bundle of joy in tow, Theodore Lindsey Templeton (voiced by Alec Baldwin), who immediately monopolizes their time and attention. Isolated, Tim is envious and begins a rivalry with his baby brother, who is secretly a spy named “The Boss Baby”, and who has the mind of an adult in a baby’s body. It is revealed that he is working undercover as a spy to investigate why puppies are now receiving more love than babies. The duo eventually team up and forge a bond to prevent corporate America from ruining all of the love in the world.

To be fair, The Boss Baby presents a positive, good message of love and acceptance, which is nice to see, but this message can only carry a film so far, and there is little else of substance. As with many animated films, the story here contains a “good versus evil” slant, which, in this case, renders the film rather one dimensional. We are instructed who to root for and who not to root for, and while  challenging corporate greed is certainly a cause worth championing, too often I found The Boss Baby causing my mind to wander elsewhere instead of keeping me engaged in the story- not a good sign.

Apparently the target audience for this film is quite young because many sappy or juvenile scenes continue to play out. Closeups of Theodore and whimsical shots of his bulging eyes give the film a cute, too wholesome quality, and in predictable fashion, there are the standard doody and poop jokes, which comedies do all too often to account for sloppy writing.

The character of Theodore is voiced by comedy stalwart Alec Baldwin, and this does wonders to make the baby a bit more interesting than otherwise might have been. Baldwin, fusing assertion and a sarcasm into Theodore, makes him witty and energetic, but again, this can only go so far, and by the time the film has concluded in happily ever after fashion, the once tough character has disintegrated into a hammy kid.

Older brother Timothy is perfectly fine and the idea of having Maguire narrate him as an adult is a nice touch.  The central theme of sibling rivalry between brother and brother and especially the difficulty of some kids adjusting to a newborn debuting into the family may be enough to encourage parents to make it a family outing and see The Boss Baby.

Sadly, the creative and unique sets of animations may be wasted on viewers seeking good story. What a pity that The Boss Baby does not hold both qualities, but alas the film is little more than adequate and will undoubtedly be forgotten before very long.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-1937

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs-1937

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various Voices

Scott’s Review #625

Reviewed March 18, 2017

Grade: A-

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the debut feature length production by storied producer, Walt Disney, and has the grand honor of being the first animated feature ever to be made. Until the time of its release, animated stories were not features at all, but rather, shorts that were shown as gag-filled entertainment not to be taken very seriously. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made animated films something to be appreciated and respected- the film, released in 1937, was re-released in theaters many times until the 1990’s and is a blueprint for what animated features would become. The film is based on the famous Brothers Grimm fairy tale and is a cherished treasure.

Beautiful inside and out, Snow White is a lonely princess who lives with her devious wicked stepmother, the Queen. Making the most out of her troubled life, Snow White hums and sings with her bird friends who gather to keep her company as she is forced by her stepmother to work as a scullery maid . The Queen is a vain woman, jealous of Snow White’s natural beauty, constantly consulting her mirror to ask “who is the fairest one of all?”. One day the Queen decides to put an end to Snow White and orders a henchman to kill her in the forest and return her bloody heart to her in a box. When the henchman is unable to do the deed, he pleads with Snow White to flee. She winds up in a little cottage housing seven dwarf men whom she befriends as the Queen is determined to take drastic measures to find her.

Circa 1937, and for years to come, animated features were not created as they are today. Rather, they were simplistic- and wonderful- in the use of storyboards and drawings in their creation. This daunting task, and the creativity involved, makes them just lovely to look at. Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the debut animated feature, the drawings are fantastic to view- like pictures- and to appreciate the craftsmanship involved. The characters are richly created, with bright, vivid colors that distinguish them from one another- the bright red lips of Snow White and the blue and gold colors of her dress contrast with the regal purples used on the Queen, to say nothing of the deep red color of the poison apple. The color makes the apple appear delicious, but also dangerously blood red. These nuances make the characters deep with texture.

