Tag Archives: Disney

Review: Frozen The Musical NYC 28th Feb 2018 by Patrick Downes

Another musical my girlfriend and I saw whilst in New York recently. Bear in mind, we saw the preview so by the time it opened a couple of weeks back, much may have changed.

Some trivia for you, Elsa is the first Disney princess to be crowned Queen20180409_220255366_iOS, it’s been translated into 41 different languages, plus Walt Disney wanted to produce a cartoon based on the Snow Queen for over 70 years. These are just some facts behind the highest grossing animated film of all time, which has now become a musical in its own right.

As I started this review, we saw the preview, but I can’t see much changing as what we saw was epic.

If you’ve not seen Frozen (seriously?) here’s a basic plot; Fearless optimist Anna teams up with rugged mountain man Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven and sets off on an epic journey to find her sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom of Arendelle in eternal winter. The rest, well, go watch it on DVD.

St James Theatre is steeped in Broadway history, just recently it was 75 years since Oklahoma was first premiered there, and now another piece of Broadway history is being made with Disney’s Frozen playing out to packed houses each night.

Having watching the film once or twice (maybe more), the first half of the performance seemed to use all the songs – I couldn’t remember what songs were supposed to be in what place, but ending on Let it Go is definitely a show stopper into the interval.

There are several new songs for this production, and they help flesh out the story. True Love and What do you know about love will certainly stay with me, as will Hygge which opens act two. My only slight disappointment, is not being able to have a cast recording – needless to say, it’s being released in June 2018!

Caissie Levy plays Elsa, and Patti Murin, Anna. Both are extremely talented performers and will certainly leave you with goosebumps during certain sections. Olaf is played Greg Hildreth, and it might be a little unfair to say, but he’s so much like Josh Gad in his performance and vocals. You can close your eyes and think it him. Young Anna & Elsa were played by Mattea Conforti and Ayla Schwartz the performance we saw, and let’s just say I believe they’ll will be names to watch for in coming years.

The ensemble, the effects, and the orchestra all played a part in bringing the most beloved in car karaoke soundtracks of recent years to life, and then some. Like I saw previous, the only thing that I’m disappointed about was not having the cast recording, so for now I’ll have to make do with youtube clips – suppose in terms of a soundtrack, it’s a little bit of a fixer upper….

There is talk of it coming to London, but not for a little while – so in the meantime, get a flight to NYC, walk around Central Park, go see Starry Night at MOMA, and most important of all, believe in true love and spend an evening with the fair folk of Arendelle. Hold onto your ticket as you won’t want to lose it…or let it go.

REVIEW: Patrick Downes

Review Moana by Jonathan Evans

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(4 / 5)

Disney movies have been for the family since the companies beginning. But they have mostly been for a Caucasian audience. In recent years companies have realised that there are other types of people and have striven to represent more of the many different types of people inhabiting the world.

We get told that there is the god of islands Te Fiti that created the islands of the world, when one day the demi-god Maui steals her heart, this starts the spreading of a great evil that will devour all life on the planet eventually. Years later and the events have become legend and on an island a tribe lives in perfect happiness. However despite this the chiefs daughter, Moana, feels the ocean calling to her, for her whole life despite the fact that the island has everything anyone could want she is beckoned to leave for something else.

Eventually the corruption reaches her island, so she must leave and restore the goddess heart with the help of Maui. And so out hero’s quest begins.

Mona is our latest instalment for female Disney leads. Whether she is technically a princess or not is debatable (even in the film), but she will indefinitely join the brand in future. But she is like many of her predecessors, an energetic, spirited girl that has what would seem like a perfectly acceptable status quo but there is something about her nature where she yearns for more. The great technical achievement with her is her face, whatever inner emotion she is going through her expressions convey them perfectly clearly, so much so that her dialog is rather throw-away. However the person doing her voice is also a great treat. Auli’i Cravalho infuses Moana with the authentic energy we need to like this young woman, she is a genuine teenager so she has that unique quality to her voice that is nearly impossible to replicate by older actors and she is able to handle any emotional scenes she has to from distressed, the comedic to emotional.

