Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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Howl’s Moving Castle Movie Review

Howl’s Moving Castle is a 2004 fantasy anime film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is far from the best that Studio Ghibli has to offer, but still a solid film in its own right.

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I don’t cook!

I’m a scary and powerful fire demon!

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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I actually liked this one much more upon second viewing as I really did not care for it the first time around. But watching it now, I could certainly appreciate it more. The storyline is admittedly quite good and I particularly loved that it is an alternative historical film. This is early 20th century for sure, but with magic added as a bonus.

The story is fascinating, magical, endearing and as imaginative as you would come to expect from the studio. I loved the magical elements and I really liked some of its themes with aging being particularly well explored.

However, the major problem I’ve had with it is that it is undercooked. The narrative is very problematic as it doesn’t give us too many answers to some really crucial questions such as whether or not Sophie is a witch, Howl’s origin story is left unexplored as is his entire relationship with Suliman.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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To me the film just happened and it gave us way too many characters and way too many plot points that some were seriously shortchanged. That is the problem of the script but also of the action as the runtime is more than long enough for it to develop properly. But the action is frequently quite overwhelming that we do not get to spend enough time with some characters and story points.

I liked Sophie quite a bit. She has excellent development and growth in this film and is a likable protagonist for whom you root for. Howl is also very good and interesting as this man obsessed with looks and young age. The relationship between the two is moving and one of the film’s highlights.

The Witch of the Waste is excellent and I ended up liking her quite a bit. Underutilized for sure, but she is at first excellent and memorable as a villain and then quite sweet as their companion. Calcifer is a cartoon character in his appeal and design, but a good one nevertheless and having fire literally be a character was interesting and he was so well animated and very endearing.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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Markl is sweet, but entirely underutilized unfortunately. But his relationship with Sophie is heartwarming. Madame Suliman is memorable as the film’s greatest villain, but once again entirely underdeveloped. The voice acting is superb and everyone did a great job across the board.

Howl’s Moving Castle features brilliant animation. Yes, that is certainly one of the standout aspects here. I loved seeing for once the early 20th century in a fantasy flick and the attention to detail is so meticulous that I was transported to that era from the first moment. The costumes look great, the hairstyles, the various imagery is highly interesting and in particular the interiors looked awesome with the castle itself being so well imagined. This anime surely is beautiful to look at.

To me the highlight in terms of the scenes was the beginning and especially the transformation scene which was very intriguing and wonderfully reminded me of fairy tales. The film is very much a Japanese fairy tale which I loved of course. The ending with the imposed end credits was not my cup of tea, but each scene in the house was wonderful and Howl and Sophie’s scenes were all heartwarming.

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Howl's Moving Castle Movie Review

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The action is very well executed even though it is overwhelming. The pacing is frenetic for sure and the film should have been much calmer as its runtime demanded it. Miyazaki’s direction and vision are reliably strong, but he was influenced by ‘Spirited Away’ a bit too much and the film never is comparable to it. The score is also not as memorable as some other scores from the studio. In the end, I liked the film, but it is way too flawed to be considered in the top half with Ghibli’s biggest classics.

Howl’s Moving Castle is admittedly much better upon second viewing and it features excellent world building and attention to detail. I really liked its historical period and the magical elements. The two main characters and their relationship are strong and the animation is magnificent and beautiful to look at. But this is still one of the more flawed Ghibli films with overwhelming action and a problematic narrative that leaves too many things unanswered and too many characters underutilized. Miyazaki was influenced by his ‘Spirited Away’ a bit too much and this is obviously a pale imitation of that classic film.

My Rating – 3.5

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)

Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope Movie Review

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Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope Movie Review

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope is a 1977 science fiction fantasy film directed by George Lucas and starring Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. It is the very first installment in the massively popular blockbuster franchise.

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May the force be with you

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Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope Movie Review

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So the story concerns the Rebel Alliance led by Princess Leia who attempts to destroy the Death Star. Luke Skywalker comes into the mix when he comes into contact with the droid who possesses some valuable information. The story is very good and interesting and it begins basically when ‘Rogue One’ ends. That film is a prequel to this particular story.

The storytelling is very good here. The film does not attempt to have any serious themes, message or deeper meaning or emotion and that is fine as it knows what it wants to do and it doesn’t stay away from that. However, the main problem with the entire film is the excessive amount of action employed.

That is why A New Hope is an enormous influence on future filmmaking for better and for worse. It just has way too much action. For example, the entire third act with the battle scenes in particular was just way too long and it honestly bored me pretty quickly. It also employed some detours when the three were on the ship and it definitely needed a tighter, more involving and less action oriented narrative and approach.

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Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope Movie Review

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Let’s talk about these famous characters and actors. Luke Skywalker is as boring and as bland as most of these blockbuster heroes are. He is just a bland, tiresome entity and I dislike him quite a bit. That also stems from Mark Hamill’s very mediocre performance, at least in this movie he was very weak.

Han Solo and Princess Leia are much better and much more memorable. Certainly this was typecasting as Harrison Ford always plays these cocky, charismatic characters, but this was one of the first, before the Indiana Jones franchise and thus I like him more than Indy. He can be funny, but still too arrogant for my taste.

