Score Highlights: Superman

In which The Cool Kat shares some of his favorite pieces of score from various soundtracks.

Today’s pick is the love theme John Williams penned for Superman and Lois Lane in the 1978 “Superman” film. The rumbling and bombastic main theme is very well-loved and an iconic signature of Superman in pop culture (it could easily have made for a great choice for this post), but the love theme tends to be more overlooked and I think it’s just as wonderful. Rather tellingly, Williams weaves the melody of the love theme into the movie’s opening suite, since one can’t have Superman without his soulmate, Lois Lane. The main presentation of the love theme, featured in the end credits, is a very whimsical and elegant slow-burn – unfolding as a weightless, audacious and tender fairy-tale waltz, unburdened by earthly concerns and circling the same melody time and again until it reaches a breathless, emotional crescendo. The second and even more romantic statement of the love theme, “Can You Read My Mind?”, is utilized when Superman takes Lois out for a night of flying to admire the city from the air, giving it it’s most bombastic and grandiose presentation, which is shortly followed by Margot Kidder’s vocal lyrics as Lois tries to make sense of the new man in her life. In both of these tracks, the London Symphony Orchestra turns in an impressively dulcet and refined performance, the kind that makes the “Superman” soundtrack as beautiful and classy as it is as a whole.

Bonus: “The Flying Sequence (Can You Read My Mind?)”.

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Lilo and Stitch (2002) Review

Lilo And Stitch Poster

I think “Lilo And Stitch” is the closest thing the Post-Renaissance era had to “The Lion King” or “Frozen“. The unexpected, runaway hit that brought Disney loads of money and critical acclaim and spawned a franchise that would seemingly never die for several years afterwards (Japan loved Stitch). To this day, there are still plenty of people who would list “Lilo And Stitch” as one of their top ten favorite movies from the Disney canon. As a kid, I thought it was a good movie, but it was never one of my favorites, and as an adult, “Lilo And Stitch” is actually one of the few Disney movies out there where my opinion on it differs every time I watch it, depending on my mood. Sometimes, I think it’s enjoyable, and other times I think it’s rather cringy and dull. So when I sat down to watch it critically for this review, I actually had no idea how I was going to feel about it. I think it holds up pretty well and I have a better grasp of its appeal, though I would say the second half of this movie, starting from the surfing sequence, is a much better film than the first half.

Thanks to all the rampant dickishness and self-involved behavior from most of the cast (the amoral aliens because they’re amoral aliens and Lilo because she’a a rather small and bratty child), the first half of “Lilo And Stitch” can feel overly mean-spirited. The plot can also feel a bit too repetitive. There are a lot scenes where it seems like things might go well for our heroes or something might be salvageable, only for the worst possible thing to happen instead and crush that fleeting hope dead, and after a while this starts to feel tired and somewhat predictable. Lastly, the first half of “Lilo And Stitch” really goes out of it’s way to emphasis how creepy and gross Stitch is before his character development sets in, and it almost works too well. I think I could have done without seeing Stitch stick his tongue up his nose to devour his own muscus, or swallowing Pleakley’s head whole and starting to bite down on it. Ew.

Lilo and Stitch

Lilo is a rather odd, unique and introverted girl. She obsesses over minute things, enjoys taking pictures of overweight strangers, tries to practice voodooism, and likes to listen to rock and roll classics. She’s quirky and bizarre, and as a result the other girls at school avoid her and try to make her an outcast despite her desire to make friends, which takes a toll on her self-esteem. There is another reason though, besides Lilo being misunderstood. Lilo is honestly kind of a pain for much of the movie. She starts fights at school, locks her sister out of the house and gets her trouble in with the social worker on purpose, hits her in the head with a door, and helps blow every single one of Nani’s chances at getting another job because she seemingly doesn’t realize that her attempts to turn Stitch into a ‘model citizen’ are just making things worse and she should just quit while she’s behind. Lilo’s brattiness and her lack of perspective can be cringy and frustrating to watch, but part of it is because she’s a young kid and she’s going to be naive, and the other part ties into her tragic backstory. Lilo and Nani’s parents are implied to have died shortly before the start of the movie (because it wouldn’t be Disney without some dead parents), leaving Nani to fill a role she can’t really handle on her own and leaving Lilo to deal with a loss she’s only just old enough to understand. Some people cope with grief by becoming depressed while others lash out, and Lilo is the latter, hence the acting out. Lilo receives Stitch so she can have someone to befriend, shower with love and affection, and fill the void in her heart left by her parents. She spends much of the movie trying to tame Stitch and connect to him, and eventually succeeds. Lilo’s biggest redeeming quality is her belief in the importance of family and that family should always be there for family, which is of course, the main theme of the movie.

Stitch is a genetically-engineered hybrid who looks like a cross between a koala and an insect. With titanic strength, super fast reflexes and keen intellect, Stitch is a chaotic little gremlin who was created by his inventor to bring about mass destruction and anarchy, with no hope for reformation. He has only one weakness – he cannot swim. Stitch is initially sentenced to exile on a desert planet by the galactic counsel before he escapes his sentencing, becoming a space fugitive and fleeing to Earth. With no way to escape the Hawaiian islands and the space cops poking around for him, Stitch decides to pose as Lilo’s dog for as long as he has to. For about half of the film, Stitch is gleefully, unapologetically evil and entirely goal-focused, just as he was programmed to be. If Lilo can be rude and self-involved sometimes, Stitch puts her to shame. Stitch can’t follow his destructive programming to the fullest though and quickly grows restless. Unable to fulfill his only purpose in life and with no one else around like him who can understand him, Stitch goes through an existential crisis. Despite what Jumbaa claims, Stitch is still young and new – he’s something of a blank slate and has the potential to absorb new ideas. He gains a desire to belong somewhere, which gives him and Lilo something in common. Lilo wants him to feel like part of her family, so she teaches him about friendship and Ohana, and he finds those concepts appealing. Stitch’s rehabilitation arc from villain to hero plays out about the way you would expect, but the effectiveness is in how gradual it is. Stitch comes to genuinely care about Lilo and Nani, but in an ironic (or perhaps karmic?) twist, the alien who had previously reveled in being evil and violent cannot seem to escape his original programming. He’s apparently incapable of being good or adjusted and only succeeds in ruining every aspect of their lives, which causes massive guilt and turmoil. It’s only because Lilo is unfortunately kidnapped by aliens in the last act that Stitch is given the opportunity to step up as the beloved family pet and prove himself by fixing some of his failures, earning his place in the family.

Lilo And Stitch Nani

Nani is my personal favorite character of the bunch, and easily the most sympathetic figure in the movie, more so than Lilo and Stitch themselves. As Lilo’s older sister and caretaker, Nani has a huge responsibility on her plate. She puts all her dreams, career possibilities and potential relationships on hold so she can try to hold down a job to support herself and her sister, keep Lilo fed and happy, and keep her out of trouble. Keep in mind, Nani is only college age – the film makes it clear that, like Lilo, she can be hotheaded and immature – and she must surely miss her parents as terribly as Lilo does, but she has to be the grown-up now. While trying to do so many things on her own, with only David to help her, Nani is clearly overwhelmed and her failed attempts to emulate her parents are taking a strain on her relationship on Lilo, since she can’t be a mom and a big sister at the same time. What doesn’t help is Lilo, Stitch, Jumbaa and Pleakley making everything worse than it already was. As the movie progresses, Nani is faced with the terrible possibility that as much as she loves Lilo, she might not be what’s best for her and might have to give her up, whether she wants to or not. The thought of what that might do to Lilo terrifies her. Over the course of one movie, Nani loses her parents, her job, her home and eventually her sister when aliens kidnap her. When Nani finally and quite rightly breaks down and cries, because she’s lost everything, it’s painful to watch and it’s an immense relief when Stitch and the others agree to help her save Lilo. I’ve praised Disney for exploring different types of sibling relationships in their 21st century films, and while “Lilo And Stitch” isn’t one of my favorite examples, that trend started in this movie.

David is a minor supporting character; he’s Nani’s best friend and her love interest. David hopes to someday be her boyfriend, and Nani clearly reciprocates his feelings, but she has her hands full, and for now he’s content with helping her and Lilo in whatever way he can. David is nice – a bit goofy, as you would expect from a surfer in basically any movie – but it’s good to see that the sisters have some sort of support system beyond each other. With the family drama cleared up and the Pelekais finally having some space to breathe again, Nani and David are finally allowed to be together at the end of the film. Cobra Bubbles (yes, that is his name) is the rather intimidating and aloof social worker that comes to scrutinize Lilo and Nani’s home life. For most of the movie, Cobra wholly embodies the scary black man trope, and seems to resemble one of the Men in Black. This of course leads up to the reveal that Cobra used to work with the CIA and has dealt with aliens before, which begs the still unanswered and probably interesting question of how and why a CIA agent became a social worker. Somewhat refreshingly, while Cobra is an obstacle and a threat to Nani’s way of his life, he isn’t evil or solely interested in his job. He truly wants what’s best for the kids he looks in on, all he sees in this movie is a total train-wreck, and when he learns aliens have been tampering in everything he relents fairly quickly.

Lilo And Stitch Jumbaa 5

Dr. Jumbaa Joobika is Stitch’s inventor and a mad scientist who speaks with a thick Russian accent (he’s voiced by David Odgin Steers, who you’d honestly never connect to his previous role as Cogsworth in “Beauty And The Beast“, so that’s an impressive amount of range from Mr. Steers) . When we’re first introduced to Jumbaa, he’s clearly an unhinged and nefarious bio-geneticist. As a self-proclaimed ‘evil genius’, he loves causing chaos, mischief and destruction. He’s brutish, boisterous, hotheaded and thuggish, though he’s not unreasonable and at times comes across as a naughty little boy in an adult’s body who’s overly proud of himself for being a troublemaker. It’s implied that he created Stitch less out of pure malice, and more out of a desire to test the boundaries of his field and cause as much as trouble as he could. When Stitch flees to Earth, Jumbaa is offered the chance to reverse his own sentence if he captures his experiment 626 and he accepts. During the hunt for Stitch, Jumbaa is a lot more okay with the idea of human collateral damage than Pleakley is, since mad scientists aren’t that big on empathy, though this is usually played for laughs since he and Pleakley are the comedy relief duo. When it comes to his relationship with Stitch, Jumbaa is sort of a cross between Stitch’s creator and his somewhat messed-up father. You can tell there’s admiration and a bit of paternal affection in there for his creation, but it’s mixed in with a ton of self-involvement. Jumbaa’s immature and boyish personality eventually pays off in the last act when, despite spending the entire movie before now boasting about his evilness, all it takes it is one good dressing down from Nani and one request from Stitch to convince him to try to rescue Lilo from Gantu. Jumbaa is one of the most reliable sources of comedy in the movie, and entertaining in just how messed-up he is.

