Toy Story 4, a lesson about letting go

If Toy Story 1 taught us one thing as kids, it’s that our toys had this rich inner life that revolved around being the best toys they could be for their kids. This created a weird hoarding issue for many families. Getting rid of a toy meant the toy itself would feel bad about it for the rest of their little lives, or until they get incinerated in Toy Story 3. (Too soon?)

Either by a writers innate sense of creating balance in a long arc story line, or perhaps a rapidly declining likelihood of Tom Hanks willingness to voice Woody for the eternities, Toy Story 4 had one lesson – the importance of letting go.

A character-by-character study

Let’s start with Forky. He’s a fork that Bonnie has glued eyes and feet to. He doesn’t want to be a toy, he knows he’s meant to be disposable and that his destiny is a trash can. He spends the first half of the movie trying to throw himself away. He desperately wants to be let go because he doesn’t understand his importance to Bonnie.

In contrast, we have Woody who believes the worst thing that could ever happen to him is for his kid to no longer want or need him. He knows exactly who he is and what his role is supposed to be. He’s now struggling to adapt to change as Bonnie grows up.

Little Bo Peep is in the same boat as Woody. However, instead of fighting the change and the loss of her role as one kid’s toy, she has embraced her new lifestyle of being a toy who no longer has a kid. She has become a Mad Max style renegade vigilante of the playgrounds and goes from from place to place finding a new kids to play with. Compared to Forky and Woody, she has found fulfillment and happiness in her new role.

And finally we need to talk about Gabby Gabby, Toy Story 4’s unique villain. She was a defective toy right out of the box. The core belief that has driven her for an untold number of years is if she can get fixed, she can finally be loved. When she discovers that Woody has the part she needs, she will do anything and to get it.

The important lesson in Toy Story 4

Every toy in this movie had something they wanted. Woody wanted to take care of Forky because that was the best way he could take care of his kid. Little Bo peep wanted adventure and freedom. And Forky wanted to fulfill his destiny of becoming trash.

In each of these cases the toys needed to learn a valuable lesson before they could let go and move forward. What he learned that it was OK to let his responsibility to go to the other toys and let someone else take charge. Bo peep learned to make the best of challenging circumstances and do what she really loved. And Forky, dear Forky, learned that his destiny was much greater than being thrown away because a kid loved him.

Each one of us has a little bit of these characters hiding inside us. Sometimes we take responsibility for things that we should really let go to other people. Sometimes we need to learn how how to make the best of challenging circumstances. And sometimes the hardest part is figuring out who we really are and what our true destiny is.

What are your thoughts about Toy Story Four? Are you a Woody, Forky, or Bo Peep?


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Aladdin 2019, Hello Bollywood

Am I the last one to jump on this bandwagon? Yep. Am I going to use my usual excuse of literally not seeing the movie until last week again? Absolutely. After the whole fiasco with the live action Lion King, 2019, I had my doubts about watching another live action Disney. Hearing rumors of Will Smith being digitally painted blue didn’t help either.

But … I was pleasantly surprised. They took the original story from the 1992 Disney Aladdin, and breathed some new life into it, all without falling into the pitfall we call the uncanny valley. If they had decided to make Abu the monkey talk, then we would have had real problems.

What they did right

Any story that transports the viewer into a new time and place will have an inherent sense of wonder about it, and Aladdin is full of wonder. They created a gorgeous palace and city that felt full of history and culture. The costuming stayed true to the feel of the original animation, but was brought to life in a way that was both beautiful, colorful, and detailed.

Any story set in a foreign land that’s loosely based on a real one needs to be sensitive to offensive stereotypes and unfair comparisons. The very first Aladdin had a handful of these missteps that were corrected in a way that didn’t feel gimmicky. For instance, they swapped out the whole Aladdin runs through a harem bit. The harem is now clearly a school for girls.

Lastly, they framed the story in a new way that added a nice little twist at the end that I thought was charming. One of the biggest questions that the first movie struggled to resolved was ‘What happens to a genie when he is no longer a genie?” In the 1992 movie, Genie stayed magical and didn’t turn into a human. This didn’t seem right. So, the 2019 turned Genie human instead. Works for me.

