Monday, March 2, 2015

Disney's Big Hero 6

Tired of Frozen yet? It's been over a year and Frozen is still at the forefront of many children's thoughts, much to the chagrin of their parents. Big Hero 6 has been out since the fall, and though it has made quite a bit of money, it's nothing compared to the juggernaut that is Frozen. I don't really hear too much about kids really loving Big Hero 6, just people that are a bit older. It is arguably a movie for an older audience, and it may skew towards the male persuasion just because of the whole superhero thing, but honestly anyone should enjoy this movie, just like anyone should be able to enjoy a princess movie. I also think it's easier for kids to latch onto movies when they have songs. Almost every movie from my childhood was a musical, and I remember those ones way more than the ones without. The best example I can give is Rescuers Down Under. A great film and I remember enjoying it fine when I was a kid, but it wasn't nearly as memorable as Aladdin or The Lion King. Maybe it was the story, or maybe it was the songs. Anyway, Big Hero 6 seems to be a part of Disney's new trend of having a princess movie followed by a non-musical movie aimed more towards a wider audience. Big Hero 6 is also Disney's first use of a Marvel property for their animated films. It was a pretty big gamble to take a non-mainstream comic and adapt it into a kid's film. Luckily for Disney, the gamble paid off.

Disney acquired Marvel in 2009, and it took them very little time to start looking for a Marvel property to adapt. CEO Bob Iger encouraged the Walt Disney company's divisions to look into a more obscure title, so they'd be able to come up with their own story. Don Hall, who at the time was co-directing Winnie the Pooh, looked through a bunch of Marvel titles and came upon Big Hero 6. He liked the name and had never heard of it before, so he pitched it to John Lasseter, who in turn loved the idea. Big Hero 6 started production in 2012 and it was decided that it would be produced solely by Disney. Disney did get some consultation from Marvel, but didn't let them butt in too much. Disney also made it a point that Big Hero 6 would not be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but in a universe of its own. Sorry, you won't see Baymax showing up in the next Avengers film. Baymax would differ greatly from his character in the comics, with a much more friendlier exterior than a standard robot. Disney wanted a robot that was unlike anything anyone had seen, so they decided to visit Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. There they met a group working on a soft robot, one that would use inflatable vinyl. These robots would be used in the healthcare field, which further inspired the Disney team. Baymax would become a huggable robot that was meant to be a nurse more than anything. Baymax's face design was inspired by a copper suzu bell that Don Hall noticed while at a Shinto shrine. The design worked in giving Baymax a more minimalist look.

Big Hero 6 takes place in the fictional mash-up city of San Fransokyo. The design team wanted to give the city an equal parts Eastern world and Western world feel. Parts are unmistakably San Francisco, but with a Japanese touch to it. Some areas of downtown look more Eastern than Western, with a very heavy Blade Runner feel to it all. The explanation of the city was that after the earthquake of 1906, San Francisco was rebuilt by largely Japanese immigrants, who made the city in a way to better withstand earthquakes in the future. With the obvious blending of cultures, the city decided to rename itself in honor of its inhabitants that helped rebuild it. Disney created a whole new program for animating this film. The system, called Hyperion, rendered all the details of the animation and made new illumination possible, such as light shining through translucent objects. Hyperion was a complex program to run, and needed its own super computing cluster just to handle the processing demands.

The voice cast has a nice blend of new voice actors and veterans. Some lesser known actors like Ryan Potter (Hiro Hamada), Genesis Rodriguez (Honey Lemon), and Daniel Henney (Tadashi Hamada), join big names like Scott Adsit (Baymax), T.J. Miller (Fred), Damon Wayans, Jr.(Wasabi), Maya Rudolph (Aunt Cass), James Cromwell (Professor Robert Callahan), and Alan Tudyk (Alistair Krei). Disney must like Alan Tudyk, because he's been in the last three Disney films, including Wreck-it Ralph as King Candy, and Frozen as the Duke of Weselton. The voice cast is perfect, though my favorite by far is Scott Adsit as Baymax. I really liked Adsit in 30 Rock, and you can tell he enjoyed doing this film.

Big Hero 6 premiered on October 23rd, 2014 at the Tokyo International Film Festival, with its theatrical release in the U.S. on November 7th. The version of the movie we have seen is just a bit different from the version released in South Korea. Since South Korea and Japan aren't exactly friendly right now, all Japanese has been removed from signs in the movie and replaced with English, while names where changed to make them Korean instead of Japanese. Big Hero 6, at the time of this article, has made over $220 million in the U.S., and over $350 million in other territories. Big Hero 6 is the third highest Disney animated film behind Frozen, and The Lion King. Big Hero 6 has been critically lauded, with an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, with many focusing on the beautiful animation and depth of characters. Big Hero 6 has also won Best Animated Picture at The Academy Awards this year, and was nominated for the same honor for the Annie's, Golden Globes, and BAFTA's.

Big Hero 6, along with Guardians of the Galaxy is a welcome anomaly for comic book movies. Disney gambled on both films and it worked out for them. Both are Marvel properties that were pretty obscure, which opened up the films for a different interpretation. If Disney made a Iron Man animated movie, then they'd have to follow a certain formula, because people know Iron Man and expect certain things. Big Hero 6 is quite different from its source material, and you can see why they changed a few things. Created in 1998 by Steven Seagle and Duncan Rouleu, it started out in what amounted as a cameo. They had their own series starting in 2008, and they featured all the same characters from the film. Fred, AKA Fredzilla, can turn into a Godzilla-like creature. Wasabi-No-Ginger is, in the comics, and Asian chef who is skilled with swords. Honey Lemon has her Power Purse that contains a series of miniature wormholes that allow her to pull anything she prepares out of it. GoGo Tomago is able to transform her body into an explosive ball of energy which can be projected at vast speeds. Perhaps the most different is Baymax, who in the comics is a hydro-powered robotic sythnformer that has been invented by Hiro Takachiho. Baymax was meant to be his chauffeur and bodyguard until Hiro's father dies. Hiro programs Baymax with is father's brain and therfore Baymax becomes more of a father figure to him. Baymax is able to transform into a large humanoid creature, a battle dragon, and a action mecha. So yeah, a huggable robot nurse versus a transforming robot with the mind of a deceased father. The latter would have been a little weird. There are other members in Big Hero 6, but Disney was not able to use them, since they are tied into the X-Men, and therefore are not fully owned by Marvel.

