Descending Further Into Quality

Descendants 2

 

Robbie K here with a little change up.  Instead of hitting the silver screen with this review, I analyze the latest Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) to premier tonight.  Our film focus tonight, the sequel to Disney’s latest merchandise extravaganza Descendants.  If you don’t know what this series is about, it focuses on the offspring of the Disney villains and their quest to find themselves amidst a plethora of chaotic assignments.  Like many DCOMs, legendary director Kenny Ortega returns to bring you music and kid-friendly drama that keeps breathing life into Disney Channel.  Tonight, the sequel is back to keep the momentum going and try to retain some quality back to the cable network.

 

LIKES:

 

Villain Kids:  In most movies, the story is only as good as the antagonists to fight and in this case Uma (China Anne McClain) is an improvement over last movie’s band of baddies.  Descendants one tried to reinstate the classic baddies, with subpar casting and actors who semi looked the part. The direction of the movie though put the kids in the forefront and the villains in the back, resulting in rather boring/cheesy performances.  With the kids being the focus, the new villain of Uma gets the focus and development needed, and her malicious planning are nice qualities.  Her second in command Harry Hook (Thomas Doherty) is the enforcer who has some mad skills to bring to the table and actually does something to up the ante in a rather calm series.  With kids at the focus, the doors open wide for more adventure at hand.

 

The Message:  DCOM movies are all about teaching a lesson, and Descendants 2 keeps that time honored magic alive.  Where Descendants was all about not being your parents and marking your own path, the sequel focuses on finding yourself as the main theme.  A good lesson we can all use a refresher on that only loses a little power by the preachy delivery.  Of course, there are other minor plots to help teach a few more subjects on friendship, courage, confidence, and knowing when a rule needs to have a new spin. All good messages for young ones to get bombarded with, and an applause at Disney doing it right.

 

The Story:  The first movie did a nice job introducing all the relationships of the world while embedding it in plots of doing villains’ bidding, but also battling yourself when morals conflict. Yet the story was very simple and lacked the kick that it needed to be fully entertaining.  Descendants 2 was a step up, building on those relationships and using them to tell a new story that involved exploring more of the isle.  The added “suspense” was again a step in the right direction, and the increased urgency only brought more suspense to the mix. 

 

The Songs:  By far my favorite component was the soundtrack.  After seeing Descendants a thousand times over the last two years, I made my list and found only a couple of songs I found timeless.  In this installment, the five out of six tracks will most likely be coming to my Ipod.  The dance numbers were much better for me and they fit very well into the theme of the movie instead of just being jammed in at random intervals ( see Evil Like Me and Ridiculous).  The new soundtrack has edge and really kicks up the beat.  Nice improvements guys.

Acting:  One thing I must give props to though, is the acting.  Descendants cast is super talented and each brings a dynamic energy to the movie that really sparks magic into the DCOM world.  Dove Cameron steals the show with her fantastic ability to direct a character and mold it into a believable performance.  She also brings singing and dancing to the mix that mirrors the emotions present in her character. Cameron Boyce as Carlos has the energy and moves to impress, even more this time with the dance numbers.  Sofia Carson is brains, beauty, and passion with focus on her singing coming out in this movie.  Sofia’s dramatic air somehow brings the group together and keeps the extreme personalities grounded.  Booboo Stewart as Jay has more lines in this movie, and brings that action packed, stunt oriented edge the movie continues to need.  Just maximize his talents more please.  Finally Mitchell Hope does a nice job as King Ben, reprising his well to the full effect and refining it to meet the needs of the scene.  The cast’s chemistry is impressive and Ortega’s guidance keeps things strong, selling the relationships that this movie depends on.  

Dislikes:

 

Dropped plot elements: If you haven’t followed the animated shorts and accompanying books, then this won’t affect you.  However, the super fanbase will note other characters missing from Auradon’s halls.  Many characters are absent in this film, and even those from the first film have been reduced to back burner secondary appearances with little involvement in the main plot.  Audrey, Jane, even Doug are not nearly as involved, most likely to give the newbies more screen time.  Unfortunately…

New elements lacking:  Outside of Uma and maybe Harry, many of the new characters are also reduced to smaller roles than I anticipated.  Newcomers Dizzy (Anna Cathcart) and Gil (Dylan Playfair) have been the highlights of the recent advertising campaign, but sadly don’t do much in this film.  In addition, many of the dramatic buildups, foreshadowing, and magic are actually played less than I originally thought.  Guess dancing and sword fighting are more important than complete plots.  One warning I have for future installments is to not grow so big to drop other characters, or face the threat of devouring yourself by inconsistencies.