What they got wrong

I know that CGI is a super fun toy and it lets movie makers create whatever they can dream up (and afford). But – for a critical audience, the best CGI is when you can’t tell there’s been any at all. Poor Abu got CGI slaughtered a few times. Nothing serious, just you could tell where real monkey ended and robomonkey began.

The use of fast and slow motion. This was a directorial choice. Guy Ritchie thought the chase through the market scene that happens when Aladdin runs parkour through Agrabah singing “One Jump” would be cooler if they altered the filming speeds. Dramatic moments were subtly slowed down and action sequences sped up. For me, it made it more silly than necessary.

Ugh, let’s talk about the awkwardness, shall we? Aladdin’s character is known as being a smooth talking, smooth moving street kid. The second he has to pretend he is a prince, all that smoothness flip flops into some amazingly awkwardness that had me hiding under a blanket. It was like 1997 all over again. I get why the awkwardness was important, Aladdin’s big message is that you have to be true to yourself. Whenever he wasn’t true to himself, he turned into a big lump of social disaster. A little awkward is great, funny even, but when it gets to cringe level, tone it down.

And Cue Bollywood!

As promised, let’s talk about how a film that’s meant to have very Arabic origins ended up just like a Bollywood style film. For reference, here’s some of the keystone needs of a Bollywood film:

“Standard features of Bollywood films continued to be formulaic story lines, expertly choreographed fight scenes, spectacular song-and-dance routines, emotion-charged melodrama, and larger-than-life heroes.”

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bollywood-film-industry-India

Of the five criteria, Aladdin 2019 solidly hits at least three. The first and most obvious are the spectacular song-and-dance routines. The two that stand out are the parade welcoming Prince Ali Ababwa into Agrabah and then the wedding dance at the end of the movie. Both rely on large casts, bright costumes, tightly choreographed dances, and a catchy song.

The next of the three is the emotionally charged melodrama. Yep, we got that. Aladdin is playing a high stakes game with a princess, a sultan, and a nasty advisor. Melodrama is baked right in. Did I mention the tiger?

The last of the three is the formulaic story line. There are three wishes, we know what needs to happen, who needs to do what, and why it’s important. There’s an obvious enemy in Jafar. There’s an emotional problem where Aladdin needs to be true to himself. And there’s the secondary story line where the supporting cast may or may not fall in love. (No spoilers!)

All in all

I said it before, I’ll say it again. I thought it was a great movie. Fun to watch with the kids. Visually impressive. Good music. Entertaining story. It’s a great family movie night pick, or even a sing-a-long. My kids liked it, which is saying a lot.

I give the 2019 Aladdin 4 out of 5 stars, solidly good.


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Confession: I did not watch the 2020 Oscars

This isn’t a political statement, I’m not claiming wrongdoing from any side. If anything, this year’s Academy Awards had lots going for it. I just wasn’t one of the lots. In past years, the bleak months leading up to the Oscars are the perfect time to watch as many of the nominated movies as hubby and I are interested in. This year we managed to watch a handful of the nominees, by accident.

Cue drumroll. The ones we ended up seeing were Lion King (2019), Frozen II, How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World, Klaus, Avengers: Endgame, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Notice a theme here? We’re all about family friendly movies.

Watching the Oscars when you haven’t seen any of the best picture nominations is like watching the Superbowl when you haven’t seen any of the playoffs. There isn’t that emotional intensity of understanding the struggle. You don’t have any idea how hard people worked to get nominated. You simply don’t know enough of the story to know who to root for.

Add to that what’s been an insanity making busy schedule with large events every weekend for what feels like months, for us it wasn’t worth it. We taught the kids how to play poker instead.

Here’s three cheers to those who missed it, you are in good company. As for me, I plan on watching the following nominees/award winners over the course of the coming year:

  • Parasite
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Toy Story 4
  • Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
  • Knives Out

Let me know if there’s an amazing movie that needs to be added to my list and why you liked it!

Psst! Klaus was one of my personal favorites this year, charming all around – and on Netflix. Go see it!

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Does The Lion King 2019 flirt with the Uncanny Valley?

