How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – Film Review

One of the highest-regarded films from DreamWorks Animation, 2010’s ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is successful in nearly every regard as an animated feature, making many changes to its original source material (all of which for the better), to excel as a brilliant piece of family-focused storytelling. With plenty of memorable characters, exhilarating action sequences and an outstanding original score by John Powell, ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ would soon go on to become one of DreamWorks’ most recognisable and profitable franchises for good reason.

Plot Summary: On the island of: ‘Berk,’ ‘Hiccup,’ the frail son of the Viking Chief, aspires to hunt dragons and keep his home safe like the rest of his clan, earning the respect of his fellow Vikings. But after inuring a ‘Night Fury,’ one of the rarest and most powerful dragons known to exist, ‘Hiccup’ forms an unlikely friendship with the creature, soon realising that dragons aren’t at all what Vikings believe them to be…

The first film to be directed by duo Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois since the Disney classic: ‘Lilo and Stitch’ in 2002. The film adaptation of: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ makes many alterations to the story seen in the original children’s book. As firstly, ‘Hiccup’ does not have a love interest, and the now-iconic DreamWorks character: ‘Toothless’ is about the size of the ‘Terrible Terror’ dragon breed, his skin is also green and red, not black. Furthermore, ‘Toothless’ gets his name when ‘Hiccup’ first finds him with no teeth. But the film’s producers decided, with the approval of author Cressida Cowell, that it would be more cinematic to make ‘Toothless’ large enough to be ridden as a flying mount. As such, ‘Toothless’ was completely redesigned as a rare ‘Night Fury,’ a highly intelligent breed of dragon evolved for speed and stealth with teeth that retract into their jaw when shooting a fiery pulse.

Protagonist: ‘Hiccup’ is portrayed by Jay Baruchel, a fairly under-the-radar actor. But similar to his character in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ from 2011, Baruuchel suits a nervous character like ‘Hiccup’ extremely well due to his naturally anxious voice, making for a likeable yet never vexatious protagonist. Gerard Butler as ‘Hiccup’s father: ‘Stoick’ is another member of the cast who naturally fits his character, as Butler’s rough Scottish accent melds with the hefty Viking’s design perfectly. The film also features a great ensemble cast for the other young dragon recruits through America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig, who together provide many of the film’s comedic moments.

The animated cinematography throughout ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is superior to a number of other animated flicks when put in comparison, as the film continuously features beautiful visuals. The most obvious being within the scene: ‘First Flight,’ in which, ‘Hiccup’ hops aboard ‘Toothless’ for the first-time as they soar across the stunning land of: ‘Berk,’ breezing over acres of forest and past/through cliffs all while being tracked by the camera. Interestingly, many of these dragon-flying moments are also inspired by combat and aerobatic aircrafts, as ‘Toothless’ performs many aerobatic maneuvers and combinations such as a ‘Loop and Snap.’

Nominated for an Oscar at one point-in-time, the original score by John Powell is truly sensational, a majestic score that occasionally even utilises bag-pipes in order to further fit with the film’s Scottish setting (which is alluded to by the many Scottish accents). And while Powell has always been known for creating phenomenal scores for animated flicks, with ‘Ice Age,’ ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ being just some of his sublime work, the soundtrack for: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is by far some of his best, with the tracks: ‘This is Berk’ and ‘Forbidden Friendship’ becoming some of the most notable tracks in all animation.

The animation itself has begun to show its age in a handful of shots since the film’s initial release, but as a result of the film’s many wonderful designs, usually in relation to its dragons, which display different abilities, colours, horns and skin-tones for each breed, the film manages to redeem any shot that feels at all dated. These pleasant designs also help distract from the film’s overly-fast-pacing, as whilst I understand that younger viewers may have shorter attention spans, the film can sometimes feel as if its rushing through one scene to quickly get to the next.

Although I share the quite controversial opinion of disliking the sequels to ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ as I personally find them much more generic and by-the-numbers when it comes to their storylines. The original film is still one of DreamWorks Animation’s best efforts, and I’d even argue is on the level of beating-out their previous fantasy franchise: ‘Shrek’ in terms of its characters, creatures and world-building. So, even if you don’t enjoy animated/family films, perhaps ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ will sway you into the genre just as it does with its wonderous story. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Wreck-It Ralph (2012) – Film Review

Equally entertaining for both children and parents who will catch the many references to classic arcade games, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is a funny, colourful, and exciting adventure from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Directed by Rich Moore, most known for his work on ‘The Simpsons’ in addition to some other recent Disney flicks. This eight-bit odyssey may not quite match-up to some of the other iconic films Disney has released in its many years of crafting animated stories, yet is still sure to please any game-enthusiasts in search of a new favourite.