Mawi the demigod is played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The Rock is an extremely charismatic actor that is the perfect fit for this very larger than life character. He comes with a unique visual gimmick that whenever he accomplishes a great feat he gets a new tattoo on his body and one of the tattoos of him can move and express (possibly his subconscious, I don’t know).

Also along for the quest is Heihei, a rooster that is as intelligent as any other rooster. He serves as the animal comedic relief, because this is an animated Disney movie, there must be one.

Ron Clements and John Musker once again take the reigns as directors on a Disney movie. They kicked off the Disney renaissance with The Little Mermaid and went on to make Aladdin, Hercules, Princess & The Frog and now they’re back with their first C.G.I. movie. They understand how to handle a Disney property, they must be entertaining for the whole family so there needs to be something that all the age-groups will like and then must be tied together as the finished product. Something that’s taken over from when they did Hercules is the use of flat graphic animation.

For this project Disney recruited Lin-Manuel Miranda as one of the songwriters. For those of you (I am one) that are enjoying the phenomenon that is Hamilton this will be very exciting for you. Every song in the movie serves to either broadly convey emotion or compress story information at an extremely efficient level. There are no songs that are simply the character making breakfast, the songs mean something. He is a natural words-man, able to craft intricate lyrics that stay on point, rhyme and are funny. My two favourites are “You’re Welcome” Maui’s self-indulgent song about all his great feats, and “Shiny” also a self indulgent song by the villain (a giant treasure covered crab named Tamatoa) about how it only matters whats on the inside, plays like a 70’s pop song by Jermaine Clements.

This is Disney, I feel its pointless to sing its praise of how well this is animated, it has the best people in the world working for them and have a more than capable budget. It is beautiful, with lush colors and textures. But what I want to bring up is the delicate balance they strike in representing the ethnicity and culture of Hawaiians while not being offensive. This is a cartoon so they have to exaggerate but not so much that it becomes a warped and disrespectful.

Much like The Little Mermaid this marks Disney studio doing what they do best while at the same time trying something new with its asthetic. Songs, characters and brilliant animation for the whole family, this is a Disney movie.

Review The BFG by Jonathan Evans

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(4 / 5)

Roahl Dahl was a true writer of children’s fiction. He created stories of the truly fantastical that stirred the imagination of all who read them. Also he shaped simple but deep plots that could be understood but the simple thinking of children but also complex in a way that you will keep coming back to them years later. The BFG is a story about bravery and the importance of dreams.

Put simply we meet Sophie, a little orphan that is more responsible that the head carer in her orphanage. She knows that there is something that moves the London streets at night, one night she sees it for herself. A large, twenty-four-foot figure in a black robe. The figure sees her too and takes her. She is whisked off to another world and learns that she is in Giant Country. The one that has taken her is a giant but has no intention of eating her.

He will not take her back for fear she will tell people. So Sophie is in Giant Country indefinitely. And must do her best to navigate throughout this world of giant oily vegetables and host that is so large his bed is an entire ship.

The best part of the movie is the giant himself. Mark Rylance moves and is able to deliver the giants fragmented form of English with utter conviction and ease. An actor that was uncomfortable with the material would overcompensate by being too hammy, Rylance is able to speak the unique dialog with warmth, humor and even regret at times. His design is also a technical triumph. Like with Tintin the effects team are able to take the original illustrated character design and add all kinds of skin texturing and wrinkles lines to create a balance that forgoes the Uncanny Valley and more of a detailed illustration come to life.

The other best thing is Ruby Barnhill as Sophie. Speilberg has a talent for working with children, somehow he is able to communicate with them and get them to understand that material and get very solid performances out of his young stars. But there does obviously need to be talent there and Barnhill has so much of it. She is able to interact with things that are not really there and able to pull-off scared, witty and awe convincingly.

The C.G.I. is something that’s beautifully realized. There are as much practical effects in the movie as can be, but most of it is C.G.I. and it looks like a lush, vibrant painting. The sunlight shines through the the hair and bounces off skin, dreams are matter that take different shapes depending on their nature.

