Raya and the Last Dragon

Raya and the Last Dragon ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Directors: Don HallCarlos López EstradaPaul Briggs. Cast: Kelly Marie TranAwkwafinaIzaac Wang Daniel Dae Kim, Sandra Oh

I must confess I wasn’t quite read for the beautiful visual spectacle that this latest Disney Feature had to offer.The lavish backdrops inspired by by Southeast Asian landscape of Thailand, Vietnam Malaysia, Indonesia and so on (as well as some of the more spiritual themes from those countries) were so evocative and rich in colours and details that at times were just breath-taking. But what was also very impressive was the expressiveness of some of the faces (particularly Raya) and the cinematography (if there is such a thing in animation).But it wasn’t just beautiful animation, the story too was deep and interesting and the action was gripping and exciting. All in all, this was a very very solid entry in the Disney canon. The only thing that bothered me a little bit was how some of the more traditional cute-Disney elements in the film didn’t quite seem to gel with the more ambitious, mystical themes (which was actually the most successful part in my view), the dystopian look of the world, and the Indiana-Jonesy-type of adventures.The cute rolling armadillo (is that what it was?), the con-baby with those weird animals (whatever they were) and in fact pretty much most of the comedic elements seemed to belong to a different film. Even the dragon herself, both visually and in the way spoke jumped out at me as Disney forcing his trademark classic formula into something which was a lot deeper and grownup.Awkwafina (who voices the dragon Sisu) is clearly trying to evoke Eddie Murphy in Mulan (or even Robin Williams in Aladdin, thought she’s got a long way to go to match that) and while most her jokes are probably cute, they are rarely funny or inspired.Now, it seems I’m trashing this film and that’s really not what I want to do. In fact I think it’s one of the best animated feature coming out of Walt Disney Animation Studios in the last decade and I’m only criticising it because I really wanted it to be perfect (and for the most part, it really was).

Disney is getting increasingly better at representing and pushing other cultures other than the more traditional western one and they should be commended for that, but I think they still need to refine the balance with their classic and the more child-friendly elements, because on this one it seemed to me they were holding them back from making a real masterpiece.

The film is out in the cinema right now (if you’re lucky enough to have cinemas open), and also available on Premium Disney+

Tangled – Review

Tangled (2010)

Directed by Nathan Greno, Byron Howard. Starring Mandy Moore, Zachary Levi, Donna Murphy

Disney’s 50th animated feature came at a time which was overloaded by all types of cartoons. With the likes of Madagascar, Ice Age and especially Shrek, which had been so irreverent towards fairy tales (and princesses singing to birds) it seemed almost impossible for the Mouse House to go back to their origins and produce another fairy tale.
And yet, the wonderful thing about Tangled is that underneath all the pointy/tricksy 3D effects, the visual splendor , the ultra-saturated colours, and the sharp humour (which we’ve now become to expect from these types of films), it is actually a very traditional Disney story and yes it has a princess singing to birds barefoot in the forest. And you know what? It works!!!
It has been slightly updated for the 21st century audience, but it has not lost the heart and the magic: here the princess is not just pretty, but she’s also a strong character with more personality and internal conflicts than most of the previous Disney princesses put together (The scene where she she’s just been rescued and her mood changes from happy to terrorised to desperate , all in the space of few seconds, is pure genius).
But don’t worry, there’s a great male hero too, Ryder, looking as hot as ever (apparently there were meetings held at Disney to make sure that every little girl would fall in love with him), but also charming, funny and playing against expectations, with lines line “I don’t do singing” or “I don’t do back-stories”.
But it’s Mother Gothel who pretty much steals the show: she’s not just one of the most memorable baddie of the last few years, but probably up there with the stepmother from Cinderella and the Queen from Snowhite (Yes, really!). And, in the best Disney tradition (SPOILER ALERT) she will eventually fall down to her death.
And since it’s a Disney fairytale, there are animals sidekicks too. Maximus, the horse (hilarious!! you just wish the was more of him) and the cute chameleon Pascal (which was most probably born out from various brainstorm-meetings thinking of toys and merchandising).
But brushing aside any cynics thoughts, this film is a joy to watch and it looks absolutely gorgeous: the first time the Mother goes up the tower and the music swells over the wide landscape is breath-taking (even my son said “wow” aloud), the sequence in which thousands of floating lanterns light up the night sky is truly magical (also allowing the animators to really use the 3D to maximum effect). The characters look more alive than most real life actors: you can see their chest moving as they breathe, the veins on their neck pulsing before they speak, and they’re eyes are so real that it really feels they are looking at each other. Not to mention the details and care put into Rapunzel’s golden hair as she hurls it around, and even uses it as a weapon, a hook, a whip and a swing. What fun!
And talking about fun, the action set pieces are so exciting and perfectly choreographed (The scene with the water, all the chases in the forest, swinging from trees or riding horses..).
This is what animation should do: make the impossible look possible.
This is an immersive glorious 3D experience, perfectly calibrated and yet seems effortless at the same time.
Great characters, clean and simple storytelling (yes, it’s all pretty formulaic, but so are the best fairy-tales for kids!), rich in colours and details.
It may not aim as high as some the classic Pixar masterpieces, but in my book it’s family perfection. One of my favourite of the last 20 years.
On Disney + (or just buy the bluray!)


