Watching this movie happened as a bit of a fluke. Youngest kiddo needed something to watch in the evening after a busy day and we’d worn out our usual favorites. We’d seen the trailer and it looked interesting, but wasn’t something we were going to make a special effort to see.
That was before the lock down and the world was our very large oyster. It took a few weeks to reach the attitude of “heck, why not?” when it came to watching pretty much anything. And, it was on a streaming service we already had. Win.
In New Mushroomia, magic and mythical creatures are a part of history. The world was full of elves, centaurs, pixies, and manticores and their magic was the force that made things work. Everything from transportation to interior lighting was taken care of using spells and unicorns.
Then technology happened – and it was easier, faster, and every one could use it. Fast forward a few generations in New Mushroomia and magic is nothing more than a part of history. People keep small dragons as pets and drive mini vans.
Ian Lightfoot is a teenage elf trying to make it through high school in one piece and survive his driving test. He’s shy, has a hard time talking to people, and would much prefer if he never had to leave his house ever again. He also has a wild older brother who lives and breathes fantasy role playing games.
On Ian’s sixteenth birthday he and his brother are given a gift from their deceased father, a real wizard’s staff with a single spell, the power to bring their father back for a single day.
But, this is a movie and something has to go wrong. In the process of attempting the spell the boys only bring half their father back – his now very alive pants. They set out on a quest to finish the spell before it wears off.
The rest of the movie turns into a fantasy twist reminiscent of Indiana Jones where the boys hunt down clues in unlikely places and test their courage. Are they successful? That would be an awful spoiler and I won’t tell you. But – I will say that it has a satisfying ending.
Onward is urban fantasy at its most entertaining. It’s relatable, down to earth, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a real problem for the boys to solve that’s incredibly important to them, but isn’t so big that it feels forced. They’re not saving the world. They just want one more day with their dad.
After everything, I ended up liking it more than I expected to. My biggest worry going in was that there wouldn’t be enough relatable material. Not a problem, we’ve all been teenagers and had to navigate that world. Add to that sibling issues, trying not to get in trouble with mom, and then layer on top of it a chance to see a dear parent who died too soon, if only for a day.
Yep. It hit all the feels. Not only was there action and adventure, there were also sweet moments of reflection and introspection. There were emotional highs and plenty of laughs as well as moments of loss and sacrifice.
I’ll admit, I cried at the end.
This is a solid family film that I think anyone would enjoy, although those who like any form of fantasy would especially like it. There is enough action and laughs that even very young kids will find lots to entertain them, although the climax scene might be too intense for some.
Because the boys quest is wrapped around being able to see their father one more time, I’d counsel anyone who’s recently lost a parent to proceed with caution. While I feel the film redeems itself, it might be too much to take.
I give Onward 4.5/5 stars
Need a lovely short read to get you through your afternoon? Grab my free short story “Breath” for your favorite ereader. It asks “Is a life without love worth living?” and is available for a limited time through StoryOrigin.
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.”
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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Every single one of us has that one friend who hates things with an unusual passion. You know the one – and if you don’t, it might be you. The conversation will start with a casual discussion about the most recent movies they’ve seen and the next thing you know, they are ranting about some aspect of the show that you frankly could care less about.
This is a toxic fan – and James Wymore isn’t one of them. Trust me. He’s got opinions a plenty about recent reincarnations of certain franchises, but he also has that wonderful thing called perspective. As an author who has solved the puzzles and fought to find what makes his fans happy, he gets it.
I can’t count how many times over the years I’ve had
somebody tell me how awful the Star Wars prequel trilogy is. At conferences,
during convention panels, over pizza, at family gatherings, and so many times
on social media. They are generally nice people, with notable exceptions. I
just can’t figure out why they have taken it upon themselves to actively
campaign against a nearly twenty-year old movie in a franchise they claim to
love. What is it they hope to gain?
So I started engaging some of these folks in conversations,
to find out what about those movies caused them so much irritation that they
would publicly proselyte against them.
