Disney’s Priorities Destroyed The Last Jedi’s Potential

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So let’s do something a little extravagant. We’re gonna mix elements of a formal review, an opinion piece, and an off-the-walls personal document! We’ll pick it apart, while also talking about my unbridled hatred for Disney. It’s the signature(?) brand of comedic, messy writing one comes to expect when reading from my blog. (more…)

The BFG Review

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Disney is a company responsible for bringing an emphasis of magic and wonderment to a gargantuan number of people since their inception. Their movies have a tendency to charm moviegoers of all ages with their signature brand of high-quality animation and innocent whimsy. If there’s one thing Disney movies always had going for them, it’s the spirit of the journey, the adventure into the unknown, which would inevitably change the characters within. As years have gone by, they’ve stuck with this structure through thick and thin—though mostly thin, as their films are still regarded as high quality in most facets. However, time is a heavy judgment, and while this emphasis of wonderment is fine on its own, some would come to expect time to encourage Disney to evolve this concept in more unique ways. With a director such as Steven Spielberg, there was encouragement that The BFG would be little more than “standard” Disney fluff. Of course, one can’t expect the director to change the course of where the movie wishes to travel.

Adapted from Roald Dahl’s book of the same name (sans the acronym), The BFG begins with a little girl in an orphanage, dilly-dallying in the dead of night. She gets the sudden urge to do exactly what she’s told not to do (Kids, am I right?) and looks out the window of her bedroom, only to come across a giant, looming shadow in the distance. In a flash, the figure swoops in and takes the girl from her “home” and travels far into the distance, an environment unknown to most humankind. With hardly a thought to be had, she’s taken into the giant’s lair, danger staring her down with its ugly mug. However, this giant seems to have no interest in eating her, and even goes as far as preventing her from facing further danger. Who exactly is this, ahem, big, friendly giant?

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As for my own experience, I have never read the original novel, and have very vague memories of the animated 1989 film. Going into this film was technically nostalgic, as a few particular scenes from the ’89 film rung familiar while watching this version. I wonder how much of this was really written by Roald Dahl, and how much was decided to be cut. There were some rumblings from critics about making the story not as dark, which only saddens me, as the film could’ve used some more grim situations. Even so, the film has some indication of rehashes and shortcuts, leaving a lot to be desired with trying to fill in each and every hole that’s been left behind.

The BFG is among the more nonsensical plots of Disney’s line-up. Not for the inclusion of giants and tangible dreams, but in the sense that the movie plays by its own rules and expect the viewer to mindlessly go with it. This is emphasized by the number of gobbledygook present within the giant’s speech and the charm of the unknown world, but there’s a lot of things that are supposedly very important that are immensely far-fetched. Critical plot points and resolutions happen by some kooky circumstance and don’t have that impact that one would expect with a decent sense of immersion. Some of this is from a lack of said realism, while also due to another major flaw within The BFG.

Films are typically forgiven for their lack of responsibility as a story so long as they give the viewer a definitive aura of entertainment. The BFG is a long, steady line from beginning to end. Never shifting, never moving. Not a single turn, obstruction, bump. Everything feels so by-the-numbers that it may as well be a different movie with a different skin. Things happen without any cause, and it affects the focus of the viewer. Or perhaps more accurately, the critical viewer. I don’t doubt that an average viewer would immediately eat this film up, seeing as it has every sprinkle of Disney’s fairy dust littered over every crack, but the cracks are large and foreboding to those not willing to ignore them. The film is, with all due respect, boring. It can’t seem to find any sort of hold within its core to really grasp the viewer’s attention other than the tired “Imaginary world for the ordinary hero” trope. There is no splendor—hardly any imagination to go along with it.

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What is does have in its favor (debatably the only thing) is Disney studios’ signature animation, which is nearly flawless. The hollow feeling is at least glossy and complexly stylized. The giant, along with all the other giants, are amazingly realistic, as if they aren’t CGI whatsoever. Their land, while fairly barren, has a nice feeling of a grassy plainlands. The garbage and familiar items discarded within is a nice touch, implying that humankind was present to some extent over the last few millennia. The darkness and eerie scenes don’t leave much of an impression, but it’s not for a lack of trying. Even the fart jokes look impressive (Though they really, really shouldn’t be here). Unfortunately, the overall animation doesn’t do much for the quality of the film aside from its own establishment. I suppose this is a good film for aesthetics.