Plot Summary: After many years of being the bad guy and being defeated in his own game day-after-day, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ longs to be as beloved as his game’s perfect protagonist: ‘Fix-It Felix.’ So, when a modern, first-person shooter arrives in his arcade, ‘Ralph’ sees his opportunity for heroism and happiness. But now, with his game at risk of being put out-of-order due to his disappearance, ‘Ralph’ must quickly return home before its game-over for everyone…

From the get-go, one of the best elements of: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ has to be its initial concept, as the film portrays the idea of video-game characters coming to life in a similar fashion to the ‘Toy Story’ series, but also adds a living virtual world alongside. Interestingly, Disney first began developing an animated film based around a world of video-game characters in the 1980s. At that time, the project was titled: ‘High Score,’ it was then changed to ‘Joe Jump’ in the 1990s. Until in the late 2000s, when the film was finally pushed forward, the first two months of story development focused on ‘Fix-It Felix Jr.’ as the protagonist, which eventually evolved to the film we received in 2012.

John C. Riley and Sarah Silverman lead the cast as the titular characters: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and ‘Vanellope Von Schweetz’ superbly, as unlike most animated films, the main group of actors regularly recorded their sessions together in the same room, a situation which led to large amounts of improvising and gave the cast a real sense of chemistry. But regardless of how much of his dialogue was improvised, ‘Ralph’ still remains, in my opinion, one of the most memorable and likeable characters Disney has created in their more modern animations, mostly due to his design and understandable motivation of wanting to be seen as a hero rather than a villain. Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Alan Tudyk make-up the remainder of the cast, who are all also wonderful within their roles as ‘Fix-It Felix,’ ‘Calhoun,’ and ‘King Candy’ respectively, as each actor plays into whichever type of game they originate from, e.g. intense sci-fi solider with a overly dramatic backstory or a quirky/cartoonish kart-racer.

An area ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is lacking, however, its on the promise of exploring the many different video-game worlds its story implies. As while the film does explore its two signature worlds of: ‘Hero’s Duty’ and ‘Sugar Rush’ well, ensuring each location feels vastly different in terms of both its design, animated cinematography, and colour palette. The film is limited in how many video-games its characters actually explore, which is a shame when considering the many possible adventures its different arcade worlds could contain, especially when taking into account the huge number of cameos from video-game icons like ‘Pac-Man,’ ‘Q’bert,’ and ‘Sonic the Hedgehog.’

Although the original score by Henry Jackman is a huge missed opportunity to have a classic eight-bit score to further fit with the video-game narrative, the film’s soundtrack still features plenty of great tracks, which just like the film’s visuals, alter depending on which video-game world the characters are currently inside. As outside of the generally enjoyable tracks: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ ‘Life in the Arcade,’ and ‘Messing with the Program,’ the score occasionally gets quite creative, even having an original theme created for the kart-racing game: ‘Sugar Rush’ by J-pop band: ‘AKB48,’ as the fictional video-game is supposedly manufactured in Japan.

Whilst the animation itself is visually stunning and brimming with small details as with nearly every animated Disney film, the main flaw ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ suffers from its without a doubt its story structure. As what may throw many viewers off is that the film begins focused entirely on ‘Ralph’ and his journey, before then quickly and drastically changing direction to focus more on ‘Vanellope’ and her desire to become a playable ‘Sugar Rush’ racer, which can be a little jolting when recalling the film’s first act.

Overall, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ may not always use its signature concept to its best extent, and can often go too far when it comes to some of its immature or video-game-related humour. Yet the film’s delightful characters, gorgeous and distinctive locations and beautiful animation all manage to save the film from its faults. So, despite ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ not going down with audiences as successfully as some other animated Disney flicks like ‘Frozen’ or ‘Zootropolis,’ for example, I still feel the film is worth grabbing a joystick for should you get the chance. Final Rating: 7/10.

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Where the Wild Things Are (2009) – Film Review

Although its themes and ideas may go over many younger viewer’s heads, 2009’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ feels like a film that reflects what many felt whilst being a child themselves. As writer-director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Her) creates a moving, thoughtful, and occasionally even woeful experience that dramatically elevates its original source material, with a charming soundtrack compiled by musician: ‘Karen O’ and plenty of wonderful creature designs and locations, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is truly a unique yet uncompromising film that sends its audience back to the innocent days of childhood.

Plot Summary: Following a fight with his mother and yearning for adventure, a young boy runs away from home and sails to a mysterious island filled with creatures who take him in as their king after ‘Max’ makes a promise to solve all their problems…

As previously mentioned, the film adaptation of: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is a large step-up from the original children’s book it’s based on by Maurice Sendak. As while the classic story of a young boy visiting a land of fantastical creatures in order to escape reality has always been a staple of children’s literature, Jonze manages to deepen the overall narrative with his adaptation. Having themes of maturity, imagination and balancing ones own emotions (all of which are presented in a mature and subtle way). In fact, the film’s production company, Warner Bros. Pictures were initially so unhappy with the final film (as it was far less family-friendly than they imagined) that they wanted Jonze to start from scratch. Instead, the two eventually agreed to satisfy both parties by giving the film more time in production.

