The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

The story of The Jungle Book has traditionally been pretty thin. The plot can basically be summed up as “tiger hates boy but takes his sweet, sweet time doing something about it,” so I was ultimately watching the movie for the spectacle itself. And on those grounds, it was good. The CG animals were very convincing (much more than, say, Noah), and the scenery was equally captivating. I also liked this rendition of Mowgli, because he didn’t come across as a little brat (like I remember him from previous versions) and was actually useful to the other animals. In fact, kudos to Disney for finding a child actor who acts like a child!

I was not so impressed with the rest of the “cast,” however. Most of the voice acting felt really off to me, which is usually the case when big budget cartoons hire famous people who aren’t necessarily great voice actors. Honestly, The Jungle Book is already a well-known tale, especially under Disney’s care, so why the need to bring in names like Scarlett Johansson? I can’t imagine anyone buying a ticket, because they heard she was in this (for all of five minutes, by the way). Bill Murray as Baloo was about the only one that I didn’t find incredibly distracting. You can always count on old Baloo…

But being a Disney movie, they also slipped in a few musical numbers. And this kind of ruined the tone, since everything else about the movie’s presentation was so down to earth and even dark in places. Granted, hearing Baloo sing his trademark song still worked, because it fit the character, but why did King Louie keep his musical number? He was revealed to be a mobster of sorts, and then he starts singing “I Wanna Be Like You,” and… just… ugh… Disney needs to be more willing to shut off its history and do something new, because the best parts of this movie were the things that weren’t trying to remind you of the 1967 cartoon version.

Zootopia

Zootopia

When all is said and done, Zootopia is a pretty heavy-handed story about racism, but it actually works. Considering how humans with different skin color can’t get along, it makes perfect sense that different animal species would have the same issues. So while the movie’s message may be obvious, it’s also earned. For instance, everyone in the movie thinks that rabbits can’t be cops, because they’re too small and cute. And this is portrayed really well as Judy interacts with her co-workers that literally tower over her. I’m glad the studio didn’t take the easy way out and make all of the animals relatively the same size. It’s a lot of fun to see “to-scale” giraffes and mice populating the same city space.

Much of the humor in Zootopia, then, is derived from the animal-based visual gags. The DMV/sloth sequence particularly stands out, though Disney’s marketing probably already spoiled it for everyone. I also enjoyed the story for the most part with Judy, the rabbit, teaming up with a fox (voiced by the always delightful Jason Bateman) to solve a missing persons case. Unfortunately, they crack the case about 3/4 into the movie, and the cliched fallout that happens afterwards is kind of obnoxious. My other gripe with the movie is how hard they tried to shoehorn in Shakira as a character (pop idol Gazelle) and her new song, “Try Everything.” If the movie didn’t end on a gratuitous dance number, I would have walked away with a more favorable opinion.

Deadpool

Deadpool

There’s been a lot of talk about Deadpool being rated R, which strikes me as odd, because, while it certainly is violent, it’s not any worse than every other R-rated action movie. I’m not a big fan of the gritty superhero genre, anyway, but Deadpool gets away with it for at least being pretty funny. Violence + humor is easier to swallow than just gratuitous violence. The jokes are all over the place, though, so it’s no surprise that not all of them land. Deadpool will make an obvious poop joke in one scene and then quietly lampoon Ryan Reynolds in another. The self-referential, fourth wall humor is the movie’s best attribute. It’s refreshing to see a movie that’s willing to make fun of itself so endearingly, and I kind of wish there had been more of it.

The fact that Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool makes the movie even funnier, considering he’s already played Deadpool once before, as well as other superheros in other blockbuster flops, which this movie isn’t at all afraid to call out. But, ultimately, I don’t know if he was the best choice. I’ll admit to not knowing much about Deadpool as a character, but it seems like a more manic actor could have done more with the role. I was also disappointed with the character’s final look after he goes through his transformation. The whole point is that Deadpool is hideous and must hide behind a mask. The end result is definitely ugly, but the movie treats it like he’s so ugly, everyone on the street stops to stare at him, and I just wasn’t buying it.

