Film Review: Beauty and the Beast

I have mixed feelings about the current trend Disney have for live action remakes of their animated movies. While The Jungle Book worked for me, I was less fussed on Cinderella and Maleficent, and the fact that a live action Dumbo is on the way fills me with dread, although as I am soon to marry a Disney addict I have resigned myself to my fate. Taking on one of the studios best efforts was a big gamble, but thankfully this one pays off.

beauty-and-the-beast-poster

The story is simple enough, a vain and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman shelter from the rain but it turns out she is actually a powerful enchantress. She curses him by turning him into a beast, and he will remain a monster until he learns to love and wins the love of another. The enchantress also curses all the residents of the castle turning them into objects related to their jobs, which seems a bit harsh and if the Beast doesn’t succeed in finding a love before the last petal falls from a magic rose they will become inanimate objects for good and he will remain a beast for ever.

Years later we meet Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent and free spirited young woman who lives in the nearest town. The locals aren’t too sure about her, regarding her love of reading and individuality as peculiar, nonetheless her beauty has caught the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the local hero who is a vain, self centred braggart. She spurns his advances and dreams of there being more to life. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is a maker of clockwork machines and leaves to sell them at market, however, on the road back he is waylaid and finds a mysterious, crumbling castle. He attempts to take a rose for his daughter but is imprisoned.

Belle sets off to find him, and arrives at the castle, where concerned for her father’s health she volunteers to take his place. Maurice’s claims are dismissed in town, although Gaston sees an opportunity to exploit the situation.

Meanwhile, at the castle Belle befriends the Beast’s cursed servants and slowly begins to discover there is more to the Beast. Similarly, her presence serves to quell his anger and he begins to care for his hostage. Their relationship, encouraged by the servants strengthens but Belle misses her father and when she becomes aware of his troubles is upset. The Beast allows her to leave.

Will Belle be able to save her father? Will she return to the castle? What will Gaston do when he discovers the existence of the beast? And will the curse ever be broken?

This remake works for same reasons that the updated version of The Jungle Book did, by honouring the original through the use of certain aspects, but by giving characters a different spin and adding new touches. Characters like Maurice, Gaston and his sidekick La Fou (Josh Gad) are given more background and are slightly more complex.

Maurice is the best example, with Kevin Kline moving away from the clownish, mad-inventor of the animated version to create a sadder figure. Belle’s mother is long deceased at the start and his grief is evident throughout, and the backstory adds more emotion to the tale. Also, his character here rings truer with the clever, independent young woman he has raised.

But despite this the main strength is the magical, charming romance at the centre and here credit goes to the leads. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, and does a great job of making her a likeable, strong character. Belle is a great heroine, free thinking and brave, she nobly sacrifices herself for her father and faces the Beast fearlessly. Throughout she shows strength, intelligence and kindness.

screen2520shot25202017-01-082520at25209-53-202520pm

Belle: A great heroine

She handles the singing wonderfully, and is utterly charming throughout. Similarly Dan Stevens’ vocal work as the beautifully realised Beast is expressive enough for it to work, conveying the feelings that develop between them.

The central romance unfolds at a decent pace, and the film benefits from giving the Beast more backstory beyond that he was just a bit of a wanker. It also explains why the rest of the castle don’t hate him, feeling partly responsible for failing in to raise him to be a good man.

One thing the film does well is quickly cover up some of the plot holes from the original, like the fact that the town seem oblivious to the giant castle mere miles away, with the enchantress having cast a spell for them to forget all about it and the people are there. This also means there is a nice touch of when the mob storms the castle some feel deja vu and one of the villagers always has a sense of having lost something, it being revealed it is the loved ones he had at the castle…

These changes are well done and mostly serve to make the film play better as a live action piece as a straight adaptation might have suffered in translation. But there are plenty of moments that are retained, notably in costume and music. The ballroom scene in the original is an iconic scene and was groundbreaking for the time, and it helps that the castle is just as beautiful here and that the dance scene is one of the most moving moments in the film. The song remains an absolute wonder, and the scene is magical, prompting one small child in the cinema to actually cheer and applaud at the end.

ad_231763865-e1488542220575

Other scenes are translated to varying degrees of success, the swagger of “Gaston” is a standout here, especially as fresh jokes are added and Josh Gad is brilliant as Le Fou. Luke Evans as well impresses, capturing the strutting, arrogant character wonderfully even though he isn’t roughly the size of a barge. While Evans is reliable as ever, I left the film suspecting that Dwayne Johnson would have been brilliant for the part, especially if he channeled the charismatic arrogance of his wrestling days.