Leia definitely is underutilized here, but excellent. She is basically a Disney Princess in a way, especially now that Disney owns this franchise. I like her quite a bit as she is competent, action oriented and brave while still retaining her womanly attributes, beauty and royal behavior. The interactions between these three were quite strong and Carrie Fisher is great in her signature role.

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Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope Movie Review

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Peter Cushing is solid as the villain and of course Darth Vader is iconic in terms of blockbuster villains and unforgettable and menacing in each one of his scenes. In my opinion this Obi-Wan Kenobi is not great because Alec Guinness obviously disliked being on the set, he did not understand the role and thus we got a very confused performance.

As for those cutesy characters, I still do think that they were just blatantly added for the appeal to the children everywhere, even in this first entry. Chewbacca is particularly forgettable and the worst costume effect of them all. C-3PO and R2-D2 are a fun couple with an interesting dynamic. The former is feminine and very talkative while the latter is cute and mute. They are definitely an interesting duo, but again overly utilized in too many scenes.

A New Hope has some of the best special effects of the older blockbusters, that goes without question. What they pulled off here was remarkable. The sets look great, the space battles and spaceships are awesome and so cool and of course the costumes and the practical effects are so detailed and carefully designed that they mostly aged remarkably well and they added realism to the picture that CGI is not capable of.

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Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope Movie Review

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That is why George Lucas should be respected for this film. He brought an entire new universe to the audience and they were captivated back then and still to this day. It is a mish-mash of older ideas, but an original mix nonetheless. It has way too much action and weak pacing, but one of the best scores in film history for sure as that iconic John Williams opening remains legendary and the rest of the pieces are pretty terrific themselves. It is a good first entry, but the second one is much better.

A New Hope is an extremely influential blockbuster for better and for worse as it brought the wonder and epic majesty of space operas to the world but it also brought too much action which is in this film overwhelming. It also has some detours and the pacing is bad which is why its successor is so much better. But still the film features some great characters, that iconic, legendary score from John Williams and extraordinary special effects which mostly aged remarkably well. The beginning and the ending are the highlights, but most of the third act with that overlong battle bored me leading to a good, but far from great first entry.

My Rating – 4

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The Cat Returns (2002)

The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

The Cat Returns is a 2002 anime fantasy film from Studio Ghibli. It is one of their most pleasant, most underrated works.

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I respect a woman who stands up for herself.

Even if she does like sticking her nose in other people’s business!

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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This film is about a directionless teenage girl Haru who, after saving a young cat prince from certain death, is brought to the cat kingdom where she is supposed to marry a prince. I adore this film. It is actually one of my childhood favorites and I still love it now as an adult. The story reminds of Disney Princess movies as here we basically get a Ghibli princess which was awesome to witness.

The plot is similar to ‘Spirited Away’ in a sense that the protagonist is changed after going on a fantastical journey and is now a more responsible, more adult person. I loved that they repeated that journey and message and they did it wonderfully once again. But it is different than the aforementioned film because it is much more fun, childlike and jokey in its approach.

Let’s talk about the characters. Haru is an excellent protagonist. I really liked her and she is such a likable, sweet person. Her mother and her friend are solid for the little screen time that they received, but this is the movie about cats and they are the strongest characters here.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Baron is absolutely fantastic. This movie is literally a spin-off of ‘Whisper of the Heart’ as in that movie this character was just a figurine, but now we get him in full flesh. I loved that connection between the two movies even if they are the complete opposite of each other. He is badass, cool and like a dashing hero of yesteryear. The relationship between him and Haru is sweet, if a bit creepy when you think about it.

I really liked Toto as he is a wonderful bird. Prince Lune and Yuki are a great couple and I loved her backstory. The Cat King is such a great throwback to classic cartoon villains from decades ago – he is villainous, but very funny and over-the-top which I loved.

And of course Muta is the very best character in this film and the highlight for me. His constant obsession with food brought us many funny moments, his bickering with everyone else was great, I liked his very amusing backstory and the highlight was seeing him get angry mostly for being called fat. He is a phenomenal sidekick for sure.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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The Cat Returns is very well animated, but it is just not up to par with Ghibli’s previous classics in my opinion as it is never as moving or as memorable or as artistic. Still, the imagery is frequently beautiful, the action is so well executed, I loved the sky scenes and of course the highlight was the cat kingdom with the castle and especially the labyrinth and the tower. I also really liked the character design of the cats and the cats themselves were fairly realistically portrayed here in both their animal design and their moody, selfish behavior.

The Cat Returns has a bunch of memorable sequences so let me say which ones are my favorites. I loved the beginning and the scene where she rescued the cat prince was so well done. Baron’s little house was so cute and the attention to detail was so overwhelming in there. Overall, the architecture in this film is beautiful to witness.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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That scene where the king threw some cats from the window because they did not provide proper entertainment was hilarious as it was basically murder but portrayed amusingly. It was both dark and funny. The labyrinth was of course absolutely fantastic. I loved the king’s cheating and how The Baron realized that. This film is such a wonderful, enchanting adventure and those labyrinth and tower scenes are the best examples of that. And of course the descend through the sky is gorgeous to watch and the ending itself is poignant and emotionally satisfying.

The Cat Returns has absolutely brilliant voice acting. Yes, this is one of Ghibli’s strongest works when it comes to acting as each performance is phenomenal and everybody did a great job with the highlights being Tetsu Watanabe and Tetsuro Tanba as Muta and The Cat King, both very funny characters.