While it may not be as popular as Frozen, Big Hero 6 is, in my opinion, a better film, and just plain fun. Even if you don't like superhero movies, you're sure to enjoy this movie, which deals much more with real themes of life than typical superhero fare.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story is probably the most polarizing Christmas movie of all time. People either love this movie to death, or hate it with extreme passion. I was raised on this movie, and had no idea that other people even knew about it until TNT and TBS started showing it for 24 hours straight from Christmas Eve night through Christmas Day. Turns out everyone knows about this movie, and luckily it hasn't ruined it for me. I am unfortunately one of those people who don't like when things get too popular, but you can't ruin childhood favorites. I really can't see a reason that people don't like this movie other than that it's a bit overplayed. It's on for 24 hours straight! Why?! It's a great movie, but why for that long? Why not make it an event and have it on Christmas eve at 8? Everyone would tune in! Instead you look for things to watch on Christmas day and after you have watched A Christmas Story once, you're not going to stay tuned in! You're going to look for something else! To be fair, A Christmas Story scores TBS huge ratings. People really do love this movie. Some even to the point of obsession. A fan bought the original house from the movie and made it into a walk through museum! That's pretty crazy!

A Christmas Story was directed by Bob Clark, who at the time was best known for directing Black Christmas and the two Porky's movies. I know what you're thinking. He's the perfect person to direct a feel-good Christmas movie! We actually have Porky's to thank for A Christmas Story, funny enough. No studio wanted to touch a Christmas movie, mostly because they weren't popular back then. The success of Porky's allowed him to finally do the Christmas movie he always wanted to do, and not one that involved murder like Black Christmas. For source material he turned to Jean Shepherd, whom he had first discovered in 1968 when he heard Shepherd's semi-autobiographic story "Flick's Tongue" on the radio. Story ideas came from many of Shepherd's stories that he published in Playboy in the sixties and others that were unpublished stories from Shepherd's days touring colleges. I think this really helps with the appeal for many in the older generations. Not that the movie isn't entertaining to other generations, but it's always fun to see a story true to how life was back when you were young. This begs the question then: what year does this movie take place? It's left ambiguous on purpose, though many have tried to nail one down following clues from the movie. Clark and Shepherd, both of whom helped pen the screenplay, decided that it was supposed to be vaguely set in the 30's and 40's. I'm not sure why, but I always thought it was the 50's as a kid. Shows what I know! While the story takes place in Hohman, Indiana, a fictionalized version of Shepherd's hometown of Hammond, Indiana, the movie was actually shot in Cleveland, Ohio, with a few in Toronto, including the "Oh, Fudge" scene and the dinner at the Chinese restaurant.

Music is big part of the movie, which mixes classical, western, and Christmas songs. To extenuate the hyperbolic nature of the film, some scenes are enunciated with familiar classical songs, like Tchaikovsky's Hamlet (Oh Fudge scene, the second breaking of the leg lamp, and Ralphie breaks his glasses), Alphons Czibulka's Wintermarchen (Ralphie is blind dream sequence), Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (Miss Shields grading papers in Ralphie's fantasy), and my favorite, Prokofiev's "Wolf Theme" from Peter and the Wolf (anytime Scut Farkus is seen). To make the predator-like bully seem even more linked with the music, they gave him the last name Farkus, which means "Wolf" in Hungarian. I never really got why they named him Scut. I always thought it was Scott, and was really confused when I saw it wasn't. Who names their kid Scut? There's also music borrowed from Movement 3 [On the Trail], for any scene involving the Red Ryder BB Gun. Many Christmas songs were used for the movie, with even some modern ones (for their time) that included Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters, and Fred Waring. The music really makes this movie. I mean, yeah, it has a lot going for it, but the music just takes the outlandishness of the movie and makes it fit perfectly together.

A Christmas Story was released in November of 1983 and didn't fare too well, thanks in part to the aforementioned fact that people didn't really care for Christmas movies in the 80's. The film stopped playing at most theaters by the time Christmas rolled around, but some people put up a fuss and few hundred theaters let it stay until January. Released initially by MGM, the movie grossed a little over $19 million and probably would have faded into the background of forgotten Christmas movies had it not been given a second chance on video and TV viewings. It first aired on HBO in 1985 and quickly gained a following. It was then aired by WGN, WTBS, and Fox in the late 80's and early 90's, each of which started the tradition of showing the movie on or the day after Thanksgiving. Ted Turner acquired MGM in the mid-80's and therefore owned A Christmas Story. He took advantage of the movie's growing popularity by putting it on all three of his major channels, TNT, TBS, and TCM. The tradition of having 24 hours of A Christmas Story started in 1997 on TNT, which lasted until TNT realized it was a serious drama station and was too cool for Christmas movies. In 2004 TBS took over the Christmas Story marathon and it has stayed there since. Each year it gains more and more viewers, so Turner must be doing something right. Honestly I think it's hurting the long term value of the movie by over-saturating us with it, but people still watch It's a Wonderful Life after all these years and it's on every Christmas.

So are you one of the people that love or loathe this movie? As you know, I love it, but I grew up with it, so maybe I'm biased. I appreciate the dark humor and the hyperbolic antics. It's not your traditional Christmas movie. A kid wants something the whole movie, is warned about having that thing, and then when he does receive said thing, he promptly does the thing people warned him about. Go figure. Such is the struggle of being a kid though, right? We've all had to put on the "bunny suit." We've all wanted something awesome that had unforeseen consequences. We've all accidentally said a bad word in front of our parents, though at lease mine didn't end up with soup in the mouth. A Christmas Story is legit funny, entertaining, and so what if it's everywhere on Christmas, it's still awesome.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Disney's Frozen

There's this film called Frozen, have you heard of it? Probably not. It's not like every child everywhere is singing its songs non-stop, or purchasing all related merchandise. This movie is ridiculous, and I don't mean that the movie itself is, I mean that everyone needs to shut up about it already. It's a fine Disney movie, but people are going nuts over this and I'm not sure why. It has some good music, I'll give it that, and the animation is great as usual, but this isn't The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Those movies are timeless classics. Maybe I'm just biased because I grew up during the 90's and therefore those Disney movies are the best (arguable). I do feel that Frozen will live on longer than anything Disney has come out with in the last ten or so years, not counting Tangled. It will be beloved, though it remains to be seen if it will be because it's legitimately a great Disney movie, or it's just a fun, nostalgic romp for "Teeners." Yes, I just created a term for kids that grew up in the 2010's. Patent Pending? Anyway, let me cut this rant short and get into the movie.