However, for me “Be Our Guest” didn’t match the original, and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere wasn’t half as charming as Jerry Orbach’s and the character design for him and Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth were made a bit too “realistic” and a lot less endearing or friendly looking than their animated counterparts.

new-beauty-and-the-beast-cast-compared-to-the-original-animated-thisisinsider-com_1208315

The old ones were a lot friendlier looking, I’m just saying

Similarly Mrs Potts isn’t quite as cute as her old self, but is voiced by the ever excellent Emma Thompson, who takes over from Angela Lansbury and does a stellar job.

But these are minor quibbles and the movie does well in bringing new things to the table. There is a new musical number, performed by the Beast that is genuinely moving and as I mentioned earlier the characters and some story aspects are changed. The fact that the servants are becoming increasingly inanimate is a heartbreaking touch, with them all moving towards losing their humanity. In fact a sequence where they are transformed is an emotional gut punch that had my eyes a little watery.

Before it’s release a lot was made of the fact that Le Fou was being turned into a gay character. The fact is that Josh Gad’s character is far more complicated than the original and his sexuality is only a part of that. Le Fou is loyal and clearly in love with Gaston, but it is suggested that the two have been together a long time, having served together in an unspecified war. Le Fou’s admiration for his friend is clear, but what is a nice addition is the fact that he is not just a dimwit who goes along with everything. His conscience starts to peak through, and there are moments when he acts as a calming, soothing presence for Gaston, staying his hand.

josh-gad-1024x461

Le Fou tries to calm Gaston

As Gaston’s obsession with Belle grows and he reveals his true, selfish nature Le Fou realises he has made a mistake and tries to make it right. It’s nice that a secondary character, largely a buffoon is given a bit more depth and Gad is consistently amusing.

All in all this is a very successful film which tells a familiar story in an utterly charming way, beautiful to look at and entirely engaging. I was sucked in early on and utterly captivated, in much the way that six year old Chris was back in 1992. In fact, I’d say this packs more of an emotional punch than the original.

It’s a delight from start to finish, with the familiar and the new combining to make a film which is great in it’s own right. MWF loved it as well, so hardcore Disney fans can rest assured that it doesn’t let the house of mouse down.

Verdict: A wonderful, magical experience which uses the animated version as a jumping off point to go in new directions and add greater depth. Moving, amusing and utterly, marvelously charming. 8.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My 10 Favourite Films of 2016

So, I saw a fair few new movies this year and these were my favourites.

10. Doctor Strange

Marvel goes magical as Benedict Cumberbatch dons the cape as the sorcerer supreme in a hugely entertaining and gorgeous to look at movie of a selfish man forced to reassess his priorities and become a hero. Full review.

9. Ghostbusters

Rebooting a much loved and well crafted movie was always going to be tricky and the makers of this flick caught a fair amount of flak. I loved the original but the new version worked for me. It kept the laughs coming and the four leads all did their jobs well. As good as Murray and Co? No, but still pretty damn good. Review.


8. Captain America: Civil War
The biggest Marvel movie so far pits hero against hero as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and Captain America (Chris Evans) clash over new restrictions on the heroes. Great fight scenes and a solid story ensure this is an entertaining super flick up there with the best in the MCU. It also introduced the latest on screen Spider-man who’s probably the best so far, and that’s just after a few minutes.

I’m Team Iron Man, by the way. Find out why.

7. Pete’s Dragon

A gloriously warm and charming story about a boy raised in the wild by a dragon and his journey to find a new family. Reduced MWF to tears and left me a little choked up too. Magical filmmaking. Review.