What else can be said about Steven Spielberg? He is one of the most acclaimed names in all of movie history. He knows the formula of how to compose a satisfying movie. Knowing how to expertly compose and light shots but also also with the story for having moments of levity, but also dark ones to balance everything out. With this new technology he is able to have swooping, intricate shots that would be impossible in live-action. As-well as that show things that would be impossible, Jumping into a reflection, having the camera follow them and then flipping one-hundred-eighty degrees when they come out the other side, for example. Though there are a few moments that seem like he just wanted t make sure the kids would laugh.

As must always come with a Spielberg movie is the music of John Williams. Williams who has so many of the greatest movie scores under his belt doesn’t need another one. But yet he does anyway. His score here heightens the mood and feel of whatever situation it plays for and ranges from scary and intimidating, bouncing and magical, and quiet and lonely.

This movie is something that children should experience. They should know that dreams and courage are important, that there are threats in this world but they can be overcome. And see images that will enrich their imagination for years to come.

Review The Jungle Book (2016) by Jonathan Evans

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The Jungle Book was always a story structured around set-piece moments. We have a little boy as out fish-out-of-water protagonist that comes across creatures that he doesn’t know about and must overcome. What matters is that the world is defined and that characters that inhabit itare memorable as well as likeable and we must have a few moments of awe within the run-time.

This is still the classic set-up a small child being found in the jungle and, for whatever reason, a panther named Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) finds him and instead of eating him, takes him to a pack of wolves, that also decide to not eat him and raise him as one of their own.

Mowgli in terms of his design with his messy black hair and red pants is right out of the original Disney movie. The little boy playing him is Neel Sethi, who unfortunately just isn’t that good. He somehow is able to speak clear English with an American accent but also speaks it with that hammy way that you’d expect from a minor. How bad is it? Possibly in the range of Jake Lloyd from The Phantom Menace, however we should all keep-in-mind that acting requires concentration and intelligence at a level that we wouldn’t expect from youth. But he can traverse the jungle sets well and interact with the C.G.I. character convincingly.

Eventually there comes a very harsh drought, and a truce is declared among the animals and they gather at a watering hole. Both predator and prey drink, knowing that none can hurt the other. But one sits uneasy, the dreaded tiger Shere Kahn. He has his intense distaste for man and cannot abide having a man in the jungle, he abides by the law but vows that when the water returns, he shall take Mowgli’s life.

Shere Kahn as a villain is probably the most effective element of the movie. He is convincingly rendered through the computer technology and is of course a tiger, which are naturally threatening. He actually has to do very little, most of his impact comes from what is implied, he has a few moments to establish he’s a physical threat and the rest is him being close and knowing that he can rip you apart at any second. And it’s all brought to life with Idris Elba’s vocals, both calming and manipulative and then moving to raging wrath.

So with a tiger that will no doubt carry out his threat Mowgli must leave and be taken the mans village. And of course the journey does not go smoothly, there are obstacles and distractions. The most prominent is the big lazy bear Baloo, played rather well by Bill Murray. Murray injects his classic dry sarcastic, layedback wit in this sloth bear and it is a match.

When we get to King Louie the movie honestly just stops. He is played by Christopher Walken who has such a distinguished voice that it is impossible to think of anything or anyone else. He has long fur that drapes down from his body like a fur coat and sits in his crumbled castle in the jungle surrounded by fruit, treasure and dark shadows giving him a feel of Colonel Kurt from Apocalypse Now. You really do stop thinking about this boy and the tiger that after him and ts all about this giant orange ape being voiced by one of the most unique actors ever to grace the screen.

There are moments in the writing where it just seemed weird and unnecessary. Most of it works as an adaptation, or at least to give us the same moments but in different ways. But others where it seeks to flesh-out the backstory of these character and the choices seem so odd. There were moments of exposition where they forgo and it seemed like a good idea, but they explain them later for some reason, as well as plot-hole I noticed immediately regarding how Baloo and Mowgli meet.

This is a much more dark, threatening interpretation of this story than we have seen before (I do also admit to having not read the book). These animals may talk but they most certainly do still have their teeth and claws. There is even a transition scene with the giant snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) which I genuinely think is inspired!

