Frozen (2013)

FrozenReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Starring (voices): Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel. Runtime: 1o2 min.

I heard that “Frozen” utilizes music to assist its narrative and to portray the character’s feelings, but I didn’t think there’d be a musical number right off the bat. There’s a cute reindeer and a cute little kid on the screen while working men are singing a working song while loading ice onto sleds. The catchy tune and the beautiful landscapes hooked me right away. I couldn’t help but wonder why the landscape looked green and wasn’t frozen? The story starts when the two princesses, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), are children. The two sisters are best friends, until a near death-experience for Anna, when Elsa and her were playing, wipes her memory of Elsa’s true powers and makes their parents want to hide the two princesses from the kingdom in order to hide her powers.

When Elsa becomes the Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle, she has to interact with the people. She is scared of what the people would think if her powers were exposed, while Anna could not be happier to be let out of the castle. Later on in the night, Elsa’s powers are exposed in a fit of impatience, and when she runs away, she puts unintentionally puts the kingdom in an eternal winter. Anna must set out on a perilous journey climbing snowy mountains accompanied by a worker bee Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a trusty snowman called Olaf (Josh Gad).

I thought this might have been a bit more like “Narnia” where the kingdom has been trapped in a winter for awhile because she didn’t know how to reverse it; not where the kingdom is trapped twenty or so minutes in. I didn’t mind, though. It’s interesting to see the way the citizens have to adapt to the sudden change of weather. The character designs look absolutely great; the princesses are really beautiful, and great additions to the Disney princesses line-up. There’s one character called Hans (Santino Fantana), who Anna falls for pretty quickly. Elsa is a realistic character who doesn’t think people should marry each other after knowing each other eight hours. Many might expect Kristoff to be the initial love interest, but it’s refreshing how that isn’t the case.

Anna is a great character because she is so full of wonder at everything, and you’d be, too, after being trapped in a castle after all those years. The isolation is reminiscent of other animated films, but it’s handled so well in this. Anna’s curiosity is entrancing, and it’s heartwarming how she wants to love her sister so badly even though she feels like she doesn’t know her anymore. It’s heartbreaking, too, because Elsa is afraid of hurting her sister again. It seems that Elsa is an antagonist to herself because she is scared of what her powers might do to others, but she still has a lot of love in her heart, even though she struggles with it. A lot of these emotions are portrayed through incredible original songs.

She’s not a villain, but an anti-hero who doesn’t mean to harm others unless endangered- or so it seems to me. She has a great sense of self-empowerment, really, as shown in “Let It Go” – a song that also shows she is accepting her true self. I love the bond of sisterhood portrayed here. One main antagonist is the Duke of Weaselton (Alan Tudyk), who sees Elsa as a sort-of Frankenstein. And there’s a giant snowman called Marshmallow that Elsa makes to protect her. Other than them, there’s not many antagonists, but a lot of conflict – and a whole lot of entertainment.

The music is one of the best parts about the film, and the voicework is memorable. The bonds between all of these characters are fascinating. I think the singing is just excellent. Jonathan Groff is pretty good, I liked him best when he was doing his voice for his reindeer Sven. His mannerisms are very funny, especially when his tongue hangs out. It’s also refreshing that the animal can’t talk. Yet, there’s a talking snowman. Olaf is hilarious, and a bulk of the comic relief, but other characters in the film are funny, too. This is just entertaining and remarkable. The animation is also outstanding, snow has never looked so beautiful in an animated film. The landscapes are just quite breathtaking.

I hope there are more films made that have stories based in Norway. It’s kinda cool. (I didn’t really realize it was a Nordic country until a scene featuring a character with a very Nordic accent.) What I think is really great about this movie, is that even though it has themes that Disney has used before – love, accepting oneself, sisterhood, all those great themes that help improve the narrative – it still has the ability to surprise and mesmerize, manage to solve conflicts in refreshing ways, and make classic themes feel original – and that’s quite an achievement.