6. The Revenant
A gritty and at times grim tale of survival features a fantastic central performance from Leonardo DiCaprio and is utterly gorgeous. Thoroughly gripping throughout. Full review.

5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I have mixed feelings about the Harry Potter films but this prequel/spin-off really worked for me thanks to the fantastic beasts living up to their hype and a core group of very likeable characters. Really charming film. I rave about it here, but there are spoilers.

4. Deadpool

Ryan Reynolds gets the superhero he deserves as he plays the crude, wise cracking mercenary granted superpowers and out for a cure. Gloriously OTT violence, postmodern humour and a real sense of fun this movie was a real winner for me. Read me barely containing my man crushing here.


3. Moana
The latest Disney movie features a strong female lead embarking on an exciting adventure and a scene stealing turn from Dwayne Johnson. Great fun. The full review is here.


2. Zootropolis
A Disney film with a buddy movie vibe fused with a noirish conspiracy this is a wonderful movie with a good message at the heart. There’s also a fantastically creative and innovative world created. Loved it and it stands up to repeat viewings. Review.

1. The Jungle Book

A remake of a much loved classic that I was nervous about which actually blew my socks off. Fun, moving and gorgeous this was a masterpiece. The voice cast is good, the thrills gripping and the characters loveable. A gem of a movie and I gush about it here.

Have I missed one of your personal favourites, or picked a movie you hated? Let me know, but keep it civil!
You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #7: The Three Caballeros

The second film of the “wilderness period” struggles as it feels far too close to it’s predecessor. Like Saludos Amigos this is based in South America, episodic and features Donald Duck.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have watched them so close together but I had no idea how similar they would be. Similar, but with the earlier film being superior.

The problem here is that they rely too much on mixing live action and cartoon and in some places this looks a bit creaky. Also the Donald Duck parts are the weakest mainly concerning Donald running around chasing women.

Some of these sequences are flat it trippy as he and his companions Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles (a red rooster from Mexico) jump through the pages of books about the continent. Donald chasing after real human women is a bit weird and you wonder what Daisy must have thought. While played for laughs it feels drawn out and starts leaning into sex pest territory.

Luckily some of the other sections work quite well. The music is quality and the different folk dances are quite good. But the real winners are the animated shorts which are rather charming. The first about a penguin who dreams of escaping to warmer climes is funny and well done with a “grass is always greener” ending.

The other is a goofy but entertaining story about a young boy who finds a flying donkey who he buddies up with and uses to win a race. The whole thing is narrated by the boy as a grown man, exasperated by his youthful stupidity and there’s a nice breaking if the fourth wall. It helps that the donkey is cute and likeable.

It’s okay, but drags in places and hasn’t aged well. There’s also a sense of trying to cover old ground. The animated shorts work but you wonder if they wouldn’t have been better as stand alone shorts.
Not without it’s charms but a weak effort.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #6: Saludos Amigos

It wasn’t until I got with MWF and saw her complete, chronological collection of the Disney Classics that I realised that my impression of the series was out of whack. I always thought there was this long Golden Age and then the shaky 70s-80s era before the Silver Age of the nineties and onwards. It turns out this isn’t the case.

The first five Disney films (see earlier posts in this series) mark the Golden Age of big, much loved and familiar hits. Then there’s this period of lesser known films before Disney emerges from the wilderness with the twelfth movie Cinderella which kick-starts the Silver Age which lasts until the early ’80s.

What’s a shame is that this film, the first of the wilderness years is actually quite a charming piece.

But it is easy to see why it hasn’t endured as much as the others. The travelogue style feels a little dated as does the South America it represents. For later audiences seeing the film open with the artists boarding a plane and some stock footage might spark memories of dull educational films. Like Fantasia it feels like a gamble and something which you can’t imagine the studio trying now.

The documentary parts are done quite well and there’s affection and respect in how they treat the local cultures even if it is brief and simplified. But they mainly serve as a frame on which to hang the different animated sections.

