Quick Hit: Continuing to have heart, but possibly losing some of what made the first one so great.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before – a movie comes out of nowhere to be a hit. Quickly thereafter a sequel is greenlit, and it is promised to be bigger, with more of what made the movie great. When the movie is released, it garners praise for delivering on that promise, but criticism for losing some of the feel that made the first movie a surprise hit.
How to Train Your Dragon 2 does fit most of these criteria. However, one thing that it does better than most is attempt to live up to the heart that I mentioned in the review about the first movie. This sequel seems to have dragons in every scene, capitalizing on the creature craze that stole our hearts in the first one. We have the same cast returning, and all are still tremendous (though Jay Baruschel’s nasal voice doesn’t seem to fit this more grown up Hiccup quite as well). But, as with most sequels, there is the definitive feel of having done that before, and the movie doesn’t quite grace the hierarchy of animation films the way other sequels (Toy Story 2) have done.
Honestly, my reasoning for this is multitudinous. The plot, which revolves around the entrance of a mysterious figure in Hiccup’s life, is easily derived and therefore easy to figure out. The side characters continue to be thrown almost nothing in the way of character development besides comedic lines. Along with that, the villain (if you can even call him that) is a racist charactericture of a bad guy, who is doing things for reasons in his dark past. You know what’s happening, and despite a solid voice performance, almost nothing he says or does seems to really mean anything.
The dragons and the inner story of Hiccup and his father Stoick save this movie. As I stated in the beginning, HTTYD2 manages to almost always have dragons in the forefront. In one sequence in a hidden hideout, there are so many dragons that the screen actually seems to expand to fill them. It’s a beautiful scene that helps to conceal some awkward moments. The relationship between Stoick and Hiccup has grown to the point of adolescent angst that you knew would eventually come. A young boy who has grown to become a natural leader now doesn’t want that leadership, leading to a father who is confused, to say the least. It does paint Hiccup into a bit of a corner with his character development, because where he seemed to have all the answers in the first film for how the Vikings should live, now he doesn’t want to see his vision play out anymore.
I will clearly state this though – I always applaud a film of any type that will wrestle with the themes of fatherhood and the themes of loss and mortality. Talk about something that can rip at your heart.
The film is a solid entry into what is an ever expanding series, but doesn’t ever live up to the original. I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Predictable from start to finish, the movie somehow manages to finds its heart through Baymax and colorful characters.
Marvel and Disney seemingly own the world. As a DC Fanboy in most respects, that hurts a bit, but it’s largely true. But sometimes it goes to show that these small properties are good too. That’s because Big Hero 6 is a Marvel property, despite the fact that they probably didn’t even remember they owned it. And you know what, this movie won an Oscar for best Animated feature in 2015. Do I think it deserved that? Eh. But it’s a decent animated film.
Let’s start with just that – the animation. It’s tremendous throughout. There are some amazing colors that are always being thrown at the screen. Along with that, nearly every scene drips with movement. Very rarely is someone standing still, and if they are, it isn’t for long. The bright colors help with the fact that we have never seen these characters before, because you can attach a color to a person and better remember that person’s name (seems simple, but too often in films this isn’t done).
Along with that, the characters are really fun. The super powered beings are enjoyable, and the voice acting on their part is great. And Baymax may be one of the most original and heartening characters ever created. It’s great to see that one character who isn’t even human somehow controls the movie perfectly, being the heart, the brains, and the soul of it. That’s due first to the animation, which brings to life what is essentially a balloon. After that, it’s Scott Adsit’s voice that lends a perfect huggability to the character.
For me though, what kills this film is the completely unoriginal story. For something that has such good characters to be let down like this is a bit of a travesty. To have a movie that is nearly excellent and instead falls to good is even worse. Everything about the film’s story feels recycled, down to the twists that can barely be called that. All the moments that should hurt the most don’t, and all the anger and sadness get sucked out of the rest. It’s because when you are constantly choreographing your spin move, eventually the opponent catches on and smacks your shot out of the sky (basketball metaphor - it is March Madness after all).
Overall I think kids will enjoy it, and most people will overall – but it wasn’t the best Disney film I’ve seen this year. I’m giving Big Hero 6 a “B-“.
For more on this, check out IMDB.
Quick Hit: Beautiful animation leads a story that is a bit too familiar to be excellent.
Pixar and Disney have always exceeded with the fairy tale formula, so it was a bit surprising when they come out and said that they would be abandoning it with Tangled (It’s obvious that was a bit of a misnomer, we got Frozen just a few years later based on a fairy tale). However, it was easy to see the comparisons and the fixes that took place to address the criticisms of Disney’s highly underrated Princess and the Frog from just a few years back. The story became simpler – fewer characters, fewer motivations, and one swashbuckler.
That’s not a bad thing for kids, but it dropped the story a bit for adults. Everyone of a certain age at least has heard of Rapunzel, so it would have been nice to see the story taken in a more interesting direction. I did like the addition of the magical healing hair, it’s something you don’t often see. But the story’s almost immediate focus on Flynn (he is even the narrator) is a bit disappointing. Though it’s nice to see Rapunzel fighting and taking care of herself (though, with a frying pan… enough said), it’s too much male focus for a female-centric story.
On a complete aside, it’s really interesting to look at some Disney films as you watch them perfect their way towards Frozen. You see Tiana give way to Rapunzel to fix some mistakes, and then, to level the field with critics of the focus on Flynn, we go an entire flip towards Brave, which has its own mistakes. From there, it was a quick skip and a jaunt over to Frozen which gives us not one, but two princesses, simultaneously magical and traditional as well as groundbreaking.
Anyways, back to Tangled. The animation style is beautiful. Very few people have seen Tangled in 3D (as it’s a dying home format, I understand why), but I highly recommend it to those that can. It’s one of the best 3D animations I’ve seen, with beautifully rounded and shadowed characters. Along with that, the colors and movements of the characters, including Rapunzel’s hair, which could be a character in and of itself, are tremendous. You forget at times (if you can get past Rapunzel’s anime inspired wide-eyes) that you are watching an animation. It’s glorious.
Finally, the music in the film is catchy and upbeat. I guess that’s what you get when you cast a former pop star as your lead, but I was nonetheless impressed. My favorite song may be the opening with Rapunzel in the tower, but there are a lot of impressive songs, including one in a bar that allows others to sing as well, and a song that I can’t help but sing whenever I think of “Motherrrrrr”. Catchy tunes aside, the words in these lyrics are very good and tell more of the story than what is on screen.
But unfortunately, what can't be overcome is the familiarity of the film. It all feels like we've been there before, and therefore it's understandable as to why Disney decided to scrap the fairy tales.
Overall, Tangled was a good addition to my Disney shelf. I’m going to give it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"