Pleakley is the most talkative, opinionated and high-strung member of the Galactic council – a so-called Earth expert who doesn’t really know much about Earth at all and has a somewhat condescending view of everything that lives there. Pleakley gets assigned to the mission to recover Stitch, and is forcibly partnered up with Jumbaa. Ironically, Pleakley is originally afraid of the evil genius because he’s a rather burly and deranged criminal. I don’t know what happened during their trip to Earth, but this fear evaporates entirely by the next time we see them. To protect life on Earth, Pleakley tries his best to keep Jumbaa in check, and not only does he bitch him out several times he also jumps him more than once. Pleakley is the more feminine of the duo, and while on Earth he discovers a fondness for cross-dressing, never missing a chance to doll up in drag. Pleakley’s complaining can get irritating at times, but out of the alien characters, he’s easily the one who cares the most about preserving life from the start. When Stitch and Jumbaa are destroying the Pelekai’s home, Pleakley grabs Lilo and tries to get her as far away from Dodge as possible, and earlier than that, he saves mankind from possible destruction when the councilwoman was thinking about gassing the humans for the greater good. Gantu is the most antagonistic character in this movie, which is ironic since he also has the least amount of screentime. The hulking officer hates Stitch from the start, since he considers him an imprudent abomination, and has a score to settle with him after he humiliates him. Gantu takes the callous attitude the aliens often display to it’s further extreme when he knowingly kidnaps Lilo along with Stitch and could not care less if she gets killed, so long as he delivers Stitch to the council. Needless to say, the audience is rooting for Stitch to whup his butt during the climax.

Lilo and Stitch 3

The animation is standard level Disney material. This isn’t really the sort of film that allows the studio to show-off, since most of the plot takes place in a tiny town on an island, though the vivid color palette for the scenic Hawaiian landscape is rich and beautiful. There are a few standout sequences – like Stitch’s escape into space, the family pulling off some professional surfing moves in the windy, blue sea, and Stitch enacting a daring rescue to save Lilo from Gantu’s high-flying ship – where there’s a noticeable bump in animation quality and 3-D objects are blended into a 2-D environment impressively and seamlessly. It’s worth noting that like several other Disney characters (such as Beast), Stitch undergoes a gradual visual transformation, from repulsive critter to self-proclaimed ‘cute and fluffy’ koala, and it’s handled fairly well. Alan Silvestri composes a nice, subtle score for the film, quietly sad and stirring in just the right places but big and heroic when it needs to be. There are only two original songs written for the film, the first of which, “He Mele No Lilo”, isn’t that memorable, and the second of which, “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride”, is surprisingly endearing and the sort of song that will get stuck in your head for days afterwards. The rest of the soundtrack is comprised of Elvis songs, since Lilo is an Elvis fan. The Elvis songs are also a mixed bag; they fit the scenes they were picked for, but I wouldn’t say they were memorable and I’m not really an Elvis fan. The best song in the movie is the righteous finale number, “Burning Love” by Wynonna Judd.

My opinion on “Lilo And Stitch” is that it’s a nice, solid, entertaining movie, but not a great one. There are quite a few things that are off-putting about it, and it’s also pretty slow to get going, since it’s only around the halfway point that it really starts to pick up in quality. The second half is really strong though.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Lilo And Stitch 6

* “He won’t survive in water, his molecular density is too great! … No“.

* “Ugh, we’ll have to gas the planet” Seriously though, what is wrong with you, lady?

* “My friends need to be punished” Well, at least she’s creative.

* “So why don’t you sell me and buy a rabbit instead?!” “At least a rabbit would behave better than you!

* “You rotten sister, your butt is crushing me!”

* Is it bad that I laughed at Stitch becoming roadkill? It’s probably bad.

* “What is that thing?!” “A dog, I think, but it was dead this morning!” “It was dead this morning?!”

* “I want that one!” Of course you do.

* “Using little girl as shield, this is low even for you!” How though? You don’t seem to have any qualms about almost offing Lilo yourself several times later.

* “No! That girl is part of the mosquito food chain! Here, educate yourself!” Heheh, Pleakley’s gonna love Tumblr when it’s invented in another seven years.

* “Look, it’s my friends!” Are they really, Lilo?

* These girls are only six, and they already have their own clique. I guess if you’re going to grow up to become the stereotypical high school mean girls, you’ve gotta practice early.

* Stitch and Lilo straight-up jacked that girl’s ride.

* “Don’t worry, she likes your butt and fancy hair. I read it in her diary”.

* “Did you lose your job because of Stitch and me?” “Nah, the manager’s a vampire who wanted me to join his legion of the undead” “… I knew it”.

* “Dad said ‘Ohana means family’, and family means-!” “Nobody gets left behind” “Or forgotten!”

* “Let me see that” “NO!” “SHARE!” “Ugh, you’re just jealous cause I’m pretty!”

* Why Lilo, just… why?

* There’s no place I’d rather be than on my surfboard out at sea! Lingering in the ocean blue and if I had one wish come true! I’d surf ’til the sun sets beyond the horizon! ʻĀwikiwiki, mai lohilohi! Lawe mai i ko papa heʻe nalu! Flyin’ by on the Hawaiian roller coaster ride!”

* “Our family’s little now and we don’t have many toys, but if you want. you can be part of it. You could be our baby, and we’d raise you to be good. Ohana means family, and family means nobody gets left behind, but if you want to leave, you can. I’ll remember you though. I remember everyone that leaves”.

* “I created you, you were meant to destroy. You can never belong”.

* By this point, Nani is really desperate. The social worker is literally on his way to pick up Lilo and he won’t change his mind; I don’t think getting another job will help her now.

* Pleakley’s reaction to Stitch and Jumbaa trashing the house can best be described as “Aw, hell no!

* “Please, don’t do this” “You know I have no choice” “No! You’re not taking her! I’m the only one who understands her! You take that away, she won’t stand a chance!” “You’re making this harder than it needs to be” “You don’t know what you’re doing! She needs me!” “Is this what she needs?! It seems clear to me that you need her a lot more than she needs you!”

“You ruined everything, Stitch” Yep, and I’m pretty sure you helped too, girl.

* “Don’t leave me, okay?!” “Okay… Okay“.

* “Actually, credit for the captures goes to-” Pleakley, you didn’t do jack.

* “If you take him, you’re stealing” “Aliens are all about rules”.

* “CIA?” “Former. Saved the planet once. Convinced an alien race that mosquitoes are an endangered species” Nobody tell Pleakley.

* “Cause your kisses lift me higher, like the sweet song of a choir! You light my morning sky with burning love, with burning love! Burning love! I’m just a hunk, a hunk of burning love! Just a hunk, a hunk of burning love! Just a hunk, a hunk of burning love!”

Further Reading:

Fanfiction:

Lilo And Stitch David

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Zootopia (2016) Review

Zootopia Poster

“Zootopia” is a pretty special Disney movie and one that I come to appreciate more and more every time I revisit it. Like “Robin Hood“, “Zootopia” has an entirely animal cast and is set in a universe where animals rule the Earth, giving it the freedom to delve into heavier or darker territory than usual for the studio without having to worry about alienating a human audience, and guaranteeing it a large furry fanbase. This film is partially a parody of 80’s cop shows and buddy cop movies, gleefully embracing and subverting all the tropes and cliches of the genre – like the crazy, loose cannon cop who gets results, the reluctant criminal partner, the hard-boiled chief, the oily snitch, and the bloodthirsty mob boss. With its large total of supporting characters, the film also has fun playing with animal stereotypes, with a line-up consisting of a chubby cheetah, an apathetic elephant and a speedy sloth. The writing in the screenplay is enjoyably sharp and surprisingly unpredictable at times, with twists like Belleweather, the film’s antagonist, bailing Judy out on one occasion or Judy’s random act of kindness towards Fru Fru, the daughter of a mob boss, boomeranging back to her in a big way later helping to keep the movie feeling fresh and oh so satisfying.

I think a large part of the appeal of this movie is just how relatable it is. A lot of Disney movies are coming-of-age stories, where the protagonists are at a point where they’re ready to leave their adolescence behind, and “Zootopia” goes one step further than that. This movie is about young adulthood. It’s about putting yourself out there in the world and having new experiences without the safety net you’ve grown used to, for better or for worse. A lot of people can probably relate with having been bullied in their childhood and having to deal with the scars of that even into adulthood, or having to work hard to get where they are only to not be respected for what they do, or overzealously biting off more than they can chew. “Zootopia” is also a film about prejudice, with the conflict and tension between prey and predator often acting as multifaceted allegories for sexism, racism, and homophobia. They have their parallels with human issues but they wisely never entirely fit the mold and can easily be interpreted as representing more than one different issue at once. When dealing with such a lofty subject matter in a family film, things could get preachy or one-sided really easily, but I’m ultimately very satisfied with the egalitarian way “Zootopia” handles its message. It acknowledges that while it’s tempting to want to blame one group for all the world’s problems (usually while ignoring one’s own shortcomings), prejudice is something that’s complicated and messy – it can come from anyone and it’s always harmful. “Zootopia” does this by having Judy’s own ignored biases only make the problem worse as the second act twist, and having the supposedly meek sheep, Belleweather, be the culprit behind trying to start a species war in Zootopia.

Zootopia Judy

In the pantheon of 80’s cop show characters, Judy Hopps is the loose cannon cop who does crazy stuff but gets results nonetheless. In order to find a missing man, protect the people of Zootopia and save her job, Judy does a number of dubious things throughout the movie, like blackmailing small-time crooks, breaking and entering, and using her newfound connections to the mob. I kind of like that while she is truly a force for good, she also has no problem operating in shades of grey – it gives her character an edge and helps her to feel well-rounded. Judy is a small town girl who worked her tail off to get through the police academy, and has left home for the big city to follow her dreams. She’s the first bunny cop and a trailblazer for her species, which naturally comes with a set of challenges. The other, larger mammals on the force are condescending towards her and only think of her as a diversity hire, so she has to prove herself to both her boss and her coworkers. Judy is an idealist and an optimist; she has good-intentions but she’s also somewhat naive. When she comes to Zootopia, the place she’s idolized since she was a child, she thinks it’s a progressive paradise with endless potential, and in a lot of ways it is that, but it’s also a city with a massive population of diverse animals, meaning that there is a large speciesism problem. Still, Judy is plucky and determined – nothing will stop her from doing her job and helping people who need her. She’s sharply intelligent and she has a great amount of empathy for other people – it’s the reason why she joined the force.