The friendships Snow White makes with the dwarfs and the animal life in the forest are whimsical and filled with love and the animal element later would become a staple of Disney’s works- Dumbo and Bambi. The animals are naturally fond of Snow White because she is joyous and kind- they in turn warn her of impending danger as the Queen turns herself into an old woman and lumbers towards Snow White, snug in the cottage.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs features an old style romance- the handsome Prince takes a shine to Snow White, noticing her natural beauty as she sings and later determined to save her- which of course he does when he magically kisses her in the films finale. The songs featured only enhance the love story- “Some Day My Prince Will Come” is a lovely ode to romance and is tenderly sung by Snow White as she longs for the Prince’s touch, frustrated with her life.

The creation of the seven dwarfs is done in magical fashion and seven little men living together seems quite natural in those innocent times. Each distinctive from each other- Dopey being my personal favorite in his innocence and playfulness- Happy, Doc, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, and Bashful are all written with great zest as we fall in love with each of them from the first moment we meet them as they belt out “Heigh-Ho” in unison.

Since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs deserves merit for being Disney’s first, overlooked can be the omission of any family members of Snow White’s besides the evil Queen. Where is Snow White’s father and mother? Any siblings? Certainly they are presumed dead, but they are never mentioned. Also, why does the Queen have a Magic Mirror and why does she have special powers that nobody else has?

At one hour and twenty three minutes, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a quick film, but does not feel underdeveloped. The story and the characters are rich with appeal and intrigue making the film a classic that should be shared with all youngsters. It is a classic tale of good versus evil, a great love story, and sets the tone for other Disney masterpieces to follow.

WALL-E-2008

WALL-E-2008

Director-Andrew Stanton

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #594

Reviewed January 8, 2017

Grade: B+

After hearing so much buzz about WALL-E, I decided to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Disney-Pixar has created another fantastic film. Visually, it is a creative and intelligent experience that warrants the praise it has received. They also do a lot with the intricate graphics and animations.

In a futuristic world where humans have destroyed their environment, and thereby abandoned planet Earth. Robot, WALL-E, is left to clean up the mess. He then meets a fellow female robot named EVE, and the two develop an innocent, sweet relationship that is charming and authentic.

The humans in the film are portrayed as fat, lazy, incapable of intelligent thought, and most unable to move very much since technology has trained them to be as such. Sad.

The story itself is very sweet, touching, and sends a very important message about society and taking care of our environment. Very enjoyable.

The Aristocats-1970

The Aristocats-1970

Director-Wolfgang Reitherman

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #570

Reviewed December 29, 2016

Grade: B+

The golden age of Disney films mainly occurring prior to the release of this film, The Aristocats is a latter day Disney film, released in 1970- the first release since Walt Disney’s death in 1966. It is a darling story with a very cute subject matter- cats living in sophisticated Paris face peril from their butler. Like many Disney works, the film’s message pertains to the treatment of animals. The Aristocats is much safer fare than the dark Bambi or even Dumbo, but it is a fantastic film worth watching.

Glamorous and elegant retired opera star, Madame Adelaide Bonfamille, lives peacefully with her gorgeous mother cat, Duchess, and her three kittens, Marie, Berlioz, and Toulouse in the heart of Paris, circa 1910. They are sophisticated beyond measure and enjoy every luxury known to cats, and are accompanied in their estate by English butler, Edgar. One day while Madame is discussing her will with her attorney, Edgar learns that she plans to leave her entire estate to her cats, until their death, then all goes to Edgar. Filled with greed, Edgar plots to kill the cats. This leads to an adventure in the country as the accosted cats attempt to find their way back home to Madame, with the help of feral yet kindly cat friends.

Ever so sweet to the film is the burgeoning romance which erupts between Duchess and Thomas O’Malley, as he  aids the cats in returning to Paris. It is classic girl from high class, meets the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks- only cat style. The chemistry is readily apparent between the pair and, on a personal note, my female cat Thora certainly seemed smitten with Thomas O’Malley as she sat smiling at Thomas as she watched the film.