This is not a movie for the younger children that would have enjoyed the original 2D animated movie. This is a much harsher world with more obvious consequences. Is is too tough for any children? I would say that for children twelve or above. The story is still the story but told in a different way and with some very strong elements and others that don’t necessarily let the rest down but do noticeably weaken it. But either way, we still have a movie that has a classic story at it’s center with classic cinematography, good C.G.I. and strong performances from nearly everyone.

Rating: 3 stars out of 5 stars

Review Zootropolis by Jonathan Evans

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A movie needs many things to work. Mainly it needs story, characters and theme, it then needs to take the said elements and put them in an environment so they can cook together. Zootropolis is a movie that has all of these elements and may have a lot of cooks in the kitchen, but they all need to be there because they add to one element or another.

The world our story plays out in is one where animals existed as we know them but simply evolved to become sophisticated. There just simply didn’t seem to be any humans. They can now speak, wear clothes and have all the technology we have now. We are simultaneously introduced to Judy Hopes (Ginnifer Goodwin) a rabbit whose a bouncy fluff-ball of enthusiasm and smarts that grew-up on a farm but has big dreams of moving to the big city of Zootropolis where she will be a cop, make the world better etc. She enrolls in the academy where it seems like the cop life is not suited for a small rabbit, but she is indentured and does graduate. Now the big city awaits her.

The city of Zootropoilis is an architectural marvel. It is one of those locations that allows for many possibilities , serves as a great back drop for the characters and will inhabit your memories for years to come. It is on league with cities from Rintaro’s Metropolis, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil or Gotham City in Batman. We see all of the city, from the highs to the slums. Another neat part is that some of the skyscrapers are shaped like horns. Usually movies with anthropomorphic animals are all the same size, giving a little to let other animals be appropriately bigger or smaller. But here they remain the same size and it is the city that has adapted to accommodate all the different shapes and sizes. Pools for the hippos as well as dryers for them, little suction tubes to speedily transport the hamsters, different neighbourhoods with different weather simulators to create to right climate for the inhabitants natural environment.

And within the city area all the huge beasts and little critters that inhabit it. Every different species is given its own walk and body pose because naturally they have their own proportions. The wide range of furs, lighting, textures, clothing, environments that area all within this one film is so impressive. This is something that has ideas, skill and effort to bring it to life.

Along with it being great to look at there are even undertones. In this society that has descendants from a more beastly past (pun intended) there are remnants of that, some species typically don’t get along together because of their nature and others come with expectations based on their, literal, race. Yes, in this children’s Disney animated movie with anthropomorphic animals.

When Judy arrives there is a case of multiple predators going missing, her superior Chief Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns everyone a lead while she gets parking duty. While working she notices a fox in an elephant Ice-Cream store trying to buy a large lollipop for his son, the clerk refuses service but after some smart intervention from Judy he gets his pop. But it turns out this fox is a hustler named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) that uses the really big pop to turn into smaller ones and sell off to make a profit. Eventually events unfold and him and Judy are forced together as an unlikely partnership.

Any movie partnership needs them to be opposites. If they were the same then there would be no dynamic rendering it pointless. But also this brings out great character moments, Judy’s smarts but also naive optimism contrasts brilliantly with Nicks cynicism and dry wit. But none of them is ever truly the fool and they each bring something special to the situation that makes the whole greater than the sum of it’s parts.

There are constant jokes, as you’d expect from an animated children’s movie from Disney, but there is a much more heavy adult edge to their approach here. Nothing that is too edgy or inappropriate for children but will have the adults in the audience laughing just as hard as the children. One scene in particular that takes place at the DMV had the cinema I was in laughing very hard.

This movie is at the standard of The LEGO Movie. Because it being good would probably be no surprise. But it being this well thought-out with jokes that only make you laugh, but laugh hard and a deftly crafted script that throws in funny but seemingly pointless jokes that come back and play a part in the greater work.

Zootropolis works. It is many things and they all work together. It is a comedy with cute animals in it, you will be laughing throughout the movie. It’s also a social commentary, you’ll be moved by it’s poignancy. There’s also a mystery to solve, all the moments serve and lead and interweave together to a conclusion that is the right level of smart as well as clear enough to understand. The movie is simply a wonderful creation of feelings, smarts told with great characters within one of the great movie locations.

(4 / 5)