Frozen is based on "The Snow Queen," by Hans Christian Anderson, though very loosely. "The Snow Queen" tells the story of two young playmates, a boy named Kai, and a girl named Gerda. Satan and his demons carry around a mirror that shows people the ugliness inside themselves but it is broken when they attempt to fly it up to heaven. The shards fly around Earth and randomly affect people, causing them to only see the worst in people, plus erratic behavior. Cut to Kai and Gerda, two best friends that live next to each other. Kai's grandmother tells the children of the a Snow Queen, the queen of the snow bees. Yes, they are snowflakes that look like bees. Wow, I'd hate to live in this world. Can't even catch snowflakes on my tongue without worrying that they are bees in disguise. Kai sees said Snow Queen beckon to him later that night from his window, but he's afraid of her and moves away. One day, while Kai and Gerda are playing outside, one of the evil mirror pieces lands in Kai's eye. Kai becomes cruel and aggressive, no longer caring about his beloved playmate. The only things he cares about now are the snowflakes that he sees through his magnifying glass. While Kai is out in the town, he is taken away by the Snow Queen, whom he is apparently not too frightened of anymore. She carries him off on her sleigh and kisses him twice. Once to numb him from the snow, and twice to make him forget about those they are leaving behind (a third kiss would kill him).Gerda is heartbroken when the townspeople insist that he probably died in the nearby river. Gerda's having none of that and goes out to search for her lost friend. Long story short, Gerda, along with a reindeer, are able to save Kai with the power of love. Yes, I said love.

The plots are just a little bit different. About the only things that are sort of the same are the reindeer, the one person having to travel a long distance to save the other, and love conquering all. In Frozen, the story revolves around a princess with ice powers, Elsa (Idina Menzel), and her younger sister Anna (Kristen Bell), who is isolated away from her for fear she may get hurt. Elsa grows up to fear her own power and avoids contact with her sister at all costs, causing a major rift in their relationship. Their king and queen parents die in a boat trip (to Rapunzel's wedding?) and the girls are suddenly left alone. Fast forward to Elsa's coronation day, where a bunch of freeloaders come and attempt to curry favor. Anna is finally able to get out of the castle and run around, which leads to her meeting Prince Hans (Santino Fontana). Hans and her have a duet together and apparently it's love at first sight because he asks her to marry him, which she hastily agrees to. Elsa's having none of it and refuses to bless their marriage. The sisters start fighting and Elsa's powers are discovered. She leaves in fear and, unbeknownst to her, casts an eternal winter over the land. Elsa gets rid of her restraint and uses her powers to build herself a castle far away from Arendelle. Anna leaves Hans in charge of the castle and hastens to bring her sister back. She is helped by a man named Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), who seems to be in love with his reindeer. Together they attempt to coax Elsa back to Arendelle so she can get rid of the permanent winter. They are also joined by Olaf (Josh Gad), the snowman they made when they were children.

Things don't go so hot and when Anna finally confronts her sister, she is accidentally struck by her sister's ice power. Elsa scares the group away, and they go to a group of trolls when Kristoff notices that Elsa's hair is turning white. They learn from the trolls that Anna's heart has become frozen and without an act of true love, she will turn to ice. Anna deduces that she must therefore kiss Hans, much to Kristoff's chagrin. Hans, meanwhile, decides to lead a party to find the group and happens upon Elsa's castle, where they capture her and bring her back to Arendelle. Hans begs Elsa to get rid of winter, but she claims not to know how. Anna makes it back to Arendelle in time to meet with Hans, but it turns out that he doesn't love her at all, and was only using her to become king. *Dum Dum Duuuummm.* Elsa escapes from the castle and makes her way across the fjord, just as Olaf tells Anna that Kristoff loves her. Every character is now out on the fjord, and it's snowing like crazy! Though Anna is looking to kiss Kristoff, she decides instead to sacrifice herself to save her sister from Hans. She turns to ice before Hans can kill her sister, thus fulfilling an act of true love. Disney totally tricked us! It doesn't have to be romantic love that breaks curses and such, but also the love between family members! Elsa realizes that love is the key to her powers and unfreezes the land. Hans goes to Scandinavian jail and Kristoff and Anna apparently live happily ever after.

Disney had this movie on the bench for a very long time. In 1943, Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn planned on making a collaborative biography on Hans Christian Anderson. Goldwyn and his studio would do the live action and Disney would do the animation. The animated segments were supposed to include such works as "The Little Mermaid," "The Little Match Girl," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," "The Snow Queen," "Thumbelina", "The Ugly Duckling," "The Red Shoes," and "The Emperor's New Clothes." Disney had trouble with "The Snow Queen" and couldn't find a way to make it interesting for modern audiences. Disney knew that the story had a lot of cinematic potential but they couldn't make it work. This, along with other problems, led to the project falling apart. Goldwyn would finally finish the project in 1952, sans animated segments. Funny enough, Disney adapted most of the segments into either feature length films or shorts. The Snow Queen was pitched several times from the mid-90's to the late 2000's but Disney still couldn't make the story work. It was thanks to Tangled's success that Frozen gained some footing and was lifted out of Development Hell. The problem they kept hitting was having Elsa as the villain of the film, though perhaps misunderstood, like Kai. Things started to look up when they decided to make the Elsa and Anna characters siblings and make Elsa not so much the villain. Originally, Elsa intentionally hits Anna with her powers and tries to stop her as she tries to get back to Hans. Yikes.

