The Lion King

     The Lion King – “SHE’S GONNA EAT ME!!!”  In 1994, Disney unleashed one of its best animated classics of all time.  This movie is, without a doubt, a top 5 animated movie on anyone’s list.  The animation is visually stunning.  The story is compelling.  The music is moving and impactful.  And, the mixture of child & adult themes make this an enjoyable film for all ages.  You get a solid mixture of childishness that will keep the kids happy and there is plenty of romance, dramatic tension, and suspense sequences to keep adults engaged.  Rated 89% at Rotten Tomatoes (rating reduced due to opinions of dvd complaints) and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, this is a real winner.  Considering that Disney releases their classics for only a limited time, don’t miss the opportunity to add this to your collection now while still available.

Plot – The film opens with Mufasa and Sarabi welcoming their new son Simba.  Mufasa’s younger bother, Scar, doesn’t show and Mufasa visits him questioning his judgment.  Scar, who is desperate to be king, expresses his treachery with veiled threats, but Mufasa maintains order.  Mufasa begins raising Simba and explaining how to be king.  Simba is naive and mischevous with his lioness best friend Nala.  Scar gets into Simba’s ear and leads him into trouble.  Scar conspires with the hyenas to get rid of Mufasa & Simba, which is the only way he can be king.  The trap is set.   However, Simba survives.  Scar advises him to run, but then sends the hyenas to kill him.  Simba escapes and joins a meerkat named Timon and a warthog named Pumbaa who teach him a different way of carefree living and avoiding responsibility.  Simba keeps his status a secret.  Years pass and, while Pumbaa is tracking food, a lioness is after him….Simba races to the rescue and it’s Nala.  She informs what Scar has done to their home with the hyenas.  Another friend of Mufasa, the wise Rafiki (a mandril monkey) tracks him down and shows him the way.  Simba rushes home.  Rafiki informs Nala, Timon, & Pumbaa that he is returning and the rush to help him.  Arriving back, they see how horrible it is.  Simba challenges Scar, who is backed by the hyenas.  Scar tries to charge Simba with Mufasa’s death and eerily gets Simba into a similar position when Scar reveals his treachery.  Simba recovers and forces him to confess and the epic battle begins between Simba and Scar while the lionesses charge the hyenas.  Order is now restored and Simba takes his place as the lion king with Nala by his side.

Commentary – As stated, this is one of the best animated movies of all time.  Although, kid friendly, there are many adult themes to keep adults involved…particularly if you are a fan of animation.  There are veiled references to dark time periods in world history regarding of Scars attempt to become king and the depths of treachery he is willing to go to.  Children will not get the reference, but any adults who understand history will.  Disney will not let this film be on the market for much longer, so if you haven’t obtained a copy…get it now.  This is a film for your library and one you will enjoy watching time & again.

Trivia – Controversy surrounded the film as aspects were virtually identical to the Japanese anime show “Kimba, The White Lion”.  Disney officially claimed the similarities as coincidental.  Yoshihiru Shimizu rejected urges to sue Disney due to their company being small & weak and Disney having top lawyers and it wouldn’t be worth the expense.  There are rumors that Tezuka Productions were paid to not challenge Disney, but this is not confirmed.  Additionally, hyena biologists were upset with the portrayal of hyenas in the film and one actually sued Disney for “defamation of character” for the animals.

*** Just click the images to check out “The Lion King” at Amazon.com ***

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UP

     UP – When this movie came out, I had zero intentions to watch it.  The ads were silly and appeared to be the most child focused film with goofy, non-sensical images.  While I’m a huge fan of animation, I do have limits on what I can watch.  A crotchety old man character is very appealing for numerous great comedy moments, the rest of the concept seemed too far off base.  And I can tell you….I was completely WRONG!!!  However, a friend of mine recommended it and I decided to give it a try.  It was an excellent movie and a billion times better than expected.  The crotchety old man jokes are there and hilarious and there are some goofy moments for children; however, the underlying love story and dedication of Carl to Ellie nearly made me cry and the bond developed between Carl & Russell provides another tug on the heartstrings as well.