Rushed Plot:  Descendants holds a lot of potential to be an epic tale, and that first book by De La Cruz was an epic introduction filled with that potential.  The movies unfortunately have lost that balance and go for the rather rushed conclusions that make many DCOMs lacking.  Number 2 did not improve on this element, but worsened as they tried to shove too many plots into the short run-time.  Much of the conflict is dropped quickly, the tasks and trials are rapidly completed, and new elements are haphazardly dropped without any buildup or heat.  I know they are shooting for time constraints, but with something this big… you can take your time and go a little longer.  Younger audiences won’t care about this, but older ones like me would appreciate a little more dramatic play ups.  In addition, don’t set up potential plots and drop them like a bad habit (see Chad Charming subplot).  That incomplete presentation is a little disappointing with legendary directors in the mix.

 

Anticlimatic ending:  I know, this is a movie geared for younger generations, we can’t have too violent of a fight.  The sword fight did a decent job of bringing the appropriate action especially the tangle between Harry and Jay (Booboo Stewart).  However, another struggle at the end showed off some semi-decent computer work in a very…bland manner.  I can’t reveal much more, but an epic tangle could have come in that wasn’t so…abruptly stopped.  Kids watch lion King, Aladdin, and Incredibles, they can handle more than G rated punches.  Add some “fire” to the mix, or throw in some close calls to mix things up and actually bring fear to the mix.

 

The Verdict:

 

Overall, Descendants 2 stepped its game up on many levels with their villains, story, and songs.  Yet it still succumbs to the modern spin on DCOMs to go for musical gimmicks and diluted themes that while entertaining are not the only sustenance of the film.  Descendants 2 story has room for improvement in regards to integrating its characters more, and could take a lesson from the books in regards to adding some suspense to the film.  Still, it is one of the better DCOMs I have seen in a long time, and certainly the more impressive sequel to grace the small screen.  With a little more work and some other feedback from you fans… Descendants 3 (which I feel will come) can be even more exciting. 

 

My scores:

 

Family/Musical/Adventure/Fantasy: 8.0

Movie Overall:  6.0

Revving Up To A Better Story

Cars 3

 

“I am Speed!” A quote that will live on forever in the minds of the 2000 generation, movie quote boards, and the status of Disney fans.  For those not remembering the quote, or not realizing what this review is about, it is Lightning McQueen’s catchphrase in the famous Cars series.  Pixar’s work about living Cars took the world by storm long ago, but a flat tire left it stranded behind its cousins.  After a detour with the second installment, Cars 3 attempts to change tires and redeem itself on the winner circle.  And it’s my job to commentate and analyze the movie.  Let’s rev up and take off with another Robbie movie review.

 

LIKES:

Animation:  Let’s get the obvious out of the way, Pixar continues to prove they rock at making things move.  Cars 3 is beautifully detailed, stylish, slick, and fluid on all levels from the skidding tires to simply drinking oil at a local garage bar.  Unlike its sequels, the movie really focuses on the fast-paced world of racing, and brings the full effects of Disney animation to life. All the excitement is captivating and exciting, perfect for many audience members of all ages. And with all the new characters plenty of room for merchandising.

 

Soundtrack: Most Disney fans often won’t pay attention unless it is a flashy, over the top musical number famous from the renaissance of the 90s (and Frozen).  Well although not the famous show stopping sequences, Cars 3 has a nice collaboration of song covers to classic songs that is sure to bring up some nostalgia.  While not as good as the originals for me, I enjoyed most of the twists in this movie and felt they were appropriately placed in the film.  Certainly, not the most unique soundtrack, but strong nonetheless.

 

Comedy:  Good news, Cars 3 is still funny, but even more importantly it doesn’t rely on comedy as the only gimmick.  Rather than relying on Mater’s childlike innocence and stupidity, Cars 3 was able to bring some wit to the table and with it some dynamic comedy.  Mater still has some quips to throw into the film, but the rest of the gang has some well-timed jabs that touch on a variety of topics and styles, which again, will hit most members of the audience.