The star here is Donald Duck, who I’ve always preferred to Mickey (who was always too squeaky clean, and Donald’s temper makes him more relatable). Donald plays the hapless tourist who has to deal with the dangerous conditions at Lake Titicaca and a temperamental llama. This sequence is quite fun and well done, especially a dangerous rope bridge crossing.

Donald reappears in the final sequence, a musical number where he dances to samba music with Jose Carioca, a green parrot from Brazil, who introduces him to various parts of South American culture. The scene is quite cool with a catchy, cheerful soundtrack and the birds interacting with the artist’s paintbrush which is pretty cool.

The other sections are a slapstick piece about Argentinian gauchos featuring Goofy which is daft fun.

There’s also a short about a young plane trying to cross the Andes which has enough peril to keep you hooked and is rather sweet.

Due to the way it’s set up it’s not the most cinematic of films and it feels more like a TV special. But it’s entertaining enough and manages to educate while still feeling fun and keeping the momentum going. 

It lacks the level of artistry of Fantasia or the narrative drive of the other films and so while it’s charming enough it doesn’t stick with you in the same way, and it does seem dated in places.

That being said, I was glad I watched it and enjoyed it while I did, but it’s definitely a lesser entry.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Moana

Disney have been in fine form the last few years and their latest continues that trend being a delightful, charming adventure which even raised MWF’s spirits during a weekend she was suffering with “man flu”.

The story follows Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) the daughter of the chief of a small Polynesian island. Despite her father trying to guide her towards her responsibilities as future chief, she is bewitched by the sea and longs to explore it, despite the tribal law of never leaving the safety of the reef. When the fish supplies start to dwindle and the coconut harvest is rotten the island is in trouble. 

Mama’s grandmother (Rachel House) shows her a hidden cave where Moana discovers the ships used by the tribe when they had roamed the seas generations before, but stopped as monsters and storms claimed their ships. These monsters were the result of Te Fiti, an island goddess and bringer of life having her heart stolen by the demigod Maui. The heart was lost but found it’s way to Moana as a small child as the ocean had chosen her to help restore the heart.

Moana sets out to find Maui and get him to return the heart and stop the darkness which threatens her island. However, she has little experience at sea and discovers that Maui (Dwayne Johnson) is a self centred braggart who is powerless without the hook which carries his divine abilities.

She convinces him to aid her by playing on his ego and need to be the hero and they set off to find his hook so that they can complete their mission. On the way they must face a giant, treasure hoarding crab and coconut pirates.

Can they return the heart? Or will the powerful lava god that defeated Maui before be too much for him again? And when things get hard can she count on the selfish demigod?
What I love about this film is that the heroine and her quest is genuinely captivating and Moana is a strong, believable protagonist. She is driven and determined, but also fallible and doubts herself. Out of her depth she nonetheless shows grit and resourcefulness and pushes onwards. 

This all stems from a sense of duty to her people, and her responsible attitude means that she is at odds with Maui from the get go. Maui, voiced with easy charisma and overblown swagger by Dwayne Johnson steals the show somewhat thanks to his showy posturing. It’s a testament to Johnson that even removed from the physicality that made him famous his natural charisma still shines through. 

His moving tattoos are a nice touch and he is developed over the course of the film, developing nicely into the hero he proclaims himself to be at the start.

His first song “You’re Welcome” is a boastful delight and his moving tattoos, depicting his past deeds are a nice touch, especially his bickering relationship with one of them. He’s a hugely memorable character and his unwilling partnership with Moana is handled well. 

They spark off each other and his repeated attempts to ditch her are quite amusing. Their developing affection is done well, feeling natural and never clunky, and they play off each other well with her quiet determination contrasting nicely with his loud bravado.

The supporting cast don’t have much to do, although the character of Gramma Tala is very amusing and loveable. Confessing to be the village’s “crazy old lady” she is the only person who encourages and understands Moana’s desire to leave the island and guides her quest. Despite filling the “wise elder” role she is a fun presence and some of the scenes between her and her granddaughter really hit home emotionally.

Gramma Tala captures the warmth that is at the heart of this film, and which comes jumping from the screen. I was utterly charmed and loved every second.