Max Records leads the cast as the excitable and resentful: ‘Max,’ who gives a genuinely brilliant performance considering the actor’s young age at the time of filming. Alongside him, of course, is the group of creatures portrayed by the voice cast of Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker and Paul Dano, whose voices all match their respective characters flawlessly. Its the late James Gandolfini as ‘Carol’ who really shines within the film, however, having the most memorable design of the all the creatures within the original book, ‘Carol’ serves as a reflection of: ‘Max’s childish attributes, from his tantrums to his jealously and sadness, all of which is given such life through Gandolfini’s performance.

While the film’s colour palette remains fairly vibrant throughout despite featuring a large amount of beiges and browns, the cinematography by Lance Acord is sadly the weakest aspect of the film. As ignoring the large array of stunning sunrise and sunset shots, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ utilises hand-held camera for the majority of its runtime, which when combined with the film’s occasionally chaotic editing can make some scenes feel a little impetuous. Yet despite not having an overly large-budget, the film’s CG effects do still hold-up remarkably well, with all of the facial expressions of the creatures and extensions to many of the island’s locations not seeming even remotely out-of-place.

The film’s soundtrack complied by musician: ‘Karen O’ really benefits to the film’s already calming and mature presentation. From the opening track: ‘Igloo’ through to the more upbeat tracks: ‘Rumpus’ and ‘Sailing Home,’ to even the film’s more lyric-based tracks with ‘All is Love’ and ‘Hideaway.’ The soundtrack for: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ doesn’t feel like a traditional film score in the best possible sense, giving more of an impression of a slow-paced yet beautiful acoustic guitar album, which just like the film itself, is immensely under-appreciated.

However, one of my personal favourite elements of the film and certainly the most visually striking has to be the many different designs of the creatures who live on the island. As not only do the designs fit each character’s personality, but every design is also a perfect live-action recreation of the creature’s original appearances within the pages of the book, with all of the creatures being brought to life using enormous and heavily detailed suits from the Jim Henson Company rather than just simply using CGI. The Jim Henson Company are known, of course, for the creation of: ‘The Muppets,’ whose familiar charm isn’t lost here.

To conclude, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is to me, an underrated modern classic. As despite its few flaws, the film surpasses its source material and then some, creating a genuinely gut-wrenching experience at points. Whilst the film has been criticised by some since its release mostly as a result of being seen as too mature and possibly even a little frighting for younger viewers. I believe the film gets across a number of important messages for children, and I appreciate the film’s more in depth approach to crafting an imaginative family adventure. So, although Jonze may not have an extensive catalogue of films as a director, the films he has made never cease to impress me, and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ fits as just another piece of the puzzle. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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The Problem with Live-Action Disney Remakes – Film Discussion

In years recent years, Disney has noticeably been taking quite an aggressive approach to reimagining many of the company’s classic animated adventures into live-action blockbusters, which I personally feel is having a bad influence on the rest of the film industry in more ways than one…

Despite Disney actually beginning the trend of remaking their classic films all the way back in 2010 with the semi-sequel/remake of: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ directed by Tim Burton. Disney didn’t begin to get truly rampant with its approach until the later successes of: ‘Cinderella’ and ‘The Jungle Book’ in 2015 and 2016 respectively, with ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Dumbo,’ and ‘Aladdin’ following not far behind, eventually leading to their most recent releases, that being: ‘The Lion King’ and ‘Lady and the Tramp’. Yet whilst all of these films did receive mostly positive reviews from both critics and audiences upon their initial release, I personally have never understood why. As for me, none of these remakes ever manage to really justify their existence, with each new film simply feeling like nothing more than a product, a money machine disguised as a film created purely for the purpose of rinsing profit out of Disney fans who desire to see their childhood classics recreated in a new light, and by this point, I just find it irritating.

Of course, remaking iconic films is nothing new for the film industry, with dreadful remakes such as: ‘RoboCop,’ ‘Ghostbusters,’ and ‘Robin Hood’ all being great examples of how taking a classic film and giving it a sleek modern aesthetic doesn’t automatically make it superior to the original. However, it’s the way Disney goes about executing their remakes that makes them even more frustrating, as even though most reimaginings may not differ too much of the original story, the majority of Disney remakes feel almost identical to their animated counterparts, featuring nearly all of the same scenes and dialogue, now just dragged down by much weaker visuals, vocal performances, and songs. Which, in turn, also allows directors and writers to simply borrow material from previous filmmakers without having to innovate much themselves. Another issue I have with Disney converting their animated classics into live-action is that many of the original stories were always envisioned to be animated as they were being written, meaning when transferred into a different style of filmmaking, they usually are forced to rely on enormous amounts of CGI.