The responses varied, of course. Some became defensive, as
if they couldn’t understand why anybody would have to justify such an obvious
opinion. Others broke down into lists of reasons, some I suspect were
regurgitated from online or other sources. The last group just increased their
vitriol, adding emotional weight to their claims. The only common thread I
could find was that each of them felt it should have been done differently.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but it takes a lot of
self confidence to believe you could imagine or produce a better movie than the
franchise’s original creator, writer, and director.
I wrote this off as people being people and didn’t let it
upset my own enjoyment of those movies. However, over time, the anger and
animosity toward Star Wars creators grew exponentially when Disney bought the franchise
and began making new movies. Abrams managed to make most of the fans moderately
happy with episode 7. Rogue One caused a new division. Then waves of social
hate rose up to actively protest episode 8. And I can’t even explain why so
much anger was aimed at Solo.
Disney responded by cancelling all the spin-offs. Then they
changed their mind and cancelled everything after episode 9 (which had a year
left before it even came out). Way to go, whiners, you got Star Wars put on
permanent hiatus. You literally killed the thing you claimed to love. Even if
it wasn’t what you wanted, did you have to ruin it for everybody else? If you
couldn’t have the movies of your imagination, does that mean the rest of us
shouldn’t have any either?
If you like something, great. If you don’t like it, that’s
okay. But why the hate? Why the need to actively tear it down? Did it ever
occur to you that you could just leave peacefully and let the rest of us enjoy
Fandom has grown toxic.
We all need a little
more zen in our media consumption. Rather than lashing out when you’re
disappointed, maybe a better strategy would be to just watch what you like and
don’t watch what you don’t. Are you getting paid to review movies? Have you
been inducted into the posse to protect innocent citizens from bad media? Did
the “fix the franchise” crusaders make you their missionary?
Trust the market. If people don’t like something, they won’t
buy tickets and the company will lose money. That’s the only feedback they
really listen to anyway. If you don’t like the new Ghostbusters, don’t watch
it. But be cool. Don’t go after the company and start spreading negativity.
Offer people the dignity of deciding what they want. And be secure enough to
not like something without rage.
Creating a hostile environment just ruins it for everybody.
In the end, isn’t it supposed to be about entertainment and fun? If not, maybe
you should reevaluate why you are emotionally invested in it. If so, then
making it toxic is counter-productive.
About James Wymore
Growing up on a steady diet of Spider-man cartoons and television shows like Batman and Wonder Woman, James Wymore knew he would someday find his own super power and join the fight for justice. He did everything right, from experimenting with arson to jumping from great heights, but his ability to control fire or fly never kicked in.
he went past the teenage years, he accepted that he probably didn’t have a
hidden mutant power waiting to manifest. Neither would he uncover any
unexplained alien origins, so he threw himself into searching for enhancements
designed to bring his latent abilities to the surface. He travelled the world
studying arcane magic. Throughout college, he experimented with volatile
chemicals, extreme temperatures, lasers, and various forms of radiation.
Eventually, he discovered the power of hypnosis through fantastic stories. He plunged into writing, filling his work with the subtle triggers that would allow him to one day take control of all his readers’ minds and use them as an army to conquer the literary world. Until that day, he works tirelessly to create more and better books. Follow his progress at http://jameswymore.wordpress.com
Superheroes and villains constantly
battle for control of Denver, Colorado, so somebody has to do the heavy
lifting. CJ Cruz found his niche working for whichever super-flavor-of-the-day
happens to be running the show at the time. Since most of the self-labeled
heroes claiming to be on the side of justice don’t hire henchmen, he usually
winds up doing the street-level work for supers operating outside the law. His
family and priest just think he’s a gangster, but CJ knows his motivation is
pure. He keeps on the windy side of law enforcement by following a few simple
rules, the first of which is keep your head down and never be the boss’s
right-hand man. People tell him
he should get a new job, but he likes working around supers. Besides, except
for intimidation and roughing-people-up he doesn’t have any other skills necessary
to make rent and pay child support.
“Thug #1 is a fast-paced, action-packed book written in comic book style. The artwork is amazing, too!”
