Category Archives: Disney

Tale as old as time—in three dimensions: A review of Beauty and the Beast 3D

iconWith all of the excitement over the new 3D movie technology and the ability to convert traditional movies into 3D, many studios are understandably reviewing their archives for previous hits that might play well as a 3D movie. One example is the upcoming 3D converted release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Disney has also ventured into the world of converting previous releases with their 3D versions of Toy Story, Toy Story 2, The Lion King and the upcoming 3D release of Finding Nemo. The latest 3D-converted release by Disney is their 1991 classic, Beauty and the Beast, and after my experience viewing it, I believe that there are some things that are better left 2D. Continue reading “Tale as old as time—in three dimensions: A review of Beauty and the Beast 3D” »

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Movie Review: Race to Witch Mountain

>Disney has a recent tradition of taking their older, more dated, properties and making newer versions with mixed results. For the most part they are commercial successes, but I can’t say that I’ve seen any of them that I prefer to the original. It’s probably because I grew up watching and enjoying the originals and I can’t help but compare them. Also it’s probably because most of them star Lindsay Lohan, and it didn’t take me long at all to get tired of seeing her everywhere. Fortunately, in addition to being completely Lohan-free, Disney’s new version of Escape to Witch Mountain, renamed Race to Witch Mountain, is an extremely entertaining and very fun ride!

As it began, Race to Witch Mountain first grabbed my attention by the intense opening credits, which featured a montage of fuzzy UFO sighting video edited together with audio clips of people describing their encounters. The pace of the credits got me interested in the film and hoping that the rest of the movie would be just as exciting.

The story begins as the U.S. Government tracks a UFO as it crash lands in the desert just outside of Las Vegas. Agents are quickly on the scene, led by Henry Burke (Ciarán Hinds), and they soon realize that there were two beings on the ship who most likely resemble human beings, and the agents begin tracking their movements into the city.

Meanwhile, Jack Bruno (Duane “The Rock” Johnson) is a man with a troubled past who is trying to make a clean living as a taxi driver who shuttles people to and from the airport in “Sin City.” After a few brief examples of what his life is like we swing right into some exciting chase scenes as Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig) appear in his taxi offering him $500,000 to take them into the middle of nowhere in the desert. From this moment on there were enough car chases, special effects and humor to keep me interested through to the very end.

Along the way they run into Dr. Alex Friedman (Carla Gugino) who is a scientist who has massacred her career by her persistent professing of her belief in extra-terrestrial life. I was entertained by the scenes that introduced her character as she tried to talk serious science to a group of costumed sci-fi fans that were attending the UFO convention where she was presenting. Her coming together with Jack, Sara and Seth at the convention and the antics that facilitated their escape from their pursuers were some of the best parts of the movie for me.

While I really liked this movie, there were a couple moments that struck me as weaknesses. The first was the introduction of the mafia-type thugs who show up and try to bring Jack to see the big boss-man. This is a story thread that I didn’t think went anywhere and only served as a device to make a couple of minor things happen. The whole sub-plot could have easily been jettisoned in my opinion.

Another thing that distracted me was that immediately after Jack and the kids get finished fighting an alien bounty hunter. called a Siphon, and then narrowly escape being pursued by the same bounty hunter who chases them in a space ship, Jack has an bafflingly hard time believing Sara when she tells him that they are from another planet! I thought that the point for him to abandon his disbelief was back when the seemingly indestructible Siphon first fired his Boba Fett-style wrist rockets.

There was another moment that I thought was going to disappoint me, but when it didn’t finish the way I was expecting it to, it only made me enjoy the movie even more. Like I wrote in an article about bad foreshadowing a few years back, whenever a trusted character in a movie tells the protagonists not to trust anyone, we usually see by the end of the movie, that the person they were weren’t supposed to trust is usually that same “trusted character” who says something like, “didn’t I tell you not to trust anyone?” Two movies that do this are Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Minority Report (both Steven Spielberg movies, hmm). Well, all I can say is when a particular character in this movie said, “don’t trust anyone,” I actually groaned because I thought for sure this was setting him up to be a traitor in the end. To my surprise it didn’t turn out at all the way I was expecting it to, and I really enjoyed what they ended up doing with the character.