The film looks gorgeous and the characters are designed beautifully and there is plenty of visual humour from Moana’s pet chicken and Maui’s tattoos, and plenty in a clever, charming script. 

It’s laugh out loud funny, gripping and filled with wonderful characters. It’s not the best Disney film ever, but it’s pretty damn high on the list.

Verdict: Simply amazing. Fun, fast paced and full of character, this is a great family movie with a great heroine and a scene stealing Dwayne Johnson. Disney knock this one out of the park and produce another superb movie. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #5: Bambi

This is a Disney movie largely remembered for the death of one character and the fact it has made generations of children cry.

The shooting of Bambi’s mother is the film’s most famous moment and I won’t lie, it’s done remarkably well with the death happening off camera and Bambi only realising what’s happened after the fact. His dad breaks the news to him in a rather blunt manner “your mother can’t be with you anymore”. Dude, soften the blow a little.

And devastated Bambi’s reaction gives the heartstrings a massive yank.

The whole movie is a pretty decent “life of animals” tale, starting with Bambi’s birth and following the eponymous deer to adulthood. Sure some of it is sentimental and softened, but there’s still a dark edge, mainly from man but there are acknowledgements that nature is rough.

Bambi has to fight when another stag steps to his girl, in a sequence which is shot in a stark, dramatic style which makes it so different from the rest of the movie.

The real villain here is man, who after killing Bambi’s mum then run through the woods guns blazing and then start a fire. Mankind does not come off well in this movie, and some of it is harsh. One bleak scene involved some birds cowering in the undergrowth before one cracks under pressure and takes flight, we then see her body hit the deck. It’s not quite at the grim level of The Animals of Farthing Wood, but it’s got a whole lot more edge than I remember.

Heck, Bambi kills a bunch of dogs after causing a rock slide on to them. It might be a softened version of the natural world, but it doesn’t completely ignore the fact that nature can be brutal.

The circle of life is completed when Bambi becomes a dad himself, which follows a sequence where our hero and his friends become “twitterpated” which is basically  Disney slang for overcome with lust. Seriously, there is some visual innuendo going on here which had clearly flown way over my head when I first saw this movie.

Character wise it’s a little flat and the songs aren’t particularly great, but it’s episodic style works and it keeps moving. Also it handles the shifts in tone quite well and is genuinely moving in places. Also it’s very pretty to look at.

Disney Score: 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Disney Classics #4: Dumbo

I only watched this film all the way through when MWF put it on a couple of months back. Apparently as a kid on first viewing I was reduced to tears by the way Dumbo was bullied and refused to watch any more. And I never even attempted it again.

I didn’t miss much.

This is apparently the shortest film in the Classics series and yet it still feels like it could do with some trimming.

The plot is simple-minded the stork brings circus elephant Mrs Jumbo a baby, a mute elephant with unusually large ears who she rather cruelly names Dumbo. His ears draw ridicule from the other elephants and the circus workers, who put him in an act with the clowns, where he has to jump from a high board into a giant custard pie.

Side note- could this film, with the bullying and mean clowns be where my fear of them begins?

Anyway, Mrs Jumbo, naming abilities aside, is a good mother and angered by the bullying kicks off. For her trouble she is branded a “mad elephant” and locked up. 

Jumbo’s only friend is Timothy Q. Mouse (Edward Brophy) a wise guy like mouse who looks after him and feels bad for him. After a humiliating performance Timothy takes Dumbo to see his mum, in a rather sad sequence featuring the song “Baby Mine” where the other animals are with family, but all Mrs Jumbo can do is rock Dumbo through the bars.

I’m kinda glad Little Chris had stopped watching by this point because this would have broken him.
After this mouse and elephant get drunk. Yes, in a kid’s film. This sets off a trippy and creepy number “Pink Elephants on Parade” which is rather disorientating. Dumbo and Timothy are similarly freaked out and wake up in a tree, and Timothy reckons this is because Dumbo flew.

