Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

The Lion King (1994)

the-lion-king
Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

The Lion King – Film Review

Cast:  Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Moira Kelly, Niketa Calame, Ernie Sabella, Nathan Lane, Robert Guillaume, Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg

Directors: Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff

Synopsis: A young cub is being prepared by his father, the king of a pride of lions, to become the future king, while the King’s brother secretly plots to seize the throne for himself.

Review: If ever there was a studio that could perfectly demonstrate the enduring power and appeal of animated films that are almost universally adored for their brilliant characters, gorgeous animation and emotional scenes that really threaten to tug at your heartstrings to such an extent you become a big blubbering mess of happy and sad emotions, then Walt Disney Animation Studios and their extraordinary collection of films could be just the studio you were looking for. Yet, if there was one film that does all of the aforementioned things, and a film that has stood the test of time with flying colours, and has built itself an enduring legacy, loved universally by all generations, 1994’s The Lion King certainly ticks all of those boxes, in an emphatic manner.

A soaring and stirring musical number opens proceedings, and for the next ninety minutes or so, you are taken on an enthralling journey set in the heart of Africa, specifically on a pride of Lions, ruled over by Mufasa and his wife Sarabi, and their young cub Simba. The young cub is taught all about life, and more specifically the great Circle of Life, via one of many absolutely brilliant and powerful songs, of which there are aplenty to be found here. Of course, life has its ups and downs and as Simba finds out, sometimes things can take a significant turn for the worse. With little choice, he goes on a journey that anyone watching can and will relate to in some way.

The screenplay, inspired by the works of Shakespeare and more specifically Hamlet, packs plenty of powerful and emotive themes into it. It is profound and deeply moving, that will almost certainly leave a lasting impression on the viewer. the characters have a great many layers to them, perhaps none more so than Simba. Initially a brash, cocky cub, through time he becomes this wise, powerful Lion just like his father Mufasa, voiced by the one and only James Earl Jones. Like most animations, these days, there are more than a few scenes that get the audience emotional, and if you have seen this film, you certainly know what scene in particular here will ensure the audience will be looking for something to wipe away the tears. The voice cast is excellent from Matthew Broderick as Adult Simba, to Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, to Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella as Timone and Pumba. Jeremy Irons as the villainous Scar was another excellent casting choice. Last but not least is Robert Guillaume as the hilarious Rafiki (friend in Swahili).

Disney animations have certainly become known for their great and extremely effective use of music in scenes. From the soaring opening number, to the more jovial tunes like Hakuna Matata, to the powerful Can You Feel the Love Tonight, the great songs are aplenty and they’re all extremely memorable. The great songs are exquisitely matched by the score from Hans Zimmer, which as usual, is near enough perfect. Disney has for a while been what some may argue as the champion of animation in cinema, and for an animation that came out over two decades ago, the animation has stood the test of time, and still remains absolutely excellent and breath taking to watch.

The Lion King has ensured it will remain a staple of animated entertainment for a great many years to come. Having generated a very popular  production that has also been on for several years now. It is safe to say that through all of their spectacular and brilliant animated features, there may not be a film that has stood the test of time and left its mark on numerous aspects of popular culture to such an extent, like the Lion King has. Disney has made many movies since, and although their greatness is undoubted, it is worth considering if any since have reached the remarkable heights that have been set by The Lion King. Hakuna Matata indeed!

Beautifully animated, with rich and complex characters, with incredible music and a wonderful score, this is truly one of Disney’s most undisputed masterpieces.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Moana (2016)

moana
Image is property of Walt Disney Animation Studios

Moana – Film Review

Cast: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson, Rachel House, Temuera Morrison, Jemaine Clement, Nicole Scherzinger, Alan Tudyk

Directors: Ron Clements and John Musker

Synopsis:  Moana, the daughter of the ruler of an Ancient Polynesian tribe, sets out on a journey to find the demi-god Maui whose actions have threatened to wreak havoc on their way of life.

Review: Is there a movie studio out there that seems as though with each passing film that they release is a massive hit and rakes in the cash at the Box Office? One could make the argument for Marvel Studios, but certainly one studio that seems to be on an unstoppable run at the minute would be Walt Disney Animation Studios. Their first 2016 release Zootopia/Zootropolis raked in over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, and was a smash hit with just about everyone who saw it. Their latest effort proves that the studio is still bringing home the bacon, and in some style too.

