The Grinch (2018) – Film Review

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as his pen-name: ‘Dr. Seuss,’ is recognised today as one of the best authors in children’s literature. Through his whimsical writing, memorable characters and surreal illustrations, many of Geisel’s stories have become truly timeless as a result of how original they were compared to other children’s books released around the same-period. So, of course, it would only be a matter of time till Geisel’s various characters began making their way to the silver screen, with one of his most villainous characters: ‘The Grinch,’ receiving many adaptations, the most recent of which possibly being the worst to-date.

Plot Summary: In the town of: ‘Whoville,’ the residents known as ‘Whos’ excitedly await the arrival of Christmas Day. But just north of: ‘Whoville,’ on the top of: ‘Mount Crumpit,’ the cantankerous and green-furred: ‘Grinch’ begins to hatch a plan with his pet-dog: ‘Max,’ crafting a scheme to steal Christmas from the ‘Whos’ in an attempt to silence their irritating holiday cheer once and for all…

This 2018 readaptation of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is animated by Illumination Animation, the animation company behind modern family flicks like ‘Despicable Me,’ ‘Sing’ and ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ in addition to a previous ‘Dr. Seuss’ adaptation: ‘The Lorax’ in 2012. This isn’t surprising of course, as Illumination Animation have truly exploded in popularity since 2010, mostly due to their creation of: ‘The Minions.’ And whilst I personally don’t despise the company as a whole as I feel many of their films are entertaining-enough for younger viewers, its fair to say their film catalogue is spotty at best, with many of their films bosting extremely predicable humour and usually attractive yet repetitive-looking animation, and ‘The Grinch’ is unfortunately, no exception.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the title character, and although Cumberbatch is usually an actor I adore, having given an array of brilliant performances throughout his career. ‘The Grinch’ is without a doubt one of his weakest, as his performance somehow manages to feel both minimum effort and also far too cartoonish. Resulting in this version of the nefarious characters becoming instantly forgettable, especially when put in comparison with Jim Carrey’s beloved performance. Then there is also Cameron Seely and Rashida Jones who portray ‘Cindy-Lou Who’ and her mother: ‘Donna,’ who this time around have their own subplot mostly unrelated to ‘The Grinch’s scheme, which serves little purpose aside from one particular scene. And finally there is Pharrell Williams as the story’s narrator, which is some of the most bizarre casting I’ve ever seen, as his typical American accent doesn’t remotely fit the role of a traditional storyteller.

Similar to the rest of Illumination Animation’s films, ‘The Grinch’ is visually-impressive at a first glance, as the film’s animated cinematography and extremely vibrant colour palette is likely to catch any viewer’s eye. Yet also in-line with their other films, Illumination Animation’s style does feel very repetitive after so long, as each character/location does little to make itself stand-out. A perfect example of this is ‘The Grinch’ himself, as while ‘The Grinch’ is implied to have very poor hygiene similar to other adaptations of the story, neither ‘The Grinch’ nor his home within ‘Mount Crumpit’ are ever displayed as unpleasant, even though ‘The Grinch’s home being dark and filthy serves as an extension of his vile personality.

Aside from ‘Tyler the Creator’s abysmal new rendition of: ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,’ the original score by Danny Elfman is completely unremarkable. From ‘A Wonderful Awful Idea’ to ‘Stealing Christmas,’ all of the film’s tracks lack both memorability and charm, barley embracing the fantastical nature of: ‘Dr. Seuss’ stories or the festive season itself, with the rest of the film’s soundtrack just relying on other modern renditions of classic Christmas songs.

Undoubtedly the most disappointing aspect of this readaptation however, is the actual animation style. As one obvious benefit that this new adaptation has over the live-action adaptation of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is simply being animated, as this allows the film’s designs to greatly lean-into the wonderful illustrations of: ‘Dr. Seuss,’ as his sketches are incredibly difficult to recreate in real-life as result of their harsh curves and gravity-defying arictecture. But strangely, the film doesn’t take advantage of this, with many designs only having a slight ‘Seuss’ influence in spite of the clearly inspired rhyming dialogue.