During their adventure, Thomas and Duchess manage to dance and sing along with Thomas’s best friend Scat Cat, who leads a Jazz band of alley cats- this makes the film light and lively in tone. The group also shares adventures with English geese, Abigail and Amelia Gabble, who share a fondness for style and a prim and proper manner.

Throughout it all, the group continues to be pursued by Edgar, who is portrayed more as a bumbling villain than a sinister one, making The Aristocats a fun film rather than anything too heavy or sinister.

The sophistication of the film is really what makes me enjoy it so much. The high style of the Parisian city blocks, Madame’s gorgeous mansion, and the beautifully drawn French countryside are my favorite elements. I love the contrasts with this film- the city and the country, the high brow characters meet the more blue collar ones, but in the end, everyone comes together to conquer the mischievous foe.

Whereas, in Bambi man is the serious enemy, in The Aristocats, Edgar is more of a buffoon than a true dangerous element. He is cartoon-like (no pun intended), thereby the film is more of a caper with hi-jinks than of true danger.

For the cat lover in all of us, The Aristocats is a delightful film with a nice message, and a wonderful cultural experience. Who can forget the fantastic theme song, “Ev’rybody Wants to be a Cat”?

Toy Story 3-2010

Toy Story 3-2010

Director-Lee Unkrich

Starring-Tom Hanks, Tim Allen

Scott’s Review #562

Reviewed December 26, 2016

Grade: B+

It is not easy for sequels to succeed in the creativity or the originality categories, but surprisingly, Toy Story 3 is a fresh, imaginative, fun film. The characters are charming, interesting, and heartwarming, and the film is able to avoid a sappy result. Pixar has another hit.

Andy, now grown up and headed off to college, sees no reason to keep any of his childhood toys, now irrelevant and headed for the scrap box- at least that is what Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and friends, fear will happen as the dreaded day approaches. They must scheme to avoid their fate.

Many interesting new toys are introduced to this franchise with unique personalities, thereby giving a fresh approach, yet not forgetting the past. I adore how Toy Story 3 has many dynamic themes (loneliness, abandonment, togetherness), that play very well together with a nice message.

On a deeper level, the film certainly reflects the modern era. People are so easily thrown out, forgotten, and abandoned, whether through a job, relationship, etc. so that makes this film a sad reality if one chooses to look at it that way, which most won’t.

Great movie for kids and adults alike with a meaningful, relevant message. The film is not a sugar-coated affair and offers a cold reality, while still remaining accessible.

Dumbo-1941

Dumbo-1941

Director-Ben Sharpsteen

Starring-Various voices

Scott’s Review #559

Reviewed December 24, 2016

Grade: A

One of the best produced (and at sixty-two minutes, one of the shortest!) of the classic Walt Disney films of the golden age, Dumbo, in similar fashion to another Disney classic, Bambi, is both heartbreaking and mixed with fun entertainment. It should be heralded and viewed by everyone- children and adults alike, and teaches a valuable lesson in acceptance and tolerance- messages that never go out of fashion, despite the film being made in the grand old year of 1941.

To draw more comparisons to Bambi, we are introduced to the title character, as Dumbo is nuzzled and cherished upon being brought into the world by storks, by his warm and affectionate mother. Dumbo is an elephant and his mother a circus elephant, where she spends her days as entertainment, along with a group of other female elephants- none of whom has her grace, kindness, or dignity.

Sweet Dumbo is born with an imperfection- he has enormous ears. While others- namely the female elephants- ridicule and stare in horror at the lovable little elephant- his mother embraces and cuddles her little bundle of joy, eliciting a genuine, good-nature warmth rarely seen in cinema history. There is something so innately good about this character, (Mrs. Jumbo). She has a richness and way about her that is fantastic and consuming.