Story: The team must have taken a step back and analyzed the blue prints of their tale.  Cars 3 story is miles above Car2, dropping into the character development and life lessons made famous in the first film.  It is jam packed full of emotion, with gripping tales all coming together into a very compact package. With exciting races built into the story, the movie keeps a nice pace and remains fun to watch while also being educational.  No convoluted tales of quirky action or stretches here folks, it’s just classic country lifestyle.

 

DISLIKES:

Depressing: This really doesn’t reveal anything, but much of this movie is quite depressing.  While there is certainly a broad range of emotions “racing” through this film, I can say a good chunk is spent in the downer zone. While the kids will have a few moments that might upset them, adults are going to really take the blunt of the depression in this movie.  The trailers have already hinted at the message, but they didn’t prepare me for the intensity this movie has at times.  Fortunately, they relieve that melancholy with fun moments, but somehow Pixar keeps that sullen moment in your mind.

 

Old jokes: I told you they did a nice job balancing jokes, but I didn’t say perfect, did I?  Cars 3 gets a little obsessive with one joke category and starts to rely on it a little too much.  These jokes at times is the perfect icing on the cake, but often it goes with that depressing component I told you about.  I found the fun starting to leave and the sadness starting to set on… way to go Pixar, depressing comedy.  Still, your kids will laugh and might pick up a few annoying phrases to throw at you in the process.

 

Characters dropped:  Like many Disney films, the studios find a way to dump on the old to bring in the new. While certainly not the worst example of dropping characters, Cars 3 reduced many of your favorite character to background characters delivering somewhere between 1-5 lines.  So those heavy on Mater, Sally, and the rest of the gang need to lower your expectations, and prepare to fall in love with the new guys on hand.  This disproportion of characters is certainly sad to see, and while I do enjoy many of the new characters, you can’t help but long to have the old and new world blend a little more together.

The VERDICT:

Cars 3 was certainly rebuilt from the wreckage of the last movie.  The animation remains stunning, brought to full throttle with the exciting races thrown into the mix.  Pixar makes the tale funny and with a much deeper, enriching story than number 2.  Unfortunately for the audience above the age of 15, a somber mood hangs over much of this movie and it lacks a good balance of integrating old with the new.   There are some other components I could comment on, but I’m out of room so you’ll have to see for yourself.  Nevertheless, Cars 3 is definitely worth a trip to the theater folks, and probably the leading blockbuster of this weekend’s new releases. 

 

My scores:

Animation/Adventure/Comedy: 8.0

Movie Overall: 7.0

Beast

It’s finally here, the live action telling of a beloved story that Disney made memorable years ago.  Yes, I’m talking about Beauty and The Beast my friends, and tonight I’m here to share my thoughts.  Now let’s get this laid down now, I’m going to look at it as its own movie and do my best to minimize the masterpiece.  So please don’t cast aside the review if I tread on any ground.  With that said, let’s get started to see if the modern retelling has what it takes to stand out in the world.

 

LIKES:

  • Follows the Classic Plot Well
  • The Setting is beautiful
  • Costume
  • Animation (for the most part)
  • Casting is well-done
  • Cogsworth and Lumiere

 

Summary:  You may hear others say the movie is spot on with the 1991 telling.  Not entirely true, but this rendition keeps about 80% of the Tale as Old as Time to please the classic fans, while adding some tangents to give it a twist.  To quote a friend, “the new spins are built around the fans from the 90s generation to entertain”. It works for the most part, adding depth to the characters and giving the emotional kick older audience members will appreciate.  And while sticking to the story is good start, the next magical step is how well they brought it to life in the visuals.  Beauty and The Beasts charming country side and castles, are brought out in spectacular detail via breathtaking scenery shots and detail oriented settings that are worthy of recognition.  Next dress our characters in wonderful costumes fitting of the landscape, with special emphasis on the traditional Belle Dress and Beast coat that remains timeless, and you again get more magic.  Finally add in the animation, realistic, fluid, and somewhat mirroring the classic style most fell in love with, and you have a great combination. Of note, there are times when things get trippy, or not done quite as well, but overall solid around.  All in all, Disney’s abilities to blend these elements together are impressive, and this reviewer gives them their well-deserved props.

