Cruella


Viewed – 08 June 2021 Disney+

There, I admit it … I have a bit of a crush on Emma Stone. As one of the most versatile, likeable and talented actresses around, it’s difficult not to fall for her charms. This latest vehicle, an origin story of notorious Disney villain Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmatian has Stone playing Estella, an orphaned girl with dreams of making it big in the fashion industry. However what starts out as a sort of ‘Devil Wears Prada’ tale turns into something else entirely when Estella finds herself pitting her wits against famed designer The Baroness who may or may not be linked to Estella’s mother’s untimely death.

You caught me on a bad day….

La La Land’s Emma Stone is clearly having a ball here, paired wonderfully with Emma Thompson’s Baroness, both of which chew up the scenery with their vivid characterisation. This has a throwback Disney setting with the cor-blimey-gov’nor of Mary Poppins London but given a dark Tim Burton-like twist. Stone’s journey from Estella’s street kid / thief to fashion rebel Cruella is an interesting one. Yet at times some of the one-upping and rivalry between the Baroness and Cruella gets a bit silly, and Stone’s forced upper-class English accent can grate.

However, with an engaging 70s soundtrack spanning everyone from The Clash to Nina Simone, plenty of energy and character (Cruella’s two sidekicks are great fun), and a wealth of fun dog moments (of course), this was still highly entertaining. It’s a bit long at almost 2hrs and 20 minutes but rarely drags and had enough story, twists and fun sequences to keep this viewer glued. One to watch.

Verdict: Recommended

Raya and the Last Dragon


Viewed – 05 June 2021 Disney+

I’ve always enjoyed animation and few can argue that Disney (and Pixar) still lead the industry when it comes to animated movies. This latest offering tells the story of Raya, a young girl who grows up amidst fantastical tales of dragons who saved the world from an evil force that once turned people into stone. However their actions also lead to their mysterious disappearance, and when warring factions cause a sacred crystal to get damaged, the evil force returns to reclaim the land. Raya then takes it upon herself to seek out the fabled ‘last dragon’ in hope of banishing the evil for good.

You got a friend in me…

With a Far Eastern theme, similar to Mulan, this gorgeous looking, mystical fantasy adventure had it all. An engaging story, fun characters and some great action with a strong influence from Chinese cinema hits like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Raya (voiced by The Last Jedi’s Lisa Marie Tran), at first seems typical Disney Princess, yet develops into a fleshed-out and likeable lead, aided well by a bunch of quirky characters, including a mischievous baby, a lovable warrior from a rival clan … and especially Sifu as the Last Dragon, who proves this movies shining beacon.

It may not re-write the rule book when it comes to this kind of thing, and it’s themes of trusting / believing in one another are cliched … but done particularly well here, especially towards the end where I must admit it got me quite emotional. Another slam-dunk then for Disney, and possibly one of my favourites in a while from the house of mouse.

Verdict: Essential

Onward


Viewed – 03 October 2020. Disney+

Its difficult reviewing animated movies, because the quality is often so high, it’s tempting to just rate them all the same. So I tend to be a bit harder on them that some other movies. This unusual story presents an enchanted, fairy tale world that turns its back on magic, favouring technology to develop very much like the regular world. So people have jobs, there’s police, shops, fast food restaurants etc. On his 16th birthday, young elf Ian is given a present from his Dad who died of an illness before he was born, and it turns out to be a wizards staff. After reciting a spell that’s meant to bring the dad back for one day only … the spell goes wrong and only half of the dad’s body comes back – literally from the waist down. However his big brother Barley says there’s a way of completing the spell and so a quest unfolds to resurrect their dad before the sun goes down.

Like Monsters Inc and Inside Out before it, this presents a world full of character and personality. Again it’s a feast for the eyes and full of memorable side characters, pop culture gags and references – but it’s the unique idea that’s the winner; a caper comedy that’s weirdly a lot like 80s comedy Weekend at Bernies. Some moments, especially the freeway chase with the biker sprites certainly had me laughing out-loud. Yet underneath the visuals and gags lies a great deal of heart – something Pixar have always been masters of.

Tom Holland as Ian is perfect, but is overshadowed by Chris Pratt’s Barley who turns a potentially irritating loud mouth of a character into someone I really cared about. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is also good as the two brother’s Mom. The ending also turns the story on its head to deliver an emotion-heavy and wonderfully bittersweet conclusion. So there you have it – damn, another Pixar gem that shouldn’t be missed! Sigh.

Verdict: Essential

Mulan


Viewed – 08 September 2020 Disney+

I never got around to watching the animated original, yet it had always intrigued me … but unlike some other live action Disney remakes of late, I thought this would suit such a take better. Telling the tale of a young woman in ancient China who chooses to join the Emperors army disguised as a man, after an invading army declare war.

This is a gorgeous movie, awash with vibrant colours, beautiful costumes and stunning scenery and locations. Yes, there’s an overdose of CGI and occasionally the use of green screen for backgrounds is a bit obvious, but overall this was a treat for the eyes. Martial arts star Donnie Yen appears as a general who trains up the Emperors army, and an unrecognisable Jet Li appears as the Emperor himself. Jason Scott Lee’s vengeful leader of the invading army is good but he’s overshadowed by Gong Li’s brilliantly ruthless witch, who is definitely one of the movie’s stand out characters. Yet Liu Yifei as Mulan herself is very good, tough yet vulnerable and can handle the various elaborate fight sequences and carries the movie well. Yet the star here is the direction and visuals, Action scenes are plentiful and the camera work is often unique and stylish.

The story is nothing that special though and gets rather predictable. Some of the gravity-defying fantasy aspects can get a bit silly too. Also I found myself having to suspend belief when Mulan was disguised as a man, but still looked feminine to me. However, despite these things, I was still highly entertained from start to finish. One to check out.

Verdict: Recommended

Frozen II


Viewed – 25 August 2020 Disney+

I can’t say I had any intention of watching this. I enjoyed but wasn’t blown away from the (at the time) heavily lauded first movie, and guess a sequel was inevitable – although was surprised to see it receive very little hype at release. However I spotted it on Disney+ and as starved as we are of new, worthwhile movies of late … I thought what the hell.

Call of the Wild…

Magical Ice Queen ‘Elsa’ is haunted by a voice that calls to her. It seems strangely linked to a story her late father told her and her sister Anna when they were children, of an enchanted forest covered in mist. Eager to find out what it all means, Elsa sets out on an adventure, along with her sister as well as snowman Olaf and other friends.

This musical fantasy of course looks great. Frozen’s animation style may not be as visually dazzling as say, something from Pixar but it suits the throwback, classic style and is still beautifully done. The story is fun even if it felt a little forced initially with the whole ‘calling’ having little reason to ‘suddenly’ occur. The songs are entertaining, even if there’s nothing to rival the first movie’s ‘let it go’. Snowman Olaf also proved a bit irritating early on but I’ll admit I warmed to him as the movie progressed. Despite such issues however, I still found this really enjoyable. It’s quite funny and the characters (especially Anna) really had some great moments. Also that ending was feel-good perfection that I found quite touching. Not exactly another Disney Classic, but still well worth checking out.

Verdict: Good