What makes Judy a great character is that while she’s intended to be a role model figure, she is also far from perfect, which means she feels human and she has plenty of room to learn, grow and improve. While she wants to be a fully mature and responsible adult, she keeps things from her parents and she can’t quite help engaging in a childish feud with her fox nemesis, Nick – the two of them getting some sweet payback on each other – before they become friends. She can a bit impulsive, and her tendency to not look before she leaps leads to her causing plenty of property damage in pursuit of one crook, badmouthing a mob moss when she has no leverage or authority at the time, and blowing up almost all the evidence she needs trying to get it to headquarters. Judy being a loose cannon cop has both its setbacks and its benefits. Judy’s biggest flaw though is her deeply ingrained biases against foxes, which came about partly as the result of her parents’ own prejudices but mostly because a fox bully attacked her when she was just a kid and traumatized her. Early in the film, it’s shown that while Judy wants to be more progressive and open-minded than her parents and does try to be so, she can’t quite bring herself to practice what she preaches, which you just know is going to bite her in the butt at some point (and it ends up happening at the worst possible time). Having played right into Belleweather’s paws and widened the division between predator and prey in Zootopia, Judy is driven to try even harder to solve the Nighthowler case and atone for her mistakes.

Zootopia Nick 2

Nick Wilde is the plucky cop’s reluctant, criminal partner. Nick is a professional con man with a crafty mind, a shifty demeanor, and a droll personality. Nick is initially very aloof and sarcastic, with a biting sense of humor and a slick charm. In contrast to Judy, the eternal optimist, he has a very cynical, nonplussed and almost bitter outlook on life. Before character development sets in, he’s also quite haughty. Judy pisses him off for a number of reasons during their first couple of confrontations, managing to touch a few sore spots, so he seems to enjoy verbally knocking her down and repeatedly humiliating her. In some ways, Nick is a smug bully she butts heads with during her first few days in Zootopia, and another obstacle for her to overcome. When Judy wrangles him into helping her on her case, a silly, passive-aggressive and very humorous feud breaks out between the two with each of them trying to see how much they can make the other suffer. Nick finally chills out after they have a close shave with mob boss, Mr. Big, where Judy saves their butts, and after Judy saves his life a second time and he learns how bad she has it at work, he starts to gain respect for her. Nick reveals that, like Judy, he was a victim of bullying and harassment as a kid and got traumatized pretty badly by it. He is in fact the darker mirror to Judy. Growing up, Judy faced abuse and disdain, but she decided to work hard and overcome that. Growing up, Nick had it beaten into his head that no one would ever accept him for being a fox, so he decided to abandon his dreams and conform to animal stereotypes by becoming a criminal.

Before now, Nick has only tagged along on Judy’s adventure because she was blackmailing him, but at this pivotal turning point in his character arc, he comes to realize that Judy is not only a match for him, she’s also a true underdog. Instead of wanting to tear her down, he now wants to see her succeed and prove everyone wrong about her, prove that animals aren’t held back by who they are. At this point, Nick and Judy begin to actually cooperate and trust each other and as a result, gradually become friends (at least until she unwittingly betrays him later, but they make up). Nick, ironically, had a very narrow view of the world beforehand, so throughout the movie he’s learning, just as much as Judy is. He’s been thrown out of his comfort zone into all sorts of unfamiliar situations and attitudes, so he has to roll with the punches, fall back on all his wits and instincts, trust Judy to have his back and try to have hers as well. Nick, naturally, becomes a more likable character in the process, settling into the role of the lovable rogue. We learn that Nick Wilde at his most laidback and trusting is actually surprisingly childish and goofy, with a fondness for all the little things in life, and his instincts as a conman are very compatible with detective work and conspiracy theories. Amusingly enough, Nick is also far less eager than Judy to throw himself into life-threatening situations, because he knows he’s the clever, cunning one of the duo not the tough one. Still, he does wind up stepping up to save Judy’s life during the climax. Ultimately, Nick proves the courage, loyalty and desire to do good he had as a kid haven’t been entirely lost, and by the end of the film, he’s decided to follow Judy’s example and take a level in optimism – deciding to try to be the first fox cop.

Zootopia Chief Bogo

Officer Clawhauser is Judy’s overweight but sociable co-worker. Clawhauser is at first the only real friend she has on the force, and it’s clear that his friendly demeanor is the reason why he’s in charge of manning the front desk at the police station. He’s a bubbly, fun-loving, exuberant and effeminate man, who’s outgoing to the point of insensitivity at times, and is a total fanboy of Gazelle. Clawhauser is one of the most fun characters in this movie, which makes it effectively jarring when we see him being quiet, depressed and dejected because the species war in town has cost him his job. It’s an excellent indication of just how bad things have gotten at this point. Chief Bogo is the hard-boiled police chief of 80’s cop shows, a burly cape buffalo with a thick British accent (perhaps the second largest case of furry bait in this movie after Nick). Bogo is very stern, strict, tough, and thoroughly masculine. He’s somewhat humorless and cynical, and he won’t stand for insubordination from his officers. He’s shown from the start to be very biased, as he’s condescending towards Judy and outright dismissive towards Nick, and when he’s pushed he can be very, very harsh and unfair. Still, crafting one-dimensional antagonists is not the way “Zootopia” does things, so Bogo is not without his redeeming qualities. Unlike Lionheart and Belleweather, he is not actually a corrupt cop and does care about the city. When Judy proves herself and earns his respect, he makes good on his word and keeps his promise to her. He also shares Clawhauser’s love of Gazelle as a running gag, so he’s not purely testosterone. By the end of the film, Bogo is shown to have become more even-handed and open-minded, growing into a better police chief as a result of Nick and Judy setting a good example for cops everywhere.

Mayor Lionheart is nice example of your typical self-involved politician. He’s impatient, short-tempered and vain, and he takes his employees for granted, unknowingly helping Belleweather to fall off the slippery slope of sanity. It turns out Lionheart is rounding up the savage animals in Zootopia and trying to cover up the epidemic of animals turning savage, partly to protect his position and partly to keep things from getting worse. He serves as a nice red herring in the mystery, and after his imprisonment, he makes for an excellent scapegoat for Belleweather. Later, he seems to be taking his newfound stay in prison well. Personally, I think he’s amused that his former assistant went and got herself into even bigger trouble than he did. Lionheart is voiced by J.K. Simmons, who between “Gravity Falls”, “The Legend Of Korra”, “Zootopia” and Kung Fu Panda 3″, seems to be everywhere in the medium of animation these days. Mr. Big is a pastiche of your stereotypical mob boss straight out of “The Godfather”, “Goodfellas” or “The Sopranos”, but with the twist that he’s a tiny shrew, but is no less intimidating. With a quiet demeanor, a bloodthirsty nature, and an over-the-top Italian accent, he, his daughter, and his minions are hilarious. The temporary alliance between Judy and Mr. Big has to be one of my favorite plot twists in the movie, because Judy seems way more blase about it than you’d expect her to be.

Zootopia Belleweather

A recurring threat in the film, foreshadowed from the very first scene, are ‘savage’ animals; creatures that have devolved into an unthinkingly primal and predatory state. They’re feral, beastly, vicious and merciless, and the animation for them is downright creepy and nightmarish. The audience is initially led to believe that the condition might be a contagion or a zombie-like virus, easily spread through injuries like Mr. Manchas’, which inspires paranoia about just how bad the epidemic is and just how quickly it will spread. It turns out not to be a force of nature or an abomination of science, but a malicious and calculated attack on predators. Going savage strips them of their cute qualities and anthropomorphic features, and causes them to become what every bigoted animal fears and believes them to be, making it easy to stir up hate towards their entire class. The person behind all this of course is Assistant Mayor Belleweather. For most of the film, Belleweather appears to be meek, loyal, friendly, good-intentioned and unassuming. It’s a very good act, and every time I watch this movie I almost buy into it. Truthfully, she’s very spiteful, vicious and wrathful. While Nick and Judy’s traumatic childhood experiences helped to shape their life choices growing up, all the mistreatment Belleweather has received has driven her insane and she wants to start a full-on species war to take her revenge on predators as a class. I especially love how she pretends to be Judy’s friend and claims to be all about solidarity and camaraderie, but as soon as Judy gets in her way she throws her to the wolves (or should I say, the foxes), revealing that she only really cares about herself. Like Amon from “The Legend Of Korra”, Belleweather makes for a strong villainous analogue to a Tumblr Social Justice Warrior who’s gone murderously insane, and her ultimate comeuppance of being stuck in prison with predators she can’t stand is very satisfying.

Judy’s parents, Stu and Bonnie Hopps, are rednecks – your classic rural farmers. They’re chatty, amiable, overprotective and quite often insensitive. They want fervently to protect Judy from the world, which is a bit difficult when your rabbit daughter wants to be a cop, and they make it no secret that they have their biases against foxes and predators. Judy finds them annoying, but she loves them nonetheless and they love her – enough to let her go and try to be supportive of her. Like Bogo, Stu and Bonnie have their own mini-arc in the background of the movie. With Nick and Judy setting a good example for prey and predator relations, Judy’s parents start to trust predators more and even do business with Judy’s former childhood nemesis, Gideon. Gideon Grey is a rather nasty and brutal bully, with a much deeper voice than you would expect for an eight year old kid. The portly fox only has two scenes in the movie, but a tremendous amount of influence on the plot, since Gideon attacking Judy as a kid is what helps give her her fear of foxes later in life. He returns as an adult, impressively with an even deeper voice and thicker redneck accent, to offer Judy an apology. Reconciling with a reformed bully from one’s past isn’t exactly a new or surprising plot point, but it does remind Judy that people can change, which is one of the themes of the movie and something she really needed to hear at the time. I also always find myself feeling a bit curious about adult Gideon’s personality at the end of that short scene.

Zootopia Nick And Judy 3

This film has incredibly gorgeous and realistic animation that works on a micro and macro level, the peak so far of Disney’s 3-D efforts in the 2010’s, which it uses to bring the world of “Zootopia” to life. It’s a great fun to admire the city Judy has to moved to during her initial tour, and just as much fun to explore all the meticulous world-building that has been put into the city as their case drags the protagonists from region to region. The animals all live in different districts – tailor-made for them, their needs and their size – that equally resemble New York City as much as they do habitats in a zoo, all part of one huge biodome. The lighting and color scheme for the film is warm, comforting and surprisingly homely, giving the overall movie an inviting ambiance. The background animation for the nature scenes and the wildlife surrounding Bunny Burrow and Zootopia is so life-like and so methodically well-done that you could actually be fooled for a moment into thinking you’re watching a live-action film, which is insanely impressive. The score by Michael Giacchino (who scored some of Pixar’s greats like “The Incredibles”, “Ratatouille” and “Up”) is snazzy, vibrant and memorable (particularly during Judy’s meter maid montage), and the film’s pulsating, sweeping signature song – “Try Everything” by pop star, Shakira – is placed in just the right place early in the film to make for a captivating experience.

