The Lion King (2019) – A Movie Review

This new photo-realistic version of The Lion King is both exhilarating and redundant.

It’s a visual feast in that everything looks absolutely real. My understanding is that this film is almost entirely CGI, yet the animals, the environment–all of it–looks not only real, but also rooted in reality. You see labored breathing, you see real weight coming down on shoulders as the lions walk, you see dust in the air, you see ears twitch, you see plants in the background swaying in the breeze. It’s unreal how real it looks.

However, it’s also repetitive in that it’s a virtual copy of the original animated film. The scenes are the same, the pacing is the same, the jokes are the same, it’s all almost entirely the same. After having seen the original film several times as well as the musical, this latest version felt too much like a rote reproduction.

I also felt that the voices were detached from their characters. Yes, the animals’ mouths looked fantastic and even natural as they spoke, but the voices didn’t seem to be coming out of those mouths. The voices were too clear, too clean, and too undisturbed by the wild surroundings. In other words, the voices sounded straight from the recording booth. They didn’t match the environment I saw on the screen.

But even with that being said, I definitely recommend that you see this film. We took both of our kids, and because it’s the same, there were no surprises, and thus no scares. They do not increase the violence, nor do they display any blood. The hyenas were a little more intimidating than in the original, but my seven-year-old didn’t seem to mind them and she’s generally not a big fan of dogs or wolves.

It’s the CGI that makes this a must-see. At times, I literally could not believe my eyes. From a purely technological standpoint, there are moments in this film that will take your breath away.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

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Aladdin (2019) – A Movie Review

I’m 42 years old, so I was in high school when the original Aladdin debuted.  I enjoyed it, especially the Robin Williams performance, but I didn’t consider it a masterpiece nor do I to this day.  Fun?  Absolutely?  Great music?  You bet.  A holy artifact that should remain untouched for the rest of time?  No.  Absolutely not.

When I heard they were remaking a “live-action” version of the film, I thought, “Yeah, okay.  That’s pretty consistent with what Disney is doing now.”  When I discovered that they cast Will Smith as the genie … well, I thought that was an odd choice not just for the movie, but for Will Smith himself.

So let’s get the most important thing out of the way right now: my ten-year-old and seven-year-old daughters loved this version.  They’ve seen the original, but they both said that they like this one more.  Will they feel as strongly about it in ten years?  Who knows.  But, this is a kids’ movie made for kids, and both of my kids adored it.  Bam.  Mission successful.

From a more critical view, or maybe I should say from a cynical adult perspective, Aladdin (2019) isn’t perfect.  First of all, it’s about thirty minutes too long.  Two hours and ten minutes is just a bit too much for this genre.  I definitely found myself looking at my watch.  Also, the CGI in the movie is just … weird.  There are times when it doesn’t look good at all, particularly in regards to the genie.  CGI blue Will Smith … never quite looked right.  I know this sound ludicrous, but he always appeared kind of fake … realistically fake.  You know?  They included rippling muscles and pores in the skin, yet he never seemed to be anchored to his surroundings.

However, there is quite a bit to like about this movie.  First of all, no one can deny Will Smith’s movie stardom.  He’s always fun to watch.  Will Smith gets to be regular human Will Smith for quite a bit of the movie, and that’s when he really shined.  Also, Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin, has undeniable charisma.  His eyes and smile light up the screen every time he appears, and he also has a really interesting speaking voice.  Finally, though she doesn’t have the magnetism of her costar, Naomi Scott (Jasmine) has a fantastic voice.  When she sings–watch out!  This actress has one of those voices that just grabs you.  I actually wish they’d given her several more musical numbers.

I feel totally comfortable recommending this as a family movie.  If you all want to go out together and enjoy a fun time, Aladdin (2019) is a fine choice.  The kids will enjoy it, the parents will find things to like about it, and then everyone will forget about it by the next day, and that’s okay.

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Are you in need of a new epic series? Try Dr. Nekros, a trilogy that I like to describe as Moonlighting meets The X-FilesKindle: https://amzn.to/2X3S7vO or NOOK: http://bit.ly/2JTFXm1

 

Weekends – My Favorite Oscar-Nominated Animated Short (Which Did Not Win)

A friend invited me to watch a complete showing of the 2019 Oscar-nominated animated short films last Friday night at the beautiful Normal Theater.  I didn’t know anything about the nominees, but I thought it sounded like a fun time so I went.

All of the nominees were very good in their own particular way, but only one of them won me over in all facets.

No, it wasn’t Bao.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Bao.  I’d actually seen it at Disney World last summer.  It’s got a heart-warming story and the animation is wonderful.  I think most people figured it would win the Oscar.  Heck, I figured it would win the Oscar.  It’s hard to compete with Pixar, after all.  Guess what?  It won the Oscar.

But, as much as I liked Bao, it wasn’t my favorite.

No, my top choice was actually an animated short film called Weekends.

Weekends did not have the cleanest animation, nor the finest detail, nor the most inspired texture, but it had heart.  And at its heart, the messy animation actually amplified a messy story.

Weekends is about a young boy being shuffled between his mom’s house and his dad’s house after a divorce.  The boy is loved by both parents, but he’s also–at times–something of a distraction through no fault of his own.  Therefore, the boy spends a lot of time alone while at both houses.

My parents are still married to this day, but Weekends struck me as a very real depiction of what childhood must be like for the children of divorcees.  The mother and the father of the boy are not evil, they are not bad in any way shape or form.  However, both of them are trying to build a new life, both of them are experiencing new lovers, and both of them are trying to figure out how to live without the other.  In the mix of all that, the child, at times, falls to the wayside.  His loneliness during these moments are heart-wrenching.

There’s no dialogue in this short film.  The animation sets the mood just fine on its own.  While Bao is a top-notch, beautiful, well-rendered film that makes us feel squeaky clean,  Weekends is scratchy, a little ugly, and makes us feel off-kilter.  But even though it doesn’t look pretty, Weekends‘ creators absolutely knew what they were doing.  It’s obvious they found a style that best fits the story and the boy’s journey.

In my opinion, Weekends story and design execution resonated most deeply with me on an emotional and technical level, which is what made it my all-around favorite of the nominees.

I’ve embedded it below if you’d like to give it a watch …

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)