Score97/100

42 (2013)

4242

Release Date: April 12, 2013

Director: Brian Helgeland

Stars: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie

Runtime: 128 min

Jackie Robinson (portrayed by Chadwick Boseman) is a prominent figure in the civil rights for black athletes, as he is the first African-American athlete to play in the major leagues and break the colour barrier. 42 is the second biopic for Robinson, after 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story. This follows Robinson’s life between 1945 and 1947, focusing on the hardships faces, after being integrated into a white-dominated sport by Brooklyn Dodgers President Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford).

It highlights these hardships he faces so precisely, that we really start to care for Robinson and what he goes through to play a game that he loves, and advance equality among races in the process. It is a true testament to the heart and soul of Jackie Robinson, a man for segregation, and a true American hero. That’s what helps this become such a successful film when it’s both on the field, and off.

When it’s on the field, it’s very rousing and often times, you’ll have the urge to stand up and cheer. It really feels like one is watching the actual game on TV for the first time, and that’s what helps it feel genuine. The more competitive viewers might even feel the urge to yell at the screen when the umpire makes a bad call; and you’ll definitely feel infuriated by some of characters’ actions against Robinson. You’ll either want to clap or weep for him at times because of the opposite race’s contempt he must face.

A lot of the racism is expressed through manipulative characterization. Some are just right, like when some of his own team mates still don’t feel comfortable playing with him or even showering with him, for that matter. Or when a child at a Cincinnati game falls under the societal pressures of the day and begins shouting racial slurs at Robinson like the rest of the crowd. Other times, they’re way over-the-top. Take Alan Tudyk’s character of Ben Chapman, for example. What he does is infuriating and manipulative because its cause is to get the watcher’s blood boiling, but it does work effectively, and it will definitely rouse a certain reaction. When Jackie breaks down and cannot take the discrimination any more, it is truly powerful and one of the film’s strongest scenes, on the field or not. That’s what really admirable about a sports feature like such: It finds a unique balance between scenes on-and-off the green grass.

It’s always exciting and never a dull moment, even if the dialogue gets more corny than your grandmother’s best corn dish at Thanksgiving. It’s helped by the stellar performances from the cast. Almost everyone in the supporting cast is fine, but Andre Holland as journalist and companion of Robinson, Wendell Smith, is very good. Lucas Black as Pee Wee Johnson is excellent, and the scene he shares with Boseman is significant and heart-warming  Chadwick Boseman (best known prior to this for small-screen roles in Persons Unknown and Lincoln Heights) shines as Jackie Robinson in a star-making role, and since Robinson can’t play himself (dead men can’t act!), you’ll be glad it’s Boseman. The chemistry between him and Harrison Ford (appearing as Branch Rickey) is excellent, and the scenes they share together are very memorable. Since Ford will most likely receive an Oscar nomination for his outstanding performance, he once again proves he has the ability to be wildly successful without a fedora on his head or a lightsaber in his hands.

It’s also impressive that such a powerful film gets to have a little fun with itself, as it beams with charm. There’s some laugh-out-loud humour here, as well, especially when John C. McGinley (portraying Red Barber) commentates; one of his funniest lines about being, about Robinson, “He’s definitely a brunette.” What would we do without that keen sense of observation?

Do not miss the opportunity to see 42 in theatres, because it is a fantastic true story that has to be known; it’s a rousing, charming grand slam and a new American classic. It’s a two-hour-plus film that feels like 90 minutes, and it’s one of the best sports movies of the past few years.

90/100

Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph

Release Date: November 2, 2012

Director: Rich Moore

Stars (voices): John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch

Runtime: 109 min

Tagline: When the game is over, a new world comes to life.

Wreck-It Ralph has one film aspect thing we are always searching for: nostalgia. Nostalgia is when you look back at some point in your life, and cherish that solitary memory. In the case of this great Disney animation film, we find ourselves looking back to our childhoods, when we would spend tireless hours playing Super Mario Bros. to take Princess Peach back from that spiky-backed Bowser or; controlling Donkey Kong to jump over those pesky barrels; or making Pacman run away from those ghosts. This nostalgia is most prominent for those 80s and 90s children. In Wreck-It Ralph, it truly shines through. In animation, this great feeling has not been shown so clearly as it has been here.