Let me start out by saying that as a teen, I was obsessed with the 1994 Lion King. Everything thing about it was amazing. In fact, one of the very first CDs I ever bought was the Lion King soundtrack. It’s one of those movies I watched enough times that I can still quote the whole thing.

That said, I was not thrilled that they chose to do a live action version. The 1994 Lion King became a huge part of 90s pop culture. There is so much to live up to that if they fell short anywhere, they would disappoint millions. Including me. I’m a pretty tough customer.

Simba and Zazu (voiced by none other than the ever-amusing John Oliver)

Why we might have an uncanny valley problem

The uncanny valley is a phenomenon found when we try to recreate realistic humans artificially. We usually see this in CGI movies and robots. The idea is that the closer you get to recreating a lifelike human, the creepier it is until you nail it perfectly.

I’ve blogged about this before when I talked about the train wreck that is the live action Grinch movie (which is a super amusing post, if I say so myself) and again when I discuss the concept of the uncanny valley over on my writing blog. That post is far more academic and has graphs. Fascinating stuff.

With animals, the creepiness factor is different, but there is still a general unease when something is off. Finding Nemo cartoonized the characters to be cute and expressive and it totally worked. This new Lion King made the animals photo perfect. In fact, they used live action shots with real animals as much as possible, only adding in the mouth movements when they needed to talk.

For me, this flirted with the uncanny valley. Real animals don’t talk and it’s weird to see them do so in a way that’s super realistic.

Don’t get me wrong, the execution is flawless. The 2019 movie is still a beautiful story of loss and redemption. The music is still the breathtaking tracks from the original movie and has only been adapted slightly to fit this film. And because I loved the first one so much, I started disliking the new one because of the differences and limitations of using live action with CGI.

The Lion King is an emotional story. The characters need to be able to express those feelings. In a cartoon, the animator can exaggerate the facial expressions so that it’s clear what the characters are feeling. In live action using animals we lose all of that and have to infer what they might be feeling using context and body language only. This took away from the experience.

Scrawny Scar and his band of hyenas, ready to drop a hit single

Other significant changes

There were also a few updates to make the movie more politically correct, like removing the Nazi-like imagery from Scar’s big musical number “Be Prepared” and actually having Rafiki speak in Xhosa instead of whatever nonsense words he uses in the 1994 version. I agree with these changes as it shows sensitivity to today’s audience.

But there were also a few script adaptations where key scenes were either shortened, lengthened, or removed. That insightful part where Rafiki smacks Simba in the head and then says he shouldn’t worry about it because it’s in the past – gone. The funny bit where Timon is confused about how Nala wants to eat Pumba while still being friends with Simba – gone.

That lovely five-second bit where Simba flops down and sends a swirl of seeds into the air which Rafiki then finds? They turned that into a three-minute montage where we follow a tuft of lion hair that at one point gets eaten by a giraffe, gets pooped out, and then is transported by dung beetle. Really guys?

Also, the casting. While they kept James Earl Jones as Mufasa, which was an essential choice, they didn’t keep my personal favorite casting, Jeremy Irons as Scar. I get that this might have been a move to make the cast more appropriate for a story set in Africa – but Jeremy Irons performance was amazing and I missed it.

Mufasa! Oooh, that gives me chills. Say it again.

Summing up

I wanted to love the new Lion King like I loved the old one. The story was there, the magnitude of the African landscape was stunning, the voice performances were on point. But, it didn’t hold up to the original. Instead of enjoying it, I kept trying to figure out what they changed and why it felt different. For new audiences, like my kids, this will be their Lion King and they might come to love it like I loved the original.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen it?


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TV Review: The Witcher, Season 1

It’s no secret that I have a thing for the Witcher Series, so when they released the Netflix series this Christmas, it was like a special gift just for me. I’ll make it very clear for those wondering, I haven’t actually played the games. (I know, right? They’re amazing and I’m missing out. Should I ever find myself with a grundle of free time, I know what I’m doing.)

**Disclaimer** Although I’m a YA fantasy writer, the Witcher is NOT YA appropriate by any stretch of the imagination. This review does not endorse any of the Witcher media by any means for anyone under the age of 18. It’s solidly in the same sensational vein as Game of Thrones with it’s use of graphic violence, explicit content, and language.