Plot:  Carl is a kid and adventure lover.  His idol is world famous explorer Charles Muntz who was accused of fabricating his findings at Paradise Falls in South America.  Carl meets a strange, energetic tomboy named Ellie, who shares Carl’s passion for Muntz and makes him promise to help her get to Paradise Falls.  An abandoned house serves as their “clubhouse”.  The 2 grow up together and get married buying their “clubhouse” for their home.  The repeatedly try to save for Paradise Falls, but life gets in the way.  Ellie, unfortunately, gets ill and passes leaving Carl alone.  As he is nearly forced to leave his home, he finds Ellie’s book and vows to get to Paradise Falls.  Being a balloon vendor, he rigs his home with enough balloons to fly.  Surprising to him, Russell, a young wilderness explorer, was on his porch at liftoff.  Well, can’t turn back now and we learn of Russell’s broken home.  He takes Russell to Paradise Falls, but slightly misses their mark, so, they must hike the rest of the way towing the floating house.  They stumble on a flightless bird that Russell names Kevin.  That’s when the dogs appear chasing the bird.  Dug, a dog with collar allowing him to speak, becomes their ally.  The dogs take Carl & Russell to a hideout where they encounter an elderly Muntz.  When he finds out Kevin is the bird he’s after, he gets hostile to get it.  Carl & Russell flee, but Muntz catches up.  By starting a fire, Carl saves his house allowing Kevin to be caught, which infuriates Russell.  Carl finds that Ellie didn’t want him to give up living in her book.  So, Carl sets out to save Russell & Kevin.  After an intense and sometimes hilarious battle, Kevin is returned.  Carl then  becomes a substitute father for Russell giving him his final badge…the same one Ellie gave him when they met.

Commentary:    While the story has some over the top attributes, the love story and dedication of Carl to Ellie is quite touching.  Throw in Russell’s issues with a deadbeat father and you’re moved like few other movies can.  Carl filling that void in Russell’s life also fills the void in his.  It’s a touching story and adults can enjoy this movie as well.  Most animated movies do not deliver an adult level theme without sliding into cheesy or over-done drama.  UP is able to provide this within the scope of the story and using images to pull at your heart.  With 98% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, it is a bonified great movie.

**  Just click the images to check out “UP” at Amazon.com **


Rango

     Rango – What a freakin’ strange movie this is…..wow.  I spent the first half trying to clue into the references and where this thing was going.  I was a little surprised, but they tied most of it together at the end.  Johnny Depp is good as the voice of Rango, but it is essentially Jack Sparrow you are hearing.  Ironically, you hear Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake….Or, better known as Davey Jones from The 2nd & 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  Essentially, this movie pulls from many of the old westerns and movies from Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, Shakiest Gun in the West, and naturally the Clint Eastwood greats Fist Full of Dollars and The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly, which many are reviewed in earlier posts.

The plot is simple, straight forward and the story is revealed early on so that you can enjoy the remainder.  Rango (Depp) is a chameleon who gets lost in the Mojave Desert after his terrarium falls from his owner’s car.  On his own, he immediately finds himself in danger, but survives with some quick thinking.  Then, with a little help from a girl named Beans, he makes his way to the town of Dirt.  After some bragging in the saloon he finds out that the town is literally drying up.  After escaping the hawk’s wrath again, he is named Sheriff by the Mayor, voiced by Ned Beatty.  Beans, the girl who helped him earlier in the film, demands he investigates the water issue.  After following a wrong path and making enemies of the moles, he finally gains evidence of Mayor’s involvement.  That’s when the Mayor calls in Rattlesnake Jake (Nighy) to run him out of town.  That’s when he meets the Western Spirit, which any western fan recognizes as the “Man with No Name” Clint Eastwood.  Then, he knows what he must do and sets up the final showdown.  Once the town is saved, there is some very un-flattering bathing suit activity on some furry creatures….whoa…Sorry, couldn’t find any pictures of that.

Rango is a strange, but interesting movie.  Extremely well done animation and it does help to know some of the old western classics for some of the jokes.  However, it is still funny in spots even if you don’t recognize the old references.  And, keep an eye on the mariachi owls for some great one liners.  But, it also has some strange and creepy spots as well.  There is some mild profanity and some suggestive jokes, so parents should keep that in mind.  The movie is not targeted strictly to young kids.  This movie is a great change from other CGI pictures, particularly in how it is presented with a more adult theme.  Trust me, it’s not like the others and not completely for everyone.  Rotten Tomatoes has it at 88%, but Amazon.com has it at 3.5 stars indicating some of the “expectations” from parents.  Some will love this movie and others will not enjoy it very much.  If you’re a western fan, you’ll get more of the jokes and references.  However, everyone can enjoy most of the movie.  Smaller kids may not “get it” and ultimately get bored, but this movie is not trying to be The Lion King.  This movie is for older kids and many references are for the adults.  I encourage you to check it out.  As I said before….It’s different.

