Coco Review

Following the lukewarm critical and public reception to numerous of their recent films (particularly The Good Dinosaur and Cars 3), Pixar hits home with their musical tale titled Coco. Based on the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Coco features a variety of enjoyable characters, exciting moments, and an overall light mood.

Coco follows the character of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy who dreams of becoming a famous musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), despite his family’s multi-generational hatred of music. However, through a series of unfortunate and inconvenient events, Miguel finds himself stuck in the Land of the Dead. Among the colorful people of the dead is a mischievous yet delightful man named Hector, who befriends Miguel and promises to help him return home. Together they embark on a fantastic journey that may unlock secrets to Miguel’s family.

After what I felt to be an underwhelming start, Coco really picked up around the halfway point, at a scene involving a big musical contest. Here, a variety of interesting and rousing musicians come together for a competition of sorts. This is when Pixar fully began to display their talent for entertaining animation, with a distinct visual style and plenty of heartwarming charm. This scene and beyond is when the storytelling and imagination really escalated into the Pixar methodology that people know and love.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Mexican culture or the Day of the Dead, but I can presume that we got the watered-down Disney version of the whole thing. Nonetheless, I think Coco serves as a great stepping stone for those curious in learning about another culture, especially young children.

The film even has a few nice little twists at the climax, ones that parents may see coming but kids will definitely respect. And while I was hoping the end resolve would’ve taken a morally grey direction, the message is well-crafted and communicated brilliantly.

At times, Coco tries too hard with its overly childish humor (like the comic relief dog sidekick, which was a huge misfire), and at other times it wasn’t confident enough to take the story to the next level. However, with its shortcomings easily forgivable, Coco developed into an emotionally heartwarming and visually pleasant film. A worthy entry into the Pixar canon.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Olaf’s Frozen Adventure Review

Moviegoers around the world hoping to see a cute, five-minute short with their viewing of Pixar’s Coco, are instead being kidnapped for over twenty minutes to see Disney’s Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. A Christmas special starring the cast of Frozen, this short is full of forgettable music, beautiful animation, and a runtime that seems to go on forever.

With nobody to celebrate Christmas with in the Kingdom of Arendelle, Anna and Elsa become sad when they realize they have no holiday traditions to share. That’s when their snowman friend Olaf (Josh Gad) decides to travel to the local community and find other people’s Christmas traditions to share with them.

The story, for being a Disney short, was surprisingly all over the place and had no real focus. I know that Frozen is geared towards younger audiences (who don’t care so much about focus), but even the kids in the theater seemed quite bored.

Olaf’s Frozen Christmas served more as a pointless distraction from the main event (that being Pixar’s Coco) rather than a cohesive, self-contained story. Sitting at over twenty minutes long, I became irritated with just how much time this “short” occupied. It begs the question of, “Why they didn’t just make an entire film?”. With all the hard work and effort but into the animation, why not just put the resources into making Frozen 2 at this point?

After numerous films with underwhelming box office performances, I have a feeling that Disney was a little self-conscious with Pixar’s newest venture. Therefore, they felt the need to include a Frozen Christmas special to bolster ticket sales. A bold (and sly) move.

At least, that’s the idea I’m running with.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

The Emoji Movie: The Death of Creativity

The Emoji Movie takes everything selfish and wrong with our technology-obsessed generation and wears it like a badge. The film, which revolves around smartphone emojis, exists for the sole purpose to appeal to the masses, with zero attempts at creativity made. Films like The Emoji Movie are my least favorite kind of film to watch, ones that indulge in overused tropes and treat the audience like brainless idiots.

The plot is the same boring animated adventure that you see in every sub-par kid’s film nowadays. An emoji named Gene (T.J. Miller) is sad because he is different from all of his colleagues, so he embarks on an adventure to become like everyone else. Along the way, Gene meets a couple other outcasts who show him that it’s okay to be unlike everyone else. From here, I’m sure you can easily deduce how the rest of The Emoji Movie plays out.

Rather than crafting well-timed jokes that fit into the plot, The Emoji Movie instead hits the audience with a never-ending barrage of one-off puns. Painfully bad emoji-related jokes that are fired in rapid succession throughout most of the flick. Within the first five minutes there were at least twenty emoji puns associated with Shrimp, Christmas trees, and yes, even poop.

Everything about The Emoji Movie is an animated atrocity. It’s unoriginal, uninspired, mediocre, boring, manipulative, and downright asinine. The few clever ideas that the film displays are blatantly stolen from movies like Wreck-it Ralph and Inside Out, which are both more intelligent, entertaining, and heartwarming to watch. With nonexistent characterization and absolutely no laughs, The Emoji Movie is a cynical, trendy product that I took no pleasure in viewing.