That said, it’s a personal favorite universe of mine, so I’m going to review it anyway.

Henry Cavill as Geralt of Rivia

The story:

The main character, Geralt of Rivia, is a witcher, a mutant human who has been created and specially trained to kill monsters. He has faster reflexes, better vision, and faster healing than a normal man. Because he is different, people hate him and he is treated poorly. Throughout season one, we see him take jobs to deal with monster problems and learn that although he’s really tough, he’s got a good heart and is making the best with what fate has given him.

We then jump to the next storyline which follows Cirilla Fiona Elen Riannon, better known as Ciri, the Cintran Princess. Hers is a story of survival. Her parents were killed when she was young and she was raised by her war loving grandmother, Queen Calanthe. When Cintra is attacked by Nilfgaard, Ciri flees the city and must find a way to stay alive while Nilfgaardian soldiers hunt her.

Then, there’s the much older story of Yennefer of Vengerberg, a powerful sorceress. Throughout season one, we see her journey from unwanted little girl to her coming into the fullness of her power. Sorceresses live much longer than normal people so her story starts much further in the past than the others. In this universe, sorceresses secretly, and often not so secretly, control governments and keep the kings and queens under their thumbs.

Within each episode we follow these three characters in three different time periods. As the season moves forward, these time periods come closer and eventually connect, but until then it’s hard to keep things straight. This happened because the source material is Sapkowski’s books and the majority of season one was pulled from his two books, The Last Wish and Sword of Destiny, which are both collections of short stories.

Politics play a huge role in the witcher universe. Everything revolves around who has power, and who wants power. The sorcerers and sorceresses fight to maintain the peace between countries, using magical means if they must. When things go wrong and people get cursed, or when wars break out and the monsters who feed on death appear, that’s where Geralt comes in. Despite his best intentions, he gets pulled into the politics of the world as those contending for thrones and power try to use him to reach their goals.

Freya Allan as Ciri

My review

I’m not sure if reading the books made watching the series easier or harder to enjoy. I’d already formed ideas about what the different characters were like and knew which ones I wanted to root for. To be fair, the series did an amazing job casting the characters. As for the chopped up timeline, I think having read the books made it harder. The jumps back and forth were far more obvious and I was constantly trying to figure out if they skipped a part I remembered or changed it for the series.

That said, it did make things less predictable and I liked that.

Let’s talk Henry Cavill for a moment, shall we? Casting him as Geralt of Rivia at first worried me because Henry is far too pretty. Part of Geralt’s charm is that he’s got all these scars, each with a compelling story behind it. While I can see the potential for the series to start adding these scars with each season, I really wanted to see Geralt’s distinct facial scar that was a big part of his character in the games.

They also made Geralt more of a jock hero and pulled back when they could have shown how his character is not only well read, but is one of the best skilled witchers when it comes to reversing curses. Maybe this will show up later, but it feels like they dumbed him down, which I don’t like.

Did I like the show? Absolutely. Was it a good show? It had it’s challenges, but in all it delivered on what it promised. The costuming, sets, dialogue, and fight choreography were all excellent.

Almost forgot to mention Dandelion! Because despite everything, Geralt really needs a friend.

Recommendations

I’ll repeat myself here, The Witcher is not for kids. If you love a fantasy story that’s more complicated and doesn’t shy back from the uglier sides of life, you’ll probably like it. All of you who loved Game of Thrones, this will scratch that itch as well, with the added benefit that there is less gratuitous violence. The characters are compelling and complicated and the different stories interesting and unpredictable.

For sensitive viewers, proceed with caution. While the violence is justified, they do not shy back from showing some pretty gnarly wounds and death. They also have a tendency to jump cut to fairly intimate scenes without warning, which is jarring at times. Geralt has a favorite swear word that he uses enough that if you don’t like it, you might not like him.

I give Netflix’s The Witcher, season one 4/5 stars


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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a Romeo and Juliet story?

