Dec. 29th, 2012

innocent_man: (r&g)
Brave is a Pixar movie that didn't get the same kind of love as Up or Monsters Inc, but is still very much worthy of the company.

Merida (Kelly MacDonald) is a Scottish princess who's stifling under her mother's (Emma Thompson) rules. Her father (Billy Connoly) is a bit more like her - loud, passionate, likes to fight and boast, while her mother is more staid and reserved. But Merida's real passion is archery, and so when the four clans assemble so that the firstborn sons can compete for Merida's hand in marriage, she defies her mother and tradition by competing for her own hand, handily winning an archery contest.

Which would be bad enough, but then after a blazing fight with her mother in which she slashes the family tapestry, she runs to the woods and buys a spell from a witch wood carver. Said spell takes the form of a cake that, when eaten, turns her mother (and her three little brothers) into a bear.

Turns out this happened once before - the bear-creature, Mordu, stalks the land even still! (And it's not like it's just a legend; fricking thing ate the king's leg when Merida was just a wee lass.)

The movie is a fairy tale, complete with princess. And it's easy to see why a lot of audiences thought it was nothing special. EXCEPT, you have to look at what's different.

Merida doesn't fix her problems by acquiescing, first of all. She's active, passionate and vocal, but unlike with Belle, those qualities aren't her undoing and they're not necessarily seen as bad things (her mother doesn't tell her to shut up, just to act with some decorum).

And then there's this rather important bit - Merida is a princess with two living parents. Name another one (I can't). Also, it's her mother that's the focus of the character arc. Her father is there, he's present, and he obviously loves his family, but for the most part he isn't an antagonists or a stubborn idiot (he does lock Merida in a room, but to protect her from a bear, and I kind of have to give him that one). Both Merida and Elinor have a distinct character arc, and their relationship - mother/daughter, which is never explored in kids' movies - is the focus of the story.

If I have a quibble, it's that the wood carver character and that whole scene felt cutesy enough to be out of place. The rest of the movie had a mythic quality to it, and then the wood carver has a magical phone menu? Eh. It felt like that scene was thrown in because someone didn't feel the movie was relatable enough. But really, beyond that, the movie is beautifully animated and really well acted. It might not be my favorite Pixar movie, but I like it and it definitely improves on second viewing.

My Grade: A-
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: An American Tail
innocent_man: (mouseketeer)
An American Tail is a Don Bluth animated film from the mid-80s, featuring a little very early CGI, a few not especially catchy songs, and some voice work from Dom Deluise, Madeline Kahn and Christopher Plummer as a French pigeon.

This was in the days before animated movies tended to have all-stars casts, dontchaknow, so the headliner is a mouse named Fievel (Philip Glasser). Little Fievel and his family are Russian mice (Jewish Russian mice, in fact; they're celebrating Hanukkah as the movie opens) under constant attack by cats following the Cossacks. They undertake a long journey to America, and get pretty much the same treatment as the human immigrants doing the same thing; they have stars in their eyes about how it's all awesome, but getting there, they have to struggle to make a place for themselves.

Little Fievel, though, is separated from his family en route, and the movie is really the story of him meeting various folks and getting mixed up in the anti-cat struggle for freedom (the cats are led by Warren T. Rat, who is actually a cat in disguise, and voiced by John Finnegan). And then they build a giant, firework-breathing mouse to scare the cats away, and then the movie goes on for another 20 minutes for some reason.

It's cute, and it gave us the song "Somewhere Out There" (made famous by Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram), but it's very much pre-Disney-Renaissance. The plot is thin and rambly, and though there are a couple of laughs, there's no real attempt at the more sophisticated humor we see in kids' movies now (though that said, the parallels between human and mouse culture are nice).

My grade: B-
Rewatch value: Low

Next up: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
innocent_man: (lsd)
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory is a movie based on the novel by Roald Dahl, and not, as some folks seem to think, a remake of the 1971 movie starring Gene Wilder. This one stars Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka, which means it must also have Helena Bonham Carter (yep, as Mrs. Bucket) and Christopher Lee (yep, as Unnecessary Daddy Issues). Oh, and Tim Burton directing.

I actually really like this movie. I think the modern imaginings of Veruca, Violet and Mike are perfect, and I think that Deep Roy did a fantastic job as every Oompa Loompa ever. Really, everyone in this movie is perfect except for Depp and Lee, and I can't blame Lee.

See, in the book, Wonka doesn't have a past. He's presented as this funny, eccentric but very kind old man. He is unfailingly polite to everyone in the factory (I mean, he tells a parent to go soak her head, but she totally deserves it), and he loves the factory and he likes kids. In the 1971 version, he's close to the book version but then he does the freakout at the end and there's the test with the gobstoppers and blah. In this one, he's this weird mishmash of Howard Hughes and Michael Jackson, he doesn't care about anyone else, he hates families and parents, and his dad was a dentist who refused to give him candy.

And OMG, I forgot how clumsy the flashbacks were, especially if you know the book. It really reads like Burton inserting his own issues throughout the movie, and it's completely unnecessary. And it wouldn't be so bad if the rest of the movie weren't do so skillfully.

It took a while to get this made because they had to wait for Dahl to die; he was so unhappy with the 1971 film. I have no idea how he'd feel about this one. I like it, but I kind of want to fast-forward through everything Burton added.

My grade: B+
Rewatch value: Medium

Next up: Either Elf or Fletch

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