 

In terms of casting, there is a mixed response to the cast assembled.  Again, they are not the originals (which I did miss), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t bad just the sameEmma Watson is charming, smart, and courageous (all elements we have seen just without the wand), which works for the protagonist.  Dan Stevens I guess does well for the few scenes he isn’t covered in CGI fir, but in his monstrous form delivers his lines with surprising depth. But it is Lumiere and Cogsworth who stole the show for me.  I worried, I’d be robbed of their relationship, but that wasn’t the case.  Ewen McGreggor and Ian McKellan stepped up the role, delivering their well-written lines that had me laughing in delight.  The rest did well, but I need to move on, so let’s just say for the most part, this movie’s casting was well-done.

 

 

 

DISLIKES:

  • The Music
  • Le Fou’s Changes (at times)
  • Times Forced Acting
  • Coincidental Moments
  • Missing Charm of 1991

 

Summary:  The music, a staple of Beauty and The Beast that is almost as timeless as the story.  This rendition has put their own spin on it, while trying to keep the backbone of the original.  Most numbers work, albeit obviously auto-tuned and missing some of the magic, with their own whim, but the song Gaston was a number I did not enjoy for everything it lacked.  Ironically the original tunes I found to be better composed, packed with emotion and not seeming a diluted version, but its weakness came in how they seemed randomly thrown in (yes in an effort to add more emotional develop to the cast).  Overall the changes aren’t absolutely awful, they just didn’t have the same bite as the classics did, unless you count shock factor from either some cheesiness/trippiness).

 

Other changes that I didn’t quite like were Le Fou’s changes.  Le Fou is supposed to be his name sake, the fool who is comedic relief as the joke, before getting his just desserts. Josh Gadd’s rendition wasn’t so much a fool, as a smart alec, clingy, admirer who made slick comments and kept his idol at bayAgain, the deeper development is appreciated, but this drastic change kind of meant his name should have been changed as well, perhaps to Petit Malin?

 

Changes aside, the acting is capable of bringing the characters to life, but there are moments where things are a little forced.  Some of the Beasts Temper tantrums, a few of Belle’s stoic speeches, and Gaston’s attempts to be devious, all of these hit their overacted moments at times. Maurice in particular had the worst delivery of them all, the eccentrics lost to just bad delivery and over exaggeration.  And while this made me laugh, there were a few conventional moments that were a bit cheesy (as stated by some in the movie).  Most of these coincidental moments are ignorable, but one scene in particular was an anticlimactic finish at the end where something just happened to break at the right time.

 

All of these moments alone aren’t too bad, but many of the changes brought into this film brought it more into the adult/realistic and took away from the fun, whimsical nature of the movie. The design of the characters, the emotional subplots, even the music were lacking that element of childlike fun that made the movie so memorable for me.  Doesn’t mean it isn’t still entertaining, I just really missed that element.

 

The VERDICT:

 

With the big shoes the original left, this telling did a decent job appealing to many.  It is a well-developed remake of the story, with a wonderful cast and setting to bring it to life and capture your heart.  While the music didn’t quite reach the same heights, and some changes took away the energy, this film certainly has much of the magic that rose promised years ago. Go in there with a clear mind and try not to compare, and you’ll be fine. I recommend this for a theater visit (as if I could stop you) and hope you enjoy. 

 

My scores are:

Family/Fantasy/Musical: 8.5

Movie Overall: 7.0

 

 

Have Funna, Watching Moana

moana

            It wouldn’t feel like Thanksgiving without a Disney animated feature to grace the silver screen.  And this weekend the animation studios are at it again with another masterpiece sure to be nominated for best animated picture of the year.  The name of the movie this time is Moana, a tale of Polynesian mythology wrapped up in a nice, Disney magical package.  Will this movie net Disney the best picture of the year award, or is it just another filler until Pixar’s next work?  Robbie K happy to bring you another review this holiday season.  Let’s get started.