This is ridiculed by a passing murder of crows (awesome collective noun that) and they have a good life, until Timothy shames them for laughing at Dumbo. Feeling sorry and sending this is a self belief issue, the crows pass Timothy a “magic” feather and sure enough Mrs Jumbo’s baby boy takes to the skies.

Returning to the circus Dumbo takes flight, they get revenge on the clowns and nasty elephants, and he becomes a star. He gets his mother freed (never explained how this would have happened) and they live happily ever after.

Aside from being wild animals forced into captivity and made to perform for human amusement.

What doesn’t work with this movie is that it feels like a series of events rather than one fluid story. And at times the switches in tone are jarring, especially when the heartbreak of “Baby Mine” is followed almost immediately by the nightmarish “Pink Elephants”.

Also while he is cute having a protagonist who doesn’t talk is a bit of a drag after a while. 

Some of it works, but some of it doesn’t and the flow is off.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #3: Fantasia

As MWF and I sat down to watch this the other day my heart sunk. I remembered it opening with the orchestra arriving, but not that there was so much talking. The dry intro from Deems Taylor is a bit dull and I was worried I’d mentally edited the film as I remembered loving the film as a kid.

Thankfully after the first long intro it got better and the animation makes up for it. The film shows the imagination and artistry that Disney boasted when they began this ambitious and risky venture.

This was only the third animated feature the studio made and it’s cool to see that Walt wasn’t afraid to take some risks. Instead of continuing down the fairytale path he went in a totally different direction. Why he did so is the big question?

Was it out of some need to be taken more seriously? (See Gibson doing Hamlet and Rowling trying to write outside the Harry Potter universe) 

Personally I prefer he wanted to show off the talent he’s assembled and if that was the goal, it’s mission accomplished here.

Instead of one narrative this is seven separate sections, each inspired by a different piece of classical music. The sections are done in different styles, ranging from abstract to cartoony, some serious while others are comical. There’s one that tracks evolution and the death of the dinosaurs, and it all ends with a gothic piece.

This finale, set to Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, was the one I loved as a kid and really stuck with me. It’s fantastically dark and the towering demon was just the right mix of cool and creepy for a little kid.

The image of dancing flames was one I remembered vividly, and it still works as this anarchic celebration of evil, filled with ghouls and demons. Although I still feel the “Ave Maria” ending makes a disappointing come down.

The other one I could remember large parts of clearly was the Greek myth section to “The Pastoral Symphony” by Beethoven. It gave the world the word “centaurettes”, which the world promptly gave back.

Centaurs, fauns, unicorns, cherubs and pegasuses? Pegasi?  flying horses abound. It’s so vibrant and cheerful, featuring cherubs matchmaking centaurs and features Bacchus, who is a wine swigging comedic delight, his rotund form perched upon a tiny donkey unicorn.

And then Zeus turns up, thunderbolts blazing, spoiling his fun. The petty and cruel king of the gods is far closer to the Zeus of myth than the one who would appear in Disney’s Hercules decades later.

The other stand out is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” composed by Paul Dukas. It’s essentially a Mickey Mouse short and a hugely entertaining one, energetic and full of anarchic fun. It’s the most iconic of the sections and holds up really well, a simple, amusing story.

The hit rate is surprisingly high, with only the first abstract piece falling flat (it overstays it’s welcome a bit) and I was surprised by how much of the film I could remember from the dancing flowers during a medley from The Nutcracker, the bleak extinction of the dinosaurs and the sassy ballerina hippos.

It’s a great movie, with glorious visuals cleverly married to the classical score. The innovation and skill on show means that this has really stood the test of the time. A treat for the eyes and ears.

Disney Score: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Zootropolis

The latest Disney animated movie Zootropolis (AKA Zootopia in the States) is an utter gem which continues a fine run of form for the studio in recent years. It works as a hugely entertaining family film packed with adventure and laughs, set in a gorgeous, inventive world and manages to touch on some more serious issues. It’s a film that works for the whole family and I loved it.

image

Set in a world of anthropomorphic mammals who have set aside their former predator and prey instincts to live in harmony much of the action takes place in the eponymous city, which is designed to cater for all the different animals. With old instincts pushed aside the message is that anyone can be anything.