Although most audiences seemingly don’t take issue with Disney’s constant remakes, there are still some Disney fans who have spoken-out about losing interest Disney’s future live-action endeavours. In particular, I personally recall many weren’t looking forward to watching the ‘Aladdin’ remake around the time of its release, which I feel is understandable, as just from its trailer alone, it was clear that not only would the film intensely mirror the original, but it was obvious just from a glance that its visuals were also far, far duller, as the remake was lacking in both colour and style. Focusing more on being semi-realistic rather than fully engaging in its elements of fantasy (which for a narrative revolving around a powerful genie who grants three magical wishes feels like a huge mistake to me). Whilst the original: ‘Aladdin’ may not be the most visually enthralling of Disney’s catalogue of family flicks, the classic style of 2D hand-drawn animation is still very pleasing to look at even by today’s standards for CG animated films.

It may even surprise some to know that many of these bland remakes were actually directed by talented filmmakers like Jon Favreau and the previously mentioned Tim Burton. Yet with each new film, every director’s unique style always seems to be stripped away or completely absent, as not only does each remake barely utilise any creative cinematography or editing, relying nearly entirely on CG effects to impress the audience. But usually inventive directors such as Guy Richie, who has made phenomenal use of his unique style editing and humour in the past within his films: ‘Snatch’ and ‘The Gentlemen,’ suffers as a result of how simply generic and even somewhat boring his reimagining of: ‘Aladdin’ is, and while Disney may not be entirely to blame for this, I do believe the company would prefer to keep each remake fairly easy to digest in order to appeal to a wider audience.

In addition to both the visuals and directing, however, the cast of the original animated flicks were also a huge contributing factor to them becoming as beloved as they now are, with not only actors like Robin Williams as the original: ‘Genie,’ of course, but also lesser-known actors such as Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as ‘Timon’ and ‘Pumbaa,’ to Jodi Benson and Pat Carroll as ‘Ariel’ and ‘Ursula.’ As all these voices not only gave the characters great comedic timing and a distinct tone, but they soon even became an extension of the characters themselves, making them recognisable purely through their voice. Whereas Disney’s newer remakes prefer to just take the much easier approach of simply casting the most relevant actors at the time and throwing them into an iconic role, and whilst actors like Donald Glover and Chiwetel Ejiofor will always be superb at their craft, forcing these performers into roles within ‘The Lion King’ simply due to their popularity will always make their vocal performance feel very out-of-place when in comparison with the original film.

The final area I find Disney remakes to be most lacking is with the tampering of classic Disney songs, as although I’m personally not an enormous fan of musicals within the realm of live-action, I’ve always enjoyed many of the songs in Disney animated classics. As not only do I feel these songs add to the characters and the story of each film immensely, but many classic Disney songs also manage to become iconic amongst themselves, with nearly any fan of animation more than likely knowing all the words to ‘Be Our Guest,’ ‘The Circle of Life,’ and ‘Under the Sea’ (just to name a few). But when it comes to the remakes, once again, both the original score and songs feel far duller, even in spite of the legendary Hanz Zimmer returning for: ‘The Lion King’ remake to recreate many of his classic tracks. Still, a few of the reimaginings do at least attempt to throw in some original songs, which unfortunately end-up being mostly forgotten due to them being overshadowed by the classic songs audiences more familiar with.

In conclusion, it seems the influx of live-action Disney remakes won’t be stopping anytime soon, with ‘The Lion King’ racking in over ¬£1 billion worldwide, Disney will most likely continue this remaking trend until their audience completely loses interest. As reimaginings of: ‘Mulan,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘Pinocchio,’ The Sword in the Stone,’ and ‘Lilo and Stitch’ as well as many, many more, are already set for release. Whilst the ‘House of Mouse’ does still have a few original films on the horizon, Disney seems to be heading down a similar path to their paired animation company Pixar, that being one of laziness, relying mostly on their previous stories and franchises for profit rather than creating something new, which in turn is also encouraging other production companies to do the same. So if you share my opinion, perhaps sit-out Disney’s next live-action release, stay at home, and just relive many of the beautifully animated stories from the past, as I honestly believe many of these films are timeless.

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The Dark Crystal (1982) – Film Review

Despite the success of the recent prequel series: ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ on Netflix, most audiences still seem relatively unaware of the original: ‘Dark Crystal’s existence, which unfortunately, received mostly lukewarm reviews and massively underperformed at the box-office upon its initial release. Yet regardless of its age, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is still, in my opinion, an extraordinary family adventure. Creating an intriguing and developed fantasy world brimming with plenty of memorable characters, spectacular locations, and terrifying creatures, all flawlessly brought to life by the film’s enormous array of brilliant practical effects and detailed puppets.