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The Cat Returns Movie Review

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Yes, the humor in this film is absolutely terrific and it probably is Ghibli’s funniest film as I laughed out loud many times while watching it. The film is so poignant, sweet and emotionally resonant while also being very funny and wonderfully childlike in its approach. The only problem is the pacing which is rushed as the film is just way too short in its runtime which was unfortunate. But the dialogue is strong and the score is particularly great with a wonderful closing number. It is one of Ghibli’s best and most underrated films.

The Cat Returns is overly rushed in pacing owing to ridiculously short runtime, but it remains one of Ghibli’s better and definitely most underrated works thanks to brilliant voice acting, excellent characterization (Muta, Haru, The Cat King and The Baron are all great characters), a wonderful story and terrific humor as it made me laugh so many times definitely being the funniest film from the studio. It is wonderfully childlike in its quality, very adventurous and enchanting in its journey and highly resonant emotionally. It is such a wonderful follow-up to ‘Spirited Away’ thematically and such a successful spin-off to ‘Whisper of the Heart’.

My Rating – 4.5

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is the fifth entry in this franchise starring Johnny Depp and this time directed by Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. It’s quite solid.

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I saw her ankles. You would’ve seen a lot more

if you kept your cakehole shut

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

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This entry is a certain improvement over the previous film which was easily the worst in the entire series. This one is weaker than the original trilogy, but at least a step in the right direction. Although I have to say that I wasn’t thrilled with that post-credits sequence at all. I do not like when they bring back old or dead characters as the sixth entry will supposedly be about Elizabeth, Will and Davy Jones. Not a fan for now.

Here the storyline is actually quite solid though the film is definitely very jumbled in its execution and it tries to have too many plot points in it and thus most are left underutilized. I liked that finally we get a two-hour Pirates film but it still felt overdrawn thanks to its weak pacing and too much action sequences.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

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I dislike Javier Bardem and I have just never cared for him. Here is the same. He did a good job and Salazar is a solid villain, but I would have liked to have seen somebody else personally. Henry Turner and Carina Smith are actually quite solid new additions to the team. Certainly they felt like imitations at times of Elizabeth and Will, but I liked their relationship quite a bit. She is an overly aggressive feminist character and he is typical, but they are miles better than Penelope Cruz’s character in the previous film.

I was sad to see Captain Barbossa die. That was a powerful sequence, but still not necessary. I liked that she turned out to be his daughter, but the two did not seem like father and daughter to me personally and their relationship was underdeveloped and thus his death did feel unnecessary.

Gibbs is solid and it was nice seeing Elizabeth and Will again. That ending was perfect in my opinion. Not only the romantic reunions but Jack bickering about it was so funny. Speaking of Jack, he is the weakest link here. He felt overly drunk and not in control this time around and actually he wasn’t all that much in the movie. He should be the center of each Pirates film and thus I was incredibly disappointed that this time around that wasn’t the case.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales Movie Review

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Dead Men Tell No Tales is very well made with again excellent scenery and special effects. The score is also pretty strong per usual. The direction is solid, but you’d expect the directors of high-spirited adventure ‘Kon-Tiki’ to do a much better job than what they did in the end. So the film is perfectly solid, but very flawed across the board. The action is well executed but the humor should have been better.

Dead Men Tell No Tales suffers from not having enough Jack in it, the pacing is all over the place and the story is fine, but underutilized in too many plot points. The action is solid, but again overwhelming. The new characters are actually quite fine and the ending was the highlight of the film. It is eventually a pretty solid film that is weaker than the original trilogy, but a certain improvement over the last worst entry.

My Rating – 3.5

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Frozen (2013)

Frozen Movie Review

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Frozen Movie Review

Frozen is a 2013 animated musical film which is Disney’s 53rd animated feature. It is a pretty good, competent, but still very flawed and ultimately somewhat overrated movie.

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He’s crazy.

I’ll distract them while you run

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Frozen Movie Review

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The story follow the fairy tale The Snow Queen but just barely and is basically so different from it that it might be considered to be an original film. I liked the story though it definitely felt rushed and undercooked in some places. It is adventurous, heartwarming and magical just like most real Disney classics are, but it is just never as great as it could have been.

The beginning is overly drawn out but definitely very intriguing and seeing the two girls separated was heartbreaking. I loved the magical elements and the first act is long, but sets up the rest of the movie pretty well. The coronation day was great, Elsa and Anna’s argument is memorable and Hans being portrayed as so good and innocent at first is a big plus.

I will later talk about the ice palace creation sequence when I talk about the song itself and in detail. As for the first scenes with Kristoff, they are all very charming and some of the best here. I loved the scene at the Wandering Oaken’s shop and the scene with the wolves. This is the most adventurous part of the film and it should have lasted longer.

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Frozen Movie Review

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The scene with the two sisters arguing is the second best of the film and actually pretty amazing in its own right. I loved that it involved singing for storytelling and dialogue and the intense build up to the eventual tragedy is superbly done. Marshmallow got a pretty fun scene, but the troll sequence is somewhat of a detour. The capturing of Elsa is excellent and the film needed more action and more usage of her powers such as in that scene.

Hans revealing his villainous side was done wonderfully and the entire third act is pretty good and exciting. The twist with the true love being that of two sisters instead of between a man and a woman is interesting and ultimately quite memorable and groundbreaking in a way. The ending with the ice skating was sweet.