Two households, both alike in dignity, In the Galaxy, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

I couldn’t help it. With the whole ending sequence the way it turned out to be I had to explore this idea that Rise of the Skywalker might be, in fact, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Star Wars is space fantasy at it’s most dramatic, so it totally fits here on my blog.

I’ll say this early on, this time I will be sharing spoilers so read at your own risk.

The obvious parallels

There are two forces in Star Wars, the way of the Jedi and the Dark side. As a generality, the Dark side has teamed up with the first order and has been a controlling force behind all their goals of expansion and dominion. The Jedi have always sided with the Rebellion, trying to keep a balance in the Galaxy and to shield innocent planets against unfair rule and taxation.

Montagues and Capulets = Palpatines and Skywalkers

In Rise of Skywalker, these two forces are embodied in two characters, who are the last surviving members of two powerful households and also the last reservoirs of power for both the Dark side and the Jedi. In the course of this movie, Rey learns that she is in fact a Palpatine. Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa – who as we remember was Luke Skywalker’s sister, making Kylo a Skywalker.

Let’s not forget a vital piece of information. Emperor Palpatine (despite being apparently vaporized during Return of the Jedi) wasn’t, in fact, dead. He’s still powerful and is still calling the shots behind the scenes in the First Order. He is the Montague. As the head of the more powerful house, he is irritated that the lesser house of Skywalker is alive and causing problems.

Kylo and Rey are compelled to be together

If there is to be a true comparison to Romeo and Juliet, there has to be some form of doomed relationship. Enter Kylo and Rey. If you classify obsession as a form of romance, then yes, Kylo is obsessed with Rey. He’s so obsessed, that he can form a force-fueled connection to her where they can interact with each other. Rey feels the connection to him as well but she fears what it means. This doesn’t stop her from ultimately going off on her own to face him.

Can we talk about the death scene?

The thing that makes Romeo and Juliet memorable and tragic is in the climax where a misunderstanding leads to the death of both of them. In the end of Rise of Skywalker, we see something achingly similar. Emperor Palpatine, now a stick puppet of his former self, wants to convert Kylo and Rey to the dark side and continue on his legacy. Throughout his life, he’s tried multiple times to get whoever has the strongest power in the force to strike him down and complete their journey to the dark side. Here it’s no different.

Rey faces him and refuses to strike him down. Knowing that she will never bend, regardless of what he does, he changes tactics like he did with Luke in Return of the Jedi and instead tries to kill her. This results in him gaining some of her power and making it possible for him to regain his former glory without dying. Kylo rushes in, fights briefly and bravely, and is swiftly dispatched off the side of a cliff and is presumed dead.

Here’s where our Romeo and Juliet bit comes in. Rey, believing Kylo is dead, knows she must destroy the Emperor and enters into an epic dual with him. With both Skywalker lightsabers, she deflects his lightning and manages to kill both him and herself in the process.

But alas! Kylo survives the fall and returns to the scene too late. Rey is gone. In the same vein as Romeo and Juliet, he tries to reverse the effects of Palpatine’s lightning damage by infusing her with his own force. This is the equivalent of taking the same poison. He is successful in bringing her back and they share a lovely brief moment, before he dies – finally finding redemption.

The rest of the story

While the elements listed above mirror Romeo and Juliet well, the rest of the story most certainly does not. The Rise of Skywalker had a big job to do. There were so many storylines that needed to find a sense of completion that this movie was destined to be complicated. Here’s a list:

  • Defeat Emperor Palpatine, the power behind the first order
  • Resolve the conflict between Kylo and Rey
  • Restore balance to the force
  • Give Luke a chance to redeem himself for becoming a bitter hermit in Last Jedi
  • Show all our favorite characters getting what they deserve.
  • Give Kylo a chance to be forgiven for the pain he caused his parents
  • Restore Rey’s lineage and missing past
  • Have one last epic space battle to end them all
  • Let us say one last goodbye to Leia

Did I miss any? Yea, probably. Like I said, it’s complicated and lots of these resolution points involve dead people. But, they did a brilliant job in weaving all this together without needing a single senate or lengthy (boring) council scene. Kudos to JJ Abrams and his team for making a brilliant end to a powerful story.

