Moana

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I’m so happy that Disney’s been on top of the world this decade. It feels like the 90s all over again, when the studio would release success after success. While I  don’t think any of their recent “Revival Era” films have quite reached the heights of classics like “The Lion King”  or “Aladdin”, they’ve still proven to be fantastic and highly entertaining films that are worthy of the Disney name, and Moana is no different.

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Moana treads familiar ground during its first act. As the film is from the same creative team behind “The Little Mermaid”, parallels can be easily made between the two films. A feisty teenager longs to explore the world beyond her home and venture out into the open seas, but her stern father initially says “Nuh.” Eventually Discoveries are made, an adventure begins and memorable characters are introduced. There’s a bit more to it than that, but If you think that sounds straightforward, that’s because it kinda is. Moana doesn’t break new ground in terms of storytelling, but it does get a lot of mileage out of its terrific main characters characters. Where do I begin? First thing’s first; The demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) pleasantly surprised me. The trailers made the character look like little more than the comic relief, but there’s more to him then that. His backstory is interesting, he’s irresistibly charming throughout, and his back-and-fourth Dialogue with Moana results in some of the funniest comedy that Disney’s written.

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Speaking of Moana, she’s a solid lead. Her drive for wanting to explore the world beyond her island doesn’t come across as selfish or rash, but instead feels rather genuine and even heartfelt. (Teehee, those of you who’ve seen the movie will hopefully get it.) Even the Ocean is a character! There are several points in the film where the ocean assists Moana and Maui on their adventure, and while it’s mostly played up for comedy, it does carry a significant weight to the story that pays off nicely towards the end. There’s some fun comic relief to be had in the form of a dopey wall-eyed chicken that tags along for the ride, as well as a monstrous Crab who sings a catchy “flight of the Conchords” style song, but the real standouts are Maui and Moana, particularly when they share screentime. The animation is, of course, crisp and beautiful. Disney’s stepped it up yet again with endless shimmering oceans and  luscious green islands that make you wish you could leap into the screen to take it all in. There’s even some nice little bits of Traditional animation to be found, most notably mini-Maui (Maui’s living tattoo that serves as his conscience throughout the film, and also helps provide some of the biggest laughs.)

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Moana’s really good, but is it great? It doesn’t quite make it there, but almost. The biggest problem I had with with the film was it’s tendency to rush some of the character development. There’s A LOT that happens in the film, and because of this, some of the character development feels a tad light. I won’t spoil them here, but there’s a few turnarounds near the end of the film that feel a bit too quick and easy, causing them to feel less impactful. While the film is a lot of fun to watch, it doesn’t truly come alive until Moana and Maui meet eachother. The first act is fine, but it plays out a little too closely to your typical Disney Princess story, which was especially noticeable after films like Tangled and Frozen have really shaken up the genre. There’s also a reveal of the film’s antagonist a little too early on, leaving it’s grand entrance during the climax feeling a tad underwhelming. On a more positive note, the music in the film is very well done, with songs like “You’re welcome” and “Shiny” still stuck in my head as I write this review. The soundtrack itself is culturally unique and fresh, helping this film stand out amongst other Disney animated musicals.

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Moana may not be as surprising or inventive as Disney’s earlier 2016 film “Zootopia”, but it’s still a fun and enjoyable ride that easily fits in nice and snuggly with the rest of the “Revival Era” films. It’s actually nice to have two vastly Disney films in one year, with Zootopia being the more “out there and unique” one, and Moana being a very comforting classical Disney story. 2016, for the most part, has been a really weak year for film, but Moana will be fondly remembered as one of the good ones.

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Friendship Is Magic Finales: Ranked Worst to Best

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There are very few television events that are more exciting for me than a “Friendship is Magic” Season Finale. Despite the show’s  steady decline (In my opinion) and regardless of how the rest of the Season plays out, the finales are always exciting because, for the most part, they feel like events. Whether that be from the promotional material, the story buildup, or the amount of hype the writers love to tease us with. Now that Season 6 has come and gone, there’s no better time to take a look back and see which Finales still hold up and which seem to be lacking. Let’s get started!! (WARNING: Here be spoilers.)