Plot Summary: Centuries ago on the world of: ‘Thra,’ the mysterious: ‘Dark Crystal’ was cracked and brought forth two races. One, the villainous bird-like creatures known as the ‘Skeksis,’ who now rule over the planet with an iron-fist, and the other, a peaceful of wizards race known as the ‘Mystics.’ But after a young ‘Gelfling’s ‘Mystic’ master passes on, ‘Jen’ is sent on a quest to locate the missing shard of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ and save his homeworld…

Directed by legendary puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, most known for their creation of the beloved ‘Muppets’ franchise. ‘The Dark Crystal’ is known by many for being rather frighting for younger viewers, as the film always explores its fantasy world without ever shying away from any of its darker elements. Resulting in many who experienced the film at a young age only recalling it due to being ‘traumatised’ by the film’s menacing antagonists, the ‘Skeksis.’ However, despite ‘The Dark Crystal’ giving this ghastly depth to the world it’s narrative takes place within, the film still suffers from the occasional story clich√©. As while I’m sure these ideas were less-familiar in the early 1980s, the concept of: ‘Jen’ being the last of his kind and having to undertake an epic journey does feel fairly overdone by today’s standards.

Stephen Garlick and Lisa Maxwell lend their voices well to the two protagonists of the film: ‘Jen’ and ‘Kira,’ alongside the voice of Billie Whitelaw and the late Jim Henson and Frank Oz themselves as puppeteers, and while Jim Henson and Frank Oz both do a fantastic job as usual when it comes to their work with puppeteered characters. It’s the late Barry Dennen as the most devious of the ‘Skeksis,’ ‘The Chamberlain,’ who is truly superb. As ‘The Chamberlain,’ soon becomes a very memorable antagonist heavily in part because of his obnoxious high-pitched voice and now-iconic whimper.

Whilst the cinematography by the late Oswald Morris does serve the film’s story effectively, many shots throughout ‘The Dark Crystal’ are a little restricted due to the focus primarily being placed on the puppets themselves (especially when there is a large number of characters on-screen). That being said, the cinematography does still manage to provide plenty of beautiful wide-shots to establish the story’s various locations, the majority of which are elevated through some incredibly impressive matte paintings and miniature sculptures.

Although I do prefer the original score by Daniel Pemberton for the Netflix prequel series, the score for the original film by Trevor Jones is still terrific. Feeling like a mixture between a classic fantasy score along with some sinister undertones to help build tension. From the film’s signature track: ‘The Dark Crystal Overture,’ through the track that plays over one of the film’s final moments: ‘The Great Conjunction,’ the film’s original score is still an enjoyable piece to hear even if it seems most audiences prefer the soundtrack of Jim Henson’s other 80s fantasy flick: ‘Labyrinth.’

Of course, the main draw of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ is (and will always be) the puppets themselves, as while the idea of not a single human appearing within a live-action film may sound daunting to some, the film’s huge variety of practical effects from the different creatures that prowl the forests and swamps to each one of the detailed and intricate sets for: ‘The Castle of the Crystal.’ Every single creative aspect of the film in regards to its designs constantly feels as if great talent and effort has been put into each of them, with much of the film’s visuals actually being inspired by the illustrations of Brian Froud, who would eventually join the production as a conceptual designer.

To conclude, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is truly a film of its time, as despite the new prequel series helping the unique fantasy series reach a wider audience, I’m not too surprised this ambitious film has been largely forgotten in modern pop-culture. As the film’s fascinating and fleshed-out world alongside its entertaining story and huge number of amazing practical effects sadly weren’t enough to save it from its eventual neglected fate. Still, even if this fantastical family adventure didn’t receive the praise it deserved when it was released in 1982, I feel it certainly can now from modern audiences, if just for its painstaking puppeteering work and great character designs alone. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Inside Out (2015) – Film Review

From the iconic animation studio Pixar, who brought-us animated classics such as: ‘Toy Story,’ ‘Monsters, Inc.’ ‘Finding Nemo,’ ‘The Incredibles,’ and ‘Ratatouille’ among many others. Comes another emotional and beautifully animated adventure with some surprisingly deep concepts and ideas to-boot. As ‘Inside Out’ takes place nearly entirely inside the mind of a young girl, focusing on how her various emotions handle new and unexpected changes within her life.

Plot Summary: After young ‘Riley’ is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions: ‘Joy,’ ‘Sadness,’ ‘Fear,’ ‘Anger,’ and ‘Disgust’ all being to conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school. But after a freak accident causes ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ to be flung from ‘Headquarters’ with ‘Riley’s ‘Core Memories,’ the two have to find their way back before its too late and ‘Riley’ loses all emotion…

Even though ‘Inside Out’ usually streamlines many of its story’s concepts and themes to make them more understandable for children, the animated flick also never fails to remain both very imaginative and very colourful throughout its runtime. As with the film’s story taking place within the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, ‘Inside Out’ doesn’t hold back from bringing to life the world within a child’s head, a world not confined by the barriers of logic and psychics. From ‘Imagination Land’ to ‘The Train of Thought,’ and ‘Long Term Memory,’ ‘Inside Out’ constantly explores plenty of amusing locations and is always building on its enchanting ideas.