The Verdict: F

-Zachary Flint

Despicable Me 3 Review

The Despicable Me series returns with its fourth, and regrettably most tired, film in the franchise. Full of hackneyed protagonists and uneven writing, Despicable Me 3 struggles to rise above mediocrity.

The film takes place shortly after the events of the previous installment, as we see Gru (Steve Carell) and Lucy (Kristen Wiig) attempt to foil the evil plot of Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker). Upon failing this mission, Gru and Lucy are fired from their jobs at the Anti-Villain league. So instead of reverting back to a life of villainy, Gru decides to travel to the island of Freedonia to meet his long lost brother named Dru (who is also voiced by Steve Carell). After a somewhat rocky reunion, the two brothers embark on a mission together to take down an all new supervillain.

The plot itself is, overall, pretty predictable and typical for an animated movie this far along in its franchise. With no curveballs or deviations from a standard kid’s movie plot, I believe most adults and children could easily predict the entirety of this film.

The villain this time around, again named Balthazar Bratt, is a rather bizarre character stuck in eighties culture. Bratt enjoys playing cheesy music, using eighties themed gadgets (like deadly Rubik’s Cubes), and participating in dance fights, all of which is to the delight of the audience. Being voiced by Trey Parker (creator of the show South Park), his character gets a lot of laughs from his line deliveries alone. I think it’s safe to say that Trey Parker voicing Bratt was my favorite part of the whole film, and is easily the most memorable.

The rest of the cast, particularly the Minions, are sadly at their most tired in this flick. The humor involving the Minions just isn’t where it should be, and manages to be more annoying that it is funny. Scenes that should’ve been hilarious received almost no reaction from the audience.

The conclusion of the film, while fairly action-packed and engaging, leaves multiple loose ends that don’t really get addressed. Situations and characters that are clearly set up as important in the first half of the film are completely disregarded by the end. This leaves me to assume that either Illumination Entertainment forgot to add in a few scenes, or just got lazy.

Despicable Me 3 is lighthearted, upbeat, and will of course be adored by its usual fan base. So while the film is relatively harmless, its entertainment value is really only skin-deep, as the true purpose behind the production of these films feels as prevalent and cynical as ever. The creative aspects of Despicable Me 3 come across as “focus group approved” gimmicks. Utilizing by the numbers thinking as a cheap way to get viewers into the theater, instead of genuinely entertaining audiences with new, original material.

The Verdict: C-

-Zachary Flint

Cars 3 Review

In the past, I’ve made it no secret that I highly dislike Disney Pixar’s Cars and Cars 2. While most people either find the films passable or okay, I cannot stand watching even a second of them. Coming from the creative giant Pixar, we should’ve gotten a film much more imaginative and unique than something like Cars, which looks more like an idea Blue Sky Animation would conjure up. The first film is an unoriginal mess, with an all too predictable plot and lame characters. Unfortunately for audiences, Cars 2 was even worse, with an incredibly bizarre plot involving spies. So, when going in to see Cars 3, I had already established some pretty low expectations for what I was about to watch.

And to my honest amazement, I thought the film turned out pretty great. Not only did Pixar course correct some of the issues of past films, they managed to make an all-around quality movie people of all ages can enjoy.

The film follows the fleeting racing career of Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), as a new generation of advanced racers begin replacing cars like himself. In a last ditch effort to continue racing, Lightning looks to his new coach named Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) for help. And despite a rocky start, the two embark on a journey of self-discovery, learning a lot about themselves and each other.

Our main cast gets another major update for this picture, and this time for the better. All the characters, new and old, are written much stronger, with a lot more personality. Not only does Lightning McQueen get a fulfilling story arch, but Cruz Ramirez and a few other minor characters get good payoffs too. This time around I actually found myself invested in the story and the protagonists, and I wanted to see our characters succeed in their endeavors.

In the previous Cars films, most of the camera angles and shots are boring, with little variety. Cars 3 on the other hand does a complete one-eighty, constantly shaking things up with great new angles that really captured the excitement of the movie well.

The camerawork is complimented nicely by the fast-paced, crisp animation, making Cars 3 much more visually appealing than its previous installments.

The only major downside to the film is the villain, who is just your standard one dimensional bad guy with no redeeming qualities. I feel that with how strong the morals are in Cars 3, they could’ve had a better antagonist that really hit the messages home. Instead, we just get a young, generic hot-shot who occasionally hurls insults at McQueen.

While I believe the Cars movies are among Pixar’s worst, I’m happy to say that Cars 3 is a real winner. There are some fun characters, an exciting story that moves along quickly, and even a really good message about aging. Cars 3 doesn’t break new ground in any sense of the word, and it stills has its issues. However, it does excel at being a fast-paced, family-friendly adventure that is infinitely more enjoyable than its previous two installments.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Captain Underpants Review

DreamWorks has never been the company to stray away from a strange idea, hence their most recent major release, Captain Underpants.