Number 6: To Where and Back Again (Written by Josh Haber and Mike Vogel)

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It was both easy and hard to decide which Season Finale I was least fond of. For a long time, This episode had the Number 5 spot. But after letting TWABA Sit with me for a few weeks, I’m confident in placing this one last. It’s no secret that I thought Season 6 was below average, and while I thought this episode was one of the better entries in the Season, it still featured many of the issues that plagued previous S6 episodes. The dialogue and character interactions mostly fell flat and felt Unnatural,  Starlight Glimmer and her squad isn’t nearly as strong or interesting as the Main 6, the slow pacing in Part 1 was questionable and the ending, which reveals an atrocious Changeling re-design, just left me feeling underwhelmed.

With that said, is there anything the episode did well? Of course. The Changeling Kingdom itself is oozing with atmosphere and creativity, Queen Chrysalis is an effective villain and is particularly brutal during the episode’s Climax, and Discord (voiced by the always charming John De Lance) is always a fun character to have around. Beyond that however, this Finale really didn’t have the same “Grand finale” feeling that many of the others did (Did I mention there’s no song!?) But that’s somewhat understandable, since the show staff knew there was a feature film and a whole other Season on the horizon. Is it a terrible episode? Mmm….Not sure, but it’s without a doubt my least favourite of the usually stellar Season Finales. A mediocre Finale for a mediocre Season.

Number 5: The Cutie Re-Mark (Written by Josh Haber) 

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The Cutie Re-Mark is a frustrating episode. I’m not really a big fan of time travel stories, simply because they often leave me feeling like nothing of consequence actually happened, since they’re often about preventing some disaster from happening in the first place. The Cutie Re-Mark is not much different, but it does have a few bright spots. The first alternate Future, where King Sombra declares war on the rest of Equestria, is downright AWESOME. I was loving every second of that timeline, but the problem is that’s where the episode peeks. After that, it becomes rather repetitive and by-the-numbers for a time travel story. Sure, it was cool to see all the major villains make a return, but that’s about all this episode has going for it (at least for me.) Starlight’s redemption is poorly handled and far too rushed, the ending song is terribly unmemorable compared to others, and the rest of the main cast don’t really get anything to do aside from spout exposition about the alternate timelines. Overall, The Cutie Re-mark can be fun at times, but it doesn’t offer much beyond some flashy eye-candy and the thrill of seeing familiar foes return for brief cameos.

Number 4: Twilight’s Kingdom (Written by Meghan McCarthy)

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What’s this!? The critical darling “Twilight’s Kingdom” is only at fourth place? The truth is, I think Twilight’s Kingdom is simply decent. That’s not to say I don’t understand why most people love it. It actually has quite a bit going for it in terms of spectacle and entertainment value. Make no mistake, Twilight’s Kingdom is by no means a bad episode. I don’t even really dislike it. It just has elements that unfortunately bog it down a few notches for me. Celestia’s plan involving transferring the Magic  in part 2 feels half-baked and makes no sense. (And I mean NO sense when you see how it plays out.) Lord Tirek is an interesting character in Part 1, but by the time he grows into a giant he loses a lot of his personality and becomes a mere brute, rather than the cunning and spooky baddie we were introduced to.

I also have a lot of issues with various aspects of the ending; from the ugly Rainbow Power designs, to the way the sky changes from hellish red to bright and sunny with hardly any transition, to that horrible new Castle that replaces the Golden Oak Library, all the way to the weak final song. That being said, Twilight’s Kingdom is still good popcorn fun if you view it as such. The final showdown between Tirek and Twilight is engrossing and surprisingly intense, The opening song “You’ll Play Your part” is a gorgeous Lion King-esc Show stopper, Discord gets some good laughs, and the overall  presentation of the two episodes is admittedly quite epic, but for me, the episode ends up being just barely below average. Not one of the best, not one of the worst, just somewhere in between.