The story focuses on our titular character who after being brought up by her father to be the future leader of their clan, is determined to break from the role her parents want her to be, and become the person she wants to be. Their situation becomes somewhat desperate when the demi-god Maui who without spoiling too much, has made some decisions that are threatening their island and way of life with dire consequences. As such, with typical Disney Princess determination and courage, she sets sail in order to save her people. Disney has certainly forged a reputation for telling Princess stories and telling them with beautiful animation, rich and diverse characters, some singing and a really fun and exciting adventure, and Moana is no exception to this trend.

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It is something of a cliche at this point to say that the animation is great because with Disney, you wouldn’t expect anything less, but in this instance the animation is truly something to behold, the sheer amount of detail that has clearly gone into the creation of everything you see on screen is absolutely crystal clear. Directors Ron Clements and Rich Musker, having worked on gems such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, certainly bring their strong experience to the table. Of course superb animation would be pretty rubbish if the story with it was no good, but no chance of that here, as the screenplay by Jared Bush, with a little help from one Taika Waititi, is excellent. The gorgeous animation is aided by, as is so often the case with Disney and in particular Disney princess stories, great music and great songs that could very well give Let it Go a strong run for its money, and just maybe an Oscar nod for Original Song.

Disney so often creates multi-dimensional characters that audiences can gravitate to, particularly in the case of Moana, in a similar vein to Frozen’s Elsa is a strong-willed and fierce female protagonist who is not dependent on a man to tell her what or what not she needs to do. Opposite her is of course Dwayne Johnson’s Maui who at first is a bit rude and dismissive of Moana but over the course of the film grows to respect her. The pair make a solid duo and you cannot help but get excited as they go on their adventure, all the while being accompanied by a rather hilarious and somewhat dim chicken named Hei Hei, who certainly tries his hardest to steal the show, and in some cases succeeds.

There are times when the story, although it is very well done, is not sailing any new seas. You would be forgiven for thinking you have been here before, but with the excellent characters that you become invested in, you want to go on this adventure and marvel at the joyous animation on screen. Between this and Zootopia alone, Disney has had one superb year, and if you include Pixar and well Marvel and Star Wars, then the wind is certainly in Disney’s sails alright! Furthermore between Disney’s offerings, Finding Dory and the many other animated films to have graced the silver screen this year, the race for that Animated gong in this year’s Awards season could be a very interesting one indeed.

With every film they make, Disney just keeps making hit after hit, and with breathtaking animation and well developed characters, Moana is another fine piece of work that has all the ingredients to become a future classic.

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Mulan (1998)

mulan

Mulan Film Review

Cast: Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, BD Wong, Miguel Ferrer, June Foray, Harvey Fierstein, Gedde Watanabe, James Hong, George Takei, Pat Morita

Director: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook

Synopsis: After her elderly father is called up to serve in China’s army, his young daughter Mulan disguises her self as a man to serve in his place, to help defeat the invading Huns.

Review: For Walt Disney Animation Studios, the period between 1989 and 1999 is known as the Disney Renaissance. Having had something of a difficult time prior to this, the studio came back with a bang, making and releasing ten films during this booming period in animated films, many of which can be considered some of the most successful films the studio has made. The penultimate film of said era, released in 1998, is certainly a fine example of the brilliance and wonder that the studio brought to the big screen.

Set in Ancient China, with war having just been declared after the villainous Hun army invades, the Emperor responds by ordering that one man from every family must serve in the Chinese army. When her elderly father, having served previously is called up yet again, Mulan decides to take action. She will not fulfil the traditional female roles that is of expected of her, instead, she takes her father’s armour, disguises herself as a man, and goes off to join the army in order to protect him. Disney certainly does princess stories perhaps like no other, and here they pull of yet another incredible story. With strong themes of honour, duty and family surging throughout, the film also offers a great example of a strong independent female character who doesn’t bow what was expected, maybe even demanded of a woman at that time, and offers a great role model for all young females to aspire to.

Despite the war that is raging at its heart, Mulan also offers plenty of great humour, this is mostly down to the brilliant work of Eddie Murphy as Mulan’s pint sized sidekick Mushu the dragon, before he was Donkey in the Shrek franchise. The veteran comedian and actor is on superb form here as he attempts to guide Mulan on how to be and act like a man. His lucky accomplice Crickey also does his best to add the humour but the bulk of it comes from Mushu, with more than a few references that will fly over the heads of younger viewers, but will provide adults with a good laugh.

There are more than a few very memorable characters besides Mulan and Mushu of course, some of her recruits in the army are also extremely funny and a lot of fun to watch. The story is very well executed and the animation is of course splendid, with Disney you wouldn’t expect anything less. With superb supporting music by Jerry Goldsmith and Matthew Wilder, along with some really well written and performed songs, Mulan is the perfect blend of exciting and beautiful story telling that the whole family can sit down and enjoy immensely.