As for you dear readers – What did you think about the movie? What parts stood out to you as especially well done or interesting?


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TV Review: The Mandalorian, Season 1

I was told (begged, pleaded) to watch the Mandalorian before watching Witcher, so being the rebellions little snark angel I am, I watched them both and alternated the episodes.

Yeah … on second thought that wasn’t the greatest idea. Give me some credit though, I was working with a complicated situation. I could only watch Mandalorian when the kiddos were around because, silly me, they wanted to watch it as well (two words: Baby Yoda). And because some of us struggle with sharing spoilers, we had to watch it all as a family. Fair enough.

The Witcher had to wait for when the kiddos were in bed and well and truly asleep, for … reasons.

Fans of Witcher know the reasons.

This review is totally about The Mandolorian, and not the Witcher, which I’ll tackle next week. Priorities, they get me every time.

The story

Let’s start with explaining the basic idea of the Mandalorian. Oh, and let’s avoid sharing any major spoilers as well (conscience, calm down, it wasn’t your fault). And let’s do all of this while remembering that there are uber fans of Star Wars out there that are so ready to debate over all the micro details of the history and culture. No pressure at all.

<cracks knuckles>

Mandalorians are people associated with the planet Mandalore and are typified by their armor and “supercommando” reputation. One of the big “no-no’s”, at least in this series, is for a Mandolorian to allow anyone to see them without their helmet. Remember Boba Fett? Yep, he was one of them.

In The Mandolorian, our noble main character, who they largely refer to as “Mando” is a bounty hunter and part of the bounty hunter’s guild, which (surprise, surprise) has it’s own set of codes and creeds that it’s members must follow.

Mando gets a job where he’s supposed to recover “the child” which all viewers refer to as baby Yoda. (Note, it’s not actually baby Yoda. But it is the same species.) Mando is to then turn “the child” over to Imperials. Because the Imperials are E.V.I.L., Mando can’t allow the adorable baby Yoda to fall victim to what might be something nefarious and terrible. He rescues “the child” and proceeds to protect him through all manner of trials for the remainder of the series.

OhMyGosh OhMyGosh OhMyGosh ….Squuuuueeeeeeee! I want one.

My review

I’ll give Disney+ credit, the production details and artistry in all the different settings, costuming, and musical scores were absolutely amazing. They stayed faithful to the locations we’d come to know and love over the course of the films and gave viewers an expanded look at the Star Wars universe. Win.

Possibly the best part of the entire watching experience was baby Yoda himself. While it is totally a marketing grab and the licensed products of just him are going to be LITERALLY EVERYWHERE, (you’ve been warned) he creates a perfect balance against Mando himself. His cuteness offsets Mando’s cold beskar exterior, his darling baby noises make up for Mando’s limited and to-the-point dialogue.

[I want one. Send me a Funko pop or make me an amigurumi one and I’ll be very pleased (thanks in advance).]

Compared to baby Yoda, Mando, with all his broodiness and macho armor and diligence to his creed, is kinda forgettable. He also bugged me, like a lot. Here’s this guy who’s supposed to be a super soldier and amazing at being a bounty hunter and the best of the best. What does he do? He gets thrashed in nearly every scenario. Thank heavens he’s got Beskar armor or he’d be toast.

Is it a solid story? Yes. It’s textbook hero’s journey for those following along. There are trials and failures and successes and cute baby yoda. All the elements are there and done well. But … it didn’t touch me. I couldn’t relate to Mando or the conflict he was working to solve. It might have had something to do with the helmet. Seeing a face is really important to be able to connect.

Recommendations

Star Wars fans – yes, you – if you generally like most of the Star Wars movies, then you will probably like this one. The acting is good, the dialogue isn’t cringey, and the story is solid. There’s more than plenty of action and fighting for those who like that, and enough human connection and emotional content for those looking for something more than just an action flick. Is it better than the prequel movies, absolutely. I’d place it as equal to The Last Jedi, with more hand-to-hand fighty shooty bits.

If you struggled with any of the latest generation of Star Wars movies, then you might struggle with this one. There are none of the characters that you’ve grown to love to anchor the story. For the characters in the Mandalorian, the viewer never is given the clues to how and where they connect to the rest of the universe. If you were looking for something super emotionally fulfilling, you might find this falling short.