“Zootopia” is another modern classic from Disney, and a surprising example of how a film’s story can be completely overhauled late in the game and still turn out great. Like “Frozen“, it’s one of my favorites from the 2010’s.

Rating: 10/10.

Side-Notes:

Zootopia Scenery

* We all know Judy achieved her dreams, but I wanna know how the tax exemptions kid turned out.

* “It may seem impossible to small minds, I’m looking at you, Gideon Grey” Young Judy throwing shade.

* Stu, Bonnie, your little girl is eight. You can save the dodgy career advice until she hits her teens.

* It’s played for laughs, but it is disturbing to learn that the “Zootopia” universe has pepper spray and tasers specifically designed to be used on foxes. All some poor fox has to do is startle someone by mistake and they can get shocked with a stun gun. I feel like this gag briefly harkens back to the original concept for “Zootopia”, where predators had to wear shock collars for the prey animals’ benefit.

* “Aw, that poor little bunny’s gonna be eaten alive”.

* The scene outside the ice cream parlor is amusing, since Nick and Judy are both being so phony in this chat. Nick is scamming her, and Judy is trying to hide the fact she profiled him for being a fox. Nick describes her as being ‘non-patronizing’ as a subtle jab, since he already knows she has the fox repellent.

* “I’m a loser!” Judy’s reaction is my own.

* “My mommy says she wishes you were dead”.

* “I am a real cop. I am a real cop. I am a real cop”.

* “Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and your insipid dreams magically come true! So, let it go!” Across time and space, every Disney princess out there felt really pissed off, and they weren’t sure why.

* “It’s called a hustle sweetheart” Sweet, sweet payback.

* “She hustled you. She hustled you good! You’re a cop now, Nick, you’re gonna need one of these! Hehe, have fun working for the fuzz!” I like you Finnick.

* Forget about Judy, keep your eyes on Nick during the sloth scene. His expressions as he puts Judy through the wringer are great.

* “Oh my god, the velvety pipes of Jerry Vole!”

* “Daddy, what did we say? No icing anyone at my wedding!” “He has to, baby. Daddy has to”

* I swear I could fill up this side-notes section with funny Nick expressions.

* “I learned two things that day. One: I was never gonna let anyone see that they got to me” “And two?” “If the world’s only gonna see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there’s no point in trying to be anything else”.

* “I think Mayor Lionheart only wanted the sheep vote” My sides.

* “You know, if I wanted to avoid surveillance because I was doing something illegal, which I never have, I would use the maintenance tunnel 6B, which would put them out… right there” “Well look at you, junior detective! You know, I think you’d actually make a pretty good cop” “Ugh, how dare you”.

* “You know, why don’t you go first, you’re the cop“.

* To quote CinemaSins, Nick and Judy survive this.

* “Well, we think it might have something to do with their biology“.

* “You catch any of that, Bon?” “Not one bit” “Well, that makes me feel a little bit better, I thought she was talking in tongues or something!”

* Daw.

* “Don’t stop, keeping going!” “No, no! Please stop!”

* Handsome ram.

* Nick and Judy also survived this.

* “It’s gone. We lost all our evidence” “Yeah, all except for this” I’m starting to love this fox.

* The first time I saw this movie I was caught off guard by the Belleweather reveal and missed a few things. I was confused how the cops arrived so quickly to apprehend her. The second time through, I was amused that she fucking called them herself when she was gloating and eagerly waiting for Nick to kill Judy. That’s karma, honey.

* “It’s called a hustle, sweetheart. Boom” Rule of three, baby.

* “Did I falsely imprison those animals? Well, yes. Yes I did. It was a classic ‘doing the wrong thing for the right reason’ kind of a deal”.

Further Reading:

Fanfiction:

Zootopia Nick And Judy 9

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Big Hero 6 (2014) Review

Big Hero 6 Poster 2

Set in the Asian-influenced, techno-punk universe of San Fransokyo (fascinatingly enough, an alternate universe version of San Fransico that was rebuilt by Japanese immigrants after the Earthquake of 1906), “Big Hero 6” is a superhero film and the ultimate nerd fantasy movie. It’s one of those superhero flicks where science is a superpower, and the incredible intelligence of the leads, along with their hearts, plays a large part in saving the day. It seems like I should enjoy this movie, but despite liking elements of it, I don’t really like “Big Hero 6” as a whole. It’s taken me a while to pinpoint why, but I’m pretty sure it’s because outside of Hiro, Tadashi and Baymax, I’m really not feeling the characters in this movie. They feel less like characters and more like archetypes painted in broad strokes. You’ve got the conceited child prodigy who’s secretly sensitive; the cool, hardworking older brother who wants to save his little brother from becoming a jailbird; the cool tough girl; the bubbly nerdy girl; the obnoxious rad dude; the jittery OCD guy; the blunt oblivious robot mascot; the loud, naive and high-strung aunt; the slimy untrustworthy businessman; the professor mentor with a secret. These are all very stock character types (and some of them they can get pretty annoying at times).

The title, “Big Hero 6”, is also pretty misleading: it makes it seem like the movie is about the superhero team-up (which doesn’t occur until an hour in). The focus is actually kept firmly on Hiro, Baymax and Tadashi, and the other heroes – Gogo, Honey Lemon, Fred and Wasabi – are just along for the ride. They’re primarily there so they can back up Hiro and act as his support system. Perhaps as a consequence of there being so many characters in this movie, we never learn much about them beyond their surface personalities, and they feel pretty two-dimensional. While the film is already long enough as it is, they feel like they could have been fleshed out more. The other reason I’m not too keen on this movie is because I feel like the quality of the writing steadily declines after the villain, Yokai, is unmasked as Callaghan and the film slips from being a formulaic but otherwise interesting story to a giant ball of cliches (but I’ll talk about that more when I dive into the characters).

Big Hero 6 (8)

Hiro (who has a blunt but nonetheless appropriate name) is a fourteen year child prodigy who specializes in robotics. Hiro is established very early on to be crafty, capable of hustling professional criminals, but not so good with foresight – not anticipating what the criminals would do or how he would escape after they realized they’d been conned. Hiro is initially very cocky and arrogant, content to coast by on his above-average intelligence and game robot fights for years, while pretending to be uninterested in his brother’s ‘nerd stuff’ (one wonders what Hiro initially considers himself to be, if not also a nerd). Still, his brother manages to stir him away from a life of crime, and convince him to pursue a higher education – using his gifts for the sake of discovery. Underneath an aloof and sardonic exterior, there is an anxious and excitable young boy who relies a lot on his older brother for guidance and support and it’s good the movie never forgets how young he is supposed to be. When Tadashi is killed in a fire early in the film, Hiro is crushed by his loss, and spends most of the film drawing away from his friends and family, and going through the various stages of grief. When Hiro suspects foul-play is involved in his brother’s death, he becomes obsessed with tracking down the man responsible, to give himself a purpose and receive some closure. Throughout the movie, Hiro is presented as needing his friends, both old and new, to ground him and help him with his depression, even if he doesn’t want them around.

Hiro’s most engaging moment is during the film’s wham scene, because every Disney movie in the 2010’s tends to have a wham scene where either the protagonist’s character arc reaches a pivotal turning point, or something dark and uncomfortable is revealed about them that had been somewhat obscured before – like Ralph wrecking Vanellope’s cart, or Hans showing his true colors to Anna, or Judy Hopps’ prejudices coming to light during her press conference. When Hiro discovers Professor Callaghan is a godawful person and that his brother died for nothing, he tries to kill him, and this is an excellent example of a protagonist doing something super messed-up that the audience doesn’t approve of, but at the same time understands why he would do it. Because (1) Callaghan is the one who wanted Hiro at his school, (2) he stole his invention for his twisted scheme, (3) he straight-up told him to his face that he couldn’t give a fuck that he got his brother blown up, and (4) despite complaining about how Krei’s carelessness got his daughter killed, Callaghan had zero problems trying to straight-up murder his own young students over five times and counting as soon as they inconvenienced him. Forget about siccing Baymax on him, if I were Hiro I’d be trying to maul his ass myself. At the same time, you’re glad the others stop him because (1) they did not sign up for a ride on-board the murder train to become Hiro’s accomplices, (2) he betrayed Baymax’s trust in him and defiled the purpose of his brother’s dream project, and (3) Hiro himself would regret crossing that moral line when he cooled off. With his character arc having peaked in this scene, Hiro receives a pep talk from Tadashi from beyond the grave, and decides to bring Callaghan in the proper way, working through the rest of his grief in the process.

Big Hero 6 (14)

Hiro’s sidekick and eventual best friend, Baymax, is a robotic nurse meticulously created by his brother, Tadashi, before his death. Baymax is chubby, fluffy and marshmallow-like, and his appearance reminds me a lot of the Michelin Man. Naturally, he’s cute. If Tadashi intended for Baymax to become a nurse though, he probably should have taught him more about a patient’s consent, because Baymax’s lack of boundaries is a lawsuit just waiting to happen. Baymax has a very blunt, honest and observant personality, and his character trope of being the oblivious, socially awkward robot is one the audience ought to be very familiar with, so a lot of the humor around him doesn’t really land in my opinion (though he does have a great, blink-and-you-miss-it joke about his defibrillators). Baymax fares a lot a better in the moments that are meant to be profound and heartfelt, shared between him and Hiro. Baymax is determined to care for Hiro and understand human emotions, and as the film progresses Hiro stops seeing him as just a tool or a remnant of his brother and starts viewing him as a friend, teaching him to have fun. Baymax also has something of an arc over the course of the film – he starts off indulging Hiro’s every whim out of naivety and a desire to please, but as he comes to know him better, he learns to set boundaries, employ logic and reason and pick their battles wisely. I think the scene where Hiro has to leave him behind in the void is supposed to be the culmination of their friendship, but honestly it feels hollow and tacked-on. Hiro has already overcome most of his issues at this point without this bit of emotional manipulation, and the audience doesn’t believe for a second that this scene will stick because Disney doesn’t have the guts to kill off a co-protagonist. The fact that it’s reversed only three minutes later only serves to make it feel even more pointless.