One of the integral elements of the original story was the friendship between the little girl, Sophie, and the BFG. This film has some elements of this attached to it, however there is some cause for concern. Sophie is a child, so her instincts are arguably ill-fitted to the situation, as is evidenced by her tendency to bicker with drunken men in the streets and moving around in dangerous situations when she should probably just sit still. She has an astute spirit that is suited for the frail and timid BFG, who is the subject of bullying by the other giants. However, a lot of their development as friends happens by circumstance rather than intentionally. One could argue that the time spent together is enough to warrant some trust in one another, though I wonder whether or not this is due to the “F” in BFG and the age of the little girl. Whether or not this all really matters is debatable. I don’t believe chemistry between these two characters is present within The BFG. If anything, they’re together for the sake of being together.

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One other thing that is worth noting is the missed opportunities that take place within the runtime. Sophie lives in an orphanage, she has no parents, and complains that the caretakers are too strict. She even asks if the BFG had any parents (to which he replies, “No,” which makes zero sense). Why is the subject of a family and a place of belonging never brought up? These two examples are shadows of what could’ve been another point to drive the development of these two together. To characterize their relationship as a father and daughter figure, rather than just friends. I expected this to become important at some time, only to view the end credits without it ever being mentioned again. Why not give it a shot? It would do something for this lax attempt at bonding.

Disney is still at the top of their game for what seems like three-hundred years. Even if I disagree, critics seem to embellish the company with heaps of praise for whatever they seem to put out. Not only that, but they’re typically good moneymakers as well. Unfortunately for The BFG, it was one of Disney’s rare flops at the box office, making a putrid (by Disney standards) 18.7 million dollars in its first weekend. Perhaps its a sign that not everything Disney touches is a moving masterpiece, and after seeing it myself, I almost don’t blame people for not going to see it, unaware as they were. It leaves a lot to be questioned about what Disney expects from its movie-making. A classic case of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Whether or not this has any effect on people’s expectations would result in a BFA: a big, friendly argument.

Final Score: 3.5/10

Zootopia Review

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There seems to be a collective trend among professional critics who have reviewed this movie: the message justifies the means. The bulk of Zootopia‘s content may be standard, may be predictable, but the harshness of the themes presented and the underlying liberal mantra makes the movie something to be seen. It’s clever in its presentation and conservative enough not to make it overbearing. Not to mention, the visuals are bright, crisp, and colorful enough to entertain an audience of all ages. I can describe this type of mindset with one word: simple.

So a movie has a powerful message. So a movie has a message that strikes deep within the hearts of the issues with the mainstream media and their prejudices towards others. So a movie has heart and emphasizes tolerance and harmony. Does that really give it free reign to play out in such a predictable manner that it’s hard to distinguish it from any other Disney movie?

It’s disappointing to me that all of these critics are so keen on praising the movie for having a positive moral message rather than the movie’s technical abilities. Not all stories with a good message should constitute as “good,” and they don’t. Zootopia as a story is just as cliché and by-the-book as any other major Disney picture; almost to the same degree as Pixar films. It’s predictable and it becomes a drag to see a film take so few risks with its storytelling that it’s content with taking the same formula it’s used in most other movies, but with a different setting.

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The story stars Judy Hopps, a rabbit who dreams of being a police officer in the land of Zootopia. Unfortunately for her, being a police officer is typically reserved for “predators,” rather than prey such as rabbits. It follows her journey as a child (quickly) and her major motivations as she grows into an adult capable of fending for herself and how she struggles with, ahem, prejudice with her “prey” persona among the police force. Soon enough, she’s (by matter of coincidence) assigned her first task, and enlists the help of a wily fox named Nick Wilde to help her.

My brief synopsis leaves much to behold, but please don’t let my attempt at avoiding as many spoilers as possible deter you from my bland outline. There’s a lot more complexity to the story and how characters come to meet than I let on. This is one of the strengths I feel the movie has, which is the cleverness in which they take with the “predator vs. prey” angle. For as divided as some people can take this prospect, I think the movie did a well enough job to manipulate this concept to steer itself in a direction that suited its cause. I think it was also used well enough for other aspects such as humor, dialogue, and character development. In a sense, the message really does a lot of good for the movie technically, even if on a subjective level I don’t think it should hold much merit.

Allow me to be a tad more descriptive with the story progression. This may be a little on the spoiler-ish side, so I may recommend you skip the next paragraph in case you want to see it for yourself.

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Tell me if this sounds familiar: a story begins with a character’s past, showing the point of the movie and the motivation behind that or any other important character. It flashes forward and the character focused on in the past is now older and eager to explore and/or partake in their passion, only to discover that things aren’t all that they’re wrapped up to be. Along the way, they meet up with someone they don’t much care for, only to have that character, whether intentionally or not, become the sidekick to their grand adventure. The journey itself is one of info collecting and some action scenes filled with suspense and tension, and it “ends” with success, but at the cost of creating conflict with their sidekick, whom they grew to care for along the journey. At their lowest point, the main character goes through a period of self-reflection and self-loathing, only to have a sudden realization cause them to jump into action to finish up what they started with their journey. They make up with their former partner and the final scenes play out and the main antagonist is revealed and they defeat them and everything is hunky-dory.