I give The Mandalorian 3.5 out of 5 stars.


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Movie Review: Frozen II

Would you look at that! I actually made it to a movie while it was still in the theaters. As a Christmas treat, my family went to see Frozen 2. I think I was probably more excited about it than my kids. I LOVED everything about Frozen and had high hopes for the sequel.

The story

At the end of Frozen, Anna and Elsa have finally rebuilt their relationship as loving sisters and have overcome Elsa’s fear of her unique magic. In the process, they also showed Hans that true love is far more powerful than greed. It was a wonderfully well-balanced story that rocked between humor and powerful moments of self-realization.

Frozen 2 picks up a few years later. We kick off the story with a prologue showing Anna and Elsa as adorable little girls. The King tells them a bedtime story about how the elemental spirits were angered and formed a magical barrier locking everyone out of the Enchanted Forest. Yes, it’s literally called that. Using a prologue like this is important, because it makes it feel like this new story line always existed, even before the success of Frozen 1.

What would have been more effective is if they managed to make some cryptic mention of the mist-shrouded Enchanted Forest in the first movie, but I digress.

Fast forward to several years after the events of Frozen 1 and we see Anna, Elsa, Cristoff, and Olaf generally enjoying life as grownups. Elsa starts hearing a magical call that no one else can hear. After repeated attempts to ignore it, she bursts out into the song intended to be this film’s version of “Let it Go.” It even happens at the same point in the film. For my writer friends, this is the inciting incident. The whole movie is very literally textbook Hero’s Journey, if you keep track of things like that.

I don’t do spoilers, so let the vagueness begin.

Elsa is determined to find out where the call is coming from so she sets out on a quest. Anna insists on coming. Ever since the whole frozen heart incident, she’s pretty dead set on staying by Elsa’s side – forever. (see what I did there?) They set off with Cristoff and Olaf and by the virtue of Elsa’s powers are able to get through the mist.

One revelation follows another until we reach an epic showdown where both Anna and Elsa are in very real mortal danger. To survive, they must resolve a conflict that started years before either of them were born, the heart of the problem behind the formation of the mist.

My Review

There was so much potential for this movie to be amazing . When it came to beautiful animation, stunning settings, and engaging characters, this film truly did have all the elements of what could have been an amazing experience. However, there was so much crammed in there, that the movie ended up falling flat for me. It was simply trying too hard.

For me, the complexity killed it. Not only do we have a much larger cast, but also two distinct cultures in addition to the people of Arendelle. We meet the people to the north which are the equivalent to an indigenous tribe and the elemental powers belonging to a mysterious magical island isolated in the North Sea. Even as a seasoned storyist, I struggled to remember who was doing what and why.

There’s also a whole lot of more mature angst. Olaf has this running gag about what it must be like to be old and mature because he’s figuratively still only a few years old. He sings a song about it, surprise. Cristoff is trying to propose to Anna and failing over and over, and he sings a song about it as well. Yep, that’s the one you’ve probably heard about, the 80s rock ballad. Anna and Elsa struggle with the death of their parents and trying to protect each other and Arendelle, and both sing a lot about it. And then there’s the angst of all the secondary characters as well. Like I said. Complex.

Does all this angst get resolved? Come on, this is Disney. Of course it does. Are the solutions ingenious and surprising, but still make sense? I’ll give that a solid 60%. They hint at the solution hoards of times so when it happens it’s like, duh.

In Frozen 1, the themes were “love conquers fear” with a splash of “follow your heart.” In Frozen 2, they beat you over the head with the theme as “take the next right step.” It’s not as compelling to say the least.

My Recommendations

I would recommend this movie to those who fell in love with the characters of the original movie and are happy to just see them again. They’ve grown up, developed their personalities and interests, and have become more complex and interesting people. Those who love folklore and magical origins and lots of familial angst, this movie will definitely scratch that itch is well.

Honestly, it’s not a bad movie. It just doesn’t have the same kind of punch as the first. But I would warn those who were hoping for a similar mind-blowing powerful experience as the first movie, that you might be disappointed. They tried to shoehorn in so much that it felt forced and even, dare I say, gimmicky.

