Wednesday, December 12, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - INCREDIBLES 2

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

It took ten years for Disney and Pixar to make a sequel to one of their highly-successful films.  Ten years.  That restraint alone should garner them some praise; in today’s climate, Hollywood seems hell-bent on providing endless franchises that teeter on losing whatever momentum was set up eight films ago.

So to pick up on a film with no current momentum at all seems an interesting choice.  Given that writer/director Brad Bird, of THE IRON GIANT and the original INCREDIBLES film, continues where he left off, but makes the film resonate with today’s social and political strife.  He even advises, via the special features, that the time felt right for his superhero family to return.  That may be so, but for a film geared towards the younger set, he seems a tad long winded.

One of my recent gripes targets the length of animated films.  Back in the day (you know, when I was a kid, and the only movies we had were from the firelight in our caves dancing across our cave paintings), your typical animated film clocked in at about eighty-five minutes.  Nowadays?  Between INCREDIBLES 2, RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET, COCO, and CARS 3 (the last four Disney features), the average runtime is one-hundred and twelve minutes.  Not very concise storytelling, and it shows; while I2 does have some redeeming moments, ultimately it is a train on unsteady tracks.

Picking up at an unspecified time following the first film, “supers” have been banned from saving the world—or, at least, from fighting crime.  They make too much of a mess when apprehending the bad guys, and all of the public destruction has become bothersome.  Along comes a rich tycoon and his tech-savvy sister, who hire Elastigirl (Holly Hunter), the matriarch of the Parr family, to be the new poster child of a movement whose sole purpose is to reintroduce supers as a humanitarian benefit.  Which means that Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), aka “Dad”, to look after the three kids.  Playing on the stereotypical idea that dads have no idea what they are doing (I was a single father for some years, and my kids can probably attest to the fact that it is definitely an imperfect learning process), the viewer is presented with two distinct storylines, only one of which is action-packed enough to hold your attention.

It seems that baby Jack-Jack is coming into his superpower, which apparently is every other superpower you could think of.  No spoilers, but the best parts of the movie are any and everything pertaining to the baby.  From his infectious giggle to his battle with a raccoon, the scene-stealer here is the only one that doesn’t speak proper English.  Mr. Bird went out of his way to give 95% of the laughs to, arguably, the most powerful member of the family.  This isn’t a bad thing, other than that when he isn’t on screen, his absence is distracting.  Yes, Elastigirl’s storyline is important, but kids won’t care too much about that, and neither will you.  The unpredictability of Jack is what makes this film fun.

There are several special features included with the disc, but make sure you check out the two animated shorts included.  One is “Auntie Edna”, which is more Jack-Jack, and the wonderful “Bao”, a story about a mother and her…dumpling?  I think it’s a dumpling… 

Up next for the animation studio at Disney is FROZEN 2 and TOY STORY 4.  More sequels, of course.  In fact, the only original project they have forthcoming is a take on the “Jack and the Beanstalk” story, GIGANTIC—and that release date has been pushed back to 2020.  Keep your fingers crossed that that far-off date isn’t so that they can take the extra time to make a cartoon that breaks the two-hour mark…

Film Grade: B-
Special Features: A
Blu-ray Necessary: It is an animated film, so, yes—everything is more vibrant in the format

- T.S. Kummelman

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

‘Blu-ray or Bust’ - CHRISTOPHER ROBIN

‘Blu-ray or Bust’

Disney has had a rather storied past when it comes to “Winnie the Pooh”.  There have been numerous cartoons and films based on the bear’s adventures in the Hundred Acre Woods.  And, Pooh may be one of the most quotable characters the studio has ever brought to life.

So it’s a shame that this update of the denizens of that famous land isn’t more Pooh friendly.  ROBIN follows an adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) as he navigates life without his childhood friends.  Of course, it becomes necessary for them to help him save his family (if not his job), and their reintegration into his world is what drives this story.

The problem is that ROBIN wants to yank on your heartstrings, and as often as possible.  If you ever purposely needed a film to manipulate your feelings, this one will do nicely for you.  And it tries early on, and on multiple occasions, to do just that.  Pooh gets his feelings hurt so many times that you wish a heffalump would appear and begin chowing down on Christopher Robin, just to prove that there is justice in this universe.  The film wants to be a story about friendship, and how it never dies.  Yet, what it proves several times is how sometimes one side of that friendship has to work really stinkin’ hard to keep it alive.  Probably not the message director Marc Forster (FINDING NEVERLAND, MONSTERS BALL) wanted to deliver; alas, it is the one thing that works consistently within the writing.  Not a great message for the kiddies, methinks.

And it isn’t that CHRISTOPHER ROBIN is a bad film—it isn’t.  It just isn’t a film worthy of Pooh and his pals.  Gone is the magic that connected the multitude of characters from the earlier films and cartoons.  Also gone is the loving connection you’d feel between Robin and Pooh anytime the boy referred to him as a “silly old bear”.  The line is overused here and doesn’t carry quite the same meaning.  Pooh, at this point, is indeed old, and he and the rest of the gang show it.  Their iterations as real-life characters are done in the muted colors of the illustrations from earlier literary works, which is okay; it makes them appear more realistic, less imaginary from a child’s standpoint and more believable from an adult’s perspective.  Therein lies one of the other problems; these characters helped Christopher Robin navigate his childhood, and while their appearance here has that classical look to them, the Pooh Bear I remember did not have a hairy nose.  As an adult watching this film, I want my old Pooh back.  He doesn’t have to be vibrantly colored, but he sure as hell doesn’t need a hairy beak, either.

Redeeming moments can be found in the cinematography of Matthias Koenigswieser (who hasn’t shot much of note prior to this).  His eye wanders through the Hundred Acre Wood just enough to make it appear naturally magical, and some of the views (although used more than once in some cases) are spectacular.

There are several special features, although many are short and serve more as commercials for a film you’ve already bought.  There isn’t a whole lot of captivating behind-the-scenes stuff here, other than how they brought the characters to life through puppetry (and, yes, CGI).

Technically, you could consider this another entry in Disney’s recent exuberance into the live-action genre; after the success of their re-do’s of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and THE JUNGLE BOOK, and with ALADDIN and THE LION KING on the horizon, one would hope that at some point, they’d get back to the animation that made them a part of millions of childhoods.  And maybe make a film that doesn’t have “dead parent” as a plotline…

Film Grade: C
Special Features: C+
Blu-ray Necessary: Not necessary (due to the lack of heffalumps and woozles)

-- T.S. Kummelman