It was Cinderella, not Pinocchio, who once told us, "A wish is a dream your heart makes." "Cinderella" - released back in 1950 (!!!) - came to us back in an era of experimentation, unbridled creativity and endless wonder, led by the American pioneer, Walt Disney.
It was a different time, then. 10 years prior to Cinderella giving us that famous line, we had been given "Pinocchio." Released in 1940, it was just the second full-feature animated film from Disney (coming three years after "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"), and it was a Disney-fied version of a classic fairy tale, mixed with important life lessons for the kiddos (a blueprint the studio would use for the next century) and featuring an iconic score and soundtrack that, to this day, can still evoke emotion from anyone who has even accidentally brushed up against anything Disney (and whom among us hasn't?). "When You Wish Upon A Star" is the melody that defines Disney, and has become their unofficial, official company slogan.
With the 2022 live-action re-make of "Pinocchio," I'm not quite sure what was wished upon exactly, and I'm not quite sure that that wish originated in the heart. It seems to me that this was more of a "directive" than a wish, from a corporate entity that holds nothing sacred. I can just picture current Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, humming to that classic Cinderella melody, "A live-action re-make is a dream my bank account makes."
On the heels of live-action versions of "The Jungle Book," "The Lion King," "Aladdin," "Cinderella," "101 Dalmatians" and "Dumbo," we get the wish-fulfillment of a live-action "Pinocchio," a wish that no one ever has made or asked for, but we all knew was inevitable. It's not so much "bad" as it is unnecessary, and it once again has audiences asking: Why?
It will take a bit of nuance to understand my take on the new "Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers" movie (coming to Disney+ on Friday, May 20th).
Is this new movie funny? Oh absolutely (my wife and I actually had to stop the screener at one point during a "terrible rap" that the characters were doing, because we were laughing so hard). So if you're looking for laughs and laughs alone, this one might be for you.
But whatever it is, this is not a "Chip n Dale: Rescue Rangers" movie, even if it proclaims to be. Those are not the characters that many 90s kids fell in love with, and in fact, there is nothing at all recognizable from the TV show's spirit or overall vibe. And if you were a fan of Chip n Dale prior to the "Rescue Rangers," (the characters appeared in just 23 animated shorts, debuting in 1943 and continuing into the mid 1950s), well, that history is completely and utterly discarded.
No, this version is a satire aimed squarely at adults, albeit adults that grew up watching the TV show (debuting back in 1989, its three-season run from 1990-1993 as part of Disney's afternoon line-up was how most Gen-Xers came to know of it). At it's core, it's a generic buddy-comedy, with story beats so worn-out that its almost shocking that this was the direction the filmmakers decided to go in. It's dressed up WONDERFULLY with Easter Eggs galore, which make the time spent in this world a fun-filled trip down memory lane for those with eagle-eyes or access to a pause button...
...and yet, it's as hollow as some of the uncanny-valley characters that we're introduced to.
And call it what you will, but it's DEFINITELY not a movie about the Rescue Rangers, not the ones that we've come to know and love, nor is it about those two cuddly and fast-talking anamorphic chipmunk brothers that many of us grew up with.
That makes it a disappointment.
It's too bad that Pixar's latest charmer "Turning Red" is being sent straight to Disney+. This totally unique and diverse tale is the sort of family film that would tremendously help out the sagging domestic box office still reeling from the effects of the pandemic.
There has been buzz about "Turning Red" being too narrowly focused, and I don't think this is an inaccurate criticism, with context. It's just a bit of a sexist accusation that this is being aimed at a movie about a young teenage girl dealing with the realities of puberty and family pressures...we almost never would hear a film about any other topic be categorized as "too narrowly focused" or "unrelatable" by the majority of middle-aged, white and male film critics (yes, of which I am one).
I've never fought in war, or lived in the sixties, or have been to outer-space, and I've also never thought that films in any of these genres have somehow been "unrelatable" simply because they aren't my exact experience. Heck, the entire pull of movies for me is that it allows for empathy for those that are NOT like me.
If you're still not convinced that "Turning Red" is only for women, Asian-Americans, or some other prescribed demographic? Look no further than my five-year-old son, who watched "Turning Red" and despite some of the content flying well-over his head (unrelatable!), he was quick to declare it as his new favorite movie...ever!