** Just click the images to check out “Rango” at Amazon.com **


Despicable Me

     Despicable Me – Minions Minions Minions!!!  This 2010 movie brought back some creativity back to animated movies.  Although following the formula of most movies, the concepts and comedy were finally creative with a rivalry developing between super-villians and the cute and funny minions.  This movie has something for everyone.  It’s touching, funny, and has some actual evilness that guys can enjoy.  Plus, men will enjoy how the minions work because we all know how men get the job done.

The plot is Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is a super-villian who is getting past his prime.  So, he needs a BIG SCORE to get him to the number 1 evil ranking.  He chooses to steal the moon and sets his group of “minions” to work on what’s needed.  Their work ethic leaves something to be desired with generally funny outcomes.  But, at the “evil bank”, he crosses paths with a nerdy, up & coming super-villian called Vector.  As a result, he’s now in a battle with Vector to be #1.  Vector steals Gru’s moon stealing gadget.  Gru attacks Vector’s compound to get it back, but can’t get past security.  But, Vector lets 3 little girls in to buy some cookies.  So, Gru “adopts” these girls to help get him in.  Throughout the movie, he grows attached to these girls, but that doesn’t stop the plans.  But ultimately, he can’t let them go and finds that maybe he’s not so “evil” after all.  Or, is he? 

The best part of the movie is the cartoon violence and the “minions”.  This took me back to when cartoons were funny and actually meant to be.  The cartoon violence is similar to the old Looney Tunes style, so there’s nothing to worry about for kids.  This movie is not deep, but it is well entertaining.  The minions are hilarious and featured with a 3 cartoon short extra disc that was excellent as well.  I also enjoyed Gru’s early evilness, which displays some early funny moments in the film.  So, if you’re looking for a “mindless” evening with a funny and entertaining movie, then this is for you.  It’s not the greatest animated movie of all time or anything, it’s just fun.

** Just click the images to check out “Despicable Me” at Amazon.com **


Bambi

     Bambi – Until recently, I had never seen Bambi.  So, when it was finally re-released on dvd, I wanted to get it.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge animation fan and this one is considered a classic.  It’s ranked the #3 best animated movie by AFI and 91% at Rotten Tomatoes.  Amazon reviews has it at 4.5 stars.  Therefore, I had to get it.  Frankly though, I believe I let my expectations get ahead of me and I was somewhat disappointed.  The story is very good and the animation was outstanding, but the delivery could have been better.  There were several gaps that left me puzzled.  They keep calling him “young prince” and his father is later considered as “great prince”.  Wait…WHO’S KING?!!!  Also, at no point is there any real “princely” duties performed.  Also, being such a short film, I felt the characters and relationships could have been developed better.  Regardless, this is still a classic and should not be missed, but I would drop it in the rankings a little bit on its greatness.  It’s beautifully animated and Disney tried to make the characters move like real animals, but it was just a little short on the story.

The plot is a growing up tale about a young deer in the woods.  He must first learn to talk, walk, and learn how to survive in the forest.  He meets a few friends in Thumper the rabbit, Flower the skunk, and a Friend Owl.  His mother teaches him the ways of the forest and the dangers of man.  Unfortunately, Bambi’s mother is shot while he’s still a young deer and his father takes over his teaching.  The following Spring, Bambi’s older and runs into Faline, a girl deer that he meets earlier.  They start to fall in love when Bambi is challenged by  Ronno, a rival buck.  Bambi defeats Ronno and wins Faline.  That’s when hunters get into the forest again.  His father shows Bambi while Faline is sleeping that they must run deep into the woods, but when Bambi returns to get Faline, she had fled searching for him.  When Bambi finally catches up to her, she is trapped by the hunter’s dogs.  Bambi must fight to save her and is wounded in the process, but Faline escapes.  Bambi’s father returns demanding him to “Get up”.  In the meantime, the hunter’s fire now has the forest on fire and they must run for their lives.  The following Spring, the forest is jubilent at the news that Faline has given birth to 2 baby deer.  Watching over is Bambi & his Father, who appears to silently to “pass the torch” over to Bambi.

