Luca – A Movie Review

Quite honestly, when I sat down with my daughters to watch this movie, I had virtually no idea what it was about. We wanted to do a movie night, we all generally like Disney Pixar films, Luca was pretty new, and so we decided to go for it.

The animation immediately caught my attention–it is beautiful. This, of course, is in large part due to the scenery. Most of this movie takes place in brightly lit underwater locales, on a lush island, or in a quaint little town I assumed to be somewhere in Italy. Every scale, every pebble on the beach, every thread of clothing, every wave–it’s all exquisite.

I also loved the timelessness of the film. Other than the Vespa and a train, there is no real indication of a specific time period. I believe the Vespa arrived in 1949, if Google is to be trusted, and so that gives Luca a very wide range, which, to me, was very much part of its charm.

However, I have to admit that the story took a while to really catch my interest. Once the primary theme became evident, though, I found myself captivated. I won’t spoil the specific plot, but the movie ends up examining childhood friendships that take place in those early teen years. Those are the years when one is still a bit of a child, but also a bit of an adult, and friendships can be very complex as a result. I adored the complicated friendship between the three main characters, the loyalty they had to one another, and the difficulties each experienced as they had to ultimately walk their own path.

Of course, I’ve just made Luca sound far heavier than it actually is. Disney Pixar is notorious for inducing tears, but, in the case of Luca, if one does cry, it will be due to joy. To me, this is a feel-good movie celebrating everything that is good about friendship.

By the way, there’s some great voices in this film. Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan were inspired casting as Luca’s parents. The kids–Jacob Tremblay, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Emma Berman–delivered the emotional and comedic beats quite well. Oh, and I challenge you to pinpoint Sacha Baron Cohen as you watch Luca. I couldn’t believe it when I saw his name in the credits!

I definitely recommend Luca as a fun, wholesome, funny movie for the whole family to enjoy.

Soul – A Movie Review

I loved Soul, but my kids can’t necessarily say the same.

If you’re unfamiliar with the film, the premise is that Joe, a middle school band teacher, is finally about to catch his big break after years of near misses. He’s landed a coveted jazz gig, one that could literally change his life, but then experiences an accident that will probably end up killing him hours before his performance. He travels to a point leading to “the great beyond,” but manages to escape that plane of existence by finding the place souls reside before being born. From that moment forth, he attempts to hitch a ride back to Earth in order to repossess his own body.

Does that sound complicated? It is. Yet, for as complex and even existential as Soul is, it unfolds in a fairly straightforward manner.

At its heart, Soul is about managing what drives us in life while still maintaining a willingness to enjoy every day. It’s an important lesson, one that I think many adults will respond to. Furthermore, as a parent, I strongly reacted to how we guide our children through childhood. We so often want our children to find “their thing,” to excel in a specific area, that we forget to allow them to simply explore all of life’s facets. Soul reminds us that living well should be enough.

The animation is, as you would expect from Pixar, exquisite. In fact, my wife commented that, until the characters enter the frame, the Earthly environments are photorealistic. I also have to commend the surrealistic scenarios depicting those moments beyond reality as we know it. They were challenging, astonishing, fun, and beautiful.

In fact, Pixar showed incredible bravery in even making Soul. This is a high-concept, philosophical, even potentially controversial film–and it’s a children’s movie! But, even having said all that, it’s fun. It’s funny. Even while diving deeply into the meaning of life, it’s still graceful and lighthearted.

Of course, when a movie features a jazz musician, the jazz must be perfect. Jon Batiste fills that role flawlessly. And as for those reality-bending moments outside of life as we know it? Who else could be better at that kind of music than Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame?

Finally, Jamie Foxx delivers a likability to Joe even when Joe is not always likable. Joe has allowed his passion to overtake virtually every other aspect of his life, and Foxx understands how to convey this without making Joe seem villainous. Tina Fey plays a soul named 22 who becomes ensnared in Joe’s plot to return to Earth, and, like Joe, 22 is not always her best self. Yet, Tina Fey straddles that line between making 22 both annoying and lovable that, frankly, shouldn’t have worked. In the end, both Foxx and Fey’s voices are the reason the movie hits the emotional pitch that it does.

However, though my wife and I loved it, I should note that my kids weren’t crazy about it. My eight-year-old had a little trouble following the plot and said everything kind of looked the same, whereas my twelve-year-old described it as just “okay” and kind of “weird.”

Pixar has sometimes been accused of making very adult children’s movies, and I wonder if Soul will end up winning over more adults than children. Regardless, Soul is a daring, gorgeous movie that isn’t afraid to tackle truly existential issues.

Onward – A Movie Review

onward movie poster

We love both Disney and Pixar in this family, so we intended to see Onward in the theater. Unfortunately, the outbreak had other plans for everyone.

Amazingly, Disney rushed Onward to video-on-demand weeks after its theatrical release. Until this moment in time, such a thing was unprecedented. Perhaps even more surprising, Disney announced that Onward would then arrive on Disney+ soon after the video-on-demand debut. Though I would have otherwise paid for Onward with video-on-demand since the entire family could enjoy it, we decided we could instead wait until it came to Disney+ since we subscribe to that service.