Turns out that the whole bait and switch at the end with Anna saving Elsa was the very first idea the writers came up with. They wanted something different, something to go along with the saying, "an act of true love will thaw a frozen heart." What really changed everything was the song "Let It Go." Before that point, Elsa was a villain, but after the song was written, they decided Elsa worked much better as a scared, vulnerable character just trying to deal with her powers. The whole twist near the end where Hans turns out to the villain didn't come until very late in the writing process. First he was absent from the script, then he was brought in as a hero, then finally as a surprise villain, but one that was revealed early in the story. Hans is portrayed as a sociopath in the movie, perfectly mirroring each character he interacts with to better suit his needs. They decided to make it a surprise reveal near the end so as to not make the film so predictable. They attempted at one point in the writing process to have a character explain why Elsa has powers, but they found that the more they tried to explain, the more complicated the story became. The character of Olaf was hard for the writers, mainly because they didn't know how to properly utilize him. At first he was Elsa's obnoxious sidekick (much like Iago in Aladdin), but the main writer, Jennifer Lee, couldn't stand him. So, Olaf went from evil sidekick to a hapless sidekick for Anna.

If you didn't realize it, most of the cast of Frozen is made up of Broadway singers. I think Disney really wanted to dive back into the Broadway-esque heyday they had back in the 90's. Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) was chosen for Anna based on vocal tracks of her when she was younger, including her singing "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. Idina Menzel (Wicked) auditioned for Tangled but didn't get the part, but that didn't stop Tangled's casting director from keeping her audition tape and showing it to the production team for Frozen. Menzel and Bell did table reads together and even sang "Wind Beneath my Wings" as a duet since there was no songs nailed down yet. After the two main characters were chosen, the rest came easier, with other Broadway veterans like Santino Fontana (Cinderella, Billy Elliot the Musical), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon), and Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening) rounding out the rest of the cast. The only other main character that is the in film is the Duke of Weselton, brilliantly performed by Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Wreck-It Ralph). I honestly think the casting was very well done, except maybe for Menzel, and I know people will get mad at me for this. She sounds too grown up to voice a girl in her late teens. Maybe I'm alone in this thought, but "Let It Go" does not sound like it's sung by a teenager. Elsa seems more like her mother or much older sister in the movie.

Frozen was released theatrically on November 27th, 2013, accompanied by the Micky Mouse short, Get A Horse! Frozen went on to make over a billion dollars worldwide, but who's counting? It is now officially the highest grossing animated film of all time, edging out Toy Story 3, though The Lion King is still the highest grossing traditionally animated film. The film has also garnered widespread acclaim among critics who praised the voice-acting, songs, and overall story. Obviously everyone loves this movie, or at least they did until their children made them watch it twenty times a day. Critics are calling this the second Disney Renaissance, and maybe it is, but I think it really started back with The Princess and the Frog. Sure, the films that came before Frozen weren't as loved or high grossing, but that doesn't mean they weren't good.

It may not sound like it, but I did like this movie. I think it's a worthy addition to the Disney line-up, but what bothers me is people's reaction to it like it's the second coming of The Lion King. There are many, many Disney movies that are better than Frozen, and if you think otherwise, then you are unfortunately, and sadly, mistaken. It's got some good music, but nothing better than most of the 90's fare, or some of the Golden Age Disney films. It's got humor, but not enough to consider it up there with The Lion King, Hercules, Aladdin, or The Emperor's New Groove. The story is probably the best part of the whole movie. While you have to suspend some disbelief at the beginning, the rest of the story works really well. They put a lot of twists in the story, which is a welcome change from some animated movies where you can see things coming a mile away. I think this was Disney's way of showing us that they can take a fairy tale, present it like some of their other classics, but change it just enough to show us that they aren't really out of fresh ideas. Princess movies are probably back for good now, though I'm not sure where they can go from here. If you think about it, they have done many of the popular princess movies. Remember the whole issue with Tangled and its new name? People were sure that Disney was all of a sudden afraid to have a "girl-centered" movie. Disney denies this, claiming that they wanted a title that made it clear that Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder were both the main characters and not just Rapunzel. If Disney was afraid of losing the male audience, then they did an about-face rather quickly, having a movie that centered around two sisters, something they've never really done. It looks like it worked for them. Not only was it hugely popular in theaters, but Anna and Elsa are huge for merchandising. I can't tell you how many kids I see with Frozen merch. Disney had no idea and didn't make enough product, so now you can find dolls and costumes for upwards of $1000 on ebay. Yeah, people are going nuts. The Disney Parks initially had Anna and Elsa character meet and greets to promote the film and then were quietly going to discontinue them, but the movie was such a hit that they've continued it indefinitely. The lines to meet the characters have stretched to four to six hours. It truly is a terrible time to have small children.

Frozen may or not become a true classic in the coming years, but it has undoubtedly left a mark. A Broadway musical is already being planned, and talk of a sequel has been whispered around. If they do decide to do a sequel, I hope it's just a straight to video, because I really don't want Disney to go the way of Pixar, which is now just doing a ton of sequels. Pixar, we really don't need Cars 3. I'm excited about The Incredibles 2, but it better be as good or better than the first film. Monsters University was cute and all, but was unnecessary in the long run. Disney has done three sequels in their entire run, and only one of them is a traditional sequel. Disney shouldn't try to milk this movie or its potential sequels for everything they're worth, or we are going to have another Cars situation. Big Hero 6 is the next film out for Disney, and seeing as it's a Marvel movie, chances are that it's not going to be geared towards girls as much as Frozen was. I don't think Disney should expect the same levels of popularity from this next film, but I could be wrong.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Best Picture Winners: 2013-2017

2013
Winner: 12 Years A Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

12 Years A Slave is probably one of the most depressing, hard-to-watch movies that I have ever seen in my whole life. That being said, it's also one of the best. I'm a history nut, and this movie rocked me to my core. It's very brutal, so if you don't enjoy those kind of movies, then you probably shouldn't watch this. The Oscar race for 2013 was up and down for a while, with other movies like American Hustle, Gravity, and Dallas Buyers Club all looking like they were going to take away the grand prize. In the end, 12 Years A Slave was far too important a film to be snuffed. Gravity had the visual goods, but the story didn't carry the same weight. American Hustle had some great acting, but the story was over-stuffed and dragged. Dallas Buyers Club, in my opinion, was the only movie that had the real chance of taking the Oscar away from 12 Years A Slave. The topics in both films are taboo, and haven't been covered very often in films. Slavery is a hard subject to base a movie around and there is a lot of potential for inaccuracies. 12 Years A Slave is considered the most accurate movie on the subject, so if you really want to see into the dark depths of our history, then look no further. McQueen's wife discovered Solomon Northup's slave narrative and reccommended it to her husband when she found out he was looking for a story about a freeman sold into slavery. McQueen was surprised he hadn't heard of the book before and made it his passion to adapt it into a film. On top of winning Best Picture, it also won Best Adapted Screenplay, and a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Lupita Nyong'o. The movie was hit at the box office, earning $178 million, and was universally praised by critics. The Oscars have made a few mistakes in the past with awards. They could have gone with a safe choice, and they didn't. I applaud them for rewarding such a brave movie.

2014
Winner: Birdman
Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Birdman is a film about a washed up actor who had once portrayed a superhero character, Birdman, as he attempts to adapt a short story on Broadway. The choice to have Micheal Keaton, known by many in the millennial generation has having portrayed Batman, and not much else, was done on purpose. Other actors were chosen for their real life personalities or reputation, namely Ed Norton, who was chosen to play the difficult Broadway actor, because of his known reputation as being hard to work with.The film is unique due to the fact that most of the scenes are one shots, meaning that the scenes are not shot in several shots and then edited together, they are shot in one long take. This was an ambitious ordeal and required the cast to rehearse extensively. The film is also unique for the inclusion of Magical Realism, the addition of magic in the real, mundane world. The viewer is left to decide whether some of the events are actually happening, or if the main character, Riggan Thomson is imagining them. Birdman, along with all the other nominated movies for Best Picture were not box office smashes. The Grand Budapest Hotel was the highest grossing at $59 million, with all of them combining to $205 million. This is in contrast to the last three years, when at least one of the nominees grossed over $100 million. Birdman was up against some stiff competition, namely Boyhood, Selma, and the dark horse The Grand Budapest Hotel. Boyhood was probably the biggest rival, but at the end of the day, Birdman was found to be the most deserving. Boyhood was a directing masterpiece, seeing as the film was made over the span of ten years, filming Ellar Coltrane as he grew, but the Academy apparently felt that both Birdman and Inarritu deserved Oscars instead. By the end of the ceremony, Birdman had taken home awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Birdman has since grossed past the $100 million mark, helped by the Oscar win.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Top 10 Saddest Moments in Animation

I've decided that people aren't nearly sad enough, so I created this list! Hooray! Selections from this list are from varying animation companies, though mostly from Disney. Disney apparently knows how to pull on people's heartstrings. The only rule I made for this list was that there could only be one selection from one franchise. I have a ton of honorable mentions, but this list has all the scenes that have always affected me. If you haven't seen any of these movies, then you may not want to read the entry. Also, make sure you click the links in each of the titles!

10. "Mother Earth and Father Time" (Charlotte's Web)

This movie was a mainstay of my childhood, but I haven't had the pleasure of watching it since. That being said, it doesn't mean that I have forgotten about Charlotte's death at the end of Charlotte's Web. Charlotte has saved Wilbur from certain destruction by spinning messages of Wilbur's worth into her web for the world to see. He pays her back by protecting her egg sac which contains her unborn children. She tells a crestfallen Wilbur that she will pass away soon, and indeed she does, leaving behind her eggs. Adding insult to injury, after all the spiders hatch, they all fly away in the wind, much to Wilbur's dismay. Luckily for him, three stay behind to keep him company. The whole scene is sad of course, but it's Wilbur's reaction at the end that always gets me.

9. "Baby Mine" (Dumbo)

This movie moment is notorious in my house because my wife is literally unable to watch it. She has a good point, as this is a terribly sad moment. It's not higher on the list because everything get's better. Mrs. Jumbo has been locked up because she is believed to be a "mad elephant." Dumbo comes to see his mother and she rocks him back and forth with her trunk while the song "Baby Mine" plays. The song makes the whole scene worse. It was bad enough seeing the two elephants hesitant to leave each other, but the song just hits you. Like I said though, everything turns out alright in the end with the two being reunited.

8. "Kitty!" (Monster's, Inc.)

This scene takes place at the end of the movie when Sulley and Mike finally take Boo back to her room. There is a true friendship between Boo and Sulley, so the goodbye between them is a hard one to bear. The worst part is after Sulley leaves, Boo attempts to see him again by opening up her closet,  only to find clothes and toys. Boo's door is destroyed and it's assured that Sulley will never see Boo again. Luckily, Mike gets all the pieces of the door back and put them together for Sulley. The closing moment of the movie is Sulley stepping back into Boo's bedroom and hearing a familiar name. Happy tears.

7. "An Empty Chair" (Mickey's Christmas Carol)

This is another favorite animated feature from my childhood, and it has one of the rare moments that made me sad a child. For whatever reason, I didn't get sad during traumatic scenes when I was a child. Now that I'm older, these moments hit me harder than I could ever imagine. This scene has always made me sad. Scrooge meets the third spirit and learns that Tiny Tim has in fact passed away. You see Bob Cratchit walking up to Tim's grave with a crutch, tears flowing and everything. He sets the crutch onto the grave and slowly walks away with his family. Seeing Mickey Mouse cry is not cool. It's not something that I had ever experienced as a child so it was a complete shock. This scene still gets me today. I could only find this video on dailymotion so you will have to skip to the twenty minute mark to see the scene in question.

6. "Goodbye May Seem Like Forever" (The Fox and the Hound)

The Fox and the Hound is not a bright and happy story. In fact, it's pretty depressing. There's one moment in particular that breaks your heart, though. Widow Tweed adopts the orphaned fox, Tod, and cares for it until he reaches adulthood. Tensions mount between Tweed and her hunter neighbor, so she sees no other recourse than to take Tod to a game preserve, where she feels Tod with be safe. The movie may be about Tod and Copper's friendship, but the relationship between Tweed and Tod is a strong one, so it hurts to see her leave Tod behind. She loves Tod more than anything, and tries to put him out of harm's way, even if it means that she doesn't have his company anymore. People saying goodbye to pets in movies is hard as it is, but seeing an old woman force an animal that loves her from following her back home is heartbreaking.

