Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Review

With the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, I’ve decided to review the film that kicked off this billion dollar series.

The story, full of sword-clashing, swashbuckling pirates, takes place near the Caribbean Sea, in a city called Port Royal. There we meet the charming and absurd pirate named Captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp), who is down on his luck with no crew and no ship. Sparrow’s arrival to Port Royal turns out to be most unfortunate, when the city is besieged by a ship of undead pirates. In the process of raiding the city, the pirates kidnap the governor of Port Royal’s daughter, named Elizabeth Swan (Keira Knightley), who they believe is the key to breaking an ancient curse. It’s now up to a valiant blacksmith (Orlando Bloom) in love with Elizabeth, as well as an incredibly reluctant Jack Sparrow, to rescue her from the cursed pirates.

I believe that Pirates is a great example of how to perfectly craft an action-adventure film. It maintains just the right balance of sword fights and ship battles, while also exploring new and exotic locations. Because of this pleasant balance of features, the audience is never really given time to get disinterested in what’s happening on-screen.

The characters are all memorable and entertaining to watch, especially Johnny Depp’s character of Jack Sparrow. His constant mannerisms resemble that of an eccentric drunk. Sparrow is full of hilariously shrewd comments, and knows just how to get on the nerves of any character. He kind be an idiot at times, but also cunning and resourceful. A great mix of traits for an impeccably written protagonist.

Jack Sparrow is, for good reason, the staple protagonist of Pirates, a very fitting role for Johnny Depp. Even in the most dangerous of situations, Jack Sparrow (as well as our other protagonists) remains humorous and witty. That, I feel, is part of the charm of Pirates of the Caribbean. What could easily be consumed with an extremely dark and gritty story, is kept at a relatively upbeat level. An unfortunate flaw of its many sequels.

I savor every scene in which Jack Sparrow miraculously escapes the British, or even some abandoned island. And I appreciate the attempt of director Gore Verbinski to make an entertaining and worthwhile movie. Making a thrilling film based off a theme park ride is no simple task, and Disney sure delivered.

The Verdict: A-

-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

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales finally jumps the shark for this tiresome series.

Taking place some years after On Stranger Tides, a luckless Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) is now being pursued by his old nemesis, a ghost pirate named Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). The only thing that may be able to save the life of Sparrow is the legendary Trident of Poseidon, which has the ability to break any curse. Jack must now form an alliance with Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), the son of William Turner, as well as a young astronomer named Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), to find this legendary artifact before it’s too late.

The first few scenes of the film gave the impression that I’d be seeing a much better flick than I did. Scenes were shot and paced nicely, and I was pretty interested in what was happening. Unfortunately for the audience, Pirates totally gives up very early on. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment the film jumps the shark and accepts that it’s going to put in zero creative effort. That’s when Gibbs (played by Kevin McNally), and the rest of Jack’s crew, pull an entire building by horseback throughout a city. From here, everything goes downhill fast.

The entire returning cast looked particularly grim and out of it. As if Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush have grown tired of playing these roles. Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley were also conned into returning for a few moments, and they too looked annoyed to be back. These are no longer the cool, swashbuckling pirates we used to know. Now, they’re clearly just actors antsy to finish this lingering franchise.

On the topic of Jack Sparrow, I feel that the writers for the first time actually wrote him incorrectly. That his personality here is far different from in any other Pirates of the Caribbean movie. In previous films, while Jack could be an idiot at times, he was also conniving and devious. He knew how to double-cross others in clever ways, ways that benefited his own gain. In Dead Men Tell No Tales, he’s just a bumbling buffoon with little charm or spunk. Nothing that made his character memorable or creative in the first few movies was in this flick.

Another aspect that really bothered me about Pirates was the female lead, played by Kaya Scodelario. Instead of actually writing a strong female character, the filmmakers felt it would be better if they just told us how independent, strong, smart, and better she is than everyone else. Resulting in a poorly written character that comes off as arrogant, in constant need of being saved, and as interesting as tree bark. The moral of the story being: Show, don’t tell.

Even the most refreshing character in the film, Captain Armando Salazar (played by Javier Bardem), was the weakest written villain in the whole series. I’m usually a big fan of Bardem, but here is regrettably boring. Just like everyone else in the flick, he kind of just goes through the motions and doesn’t really stand out too much. Apart from his appearance, I can’t remember a single thing about his personality or motivations.

Sadly, the conclusion of the film feels rushed and very unsatisfying. After dragging its feet for two hours, Pirates feels the need to tie all its loose ends with one quick swoop, producing an ending that is sure to leave viewers saying: “That’s it?” Knowing that this may be how we’re left remembering the characters forever, I find Dead Men Tell No Tales to be insulting.

I cannot in good conscience recommend this to anyone. As a huge fan of the first three Pirates movies, I feel that I’ve more than put up with sloppy and convoluted writing here and there. However, this is the straw that really breaks the camel’s back. Not only did Dead Men Tell No Tales manage to be worse than On Stranger Tides, it ruined the character of Jack Sparrow for me. It’s safe to say that I’ve completely run out of patience for this careless, dead in the water franchise.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Born in China Review

This most recent installment of the Disneynature documentary series, titled Born in China, was directed by Lu Chuan and narrated by John Krasinski (The Office).

Born in China follows the interesting lives of various animals native to China. These animals include a Panda named Ya Ya, a Snow Leopard named Dawa, and a Monkey named Tao Tao. We the audience get taken on an adventure to see these animals at their highest, and lowest moments in life.

I was surprised at how well Born in China was able to tell a cohesive narrative with these animals. It seems that all the cards fell perfectly into place for the filmmakers, as these animals all live incredibly fascinating lives. They dealt with matters pertaining to family, growing up, death, and the struggle for survival. Overall, everything in the film flowed very well, and kept my attention easily.

Dealing with animals that live in remote parts of China, Born in China served as a good learning tool for the audience. We learn about the vast open landscapes of China, as well as the harsh realities that nature has in store. Having limited knowledge about these animals, I really enjoyed the educational aspect of the documentary.

There were occasional line deliveries from the narrator that came off as awkward and completely unnecessary. At times where we should’ve been just observing the animals interacting with one another, we had to listen to ignorant comments made by the narrator. These comments were cute once in a while, but for the most part just annoying.

Despite the issues in the narration, Born in China remains an atmospheric and educational little documentary. Just like the other Disneynature films, it was entrancing to watch and delightful to experience.

The Verdict: B

-Zachary Flint

The Little Mermaid Review

As a kid, I always remember The Little Mermaid being one of my favorite Disney cartoons. It had just about everything a kid like me could want in a movie. The animation is great, characters a lot of fun, and the story an all around fantastic experience.

The Little Mermaid takes place in the underwater kingdom of what I presume to be Atlantis, where a young, rebellious mermaid named Ariel (Jodi Benson) is preoccupied with human life on land. One day Ariel swims to the ocean surface, where she immediately falls in love with a prince named Eric (Christopher Daniel Barnes). Since falling in love with a human is something her father King Triton (Kenneth Mars) strictly prohibits, Ariel is forced to make a deal with a witch named Ursula (Pat Carroll) in order to become a human. Now it is up to Ariel to get the prince to fall in love with her in just three days, or else she will reap the consequences of her dangerous deal with Ursula.

The main protagonist of Ariel is one that people either seem to love or hate. Some argue that her character is inquisitive and interesting, others argue she is just a whiny child with no development throughout the plot. While I do agree that she was flawed, I still seemed to enjoy her character. I thought she was kind, adventurous, and inquisitive of the world around her. She isn’t the strongest written Disney princess, but she is engaging enough with proper support.

And just about all the side characters in The Little Mermaid were exceedingly entertaining. Scuttle, a goofy seagull voiced by Buddy Hackett, was one of these entertaining characters. His expressions, mannerisms, and sense of humor are all a lot of fun to watch. One scene in particular, where he mistakes common items like a fork for a comb, always manages to get me laughing.

Ursula, the antagonist of The Little Mermaid, was another greatly written character. She has to be one of the most devious and meddling Disney villains I’ve ever seen. I noticed very quickly that she gets a lot more screen time than your typical Disney villain, and rightfully so. Her diabolical plan and sheer energy makes her my favorite character in the film.

The Little Mermaid‘s animation is of usual Disney quality, very fluent and visually appealing to watch. The backgrounds are all beautifully hand drawn, and the color palette chosen for the film was impeccable. This is a film that you could really get lost in just how nice everything looks.

The one minor issue I take with The Little Mermaid is the pacing of the third act, as it has always seemed hastily rushed. How quickly the film wraps all of its loose ends up is somewhat off-putting. I definitely think they could’ve let things play out a little more and given an even better ending to an already amazing story.

In all honesty, I love this film just as much now as I did when I was a kid. The Little Mermaid has all the great features that you’d expect from a highly regarded Disney flick. The animation is some of the best that Disney has to offer, the characters are nicely written, and the music (especially the song “Under the Sea”) is exceptionally enjoyable. I watched it as a kid, and I’m definitely going to continue watching it as an adult.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Beauty and the Beast (1991) Review

With the recent release of the live-action Beauty and the Beast, I’ve brought it upon myself to review the classic Disney cartoon version. Hailed by many as one of the best animated films of all time, Beauty and the Beast has made its way into the hearts of many.

The story (one I’m sure you’ve already heard), is about that of a self-righteous king, whose castle and servants are put under a wicked spell. This spell turned the king into a horrendous Beast (Robby Benson), until he can learn to truly love another.