 

LIKES:

  • Fun, new setting
  • Comedy
  • Soundtrack was kicking

 

We all know Disney makes fun films, but Moana’s fun comes in form of the beautiful settings of the Pacific. Stepping away from the castles, this film will enchant you as you set sail on the majestic oceans and the mythical creatures that inhabit them.  The world is colorful and dynamically shaded to match the tones of the film, which give the film a little energy to spice things up. No surprise, the animation is fluid (as always) as realistic movements (both living and nonliving) are captured in this breathtaking CGI. While I didn’t see it in 3-D, this film’s design would have popped out more with the special effects, therefore earning a recommendation to give it a try if you wish.

But a Disney movie isn’t just about the scenery, oh no you have to have characters that make you laugh and you can latch onto.  Moana continues this trend, with the lead character (Moana) being the ever inspiring, girl power rocking, role model that most leads are.  In terms of laughs though, Maui has you covered on this field.  Dwayne Johnson delivers in the film, his bold, brash, and loud delivery matching the charisma of the demi-god. The hero has plenty of silly qualities to him, clever one-liners, slapstick antics, and a dancing tattoo which kept me laughing through most of the film.  Throw in an idiotic chicken and anthropomorphic ocean and the you get a unique team for tickling your funny bone.

My favorite aspect of this movie though has to be the soundtrack. This movie finally took a step back into the Disney renaissance world.  A fantastic orchestra work sets the stage for adventure, bold brass instruments blaring and drums pounding as the boat coasts out into the wild.  Other scenes have a more elegant touch to them to match the touching moments, rounding out the emotion of the film in a complete package. But many will fall in love with the original music our cast composes, bringing the upbeat, inspirational tone that will have young and young at heart hitting repeat over and over again.  The soundtrack was perfect for this movie, and yours truly loved the islander twist to spice the tunes up.

 

DISLIKES:

  • Not as exciting as other adventures
  • Unnecessary scenes
  • Missed potential

 

While Moana was fun and beautiful, it wasn’t the most thrilling tale to grace the library. The film lacked suspense for me, never finding myself at the edge of my seat fearing for our heroes. Perhaps it was the obvious foreshadowing, or the fact that very little of the threats seemed deadly, but more cuddly and silly.  Plus, the character development was a little lacking at times, so there didn’t seem the looming threat of Disney killing a favorite character.  Without the excitement, the adventure did grow a bit dull in terms of thrills, but fortunately the fun and animation make up for it. 

An even stronger dislike was how unnecessary some of the scenes were in the film for me.  A few of the moments, were impromptu sequences meant to instill a sense of urgency, an effort I appreciate.  However, the urgency had already been established and these scenes added little to the overall emotion or plot of the story.  Unfortunately, the biggest sting was entering one “supposedly” dangerous island that Maui builds up.  It had such build up and potential, and then they dropped it.  This island could have been a very unique and dangerous world that added some edge and diversity to the film in regards to bizarre flora and fauna.  Yet, they quickly skimmed over this part to get to an obnoxious character (the conflict with him rather lackluster), which left me a tad disappointed. Sadly, no other creatures or beasts appeared from the depths to enhance the adventure, nor any major challenges to gradually enhance the skills of our heroes. The bottom line of this dislike, is that the editing was slightly off track for this reviewer and could have been expanded upon to add more depth and excitement to the film.

 

The VERDICT

 

Moana is another fine example of how awesome Disney is at animation. Beautiful visuals bring alive a unique world that will make you crave to be on the majestic waters of the pacific islands.  In addition, it’s a very fun movie that contains both laughs and music to instill the positive energy that Disney films love to do around the holidays. Despite all of this though, it wasn’t the most exciting adventure for me and I really would have liked to see more of the mythology brought into the tale to further develop our loveable characters (and more of the cute pig too). Still, this film is worth visiting in the theaters for all ages and will spread some early holiday joy over you and those you love. 

 

My scores:

 

Animation/Adventure/Comedy:  8.5

Movie Overall: 7.5

This Marvel Film Is Certainly Magical

dr-strange

            Behold and “Marvel” as Disney churns out yet another superhero film in an already oversaturated year.  Yet this weekend Benedict Cumberbatch is taking a shot at taking the comic book hero lead in Doctor Strange. Many may not have heard of the celestial wizard charged with guarding the dimensions, and therefore may cock your eyebrows at what the celestial wizard has to offer. So yours truly is going to do his best to give you the scoop on the latest movie to flock theaters. As always sit back, relax and enjoy the review my friends.