5. "When She Loved Me" (Toy Story 2)

Seeing that I can't put moments from the same group of movies, I chose this one over any other Toy Story moment. A close second was Andy giving his toys away at the end of Toy Story 3. That moment stung (I felt like I got punched in the gut when Andy pulled Woody back toward him), but Jessie's song about her owner that eventually left her gets me every time. The whole thing is sad enough, but the beautiful song just makes it a million times harder. It's a song that speaks to anyone who has felt abandoned in life or in love. It's tragic and by far the saddest moment in the Toy Story trilogy. A fan theory that is making the rounds believes that Jessie's owner, Emily, is in fact Andy's mom. The evidence is the hat Emily wears is the same as Andy's. I don't know about you, but that just makes this whole thing far more tragic.

4. "The Hunter" (Bambi)

It's a given that this infamous death makes people's saddest moments list. It truly deserves to be there, though. This moment has made anti-hunting advocates and even vegetarians because it's so startling. What's so powerful about the whole scene is that you neither see the hunter, nor Bambi's mother getting shot. In fact, you never see the Hunter throughout the whole film, yet he completely drives the plot. He shoots Bambi's mother, so Bambi is instead raised by his father. The Hunter leaves his fire unattended and basically burns the whole forest down, leading to a climactic battle and the rescue of Faline. Anyway, the death of Bambi's mother isn't the really sad part about the whole scene, but what happens afterward. Bambi steps out of their home, calling for his mother. While Bambi blindly searches the forest, it begins to snow. The whole scene makes you believe that Bambi is now completely on his own, but then out of nowhere the Great Prince appears and coldly tells Bambi that his mother can't be with him anymore. Bambi slowly follows the Great Prince into the cold winter. It's a masterful scene and one that has resonated in people's minds for generations.

3. "A Mother's Sacrifice" (The Land Before Time)

Littlefoot and Cera are playing together when out of nowhere, Sharptooth (or as I called him as a child, Sharktooth) attacks. Luckily for them, Littlefoot's mother protects them. An earthquake causes Sharptooth to fall into a ravine, but not before he mortally wounds Littlefoot's mother. Littlefoot and Cera are now seperated from their herds and much journey to the "Great Valley" by themselves. Littlefoot's mother tells him that she will always be with him, and that she knows that he'll find a way to the "Great Valley" if he follows his heart. It's sad enough watching this and knowing that she's dying, but the fact that Littlefoot is completely oblivious to this fact is heart-wrenching. It's basically the same reaction that any child would have if their parent were dying. That is what makes this scene so hard to watch. Also the end with her cloud showing the way the "Great Valley."

2. "Carl and Ellie" (Up)

This is by far the saddest opening to any movie that has ever been made. Pixar movies can be pretty sad at times, but Up takes the cake and throws it out the window on your birthday. Carl and Ellie meet as children and both have an affinity for adventure. They vow that they will someday travel to Paradise Falls in Venezuela, but life keeps getting in the way. We watch as the couple gets married, prepares for children, and then finds out that they are unable to. That scene is sad enough, but it keeps going. Years pass and they are now old, and Carl decides it is finally time to go to Paradise Falls. Before he can surprise her with the airline tickets, Ellie gets sick and soon passes away. The scene of Carl sitting by himself after the funeral is by far the worst part. The whole scene is beautiful, extremely sad, and unforgettable. I don't think anyone expected this when going to see a Pixar movie about an old man. Oh, and being married has made this whole scene way harder to watch.

1. "Long Live the King" (The Lion King)

This scene has affected me more and more as the years go by. I don't know if it's because my father is getting older and I'm becoming more afraid that someday I'll lose him. It's harder to think about that when you're younger because you think you're parents are invincible. Now that I'm older, all these movies and shows about parents passing away is hitting me harder and harder. Growing up stinks sometimes. Anyway, this scene is about as infamous as Bambi's, if only for my own generation. Scar plans for Mufasa and Simba to get trampled by wildebeest, but Mufasa manages to save Simba. Mufasa attempts to get himself out of the gorge, but his lousy brother throws him back down to his death. Simba watches his father fall, but does not see how it happened. Simba tries to wake his father up, but to no avail. He cries out for help, and getting none, goes back to his father and puts himself underneath the fallen king's paw. That part kills me. Guh. What makes the whole thing worse is that Simba is made to believe that he is the reason his father is dead, so he carries that around with him for years to come. The relationship between Mufasa and Simba is just too relatable, and that's what makes this movie so great, and also very tragic.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Top 10 Best Disney Songs (1989-Present)

Same rules as before: only films from the Disney Animated canon and no songs that were made before the film. A reminder that this list is the culmination of several top tens, which were averaged out to get the list you see now. Remember to click the links in the titles!

10. "Go the Distance" (Hercules)

An epic song for an epic movie. By being one of the few songs in this movie not to involve the Muses, it has a much different tone. The music was written by Alan Menken, as will most of the songs on this list (spoiler alert?), while the lyrics were written by David Zippel. "Go the Distance" is considered Hercules' featured song, and enjoyed a moderate success outside of the movie thanks to renditions by Michael Bolton and Ricky Martin. The song may not be as fun or soulful as many of the other songs in Hercules, but this one sticks with you because its pretty darn inspiring. This is probably a perfect song to work out to. For the very few that haven't seen the movie, this song takes place when Hercules is trying to find out about his origins and travels to the Temple of Zeus. I'm very happy that this song made the list, and not just because I love this movie. It's a very solid song in the Disney music library and hopefully will be remembered for a very long time.

9. "One Jump Ahead" (Aladdin)

This is one of the songs that I'm a little surprised made the list, but I'm happy it did. It's not a serious song like many on the list, in fact it's downright silly. You're going to see a lot of nostalgia picks on this list I'm afraid, as all those polled were born from 1983-1992. These movies were our childhood and we connected with them more than some of the older Disney movies, if only because we got to see them at the movie theater. Anyway, this is one of those songs that is a riot to try to sing-a-long to. I've heard it a million times and I still can't get the words right. It's Aladdin's intro song, showing us what he goes through on an average day, which includes stealing food, running from guards, inadvertently causing street performers pain, and women who think he's "rather tasty." The music itself is nothing really special, but the lyrics and visual comedy make this a special song. Definitely a Disney song that is better viewed in the movie than listened to on your Walkman (yeah I'm going retro).