Sadly, one day, while entertaining the masses, a bratty human kid taunts Dumbo, causing Mrs. Jumbo to go ballistic, immediately going into protection mode. She is then deemed a “mad elephant”, shackled, and chained, and worse yet- separated from her baby. How anyone can watch this portion of the film and not shed a tear or get a lump in their throat is beyond me. Walt Disney was a master at eliciting raw emotion from his audience and writing a heartbreaking yet charming stories.

The centerpiece of Dumbo is the wonderful bond between mother and son- a sweet and powerful connection almost everyone can relate to. The pride and joy in Mrs. Jumbo’s eyes when she is granted a visit from Dumbo while imprisoned is magical- it means the world to her.

The supporting characters are key to the richness of the film- Timothy Q. Mouse is an important character to the story. Upon Dumbo and Mrs. Jumbo’s separation, he becomes Dumbo’s only friend, sympathizing with Dumbo, and is instrumental to Dumbo’s reunion with his mama as well as his future successes in the circus. The bitchy female elephants are crucial too- despite being one of their own, they still reject Dumbo and mother. There are some light moments, as when the ladies, (Catty, Giddy, and Prissy), gossip and act superior to others.

Another fun scene, to balance out the heavy drama, occurs when Timothy and Dumbo accidentally mistake champagne for water, causing them to hallucinate and imagine pink elephants.

Dumbo is important in that it sends a powerful message about the way animals (especially circus animals) have historically been treated. Why animals should be used to amuse and entertain human beings is anyone’s guess, but this film is a powerful reminder of such. Fortunately, the film goes for a happy and satisfying ending, which should please fans. An animated classic for the ages.

Bambi-1942

Bambi-1942

Director-David Hand

Starring-Various voices

Top 100 Films-#88

Scott’s Review #556

Reviewed December 22, 2016

Grade: A

Simply lovely, endearing, and a heartbreaking tale, Bambi is one of my favorite classic Disney animated features of all time. Gorgeous and flawless, the film sends a definite message of animals longing for peace in a world filled with hunters attempting to disturb and kill the graceful deer. After all of these years, this message still resonates loud and clear, in sad, heartbreaking fashion. All deer hunters should watch this film and then have the audacity to hunt. Bambi was released among the Golden Age of Disney films, led by Snow White, Dumbo, Pinocchio, to name but a few.

We first meet baby Bambi as his dear mother nurtures and nestles him, fawning over him with pride and teaching him the joys of the forest.  Bambi’s father is the Great Prince of the Forest- protector of all the creatures of the land. Bambi’s mother (unnamed) warns an exuberant Bambi to be cautious of the gorgeous, yet dangerous, meadows, where the deer are vulnerable and unprotected.

During the film’s famous gut-wrenching scene, tragedy occurs, and violence disrupts the peaceful forest, leaving Bambi alone, lost, and devastated, forced into a cruel world of tragedy, realism, and responsibility. The scene gets to me every time as we see the pain and the harshness of what life is like for the sweet deer, to say nothing of the other animals in the forest- namely, Thumper (a rabbit), and Flower (a young Skunk). These characters are Bambi’s best friends. The dripping teardrop that oozes from Bambi’s eye is unable to be forgotten.

To counterbalance the dark tone of the film, Disney successfully adds cheerful scenes of the animals dancing and co-mingling with each other- as one community. This is nice as it shows the power and the bond between the creatures- they are united as a family and take care of one another. I love this message, especially as young people will watch the film for the first time.  There is also a sweet romance offered between Bambi and Faline.

To watch the film and listen to the musical score is to experience sheer beauty. The music makes the film powerful- its classical and operatic elements are gorgeous and will elicit emotions for sure. Visually, each frame is a drawing set against a still and is magical to watch and marvel at the amount of work that undoubtedly went into this preparation.

In the end, the circle of life takes place. Bambi becomes the Great Prince of the Forest, replacing his father as the protector. Now  all grown up with two tiny babies of his own, he must protect his family and friends. Life goes on. A sad yet realistic message. How brave of Disney to create a piece as wonderful as Bambi.

