Episode 220: Onward

This week we have a great conversation about Pixar’s latest film, one that takes place in a modernized Dungeons & Dragons like world. We discuss its epic adventure, brotherhood, the importance of parental support, and more.

Onward – 0:03:08

The Connecting Point – 0:44:33

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MOVIE REVIEW: Onward

Rating: PG / Runtime: 1 hour and 54 minutes

Coming hot on the heels of Pixar’s Best Animated Picture Oscar victory for 2019’s unwanted yet somehow still exceptional “Toy Story 4″, “Onward” is the first of two original stories by the revered studio to hit the big screen in 2020. With fairly light marketing going in, many will find themselves entering a theater in the same position that I was – unexpectedly unexcited. But fear ye not, good peoples of Earth, because that Pixar magic is alive and well (literally in fact, because ya know this story is about wizards and stuff).

“Onward” is a beautifully colorful film set in the fictional city of New Mushroomton, part of a world full of fantasy creatures like centaurs and sprites, that despite once being filled with magic and champions on heroic quests is now taken over by scientific and technological advancement. Mastering magic was “too hard” and innovation for convenience won the day. The story centers around two elf brothers, Barley (Chris Pratt) and Ian (Tom Holland) Lightfoot, who on Ian’s 16th birthday are given a present from their deceased father. This gift is a magical item that if used correctly will allow the boys to spend one last day with their Dad, which both of them desperately desire. Because he passed away from illness while they were young, Barley barely remembers their time together and Ian has no memories of his own at all. It’s something that both haunts and drives him, as he continually makes lists of things to accomplish in life hoping to make his father proud. In the old days, an epic quest was a staple of someone’s 16th birthday and after Ian’s attempt to use the item goes terribly wrong, the brothers set off to retrieve a mythical stone so that they can try again. Before the sun sets, of course. Every good quest needs a time limit.

To reveal any twists and surprises of the story would be completely unfair because the emotional journey Pixar takes viewers on is a truly wonderful one. Pratt and Holland have perfect chemistry as the brothers, who in lieu of a true antagonist for the film have a relationship that is both loving and also filled with many differences of opinion that lead to some exciting situations. Barley is a walking mishap who drives a van named Gwynevere, spends his time in role-playing games or protesting the destruction of historical sites, and generally reminds everyone he comes in contact with about how magic used to rule the land and they’ve gotten away from their true nature. