Tagged: The Walt Disney Company

Box Office Democracy: Moana

It’s getting a little boring to talk about how consistently excellent Disney Animation’s features output has gotten.  Moana is the eighth movie Disney Animation has released since 2008 that I would recommend to anyone without any qualification.  It’s a great movie, a fun movie, and I enjoyed every minute of watching it.  It’s a safe movie, there aren’t a lot of chances taken beyond having a non-white cast, and while I’d certainly enjoy seeing Disney take some big chances on these movies, the princesses are the cash cows and I get why they can’t branch out too far.

I found the story in Moana to be perfectly charming.  The titular character (voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, a young girl with a stunning signing voice) is the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe who wants to abandon the static nature of island life and push out beyond the reef, something forbidden by cultural tradition.  Like most movies about an adolescent stuck in one place, Moana ends up off the island— in this case searching for the cure to the decay that plagues her island.  She meets the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson who is doing his best with the singing but I wouldn’t hold your breath for his solo album) an arrogant, prickly, kind of guy obsessed with his own glory and reputation.  The two struggle to get along, eventually get along and save they day.  There’s also a surprisingly good subplot about restoring the sailing traditions of the ancestors to Moana’s people who had become island-bound out of fear.

I’m always thankful when Disney puts out a princess movie and the primary thrust isn’t a love story.  Not because I don’t think there’s a place for love stories, but because young girls get a lot of media about how boys should be the center of their universes and it’s nice to see something else.  Moana turns it all the way up, there isn’t even a male character in her age bracket, and she never seems to have any interest in anything but leading her people and participating in the plot.  I’m beyond thrilled they didn’t insert any trace of romance in to the relationship between Moana and Maui as there’s absolutely no way that wouldn’t have been the creepiest thing in a movie in some time.  I’m sure the internet is already filled with art and fiction on the topic, but I’m thankful Disney didn’t do anything to lead those people on.

Disney has made some fine animated musicals in their time and Moana is no exception.  “How Far I’ll Go” and “You’re Welcome” are songs you’ll definitely find yourself humming the week after the movie.  “Shiny” is an almost Bowie-esque number that might not burn up the charts on Radio Disney (if Radio Disney is still a thing) but it will absolutely be a favorite of the Hot Topic set in your local mall— if not now, then in five years.  The songs are written by Lin-Manuel Miranda in a deal I have to believe he signed before Hamilton became the cultural force that it is.  Not because the work feels phoned-in or amateurish, but it doesn’t feel like the follow-up anyone would pick after penning the most popular Broadway show in recent memory.  This is the benefit of Disney’s famous frugalness when it comes to talent, sometimes you pick someone just before they become the biggest name in their field.

Moana is a great movie, but in the context of the eight year Disney Revival we’re in the midst of it can’t help but feel a little boring.  It’s not as thought-provoking as Zootopia was earlier in the year, neither will it be the cultural phenomenon that Frozen was.  It’s definitely unfair to mark a movie down for not being a cultural phenomenon, but isn’t it fair to ask a studio that has made eight smash hits in eight years to be a little more interesting?  Isn’t it worth the risk of stumbling and releasing a clunky movie to potentially make something fantastic?  As a film critic I want the answer to be yes but I see that the people in charge of these things would rather make the safe good movie and make all the money.

Box Office Democracy: Zootopia

I’m sure everyone has the movie they watched almost every day when they were little. Mine was Ghostbusters and I’ve been wondering how much that was because I liked the movie (I still do) or because my parents had so much influence at that point in my life that they could essentially force me to like whatever they wanted. Maybe kids don’t work like that, but if they do I hope I can make mine like a movie like Zootopia. If I’m going to watch a movie untold hundreds of times out of a love-fueled obligation I hope it’s something as sweet, funny, and complex as Zootopia. If my future child instead prefers the work of Adam Sandler I hear you can abandon a kid at a fire station, no questions asked.

It’s tempting to say Zootopia is a non-traditional Disney effort but perhaps that’s not accurate anymore. The last Disney Animation (read: not Pixar) film was Big Hero 6 and we’re only three feature films removed from Wreck-It Ralph so maybe it’s the princess-style of movie that is becoming the aberration but this still seems so fresh. If you look back on the years Disney was struggling in this field it was because they weren’t taking enough risks. Although it might be helplessly naive to think a movie about talking animals (in a year where that is certainly the trend) co-directed by Byron Howard (responsible for Bolt and Tangled) and Rich Moore (Wreck-It Ralph) is all that risky.

Zootopia is a neo-noir cop drama and I’m not even kidding. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an idealistic young cop with no support from the system who teams with con man with a heart of gold Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) to tackle a missing person case that exposes institutional corruption that goes straight to the very top of this nebulously defined animal society. It’s basically Chinatown with a bunch of cute animals. It isn’t the most complex mystery or anything but the mystery is never the most important part of a noir film, it’s about seeing the characters struggle. Zootopia is also an effective, hilarious, buddy comedy but who didn’t expect that from this team.