Based on the book by the same name, the film follows the story of two mischievous elementary school kids named George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), who spend hours a day writing comic books together. Sadly, George and Harold go to an authoritarian elementary school, where their mean Principal named Benjamin Krupp (Ed Helms) wants to separate the boys into different classrooms. In a last ditch effort to save their friendship from certain demise, George and Harold hypnotize their Principal, turning Mr. Krupp into one of the boys’ comic book characters, a superhero named Captain Underpants. Now it is up to George and Harold to keep the kindhearted but dimwitted Captain Underpants under control, as he attempts to fight crime with no actual powers.

Captain Underpants is one of the most diversely animated films I’ve seen in the past few years. Sprinkled throughout its runtime, Captain Underpants utilizes countless styles of animation to help tell its story. This works extremely well, as the visuals are always delightful to look at and will be able to keep most people engaged in the story.

The majority of the film is animated using a style similar to Mr. Peabody & Sherman and The Peanuts Movie, both exceptionally good flicks. This form of animation fits nicely for Captain Underpants too, using bright colors and smooth images to make everything really pop.

Films like Captain Underpants are why I admire and respect DreamWorks more than any other animation company working today. They’re willing to take a risk on an idea that may ultimately blow up in their face. They think outside the box and go with concepts most companies wouldn’t dare dabble with. This is very different compared to a company like Pixar, who makes high quality films, but time and time again plays it safe with stories they know will be a big hit.

So was Captain Underpants high art? No. But it was entertaining, and did its source material a great justice. Captain Underpants has some funny gags and humorously written characters, and will mostly appeal to the goofy middle schooler demographic. Fans of the book are sure to love every bit of the film, and I think that’s what DreamWorks was going for here.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Nightmare Before Christmas Review

Whenever I think of stop motion animation, the first film that always comes to mind is The Nightmare Before Christmas. I’ve always found this film to be such a blast, and it fits well into my lifelong fascination with bizarre cinema. Often many people (I included) act as though it’s the Citizen Kane of stop motion. This has recently got me thinking if all the praise is really warranted?

Our story takes place in the world of Halloweentown, where Jack Skellington (Danny Elfman), the town’s beloved pumpkin king, has simply grown tired of Halloween. Yearning for something new, Jack stumbles upon the world of Christmastown, a warm and happy place dedicated to Christmas. Jack then decides that he will kidnap Santa Claus and, with the help of the Halloweentown residents, steal the holiday of Christmas for his own.

The soundtrack, composed by Danny Elfman, is one of a kind. The songs are catchy, fun, and highly memorable. It doesn’t feel like the songs were written as a side note to the story, as some Disney soundtracks often do. It’s feels more like the songs were written side by side with the story, so that they may aid in developing the plot. Each song has a very important and specific place it goes in the progression of the film.

Most of the characters, while possessing unique designs, remain pretty undeveloped the majority of the film. We see the characters interact a good amount, but never do we learn anything about them. Out of all the inhabitants of Halloweentown, there are only two or three individuals with distinct personalities. Even the main protagonist Jack Skellington has little to him. I find this to be a real shame, because there is obviously a lot of potential here for interesting, developed characters. Instead, Tim Burton and director Henry Selick obviously focused their efforts on the visual aspects of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The stop-motion animation used here, still holds up nicely today. The various shades of gray that Burton is famous for using, mixes very well with the animated element. As I mentioned before, each and every character you see has a very distinct design. Even characters you see only once or twice you can still remember fondly because of how distinguishing they are. Visually, I think this is one of Tim Burton’s strongest films, even compared to the likes of Batman and Beetlejuice.

Another argument you could make against the film is that, there really isn’t any message being given to the audience. The characters just go through the motions of the story without ever conveying anything. You could argue that the film is saying, “be satisfied with what you already have”, but I think that’s stretching it.

However, I don’t really think that was the intent of The Nightmare Before Christmas. I believe this film was just meant to tell a simple little fairy tale. No more, no less. The sights and sounds were meant to carry the story along, not any number of  characters or dialogue. The Nightmare Before Christmas accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, and I highly respect it for that.

When all is said and done, I still love watching The Nightmare Before Christmas. This film had a profound effect on me as a kid, and I get as much enjoyment out of it now as I did years ago. I love the distinct style Tim Burton gives to all the characters and the world of Halloweentown. The beautiful stop-motion animation still holds up great, and the soundtrack tells a nicely simplistic tale. It’s a film that I will continue to cherish for many years to come.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint