Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Encanto (2021)

© Walt Disney Animation Studios

Encanto – Film Review

Cast: Stephanie Beatriz, John Leguizamo, María Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Jessica Darrow, Angie Cepeda, Wilmer Valderrama

Directors: Byron Howard and Jared Bush

Synopsis: In an enchanted house in the hills of Colombia, live the Madrigal family, all of whom have magical gifts that help them give back to the community.

Review: Back in 1937, a certain company called Walt Disney Productions unveiled Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the world. It was a truly historic and monumental achievement and one that would change the course of animation filmmaking forever. Though when celebrating their extraordinary accomplishment, probably not even Walt himself could have quite imagined the legacy that the film would leave. Indeed, over eighty years after that historic first film was released, the studio that bears his name would still be at the top of their game in terms of releasing top-quality animated films. Not only that, but they would be celebrating the release of their 60th animated feature film and a very magical one at that.

Set in the hills of Colombia, the Madrigal family live in an enchanted house that they call the Casita. Through incredible magic, each descendant of the family is granted an extraordinary gift. The Madrigal family, via their magical gifts, give back to the vibrant community that has built up over the years since the Casita was built. Though there’s one member of the family who doesn’t have a gift of any kind, and that is Mirabel (Beatriz). Due to her lack of a magical gift, Mirabel is convinced that she’s not as special as the rest of her family. However, when an incident threatens to erase the magic of the Casita, the task falls to Mirabel to establish what’s going on and to save the magic before it is too late.

With any animated film that is produced by the House of Mouse, it is a formality that the film’s animation is going to be flawless. After the previous 59 films, one would suspect that they have seen the best animation that the studio has to offer. Yet, with each new film that has its stamp, they continue to surprise and delight in equal measure. In the same way that Raya and the Last Dragon represented a landmark moment for representation for Southeastern Asian communities, Encanto does that, and more for the country of Colombia. The Colombian community is vibrant and colourful, and it’s clear that the filmmakers have gone to great lengths to honour this culture on screen. Furthermore, the magic that brings the Casita to life, and the breath-taking magical gifts of the Madrigal family are vibrant and leap off the screen.

Each member of the family has their own unique gift, whether it’s Luisa with her extraordinary strength, Isabela with her ability to make flowers appear at will, or Antonio’s ability to talk to animals. It would therefore be easy for the protagonist Mirabel to be, as she is the only family member sans magical powers, to be unmemorable. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. While she might be perceived as weird and different by the rest of her family, what Mirabel lacks in magical ability, she makes up for in her courageousness and bravery. She’s determined to be the one to save the magic of the Encanto and to save her family, and Stephanie Beatriz’s voice performance imbues her with the personality of a role model that anyone, especially those who hail from Latin America, can aspire to be.

2021 has already been quite the year for Lin-Manuel Miranda. First, there was the big-screen adaptation of his hit musical In the Heights, next came his directorial debut. Finally, to round out his phenomenal year, he reunites with Disney for another match made in heaven collaboration. Having worked to great effect with the Mouse House with the music and lyrics for Moana, Miranda is once again back on songwriting duty for this unique celebration of Colombian culture. The songs have the unique Lin-Manuel Miranda signature to them, hence making them all extremely catchy and enjoyable to listen to.

However, given the plethora of soaring and memorable ballads that have been heard in previous films, akin to Miranda’s “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana or a “Let it Go” from Frozen, there’s nothing that soars to quite the extent that those aforementioned songs do. The film’s narrative is definitely one you’ll have seen from previous Disney films, but the sheer quality of the craft of the animators, and the loving depiction of Colombian culture, ensures that Disney hits this creative landmark in beautiful style.

Filled with dazzling and vibrant animation, the narrative beats may be somewhat familiar, but even after 60 films down, the House of Mouse still has that magical touch.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)

Image is property of Warner Animation Group and Lord Miller Productions

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part – Film Review

Cast: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph

Director: Mike Mitchell

Synopsis: When alien invaders attack the city of Bricksburg, it leaves the city in ruins an several people are abducted, leaving Emmet Brickowski with no choice but to step up and save his friends…

Review: “Everything is awesome,” three simple words, and ones that whenever you heard them back in 2014 transported you to a world of bricks, and tiny yellow men and women, otherwise known as Lego. For decades, these simple bricks have provided children with endless hours of fun. So when a film about these bricks was announced, many assumed it would be a film marketed as a cash grab just to sell more bricks. However, it turned out to be a really witty and extremely entertaining piece of film-making. This is of course is 2014’s The Lego Movie, and yes everything was awesome with that film.

A couple of spin offs have followed in its wake, but now we have a direct sequel that picks up immediately from the first film. Everything seems to be going well until the city of Bricksburg comes under attack from some outer space visitors. Their attack has wreaked havoc on the city, turning it into a desolate wasteland of a very similar ilk to the Mad Max franchise. Years later, and despite the bleak circumstances, Emmet’s positive outlook on life has not diminished. However, that is put to the test when a subsequent attack results in the abduction of among others, Lucy and Batman by a threat from outer space, leaving Emmet with no choice but to rescue the ones he cares about.

Back when it came out, the first film was such a wonderful, innovative breath of fresh air, and extremely entertaining to boot, helmed magnificently by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Though the duo, are now merely on board as writers/producers, t’s clear that their influence comes to the fore and new director Mike Mitchell continues on the trajectory that was set by Miller and Lord. Inevitably, as tends to be the case with sequels, it does mean that it doesn’t feel nearly as fresh or innovative when compared to its predecessor.

The animation and the voice work are once again excellent, with Chris Pratt lending his voice not just to Emmet, but to a fearless warrior named Rex Dangervest, who feels like what would happen if the Lego counterparts of Han Solo and Star Lord had a child. There is an aspect to this story, concerning Tiffany Haddish’s character that could leave some viewers a bit frustrated as it’s a bit superficial, and not very well executed. This isn’t to say that there is nothing substantial as there are some elements, particularly towards the end that are much stronger in terms of the messages they deliver.

However, with plenty of extremely amusing references to some other pop culture properties, it keeps the plot moving along. These will keep the adults entertained, as unfortunately the film unlike its predecessor does feel more aimed at the younger demographics. Furthermore, while “Everything is Awesome” was this insanely infectious piece of delightful pop music that was impossible not to love, this movie’s version of that song is not quite as catchy, or indeed memorable, despite its best effort to be exactly that.

Not as innovative or as witty as its predecessor(s), and the story is hit or miss with its messages. Yet some extremely entertaining pop culture references ensure that this is a mixed, but entertaining, bag of bricks.