8. "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" (The Lion King)

I knew this song would make it on the list, but it's honestly not my favorite. I didn't like it as a kid (too lovey-dovey I guess) so I'm predisposed to not caring much for it. I always thought Nala's "come hither" look near the end of the song was really creepy. All that being said, it is a great song, and arguably the best in The Lion King. Composed by Elton John and lyrics by Tim Rice (another name that will pop up a lot in this list), it plays twice during the movie, sung by Kristle Edwards first, and then Elton John in the credits. The song was originally meant to be a comical song sung by Timon and Pumbaa, but John insisted that it become the "Prince and Princess" moment. In fact, the song was pretty close to getting cut, but again John pushed Disney to include it, which we are all pretty thankful for.

7. "I'll Make a Man Out of You" (Mulan)

This song is arguably pretty sexist, but at the same time, women love it, so interpret that any way you like. I had no idea this song was as popular as it was until a few years ago. I guess people really like inspiring songs sung by Donny Osmond. Also, people must really like montages more than I thought because that's all this song is. I'm not a big fan of them myself, but this song is so fun and ridiculous/awesome, that I can't help but love it. Didn't think this song was cool enough before? Jackie Chan performed the song for the Chinese release. How about now? I would say that this is another nostalgia pick, because it's definitely not a masterful song music wise. None of that matters, because this song is as mysterious as the dark side of the moon.

6. "I Just Can't Wait to be King" (The Lion King)

I'm actually a little surprised that this made it on the list, and not "Hakuna Matata." Don't get me wrong, this song is fun and all, but "Hakuna Matata" is "Hakuna Matata." That being said, this song is a lively romp involving Simba and Nala attempting to ditch Zazu. It ends with Zazu getting sat on by a female rhino, so mission accomplished? This song is all about naivety, as Simba sings how he'll be able to do anything he wants, and nobody can stop him. Of course that's not what being king, or an adult, is like, but it's the song we all loved as kids, because that's exactly what we wanted as adults: to be able to do anything you like and have nobody boss you around. We all know better now. The songs in The Lion King do a great job of showing Simba's internal struggles, whether it's aspirations of being grown up, aspirations of running away from problems, or finally accepting who you are. This song is great because we've been that dreamer before, though most of us aren't destined to be king of the jungle.

5. "Colors of the Wind" (Pocahontas)

"Colors of the Wind" is arguably Pocahontas' best song. I say arguably because people argue about it all the time. This song is excellent, but so are all of the other songs in Pocahontas. I really didn't realize it until a few years ago, but this is a solid musical. "Colors of the Wind" was composed by Alan Menken and performed by Judy Kuhn. The song went on to win an Oscar for Best Original Song. "Colors of the Wind" is Pocahontas' way of showing John Smith that the Earth is not something to be conquered or owned. It's the perfect song about tolerance, too. This song is epic, and the animated sequence does it justice. It's the most visually appealing part of the whole movie, and that's saying something. It's near perfection in my book.

4. "I See the Light" (Tangled)

One thing that makes this song different from many others in Disney movies is that the voice actors also do the singing. Frozen is the same way, but that entire cast is basically made up of Broadway stars. While we all knew Mandy Moore could sing, it was honestly a surprise that Zachary Levi could. The song itself is beautiful, but what makes it one of the best is the animated sequence with the floating lanterns. You can see Rapunzel and Flynn's relationship becoming closer throughout the film, but it's this song that really cements it. It's nice to have a more recent song on this list, considering that Disney went on a drought for about ten years. The Princess and the Frog had some great songs, and that has started the musical trend again. With both Tangled and Frozen grossing ridiculous amounts of money, it's safe to say that we can look forward to many more great Disney musicals. I would go so far as to say that I liked the music in this movie more than Frozen, and I know people will get mad about that because Frozen is the "bee's knees" right now. It just has a more classic Disney feel in my mind, and this song is part of that reason.

3. "Reflection" (Mulan)

We've all gone through those times where we felt we weren't able to be ourselves around others. That's probably why so many people love this song, mainly because it's relatable. Also, it's strikingly beautiful. It is sung by Lea Salonga, who also provided the singing voice for Jasmine in Aladdin, during the movie, and Christina Aguilera for the cliche 90's Disney credits. Compared to the other songs in Mulan, this is by far the best, whether some people want to admit that or not. It's not fun like the others, but there had to be a serious song in this film. It's one of the more serious films, dealing with war, identity issues, and honor. In every good movie, there's a solid emotional core. That's this song.

2. "Beauty and the Beast" (Beauty and the Beast)

Also known as "Tale as Old as Time," this classic song is sung by none other than Angela Lansbury. There isn't much to say about this song that hasn't been said already. It's as close to perfection as Disney has probably ever gotten. This entry and the number one were extremely close, so if you feel a bit disappointed, know that they are basically the same in quality. This song is great not only in music, lyrics, but also in visuals. The whole ballroom scene is iconic, and there's a reason for it. The song went on to win just about any award that could be won, though the picture itself lost the Best Picture race at the Oscars. I consider this the turning point in Belle and Beast's relationship, though it isn't spoken out loud until the end. It's a masterful song expertly composed by Menken and written by Howard Ashman, the latter passing away shortly after the movie was released. That's quite a memory to leave behind.

1. "A Whole New World" (Aladdin)

This ballad takes our top spot, and one can hardly argue with that. Actually, I'm sure there will be a few people who will. Well, the people spoke, and they like Jasmine and Aladdin's duet across the world. Seriously, they go around the known world during the whole song. They should have had jet lag by the end of it. There's even a hint about future movies with a visit to Greece and China (insane theory: Aladdin, Hercules, and Mulan all took place at the same time)? Probably not, I don't think Disney was thinking that far ahead. Like the last entry, this one is near perfect and a staple among the Disney animated music library. The song is fantastic, the animation superb, and there's even a little bit of humor in there. It's so beautiful that you almost forget that Aladdin is pretending to be someone else. Oh well, it all works out in the end. Let me know what your top picks would be for this era!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Top 10 Best Disney Songs (1937-1988)

This was a hard list to make, so I decided to take all the weight off myself and ask others their opinions on top of mine. That being said, these choices are not the same as my own Top 10. There are a few rules to this list. First off, all songs are from the Disney canon. Secondly, they are all songs written for their respective movies, not a song like "Night on Bald Mountain." I decided to split up my lists, since there are far too many to just squeeze them down to ten. Enjoy!