That kinda sounds like… every modern Disney movie ever, doesn’t it?

It’s this type of storytelling that leads me to feel like this film won’t hold up in my memory. The characters and visuals will, sure, but the story itself will continue to be muddled along with the likes of Tangled, Frozen, Inside Out, The Good Dinosaur, and many others. It’s very pedestrian, it’s very standard, it’s very forgettable. This type of story is so bland that I can’t stand to even consider this film great simply from the story alone. It’s unfortunate because these types of stories work, certainly, but they’ve become so overused and oversaturated that I can’t help but feel film writers, particularly for Disney, have become lazy in the way they tell stories. This in of itself is Zootopia‘s greatest flaw, but in essence, it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

Other than its predictability, I also found a humongous plothole near the end of the movie when Judy has her realization. I won’t go into it for spoiler reasons, but I think it does a good job of showing how out of touch the story becomes by the end of the movie. The story, aside from its predictable structure, begins to fade into itself by the end of the movie. The resolution is incredibly far-fetched and it feels far too rushed to show anything other than “They won. The end.”

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The rainbow-like assortment of characters is just that: bright and varied. Unfortunately, not a lot have a good assortment of growth to them, with the only exception being Nick Wilde. The characters play their role: the main character, the sidekick, the comic relief, the scapegoat, the reference, the pop-star tie-in, etc. Many characters are basically the same from beginning to end, except the “happy ending” that makes everyone giddy and skippy and whatever. I just realized that sentence sounds really weird. Nevertheless, characters serve the message and are what they are. There’s not much more to them than that.

The animation is nothing to go on about, seeing as the trailer already does it justice. If Zootopia has one great strength aside from its clever (albeit predictably reversing) wit, it’s the animation. Disney is predictably savvy in its work with art and animation. Everyone looks great. Every movement looks fluid and realistic. The world is breath-taking and the action scenes are well sculpted. It’s everyone’s favorite treat and more; an absolute spectacle of design and animation. I just kinda wish there were more animals to behold, as it was basically limited to mammals. Makes the world feel a little smaller, y’know?

It’s a good movie, absolutely. But it’s not great. It’s hampered down by its predictability and its safe progression of story and “development.” The characters are role-fillers and the actual story has some holes to fill. But the message is enough to hold people over (and it shows by its ratings) and does enough with it to make the characters likable and the writing clever and sweet, and surprisingly funny. The animation is fantastic, as per usual. It just needs a little polish, a little more variety with the way its story progresses and maybe cool it with the whole “Haha, you expected one thing but we showed you the opposite! We are so smart!” For kids, this movie is absolutely recommendable. For adults, it really depends on the mindset. Most will appreciate its sentiments, but for someone looking for good structure and support, the movie will leave without paying the bill.

Final Score: 6/10

The Good Dinosaur Review

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I could go on about how Pixar is such a legendary animation studio and everything they release is an undeniable masterpiece, but let’s get real here: Pixar’s movies have been slacking lately. Their shtick is starting to wear them down (at least to some critics) and are showing how little they know of storytelling. For a more in-depth analysis on this, I would recommend watching YourMovieSucks’ Inside Out review, but that’s all I’m going to mention outside of my own thoughts.

There’s a lot to say about The Good Dinosaur, with not a lot of leeway to discuss it without spoiling the whole movie. To say it’s a lot like other Pixar movies would be an understatement. In essence, it’s almost entirely a re-hash of other Pixar movies, except with dinosaurs. Who doesn’t love dinosaurs though? Jurassic Park’s pretty cool, right?

The story follows Arlo, a cowardly dinosaur among a family of five, who slips into a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement with help from a wild little human kid named Spot. Now again, the details through which this journey begins is surrounded by spoiler traps. That being said, I’m forced to be vague about both the synopsis and key details within the film. Nevertheless, I’ll do what I can to make the film clear.

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To begin, The Good Dinosaur is at fault for, as said above, being almost a carbon copy of most other Pixar films. Because of this, the events and situations that arise within the movie become increasingly predictable. I recall pointing out conflicts before they happened. So and so does this. Something happens to this person. These characters aren’t what they seem. It’s all too easy with this film, so long as the viewer is familiar with Pixar’s works. When you’ve seen a few, you’ve seen ’em all. And when things become predictable, the suspense, the drama, the build-up; they all become for naught. The aura of mystery no longer applies, cutting out any sort of emotional immersion the viewer could have with the story-telling.