Check out my review of Toy Story 3 too

Toy Story 3 – Review

TOY STORY 3 –  (2010)

Directed by Lee Unkrich. Starring Tom HanksTim AllenJoan CusackNed BeattyDon RicklesMichael KeatonWallace ShawnJohn RatzenbergerEstelle HarrisJohn MorrisJodi BensonBlake Clark.

I’ve been meaning to talk about this film for a while, so what better excuse than its release on DVD and BluRay?

We’ve heard so much about this one in the last few months, that it’s hard to come up with something new and original to say. Everybody seems to love it: critics and moviegoers from everywhere. And recently there’s even been a campaign to try to push it as best motion picture for the Oscars.

Rotten Tomatoes gives it a resounding 99%, and at this exact moment the film features in the Top 20 favorite films of all times on the Internet Movie Database (also know as: THE MOVIE BIBLE!).

So let’s just start from a safe place and assume that this film is good. Because it is indeed.  The film works on so many levels.

The story about growing up and having to abandon your childhood toys is so universal that it’s hard not to sympathize with it. The film-makers have been very clever to show you the story from all possible point of views: from the toys themselves, who are about to be given away, from the point of  view of the boy who has to grow up and leave of all that child stuff behind, and the from  the mother’s prospective who has to watch her son going to university and leaving the nest. In other words, whatever your age is, you’re pretty much screwed: you’re bound to see some of yourself in that film, you’ll understand all those emotions at stake, and by the end of it you WILL end up crying like a baby!!… Or at least I did, more than once.

Furthermore, this is the third of a trilogy that started over 15 years ago. Pixar is all too aware of how we’ve sort of grown up with these characters and it plays on that to perfection, so that by the end of the movie, it is all even more poignant just because of this attachment over the years.

This is the main power of Toy Story 3. Pixarunderstands exactly what we liked about  the first “toy story” films, what we love about those characters and they give us precisely that. The mixture of drama and comedy. The classic jokes (The whole Ken and Barbie stuff is pretty inspired), the spooky characters (that doll stills gives me the creeps!!), the nail-biting/edge-of-your-seat action scenes (up there with the most accomplished action movies), the beautiful colorful animation, the perfectly pitched score and a story which works for adults and kids.

Being the third of some of the most beloved movies in the history of animation, or generally being a sequel or a threequel (is there such a word?) can be a bit counterproductive and most of the times could end up being massively disappointing. But not when it comes to a Pixarfilm. Somehow we are all come to expect only masterpieces out of that Company. And even though I don’t think this is out there with the originality of the first one, and both in terms of story and script, but it is damn close.

The jokes are a little bit more forced than in the first one, (All the stuff with Buzz speaking Spanish is probably funny once, but it does go on for a bit too long, almost like the joke of the dog with a squeaky voice in “up”) , and let’s face it, the story itself is not too far from “Toy Story 2“. Even the use or the songs by Randy Newman, is used in the same context as the first film… But hey, I’m really picking needles here, maybe because I care so much about Woody and his friends!!

I wish all the films were this good, not just cartoons!!

Of course, the animation has improved massively since 1995 and Pixar has grown up too and understands what animation should really do. In the first Toy story, we were all in awe at the realism of the rendering of the toys themselves and the landscapes and interior of those houses. Yes, within that, the humans always looked a bit like plastic and actually rather freaky. On this one the makers have learnt the lesson and decided to make everything a little bit “less real”  and the humans more like caricatures than real people. So now the final effect is less jarring than it used to be.

So, the question now is: is this the animation that’s going to break free and actually win an Oscar for Best Film? Well, sadly I don’t think we are ready for that yet, though I would really love it to do so. In the same way as the third Lord of the Rings was awarded for the whole trilogy a few years ago, I do think Toy Story 3 should be recognized and awarded for giving us probably the best constantly good trilogy in movie history…  In 10 or 20 years times what film are we going to remember most? “The King’s Speech” or “Toy Story” trilogy.

Enough said.


 Check out my review of Tangled

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