Onward debuted on the streaming platform today, and we just finished watching it.

First of all, the animation is incredible. It’s a beautiful movie to watch, and the details are now so nuanced in these things that you can actually see dust particles in the air. Secondly, it’s a very fun movie. The idea of fairy tale creatures living in modern times is not necessarily new, but I haven’t seen it done before with quite such an irreverent attitude. Biker pixies? Yeah, so what? Garbage eating winged-unicorns? Big deal. Dragons as house pets? Not impressed. I found this blase tone of the movie in regards to these things really funny. Finally, it’s hard not to root for characters played by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt. These are two of Hollywood’s most likable men, after all.

And while my kids enjoyed it well enough, and I enjoyed it well enough, it didn’t touch me the way typical Pixar movies do. Cars, Toy Story, Coco, Inside Out–these are Pixar films that sparked a real emotional connection with me. On paper, Onward should have, but it didn’t.

Is this because of the movie, or is this because we were all piled on the couch, hitting pause for snacks, and talking whenever we felt like it? I don’t know. I’d love to know what your experience was like with that aspect of home viewing.

However, it is certainly a fun family movie. I absolutely recommend it if you’re all looking to spend some time together watching a film. It’s funny, has great graphics, and moves very quickly. Just don’t expect that emotional touchstone. Maybe that’s not a bad thing during these hard times? Nothing wrong with a little fun escapism, right?

The Ride Of a Lifetime by Robert Iger – A Book Review

rideofalifetime

No one is more surprised that I’ve become a Disney acolyte than, well, me. The serious devotion began after visiting Walt Disney World. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to Disney’s dealings–both past and present. The acquisition of Pixar, securing Marvel, getting hold of the Star Wars intellectual properties, taking Fox, introducing Disney+ … these are impressive feats!

And the man leading the way in all of these endeavors? Robert Iger.

The Ride Of a Lifetime is a brief, simple read, but it is filled with captivating information. Iger spends a little bit of time discussing his rise to prominence from rather humble beginnings, his careful navigation of the Disney hierarchy, as well as his core tenets regarding business.

However, for this reader, the primary joy of the book derived from learning about how Iger and Disney managed all of their most recent, and momentous, accomplishments. Iger is careful to talk about each acquisition respectfully and he is incredibly thoughtful in regards to Steve Jobs and George Lucas in particular, yet he also surprised me by some of his rather candid remarks pertaining to certain Disney executives as well as some of the competition.

If you are interested in Disney, business, or the entertainment industry, I highly recommend The Ride Of a Lifetime. It is well-written, informative, and–best of all–fun to read.

Toy Story 4 – A Movie Review

Yesterday, I think you would have been justified to feel that Toy Story 4 is largely unnecessary.  After all, Toy Story 3 ended just about perfectly.

However, if you happened to watch the Toy Story Toons shorts, you know that Woody and the gang embarked upon a whole new set of adventures with young Bonnie.  These were five minute shorts, though, not a complete movie.  Could Disney and Pixar recreate the magic of the first three Toy Story movies after a nearly twenty-five year run?  Could they continue to hold our interest for two whole hours?

The answer is “yes.”  Most definitely.

Toy Story 4 is a fun, lighthearted adventure that wisely breaks convention with the first three films.

For example, there is no true villain in Toy Story 4, which I thought was really smart.  There are characters in opposition trying to achieve personal goals, but no one is truly “evil.”

Also, Toy Story 4 backed off of the emotional gut punches.  They tease a few of them, but then choose to play them for laughs.  Again, I found this decision very refreshing.

Adults will pick up on a story about finding purpose once you’ve raised your kids as well as the turmoil of finally living for yourself, but young children are unlikely to decipher all of that.  Kids will relate to the comforting power of toys, the way they help confront challenges, and how they ultimately serve as a coping mechanism when difficulty arrives.

Young and old will love new characters, especially Forky (perfectly voiced by Tony Hale).  Other new additions include Gabby Gabby played by Christina Hendricks, Ducky and Bunny given life by the hilarious Key and Peele, and an understated but lovable character called Duke Caboom, performed by Keanu Reeves.  (It’s taking every ounce of willpower not to go out and buy  a Duke Caboom toy right now.)  Annie Potts plays Bo Peep, who makes her triumphant return and is given a really cool, captivating story to explain her absence.

While Toy Story 4 didn’t have to be made, some very important developments occur that could open the door to future movies.  I’m not going to spoil anything, but I see great potential for some of these characters to spin off into their own adventures.  Perhaps not into the movies, but maybe through a certain streaming service arriving soon?

Toy Story 4 is a funny, enjoyable, appropriate movie for the entire family.  It’s not scary at all, there will be no tears, and you can look forward to some hearty laughs and charismatic new characters.

Like I said, Toy Story 4 didn’t have to be made, but I’m glad they made it.  I’ve enjoyed these characters for twenty-five years, and I see no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy them for twenty-five more.

ToyStory4

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