Overall, ‘The Grinch’ is a worst-case scenario for a readaptation, as I feel this animated film falls flat in most areas, never reaching the emotional or comedic heights of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ from 2000, or even matching-up to the delightful hand-drawn animation seen in the original 1966 short. So, whilst its visuals may appear pleasant at first, it quickly becomes apparent something is missing. As this new adaptation gives the impression it was made by a team of producers rather than just one director, and as a result, fails to breathe new life into this age-old Christmas tale. Final Rating: 3/10.

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Krampus (2015) – Film Review

Whilst most Christmas films get across their message about how family is the true meaning of the holiday in a wholesome and light-hearted fashion, ‘Krampus’ takes quite a different approach. As director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) crafts a cynical and amusing horror-comedy based around: ‘Krampus,’ a creature from European folklore with origins stretching back to the days before Christianity, serving as essentially the sinister twin of jolly ‘Saint Nicholas,’ punishing those who misbehave in various odious ways. And while the film is far from perfect, ‘Krampus’ creative ideas and impressive practical effects make the film worth it’s runtime.

Plot Summary: When his dysfunctional family clash over the holidays, young ‘Max’ finally decides to turn his back on Christmas, tearing-up his letter to ‘Santa Clause’ in a fit of rage. Little does he know, his lack of Christmas spirit has unleashed the wrath of: ‘Krampus,’ an ancient demon who punishes those who don’t celebrate the festive season. Forcing ‘Max’ and the rest of his family to fight for one another if they hope to survive…

Although there are plenty of enjoyable films out there to watch over the festive season, I usually always find myself craving something new around the Christmas-period, as the cliché narrative of children helping ‘Santa Claus’ save Christmas gets very old quick. ‘Krampus’, however, does certainly attempt something new, even if it isn’t always successful. As whilst the original outline for the film was closer to a straight-forward horror, focusing mostly on ‘Krampus’ picking people off throughout ‘Max’s town, it was eventually decided to make it more of a dark retelling of a traditional Christmas film. This is why the plot is kicked-off with a letter to ‘Santa.’ and why the film’s first act begins much like a family film would, before then having a drastic turn towards horror and dark fantasy.

The film’s large cast of Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell and Krista Stadler are all serviceable in their roles, even though many of their characters aren’t developed nowhere near enough. Additionally, ‘Tom Engel,’ a.k.a. ‘Max’s father, also has many moments where he doesn’t seem to take their life-threating situation that seriously, almost as if he is acknowledging how bizarre the story is, which does diminish the film’s tension at points. But with ‘Krampus’ featuring moments of humour and fright alike, the film obviously has many shifts in tone between scenes.

Jules O’Loughlin’s cinematography is nothing amazing altogether, as in spite of the film having quite a few memorable and attractive shots, there are also a large amount of bland shots whenever the camera is focusing on the actors themselves. What is far more admirable though is how the camerawork enhances the film’s set-design, making the audience believe that the film was shot inside a real house and outside on a real wintry street. When, in reality, over 95% of the film was shot on a soundstage, with the snow covering the ground being made from a material that’s commonly used for making nappies.

Composer Douglas Pipes handles the film’s original score, and he described his soundtrack as “A Collection of Twisted Christmas Carols with Pagan Thrown in.” As the score incorporates everything from the sounds of chains, bells, bones and animal-skin drums in addition to having choirs chant and whisper in different tongues, making for a foreboding but suitably Christmassy score. The track: ‘A Cold Wind’ also does a phenomenal job of reiterating ‘Krampus’ as the ominous shadow of: ‘Santa Clause’ through its use of sleigh bells. However, the film’s actual sound design features some incredibly strange choices for a horror, as many goofy/cartoonish sound effects can be heard within the film, feeling immensely out-of-place every-time they are.

One of the finest aspects of: ‘Krampus’ as a film has to be its effects, as rather than having an over-reliance on CG visuals, ‘Krampus’ brings all of its uniquely creepy creatures to life through detailed costumes and animatronics, harkening back to classic ’80s horror-comedies like ‘Gremlins’ and ‘Fright Night.’ Many of the film’s terrifying monsters also share wonderfully horrific designs, with the final design for: ‘Krampus’ and his elves being distilled from various postcards and illustrations seen over time. Or in the case of the malevolent toys, taking inspiration from the 1992 low-budget horror: ‘Demonic Toys,’ with the angel ornament, teddy bear, robot and Jack-in-a-box that attack the family sharing many similarities to the toys seen in that obscure horror flick.