In other 2012 films, like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the nostalgia feeling was looking back at the good times of high school (for my case, early high school, since this is my graduating year) or those generally depressing and lonely times. We’ve seen that in plenty of teen films before it, so it’s a traditional nostalgic feeling in our hearts. With Wreck-It Ralph, it feels truly original because a great video game tribute has never been paid quite like this one, besides documentaries like Special When Lit that rediscovers the long lost game of Pinball.

The story follows Ralph (voiced by John C. Reilly) the villain of a 30-year old arcade game called Fix-It Felix Jr., where Ralph wrecks it and Felix (voiced by Jack McBrayer) races the clock to fix what Ralph has wrecked. Ralph feels like an outcast in his own game, because he lives in a dump across the way from his video game co-workers, while they hang out in the penthouse and party it up. Ralph sets out for different games, that ultimately wreaks havoc in his arcade, in search of a medal so he can redeem himself, and become the hero he has always wanted to be. He eventually ends up at Sugar Rush and meets the charismatic Vanellope (voiced by Sarah Silverman) a computer glitch in her own game. The two outcasts team up together, to defeat antagonists, and make names for themselves.

The main antagonist is the charismatic dictator of Sugar Rush, King Candy (voiced by Alan Tudyk). The other antagonists are from some games Ralph encounters, that find their way into the game of Sugar Rush. Also, there is the arcade manager, Mr. Litwak, who proposes the overbearing threat of pulling the plug of Ralph’s game if Ralph and Felix can’t get back to the game in time. This has the tendency to make the film slightly crowded, but it still is unarguably enjoyable and fun. A few things that make the film fun are the great and often delicious appearing set designs, very seemingly fun arcade games, and the stunningly beautiful [3D] visual effects. The humour is often hysterical, and very funny even for those who are not children. Although, if one is over the age of thirteen, they may think the toilet humour has the huge tendency to be obnoxious and over the top. Those toilet humour jokes are quite hit-and-miss, but most do indeed hit. To add to the general comedy of the film, there are also some exciting action sequences, like the races that made me want to play a good old game of Mario Kart. There is one sequence near the end of the film that features a creature that may just be a little too mature or frightening for a basic children’s film; it reminded me of Pennywise the Clown from Stephen King’s It (at the least the bottom half of it).

The message present (don’t be afraid to be a hero) is great and does not feel forced. What does feel forced, however, are some of the relationships. The one relationship between Felix and Calhoun (voiced by Jane Lynch), feels forced because they just seem so opposite. The relationship between Ralph and Vanellope, on the other hand, was absolutely precious, often heartwarming (and at times heartbreaking), natural and inspiring. It’s normal that this relationship may mend together well, because Ralph’s towering build, that may remind viewers of Donkey Kong, and then Vanellope’s figure that looks like a miniature Princess Daisy, seems like a father-daughter relationship. Instead, it feels like a real, non-condescending friendship. Not to mention, they are both great characters. Vanellope is absolutely adorable and hysterical, and one cannot help but smile when she comes on-screen. She just offers a needed supporting structure to the general film. These characters, and all others, do great jobs of portraying emotions, even though that isn’t hard to do with animation, but regardless, the viewer still feels what they feel – from inspiration, to loneliness, to excitement, to heartbreak. The characters are each well put together, and have nice backgrounds.

Wreck-It Ralph is the finest 2012 animated feature, (but there isn’t any competition, because surprisingly to me, it’s the only 2012 released animated feauture I’ve seen) and is generally one of the finest and most original of 2012. The only thing I thought of with the coming to life at night is the two Night at the Museum films (and more obviously the Toy Story trilogy), but comparing this to that isn’t exactly fair since they are so different. Disney has delivered us a great film yet again, and mashed two generally loved things together: their acclaimed animation, and video games. I had high expectations for this film, and this really rocked my world.

88/100