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Frozen Movie Review

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Frozen has many plot holes unfortunately. It is a good, wonderful story, but so undercooked and you can see that it was reworked extensively for many years up to its release. How Elsa got her powers and why only she has them is never answered. And do not get me started on the parents. They were horrible to their children by separating them and I guess that in that day and age, they might be much worse in real life but the film tried to make them sympathetic and it failed and thus their death was not all that felt and of course as obvious and as expected as any Disney parent death. And what Elsa ate in that ice palace and how she intended to survive there remains a mystery to me. And who ruled the kingdom when they were little and parentless. And why doesn’t Kristoff recognize Anna as an adult? The film is sloppy in terms of storytelling.

The characterization is very good on the other hand. Elsa is underdeveloped when compared to Anna, but it works in the context of the story that she is somewhat of a mystery and I liked that Anna is basically a protagonist here. Elsa is mysterious, elegant, powerful and I loved her ice powers and it was convenient and quite ingenious how her problems can relate to basically any minorities/special needs persons.

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Frozen Movie Review

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But Anna is actually the better character. I love Anna honestly. She is your wonderful Disney Princess but different than most as she had to learn what true love is and how you cannot fall in love in the first day of meeting the prince. The deconstruction of Disney’s true love concept is modern and although too on-the-nose, it still worked and was clever. The film is sometimes overly feminist in an aggressive way, but it is still very nice that we got a Disney movie that centers on sisterhood.

Anna’s spunky behavior is great and she has some wonderful, funny lines in the film. Her journey and character progression is excellent and her interactions with everybody, especially Elsa and Kristoff are superb. The relationship between the two sisters is problematic yet very sweet just like in real life which is why it resonated with so many women out there.

Kristoff is very likable and it was interesting that talking to animals was portrayed as somewhat crazy here. Honestly, the movie felt so anti-Disney at times for better and for worse. But Sven is endearing and Kristoff is a great Disney love interest and he and Anna share a fantastic relationship.

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Frozen Movie Review

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Olaf is honestly pretty annoying at times, but also quite funny in a couple of scene with some hilarious lines. He is your typical overly modern and aggressively funny Disney sidekick, but I didn’t hate him surprisingly enough and I ended up mostly liking him. Duke of Weselton is annoying and basically just a decoy so we wouldn’t suspect Hans who is honestly very good as a villain. I really enjoyed the villain twist here. It was overdone in the next movies such as ‘Big Hero 6’ and ‘Zootopia’, but here it fully worked and I loved it. But I still think that men in this film are either villainous or crazy which remains a problem.

Frozen has very good, though not amazing animation. Some of the backgrounds and interiors were not as detailed as you would expect from Disney and the character design is mostly typical. But the CGI is excellent and the ice palace creation is the biggest feat of animation wizardry accomplished here. The ice looks amazing and the film was one of a few animated films that was ripe for computer animation as the ice needs the CGI and every icy scene was beautiful here.

Frozen is a musical and a very problematic one. Basically the structure of the film is all wrong. It makes the fatal mistake of putting most of the songs in the first act and the rest of the film is mostly devoid of songs. That made it seem very uneven. And I still do think that only one song here is great.

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Frozen Movie Review

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Frozen Heart is your typical opening work/local people Disney number that serves its purpose, but is forgettable. Do You Want to Build a Snowman? is actually quite sweet and the most childlike song here. It is a great plot point, but overly short.

Love Is an Open Door is so mediocre. I do not like it at all and it has a pretty weak, annoying chorus and it sounds way too modern. Definitely it serves its purpose in terms of storytelling, but as the actual piece of music it is rather weak.

Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People is extremely short and unnecessary. Fixer Upper is so annoying and possibly the worst scene in the film. The song itself is quite weak and uninspired. The same can be said for In Summer which is basically a detour as we already know that Olaf wants warm hugs and yearns for summer and we did not need a whole number for it, especially such a weak one.

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Frozen Movie Review

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For the First Time in Forever is the second best song in the film and I really like it. It isn’t the catchiest song, but it does accompany a great early scene, it has very good and at times even funny lyrics and a pretty fine chorus. I loved the grand ending to it. Also, the reprise is beautiful and, as I said before, it is the second greatest scene in the film.

And of course Let It Go is the greatest song in the entire film and one of the best Disney songs of all time. Words cannot describe how great this number is, but let me try. First off, the lyrics are absolutely amazing and it is probably the deepest Disney song ever, the one with which everyone can relate to. The singing by Idina Menzel is amazing and it is the kind of grand Broadway number that was mostly absent from Disney in recent decades.

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Frozen Movie Review

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The chorus is amazing and the finale is absolutely spectacular! It serves as a powerful vehicle for Elsa; it is the moment where the film just stops and your breath is simply taken as the overall sequence is spectacular in terms of characterization, music and storytelling. That beautiful gown was created here, the classic song was created here and one of the best Disney scenes too. History was certainly made here.

Frozen features excellent voice acting. Josh Gad and Jonathan Groff are very good, but Idina Menzel and especially Kristen Bell shine here. The film is well directed, but weakly paced. The dialogue is solid, but overly modern at times with too much new jargon in it. The film doesn’t pay much attention to its time period as it does to its setting. Overall, the film remains a phenomenon, but a highly flawed one. A wonderful experience, but when you look at it through the critic’s lens, you can see its many flaws easily. It surely is one of the worst Disney revival entries as it cannot compare at all with ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and ‘Tangled’.