A strong believer in this is Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) a small town bunny who realises her dream of being a police officer, the first rabbit officer in the force. Idealistic and eager she is disappointed when her superior officer Bogo (Idris Elba) puts her on parking duty, while there are several unsolved missing mammal cases she could help with.

image

Idealist- Judy Hopps

Judy’s first day goes well until she helps Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) a fox. She helps him out but discovers later that he is a hustler who played her, and his cynical attitude dampens her spirits and leaves her questioning her decision to move to the city.

On parking duty again she chases a thief who has stolen flower bulbs from a florist and gives chase, apprehending the suspect but receiving a reprimand from Bogo. When the wife of a missing otter talks to Bogo, Judy interrupts and offers to find him. Bogo gives her 48 hours after which she has to resign if unsuccessful.

There is very little to go on, but a clue links the missing otter to Nick, so Judy tracks him down and using a recording and the threat of prison, blackmails him into helping her. They begin to investigate, finding a trail which leads them to the mob, and then onwards to a secret facility where the missing animals are imprisoned, all having gone savage. This is being kept hidden by Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons).

Why are the animals regressing to their beastly roots? Is someone responsible, and why? And what does it mean for Zootropolis’ peaceful way of life?

I loved this movie because it manages to mix elements of a buddy movie with a film noir style plot of corruption and conspiracy, and keeps the jokes flowing throughout. The plot is smart, and while one big reveal is easy to spot for the grownups, it’s still an involving story, and it unfolds at a decent pace with the trail being built by our heroes.

The characters are great, especially the central duo of Judy and Nick. Judy’s optimism at the start could grate, but it’s to the credit of the writers and Goodwin’s performance that it doesn’t. She’s an idealist and has a moment of doubt, but she’s shown early on to be nobody’s fool and her drive and smarts make her a likeable and engaging heroine.

It helps that she has Bateman’s roguish Nick to bounce off, and the verbal sparring between the two is fantastic. That this develops into friendship and affection isn’t surprising, but the scenes between the two fizz and crackle with energy and humour.

image

The roguish Nick.

They spark off each other well and as the movie progresses they both start to change each other, and develop into a decent crime fighting duo.

The rest of the characters work well too, with Elba doing well as the traditional grumpy police chief.

image

Bogo, grouch

Some are a little one note but they all work, especially Tommy Chong’s hippie yak, the mob boss Mr. Big and Flash (Raymond S. Persi) a comically slow sloth.

There are also some cute sight gags from the cityscape of different animals and it drew repeated “aww” sounds from MWF.

The story moves along at pace and the characters are fun and entertaining, but it’s the film’s themes which were a pleasant surprise. Stereotyping, prejudice and mob mentality are all issues that arise and it’s good to see a kid’s film that addresses these. At the start Judy is the victim of stereotyping, dismissed as a dumb, cute bunny, but despite questioning her parents for their narrow minded views she unwittingly shows the same later, in regards to Nick and others. The difference is that when she realises her mistake, she tries to change and this is an important thing.

The plot hinges on making a section of the population the enemy, demonised so that the majority have a force to work against, even if it means that innocent animals are victims along the way. As Donald Trump and the media demonise Muslims, it’s good to see a kid’s film that shows you can’t judge an entire group on a few bad eggs and that the poor treatment of the innocent is always wrong. It’s a good message for kids, and the movie does it without hammering it home too heavily.

In summary, this is a cracking family film which will entertain all ages and which combines character, humour and adventure to great effect. Disney are on a roll, and long may it continue.

Verdict: Fun, smart and gorgeous, this is a great family film with a simple, involving plot a great heroic duo and which touches on some important issues without losing sight of the fun. Wonderful. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Jungle Book

WARNING! Some spoilers ahead.

The 1967 Disney animated film The Jungle Book is a beloved classic and a personal favourite of mine, so Disney’s decision to do a live action remake/reboot/reimiagining was something I approached with some trepidation. How could it match the old film, and how would it treat characters I loved?

