Film Review: “Encanto” (2021)

“Sometimes the family weirdos get a bad rap.”

An energetic and beautifully animated 60th entry into the Disney animated canon that’s about family, acceptance, and toxicity. It shares a bunch of themes with Moana, as well as the unrestrained touch of Lin Manuel Miranda’s songwriting skills. The wide ensemble of genuinely developed characters (as developed as 90 minutes allows) helps set it apart from other animated fare. More importantly, though, the main character has glasses and that makes me feel seen as someone with glasses.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Releasing The Eternals: Part II so close to the first one was risky, but it definitely pays off.”

Film Review: “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (2021)

“I am utterly pointless.”

A bit of a modern E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, where E.T. is a little sleek robot voiced by Zach Galifianakis and society is hooked on social media and instant gratification instead of… Reaganomics? I don’t know, I wasn’t alive back in 1982. I don’t think anyone was. Regardless, this movie is a perfectly emotional exploration of what real friendship looks like and a satirical takedown of Apple (an obvious stand-in for Tim Cook doesn’t care if children die, which, yeah, I can see that), Facebook, and big tech in general. The latter was done earlier this year with the more manic and dysfunctional family-oriented The Mitchells vs the Machines, so these two movies exist as a bit of a prefect double feature. Dysfunctional families, dysfunctional robots, friendship, and the negatives (and positives!) of unchecked tech.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “There is a throwaway line about killer clowns living in the woods, which is why children don’t go in there to play anymore, which makes me think this movie takes place in an entirely new branch of the timeline after Harambe was shot in 2016 where those creepy clowns popping up everywhere in the north around then really kind of took hold of the world. Ron’s Gone Wrong would be very disappointed in this Reddit-addled VHS cover pull-quote.”

Film Review: “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (2021)

“Sounds awfully familiar.”

Time is a flat circle. Here we are, twenty-five years later, saying similar things about Lebron’s Space Jam that the critics did about Jordan’s: uninspired, stupid, not enough Marvin the Martian, who is the best Looney Tune. But we were young back then. Children wearing those 90s “street” Looney Tunes shirts who enjoyed “stupid,” “uninspired” things. And now, we have a fondness for Space Jam.

Perhaps we have become the very thing we swore to destroy: old people with opinions.

The added corporate synergy is the real outlying negative in A New Legacy, as Warner Bros. just dumped cameos from every one of their owned properties into this thing because branding. But, like this year’s Mortal Kombat reboot, this is very much the exact same movie they made in 1996 just made in 2021. If Space Jam were never made before now, this is still the movie we would have gotten today. The trend of trading in nostalgia that’s been so successful this past decade, applied to an idea about the most famous basketball player of our time playing basketball with the Looney Tunes, can only end with a product like this in 2021. We have brought this on ourselves, and that’s okay. It doesn’t really matter what I think, though. How the children remember A New Legacy 25 years from now will truly determine the movie’s, uh oh, legacy and worth.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Pennywise the Clown could have used a bit more screentime and development. Like, he probably wants to tear LeBron’s son Dom’s arm off, drag him into the sewer and eat him, of course, but that’s not really explored here so why even have him in the crowd at the basketball game?”

Film & TV Review: “Demon Slayer The Movie: Mugen Train” (2021) & “Demon Slayer: Season 1”

“How dare you go on living without a care.”

Delicious!

Demon Slayer works because of its animation, fight choreography, violence, and wacky anime hijinks, sure, but it’s the vulnerability of the characters compared to other shonen anime that really lets it stand out in the canon for me. The emotional toll the traumatic past has taken on the main characters (and even the demons they slay) is always palpable in their actions and thoughts. Perhaps most critically, tears flow so freely throughout the story, normalizing strong emotions in stereotypically strong individuals.

The downright stellar animation in Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train bolsters heavy emotional character moments that move the characters forward in meaningful ways and pretty much destroy me and my tear ducts every time I think about them. While the film starts out feeling like just a batch of episodes strung together in a film format, the scale and weight of the overarching theme becomes clear about halfway through. This arc of the story needed to be a film, and I hope they use the feature length format again to at least cap off the series, if not earlier.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season 4 finale ‘Restless’ continues to inspire dream narratives across the globe.”

Film Review: “The Mitchells vs. The Machines”

“Who would have thought a tech company didn’t have our best interests at heart?”