Like Baymax, the other heroes in Hiro’s team start out as friends and classmates to his late brother, and Hiro has a connection to them through him, but he goes on to befriend them as well during their first big mystery. Gogo is an abrasive and hotblooded punk girl. She knows all about mechanics, has a need a speed for speed and serves as the team’s designated driver during their car chases. While Gogo is a classic tomboy, the tall blonde Honey Lemon is more traditionally feminine. Honey Lemon is a bubbly, outgoing chemist who is very nonviolent and acts as the heart of the team. While her suit helps to increase her endurance and stamina, Honey Lemon likes to rely on her knowledge of chemistry to help her in battle and incapacitate her foes. Wasabi is the team’s offense. Ironically, Wasabi is very neurotic, admittedly has OCD and is something of a bundle of nerves. After getting dragged into the Yokai mystery, Wasabi has to face his fears and find his inner strength to help the team. Wasabi is probably the most entertaining member of the group, since his character pleasantly goes against the usual stereotypes for black guys and is very goofy at times. Fred is the odd man out in the group. He’s the only member of the team who wasn’t a super genius beforehand, being the university’s mascot, and is a giant comic book, superhero fantasy fanboy. Fred has a very laidback and at times obnoxious personality, giving off the radical dude, slacker vibe. Later on, Fred is revealed to have a wealthy background and rich parents, which allows the team to use his mansion as a base of operations.

Big Hero 6 (16)

The villain, Yokai, is an enigma. An implacable, shadowy masked man who stalks the city and has corrupted Hiro’s invention for his own ends (there are some Hiro / Yokai parallels). It turns out he’s actually Tadashi’s former professor, Callaghan, who’s furious with slimy businessman Krei for accidentally getting his daughter killed, and is willing to murder anyone who gets in his way and potentially destroy the city to get his revenge (to say this isn’t a normal reaction to losing someone would be an understatement). I really hate this character, and not in a ‘love to hate’ kind of way either. There’s nothing interesting, engaging or thought-provoking about him, he’s just an enormous hypocrite – an unashamedly terrible person who tries to portray himself as a victim of someone else (kind of like Rose’s mom from “Titanic”). The narrative hardly ever calls out his blatant hypocrisy, and he gets off way too easy by the end of it for my liking (Disney doesn’t kill off their villains as often as they used to, but I think this one needed a good death scene as a consequence of refusing to give up his dangerous obsession). Right before he’s carted away by the police, the movie portrays it is as tragedy that he got so caught up in his hatred and vengeance towards Krei that he cost himself his chance to be with his daughter again when she was actually recovered and rescued, but honestly I could not care less about him. I feel sorry for his daughter. When she gets out of the hospital, she’s going to have to learn that her daddy is a murderous psychopath who got himself thrown in prison for trying to murder his students and destroy the city, and after everything she’s already experienced in the void, that’s gonna hurt.

Speaking of Callaghan’s daughter, I really think it would have been better if Abigail had remained dead, not only because her last minute plot twist feels like a cop-out that retroactively defangs most of Callaghan’s arc, but also because a major problem “Big Hero 6” has is a lack of substantial consequences. Professor Callaghan is revealed to have faked his death the whole time, his daughter was only lost in the void and never really died, Baymax is left to die in the void but that gets reversed only three minutes later. Despite the main theme of this movie being grief and loss, ironically the only one who dies and actually stays dead is Tadashi (who apparently had terrible luck compared to everyone else), which takes a good bit away from it. Tadashi is Hiro’s older brother and a college man. Like Hiro, Tadashi is a robotics genius, who pours most of his time, effort and intelligence into his pet project, Baymax. He’s characterized as goofy and fun-loving, but just as equally dedicated, hard-working and morally sound. Tadashi, naturally, wants to look out for his younger brother and keep him on the straight and narrow, even if he has to needle him or trick him to do so. Like most siblings, they fight and it’s implied Hiro somewhat takes him for granted early on, since he’s always been there for him, but it’s quickly clear that Tadashi is the greatest role model figure Hiro has in the absence of his deceased parents. Ironically, Tadash’s most noble trait is what gets him killed – he’s altruistic to a fault. Running into a burning building to try to save his professor gets him blown up and killed, which is why civilians are advised not to try to take on the role of firefighters outside of movies. Tadashi’s death is the driving force for most of Hiro’s actions throughout the film until the last act, when he learns not to let his anger compromise his moral convictions or his brother’s memory.

Big Hero 6 (2)

As you would expect for a Disney film produced in the 2010’s, the CG animation is amazingly detailed and rendered near-perfectly, with some solid direction from Don Hall and Chris Williams. While the shockwave of the explosion that claims Tadashi will catch you off guard with just how palatable it is, the first noticeable jump in animation quality is during Gogo’s exciting, high-octane car chase through the city. But this is only a precursor for the real highlight of the movie, Hiro and Baymax’s first flight around San Fransokyo, in which both the animation and the direction soar. It’s easily my favorite sequence of the movie, and a nice reminder that even in some of their weaker films, Disney has still come a long way in mastering the art of 3-D animation since they started in the 2000’s. The second most visually striking scene in the film is Hiro and Baymax’s journey into the void – a giant, purple, wormhole-like expanse with colors dancing everywhere like a supernova. I might not like this scene that much, but there’s no denying it is beautiful. Henry Jackman’s pulsing, electronic score is a good fit for the emphasis on technology in this movie, and the Fallout Boy single “Immortals” is just the right song to get one pumped up for a training montage.

There’s a fair amount of good things about “Big Hero 6” (like Hiro, Baymax and the animation), and there’s also a fair amount of things I dislike about it. The characters are overly generic, the villain is more annoying than he is interesting, and the last act is way too fangless. As far as Disney films go, I don’t think “Big Hero 6” is a bad movie, but I do think it’s disappointingly average.

Rating: 6/10.

Side-Notes:

Big Hero 6 (13)

* “No one likes a sore loser, little boy” Fails to follow his own advice two minutes later.

* Awkward (strangely enough, Yama did not use this opportunity to beat up his brother, who I only just noticed was in the cell with the criminals).

* “I spilled Wasabi on my shirt one time, people! One time!”

* “On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your pain?” “Physical or emotional?” *Tadashi’s puppy dog eyes.*

* This looks like it would actually hurt a lot.

* Fred, you’re really annoying.

* “Sorry Mr. Krei, but they’re not for sell” “Wow, I thought you were smarter than that” Oh snap.

* “Mr. Krei, that’s my brother’s” Nice catch, Tadashi. Never trust shady businessmen in movies.

* There’s a fun alternate universe out there where Hiro and Tadashi attended college together and became nerd-inventor brothers.

* Hot damn, son.

* “Hiro, if I could have one superpower right now, it would be the ability to crawl through this camera, and give you a big hug” Hiro doesn’t want your hug, Fred.

* “Diagnosis: Puberty”.

* “You gave me a heart attack!” “My hands are equipped with defibrillators. Clear!”

* Baymax runs out of battery power at just the right time for the skeptical policeman to think Hiro’s a liar, because of course he does.

* Animal abuse (Mochi hates you now, Hiro).

* “You look sick” “I cannot be sick, I am a robot” “It’s just an expression”.

* Hiro, you are way too into this, boy (on that note, who else thinks Hiro’s design wouldn’t look out of place in a “How To Train Your Dragon” movie?).

* “Get ’em Baymax!” Heh.

* This is actually a perfectly justified reaction to someone trying to kill you out of nowhere.

* “Why have we stopped?!” “The light’s red!” “THERE ARE NO RED LIGHTS IN A CAR CHASE!”

* Gogo looks like her whole life has been preparing her for this moment.

* Seatbelts save lives, but not when you’re drowning.

* “Welcome to mi casa, that’s French for ‘front door'” “It’s really not”.

* “Do you feel it? Our origin starts now. We’re gonna be superheroes!”

* I’d like to introduce Baymax 2.0.” “He’s glorious!” He looks like Optimus Prime’s rounder, younger brother.

* “I fail to see how flying makes me a better healthcare companion” “I fail to see how you fail to see that it’s awesome!”

* Dear God Fred, shut up.

* “Baymax, destroy! Destroy him!”

* There is a very dark alternate universe out there where Honey Lemon was a few seconds too late to stop from Baymax from shooting that creep, and they all became complicit in Hiro’s revenge murder at a far too young age.

* “I don’t understand. Callaghan was such a good man” I kind of doubt that.

* “I can’t stretch anymore! Wait… it’s a suit”.

* “Our health care program prevents us from harming humans” That’s a shame.

* Baymax, no, we don’t need another plot twist.

* I swear, y’all are so useless to the actual meat of this movie.

* Comic book legend, Stan Lee, shows up for the end credits gag as Fred’s dad, because why not?

Further Reading:

Fanfiction:

Big Hero 6 (7)

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Wreck-It Ralph (2012) Review

Wreck-It Ralph Poster

“Wreck-It Ralph” is Disney’s first video game movie – filled with game-jumping, crossover zaniness – so naturally this film is a fan favorite of many gamers. I’m not a gamer, so I didn’t catch all of the winks and the references that are in this movie, but I am tickled pink that Pacman (freaking Pacman) is now an official character in the Disney canon. “Wreck-It Ralph” has a lot of fun with it’s status as a video game movie beyond tongue-in-cheek references, commenting as well on how much video games have changed and how far they’ve come since their humble beginnings. One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when the war game, “Hero’s Duty”, proves to be intense for old Ralphie (a character from the 80’s) and he dissolves into a sobbing mess about how violent and scary video games have become, before he punks out entirely and costs the player their game. Good times. All the characters in “Wreck-It Ralph” live inside an arcade, and their games are connected by a power cord (giant-sized from their perspective), which leads to a lot of fun world-building and game-hopping (partly because of how the physics of video game logic translate to other games). The movie especially comes alive when Ralph gets to Vanellope’s racing game, “Sugar Rush”, and the movie indulges in all sorts of sight gags and candy puns. Make no mistake though, there is purpose to all this fanwankery beyond simple fun. “Wreck-It Ralph” is a movie loaded with foreshadowing. Every bit of exposition, every character beat, and many of the throw-away gags become a Chekov’s gun at some point and build towards the climax. Ralph’s desire to be a hero, Turbo’s backstory, Vanellope’s claim that racing is in her code, Vanellope’s glitching, video game characters dying outside their games, Cybugs becoming what they consume, Vanellope’s secret bonus level, even Ralph’s vendetta against chocolate. “Wreck-It Ralph” is a very dense and tightly plotted movie, and that’s just the way I like my films.

Each era of the Disney canon seems to have a different objective or theme bonding the films. The golden and silver eras wanted to explore the medium of animation and test the boundaries of what it was capable of through fairy tales. The dark age focused a lot on humor and having likable ensemble casts. The renaissance era also wanted to test the limits of animation, by elevating a crowd-pleasing, romantic and adventurous Broadway formula. The post-renaissance era focused a lot on developing relationships between protagonists, especially the platonic kind in films like “The Emperor’s New Groove”, “Lilo And Stitch“, “Treasure Planet”, and “Brother Bear“. The revival era seems to be about tackling real world problems in a fantastical setting. “Tangled” had emotional abuse, “Frozen” had mental health issues and childhood trauma, “Zootopia” had prejudice and discrimination, and “Wreck It Ralph” has bullying and ostracization. I’ve noticed the movies from the 2010’s can cut even deeper than usual, because at least one of them will remind of you something you’ve dealt with or your friends have dealt with at some point. “Wreck-It Ralph” makes it clear bullying and mistreatment is something that can happen to anyone – regardless of size, shape or gender – and the way the characters treat Ralph and Vanellope is really very awful. I also have to give “Wreck-It Ralph” credit for not shying away from pain like some other movies might do. There are some scenes in this movie that are legitimately hard to watch because of how raw and ugly they are, like the scene where Ralph betrays Vanellope’s trust or the scene where Ralph realizes he may have signed Vanellope’s death sentence. If I do have one complaint, it’s that the copious amounts of lowbrow humor gets annoying pretty quickly, and Vanellope seems to get the most of it.