There are also issues with logic present in this film that are notable even to the untrained eye. These are present with the characters, their actions, and the situations that occur around them. Some of these are spoiler territory (which is a shame, because some big ones become void), so I can only assure you that the examples I’m about to provide are not all of the issues I had.  One such thing is the durability of the characters. Arlo and Spot seem to have superior strength and endurance, as they survive falling off of cliffs, rolling down steep hills, being caught in a cyclone, and falling down a waterfall. Not to mention, Spot looks to be maybe six to seven years old, yet has more flexibility than most gymnasts in their twenties. One could say that the time period allowed human beings to better improve their primal instincts, but does that also entail Spot acting (and being aptly named) like a dog? Comic relief aside, it’s still odd to me.

Somewhat of a sidenote and a little more of a nitpick, but why can the dinosaurs speak English and the humans can’t? Why can Spot understand Arlo and everyone else who speaks English, but can’t speak it himself? Not even other humans can speak English. They just howl and make animal noises. This is another one of those Pixar clichés; have the unexpected expected. Humans act like dinosaurs and dinosaurs act like humans. Ha ha ha.

Another leap in logic, along with an overused predictor of events to come, is the weather. I mentioned above that a cyclone takes place during the course of the movie, but that was only one such event. Every time something bad is happening, or is going to happen, the weather suddenly becomes stormy. Every time. And when the mood clears or the situation is resolved, the weather clears up. Every time. It rains about eight times throughout the course of the film. My brother couldn’t help commenting “Man, it sure does rain a lot in this movie.” Continuing on from above, this makes the movie all too predictable and hurts any suspense that may have led up to a certain scene or outcome. Sure, it helps the mood, but repetition rides out the charm of a stormy conflict after a while.

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When thinking of the characters in this film, I can’t help but feel they’re the worst aspect overall. Cliches and predictability aside, if this was a viewer’s first Pixar film, the events could be somewhat excusable. What isn’t excusable are the characters and their impact on the viewer’s mind. Arlo and Spot are the only two characters in this film who get any semblance of development, and even then it’s non-impressive, considering the uproariously lame state these two central characters were in at the beginning of the movie.

Arlo is a coward, a weakling, and can’t seem to do a simple chore with ease. He is one of the easiest characters to develop in any story ever. Make him do something that is outside of being completely useless. He’s developed. Congratulations. Spot is a tad better, but still uninspiring. Spot is regarded as a “critter” at the beginning of the movie by Arlo’s father and a few other predatory creatures. He is the very definition of a wild animal, complete by his lack of a humanistic language and his predator-like movements and actions. The viewers also know next to nothing about him. So, in essence, the movie is developing a wild animal, much like developing the relationship between its pet and its owner. But he’s human, and that’s the dead giveaway. Of course he’s going to act like a human in key moments. He’s human. Have him act like a human. He’s developed. Congratulations. It’s predictable and it’s overly simple, but it’s development nonetheless.

The rest of the characters, aside from a few redneck-stereotyped tyrannosaurs, are ultimately forgettable, save Arlo’s father. Longtime readers of mine know what I mean when I say that a majority of the characters in this film are plot progressers: characters who only act, react, and behave in order to further the plot. Arlo’s siblings act as reminders that he’s worthless compared to them. Arlo’s parents (or mother specifically) are worried for Arlo’s development. Some weird triceratops guy acts weird and dumb in order to uncover Spot’s name and comic relief. Some evil pterodactyls later on are evil because they’re evil and where would the conflict be without randomly evil characters? Sure, some of Pixar’s other films had evil characters evil for a reason, but here, they’re just insane and/or stupid. Great. The cast is pretty forgettable overall, which is a shame, because I actually liked those tyrannosaurs, who had about fifteen minutes of screentime only to aid the main characters.

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Visually, I have no complaints about this film. Most of the standard critic reviews had a mandatory “This film’s animation was God-like!” note attached to their overviews, and for good reason. The animation and overall design of The Good Dinosaur is really spectacular. The animation alone is enough to keep anyone fully immersed, even if the narrative will bore the thinking crowd. The only complaint I could give was that while the landscape looked realistic, the characters didn’t match that same authentic look. It’s like putting  Pac-Man into Call of Duty, it feels a little out of place. Though, this doesn’t hamper much about the overall quality of the film, but is something to note before going into it.

There’s something tricky about critiquing a film based on outside sources. Would this movie be as good if its narrative wasn’t already an established Pixar trope? Perhaps. But that aside, the movie still suffers from lack of effort in character-building, world-building, and logical scenarios. Predictability is one thing, but defying the laws of physics and overexerting the capabilities of animals is another. The Good Dinosaur is a cute film, and many will be willing to overlook its flaws, but those in the know can easily point the path through which the characters will travel, as well as when Pixar will try to squeeze the tears out of you. Just like in most of their other movies, especially recently. It’s a fun time-waster and great eye candy, but those looking for a modern Pixar masterpiece should skip this film.

Final Score: 5/10