Number 3: Magical Mystery Cure (Kinda Written By M.A. Larson, though it’s complicated.) 

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Oh Boy howdy, here’s where things get good. Remember when FIM finales were, y’know, Full-on EVENTS? Remember when it seemed like they were going to try something new  with every Finale instead of repeating the same “threat to Equestria” storyline over and over? While it’s not as brilliant nor as funny as the the episodes I’ve placed in slots 1 and 2,  this is still one of the better Season Finales the show has produced.

Feeling more like a Series Finale than anything else, this episode miraculously ties up nearly all loose ends in under a half-hour. This does make the episode feel a little rushed, but it also makes the entire ride fuelled by pure emotion and heart thanks to a sweeping score by William Anderson and some ridiculously catchy and touching songs by Daniel Ingram. (I don’t care if you say you didn’t cry during “Celestia’s Balled”. You totally did and you know it.) The whole Princess Coronation was surprise to no one, thanks to a massive and hype-enducing marketing campaign, and while I was left cold with how they handled Twilight’s new Princess role in later Seasons, I enjoy how it’s established here. I said this back in February of 2013 when the episode first aired, and I’m saying it again now; If the Series ended right here,  I would’ve been very satisfied. (Maybe throw in that  full circle “Elements of Harmony book closing” original shot that Larson had in mind though) Pacing issues aside, this is one kickass Season Finale.

Number 2: The Best Night Ever (Written By Amy Keating Rogers)

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I didn’t even watch this episode until a few weeks after it aired, because I was afraid that there would be no more episodes of my new favourite show at the time. Eventually my sister convinced me to watch it, and I’m very glad that she did, because this is by far The funniest Finale on this list, and definitely the one with the tightest script. “The Best Night Ever” was a big deal upon its release. Back then, many of us were unsure if the show was going to get another Season. While the show was critically well received, it wasn’t doing super well with TV ratings because the time-slot it had was junk. (New episodes in S1 aired during the day while kids where still in school!) And on top of that, many fans were anticipating the Grand Galloping Gala itself. We were right there with the Mane 6, looking forward to the big night, and what we got was nothing short of excellent.

While some have complained that the episode feels “Less eventful” than other two parters, I couldn’t disagree more. Sure, there’s no big monster to fight, nor is there any “end of the world” conflict to be found, but you know what IS in this episode? Character. Loads and loads of character. Each of the mane cast get their moment to shine here, presenting us with some very funny and insightful facts about their personalities. (Who knew Fluttershy was a little insane?)  The Songs…what can I say? They’re some of the show’s best. “At the Gala” is my personal favourite, the epic choir, fun choreography and clever lyrics provide a real showstopper of a musical number, and Pinkie’s songs while attempting to “Liven things up” are all very funny and memorable, if a little short. It’s both hilarious and heartbreaking to see the “Best Night Ever”unfold into a total disaster for each of them, but the way the episode wraps itself up, with a message of simply enjoying life as it is and not feeling distraught when things don’t go as perfectly as planned, is a good and even sobering moral  with a message that many children and adults alike could take away from the episode. All in all, The Best Night Ever is one of the most charming and satisfying episodes of the series, and is one of the most personal Finales for me.

Number 1: A Canterlot Wedding (Written By Meghan McCarthy)

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This is it. The Big One. A Canterlot Wedding isn’t just my favourite Season Finale. It’s not just my favourite episode of FIM. It’s one of my favourite episodes of ANY show ever. What a joyfully grand and epic episode. Does anyone remember how amazingly marketed this episode was? There were banners, commercials, wedding invitations and more surrounding the episode’s airing. It aired around the same time as the real UK Royal Wedding back in 2012, and the Hub Network took full advantage of that and advertised the heck out of this thing. Much like magical Mystery Cure (Only died up to eleven) This really did feel like a major event. And how was the episode itself? Even better. What we were given was essentially FIM meets a film straight out of the Disney  Renaissance. The epic scale brings to mind the likes of animated classics like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. The musical numbers are the best the show has ever conceived. “This Day Aria” continues to be in my top ten favourite villain songs, and “B.B.B.F.F. is a very sweet and touching opening number. What makes this episode better than something like “Twilight’s Kingdom” for me is the story. This Two-parter doesn’t hold back when it comes to the real emotional punches, ( the ending of Part 1, anyone?) and the story is unpredictable enough to where the emotional scenes don’t feel contrived.