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The film’s protagonist, the titular Wreck-It Ralph, has not been dealt the best hand in life. Ralph and the other inhabitants of his game are essentially actors playing a part; each of them has their own role to play in keeping their game up and running, because if they ever stop the game shuts down and they all lose their homes. That’s kind of a bleak premise to start with – years of monotony and stagnation. Someone has to be the bad guy / the heel, and despite being a good-natured guy, that’s Ralph’s position. It’s a pretty thankless job and the other Nicelanders resent him for it, giving him the cold shoulder for decades, especially Gene. What Ralph wants more than anything in this movie is to belong and to receive some recognition for his part in the game. Which isn’t to say that Ralph is a purely innocent little woobie. He can be gruff, hotheaded, destructive and selfish. After accepting a challenge from Gene, Ralph winds up game-hopping, risking his own life and thoughtlessly endangering several other games for a medal he hasn’t earned in a misguided attempt at being a ‘hero’ – trying to change his nature. Something Ralph has in common with the glitch Vanellope is that they’re both troubled outcasts who want so badly to get ahead in life that they wind up selfishly screwing people over (something they actually initially bond over), though the fact that they both learn and grow from this is what separates them from the villain Turbo, who only ever cares about his pride, greed and his vanity.

Something Ralph struggles with is the idea that he can be a bad guy and a good person at the same time. The audience is aware that Ralph has a warm heart, as evidenced by how he gradually slots into the role of Vanellope’s older. surrogate brother as their friendship blossoms, but Ralph has convinced himself over the years that the only way he’ll ever be worth something is if he becomes a hero, and King Candy / Turbo craftily uses that mentality to manipulate him mid-movie. The chat Ralph and Turbo have about Vanellope’s safety at the end of the second act is fascinatingly dark, and the scene that follows in many ways recalls Baloo breaking Mowgli’s trust in him to try to save him in “The Jungle Book“, but is much more bleak and traumatizing – and unlike Bagheera, Candy has ulterior motives. After a nice guilt trip, Ralph gets his priorities fully in order and becomes a wholly selfless and helpful individual by the third act, though like a few other Disney protagonists (Aladdin, Ariel, etc) Ralph discovers he got so caught up in his goals earlier that he endangered all of his friends (there still aren’t many of them) and almost brought about the end of the world. Ralph pulls off a heroic sacrifice (that’s thankfully interrupted by Vanellope) and redeems himself, learning an important lesson about loving himself for who he is in the process. When Ralph returns home, he’s in a better place emotionally and has gained some respect. Not all of his problems have been solved neatly, but he’s learned to take life one step at a time, appreciate the little things, and enjoy having good friends. It’s a very satisfying emotional arc, though it is possible to take a more pessimistic reading of it as encouraging people to know their place and never try to break strict caste systems at the risk of destroying society, which I’m sure is unintentional.

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Vanellope Von Schweetz is the film’s pint-sized deuteragonist. Vanellope is a peppy and perky little girl, always quick with an honest and unasked for opinion, but is in equal measures sassy and snarky – years of living on her own lending the girl a cynical edge. She initially seems like your usual mouthy brat, but as you’d expect from a deuteragonist, there’s more to her than that. Vanellope is both a homeless kid and a glitch – an error in the video game software that has trouble staying 100% corporeal – and like Ralph, she’s not above doing morally dubious things to try to get what she wants. Vanellope has a rather vicious rivalry with mean, valley girl stereotype Taffyta, who honestly reminds me of Pacifica Northwest from “Gravity Falls” (in fact, many of their scenes are reminiscent of Mabel and Pacifica’s dynamic, but are far less humorous). Vanellope’s goal is to become a racer like the other kids in her racing game; partly because it’s fun, partly to improve her social standing, and partly because she claims it’s in her code, drawing her to the sport like it’s her a calling – a subtle bit of a foreshadowing for her true nature later in the film.

Vanellope strikes up a friendship with Ralph as both of them work towards their own ends – discovering they’re two of the only individuals that can empathize with what the other has had to put up with before now and soften towards each other accordingly. They become your archetypal gentle giant and little kid duo, and Vanellope grows on you a lot over the course of the movie with all of her guts, enthusiasm and determination. It’s great seeing her overcome the stigma of being glitch, and learn to not only control her abilities but use them to her advantage – embracing them as a positive part of her, and ironically using what King Candy did to her to beat him and all the other dickish racers in Sugar Rsuh. Vanellope’s best moment is during the climax, when she realizes Ralph is about to pull a classic hero’s sacrifice to save the world and go out like Jesus, and she decides she ain’t having any of that – jumping into the fray without question to bail her boy out. As it turns out, Vanellope is actually the rightful ruler and head racer of Sugar Rush that King Candy / Turbo usurped out of jealousy and mindwiped her, making her an official Disney princess. Vanellope decides the princess gig isn’t for her, and quite rightly disposes of her hideous new princess get-up, deciding to try out running for president instead.

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Felix-It Felix is Ralph’s co-worker and the local hero of his game. Felix’s personality is that of a cheery, sanitized 1950’s everyman. He’s very much a parody of the squeaky-clean, overly optimistic, old fashioned hero (despite being a character from the edgy 80’s), and while they’re not friends, he’s one of the few Nicelanders who holds no ill-will towards Ralph and tries to keep the peace between him and the other Nicelanders. After Ralph goes Turbo, Felix has to step outside the safety of his game and his comfort zone in general, and pursue him through the arcade to save their jobs and their homes. Felix is forced to challenge the way he does things (not always being able to rely on his magic hammer or jumping skills to solve a problem), and gains a greater sense of empathy for other people, when he couldn’t quite connect to them before. Along the way, he teams up with and becomes smitten with military woman, Sergeant Tamora Calhoun. Sergeant Calhoun is a stern, authoritative, domineering soldier – one who’s highly competent – and she officially has the most tragic backstory ever of any Disney character. She didn’t do a perimeter check on her wedding day, so her fiancee was killed and eaten by the cybugs she fights in her game. While played for laughs, the incident seems to have left her with PTSD that she struggles to overcome, and a drive to exterminate all cybugs. Calhoun is well aware of Felix’s crush on her, and truthfully she reciprocates it, but she’d prefer to focus on the mission on the hand. As an opposites-attract sort of romance, Felix and Calhoun are both over-the-top hilarious in their own way and I honestly do ship them more than I thought I would as the movie progresses. They’re the world’s most unlikely battle couple.

Gene, surprisingly, is a character that I appreciate precisely because of how unlikable he is. The Nicelanders, quite frankly, get what they deserve when treating like Ralph like a pariah for thirty years costs them their home and their jobs. Does Gene, the most antagonistic of the bunch, do some self-reflecting and realize his prickish behavior over the years helped play a part in making this happen? Absolutely not. He doubles down, shifts full and total responsibility onto Ralph, and when the opportunity presents itself he not so subtly shames Ralph for being an ingrate. It’s exactly the sort of thing someone who’s used to treating someone poorly for decades would do, and it’s a bold choice to have this character receive little to no redemption by the end (also, harsh as it was, Gene’s rant was what Ralph needed to hear at the time, to get his head on straight). As secondary antagonists, the Cybugs are pretty creepy. The sickly green glow they emit gives them an unsettling aesthetic, especially when they travel together in a swarm, and having them be essentially an unstoppable, mindless virus is an inspired bit of writing, since the protagonists of this movie are video game characters and the Cybugs are arguably one of the few things that could do any real damage to them. The Cybugs are basically the fallout of Ralph’s terrible choices, snowballing in the background of the movie, and the climax, where they finally catch up to him and start to put the whole arcade in grave danger, is both distressing and terrifying.

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I think my real MVP from this movie though is King Candy / Turbo. Turbo is a villain who’s set-up well and developed well, but he still manages to blindside you because he is a Grade A bastard. Turbo is established very early on as a fallen figure from a real life cautionary tale, who fell from grace because of envy, greed and wrath. He set the standards for what a video game character should never become, and what Ralph might be in danger of becoming, even if he has good intentions. We’re not given any reason to think he’s relevant to the main plot beyond that though, despite the racing connection that I feel rather thick for missing. When we’re first introduced to King Candy of Sugar Rush, he’s obviously a pastiche of the Mad Hatter from “Alice Of Wonderland” – a seemingly wise, just and affable ruler, and a kooky, zany old man. It’s a facade of course. Pretty soon, King Candy reveals himself to be pretty paranoid, quite the control freak and even a bit sinister. He’s desperate to keep Vanellope from racing, for reasons that he claims are for everyone’s own good – keeping Sugar Rush from shutting down because of Vallope’s glitching. As things start to unravel, we see that Candy at his core is vain, ruthless and manipulative – tricking Ralph into betraying Vanellope and throwing her in his dungeon.

By the climax, he’s become completely unhinged and is promptly unmasked – King Candy is Turbo. After escaping deletion, Turbo fled to Vanellope’s game, rewrote the entire software, and stole her position for years out of petty jealousy and spite, leaving her to be bullied by her own subjects. Having grown tired of her, Turbo tries to straight up murder Vanellope (remember that she’s still ten). Turbo is also nothing if not adaptable. He even manages to take his delicious, Cybug related comeuppance and use it to his advantage to level up even further and become almost unstoppable – strong enough to take his revenge out on the entire arcade. In true villain fashion, Turbo sarcastically thanks Ralph for helping him get where he is, and goads the powerless man about getting to watch Vanellope die and be eaten by Cybugs in front of them (this dude is so messed up. I love it). Since Turbo is thoroughly twisted, it’s only fitting that his final death be twisted as well. He gets to die screaming as his new Cybug body, that he loved previously, betrays him and whisks him away into oblivion. Disney’s been doing a lot of plot twist villains lately, like Hans from “Frozen”, or Callaghan from “Big Hero 6“, or Belleweather from “Zootopia”, but so far Turbo has done it best.