In conclusion, ‘Krampus’ is a rollicking ride of a Christmas film even if it isn’t quite as polished as Dougherty’s Halloween flick: ‘Trick ‘r Treat.’ As the film’s excellent practical effects, menacing creature designs and great original score all lend themselves very well to the distinctive story, despite the narrative itself often feeling like wasted potential considering ‘Krampus’ doesn’t full appear until near the end of the runtime. Regardless, this horror-comedy is still, in my opinion, the best on-screen interpretation of: ‘Krampus’ and his devilish minions as of yet. Final Rating: 7/10.

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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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Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010) – Film Review

Co-written/produced by Guillermo del Toro and directed by Troy Nixey, ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ embraces many of the same elements as del Toro’s other films, crafting a narrative which combines both traditional gothic horror and childlike fantasy. But sadly, unlike a usual del Toro project, there is a noticeable absence in everything from captivating characters to memorising practical effects/creatures, resulting in a film that feels like a mostly copy-and-paste effort beyond one or two interesting ideas.

Plot Summary: After being sent to live with her father and his new girlfriend at their recently renovated manor, the previous home of the long-missing painter: ‘Emerson Blackwood’. Young ‘Sally’ begins to hear ominous voices emanating from the basement’s ash-pit, soon leading her to discover the cause of the painter’s disappearance…

Taking heavy inspiration from the classic H.P. Lovecraft short story: ‘The Rats in the Walls.’ ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ is actually a remake of a low-budget 1973 TV film, as the now-iconic director Guillermo del Toro has stated in the past that he was terrified of the film when he first watched it as a child, later inspiring him to reimagine the mostly-unknown horror flick. Yet even with a much larger-budget and a more well-known cast, the film is still quite underwhelming when it comes to both its scares and story, as the film’s narrative follows a formula almost identical to many other modern horrors.

All of the performances throughout the film aren’t anything overly impressive, as whilst Katie Holmes does try her best to portray a young girl witnessing sights that no one else believes. Her character: ‘Sally’ (similar to the rest of the film’s characters) receives very limited characterisation, which does make many of the scenes revolving around the family-dynamic far less entertaining. Then there is also ‘Sally’s father and his girlfriend: ‘Kim’ portrayed by Guy Pearce and Bailee Madison respectively, and although Madison gives a serviceable performance, Pearce may give one of the weakest performances of his career here. As ‘Sally’s father: ‘Alex,’ always shows little concern or remorse when it comes to his daughter, making the character immensely difficult to resonate with.

The cinematography by Oliver Stapleton is very grand in its execution, allowing for a large number of wide-shots, some of which even flow smootly-around the various rooms of the manor. But it’s the film’s colour palette which is most worth noting, as the film utilises much more red and yellow than many other modern horrors, which is a pleasant change in terms of visuals as the more vibrant colours reflect the manor’s elegant design, which is probably one of the most visually striking ‘haunted houses’ in recent memory, with even the manor’s front entrance having a beautiful carving of an old oak tree merged into the multi-coloured glass.

Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders provide the original score for the film, which similar to the film’s cinematography, gives the story a much more epic feel. As the heavy orchestral score could’ve easily been taken from any classic gothic horror, lending itself effectively to many scenes aside from a couple of generic tracks. The film often also features some fantastically creepy sound design, as the film’s creatures continuously speak to ‘Sally’ using their ghostly whispering voices, which seemingly echo throughout the usually empty corridors of the manor.

Although many of del Toro’s other outings do provide plenty of wonderful practical effects to gaze at, usually creating an array of unsettling and memorable creatures, ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ takes another (less appealing) route to its monsters. As the film’s creatures are brought to life almost entirely though CG effects, which not only makes some shots appear slightly dated, but also manages to take away from nearly all of the film’s tense moments. Additionally, the film’s creature designs aren’t all that menacing, as despite the idea of evil fairytale monsters being quite unique (as the creatures are later revealed to be a sinister incarnation of tooth-fairies). The creature’s extremely small-size does make them feel very unthreatening even if it is a nice change-of-pace over having one large entity, as the film never does enough with its miniature antagonists regardless of what knives/tools they arm themselves with.