I rate Frozen II 3 out of 5 stars


Psst! It’s cover reveal week for the rerelease of Stonebearer’s Betrayal – here’s a sneak peek! Launch day is January 2nd, and preorders will open soon!

Quite possibly the best Christmas present ever. Too bad it hits the digital shelves Jan 2…

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The Dragon Prince, Season 3

I solemnly swear to not post spoilers, which makes writing about a third season of any show complicated. I hope you appreciate the verbal gymnastics required to do this dear reader, because when I woke up this morning, I swear my head wasn’t screwed on correctly. I’ve had perma-fog of the brain all morning.

Being super heroic is just the beginning

The story so far…

As we left season two, Ezran, upon learning of his father’s death, makes the difficult decision to return to Katolis and assume the duties as king. Callum and Rayla continue in their quest to take adorable baby dragon Zym back to his mother in the magical land of Xadia only to encounter the ancient dragon Sol Regem blocking their path. Viren, who has been consorting with the mysterious elf Aaravos, uses his dark magic to scare the other kingdoms into forming an alliance with him to go to war against Xadia and finally rid the world of the hatred and evils he believes are found there.

Up to this point, both sides of the world feel wronged by the other. The world of the elves is furious with that of the humans because they killed the ruling dragon king and supposedly destroyed the egg that was to be his heir. The human world is furious with the elves world because they are a threat that isn’t fully understand.

Entering season three there were lots of expectations, some of which were met, and several that will be left for a future season. Perhaps the biggest question was if Zym would be reunited with his mother, and what that would change in the world.

If Zym, the dragon prince, is reunited with his mother, the queen dragon of Xadia, it should resolve in part the largest complaint that the elves have against the humans. Part of my expectation going into season three was to see some of this happen. However, this is the primary conflict on which the entire show rests, solve it and the show would have to end or risk dwindling on into irrelevance.

These two are so cute together. Best brothers ever.

Season Three thoughts

In season three, there were several good steps toward a greater understanding between elves and humans. It had to happen, as both people and elves are starting to rally to a cause greater than just basic anger and hatred. The conflict is now elevating to a greater fight between good and evil and the stakes are getting higher.

How’s that for being vague? Yeah, I promised no serious spoilers. I meant it.

There is also several new and fascinating settings introduced in season three that I thought were awesome. We get to see Rayla’s village and the magic there, a black desert, and the home of the dragon queen, all of which have their own special traits and points of interest that made the world builder in me squee a little.

As the story continues, the relationships between characters continues to change and grow. Some of this earned an eye roll from me, any problem that is solved by the power of love tends to do that. But, I can’t watch Hallmark movies either, so that’s a personal failing on my part. The rest of you might find it charming. There are several surprises here as well between characters where I never thought the dynamic would change.

Did Zym get reunited with his mom? You better go watch it.

All in all, season three is filled with great storytelling with just enough tidbits of well-timed backstory to make the new conflicts not only hugely entertaining, but powerful as well.

Really Claudia? Put the adoraburr down!

Recommendations

For those of you who love a story with a deep history, complex characters, and beautiful art, Dragon Prince is a perfect choice. It continues to amaze and delight my whole family. I’m personally impressed at the effort taken to ensure that every detail of the story is well thought out and calculated for maximum emotional payout. It’s totally my kind of story.

I would warn viewers that while on the outside this show just looks like any other cartoon, it’s actually pretty complicated. Some people might be turned off at the learning curve required to understand what is going on and what the stakes are. The first few episodes of season one are slower because of the time spent catching the viewer up on the history of the world and its characters and why that matters.

After Rayla, General Amaya is the coolest character ever.

A request

If you have a show or movie that you’d think I’d love to watch and review, let me know in the comments! I love finding new wonderful universes to explore.

Are you watching Dragon Prince? What are your thoughts so far?


Psst, Jodi here – Big news!

The re-release of Stonebearer’s Betrayal is well under way and scheduled for the first week in January, with the exciting sequel set to release in March. Stay tuned for a fresh new cover reveal and more!


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list.

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