Tangled: The Importance of a Character’s Ambition (Guest Post)

“When we write characters who are fighting both their circumstances and their own natures, we create characters who are instantly real. And thus, instantly interesting.” K.M.Weiland

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(Beware: spoilers abound!)

Some might call it nostalgia that keeps Tangled in my top spot, but I firmly disagree.

Sure, when Tangled came out, I was ten years old and already obsessed with the classic Rapunzel tale. And yes, maybe I forced my family to the local theater on release day. And yeah, to date, it’s the only movie I’ve watched the day it came out. Again, yes, maybe it’s true that the movie seemed to fulfil all of my expectations and dreams, exploding onto the scene with a vengeance. And, okay, yes, others have come and gone, but Tangled, inexplicably, has remained my favorite film for almost a decade now.

But I promise I have excuses lined up…!

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Missing Link

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Laika is an animation studio that I’ve struggled with. Each time they release a film, I want to love it, but very rarely can. In a world where it seems like just about every studio is pumping out an overwhelming amount of computer animated films every year, It’s incredibly refreshing to see Laika Studios utilize classic stop-motion animation for their films. While each of their film’s technical merits are impressive, the screenplays have never been particularly strong. (Coraline being an exception) Missing Link is only Laika’s fifth film, and while it’s undeniably a visual feast and has its clever moments, it ultimately doesn’t offer much beyond its visual splendour.

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How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

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2010’s How To Train Your Dragon took the world by storm, and struck a chord with moviegoers in a way that very few Dreamworks films have. I enjoyed the first HTTYD for its unique creature design and likeable lead, but it was the sequel, How To Train Your Dragon 2, that made me a fan of this franchise. I found it built upon the first entry in a wonderful way, providing us with a larger world, a scarier villain, and a more intriguing plot. Because of this, my expectations were high when it came to the third film, and after a very long wait, The Hidden World is finally upon us, and it’s a beauty.

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The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

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While it includes “2” in the title, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is the fourth entry in the new series of theatrical Lego films. This series began with 2014’s surprise hit “The Lego Movie”, and continued with 2017’s Lego Batman and Lego Ninjago features. This year’s Lego Movie is the long overdue direct sequel to the 2014 film, and picks up right where it left off. Characters such as Emmet, Lucy, Batman and the rest of the supporting cast (with a few omissions) are back in the spotlight as their adventure becomes intergalactic. While the film’s comedy is not as consistent this time around, its story and themes come very close to matching the first Lego Movie’s cleverness and charm.

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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.

The Good Dinosaur

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For the first time in the studio’s history, Pixar has decided to release two feature films in one year. The first of which being last June’s Inside Out, and the second of which being  November’s The Good Dinosaur. While Inside Out was met with universal acclaim, the reaction to The Good Dinosaur seems to be more mixed, and so far the film has not met Disney’s expectations on the Box Office front. I had been keeping an eye on this for years, and followed it through all it’s production troubles, director changes, and I started to worry that the film would never end up being made. Now that the film has finally been released, I can safely say that The Good Dinosaur is a good, if simple, movie.

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While Pixar is often praised for it’s original takes on stories we’ve heard before, The Good Dinosaur chooses to instead make things more simplistic when it comes to it’s story. The story of the Good Dinosaur is nothing new; Arlo, A young Apatosaurus, gets separated from his family and has to find a way back home. Along the way he meets a human caveboy named Spot, and the two of them encounter several other colourful characters and dangerous obstacles on their adventure. Now although there is more to the story then I’m giving away here, the film overall feels much more simplistic then your average Pixar film, but what makes the film work is it’s characters and it’s setting. The Good Dinosaur is one of Pixar’s most visually beautiful films to date, and a lot of that has to do with the surroundings that the main characters find themselves in. The photo-realistic environments may clash with the cartoony character designs at times, but for the most part contrast works to the film’s advantage. I actually grew to like the character designs, because while it is goofy and cartoony, it’s also incredibly expressive,which helps make all the major characters memorable, even if some don’t get as much screen time as others.