Holli Anderson, author of Myrikal
In the future, everybody wears computer glasses that scan the
world and project whatever you want to see right in front of it. Through
perfected augmented reality, the buildings and people blend seamlessly into
whatever movie or video game is running. We all see whatever we want, all the
time. Nobody cares what clothes they wear, because the rest of the world sees
them as pirates, robots, or anything that suits their current media. Even the
cars are self-driving, because nobody wants to pause the streaming feed.
In other news, the world is under attack by aliens. Disease is
decimating the human population. A man takes over America and declares himself
to be a god.
Nobody cares, so long as they don’t turn off the wi-fi.
Jason Hunt has the perfect life. A scholarship university
athlete with an amazing girlfriend, his future couldn’t be brighter. Then his
father drops a few family secrets on him—
Secrets of treason and heresy, which put him in direct
conflict with the reigning Theocrat.
“Wymore weaves a fantastic tale while taking a good hard look at religion, politics, immortality, entertainment, and technological advancement. If you’re looking for a thrilling sci-fi adventure that beautifully mirrors current real-world issues and advancements then this is the book for you.”
Andrew Buckley (Author, Hair in All the Wrong Places)
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Check it out! I actually made it to a show before it left the theaters! Yippee! And the kids sat through the whole thing, which means I got to watch the whole thing from beginning to end without having to leave for a potty run or break up a fight. This, my friends, is a small miracle in itself.
What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? Being a Disney, it’s gotten more than it’s fair share of media attention. People are calling it revolutionary and unique. And they’re right. We haven’t seen anything like this before.
The story of Inside Out is layered. The inside layer is a story all about Joy, one of the emotions that live inside of Riley’s head. Joy is determined to help Riley always be happy no matter what happens. Joy lives along side her fellow emotions anger, sadness, fear, and disgust. Each of these emotions can use the master control panel that control how Riley reacts in any given circumstance.
The outside layer is Riley’s story, a happy eleven-year-old, who loves her family and being silly and playing ice hockey. However, everything changes when Riley’s family moves from the Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley finds herself in a new school and new surroundings, everything is different and for any child, different is stressful and scary.
Still, Joy is determined to make things work and help Riley put on a happy face, even when she has some very real problems that need to be addressed. Joy forces Sadness to stay out of the way and refuses to let her take the controls. Joy’s efforts only make things worse and she and Sadness accidentally both get sucked out of headquarters and down into long-term memory storage.
This means that Riley can’t feel either joy or sadness and is stuck with fear, disgust, and anger.
Joy and Sadness must find a way back to headquarters before Riley makes a decision that might destroy her life.
I thought Inside Out was adorable and perfect for my young kids. It opens up avenues of discussion about what different emotions are and why each are important at the right time. The movie is clever, funny, and poignant and will send you home thinking about it for a long time.
One of my favorite parts (don’t worry, no spoilers here) is when we are allowed to see the headquarters inside different people’s and animal’s heads. Everyone and everything has the same set of emotions but each act very different depending on who or what they are. It comes at the very end of the movie and is hilarious.
If you like cute, imaginative, feel good movies with a message then you will love Inside Out. It’s not just for kids, it’s good for anyone who likes to think and feel.
However, there is a silliness warning. There are a few parts that do get a bit silly. If you get uncomfortable with things that are silly or childish then you might want to proceed with caution.
I’ve been super excited to see Big Hero 6 ever since the buzz started about it, and honestly I knew nothing about it. I mean nothing. I saw the trailer with a cute huggable robot and instantly assumed that the whole plot was wrapped around a child who had a family member who suffered from a terminal illness – thus requiring the need of a nurse robot in the home. I even went on to imagine when the family member died that the child went on to have some sort of relationship with the robot. Sort of like Hachi: A Dog Tale, except the dog is an adorable robot. My writer sense kicked in a bit too soon, and boy was I wrong.
Warning: There be Spoilers Ahead (but, I’ll do my best to be fairly vague…)
Big Hero 6 is an action superhero movie. There is a villain, there is lots of techno science, there is revenge, and there is a fluffy innocent robot whose primary concern is the health of Hiro.