Bambi is still a beautifully animated classic and should be seen by people of all ages.  However, it was about 15 minutes short of character development from being the greatest.  One bonus of the DVD is that you get the 1937 oscar winning, animated short “The Old Mill”.  This is a real gem for anyone who enjoys animation.  The classic Disney short is an abandoned wind mill inhabited by animals that must suffer through a terrible storm.  There world is so calm and peaceful before the storm hits.  During the storm, their life is in chaos.  After the storm, they go back to their lives with just a little adjustment for the damage.  It’s a simple story, but the animation is outstanding and you worry so much for the animals.  Then, everything is good again.  The combination of these 2 classics makes this dvd excellent.  You’ll enjoy some of the most beautiful animation in the history of film.

** Just click the images to see “Bambi” at Amazon.com **


Spirited Away

     Spirited Away – If you love animation, like me, then you will be denying yourself an amazing experience if you have not seen this film.  Spirited Away is a brilliant animated film by the famed Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli.  Does everything this man film turn into gold?  If not everything, almost everything.  In Spirited Away, Miyazki takes you into an amazing fantasy world that you have never seen.  It will absolutely blow you away.  The sights and sounds in this film will touch all of your senses from start to finish.  You will not be able to look away for a second.  At the time of its release, Spirited Away became the biggest movie in Japanese history and took over Titanic as the top grossing film world wide.

The plot is about a 10 year old girl, Chihiro, who is moving with her parents to a new town when they become lost and end up at an abandoned carnival.  She wanders off while her parents eat food that was strangely prepared.  A boy, Haku, sees Chihiro and warns her to leave before night.  She runs back only to find her parents are turned to pigs.  Chihiro is now trapped in this fantasy world of spirits and monsters and must “grow up” to survive.  Haku tells her she must work for the cranky witch, Yubaba, at Yubaba’s bath house to find a way to save her parents and get home.  Her adventures in the bath house brings out her inner strength and abilities that even she never knew she had.

This animated film is an all-time classic and won the Academy Award for best animated film in 2002.  Spirited Away has 4.5 stars by Amazon and achieved a 97% with Rotten Tomatoes rankings.  An amazing fantasy tale like this can not be given justice in this blog and Hayao Miyazaki’s fantasy needs to be experienced to truly enjoy all that his imagination presents.  It is truly a blast to your sensations. While originally intended for children, I believe the story transcends ages.

Understanding that the Japanese have many spirits, it was interesting to see the variety of spirits and the various ideas of their existance.  I admit, being married to a Japanese wife helps to understand what the spirits are and what they help or protect.  This helped me to understand the reactions of the bath workers and how they handled certain ones.  This was very interesting to me as an American.  In my defense, I was watching the Japanese version instead of the English translated one released by Disney.  Therefore, I needed plenty of translation help.  Regardless, this film completely blew me away and I had to actively seek out his other works.  Was this Hayao Miyazaki’s best?  Maybe, but I’ve seen several others and they are definitely vying for the title.

** Just click the images to see “Spirited Away” at Amazon.com **


My Neighbor Totoro

     My Neighbor Totoro –  As a huge fan of animation, the famed Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki is now considered a “can’t miss” creator.  My wife, who is Japanese, started showing me many Japanese tv shows and animation.  They were funny and had great storylines….even though I could not understand the words, I enjoyed every minute and could generally follow along with the story.  Well, I was shown another story by Miyazaki and became a huge fan.  When I found out that Disney was releasing Hayao Miyazaki’s works of Studio Ghibli to American audiences, I jumped on it and haven’t been disappointed yet.  My Neighbor Totoro is meant for older children, but this is an great movie for all ages.  I absolutely loved it.

The plot is that a family (father & 2 daughters) move to a countryside home and near the hospital where the mother is sick.  Satsuki & Mei, the daughters, are exploring their new world when they discover that the forest is inhabited by Totoro, a mysterious forest spirit, and others that can only be seen through the pure eyes of a child.  The girls wrestle with their new world and the worry for their sick mother, but Totoro touches their lives in magical ways to calm their fears.

My Neighbor Totoro is a great animated movie for all ages.  As Japanese storytelling is more “realistic” in terms of emotions versus the cutsie style of American animated films, adults will enjoy this movie just as much as the little ones.  If you love animation like me or have little ones, this is a movie that you’ll want to watch over and over.  I know I will.

** Just click on the image to see “My Neighboro Totoro” at Amazon.com **