In comes Belle (Paige O’Hara), the beautiful village outcast who spends most of her time reading. Belle’s father Maurice (Rex everhart) is captured by the Beast, and she is forced to sacrifice herself as the Beasts prisoner to earn her father his freedom. Slowly, Belle warms up to the Beast’s gentler side, and the two steadily begin to fall in love. The only person that may stand in Belle’s way of a happily ever after is Gaston (Richard White), a narcissistic strongman who intends on marrying her if it’s the last thing he does.

Now, you can joke about Stockholm Syndrome all you want, but I seriously think that there is a good connection between the Beast and Belle. The relationship that builds between them is probably one of the stronger written Disney romances, with a lot of time being dedicated to its development. As a viewer, I felt very emotionally invested in both the characters, and their relationship. Overall, the Beast and Belle worked good as a couple, and their chemistry was very uplifting.

One thing I’ve always admired about Beauty and the Beast is that not only are the lead protagonists written well, but so is the supporting cast. I absolutely loved just how memorable all the characters are. From the egotistical Gaston, to the hospitable and romantic Lumiere (a talking candelabra), each character has a distinct personality that I fondly remembered after watching. All the characters were a lot of fun, generally helping to make the story more lighthearted and touching, an aspect I very deeply appreciated.

The sound track to Beauty and the Beast is one of the best Disney I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. All the songs are just so charming and full of energy that its hard not to like how lively they are. My favorite song, “Be Our Guest”, exemplifies this perfectly. The song is sung by the candelabra Lumiere as Belle is served dinner, and it remains one of the most entertaining scenes in the whole film. The music for “Be Our Guest” (as well as every other song in the film) was catchy, fun, and the animation was especially dynamic for this sequence.

This brings me to the animation of Beauty and the Beast on a more broad scale. And honestly, it’s some of the best 2-D animation Disney has ever put out. The colors used are beautifully vibrant, and everything really pops out at you. Every minute detail of the castle interior I got to see was exhilarating, and it left me wishing I could’ve gotten to see even more.

Beauty and the Beast still holds up extraordinarily well, a feat that isn’t likely to change in the future. The high quality of the writing, excellent characters, and breathtaking animation is all top-notch Disney work, and the film should be praised accordingly. I believe that this remarkable interpretation of Beauty and the Beast deserves to be shared with everyone. So if you’re someone who’s never seen it before, I highly suggest you check it out as soon as possible.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

The Fox and the Hound Review

You know, for a film that is titled the Fox and the Hound, over half the film features neither a fox, nor a hound. Instead, it’s filled with unnecessary side characters that leave little to no impact on the viewer whatsoever.

The story revolves around a Fox named Tod (Mickey Rooney), whose taken in by a kind widow after his mother, like in so many Disney films, was killed. Eventually Tod befriends the neighbor’s new hunting pup named Copper (Kurt Russell), and the two become the best of friends. Sadly, the friendship between the two is hindered by Copper’s owner Amos Slade (Jack Albertson), who wishes to turn him into a hunting dog. Over time, Tod and Copper grow older and more distant from each other, and it seems they will have to overcome their differences in order to save their friendship.

I think the greatest downfall of the Fox and the Hound is how underwhelming the overall story is. Nothing about the film really left an impression on me, and I find myself not really remembering many specific details. Even the songs, which are almost always memorable in Disney flicks, were very forgettable.

The plot felt all over the place, as there were so many characters shoved into this eighty minute movie that the film lost its focus. The film is supposed to be about the struggling relationship between a fox and a hound, very simple and entertaining. Yet the Fox and the Hound felt the need to throw in as many uninteresting side characters as possible. There is even a part where the audience is introduced to three new characters with only twenty minutes left in the film, how sloppy.

One aspect I genuinely enjoyed was the classic hand drawn animation, which reminded me of other Disney films like Pinocchio or Dumbo. All the backgrounds are nicely colored and detailed, and the characters all have fluent movements. I took no issue whatsoever with how the Fox and the Hound was animated, as I found its style to be a delight.

There is also a pretty good message thrown in about friendship and how people tend to change over time. Again, it’s not really a new message, but the Fox and the Hound does enough with it for the message to be powerful. Kids will surely get a lot out of it, and adults will find it heartwarming enough to remain entertained.

If you’ve never seen the Fox and the Hound and are interested in seeing it, I’d go ahead and give it a watch. It has a pretty good message for children and features the signature Disney hand drawn style that never seems to get old. However, the plot and characters aren’t written that well, which ultimately gives the audience a very lackluster experience. And a lackluster experience is the last thing I want when I watch a Disney film. Personally, I feel there are plenty of other, more memorable, Disney films to spend your time watching.

The Verdict: C

-Zachary Flint