 

LIKES:

  • Benedict Cumberbatch as the lead
  • A bizarre twist on the Marvel formula
  • Well-tuned graphics

 

Please tell me you aren’t surprised to hear that Cumberbatch is awesome. Once more the dynamic actor impresses me at his ability to play multiple emotions in such a balanced manner.  Arrogance pours from him at the beginning, nothing new from his Sherlock days, but gradually transitions into weakness, madness, and confidence as his training progresses.  Cumberbatch delivers his lines to perfection all while maintain sorcerer like image that is famous of Dr. Strange. While the other actors nail their parts as well (Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, and Tilda Swinton), much of the screen time is dedicated to the leading actor and his tricks.

 

Speaking of tricks, Doctor Strange deviates from the usual flash bang of the Marvel movies but instead trades it for balance.  First off the character development is stronger than other films, using training montages to not only strengthen his magic but also teach life lessons to our doctor.  Throughout the journey the humor remains, but it’s much drier and well timed than the famous Marvel one liners. Yet you shouldn’t worry that this is just one big mystical training session. Oh no, Doctor Strange has plenty of action to light up the screen, only this time it involves using spells outside of bad luck for our combatants to brawl with.  Yes, rather than explosions and state of the art technology, Strange’s arsenal is all about manipulating the dimensional energy flow to generate weapons. As a result, the fights are a little more evolved and clever rather than straight up brawls. It’s odd at times, but it’s a nice deviation from the combat the other installments choose.

 

And how is the combat brought to life?  With amazing CGI that should be nominated for a few technology awards.  The simplistic spells are the usual tricks of the trade, bright, multicolored lights that are fluid and dynamic in motion.  One step up are the mystical weapons that our sorcerers hold, a little higher up on the impressive scale, but still nothing Harry Potter hasn’t done before (Cloak of Levitation).  No the real masterpiece is seeing the world twisted like origami, watching settings fold, tuck, and converge into a dynamic battle ground to play in.  How else to describe it?  Think of the scene in Inception where Leo trains the girl to flip buildings and amp that up by ten.  Seeing the world fracture as it does was certainly a magical feat on its own, one that might be worth a 3-D viewing…assuming you don’t get sick.

 

 

DISLIKES:

  • Not the most exciting
  • A bit hokey at times
  • Hard to Follow Battles

 

 

Despite all the wonderful things this movie has to offer it is not the most exciting thing to visit the Marvel Universe. The focus on character development slows the pace of the movie down and much of the battle lacked the fast pace I’m so used to seeing (Avengers, Civil War, and Iron Man 1). It wasn’t bad that it was boring, it just didn’t have the suspense I like in my superhero movies. In addition to a lack of suspense at times, Doctor strange can also be hokey at moments. Yes, I know this is a superhero movie, much of this series can be hokey at times.  However, this movie’s cheesy factor comes from the grandiose hand waving gestures that tried to look mystical, but to me looked just silly.  This was particularly the case for the bad guy, who has a bit too enthusiastic in his hand waving gestures, which took some of the bite out of his evil persona. Nevertheless, the graphic at least support the flailing as artificial lights dance around and make our character look prettier.

 

Perhaps the biggest dislike for me though, was how hard some of the battles were to follow.  The constantly shifting scenery, while cool, was a little too busy at times, and often the combatants would be lost in dizzying shots. When the close combat began, the camera was a little erratic at times, which again robbed the fights of their potential to round out the mystic excitement.  Throw in that most of the other characters didn’t get to show their forte in battle and hopefully you understand why I was a little disappointed in the battles.  As an extra comment, beware those who get nauseous easily, you might find the effects to be a little sickening.

 

The VERDICT:

 

            Overall I enjoyed Dr. Strange and found it to be a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe.  This movie about the mystical sorcery arts sets the stage for more things to come, especially the end credit scenes, and was a solid film that was balanced on many levels. However, the lack of suspense and some hard to follow fights put this installment in the middle region for me. The effects and Benedict Cumberbatch should be more than enough to visit this movie in theaters, and I do recommend it for all your Marvel fans out there.

