Movie Review ~ Encanto

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young Colombian girl has to face the frustration of being the only member of her family without magical powers.

Stars: Stephanie Beatriz, María Cecilia Botero, John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama, Adassa, Diane Guerrero, Mauro Castillo, Angie Cepeda, Jessica Darrow, Rhenzy Feliz, Carolina Gaitán, Ravi Cabot-Conyers, Maluma

Directors: Jared Bush, Byron Howard,

Co Director: Charise Castro Smith

Rated: PG

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  With the release of Encanto, a milestone is reached for Walt Disney Animation Studios.  This spirited musical bursting with color and tuneful songs is the 60th feature film released by the legendary animation division.  Beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, the studio has had its fair share of high and low points over the ensuing 75 years and even acquiring animation pioneer Pixar couldn’t backburner their own output.  Producing many bona fide hits and Oscar winners, not to mention an array of dazzling shorts to proceed their many full-length movies, Walt Disney Animation Studios is consistently pushing the boundaries on exploring new cultures and experiences that reach out to audiences globally and Encanto is no different.

Deep in the heart of the Columbian mountains, there is a town that was created as a refuge during a time of war through the power of a miracle gift the villagers come to know as the Encanto.  The original family that started the town, the Madrigals, were blessed with an additional gift. Each Madrigal has had a special talent bestowed upon them when they reached a young age.  Some had strength, some could speak to animals, some could heal through food, each endowment was unique and often brought forth something that was already inside the person.  Every Madrigal was given this gift…except for Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz, In the Heights) who failed to receive one during her ceremony and has never known why. 

It’s during the newest ceremony for her young cousin and the festivities surrounding his new ability that fissures within both the figurative magic and literal house the magic built begin to appear, causing Mirabel to investigate the history of her family further.  Clues lead her down a path that point her toward an uncle (John Leguizamo, The Night Clerk) who fell out of favor with Abuela Alma Madrigal, the matriarch of the clan, and is not spoken of anymore and the possibility that he may be affecting the current state of the miracle.  With the family seen as a source of strength for the town, Abuela Alma is pressured to keep any hints of weakness within her children and grandchildren under wraps. Consequently, Mirabel is forced to take drastic measures if she hopes to use ordinary means to accomplish an extraordinary mission.

Accompanied by a series of tuneful songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda (already having quite the good November having just released his feature directional debut tick, tick…BOOM! on Netflix last week) that are pleasing to the ear but never quite get under your skin, Encanto bursts with color and movement from the beginning.  I’m always amazed how the animators seem to find new hues in the rainbow with each film they debut, and every swirl of shaded pastel or dash of a vibrant primary palette makes your eyes bug out a little further.  There were a few moments during Encanto’s more action heavy moments that have such specific sequences of events where I wondered how long it took to storyboard the movements before the animation could happen.  It’s no wonder these films often can take years to finish. 

Directors Jared Bush & Byron Howard’s 2106 film Zootopia won an Oscar as Best Animated Feature for Disney and for a very good reason.  The animation was detailed and complex and the story supported it all with an interesting plot that balanced developed characters with some truly hilarious moments.  Much of those same elements are on display here.  The characters in Encanto feel emotionally whole and formed as humans, rather than cartoons.  When it does delve into more of the humorous parts, it is legitimately funny, and the belly laughs that emerge feel like they are emanating from a satisfying place.  While the voice acting is on target, I couldn’t help but feel like some of the voices were auto pitched to sound younger…but I can’t confirm that.

I don’t find it as easy to sit through animated films as I did even five years ago, and I think it’s because they start to all blend together after a while.  That isn’t the case with Encanto which has the aura of a bold fragrance which pleasantly lingers long after you’ve left the theater.  Adults as well as kids will find something to enjoy within the frames and kudos to Disney for continuing their efforts to travel the world in search of the next story and culture to explore.

Movie Review ~ Zootopia

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: In a city of anthropomorphic animals, a fugitive con artist fox and a rookie bunny cop must work together to uncover a conspiracy.

Stars: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Idris Elba, Alan Tudyk, Tommy Chong, Octavia Spencer, Bonnie Hunt, Jenny Slate, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister, Don Lake, Raymond Persi

Director:  Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush

Rated: PG

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Here we are in the first week of March and I think I’ve found the first truly delightful film of the year. We’ve just emerged from a season of heavy dramas and a start of the year that featured a seemingly endless supply of disappointments and cheap cash grabs. So to find a film as breezy and bright as Zootopia is most welcome, it’s a place you’ll want to visit more than once.

Young Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is an idealistic young bunny rabbit that stands up to bullies and dreams of moving from her country life to Zootopia, an animal metropolis where predator and prey live in perfect harmony. With her sights set on becoming the first rabbit police officer, she overcomes the adversity of being 10 times smaller than her fellow police academy trainees and lands a job in the heart of the city. Relegated to the safety of being a meter maid, Hopps longs for more than just issuing parking tickets, though, and in short order gets involved with a plot to disrupt the peace between species.

It’s a surprisingly complex plot that’s dreamed up here, giving Disney Animation the opportunity to explore a world of anthropomorphic animals with no human presence. It’s also the longest fully animated film produced by Disney since Fantasia in 1940 and carries an earned PG rating for some scary moments. The length and rating may give parents cause for pause but I’d encourage families to get out and see this one because not only does it have a typically Disneyfied message of being true to oneself and kind to others it’s wonderfully animated and, at times, hysterically funny.

I like to laugh but don’t find myself often truly breaking down in movies so I have to admit that Zootopia hit my funny bone on several occasions. From a delightfully droll spoof of The Godfather to hilarious trip to the sloth-run DMV there are also references to Breaking Bad and a visit to an animal spa that really left me rolling. That the humor feels so genuine is a tribute to the script from eight screenwriters (the film went through some tweaking/reworking several times during production) .

It’s such a sunny romp that when there are dark turns, they land with the right amount of nuance instead of stinking of a laboriously false tonal shift. Zootopia is divided into several different sections meant to recreate the inhabitant’s native habitat. The city center is your typical city setting while there are occasional detours to a rainforest, desert, and frozen tundra. Each world is designed to look and feel different and Disney animators have gone all out with fine details that keep each section separate yet still related to the others.

The voice talent used here is also one of the most enjoyable casts that Disney has put together in quite some time. Goodwin is a bundle of joyous energy as Judy, as is Jason Bateman (Bad Words) as a sly fox who teams up with Judy in her investigation. Idris Elba (Prometheus) is commanding as Judy’s superior officer and J.K. Simmons (Terminator Genisys) pairs nicely with Jenny Slate (The Lorax) as Zootopia’s lion leader and his lamb second in command. And any chance to hear Bonnie Hunt (Monsters University) onscreen is welcome in my book.

Zootopia is being released in IMAX and 3D and while I normally go for the biggest and best presentation I can find, this is one that won’t suffer from a traditional viewing and in fact may be preferred as the 3D doesn’t have the same impact as other films of its kind.