I was happy to see the two grown-up stars from the original Escape to Witch Mountain, Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, in small parts as people who lend them helping hands in a restaurant.

In many ways I don’t think that the marketing for this movie did it justice. I don’t know what I was expecting out of it, but I sure wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. The nice thing about this movie is that I never felt like I was patiently sitting through a kids movie waiting for the credits, but I also never thought that I was watching a show that was too mature for my 9 and 11 year old daughters who were sitting with me. The director, Andy Fickman, did an excellent job of making a well-rounded piece of entertainment that all ages will enjoy. Definitely a movie I would recommend and very much worth watching in the theater.

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Movie Review: Beverly Hills Chihuahua

When Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua came out in the theaters a few months ago I wasn’t very excited to see it, but my 10-year-old daughter loves dogs and nearly fainted with ecstasy when she saw the trailers—so off we went.

The movie was a bit different from what I was expecting from the trailers, which amused me with their “Dog Revolution” themes. Instead the story is about a pampered Beverly Hill’s Chihuahua, Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) whose owner, Aunt Viv (Jamie Lee Curtis) has to go away on business and leaves her prized pet in the care of her irresponsible niece, Rachel (Piper Perabo). Rachel’s friends soon coerce her into a road trip down to Mexico and in the process of it all, Chloe ends up getting lost south of the border.

What follows is a frequently funny mismatched buddy movie as she teams up with the reluctant Delgado (voiced by Andy Garcia), who is a washed-up police dog without a home. Meanwhile, Papi (voiced by George Lopez), a hunky Chihuahua who belongs to Aunt Viv’s gardener and is madly in love with Chloe accompanies his owner to Mexico in an effort to rescue his love.

One technical issue that probably annoyed only me, is that I’m not a fan of the animation of animal mouths that started in the 1990s with the movie Babe. I was just as entertained by the dogs and cat in Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey even though we never saw their mouths move once. It was the writing and the editing that made that movie as touching as it was and it’s also what makes Beverly Hills Chihuahua so endearing. It would be just as good without the animated speech of the animals.

With all of the unmanliness of watching a movie about tiny, fancy, talking dogs aside, I found this movie very entertaining. In many ways it reminded me of the wholesome movies that Disney made years back, like The Shaggy Dog, That Darn Cat!, or even The Apple Dumpling Gangor Pete’s Dragon. There were, of course, all of the standard formulaic elements that get tiring in some movies, but I always feel I have to remind myself when watching movies like this that are made primarily for kids, that they are are playing to an audience that hasn’t already been jaded by seeing the same formulas play out again and again.

I’d recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys comedies about animals. It’s nowhere near as annoying as the movie from a few years ago, Cats & Dogs, but it actually has quite a lot of charm.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua is available today on DVD and Blu-ray and is also available for download on iTunesicon. Don’t forget to download the catchy theme song, “Chihuahua,”icon while you’re at it.
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Movie Review: Wall-E

Wow, what can I say? I’ve been anticipating every new Disney/Pixar release since they wowed me with their first theatrical release, Toy Story. Now Wall•Eis out and I’m as impressed as ever!

Set far into the future we encounter Wall-E as he happily labors away at a job he’s been doing for the last 700 years, which is cleaning up the Earth. As he’s worked through the centuries, he’s developed a few quirks: He’s befriended the last living inhabitant of the Earth (that we know of), a cockroach. He watches the songs and dances from Hello Dolly over and over and fantasizes being able to have someone to love and sing to of his own. And he collects things that he finds interesting. Everything from rubber duckies, to lighters. As far as Wall-E is concerned, he’s a robot who has it all.