A personal satisfaction for me is observing my beloved female feline friend, Thora, become mesmerized and attentive to the film each time I watch it.

Disney’s Bambi is a wonderful, cherished treasure that evokes emotion and teaches a valuable, though painful message. It is a timeless masterpiece to be enjoyed for generations to come. One will not escape the film with dry eyes, which is a testament to the marvelous film making involved.

Fantasia-1940

Fantasia-1940

Director-James Algar, Various

Starring-Leopold Stokowski, Walt Disney

Scott’s Review #544

Reviewed December 11, 2016

Grade: B+

Before viewing this 1940 gem by Walt Disney, I was naive to knowing exactly what Fantasia was about- certainly, I had heard of it and knew it was an animated production, but was also mystified by it. Now embarrassed, I realize what a creative treat I missed out on. Better late than never.

I expected a Walt Disney animated story along the lines of Snow White or Pinocchio, but I was sorely mistaken by this assumption. While the film took me a bit to get into, it is a marvel and quite extravagant. The mixing of classical pieces and animated story is brilliant and is visually amazing. There are eight pieces in total, all with stories to tell.

Animated films are not typically my genre of choice, but this one impressed me quite a bit, if nothing more than the imagination involved. A Fantasia reboot emerged in 2000.

How to Train Your Dragon-2010

How to Train Your Dragon-2010

Director-Dean DeBlois, Chris Chambers

Starring-Gerard Butler, America Ferrera

Scott’s Review #537

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Reviewed December 5, 2016

Grade: B-

How to Train Your Dragon is a  decent, but less than spectacular, animated film from 2010. Undoubtedly targeted toward youngsters, it contains G-rated elements and I may have enjoyed it more if I were nine years old. The film is loosely based on the British book series of the same name. A subsequent sequel has commenced in 2014.

From a story perspective, the film does tell a story with a nice message. Young Hiccup is a teenage Viking on the cusp of becoming a man. As a ritual, he is expected to kill a dragon to prove his worth as a warrior to his tribe . When put to the test, Hiccup finds that instead of desiring to kill the dragon, he wants to befriend it. Of course, the traditional Vikings want no part of any unity between the tribe and dragons, who are long-time enemies.

Mixed in with the main story is the inevitable love story between Hiccup and Astrid, a tough Viking girl.

There are way too many endless aerial battles between the tamed and vicious dragons, that it begins to feel more like an effort to fill time rather than furthering the main plot in any way.

This film has a nice message of kindness and togetherness, but seems very predictable and does not take any risks. There is nothing  wrong with it, and animated fans may look at it differently, but to me, it is run of the mill.

Fantasia 2000-2000

Fantasia 2000-2000

Director-James Algar, Various

Starring-Steve Martin, Bette Midler

Scott’s Review #535

60000436

Reviewed December 4, 2016

Grade: B+

Fantasia 2000 is a visually stunning remake of the 1940 Disney film. The modern version is produced by Roy Disney, nephew of the famous Walt Disney.

There are nine segments in total, each set to a classical music piece. Masterpieces such as Symphony No. 5 by Beethoven and Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin are featured. The Rhapsody piece is a gorgeous story of four individuals who dream of a better life in 1930’s New York City. The four do not know each other, but their lives intersect in a unique way.

Each segment is introduced by a celebrity: Steve Martin, Angela Lansbury, Bette Midler, and Quincy Jones appear, adding helpful thought and interpretation.

The final piece, in particular, is both moving and breathtaking. Firebird Suite-1919 version- by Stravinsky tells of a sprite (an ethereal entity), awoken by her companion, an elk, as a volcanic spirit has erupted in the peaceful forest, burning it down. The sprite must work to rebuild the peaceful land. It is an earnest, heartbreaking piece.

Being somewhat of a film traditionalist, I prefer the original slightly, but this version is great. Fantasia 2000 is wonderful to look at.