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Frozen Movie Review

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Frozen is a good, but highly problematic movie. The animation is not as detailed, but it is frequently gorgeous. The story is very intriguing and memorable, but full of obvious plot holes. The dialogue is overly modern and, although refreshing, sometimes the film was aggressively feminist (all men in the movie are either crazy or villainous) and deconstructive. The characterization is admittedly excellent with Hans being a very good villain (the twist was great), Kristoff is very likable and of course Anna and Elsa are wonderful characters and their sisterhood is beautiful to witness which is the reason why the film touched so many people. The songs are actually rather weak as only For the First Time in Forever is quite good and of course Let It Go is an amazing, simply fantastic song accompanied by a spectacular, iconic sequence. The film is frequently very adventurous, charming or even funny, but mostly rushed in pacing and problematic in structure owing to it having been extensively reworked on for many years. In the end, Frozen reaches greatness in a couple of truly special scenes, but for the most part it is a very uneven, troublesome film which ranks among the weakest Disney Revival films.

My Rating – 4

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Spirited Away (2001)

Spirited Away Movie Review

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Spirited Away Movie Review

Spirited Away is a 2001 anime fantasy film directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It is the best Studio Ghibli film and one of the best films ever made.

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Once you do something, you never forget.

Even if you can’t remember

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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I have seen Spirited Away at least three times by now and upon this fourth viewing I again confirmed its greatness. Rare are films that get better and better upon each subsequent viewing and this is one of those films. It has an amazing replay factor. I have always watched it in a dubbed version as that is how I first saw it so I cannot comment upon the Japanese sub acting, but the dub is actually one of the better anime dubs.

Let’s first talk about the story and the highlight scenes. This film is obviously influenced by ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and it is a much darker, much better crafted version of it. It managed to eclipse that story due to a sheer epicness of it. It feature an amazing use of Japanese mythology and spirits and every creature here looks great and is highly memorable.

The beginning is excellent and very eerie in its atmosphere. Highly mysterious and otherworldly. All of Chihiro’s first sequences in this world are great and a wonderful build-up for the rest of the story. As for the stink spirit scenes, they are slightly extended, but still very memorable and the character is fascinating. So the film sometimes feels like a series of vignettes, but those vignettes are all fascinating and the editing is great so it still ended up being tight and well structured.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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Then the story gets much more intriguing with the introduction of Yubaba’s sister. The second act and mostly the latter half of it features a terrific use of build-up to the action and it rises the tension and stakes superbly.

Of course my favorite act is the third one as it is the culmination of everything we had learned previously about this world. That train is just breathtaking, those travelling scenes are transcendent in quality and the imagery is unforgettable.

Then we have the greatest scene from this film which is of course the goodbye scene between Zeniba and Chihiro and then the marvelous dragon flight which includes a great realization and an excellent, fascinating answer to the mystery of how she and Haku met. The final test was great and of course everything about that ending rings awesome. Beautifully filmed and immensely resonant in terms of emotion. The film reward you for taking this long trip with such a moving, deep final scene.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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Let’s talk about the film’s characters. Chihiro is a one of a kind protagonist and quite possibly the studio’s best creation. She is spoiled, clumsy and childish at first, but upon taking this amazing, fantastical journey, she becomes much more independent, stronger and more responsible and brave. It is an archetypal hero’s journey, but the one done infinitely better than most as it takes its necessary time to develop and thus feels all the more special.

Haku is also excellent despite appearing in not so many scenes. His mystery backstory is intriguing and very well resolved and his dragon form is striking and his job is very well utilized. The relationship between him and Chihiro is never overly emotional and just right.

Yubaba is such a hilarious character. At first menacing and all-powerful, but later deconstructed to a mean old lady. I loved her interactions with each of the characters. Her giant baby is so funny and her story with Zeniba is realistic and a lot of fun. Her sister is the polar opposite of her and a good witch. Loved her and her heartwarming relationship with Chihiro.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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No-Face is fascinating. He is a famous Japanese spirit, but he can be interpreted as being the metaphor for loneliness which many of us deal with and people are struggling much more these days and thus he is very relatable and endearing. I loved his many forms and how his backstory remained a mystery. I also loved that he stayed with Zeniba in the end as both need some company. Certainly the film resolved each of the characters’ stories successfully.

Boiler Man is very sweet and caring and I just loved everything about his working steampunk environment and those employees of his are so incredibly cute and feisty. Chihiro’s parents serve their purpose and to me Lin is wonderful as this on surface calculated, yet ultimately very caring and good friend to Chihiro. Every character here is great and every spirit and creature is memorable even if they are not too present.

Spirited Away features absolutely breathtaking animation. What is there yet to say that hasn’t already been said? This film utilizes on the power and pure imagination and art of hand-drawn animation superbly and rare are animated films with better animation than this one. Only Walt Disney’s earliest films can compare honestly.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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The film is colorful in just the right amount, it is both dark and light in equal amount both in terms of animation and atmosphere and it has absolutely terrific character designs with each spirit being fascinating, different and unique. The humans also look great. The various sets are amazing, each one of its locations is beautifully explored and mesmerizing and the action is so well executed.