Despite some characters not receiving quite as much screen-time as others, ‘Riley’s various emotions are portrayed superbly by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling, with Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith as ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ being the true stand-outs of the cast. As their two characters bounce extremely well of each other due to the polarity of their friendship, which also makes for plenty of humorous moments. Richard Kind also makes an appearance within the film as ‘Bing Bong,’ ‘Riley’s imaginary friend from when she was younger, who in many ways is the true heart of the film. As alongside his variety of entertaining quirks (some of which do result in a few immature jokes). ‘Bing Bong’ also ends-up becoming a very likeable and charming character mostly as a result of the scene: ‘The Memory Dump,’ easily one of: ‘Inside Out’s most impactful and heartbreaking moments.

Filled with plenty of inventive shots throughout, the animated cinematography does add to the film’s already incredibly vibrant colour palette and varied locations, with a constant array of attractive shots, the film’s visuals are always appealing to look at when inside ‘Riley’s mind. Yet when the viewer is thrown back into the real-world, the colour palette is far more pale and tame, creating a clear visual contrast between the two.

Featuring a number of memorable tracks such as: ‘Bundle of Joy,’ ‘Team Building,’ ‘Rainbow Flyer’ and even the track that plays over the film’s ending credits: ‘The Joy of Credits,’ the original score by Michael Giacchino is truly one of the best scores Pixar has to offer, even when taking into account their already impressive list of soundtracks. As nearly all of the film’s best moments whether comedic or emotional are elevated by the film’s wonderful score, with many of the tracks throughout ‘Inside Out’ displaying great variety and talent.

Similar to many of the other films from Pixar’s catalogue, the animation throughout ‘Inside Out’ is simply gorgeous. As not only do all of the designs of the different emotions differ drastically depending on which emotion they representing, but the level of detail on every character and location throughout the film is astounding, with the individual particles that make-up each emotion even being visible during many of the film’s close-ups. Interestingly, when ‘Inside Out’ was in the very early stages of its development, many other emotions were also considered as characters (around twenty-seven in total). But after the writer’s decided to just settle on the core five emotions to make the narrative less-complicated, many other potential characters had to be left on the cutting-room floor, e.g. ‘Surprise,’ ‘Pride,’ and ‘Trust.’

Overall, ‘Inside Out’ is definitely worth a watch for any age, as although this animated flick isn’t without its faults, ‘Inside Out’ still remains a delightful experience from start-to-finish, mostly due to its unique story, great voice performances, and extraordinary visuals, the film really feels as if there isn’t the slightest ounce of laziness put into crafting it. And whilst there has been plenty of other exceptional animated classics produced by Pixar in the past, their fifteenth animated feature is certainly one of their most experimental yet least discussed to-date, which I think is a shame. As while ‘Inside Out’ may be aimed mostly towards children, I feel this film might speak an even deeper volume to adults. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Tangled (2010) – Film Review

Disney’s first CG animated fairytale is both incredibly funny and heartwarming. As ‘Tangled’ brings to life the well-known fairy princess: ‘Rapunzel,’ now-updated for a new generation of children. Through some beautiful animation, wonderful original songs and an incredibly vibrant colour palette. ‘Tangled’ feels almost as if it’s an enchanting classic restored from Disney’s golden age of animation, despite its few small problems here and there.

Plot Summary: When the ‘Kingdom of Corona’s most-wanted and most charming bandit: ‘Flynn Rider’ hides-out in a mysterious tower, he’s taken hostage by ‘Rapunzel,’ a feisty tower-bound teen with magical golden hair. Eventually leading the two of them to strike a deal so ‘Rapunzel’ can achieve her long-desired dream of seeing the annual release of the kingdom’s lanterns…

Heavily praised since its release, ‘Tangled’ was created by Walt Disney Animation Studios, which have produced a variety of fantastic animated films in recent days. Releasing films such as: ‘Bolt,’ ‘Zootropolis,’ ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, ‘Moana’ and of course, the smash-hit: ‘Frozen’ in 2013. Many of which even beginning to surpass Disney’s other animation company over-time, this obviously being Pixar, who now seem to be far more focused on creating constant sequels, prequels and spin-offs rather than original stories.

Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi bounce extremely well-off each other as ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘Flynn Rider,’ with both the characters having plenty of amusing moments in addition to some surprisingly great chemistry (considering they are fully animated). The cast also features Donna Murphy as ‘Mother Gothel’ and Ron Perlman as one of the ‘Stabbington Brothers’ (a.k.a. The antagonists of the film), and although neither of these two villains ever become quite as memorable or as iconic as some other Disney antagonists. They do serve their roles within the story effectively and are intimidating enough. During the story, ‘Rapunzel’ also receives a character-arc, growing as a character to become more confident and independent as the runtime continues on, which I feel is not only executed well but also gets across an important message for children.

