Pixar’s COCO exceeds expectations

The trailers for Pixar’s newest animated film “Coco” aren’t particularly captivating.  At first glance, the story seems confusing and vaguely reminiscent of last year’s motion-capture feature “Kubo and the Two Strings”.

As it turns out, trailers can be misleading and skipping “Coco” would be the biggest mistake of the year.  Miguel’s (Anthony Gonzalez) search for his father through the land of the dead is a visual masterpiece.  The production design is rich with detail and the character design is fabulous. Whoever first imagined skeletons could embody a range of emotions as sympathetic characters had tremendous foresight.  “Coco” is a prime example of Pixar at its finest.

Aside from the look of the movie, it’s the themes and story that push it over the top in the best possible way.  “Coco” explores what it is to follow your dreams, respect your family and that seeing is not always believing.  Similar elements exist here as in the other Pixar success stories as well; death and sacrifice are significant and, as was so beautifully expressed in 2015’s “Inside Out”, while emotions may guide us, they shouldn’t define us.

The movie also stars the voice talents of Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt.

For more about “Coco” and how the color design influences the film, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Walt Disney Studios / Pixar.

THOR: RAGNAROK Review & Analysis

“Thor: Ragnarok” may be the third stand-alone Thor movie, but it revitalizes the franchise, as well as the superhero genre, in a way that the previous chapters have not.  Director Taika Waititi’s vision presents Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as more smart-alecky yet relatable than ever before.

The movie’s opening scene shows a new Thor.  While there’s never really a fear that he’s not as all-powerful as ever, there’s also a different tenor to his wisecracking jokes.  He’s cocky, but not standoffish.

A good portion of “Thor: Ragnarok” takes place on Sakaar, a planet ruled by the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum).  He’s a brand of nutty reminiscent of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, a connection further emphasized by several references to the 1971 film.  Though the Grandmaster is a more heavy-handed ruler of his domain than Wonka, there’s a lightheartedness to his world despite evidence to the contrary.

In fact, the entire movie is lighter than many of the others within the superhero genre, both in terms of humor as well as on the technical side.  The visibly brighter way “Thor: Ragnarok” is shot becomes a big clue that things aren’t as grim as the story may suggest.

That said, Hela (Cate Blanchett) may be the realm’s most powerful villain yet.  She’s both awe-inspiring and horrifying in everything from her behavior to her backstory–which is better left unsaid in the interest of avoiding spoilers.

The movie also stars Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, and Idris Elba.

For more about “Thor: Ragnarok”, including a great behind-the-scenes story about Cate Blanchett’s fight scenes, take a look below:

–>Keep in touch with the author on Twitter and Instagram @realZoeHewitt.  Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

All film photos are courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST Movie Review & Analysis

Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST is a “tale as old as time” though it’s anything but stale.  This live-action reimagining of the 1991 animated movie retains the original plot while introducing new interpretations of the characters and their backstories.  Additional scenes provide parallels between Belle (Emma Watson) and the Beast (Dan Stevens).  The Beast’s worthiness is now a forgone conclusion.  Life would have been different growing up with a kind father like Maurice (Kevin Kline).  The Beast is now worthy of Belle in a way that he wasn’t previously–or is he?

The new plot points don’t gel as well as intended.  Scenes showing Belle’s past don’t illuminate anything new.  Her key qualities of bravery, intelligence and kindness remain unquestioned.  For the Beast, a cruel father seems to be explanation enough regarding his worthiness for redemption.  An audience already willing to accept the premise of Belle and the Beast’s relationship doesn’t need these additional scenes.  Likewise, an audience questioning the Beast’s growth will not be satisfied with hints of a cruel father.

Despite some moments that aren’t quite as smooth as they could be, the movie does many things well.  Sarah Greenwood, an Oscar-nominated production designer, will surely receive her fifth nomination for her work on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  The sets are magnificent.  Design choices for everything from the castle’s chandeliers to the wall moulding show a marked attention to detail.  These sets provide the most compelling reason of all for remaking the animated movie.

Along with reinterpreting scenes and sets in BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Disney as a whole seems to be updating their stance on princesses.  As waves of feminists have long criticized the depiction of princesses in need of saviors, recent movies like MOANA have made an effort to show the heroics of their female leads.  Belle, like Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), declares quite emphatically that she is not a princess.

While it’s great to see the strength these women possess and studio’s attempts to modernize, it seems somewhere along the way, ‘princess’ became a four letter word.  The definition of princess is not “woman who needs to be saved”.  It’s wonderful seeing Moana risk her life for her people.  It’s fabulous that Belle loves reading and recognizes beauty comes from within.  No matter how often Gaston (a fabulous Luke Evans) shows off his muscles he will never be the man for her.  Belle’s confidence never wavers.

Just as Moana declares “I am not a princess”, so does Belle when she’s asked to put on a beautiful dress.  It’s an unprovoked comment so emphatically declared that she looks right at the camera.  When did princesses become so maligned?  The real issue isn’t with royalty, but this Disney depiction which has remained unchecked for decades.  The pendulum is swinging wildly without recognizing the core of the issue.  Women–princesses–don’t need to wait around helplessly for the right man to come along (I’m looking at you SLEEPING BEAUTY).  The very act of being a princess isn’t what put the women in that position in the first place.

The gorgeous dress Belle refuses to wear isn’t going to magically turn her into a helpless woman the moment she slips it over her head.  If Disney wants to work on its depiction of strong women, why not address the question that the only person in town who likes Belle is literally a beast?  Belle doesn’t defend the castle from intruders, she doesn’t take part in the final fight.  Her only glory is in returning to the Beast.

It isn’t that the movie is bad or particularly different from the animated classic in that regard.  Appreciate the movie for what it is, but don’t declare Belle has a new type of strength just because she is not a princess.

For more about princesses and the reinterpretation of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, take a look below:

—>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

MOANA Movie Review & Analysis

In the latest Disney animated film MOANA, the title character voiced by Auli’i Cravalho, is features a young woman who goes on a quest to save her village and finds herself in the process.  In her journey she must seek out the demigod Maui, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, and return the stolen heart of Te Fiti, a mother earth goddess who created all of the islands from her heart.

This is the time of year to start handing out awards and I am ready to give MOANA the best animated feature Oscar.  Disney managed to recapture their magic to create a beautiful story with fantastic characters and gorgeous music.  Of course, the fact that MOANA is a fabulous female role model doesn’t hurt, either.

This is a girl who is strong, brave and smart.  She follows her heart and stands up to her father and everyone else who tells her that the greater world beyond the shoreline is dangerous.  Moana trusts that the ocean has chosen her to save her people and readily takes up the quest.  Pay attention to just how often Moana’s discouraged in her journey.  Her father and Maui in particular, both in song and speech, tell her that the world is scary, that she is only a young girl, and that she needs to stop dreaming.

Pay attention, too, to all of the conch shell symbolism throughout the film.

For more about conch shells and what they mean and other MOANA information, take a look below:


–>Looking for the direct link to the video?  Click here.

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