It has some of the best world building that I have ever witnessed. I felt as if I really went into this spirit world and I felt as if I also learned something and became more adult just like Chihiro. The movie gives the child in all of us the opportunity to dream again and because it is so dark and serious at times while being funny and lightweight at other times, it manages to be perfect for both children and adults. A perfect mix of everything that the best of animation can offer.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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In terms of the humor, it succeeds. It is rarely used, but quite enjoyable and endearing when it happens. I loved the cutesy factor here, but I also admired the inherent darkness of this world as well as it reach themes which span from growing up to greed (best exhibited in those bathhouses) to environmentalism (refreshingly subdued here for Ghibli) to Japanese folklore. The film truly is very smart and consistently deep and transcendent.

The action is never overwhelming and is excellent and sparingly used. The runtime of two hours is perfect for this film and it never feels long despite for animation long runtime. That is because this world and this story are so rich that they needed more time. And the pacing is excellent.

The tone is diverse and the score is phenomenal! I loved this score and in my opinion the dragon flight scene is the best scene in the movie not in small amount thank to that gorgeous, moving and highly transcendent score which is honestly magical in its quality.

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Spirited Away Movie Review

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The attention to detail is magnificent, the dialogue is terrific and the film is unforgettable in its every aspect. Hayao Miyazaki directed Spirited Away marvelously and it clearly is a work of art and magnum opus from this famous director who was clearly making a masterpiece here. It thankfully got its Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and it is critically acclaimed for all the obvious reasons I stated above. It is the best that both Studio Ghibli and anime have to offer and one of the best overall film of all time.

With breathtaking, absolutely wondrous animation, stellar direction, meticulous world-building with an overwhelming attention to detail, terrific character development and extremely powerful score which is honestly one of the best in film history, Spirited Away is an undisputed masterpiece and one of the rare films that can easily be called art. The story is well crafted with great influences, a diverse tone which ranges from cute and endearing to dark and atmospheric, high emotional resonance and a great character journey for the protagonist. The film manages to be magical, sometimes serious, at times funny, but always engaging and simply fascinating. The entire, wonderful new world is created here with an impeccable attention to detail which is a reason why it has such a lasting appeal and endless replay factor. Consequently, it is a pure masterpiece and undoubtedly one of the best films ever produced.

My Rating – 5

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Movie Review

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a 2011 fantasy swashbuckler film directed by Rob Marshall and starring Johnny Depp. It is a pretty disappointing entry.

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You know the feeling you get when standing in a high place,

the sudden urge to jump…

I Don’t have it

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Movie Review

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This is by far the weakest entry in the series so far. It is much weaker than the original trilogy as it has many unfortunate choices in the production and story. Now I liked that it was shorter in its runtime and thus much better paced than the previous films, but the story is weaker this time around and not particularly exciting.

I liked that Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley are disposed of here as they have always been dull to me, but I have to say that Penelope Cruz is a very poor substitute. She has never been a great actress and especially in American films such as this one she is quite weak. Her performance is mediocre and the character herself is not as well defined and is quite annoying.

Captain Barbossa is also pretty repetitive here and not as great as in previous entries. As for Blackbeard, Ian McShane did a good job in a fun role, but the character was underutilized. Gibbs is great and I loved that beginning as the court scene was hilarious and seeing the fun, strong friendship between Jack and Gibbs is awesome. Jack saves the film as he is still entertaining and memorable in the role. Also, that mermaid and her boyfriend are so boring and both should have been cut off from this film.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Movie Review

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So On Stranger Tides has a solid ending, a great beginning and some action scenes are particularly entertaining and well executed, although again overwhelmingly present. The story is okay, but nothing remarkable and the humor and characterization should have been stronger.

I also found the film surprisingly lacking in terms of fantasy elements which was odd and it made the movie less exciting. I loved the various locations used here, all gorgeous to look at. The film sounds and looks great, but I wouldn’t say that the enormous budget of over 300 million was needed here. That is insane. So in the end, the film is infinitely inferior to the first and second one and even the third messy movie is much more interesting than this entry.

On Stranger Tides is such a disappointing entry in the series and so much weaker than the original trilogy. I loved its locations, score and some scenes were quite fun. Jack is also reliably good and memorable. But unfortunately the other characters are boring and the addition of Penelope Cruz hurt the film tremendously. She was never a great actress and here she gave a mediocre performance in a very annoying role. It is a shorter film, but owing to its odd lack of fantasy elements, it is mostly not as exciting as the previous entries.

My Rating – 3

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The Illusionist (2006)

The Illusionist Movie Review

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The Illusionist Movie Review

The Illusionist is a 2006 historical fantasy romance mystery film directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton. It is a pleasantly old-fashioned film.

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Everything you have seen here has been an illusion

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The Illusionist Movie Review

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Yes, this film is a very unique mix of genres. It is above all else a mystery, a historical mystery set in 1889 Vienna but it also has very strong romantic and fantastical elements as his “illusions” are never properly explained and are thus to me fantasy. It achieves that awesome mix really well while also being stupendously traditional in its approach. They just don’t make mysteries like this anymore and this is one of the rare examples that sometimes these can happen so naturally I liked every second of it.