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The film sort of plays out like Alice In Wonderland, where our two main characters, Arlo and Spot, come across lots of these characters on their journey, but only for brief moments. The pacing can at times feel a little clunky and awkwardly chopped together,and that’s most likely due to all the production troubles, but as I said earlier in the review, the film’s story isn’t the highlight here, it’s the characters themselves (plus, the pacing improves as the film goes on.) My favourite characters, As I hinted above, were the T-Rex family. What’s neat about them is that they’re more or less cowboys. Even the way they run is animated in such a way that it looks like they’re horseback riding (it makes sense when you see it in the film) Their presence in the film gives it a real Western feel and tone, which is certainly not a bad thing. (especially since the two other animated westerns I can think of, Fievel Goes West and Rango, have been stellar.) The movie also has a lot of heart, and this shines through during the more tender scenes, such as the ones that involve Arlo and his father interacting, and the ones that showcase Arlo and Spot’s companionship. Pixar has been known for creating characters and worlds that you enjoy and want to re-visit, and the Good Dinosaur is no exception.

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The Good Dinosaur never quite reaches the heights of some of Pixar’s more complex and innovative efforts, but it’s still a good family film and one of the better animated films to be released in 2015. When comparing it to Inside Out…. it’s a little complicated. From a technical standpoint, Inside out is the superior film, hands down, but from a personal stand-point, The Good Dinosaur is my favourite of the two. (this film certainly has the better soundtrack though. The main theme of the movie is great.)   I just found myself enjoying this one a bit more. Maybe I found it a bit more relatable, or maybe it’s just because I’m  such a big fan of Dinosaurs. Either way, The Good Dinosaur is an enjoyable film, and worth checking out in theatres if you’re an avid animation/Pixar fan or a Dino lover.

Shaun the Sheep Movie

MV5BMTQ2OTUwOTY5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjAxOTE4NTE@._V1__SX1320_SY564_The idea of a silent film done entirely in stop-motion just makes me feel giddy. As a huge fan of animation, I have a few favourite studios. One of which being Aardman. I’ve watched Aardman’s productions for almost as long as I can remember. Wether it be Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts, Chicken Run, or even some of their more recent efforts like The Pirates: Band of Misfits, I’ve always been able to count on the studio’s stellar work. When I heard that their next film was going to rely on purely visual storytelling and humour, I got pretty excited. The film in question is Shaun the Sheep, based off the tv show of the same name. The series is actually a spinoff of Wallace and Gromit, but the character of Shaun has become immensely popular in the UK, so a feature film seemed like a natural progression for the character. Is it another hit for the studio? Let’s find out.

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The best way to describe Shaun the Sheep is “charmingly simple.” (Which is Ironic, considering that the film took 6 years to make.) I’ve only seen a few episodes of the television series that the film was based on, but from what I can tell, the film is practically just an episode stretched out to a feature length, Much like the Mystery science Theatre 3000 movie. Some may be turned off by the film’s almost overly simplistic story, but I found it refreshing. Animated movies geared at children often feel the need to keep their target audiences attention by being loud and obnoxious, but with Shaun the Sheep, it’s much more quiet and subdued, as well as incredibly subtle with it’s humour. I can imagine the film would be more rewarding upon multiple viewings, since there’s so many background and foreground jokes going on the screen at once, that’s near impossible to catch everything in one viewing. Not every joke works, but more often than not the film succeeds with it’s humour. The animation itself is some of Aardman’s best work. It doesn’t take that any risks and it’s not quite as filled with variety as their previous film (The Pirates) but it’s still remarkably well crafted and executed, which is to be expected from the studio that has mastered the stop-motion game for decades.

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What makes the animation even more impressive is the fact that there is no dialogue. At all. Aside from the film’s soundtrack and a few little sound effects from the sheep and humans. The feel of the film is very reminiscent of a Charlie Chaplin-esc classic from the 1930’s or 40’s. The recent Minions film was touted for relying on visual storytelling, but that film still had characters who spoke lines of dialogue. Shaun the Sheep however, is the real deal. The only downside with the animation, for me at east, is that the environments (in the city) all seem a little generic and not as imaginative as the locations seen in some of the studio’s other work, like  The Pirates or Wallace and Gromit. This doesn’t bring the film down, but it does make it feel less memorable in comparison to other Aardman products. For fans of the show however, the film does succeed by keeping the style and tone of the series while also expanding the world a bit by bringing the characters to the big city rather than keeping them on the farm.

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Shaun the Sheep is charming and heartwarming, yet I don’t think it’s quite good enough to be considered Aardman’s absolute best work. I dunno, maybe if I was more of an avid watcher of the TV show I would get more of a kick out of it. Even so, while I didn’t think the film was spectacular, it’s still very good, and absolutely worth a watch if your a fan of animation and silent movies. This is a simple, quant and endearing way to end the summer movie season, Despite the fact that the UK got this film back in February…..Lucky punks.