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The animation is very high quality. By this point, Disney had seven years of experience under their belt and had come into their own with their CGI animation, allowing them to parody the different art styles and graphics of numerous video games, and bring Ralph’s expansive arcade world to life flawlessly. “Sugar Rush” in particular is a beauty to look at as a location, and it feels like it stretches on forever with all of it’s sleek, sleek rendering. Henry Jackman’s score is peppy and pleasant, if a bit of generic in places, and it makes the race scenes thrilling to watch. I’m impressed by how Disney managed to sneak Rihanna’s “Shut Up And Drive” past the radar, considering how many double entendres the song contains (it even made the official soundtrack), but it was excellent choice, since the cool, suave energy of it fits Vanellope’s training montage perfectly (the little kids of the 2010’s are gonna lift a few eyebrows when they hit their teens and hear that song again). Likewise, “When Can I See You Again” is the perfect electronic pop song to close the film on and say goodbye to the characters we’ve spent the last ninety-five minutes with (at least, until the sequel).

“Wreck-It Ralph” is a rare example of a video game movie that’s actually good, and a nice experiment at trying something new from Disney. I’ve grown to really like it over the years and I’m giving it high marks.

Rating: 9/10.

Side-Notes:

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* “Anything to declare?” “I hate you” “I get that a lot. Proceed”.

* “Pacman?! They invited Pacman?! That cherry chasing, dot-muncher isn’t even a part of this game!”

* “Hey Glenn!” “…Ralph”.

* “You win it by climbing a building?” “AND FIGHTING BUGS!!!”

* “It’s make your mamas proud time!” “I love my mama!”

* “Taste it!” In true action hero fashion, Calhoun always packs so much heat – even at her wedding.

* “Oreo, Oreo! Oreo, Oreo!”

* “If I ever see you again Wreck-It Ralph, I’ll lock you in my fungeon!” “Fungeon?” “Fun dungeon. It’s word play” This dungeon doesn’t look that fun.

* The devil dogs… oh my lord.

* “It’s that little crumb snatcher!” Ralph is really getting into the pastry puns.

* The stuff of nightmares.

* “How dare you insult Hero’s Duty!” The sheer amount of cringe that led up to that line was almost worth it for the pay-off.

* “Is he in there?” “Nope, lucky for him. Otherwise, I would have slapped his corpse” She made good on that promise too.

* This is the face of evil.

* “The selfish man is like a mangy dog chasing a cautionary tale” “I know, right?”

* I’m not sure how I feel about the Nesquick sand scene. On the one hand, it’s very funny, but on the other hand, it really wouldn’t fly if the genders were flipped.

* “What’s this? You’re a full-on criminal, aren’t you?” Ralph, my man, don’t judge. You’ve probably broken so many laws today, if video games have laws.

* “What did you think? ‘Oh, I’ll just magically win the race, just cause I really want to!'”

* “This might come as a shock to you, but in my game I’m the bad guy, and I live in the garbage!” “Cool!” “No, not cool! Unhygienic and lonely and boring!”

* “I sleep in these candy wrappers, and I bundle myself up like a little homeless lady” There was a whole alternate version of this scene that was cut, but this line was so good it made it to the final draft.

* “So if you feel it, let me know, know, know! Come on now, what you waiting for, for, for? My engine’s ready to explode, explode, explode! So start me up and watch me go, go, go, go!”

* “That’s not blunt force trauma, ma’am, that’s just the honey glow in my cheeks”.

* “Have you seen my friend, Wreck-It Ralph?” “We should have locked him up when we had a chance, but I’m not gonna make the same mistake with you” “Wait, what? Auugghh!”

* Vanellope decides to double back for something just long enough for King Candy to appear and talk to Ralph. How convenient for the plot.

* “Doomsday and armageddon had a baby, and it is ugly!”

* “Now remember, you don’t have to win, you just have to cross the finish line, and you’ll be a real racer” “I already am a real racer, and I’m gonna win!” Vanellope is ready to kick King Candy’s ass.

* I’m starting to love this girl.

* Life comes at you fast.

* “I’m bad, and that’s good. I will never be good and that’s not bad. There’s no one I’d rather be.. ..than me”

* “As your merciful princess, I hereby decree that everyone who was ever mean to me shall now be executed” “Well this place just got a lot more interesting” I know, right?

* Thank you Felix, for breaking up all that cringe.

* “But I gotta say, the best part of my day… is when I get thrown off the roof. Because when the Nicelanders lift me up.. I get a perfect view of Sugar Rush. And I can see Vanellope racing. The kid’s a natural! And the players love her, glitch and all! Just like I knew they would. Turns out I don’t need a medal to tell me I’m a good guy. Cause, if that little kid likes me… how bad can I be?”

I ship it like Fed-Ex.

Further Reading:

Fanfiction:

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Bambi II (2006) Review

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“Bambi II”, the midquel centered around everyone’s favorite deer prince. It always surprises me just how good this movie is, because it really shouldn’t be. For starters, it’s a sequel and Disney’s track record with sequels is fairly awful. In fact, their record has gotten so bad that it’s practically become a meme to cringe at the sight of a Disney sequel. For another thing, “Bambi II” technically isn’t even a sequel, it’s a midquel – and prequels and midquels always tend to feel pointless (it was originally called “Bambi And The Great Prince” during production, and honestly the studio should have kept that title because I think it’s far more fitting and accurate than “Bambi II”). And for one last reason, it’s the Disney sequel with the largest gap between itself and it’s predecessor. In fact, “Bambi” and “Bambi II” currently hold the record for the longest gap between a movie and it’s sequel – nearly sixty-five years.

By all rights, this movie should be awful or totally cringy, like the “Beauty and the Beast” sequels (which can best be described as “Character Assassination, Parts 1 and 2”). But surprisingly enough, it’s not. It’s actually pretty enjoyable. Sweet and funny (very funny) and touching. Clearly, the people who made this movie knew the original “Bambi” was beloved and if they blew it on the level of some of the other sequels, they would be ripped to shreds. I think what makes this movie work is the fact that it’s the one of the only Disney sequels I’ve seen so far that can say it gave it’s main characters more dimensions than they had before, and breathed new life into them. The premise is centered around the event everyone remembers from the original “Bambi” – the loss of a parent. Bambi’s mother is dead, she’s clearly never coming back, and now her boys that have been left behind have to decide what they’re going to do with themselves from here on out.

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I mentioned in my review of “Bambi” that there were a lot of great things about that movie – the animation, the score, the atmosphere, the villain – but I wouldn’t say Bambi himself was one of them, since he and his family were kept as blank slates until the last twenty minutes. By contrast, Bambi is very likable in this movie, without feeling like his personality has changed too much. He’s still a playful, energetic fawn that tries to enjoy everything life has to offer him, but he’s gradually proactive as well as reactive. I think part of what makes Bambi so endearing, beyond having stronger characterization, is the fact that he’s more involved in the humor. This movie has so much fun at Bambi’s expense without it ever feeling mean-spirited. He can’t keep up with his father on the morning patrols, he’s antagonized by another jealous fawn (Ronno), and at one point he has a run-in with a cantankerous porcupine. The status quo in young Bambi’s life has been permanently changed. He’s been sent to live with his father who up until now has been a near-total stranger to him (which, needless to say, is uncomfortable), and he’s been stripped from his beloved mother. As you would expect, Bambi misses her terribly, but he still tries to make the best of things and strike up a rapport with the nearest adult figure in his life, which is of course, the Great Prince. The mysterious and aloof stag intrigues him, as he’s not quite as unapproachable as Bambi originally thought. Since, unlike Simba or Littlefoot, Bambi didn’t see his mother die, he’s allowed to cling to the idea she’s still around, stay in denial a little bit longer, until he nearly gets himself killed by hunters – at which point, the dejected deer is forced to accept she’s gone for good.

In the weeks following that, with his friends’ encouragement, Bambi starts to get tired of being timid and helpless all the time. He starts to want to take control of his life, put himself out there and really go for what he wants – which includes making awkward conversation with his father. After the ice is broken, Bambi gets to not only build a connection with a parent again and stave off loneliness, he also learns a lot from the Great Prince about being a prince and being a buck, and it slowly helps him to gain confidence and come out of his shell. The most pivotal moment in the movie is when Bambi’s potential caretaker, Mena, is caught in a hunting trap with hunting dogs on the way, and it occurs to Bambi that instead of running away, again, he can save her. As a prince of the forest, using what his father taught him, Bambi can make a difference in the forest, and he wants that. In that moment, Bambi the badass deer prince that I enjoyed in the last twenty minutes of the original film is born. Bambi displays quite a heroic side, faces his fear of Man and proves that he has what it takes to be a fine leader someday. Over the course of this movie, Bambi stepped outside of his comfort zone, he went through some tough times and he had a couple of near-death experiences, but he ultimately walks away from it a stronger person and achieves everything he had been hoping for, from having a proper relationship with his father to gaining a pair of antlers, and I couldn’t be happier for the little guy. Good on you, Bambi.

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While Bambi deals with the loss of his mother by trying to make the best of things and gaining a greater sense of self-confidence, the ever stoic (and somewhat pompous) Great Prince copes by burying himself in his duties and refusing to look back at the past. He’s grieving and a bit depressed, but still, life moves on. Male deer are rarely ever present in the lives of their off-spring – it’s the way deer do things as a species. The Great Prince has always cared for his mate and his son, but he’s never had to be more than a distant protector before now. Now, he has to be a provider as well. Much like how “Bambi II” is frank about how uncomfortable it would be going to go live with a father who’s a near-total stranger, the film is also honest about what would happen if someone who’s never had to be personally responsible for someone else beyond leadership and has no context on how to handle kids is suddenly tasked with raising one – including the ugly parts. When the Great Prince leaves Bambi on his own for far too long one day, it nearly gets Bambi killed by hunters, which only further convinces him that he’s incompatible with the role of a parent. It doesn’t help that he’s been aloof and isolating himself from other deer for years before now. Something that’s worth noting is that the co-protagonists of this film are moving in opposite directions in terms of character arcs. While Bambi is a shy but amiable kid who needs to grow into the role of a more confident prince, the Great Prince is an already competent and capable adult who’s defined himself around his duties for so long that he’s almost forgotten how to be a person, and he needs to regain his ability to connect to people on a more personal level if he’s going to continue raising Bambi. Once the Great Prince begins to let Bambi in and they start to find some common ground, meeting somewhere around the middle, things click. They have a great amount of influence on each other, and it’s easy to see that through their companionship, they make each other better than they were before.