Speaking of which, let’s talk about villains. Spoiler alert: Queen Chrysalis is diabolical, creepy, and gorgeously designed, and is to this day one of the best villains FIM has ever had. (Second only to Discord) The Changelings are a brilliant addition to the world of Equestria (despite the fact that I think they butchered them in S6) and the fight scene between the Mane 6 and the Changeling Army is one of the best action sequences…nah, scratch that, it IS the best action scene in the show, thanks to how strikingly well it balances the humour and intensity. I friggin love this episode so much, I could gush about it forever, but I thin kI’ll save that for another time. Bottom line; This is where the show peaked. (At least for me.) It was the episode I alway wanted,  A Disney-style FIM adventure, presented to me in a way that was better than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s my favourite episode of the series, and one of my favourite pieces of Media in general, and I hope one day I can truly do it justice with a proper write-up.

And there you have it! my own personal ranking of the Season Finales. If you’re a FIM fan, how would you rank the Finales? Let me know in the comments!

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

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I’m not gonna lie, the promotional material for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” never really hooked me. The premise had potential, yet I just wasn’t getting a feel for the story or characters, which lead to very little excitement when going into the theatre. But hey, I like Harry Potter, So I was still anticipating this Film to at least be enjoyable. Sadly, I don’t feel very different about the film after seeing it than I did when watching the trailers, as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is simply the latest in a long line of underwhelming 2016 Blockbusters.

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The characters (For the most part) are flat and uninteresting, as is the general look of the film. The only character I was able to latch onto was Kowalski, who can offer some welcome comic relief every so often. There are two main storylines taking place, one that focuses on the Beasts and another that focuses on the film’s main antagonists, but they never feel connected, giving off this strange disjointed feel. There’s this weird unbalanced tone of trying to be very cutesy (particularly during all the “catch the beast!” shenanigans) while also throwing in some rather horrific scenes involving talks of child abuse and the main threat gruesomely taking out some minor characters. Speaking of which, I didn’t think the Big Dark Cloud baddie was explained very well, which left me feeling disinterested during the film’s big climax.

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But for me, the one thing this movie should’ve had going for it was the Beasts themselves. Unfortunately, those fail to impress as well. Most of the time, the CGI used to create the Beasts looks rather poor and weightless (A scene that comes to mind in particular is when Kowalski hits a Goblin character in the face, which just looked terrible. I was waiting for a fierce Dragon to appear, or something that felt threatening but alas, we’re stuck with the cutesy Beasts that don’t offer much other than a bit of visual comedy. I hate comparing this movie to the other Harry Potter films, because when doing that, this film seems even worse. The Harry Potter franchise was filled with heroes that you loved or villains that you loved to hate. Here however, most everyone is kind of a jerk, which leaves the movie feeling mean spirited and not very enjoyable to watch. Not even the music is worth a mention. I can’t recall a single memorable theme featured here, aside from the very brief re-usage of the Harry Potter theme during the opening logos.

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I don’t really feel disappointed with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but I am a little surprised at just how bad it turned out. All the right pieces were there; a competent director (who has experience with this fictional universe I might add. Four movies of experience.) J.K Rowling was helming the script, and we had a decent cast to work with too. But somehow, the film came out of the oven as a dull and messy effort. I understand that this is one of the biggest releases of the year, and that many fans will flock to defend it (just don’t Phantom Menace it you guys. And that’s coming from someone who actually kinda likes Phantom Menace.) For me however, this was a dud. Here’s hoping they get things figured out for the next…Four sequels?? What??