It follows a romance between a magician and his childhood sweetheart but eventually she disappears after the fight she had with her set to be husband Prince Leopold. The mystery of what happened to her and who killed her is actually very intriguing and I wanted so badly to see it resolved that I found the ending itself not that rewarding.

It was actually a really solid twist and a fine conclusion, but it came off as awfully rushed which was to be expected owing to the film’s oddly established structure. Basically you get the mystery around an hour and ten minute mark and the movie’s runtime is about an hour and forty five minutes. So the first half is way too prolonged and the second half is awfully rushed when that mystery should have been emphasized and elongated much more.

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The Illusionist Movie Review

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Edward Norton is quite good in The Illusionist, but not great and another actor maybe would have done a better job. Jessica Biel is solid in her role and Rufus Sewell is not that great as Prince Leopold. I also had a big problem with him acting guilty in the scene with an inspector. It was an obvious method to distract the audience from the actual solution. And in my opinion Paul Giamatti was by far the highlight here in such a great, complex role as an inspector and he gave such a strong, evocative performance in terms of emotion and facial expressions.

My favorite scenes are the ending which was rushed but very interesting and all of the magical scenes were naturally a lot of fun and visually arresting. The scenes with Paul Giamatti, all of them, are magnificent and he is the standout actor and character here. But the very best sequence is the mystery itself which was so gorgeously filmed and in such an intriguing, authentic manner as the viewpoint is that of a neighbor and thus we as the audience look through his eyes at this odd incident. Very clever and offbeat.

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The Illusionist Movie Review

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The Illusionist is beautifully shot and gorgeous in both cinematography and costumes as well as the interiors. It looks and sounds good with a pretty good score, but pacing is just all over the place and in my opinion the direction from Neil Burger is very weak and a bigger, better director would have made a difference for sure. But it is still a pleasing, very engaging film that mostly did work.

The Illusionist has problematic pacing, the direction from Neil Burger is quite weak and the structure of the film is very odd as the mystery begins only at the half-mark and thus the first half is prolonged and the second one is awfully rushed. However, this is still such a pleasing, wonderfully old-fashioned mix of genres with the fantastical elements being intriguing and a mystery being very well thought out and fascinating. The movie also looks and sounds good with pretty good performances among which Paul Giamatti stole the show with such a terrific performance in such a great role.

My Rating – 4

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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Movie Review

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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Movie Review

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is a 2007 fantasy swashbuckler film directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Johnny Depp. It is a solid, but weaker third installment.

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Dying is the day worth living for

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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Movie Review

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Now I found the first and the second movie to be mostly equal and quality and both are very good. But this one is unfortunately not as good and although solid, it is a somewhat disappointing end to this trilogy. Well, it was a trilogy for its time anyway.

There are a lot of things that are wrong with At World’s End so let’s start with the story itself. It is a memorable conclusion to this story and especially the third act is very rewarding emotionally and in terms of the action. However, everything that came before it was very problematic.

The film is filled with way too many subplots and storylines and I agree with the critics that it is way too convoluted for the sake of being convoluted and it is at times even difficult to understand which is not supposed to happen for a fun blockbuster at all. So I loved the third act, but the first and especially the second one were overlong and troublesome.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Movie Review

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Jack is once again very good. The part with the doppelgangers was painfully unfunny, but he is otherwise reliably good and amusing here and again quite funny. Barbossa is also very good and funny how eager he is to return to being a captain. The chairman and other British men were not memorable and I have to say that Davy Jones wasn’t as compelling here as he was before.

But I liked his romance with Tia Dalma, but her Calypso twist is not all that well executed. As for Will and Elizabeth, he died here which was a brave choice and their kiss at the end was well filmed and again she is pleasantly more heroic here. But still I am not a fan of her and she took way too much screen time from Jack.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is well acted. Keira Knightley is still annoying in the role, but less so than before and of course Bill Nighy and Johnny Depp are the highlights with such strong performances.

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Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Movie Review

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The film again has those pitfalls of a regular POC entry such as overlong runtime and too much action and spectacle, but some of that action was a lot of fun to watch and it does serve as a solid conclusion to this trilogy. The special effects are expectedly terrific and the score is very good though I would have liked a bigger use of their iconic score which is surprisingly not as prevalent this time around. All in all, it is a solid film, just not as good as the previous two.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is a solid conclusion to the trilogy with a very strong and rewarding third act, some fun action scenes and again terrific special effects, but the film is not as good as the previous two entries owing to its overlong runtime and way too many characters and storylines leading to a needlessly complicated movie.

My Rating – 3.5

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Wreck-It Ralph (2012)

Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

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Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

Wreck-It Ralph is a 2012 animated fantasy adventure film which is the 52nd Disney animated feature and one of the best of all time.

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Because if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?

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Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

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Yes, I absolutely love this film!! This is one of my favorite Disney movies which is definitely in the top 15 Disney films list for me. The greatness of this movie lies in its great replay factor. This is the third time I’ve watched it and it is even better now than it was before and every next time I watch it, I put it a little bit higher on my Disney list.

It is about an arcade game villain who wants to become a good guy and be respected as everyone else. He sets out to get a medal in another game, befriends a young girl and uncovers the conspiracy behind the whole Sugar Rush game. To me this film has that wonderful, traditional friendship and heart at its core, but is set in a modern video game world and thus it achieves a perfect mix of contemporary and old-fashioned.