Featuring an array of stunning wide-shots, the animated cinematography throughout ‘Tangled’ is decent overall. While nothing overly imaginative, the animated cinematography works really well for many of the film’s fast-paced action sequences. The animated cinematography is also improved by the film’s incredibly colourful visuals, as many scenes throughout the film are dripping with bright colours and magnificent lighting. Some of the colouring of character’s clothing even reflect their personalities, as ‘Rapunzel’ wears purple, a colour often associated with royalty and ‘Flynn’ wears blue and white, colours that often stand for goodness. Whereas ‘Mother Gothel’ wears red, a colour that usually symbolises evil.

The original score by Alan Menken is certainly the weakest element of the film, as ignoring the actual songs within the film, most notably: ‘When Will My Life Begin’ and ‘I See the Light.’ The score is mostly generic and little bland at points when it comes to animated flicks, as I feel the soundtrack could’ve been greatly improved if the score would’ve embraced the more fantasy-esque aspects of its narrative. Occasionally, the film can also over-rely on musical cues, as during a number of scenes the film feels the need to accompany every action or piece of humour with a trumpet cue, which feels nothing but unnecessary throughout.

Being many years on from the film’s initial release, it’s inevitable that the film’s animation would begin to age. However, although a couple of the close-ups on character’s faces may look a little out-dated. ‘Tangled’s animation predominantly holds-up well since 2010. In particular, the CG effects on ‘Rapunzel’s long-hair, which still look marvellous even today. The film’s humour is also fairly excellent, as the film has a large amount of range when it comes to its jokes, usually having plenty of comedic moments that will appeal to older viewers as well as young children. ‘Tangled’ also gets some great comedic moments out of its horse character: ‘Maximus,’ who quickly ends-up becoming one of the film’s greatest characters through his constant drive to catch ‘Flynn Rider,’ with many of his movements being presented as if he is a large dog or even a human.

Although it may not be one of Disney’s best, ‘Tangled’ is still very enjoyable from start-to-finish. Despite its sometimes overly-fast-pacing and slightly dated animation. The film has more than enough to please families, with some likeable protagonists, plenty of memorable songs and an overall joyful and adventurous tone. ‘Tangled’ is in my opinion, on the higher-level of fantastical family films, and whilst some may feel the film is aimed more towards one gender with its story being based-around a fairy princess, I’d argue otherwise. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Rango (2011) – Film Review

From the director of: ‘The Ring’ and the first three entries in ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ series, Gore Verbinski, comes ‘Rango,’ an animated western featuring a bizarre cast of comedically grotesque animals. And even though that strange concept may not sound as if it couldn’t possibly work, ‘Rango’ is without a doubt one of my favourite animated films in recent memory, as the film’s entertaining story and classic western visuals make the film an incredibly fun watch, regardless of your age.

Plot Summary: When ‘Rango,’ an ordinary pet chameleon accidentally winds-up in the small town of: ‘Dirt’ following a car accident, he begins to realise the dry, lawless outpost is in desperate need of a new sheriff. Being the talented actor that he is, ‘Rango’ poses as the answer to their problems…

Whilst ‘Rango’ is front and foremost a family flick, ‘Rango’ also serves a pretty successful throwback to classic westerns, balancing plenty of hilarious moments with more serious scenes and even some exciting action sequences throughout its story. The film even features a reference to the icon of the western era himself, that being Clint Eastwood as ‘The Spirit of the West,’ which I really appreciated as a fan of the genre. However, the character himself isn’t actually portrayed by Clint Eastwood, which I did feel slightly took away from the scene he appears in despite its short length.

Although all the supporting cast of Isa Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Alfred Molina, and Ned Beatty are all fantastic as the residents of the small town of: ‘Dirt.’ Each having a western accent which sometimes even makes their voice unrecognisable in Isla Fisher’s case. Johnny Depp as the protagonist: ‘Rango’ is truly some flawless casting, as Depp always portrays ‘Rango’ as likeable and funny, yet cowardly, with plenty of humourous lines throughout the runtime. The film’s antagonist: ‘Rattlesnake Jake’ is also worth mentioning, as Bill Nighy lends his voice to this gigantic menacing gunslinger, actually mirroring the two actor’s characters within ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ series, whether intentional or not.

‘Rango’ is also one of the rare animated films which actually has some pretty stunning cinematography, as all of the film’s animated cinematography is very reminiscent of classic westerns. From extreme close-ups of character’s faces during stand-offs, to wide-shots of the barren desert, to even close-ups of broken bottles hanging above a door-frame, every-shot really adds to the narrative, whilst also displaying the film’s large variety of distinct locations. Truly utilising the limitless potential of animated cinematography. Legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who worked on iconic films like ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ ‘No Country for Old Men,’ and ‘Skyfall’ in the past, was even consulted when it came to the film’s cinematography.