Hiro is a brilliant 13 year old who is intent on amusing himself instead of using his amazing mind. I love that his name is Hiro and sounds like Hero, because that is quite literally what he makes himself, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Hiro’s biggest inspiration is his older brother Tadashi, who is also a brilliant robotics engineer. It is Tadashi who finally inspires Hiro to makes something of his life and encourages him to work toward joining the acclaimed “Nerd Lab” at the university. Hiro’s resulting invention is so groundbreaking that he is offered acceptance to the university on the spot.
All this changes when tragedy strikes. Hiro is left grieving and has a hard time moving on. The registration period for the university comes and goes and classes have started. One day, Hiro accidentally activates Baymax – the cuddly health care robot and Tadashi’s final project.
Baymax serves as the much needed catalyst that gets Hiro moving forward once again and also reveals the villain. After that, it’s a roller coaster ride of thrills, adventure, and danger, combined with just enough humor to keep it fun for all ages.
Needless to say, I loved it and my kids loved it too. My three year old randomly quotes from it saying, “Hi, I’m Baymax, your personal healthcare companion.” Everyone is doing the Baymax fistbump. We are pumped about this movie, and the world is as well.
Ok, I’m well behind the times when it comes to seeing this. That said, I’m well behind the times about seeing anything in the full priced theater, perhaps you are as well. This weekend Maleficent came out to Redbox.
I was sceptical at first. The original Sleeping Beauty as imagined by Disney was never my favorite and I’ve found many retold fairy tales lacking. Then again, I loved Ever After and Wicked so let it not be said that I’m overly biased.
I adored Maleficent.
Whoever they found to create and piece the story together to cast Maleficent as a misunderstood and misused magical creature was either a mad genius or made a pact with the devil to get it this good.
Not to mention Angelina Jolie. If there was ever a woman who looked so perfect that she is nearly alien, it’s her. Wow, there are so many facets to her character that it’s hard to know where to start. [Warning, there be spoilers ahead!]
In this story, Maleficent begins as a carefree and kindhearted fairy of the Moors, a wild and wonderful place filled with all manner of magical creatures. The Moors kingdom has always had a rocky relationship with the adjoining kingdom. She meets Stefan, a peasant boy who wanders into the Moors to find treasure. The two begin a friendship that evolves into what Maleficent believes is true love.
Stefan (played by Sharlto Copley), as we remember from our Disney of the past, is King and father of Princess Aurora. He has to do some pretty terrible things to become so, including taking from Maleficent the one thing she holds most dear. If you want to know what that is, watch the movie – it’s really horrible. Needless to say, Maleficent is heartbroken, enraged, and willing do anything to make Stefan pay for his betrayal.
This is where the curse and those silly fairies come in. Aurora is taken from the kingdom to be raised by these truly annoying woman who don’t have a half-a-brain to rub between them. In fact, their incompetence is so severe that it is Maleficent herself that unwittingly begins to look after and care for the child from a distance.
For me, this is where things get interesting. Enter Diaval played by Sam Riley, the raven Maleficent turns into all sorts of different creatures, including human, to be her spy. The writer in me wants to go into all sorts of detail on why he’s there and why his character is so effective, but I’ll spare you. He’s awesome, and quite possibly my favorite character.
Prince Phillip is played by Brenton Thwaites and in this movie he does pretty much nothing than provide some continuity from the original Sleeping Beauty. He’s there for the kiss – but wait, there’s a twist!
And then, of course, we can’t forget Aurora played by Elle Fanning. As much as Sleeping Beauty is her story, she spends this entire movie being acted upon. She gets cursed, she gets raised by the idiot fairies and indirectly by Maleficent, she meets Phillip, she pricks her finger, she falls into an endless sleep that doesn’t seem to last more than a few minutes in this movie, and she wakes up and becomes queen.
What makes the last half of the film so interesting is how Maleficent changes from kind and free-spirited to dark and brooding and then back again, and the realizations she has to make to do so. In the process of raising Aurora she discovers the one thing that she thought didn’t exist, the one thing so vital to her life that all that is good disappears when it’s gone and returns when she rediscovers it. To find out what it is you’ll have to watch the movie.