Still, the Great Prince’s doubts remain about what’s actually best for Bambi. One of the more harsh but satisfying moments in the movie is when Bambi snaps and finally calls the Great Prince out on toying with his emotions (because even the nicest deer have their limits), and the dilemma in the last act revolves around forcing the Great Prince to confront what he truly values – his adherence to princely traditions or his budding relationship with his son – a head versus heart decision. The fact that the Prince’s potential goodbye to Bambi is a reminder of the boy’s birthright and not that his father loves him is a quietly cold gesture, but says a lot about how simultaneously well-meaning and misguided his priorities are. Even now, he wonders if he made the right choice and halfway regrets it. Like Elsa’s attempts to ‘protect’ Anna in “Frozen“, the Great Prince has locked himself in something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – every attempt to keep Bambi at a distance because he thinks it’s for his own good has only made things worse and wound up hurting him anyway, and the climax is no exception. When his fatherly concern swells up and the Great Prince finds he has seemingly lost his mate and his son to Man, he can no longer fall back on his princely coping methods to ignore the buried grief – they’re worthless – and it’s the final step to clearing up his priorities; convincing him to wholeheartedly accept his new relationship Bambi – as weird, unconventional and wonderful as it is. In the weeks afterward, the pair’s genial dynamic has returned, and the Great Prince, having started to make peace with his mate’s death and learned his lesson about the importance of keeping some of his earthly tethers, decides to tell Bambi more about his mother. Like Bambi, the Great Prince really grows on you in this movie.

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The little bunny Thumper was easily one of the best characters in the original “Bambi” and he’s not relinquishing that status anytime soon. Thumper is as much of a sweet but mischievous troublemaker as ever, and his voice actor turns him out into a large, stroppy ham without it ever feeling like overkill. He’s very entertaining. In this film, Thumper is pretty much Bambi’s wingman as well as his best friend. Bambi was always a timid deer who didn’t like to take risks much, and it was his mother who encouraged him to be sociable. Now that she’s gone, that role has fallen to Thumper. Thumper tries to be supportive of Bambi’s decisions, and as an added benefit he gets to spend time away from his younger sisters who have been crowding him more than usual lately. Thumper’s sisters are pretty adorable by the way, with all their innocent insensitivity and total relentlessness. Flower the skunk retains his main personality traits of being quiet, bashful and effeminate, but his role as the third man in the forest trio is given a bit more emphasis and his oddball traits are slightly more noticeable. For example, he seems to have developed a fear of snapping turtles that turns out to be quite warranted by the end. The doe-eyed Faline makes a few appearances and she’s still a satellite love interest, though she’s shown to have sympathy for Bambi’s and appears to have become closer in Bambi’s friend group, as a girl next door type, than she was before.

Bambi gains a rival in this film, young Ronno, who is a little bitch deer. Ronno is a braggart and a show-off, an older fawn who’s eager for attention from his peers. He’s already starting to develop antlers so he thinks he’s more masculine than he is. He’s also a would-be bully. Ronno gradually becomes jealous of Bambi, because of Bambi’s status as the young prince of the forest, and because despite Ronno’s hubris, it slowly becomes clear he will always be second-best to his younger, more timid rival, Bambi. Fueled by envy and resentment, Ronno becomes more spiteful and cruel by the film’s end. I find the movie utilizes him well, not just as a minor antagonist to Bambi but also as a plot device; he casually lore-drops some important information about Man, and through his attempts to hurt Bambi, he winds up manufacturing situations that help to advance the main plot. Something that does bother me about Ronno though is when he taunts Bambi about freezing up on the meadow. How the fuck could Ronno know about that? He was not in that scene. He was long gone when it happened. The only way Ronno could know about that was if (1) the Great Prince had been bitching about Bambi to other deer, which is very unlikely, or (2) this creepy deer boy had decided to go spy on someone he had literally just met. Considering how Ronno just appears out of nowhere before the climax, it’s probably the latter.

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The animation in “Bambi II”, and in particular the expansive watercolor backgrounds, is very beautiful. The never-ending forest setting of Bambi’s world continues to inspire some diverse and serene backgrounds from Disney, and it’s a visual pleasure watching grey winter melt away into vibrant, bouncing spring throughout the film (the wide shot of the herd running through the meadow in “The First Sign Of Spring” is surprisingly breathtaking). Despite the main characters having far more dialogue than they did previously, a lot of emotion is conveyed quietly and subtly through their eyes throughout the movie (since many of them have been slightly redesigned to have more expressive eyes), and it’s this aspect of the animation in “Bambi II” that I would say is the most successful; it contributes to several of the more poignant scenes in the movie. Something I enjoyed about “Bambi” was how it made good use of it’s color palette and how it would manipulate colors to amplify it’s mood at any given time. “Bambi II” tries to retain that, which makes the drawn-out scene where Bambi wanders into a hunting trap genuinely creepy, and the other scene where Bambi is almost savaged by a very determined hunting dog quite alarming. I think the weakest aspect of “Bambi II” is the thankfully rare instances of blending 3-D elements into a 2-D film. I still don’t like it when Disney does this, the textures never quite sync up right, and it especially feels out of place in this movie.

The soundtrack is very pleasant and fun to listen to. Similar to how they went through a jazz phase in the 60’s and a pop phase in the 90’s, Disney seemed to be really very fond of country music in the late 2000’s. While it felt out of place in some of their other films, the genre actually fits the forest setting of this movie, especially since it’s imbued with an innocent, childlike whimsy and retains the sweeping choruses of the original film. “There Is Life” and “The First Sign Of Spring” are tranquil, rising songs that do a fine job of drawing you into them, and lay down the main theme and metaphor for the film of seasons passing. Elsewhere, “Through Your Eyes” nicely sums up Bambi’s precocious nature and his desire to know more about his father. Bruce Broughton’s score is very rich. He weaves “Love Is A Song” into the tapestry as a bit of continuity with the first film, and composes a shared theme for Bambi and the Great Prince that undergoes a transformation in the background of the movie. Originally stated in forlorn, solemn brass instruments in the first half of the film, it becomes progressively tender and performed on string instruments in the back half of the film, as the ice is officially broken the two princes; said theme is at it’s most noticeable during the farewell where the Great Prince sends Bambi to go live with Mena.

The worst thing I can say about this movie is that it feels a bit short (it’s actually around the same length as “Bambi”, but I wouldn’t have minded an additional ten to fifteen minutes). It’s obviously not on the level of the original film when it comes to impressive feats of animation, but it does manage to be a very effective character story that turns Bambi and the Great Prince into more engaging, likable figures than they were before. If you only ever decide to see one Disney sequel in your life, I recommend this one.

Rating: 8/10.

Side-Notes:

Bambi II (9)

* “For it’s out of the darkness that we learn to see! And out of the silence that songs come to be! And all that we dream of awaits patiently! There is life! There is! There is life!!!”

* Heh.

* “Bambi! A prince does not ‘woo-hoo'” Sometime between 1942 and 2006, Disney noticed the Great Prince has one hell of an ego, and there are several small jabs at it in this movie. Bless Patrick Stewart for that delivery though.

* Bambi had chats with his mother about a young deer’s development.

* A fun and easy to miss fact. In the original film, Thumper had five sisters, but in this one he only has four. I guess Bambi’s mom wasn’t the only one who got shot that winter.

* “We decided, we’d all sit by you!” “Ugh“.

* “Now, if there’ll be no further interruptions” Little girls, please shut up. I’m trying to posture here.

* There are times when the tone of this movie reminds me of “Winnie The Pooh” as much as it does “Bambi”, and that makes me smile because I do love “Winnie The Pooh”.

* “‘Bambi?’ Isn’t that a girl’s name?” Dear lord, Disney did get self-aware with this movie.

* Your classic love triangle, sans the love.

* “Isn’t that right, Bambi?” “Ronno!” “I’M COMING!!!”

* “Why did you have to go?” “Everything in the forest has its season. Where one thing falls, another grows. Maybe not what was there before, but something new and wonderful all the same” Well that was sweet. Bambi’s mom clearly believes her mate will be able to step up, even if he doesn’t believe it himself.

* “She’s never coming back… is she?” “….No”.

* Daddy, why don’t you love me?

* Never change, boy.

* “Tresspassing little hooligans! No respect! No respect at all! And what are you looking at, you big moose?!”

* “Does it look bad?” “Euuggghhh! I’m not gonna lie to you, it ain’t pretty”.

* “Don’t feel bad. If we didn’t have cowards, we wouldn’t be able to tell who the brave ones are” Congratulations Ronno, you just figured out why you’re in this movie.

* I only just noticed that while Bambi got most of his looks from his mother, he inherited his big brown deer eyes from his father.

* “A new season’s begun for a father and son! And everything grows a little faster, every moment stretches longer, and it will only get much stronger! We will be together, leaving our cares behind forever, at the first sign of spring! The heat of the sun will shine right through, never a moment comes too soon! At the first sign of spring! At the first sign of spring… At the first sign of spring.!”

* Daw.

* I like the contrast between Bambi and the Great Prince’s personalities when Friend Owl walks in on them. The former is pretty unphased while the latter is quietly mortified.

* Anyone familiar with Disney movie formulas knows this is not even close to the end, but it is a more convincing fakeout than most. The original “Bambi” had the odd implication that at some point Bambi went to go live in a different forest, and in the source material the Great Prince did send Bambi to go live with a doe instead of raising him himself. So people who know their Bambi history will catch that reference.

* “I feel for you, I do. It must be hard having a father who’s so ashamed of you, he’d give you away” Ronno, just fuck you.

* Bambi kicked that dog straight off the cliff. Young Bambi’s first blood.

* I feel kind of bad for Mena. She decides to do a favor for the royal family, which nearly gets her killed, and by the end it turns out out they don’t even need her anymore.

* “I’m here. I’m here”. Heh, callback.

* I like that despite Bambi having the usual love arc with Faline, the most important relationships he has in these movies is with his parents; his mother in the former and his father in the latter. It kind of helps them to stand out.

Further Reading:

Fanfiction:

Bambi II (10)

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Score Highlights: Titanic

In which The Cool Kat shares some of his favorite pieces of score from various soundtracks.

Today’s pick is the love theme James Horner wrote for Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt-Bukater in “Titanic”. James Horner has been a favorite composer of mine for a long time now, and his score for “Titanic” was probably his magnum opus. He gave Cameron’s romantic, disaster epic an ethereal Celtic sound, with soft piano performances, haunting vocals, and lingering woodwinds. Horner wrote a number of themes and melodies for the film, but the gentle, swelling love theme is easily the most recognizable, because whether you love it or hate it you will get it stuck in your head for days after watching the movie. The bittersweet repeating melody would eventually become the powerful end credits number and Oscar-bait song, “My Heart Will Go On”, performed by Celine Dion (a song that people have mixed feelings about these days, to say the least). The rendition I’ve picked is “The Portrait”, the understated piano version that plays when Jack sketches Rose at her request. I think it’s easily one of the most beautiful and memorable restatements of the love theme, and it surprisingly didn’t make the original release of the soundtrack, being released on the second album, “Back To Titanic”, a few years later instead.

See Also: “Rose” and “My Heart Will Go On”.

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