Iconic composer Hanz Zimmer returns to the work once again with director Gore Verbinski, and once again with another magnificent original score. This time replicating classic western scores without taking-away from the film’s adventurous tone. Making fantastic use of both electric and acoustic guitars, tracks such as: ‘Rango and Beans’ and ‘Rango Returns’ feel as if they were ripped straight-out of the golden age of film. The soundtrack even includes a unique western-esque version of the orchestral classic: ‘Ride of the Valkyries,’ which backs-up what is already a very memorable action sequence.

The animation itself is wonderful throughout the film, as ‘Rango’ takes a more daring and unique route when it comes to its animation. As rather than being overly colourful and cartoonishly attractive similar to films like ‘Toy Story,’ ‘Frozen,’ or ‘Despicable Me,’ ‘Rango’ focuses far more on being rather realistic and dirty, with each location always feeling very old and rustic. The character designs themselves also reflect this, as every piece of clothing and every object is coaked in scratches and dirt, giving the film an unpleasant yet not necessarily unattractive look. This animation style also continues to the film’s colour palette, as the pale beiges and browns give the film a true western feel. Due to ‘Rango’s reliance on this highly detailed kind of animation, however, there is the occasional shot where the animation looks slightly dated by today’s standards.

Packed with plenty of great comedic moments, attractive visuals, a great original score and, of course, its marvellous cast. ‘Rango’ stands as one of the best modern animated films to date, as this western adventure truly does anything it can to make itself stand-out. As despite the film’s few fourth-wall-breaking moments (which come across as slightly cheesy) and the film’s sometimes overly fast-pacing, ‘Rango’ still remains an enthralling ride. Although this animated flick may seem pretty unusual when compared to many other films the family can enjoy together, this true oddball of a film is sure to please those who decide to give it a chance. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Corpse Bride (2005) – Film Review

Tim Burton’s twisted story of a man accidentally marrying a deceased bride could certainly be seen as too dark for an animated family adventure by some, but the film actually blends many of its dark scenes with plenty of heart and humour throughout. Making this stop-motion flick not quite one of the director’s best, but definitely a must-watch for fans of the unique director.

Plot Summary: When a shy groom (Victor Van Dort) practices his wedding vows in the inadvertent presence of a deceased young woman, she rises from her grave assuming he has married her. Before he knows it, ‘Victor’ soon finds himself in the land of the dead, and now must find a way to return to the land of the living before he loses his still-living wife forever…

Alongside the entertaining narrative, throughout the film there are various different musical sequences, which were surprisingly entertaining considering I’m usually not a huge fan of musical numbers in film. But I actually found many of the songs throughout the film actually added to the plot and gave the film another creative element which worked really well when combined with the brilliant original score by Danny Elfman.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter portray: ‘Victor’ and his accidental ‘Corpse Bride,’ alongside the supporting cast of Emily Watson and Paul Whitehouse. Who are all pretty great, with the two leads in particular having pretty some great chemistry with each other, which really added to some of the romantic scenes throughout runtime (especially when it comes to an animated film). The cast also features Richard E. Grant, who portrays the villous: ‘Barkis Bittern’ perfectly, coming off as very sly, rude and intelligent from start-to-finish.

The cinematography by Pete Kozachik is pretty effective considering his previous work is usually far from the realm of stop-motion animation, as although there is definitely room for improvement, the cinematography is interesting enough to keep the viewer engaged throughout the film’s story.

Without a doubt, the original score by Danny Elfman is definitely one of the best elements of the film, as well as being one of my favourites for a Tim Burton flick. As while not quite on the level of the original: ‘Batman’ or ‘Edward Scissorhands’ for example, the entire soundtrack still perfectly captures the creepy tone of the film, as well as many of it’s more emotional moments, all adding to both an extremely memorable and beautiful score. Especially the tracks: ‘Main Titles’ and ‘End Credits Pt. 1,’ which are my two personal favourites from the film.

The stop-motion animation throughout the film is simply outstanding, as each character’s unique design influences their movements, with many of the characters having very interesting and over-the-top designs which perfectly fit within the world of a Tim Burton story. The film also has an unexpectedly ranged colour palette, as in addition to the usual dark Burton-esque colours. The film surprisingly also uses a large range of bright greens, purples and reds in a few scenes, which all really help the film stand-out, and give a little more light to many of the miniature sets and various characters.

Overall, while I didn’t expect to enjoy ‘Corpse Bride’ as much as I did, the film’s fantastic stop-motion animation, great humour and emotional scenes all topped with the unique Tim Burton style, I’d say the film is a pretty solid watch aside from the occasional cheesy joke or scene. Final Rating: 8/10.

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