It is without any doubt one of the most original films of the decade as its plot is absolutely brilliant and so incredibly authentic and inventive. It is an action-packed, but always entertaining and heartwarming film and always so original in almost every way. It features some of the best and most intricate world building that I have ever seen as every little detail is thoroughly thought out here and all of those 80s video game references should prove delightful for their fans.

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Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

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The beginning features narration, but is essential here and thus a good choice. I loved everything about that Game Central Station as it was brilliantly conceived and I just loved the rules of this universe. The human players play them and everybody has their own role but if they step outside of their own game, they could die for real and not regenerate. Great rules.

Hero’s Duty is not my favorite scene as it was too dark but still refreshingly so for an otherwise lighter film. The danger there was well conveyed and the first person shooter elements are so well realized. I loved how Ralph and Venellope met and those scenes where he builds a kart and teaches her how to race were wonderful.

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Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

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Ralph breaking her kart was such a dark, unexpectedly brutal sequence which was emotionally devastating and one of the movie’s highlights for sure. I loved the mystery here and how Ralph uncovers it, the twist with the villain is actually very interesting and well executed. The final race was fine, but the twist with Venellope being a princess was actually fantastic. The fact that they managed to sneak in their usual princess formula into this different, non-princess film is highly admirable as that development honestly worked. Loved it. And of course the ending is one of my favorites as seeing Ralph watch Venellope from his arcade and the two smile and wave was just so emotionally rewarding and I was incredibly moved by it which is a testament to how strong emotion and characterization here is.

Yes, the character development is superb across the board as is the voice acting. Ralph is one of the best Disney protagonists in my opinion as he is that great. He is relatable, very well developed and likable without being too heroic. John C. Reilly was perfectly cast for this role and he did a phenomenal job.

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Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

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Venellope von Schweets is even better! She is again not too likable and a realistic modern kid, but so well developed and I admired how the two shared the same dreams and goals and that strengthened their relationship. She is such a moving character with a terrific backstory and their friendship is the heart and soul of the entire film and its driving force. Sarah Silverman’s husky voice bothered me at first, but then I grew to like it and she really did an outstanding job in the role.

Fix-It Felix Jr. could have easily been an insufferable, one-note character owing to his inherent heroism but I loved that Ralph was the protagonist and he was in the back and he definitely became better and better as the movie progressed. His relationship with Sergeant Calhoun is so silly, but it honestly works. She is a very memorable, strong female character and they are the exact opposite of each other but that is maybe why their relationship felt so entertaining and strong. And I loved her backstory. This movie is a textbook example of how to properly do character backstories.

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Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

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All of the other characters are not all that memorable though they did serve their purpose really well such as all of those bratty girls, henchmen and of course the various famous video game characters were so well incorporated with the highlights being Q*bert who is so cute and tragic and Zangief who is absolutely hilarious.

As for King Candy, I honestly wasn’t thrilled with him. I have to be honest. He is the weakest aspect in the film and he really held it down quite a bit. Now I loved his backstory which was once again very strong and the twist that he is Turbo is great, but the problem with him is that he is obviously meant to portray a feminine gay guy stereotype and this is the 2010s and this type of villain is no more excusable.

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Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

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The animation is fantastic in Wreck-It Ralph, absolutely gorgeous. It is undoubtedly the finest computer animated film so far from Disney because the character design is very strong as all characters look very authentic and the way they movie and look is very much like a video game character fittingly. But the film is so polished, it looks fittingly modern and high-tech and I adored how colorful it is, especially Sugar Rush. The film looks beautiful and is a rare movie that gives CG animation a good name. Plus those video game scenes were fittingly very retro and realistic.

Wreck-It Ralph isn’t perfect. The villain is weaker, the action is at times slightly overwhelming and the humor could be immature (some of the banter between Venellope and Ralph was too childish). But most of the other humor is actually very strong and the action is mostly fantastic and a lot of fun to watch. The film is briskly paced, but never rushed and it is an absolute blast to watch. It is unfortunately over too soon and you want more so I am glad that we are getting a sequel as this world is just so rich with endless possibilities.

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Wreck-It Ralph Movie Review

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The film has no songs but it doesn’t need them as it isn’t suited for a musical. That one song from Rihanna is here (Shut Up and Drive) and I wasn’t a fan of it nor was I the fan of the other songs with the only exception being Celebration which was well incorporated. The score itself is terrific and pleasantly retro which I loved, especially in those earlier scenes. It is a memorable film with strong dialogue, amazing world building and very high emotional engagement as some scenes moved me so much. Needless to say, it is, along with ‘Tangled’, the best modern Disney film.

The characters in Wreck-It Ralph are amazing despite a weaker villain. Fix-It Felix Jr. and Sergeant Calhoun are such a fun couple and of course Venellope and Ralph are the heart and soul of this film. The animation is so beautiful and so phenomenal that it gives computer animation a good name for once. The emotion is overwhelming and some scenes moved me tremendously. And above all else, it is fueled by one of the most original and intricately plotted stories in recent memory filled with excellent character backstories and simply extraordinary world building. It has its small flaws, but it is mostly a brilliant film which is, along with ‘Tangled’, the best modern Disney film and one of the best of all time as well. A future classic that only gets better with each subsequent viewing.

My Rating – 4.5

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