All in all, ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ is a film that is regrettably just not worth its short runtime. As while I admire the effort to combine famed fairytale stories with a chilling atmosphere, the predominantly poor performances and numerous unexplored concepts leave the film simply another bland horror flick with a surprisingly weak screenplay by del Toro to-boot, especially when compared to much of his other work. Still, with all that said, I feel that Troy Nixey does deserve another shot in the director’s chair someday, as since this film’s initial release, he actually hasn’t worked on any other projects, which is unfortunate, as I do believe he does have some talent as a filmmaker when looking at this film’s merits. Final Rating: high 3/10.

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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 cliché. 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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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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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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Unicorn Store (2019) – Film Review

Both starring and directed by Oscar-winner Brie Larson, ‘Unicorn Store’ is a light-hearted comedy-drama which attempts to delve into those childhood dreams many people have, but seems to fall very short in more aspects than one. As aside from a pretty great original score by Alex Greenwald, the film is mostly very bland and forgettable, usually flopping most of the emotional moments and attempts at humour within its fantastical story.

Plot Summary: When ‘Kit’ is forced to move back in with her parents after being kicked-out of art school, she takes on a boring office job in an attempt to finally grow-up. But when a mysterious stranger sends her an invitation, she is welcomed into a magical store with the promise of owning her own pet unicorn, her greatest desire as a child…

Personally, I do feel this is one of those films where the lack of experience from the director is a big part in what makes it fail overall, as although the writing throughout the film is fairly decent. The film’s visuals as well as the weak performances from the cast, leave the film feeling almost as if it’s presentation doesn’t match with the story itself, and whilst I’m definitely not this film’s main target audience, I don’t imagine even young girls could get much out of this less-than-imaginative experience.

Although Brie Larson has given a variety of excellent performances throughout her career, with ‘Room’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ being the first two that come to mind. Her performance is extremely mixed throughout ‘Unicorn Store,’ as in some scenes she fairly decent, whilst in others, she is quite bland. This could also be due to her character however, as ‘Kit’ is very irritating throughout the majority of the film. Portraying the character as childish and loud in all the wrong ways, the supporting cast of Mamoudou Athie, Samuel L. Jackson, Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack are also serviceable however, yet do have their weak moments similar to Brie Larson.

Aside from the bright colour palette which does somewhat help to improve the film’s visuals despite not being as overly-colourful as I initially expected. The overall cinematography by Brett Pawlak is mostly very dull, as the film is overflowing with a variety of boring shots, all displayed through soft hand-held camera techniques, which I actually found quite distracting throughout. This is also the case when it comes to the lighting, as aside from one visually-pleasing scene with the unicorn itself nearing the end of the runtime, every scene is usually very white and pale, which is essentially the complete opposite of the story’s underlining theme.

Alex Greenwald handles the original score for the film as already mentioned, and although not an incredible soundtrack by any means, the score is probably the best element of the film for me. As the original score succeeds where the film’s visuals fail, as the soundtrack embraces the more magical childlike tone of the film, utilising what almost sounds like wind chimes and harps to fit effectively alongside the film’s narrative.

Despite the story not quite reaching the heights it could in terms of humour and emotion, I do really like many of the film’s ideas. As the film’s themes of letting go of your childhood and growing-up are interesting, and have been explored well before in a variety of Pixar and DreamWorks animated classics. However, ‘Unicorn Store’ seems to not place much emphasis on these ideas aside from a few lines of dialogue from ‘Kit’ herself. Initially, ‘Unicorn Store’ was supposed to be directed by Miguel Arteta, best known for his romantic drama: ‘The Good Girl’ from 2002, and although I don’t think this director would’ve done an exceptional job with the film. I do feel he could’ve explored these themes better, and possibly even made the film more engaging when it comes to its characters, as this was always one of the stronger aspects of his previous works.

In summary, ‘Unicorn Store’ was pretty much what I expected it to be, whilst I could be a little biased due to my distaste of Brie Larson (mostly as a person rather than as an actress). The film simply isn’t that entertaining throughout, with its bland cinematography and lighting, in addition to some of its irritating characters and mediocre story. ‘Unicorn Store’ just isn’t worth it’s time when there’s plenty of other fantastic films currently available to watch on Netflix. Final Rating: low 4/10.

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