With a strong female protagonist at its core, fused with majestic animation and solid story telling and great music, Mulan was a further example of a studio at the very top of their game in the late 90s.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Finding Dory (2016)

finding dory
Image is property of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Pictures

Finding Dory – Film Review

Cast: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olsen, Ty Burrell, Idris Elba

Directors: Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

Synopsis: Set one year after the events of Finding NemoDory begins to get flashbacks about her past and her parents. Determined to find answers, she sets off on a quest to reunite with her long lost family.

Review: It has been thirteen years since we were introduced to a bunch of lovable fish that swam their way into the hearts of audiences in Finding Nemo. It could be argued that of those group of fish, there was one who perhaps swam her way into the hearts and minds of viewers more than most, this of course being the blue tang Dory. So of course it was only natural that this phenomenal piece of storytelling would get a sequel. Sequels for Pixar are generally a mixed bag, for every Toy Story 3, there’s a Cars 2. However, given Dory’s immense popularity, the head honchos of Pixar decided to make this movie about her, and what an inspired decision that turned out to be.

Nemo director Stanton, along with Angus MacLane, with a scripted penned by Stanton and Victoria Strouse take us back to the big blue, and one year after Dory has helped Marlin reunite with Nemo after the latter went somewhat astray. Seemingly content with life, and still a bit forgetful, she begins to have flashbacks about her past and believing that somewhere out there she has a family, Dory goes off on her own adventure with Marlin and Nemo in tow. Pixar certainly knows how to give its audiences full on emotional punches, as last year’s brilliant Inside Out demonstrated, and once again, they have delivered a heartfelt worthwhile story with a great new batch of characters and a script that is packed with plenty of laughs.

Once again, Ellen DeGeneres is on outstanding form as Dory, her humour ensured she was one of the funniest movie sidekicks of the 2000s but now she is front and centre and she absolutely holds her own. Brooks returning as Marlin is his usual somewhat grump self and Hayden Rolence replaces Alexander Gould as the voice of Nemo. Adding them on their quest are a great bunch of new characters, the standout by far though is Ed O’Neill’s Hank the Octopus. He may be a bit grumpy too, but he certainly adds a lot of humour to the story. Ty Burrell as a beluga whale and Kaitlin Olsen as a clumsy whale also add a great deal to the plot. The seagulls were another highlight of Nemo, yet they have been replaced by a pair of equally amusing sea lions voiced by Idris Elba and Dominic West.

Pixar has certainly shown in the past that they’re not afraid to go deep (pun absolutely intended) with their films. They tug at your emotional heart-string and it’s one of the many reasons why they have cemented their reputation as an animation powerhouse. There is no real villain here, but it’s not a hindrance to the plot in any way, as the struggles of family life and finding your place in the world are themes that almost anyone out there can resonate with. A debate could rage all day about whether Pixar or parent company Disney make the better movies. However it cannot be argued that both have put out tremendous pieces of work so far this year, and both of these are centred around animals.  This particular Pixar sequel was not out of its depth, but instead swam its way to success, and that bodes well for the sequels that are currently in the works. The price of a ticket is worth it if just to see perhaps the cutest animated short you will ever see in your life too.

Pixar produces another superb piece of storytelling, beautiful animation, with more well developed characters, and another superb performance from DeGeneres, a worthy sequel to Finding Nemo. 

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Finding Nemo (2003)

Image rights belong to Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation studios
Image rights belong to Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation studios

Finding Nemo – Film Review

Cast: Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, Alexander Gould, Willem Dafoe, Brad Garrett, Geoffrey Rush

Director: Andrew Stanton

Synopsis: When a young clownfish is abducted by deep sea divers, his timid father must brave the terrifying ocean in order to rescue his son.

Review: The big blue ocean, something that covers around 70 per cent of the surface of this planet. It’s something that is so deep and terrifying, yet there is certainly for some, a deep fascination with the big blue beyond, and the life within it. It would certainly seem that a few folks over at the animation juggernauts of Pixar have this fascination.

Fish are not exactly many people’s first choice to have as pets, and therefore to make a full length feature about them, might have seemed like a mad idea for Pixar. Yet as they often do, they pulled it off in spectacular fashion. Right at the very start, everything appears all happy and joyous, and then instantaneously it changes. Disney movies of the past certainly weren’t afraid to go dark where necessary, and the opening scene here is certainly not on a Bambi level of terrifying, it is rather melancholic. But it sets the tone for the movie and really builds the character of our main protagonist, Marlin and why he’s so overprotective of his son Nemo. As such when Nemo is whisked away by divers, Marlin has little choice to go out of his comfort zone, go after him and brave the terrifying ocean, and the ensuing adventure that Marlin ends up has its mix of delightful humour and some more darkish moments.