 

Action/Adventure/Fantasy:  8.0

Movie Overall: 7.0

Say Checkmate to Katwe’s Inspiration

katwe

            Robbie K here with another movie review and this time one focused on the game of…chess?  Disney Studios latest creation Queen of Katwe is a tale on a Phiona Mutesi’s journey to becoming a chess master. As there are few movies where the board game is the focus, I was interested in seeing what the entertainment giant could do with such a tale. As always, I’m here to give my thoughts on the tale. Let’s get started.

 

LIKES:

  • Good Chess Montages
  • Major Character Development
  • Inspirational

When it comes to sports movies, we always enjoy seeing scenes that involve the game right? The same thing can be said for a movie about a board game loved by so many. Disney will do their fans justice and give players plenty of shots at our players bouts on the board. Phiona’s numerous challenges are shown throughout the two hour time limit, each showing her evolution into a chess champion. If you’re not a fan of the game, don’t worry too much as the sequences move fast enough to keep it exciting and are often accompanied by her fellow chess players reacting to each move. 

But Robbie, I hate chess and therefore will certainly hate this movie! No problem my friend, Disney’s got you covered. Queen of Katwe is far more than just moving piece on a board. A large part of the plot is focused on Phiona’s life, especially on the struggle she and her family faced.  Drama lovers will eat up the family tension between mother and daughter, or perhaps get caught up in how many people looked down on the young girl and her obsession for a title. I myself appreciated the other characters’ tales running in tandem with Phiona’s tale, especially watching the coach and her fellow players grow alongside her.  The intermingled tales, alongside great actor chemistry, brings a complete tale that makes you feel a part of the Katwe Pioneers.

Amidst the drama and chess though, one will certainly find some inspiration buried in the film. Like all Disney movies, our writers have gone through great lengths to motivate their audiences to accomplish great things. Queen of Katwe is no different, as it uses orchestral work, ideal camera shots, and well written dialogue throw the emotional punch. The coach in particular preaches these lessons, using various analogies and life experiences to make his point across. Whatever message comes across to you, know that Queen of Katwe has a future place in many classrooms and Sunday Schools.

 

DISLIKES:

  • Editing/Plot Gaps
  • Intense focus on close ups instead of the game
  • Family extremes are a little too extreme

 

The major dislike for this reviewer is how unbalanced the editing was in this movie, especially in terms of the plot. As mentioned, Phiona’s tale has a lot of moving pieces, some of which have a lot of buildup and focus such as tensions with her sister or the fears of her fellow teammates). After such focus you would expect a decent wrap up right? To me, many of these plot points were dropped or hastily concluded, probably to allow more “suspenseful” game scenes or another celebration montage to premier. While this helps expand the diversity of the movie, this move weakened the story and made some of the drama kind of pointless in the end.

Plot points aren’t the only editing blunder though. Queen of Katwe’s chess scenes also suffer at times, especially in terms of making dramatic tension in the game.  If you remember movies like Bobby Fisher, you got caught up in the game as you followed each of the protagonist’s moves, with someone explaining the maneuver. The Queen however, sometimes lost that suspense either due to the quick pace they played, or that they chose to put their focus on the player’s faces.  Yes, if you wanted to see numerous close-ups of people looking tense, disappointed, and occasionally happy, you’ve come to the right movie, as our director thought this would bring more suspense. For me though, it only provided more drama and less of the game I wanted to see.

Finally the family extremes were a little too much for me.  You will find in Queen of Katwe that most of the characters are stuck to one major quality, some of which are good and others that get used a tad much.  What do I mean by this? One example is Phiona’s lack of smiling or expression at all, her lines and flat attitude doing nothing to help me relate to the character. Her mother on the other hand, lost her cool at the slightest drop, yelling at everyone, pouting, or dropping to her knees at the drop of a hat. I understand this had much to do with the harsh life, but to be subjected to these and other extremes for two hours didn’t help entertain me as much.

 

The Verdict:

Queen of Katwe gets props for the inspirational power contained in its writing and cinematography. Phiona’s tale is one with many complex pieces that revolve around character developing drama and the thrill of the game. I have no doubt many audience members will find motivation in this movie and use this to teach generations to come.  Unfortunately the editing and direction take away from this tale, and proves yet again that too many things in one movie reduces the quality. Is it worth a trip to the theater? I can’t say it is, but check this one out when it hits shelves in a few months.