Soon a probe ship arrives at Earth and launches EVE whose mission it is to seek out signs that the planet is once again able to sustain life. Of course, as far as Wall-E is concerned, when he sees EVE it’s love at first sight.

From here we embark on a wonderful adventure of Wall-E discovering what has become of the former inhabitants of the Earth as he attempts to stay close to EVE. The wonderful part of this movie is how the simple fact of Wall-E’s presence impacts every person he comes in contact with, and changes them all in very positive ways.

Wall•Enot only displays Pixar’s state-of-the-art expertise in computer animation, but it’s also a showcase for the skill level of their animators. There is very little dialogue in this movie at all. Most of everything we learn about Wall-E and the other robots who inhabit most of this film is done through synthesized voices and pantomime. It’s quite a joy to watch these seemingly inanimate objects display a wide range of emotions that allow us to empathize with them.

For the first time in a Disney/Pixar film, the future looks bleak. With our planet so polluted that we’re forced to evacuate to space and humanity evolving into helpless blobs because the technology they’ve developed spoon feeds them everything they need, it’s really the boldest statement about world issues that Pixar has ever made. I’m sure that many people will take environmental messages from this film, and maybe appropriately so, but the strongest message that I got out of it stems from some of my personal relationships with people who have let their health go so far south that they need full-time caregivers to help them accomplish simple tasks in their daily lives. The message I got from this movie is to never give up your ability to control your own life, whether it’s your personal abilities or social freedoms, because if you ever do, it’ll take nothing short of a revolutionary effort to gain it back.

Thomas Newman - WALL?E (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)Watching this movie, I fell in love with Wall-E in much the same way I fell in love with E.T. when I was a child. My favorite part was in the beginning when we got to see him doing his daily work, and then watch him stop to take in the wonder of the simplest of things. That child-like curiosity is something that I could have watched for hours.
Whether or not you have children, you owe it to yourself to see Wall•E. It’s a visual delight and a heartwarming treat that’s bound to inspire and touch audiences for years to come!
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Movie Review: Cars

Knowing that I’m a big Pixar fan, I decided that I would try to be as impartial as possible in watching the new movie, Cars. I did a good job too—I thought. At first I was jaded as I heard Randy Newman’s Disney/Pixar logo fanfare at the beginning and I thought, “Oh yes, this is a John Lasseter film and he ALWAYS uses Randy Newman.” Then I was cynical as the movie started and I thought, “Is this going to be an hour and a half long Chevron talking car commercial?” And then the race began… I was hooked.

The story is about Lightning McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Noon), a rookie on the racing circuit with a huge fan base and even larger ego. When his arrogance leads to botching his easy victory which ends up being a three-way tie, a showdown race is scheduled between the three winners in California for the following week.

On the way to California, his impatience causes him to be stranded in Radiator Springs, an old forgotten Route 66 desert town with an unusual automobile population. It’s here that he learns that his one-man-team/win-at-all-costs mentality is not the way to find true happiness and make real friends.

Pixar definitely is the top CGI animation studio for technological innovation and it showed in the smoke left by the squealing tires and the visual depth of the crowds in the opening racing scenes. The reflections on the cars actually made me think that they must have used real cars in places. The realism was amazing!

As with all Pixar films, their technological prowess never upstages the depth and charm of their characters. Owen Wilson is perfectly cast as the self absorbed speedster, and the Radiator Springs gallery of misfits all have their special charm and appeal. Tony Shalhoub (Monk, Galaxy Quest) does a perfectly unrecognizable accent as the obsessive Luigi, the European auto mechanic; Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting) has a powerful presence as the road weary Doc Hudson; but perhaps the most memorable of the bunch will be Larry the Cable Guy (Larry the Cable Guy), who voices the innocent and brash Mater, the tow truck.

Apple iTunesI have to say that Pixar has done it right again. While I wouldn’t classify this as my most favorite of their movies, it in no way tarnishes their reputation for putting out the finest in CGI Animation, if not the finest in family entertainment.

I dare you not to enjoy this movie.

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