Turns out, it would do pretty well on both counts.

image

How close the animated version stuck to Kipling’s book is a mystery to me, but this movie holds true to the older film, while developing and expanding some of the themes and storylines.

Jon Favreau directs a film which is effortlessly charming, involving and gorgeously realised. The plot follows Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a young boy, who having been found in the jungle as an infant by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) has been raised amongst a wolf pack.

Despite the love of his adopted mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) he is still an outsider, failing to keep up and aware of his differences. Pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) has taught him the law of the Jungle, and treats him warmly but disapproves of his inventions which he calls “tricks”.

During a dry season there is a water truce, where none can attack others at the watering hole and this brings Mowgli to the attention of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a vicious tiger who carries scars from previous encounters with man and who threatens that after the dry season he will kill Mowgli and any who attempt to stop him.

image

The menacing Shere Khan

The wolf pack debates what to do next, and Mowgli volunteers to leave. Bagheera offers to lead him to the “man village” and they set off. Shere Khan encounters them, injuring Bagheera but Mowgli escapes. Angry, Shere Khan visits Akela, who says that their quarrel is over, but the tiger kills him and takes over the turf, saying he will remain until Mowgli returns.

Alone and lost Mowgli encounters more of the jungle residents including the Gigantopithecus (large orangutan like ape) Louis (Christopher Walken) who rules the monkeys within the ruins of a temple and the hypnotising python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson).

He also befriends a lazy, sneaky sloth bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) who encourages him to use his tricks for their gain and whom he lives with for a time. Bagheera arrives and Mowgli argues with both animals, and discovers the news of Akela’s death. Stealing fire from the man village he races to confront Shere Khan. Can he defeat the tiger? And what consequences will his use of fire have?

I loved this movie because Favreau really succeeds in creating characters who stand on their own and is helped by a wonderful voice cast. As the only human on screen for much of the film Neel Sethi does well as Mowgli, but there are a few creaky moments, but as child performances go it’s a good one.

Luckily the voice cast work well with him and also in making their characters come alive. All inhabit their roles well and there are some nice alterations from the cartoon.

Murray’s Baloo is a delight, a slacker who ambles through life and getting some great lines, all aided by Murray’s easy, warm delivery. Baloo is funny, charming and instantly lovable. He is the standout but not alone in his success in bringing a convincing humanity to the animal characters.

image

Mowgli (Sethi) and Baloo (Murray)

Ben Kingsley provides a quiet dignity to Bagheera while stopping the character from being a lecturing killjoy, and he ensures that the panther’s concern and affection for the boy is obvious throughout. As the villain of the piece Idris Elba makes Shere Khan a menacing presence, and his rumbling tones are well suited to the predator.

Nyong’o also impresses with scenes between Raksha and Mowgli having real emotion, and she fills every word with maternal love and protective qualities. When Mowgli decides to leaves it tugs at the heart strings and MWF got rather teary at this point. It lends the movie genuine emotion and adds weight to the story

Possibly the biggest change is King Louis, who goes from the comedic, singing orangutan of the older film to a massive ape who Walken fills with menacing gravitas, turning him into a sort of mob boss figure. The hulking Louis and his army of monkeys are a nice change to the story, and the sequence in the temple is one of the strongest in the film.

image

All the characters are filled with personality and yet the magnificent CGI means they look sensational. There’s very little anthropomorphic adjustment, and yet they convey their emotions clearly.

The effects are sensational and some of the settings are simply magnificent, I’m glad I saw this on the big screen as the junglescapes are beautiful.

There are some solid action sequences and a couple of wince inducing animal conflicts, with the beasts clashing in furious sequences. To anyone with young kids, these could be quite upsetting for them, and there are some scary parts. But for everyone else I wholeheartedly recommend this movie as it is gorgeous to look at and populated with wonderful characters. It’s fantastic family film making from Favreau.

Verdict: An utter delight, Favreau and a sensational voice cast bring the characters to life, in a story that is full of emotion, charm and thrills. It’s very good fun and looks amazing. Magnificent. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.