 

My Scores:

Biography/Drama/Sport:  7.0

Movie Overall: 6.0

Soaring Down New Avenues: The New Pete’s Dragon Brings Some Fire

Pete's Dragon.jpg

 

Disney’s age of remakes continues strongly as they bring more cartoons to life. Their latest product is Pete’s Dragon, a whimsical, musical that many of us remember dancing to as kids. So naturally they want to try and recreate the magic with a remake. Robbie K here with another review on the latest movie to grace the silver screen, so let’s get started.

 

LIKES:

  • Elliot was animated fantastically
  • Decent story with deep emotions
  • Good Acting

 

As I mentioned, Elliot was a cartoon dragon who hummed and sang the movie away in a colorful display. So to see that two-dimensional dragon brought to life in three-dimensional computer animation was certainly awesome. Elliot’s transformation was beautifully done and incredibly detailed from the slobber of his mouth to the green mass of his fur. The dragon’s loveable mug, deep caring eyes, and magnificent persona were all captured in his design and brought with it a wave of nostalgia (minus the absence of the purple hair and tuft). In terms of his animation, again the CGI team at Disney brings top-notch work from majestic flight to blending into the background of the forest. Some people were definitely paying attention in anatomy-physiology class.

Outside of the animation, the story is surprisingly deeper than initially expected. If you remember the first movie, it was film set on whimsical music and a cute fun atmosphere. Not the case for this film. Instead of singing and dancing, this rendition chose to take a deeper journey that explored concepts like loyalty, family, and love. Despite their adventures among the forest and animated deer, Pete and Elliot’s relationship felt more like guardian and pet, rather than best pals to pull pranks with. Once the other humans joined up with him, the emotional kick only hit harder, building up to “heated” moments that tugged at your heartstrings. While I didn’t shed a tear, I can’t deny that at times I felt something brewing in my chest.

And helping bring that story to life is a well selected cast who brought their A game to the table. Bryce Dallas Howard played the overbearing, wannabe parent well, especially the overly doting atmosphere. Robert Redford, rocked as the wise man of the town, bringing comedic relief to the mix and fun grandpa atmosphere. But the real star of the show for me was Oakes Fegleyy, who played the wild Pete exactly as I expected him to be portrayed with a wild sense of curiosity matched only by his innocence and loyalty. Plus the kid knew how to act with an imaginary creature.

 

DISLIKES

  • Not as much fun
  • Diluted antagonist
  • A bit cliché at times

 

Okay the movie was still fun in its own manner, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I did the original. I missed the colors, music, and energy of the first film that held immense energy that used to have me singing and laughing for days. This movie’s more serious nature, darker color scheme, and powerful symphony music hold little of that energy. Only a few playful moments came close to that classic fun, primarily when Elliot was more like an adorable pet fetching sticks.

Another thing that I didn’t enjoy as much was the supposed “bad” guy of the film known as Gavin, played by Karl Urban. Urban did a fine job with his character, but the directing team did not design a villain as rotten as the original’s Dr. Terminus. Gavin was a single-minded boob, who had little character development, a rather lame goal, and a surprisingly effective arsenal. He brought little threat to the movie, and most of the “exciting” conflicts were actually pretty low key that robbed the film of excitement.

Finally the overly cliché moments of the movie are a bit cheesy and a bit lacking in the fulfilling department. Much of the “surprises” are not really that surprising, but instead go down the expected avenue of Disney plots. Some times these moments are actually nicely done, well designed and well orchestrated to fill you with a warm feeling. Other times these moments are very shallow and overly cheesy, like something out of an episode of Full House. However, this is a very minor weakness for me and at least brings good lessons and character development with them.

 

The Verdict:

 

            Pete’s Dragon is certainly another display of Disney’s ability to modernize their movies. Insane animation, a well-constructed cast, and an emotional story are certainly the selling points of this Disney movie. I can definitely appreciate the direction they took this in, but it still wasn’t as much fun or filled with Disney magic as the original 1977 film. Still, the young and young at heart will have fun with this movie and most likely enjoy the theatrics. I think I have told you the recommended audience to see it in the theaters, but this reviewer would state this one can wait for the RedBox.

 

My scores are:

Adventure/Family/Fantasy: 8.0

Movie Overall: 7.0