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Though it’s probable not many of us have been there ourselves, certainly not as deep, director Andrew Stanton does a terrific job of immersing the audience in this ocean world. The other wildlife and the plant life are all beautifully recreated along with the animation being absolutely perfect. In addition to this, we have a very interesting collection of characters. Marlin is a clownfish, but he struggles to tell a good joke. However he doesn’t need to as he’s aided on his quest to rescue his son by the lovable but forgetful Dory, voiced by the brilliant Ellen DeGeneres. There’s a fair bit of dramatic moments mixed in with some truly hilarious ones too, such as the shark equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In Nemo’s unfamiliar surroundings, we have the likes of the serious but friendly Gill (Willem Dafoe) Bloat (Brad Garrett) a porcupine pufferfish of whom does his bit to ensure that the laughs keep on coming. The screenplay is so well written that you care about every one of the characters on screen, particularly Marlin, Nemo and certainly Dory too. The latter of whom proved to be such a popular character, that she is getting her own film, due out this summer. It’s easy to see why as a lot of the comedy comes from her forgetfulness and funny one liners. The characters are extremely well developed and the fact that the voices involved are provided by some top Hollywood talent ensures that the there’s that emotional connection between them and the audience.

There are plenty of humorous moments littered throughout this really entertaining story. Even some of the side characters provide some of the most ridiculously entertaining moments. The sharks, the turtles and in particular the seagulls especially in particular do their best to keep the laughs coming. The latter of whom although they don’t have the largest amount of screen time, they certainly make a significant impression, and you might just find yourself saying “mine” just a little bit. Whoever knew that a story about the life of aquatic based animals could be so entertaining and so heartfelt?

Beautiful animation with some great humour, along with well written, developed and lovable characters, Pixar just kept swimming onto success with this wonderful story. One of their finest without a doubt.

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Posted in 1990-1999, Film Review

Toy Story (1995)

Image is property of Disney and Pixar

Toy Story – Film Review

Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, John Morris

Director: John Lasseter

Synopsis: Woody, a cowboy doll, is the leader of a group of toys that belong to a boy named Andy, but when a brand new Space toy called Buzz Lightyear arrives, and because a firm favourite of both Andy and the other toys, it creates a rift between the toys.

Review: Toys, we all played with them when we were kids, and chances are if you have had kids, or intend to, you will probably deal with toys all over again. And surely we have all wondered, what happened to our toys when we have left the room? Do they come alive and have thoughts of their own? Well if you have seen Toy Story, from the juggernauts of Disney and Pixar, chances are you might just have thought so at one point in your youth. This first collaboration between the two, with John Lasseter at the helm, was a match made in heaven, and while it was the first full length feature film to be fully computer animated, it has a claim to being the studio’s very best.

The story focuses on a group of toys, led by the jovial and upbeat Woody, who is the firm favourite of their owner Andy. This is until the arrival of the shiny and awesome Buzz Lightyear who becomes the centre of both Andy’s attention and the attention of all the other toys. Thus making Woody exceedingly jealous that he has been displaced as Andy’s favourite plaything. Even more so for poor Woody, is Buzz’s fixation that he’s not in fact a toy, but a Space Ranger charged with the protection of the Galaxy. It’s such a simple concept, but the story is outstanding with lots for kids to enjoy and plenty of adult references that will ensure watching parents get a good chuckle. What’s more, the voice acting is also first class.

Tom Hanks is sensational as the voice of Woody, providing calm and reason to the rest of the toys when they have an ever present fear of being replaced, whilst also showing authority over the other toys when he needs to. Tim Allen also is equally excellent as Buzz, Woody and Buzz are in many ways the polar opposites of toys, but this drives the movie on to the soaring heights that it does reach. The rest of the voice cast is also absolutely perfect from the somewhat aggressive Mr Potato Head, to the timid Rex.

The animation is also crisp, detailed and provides glorious viewing. Pixar set the benchmark for animated movies, and they’ve hit this mark, and then some time after time with lots of their feature films since Toy Story.  The debate as to the best Pixar film is one that in all probability many people have had, and it could be debated all day till the cows come home, but what is an indisputable fact, is Pixar’s maiden feature film revolutionised the genre of animated movies, etched itself into popular culture. It has themes of friendship and respect that we can all relate to, and is one of the best animated movies ever made.  To Infinity and Beyond, indeed.

In a word, perfect. From the voice acting, to the screenplay, to the animation, to the story. One for kids and adults to adore in equal measure, and deservedly so.

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