The animation techniques honed in Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse are let loose and used to tell the frantic, heartfelt story of a chaotic cartoon family against the machinations of a Mark Zuckerberg stand-in. In terms of energy, it feels like the next evolution or step up from the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies, which are both classics in my book of modern movies that most people don’t think (and probably aren’t, actually) classics but I like quite a bit.

This, however, feels destined to be an actual classic whose legacy may only be hampered by the relatively tame marketing push and it just being dropped on Netflix instead of having a meaningful theatrical run. Having to watch a film with blink-and-you-miss-it visual flourishes on a TV really made me long for the big screen and the togetherness theater experience and all that. But that’s hardly the movie’s fault! The film is a kinetic, hilarious techno journey into a sugar-addled Asimovian not-too-distant-future with the requisite (and fairly progressive) family component to bring the emotion.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “There is a particular scene in this that has been making the rounds on the interweb involving a deadly Furby colossus spouting eldritch phrases, which is why it is my favorite film of the year. If I say something else is my favorite film of the year in December 2021 or something, don’t listen to Future Nick. That asshole doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s an old person who’s out of touch with everything. His time is over and he doesn’t even realize it yet. I, on the other hand, am young. I am important.”

Film Review: “Wolfwalkers” (2020)

“There’s two of us now.”

As much an animated work of storybook art come to life as Song of the Sea and Secret of Kells, featuring another story that doesn’t speak down to it’s audience and deals with stuff like colonization, Claude Frollo levels of villainous doctrine, and man’s abuse of nature in addition to the friendly magical tale of wolves and self-actualization going on.

It’s just such a treat to get finely crafted 2D animation like this from Cartoon Saloon every few years.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “This could very well be categorized as a kind of werewolf film, which is wonderful. Like if David from American Werewolf in London had gone to Kilkenny in Ireland instead of those hellish moors in Britain, he could have become a part of a beautiful tale of friendship instead of getting shot with a silver bullet in an alley.”

Film Review: “Soul” (2020)

“I don’t think you’re supposed to go that way.”

Soul (2020)

Definitely up there with Pixar’s standalone best, giving out some serious Coco and Inside Out vibes just pulled to a stylish metaphysical extreme. The “It’s a Wonderful Life” style themes dealing with the joys of life are front and center, but so too is the drive of creatives to create and what ‘success’ means after chasing it for so long (which absolutely resonated with me as a writer person).

The soundtrack is also outstanding and, of course, it’s another good step forward for the company in terms of diverse characters and leads in their films (but not so much for major representation behind the camera).

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Joe reminds me of my childhood trumpet teacher, and I wonder if he also dealt with the self-doubts and setbacks that Joe did in his life that eventually led him to teaching music as a career (a career I would love to have). I probably should have practiced more to make his job easier. My bad, Roger.”

Film Review: “Scoob” (2020)

“It gets weirder.”

Less of a Scooby-Doo feature than it is an unabashedly out there and weird all-star Avengers-style Hanna-Barbera extravaganza that’s just centered around Scoob and Shag. It mostly works, though, despite too many pop culture references and modern music cues. Yes, there’s a Hex Girls easter egg. And don’t worry, Hanna-Barbera superfans, Magilla Gorrila makes a small appearance.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is still the best Scooby-Doo movie because that’s when shit got real for the gang and for me. Scooby Doo, Mystery Inc. is the best Scooby-Doo TV show because that’s just some damn fine cartoon storytelling. Scoob! is probably the best Wacky Races episode of all time.”

Film Review: “Onward” (2020)


“Long ago, there was wonder…”

A fantastic enough questy comedy about brothers, a van, father legs, sons, overcoming loss, and family, featuring some pretty solid D&D references throughout.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “Disney and Pixar put out Cars 2 for money, certainly, but also so that when something like Onward or The Good Dinosaur comes out, which are high quality but not UP or Coco or Wall-E levels of high quality, people will say, “well, it’s not Cars 2 so that’s nice.”

Film Review: “Early Man” (2018)

“You haven’t eaten your primordial soup.”

Despite the American marketing team’s attempts to convince everyone otherwise, this is 100% a football/soccer sports movie about a primitive Manchester United. Even so, Early Man still has all the heart, stop motion artistry, absurdity, British tomfoolery, and general lovability of any of Aardman’s other films.

My VHS cover pull-quote: “*Various British noises*!”