More importantly, this is an origin story, and origin stories are usually somewhat of a slog to get through. Deadpool’s no different as it hits these backstory beats. Fortunately, the story isn’t strictly linear. The movie frequently cuts between Deadpool already kicking ass and his pre-suit days, which helps maintain a more interesting pace. I also liked that it wasn’t just about Deadpool since two X-Men also join him. That makes me wonder how he’ll fit into the overall “cinematic universe,” though, considering his unique sense of humor doesn’t really match any other Marvel character we’ve seen onscreen. Whatever happens with Deadpool next, I think it’ll be fun to see. Heck, with the movie’s current success, maybe Deadpool 2 (or Deadpool Meets Professor X or what have you) will get the budget it deserves.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Force Awakens

A New Hope is almost 40 years old. Not to discredit what Lucas originally accomplished, but it’s become a fairly dated movie. And so I didn’t mind that this new Star Wars followed a lot of the same beats. The major plot points and character types are very similar, making The Force Awakens feel more like a reboot or remake rather than a full-fledged sequel. But, man, Star Wars really needed a reboot. After the atrocious “special editions” and prequels, I’m just glad this franchise can be good again. The Force Awakens is a good movie. Because audiences have seen so many other sci-fi and superhero moves since 1977, though, the wow factor isn’t quite there. It’s not going to rock your world, but it should at least let you forget Episode I.

Seriously, this is what I was hoping Episode I would have been. If that turd had been as good as this, maybe I wouldn’t have grown into such a cynical adult. The Force Awakens was made for fans by fans. It rekindles the spirit of the original trilogy by not overdoing it with CG effects, but modern movie techniques certainly help out. The dogfights are spectacular, and the background aliens are fun without being goofy and ridiculous. In fact, while the trailer may not show it, The Force Awakens can be pretty funny at times, and that’s without resorting to fart jokes and characters stepping in poop! God, what a relief…

But I knew JJ Abrams and team wouldn’t make those mistakes. They know better. My only concern going in was Harrison Ford. He’s come across as bored and tired in the last 10 movies I’ve seen him in. Fortunately, he does a decent job here. The real accolades, however, go to all of the new characters. Yeah, they tend to mirror the same personalities we saw in A New Hope, but I actually think these guys are better. They’re more complex and interesting and less whiny! Plus, that BB-8 droid… I’m already preferring him over R2-D2. He is fantastic, and knowing that’s an actual prop makes it so much cooler. I already can’t wait to see what they do with the next movie now that the tone has been set.

The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie

They really want you to know that this is from the same studio who made the Ice Age movies. Not only has a lot of the advertising included a “from the makers of” tagline but the movie itself opens with another one of those obnoxious Ice Age squirrel shorts. With the movie also being preceded by several trailers for other cookie-cutter 3D kids’ movies, I was really worried when The Peanuts Movie finally started. Fortunately, this won’t ruin your childhood like a Transformers or Ninja Turtles movie will. Blue Sky Studios did a great job in capturing the atmosphere and heart of the Peanuts property. The animation in particular is fantastic. That’s really what drew me to go see the movie in the first place. The style is great in a modern/classic way and often feels like you’re watching stop-motion animation. It’s the most enjoyable eye candy since The LEGO Movie.

Unfortunately, the story isn’t of the same quality. It tends to meander a lot. I’d heard that the ending in particular was a sticking point for some, going for more of a traditional Hollywood landing. But I felt like that was okay here. This could have easily turned into a huge battle of good vs evil like so many other small-to-big movie adaptations. Rather, The Peanuts Movie is a series of tiny victories and, this being Charlie Brown and all, plenty of failures. Charlie Brown faithfully maintains the role of the underdog, and all of the other characters feel just as spot on. However, I really didn’t like how much screen time was dedicated to Snoopy’s Red Baron fantasies. Snoopy already plays a big part in the main plot, so giving him an extra story felt overly superfluous. Every Red Baron scene had me thinking, “Can this please be the last one?” If they had made that the short at the beginning instead of the dumb Ice Age one, the movie would have felt more complete overall.