If you are already predisposed to hate Disney and all that the mega-conglomerate stands for, the new "Jungle Cruise" is bound to rub you the wrong way. It's an over-stuffed, over-produced chaotic romp, that just seems to be full of excess (and CG) around every corner. However, with Emily Blunt and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson at the center of the mess, their friendly chemistry is just barely able to keep "Jungle Cruise" from straying completely off-course.
It's not all "Black Widow"'s fault. This long-awaited Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) feature film was supposed to have reached theaters back in May of 2020, but well...you know. Had there not been a pandemic, this movie would have seen release just under one year after the Phase Three final chapter, "Avengers: Endgame." And while the additional year of waiting has perhaps allowed us to enjoy the Marvel Disney+ TV shows a bit more ("WandaVision," "The Falcon and Winter Soldier" and nearly all of "Loki"), most Marvel fans are getting increasingly impatient as they await some forward traction with the over-arching story.
And while "Black Widow" is supposedly the first feature-film of Marvel's Phase Four, it doesn't feel like it. It does finally give Scarlett Johansson's beloved Black Widow character time to shine, a scene-stealer who has to this point just been a team player, appearing throughout other hero's films as one of two (along with Hawkeye) human Avenger members. But her new stand-alone film feels like it could have been released five, or seven years ago...a good but not great Marvel film that feels disappointing only because fans - I'm assuming - are chomping at the bit for things to move on from "Endgame."
Disney has a thing for its villains, and Cruella de Vil has always been one of the company's most iconic. New this weekend (in theaters and available on Disney+), "Cruella" gives us the origin story of a character who first appeared on-screen in the 1961 animated classic, "101 Dalmations" and who most recently was portrayed by Glenn Close in the live-action 1996 remake, "101 Dalmations" and its dog of a sequel, "102 Dalmations" (Close gives her seal of approval over this new version of the character, being that she's one of the film's Executive Producers).
Emma Stone is a perfect young Cruella de Vil, with the ability to be so likable and angelic at times but who can also turn on her devilish side with a quick flash of a look and a grin. There's nothing at all wrong with her rendition of the infamous Disney villainess, but "Cruella" is clogged with so much unnecessary and distracting nonsense that it - just barely - doesn't quite work.
Female protagonists in Disney animated films have come a long way. It's been 84 years since Snow White awaited a Prince's kiss to awaken her from a cursed slumber. The tales themselves are a far cry from their "snow white" roots, with modern adventures focused on diversity, people of color and those that have far too long been under-(or mis-)-represented throughout the history of cinema.
The impressive "Raya and the Last Dragon" is Disney Animated Studios' 59th feature film to be released theatrically, and one thing has remained the same since the beginning: Disney has pushed the envelope with its animation techniques and style, and "Raya and the Last Dragon" is the most beautifully, brilliantly rendered animated film dare I say in the studios' history.
And while the story-lines - many borrowed or adapted from existing fairy tales or legends - have admittedly played it safe with the Disney formula over the past century, this latest animated entry feels fresh and inspired, possessing that Disney charm that makes it feel like its destined to be a classic, with ever-relevant themes that speak to the issues of today just as potently.
The best part about the new Marvel Universe series "WandaVision," is also undoubtedly the source of its biggest frustration.
Don't worry, you won't be alone in asking yourself, "What the heck is going on here?" as that question is the central mystery of the series, at least through its first three episodes (I was given just the first three episodes for review...the series as a whole is nine-episodes long, with the first two episodes coming to Disney+ on January 15th, with new episodes unveiled each week on Fridays through March 5th).
But it's an intriguing, bizarre mystery that will take time to unravel, although the built-in army of young adults that make up the bulk of the Marvel Universe fanbase might have an even tougher time of following - or getting - the innate charm of "WandaVision."
The audience has come to expect more from Pixar than your average animated movie. And once again, Pixar delivers.
Synonymous with the phrase "coming to Disney+" is the idea that the film will be family-friendly. With few exceptions for new films, it also has been synonymous with mediocrity. "Godmothered" is no different, a film that just barely gets a passing grade despite the often-clever spin it gives to traditional "fairy-tale" expectations.
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