I’m proud of how well Zootopia handles the important real world issues without making them too blunt. Judy is the first rabbit member of the police force and no one trusts her because she’s a diversity hire, no one trusts Nick because he’s a fox and foxes are sneaky, predatory animals are a feared minority with an undercurrent of tension they could go “savage at any moment. All of these obviously share traits with things we experience all the time but they all resist being translated one-to-one with any groups, and it helps the story immensely because it lets it all feel more fictional. You could see any number of struggles in this film if you wanted to and it makes it a powerful teaching tool without feeling overwrought or too fixed in time. There are so many wonderful moments of quiet vulnerability in this area played fantastically by Goodwin and Bateman and I assume a small army of animation staff.

Zootopia was the kind of movie that was always going to have to earn its acclaim. The pitch line of “It’s about a world where animals walk around like humans and a bunny becomes a cop to team up with a fox” was never going to be exciting in the way “A video game bad guy decides he wants to be a good guy” is. Fortunately it’s a brilliant film; easily the equal of Wreck-It Ralph or Inside Out or whatever animated film has tickled your fancy this decade. The only problem Zootopia faces as it marches in to history is being lost in this exquisite renaissance of animated films we’ve lucked in to in recent years, and it might not be as commercially viable as Frozen or as daring as Big Hero 6. It deserves to be a treasured classic, and if I have to show it to my future child a thousand times to get it there, I will.

Michael Davis: New Rules For Comics

I love comics.

God help me I love the comics industry even more. My reason for this foolishness? The comics industry is full of really wonderful, wonderful (YEP TWICE) people. On the flipside, if you’ve met me you’re aware more than a few assholes stalk the floor at Comic Con.

I know it’s hard to believe but there are people in the industry who think I’m an asshole. I’m not the kind of person to label others because they label me. I’m above all that high school crap. I refuse to create falsehoods in response to falsehoods created about me. I deal in facts, people, and it’s a fact the people who think I’m an asshole fall into one of three categories: (more…)

Box Office Democracy: “Big Hero 6”

I never dreamed that when Disney bought Marvel it would lead to something as precious as Big Hero 6. Disney took a nothing Marvel property, one I had never heard of despite reading comic books voraciously for the first 28 years of my life, and turned it in to something quite fantastic. Big Hero 6 is a great movie and is a great example of something Disney can do for Marvel that isn’t just moving all of the Spider-Man cartoons over to Disney Channel.

The plots in Disney animated films tend to be a bit thin and while I mean that as no insult Big Hero 6 is no exception. There’s a precocious kid and a tragic incident. There’s a crew of friends that must rally around the grieving kid and help him get revenge/closure. There’s a secret to be revealed that will surprise a child but no one who’s ever watched a real mystery anymore but why am I still talking about all of this nonsense when I haven’t mentioned Baymax even once yet?


REVIEW: “The 7D” – They prefer the term “heroes”

Disney television animation has slowly but surely been expanding its stable of decidedly “Non-Disneyish” series.  From Phineas and Ferb to Gravity Falls, there’s a rising tide of irreverent and wacky series that bring a breath of fresh air to the various Disney cable channels.  Their latest show seems much more like a 90s Warner Brothers show, and it comes by that honestly, being executive produced by Tom Ruegger, one of the gifted madmen behind Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain.

The 7D is a new take on the Seven Dwarfs, with no Snow White in sight.  The band of bitsy brothers reside in Jollywood, a starter-level enchanted kingdom ruled by the daffy Queen Delightful (Leigh-Allyn Baker) with the assistance of her aide de camp, Lord Starchbottom (Freakazoid!‘s Paul Rugg, who’s also writing for the show).  When crisis looms, she calls on the 7D, who hie hither hastily from the gem mine to provide assistance in their own madcap fashion.

The voice cast for the show is an all-star list.  Folks like Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Kevin Michael Richadson and Bill Farmer (the current voice of Goofy) voice the dwarfs, with guest stars like Whoopi Goldberg as the Magic Mirror and Jay Leno as the crystal ball.  In her first but very successful foray into voice work, Kelly Osbourne plays Hildy Gloom, a beginner baddie whose plan is to take over Jollywood to help pad her fledgling resume.

The names are all that remain from their original appearance – this team of tiny titans are all action, with the adventures and craziness running hot and heavy as they combat Hildy and her new husband Grim (played by Jess “Wakko Warner” Harnell).  The show is aimed at the young tween audience, but as was true of Ruegger’s past creations, there’s plenty of comedy to keep the adults happy as well.

The 7D premieres Monday, July 7th at 10AM on Disney XD.