10. "Bella Notte" (Lady and the Tramp)

Bella Notte translates to "Beautiful Night" in Italian, in case you were wondering, which makes sense since Tony sings it in the first line. This song is probably one of the most iconic love songs in Disney, and probably everywhere. It's a beautiful song, and an even more beautiful scene. Who can forget the famous the Spaghetti Kiss? The scene is so famous that it's been parodied numerous times over the years. It's a short song, which they remedy by singing it twice, once by Tony, and another by a chorus. Whether you like this movie or not, you have to admit that this song is pretty moving.

9. "Winnie the Pooh" (The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh)

This song is a childhood favorite of many and it's easy to see why. It's very catchy and just a lot of fun. Also, who doesn't love Winnie the Pooh? For me, this right up there with another certain Winnie the Pooh song. This song serves as the opening to both The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and its sequel Winnie the Pooh. We're going to go with the original song as the better one just because it's a classic. The newer version was sung by Zooey Deschanel. I always like the opening because of the Winnie the Pooh character stuffed animals and the zoom in on the book, which contains the map of the 100 Acre Wood, complete with misspellings and backward letters.

8. "I Wanna Be Like You" (The Jungle Book)

This is probably one of the swinging-est, jazzy songs Disney has ever produced, and it is awesome. This is one of my personal favorite Disney songs, and it's easy to see why. This song just makes you want to dance, and sing-a-long. King Louie is a great character and this song just makes him cooler. The Sherman Brothers penned this song, while Louis Prima provided the vocals. The Sherman Brothers based it off of Prima and his band, who were huge hits in Las Vegas with their Dixie-Land style Jazz music. It was a winning combination, as this song, along with the rest of The Jungle Book soundtrack is considered one of the better all around musicals of pre-Renaissance Disney.

7. "You Can Fly" (Peter Pan)

This is probably the most well known song in Peter Pan, and it's a good one. No other song has made anyone want to fly more than this one. Every child has tried it at least once: they've stood on the edge of their bed, thought of a happy thought and jumped, hoping to fly off instead of awkwardly hitting the floor. This is another trademark of Disney music, popping up in ads and Disney theme parks. It's not my favorite Peter Pan song (that goes to "Never Smile at a Crocodile"), but it's a million times better than the embarrassingly racist, "What Makes the Red man Red?"

6. "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" (Cinderella)

No other phrase is more synonymous with magic, save for abrakadabra or alakazam, than bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. This song, if you haven't noticed, is almost completely gibberish, and it's still good. The song ended up being a hit in its own right, later being performed by Perry Como and the Fontane Sisters. Cinderella has plenty of good songs, but I think this one made it on the list because it's probably the most fun. The scene is great too, with everyone getting turned into different things. This is one of those songs that makes people wish that they had that backup, a fairy godmother if you will, when things go terribly wrong.


5. "He's a Tramp" (Lady and the Tramp)

As you can see, I'm letting a few repeats on the list. This is definitely the coolest song in Lady and the Tramp, with it's bluesy feel and the outstanding vocals by Peggy Lee. Lee also did many of the other songs in this movie, but this is the highlight. "He's a Tramp" was actually a very late addition into this movie, being submitted by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke. Disney liked it so much that they fit it into the movie by putting it during the pound scene. I always liked this song, mostly because it gave me a reason for singing in dog howls, but I hated the immediate scene after it. Lady finds out that Tramp has had quite a time with the ladies before her and decides to shun him. Still, it's a great song, and I can see how it made the list.

4. "Bare Necessities" (The Jungle Book)

As I said before, The Jungle Book is full of great tunes, and this is probably the best known one from it. Sung by Phil Harris and written by Terry Gilkyson, this song is the only hold-over from an earlier draft of The Jungle Book. Gilkysons songs were considered too moody for the picture, so Disney got the Sherman Brothers to take over. The crew begged Disney to let them keep it, and boy are we glad they did. This song is a ton of fun and has Disney written all over it. I've always considered this to be the pre-cursor to Hakuna-Matata. The song revolves around Baloo trying to convince Mowgli that any thing you need will come right to you, so don't bother worrying about anything. That is sound advice! Baloo is one of my all time favorite Disney characters, and he basically makes an appearance in another movie (Robin Hood) and a TV show (Talespin). He's the prototypical fun uncle, and this is his lazy anthem.

3. "Cruella De Vil" (One Hundred and One Dalmatians)

"Cruella De Vil" is the most iconic villain song Disney has. The biggest difference between this villain song and the others is that this one is sung not by a villain or their henchman, but a protagonist. Songwriter Roger Radcliffe (Bill Lee) pens the song on the spot after meeting his wife's boss, Cruella De Vil. The song is equal parts funny and terrifying, depending on what age you are. The song is also the only main song in this whole movie, save for an outro and a TV commercial, even though one of the characters writes songs for a living. Luckily the song is so great that it makes up for the lack of other musical interludes.

2. "Once Upon a Dream" (Sleeping Beauty)

There had to be a song from Sleeping Beauty. They're all good, but this whimsy song takes the proverbial cake. It has a great duet, a chorus, and woodland creatures pretending to be a person. Disney decided to make a nod to Snow White's "I'm Wishing/One Song" by having a Prince unexpectedly becoming part of the song. This song also sticks out because they use it in the opening credits. The songs in this movie are about the only bright and happy things, as this is one of the darker Disney films, so it's nice that the songs aren't crazy depressing. That being said, with the new Maleficent movie coming out, "Once Upon a Dream" has been redone, albeit in a darker, moodier way.

1. "When You Wish Upon a Star" (Pinocchio)

I'm sure a lot of you saw this coming. This song is heard almost anytime you see a Disney commercial, it's logo, or watch one of its movies. It's probably the most beautiful and hopeful song Disney, or anybody has ever made. It, like Mickey Mouse, has become an icon of the Disney company and is instantly recognizable. This song best represents the true essence of Walt Disney, a dreamer if there ever was one. This was far and away our top choice for best song before the Disney Renaissance. Is this the greatest song Disney has ever made? According to AFI it is, but what do you think? Is this better than the rest of the Disney song library?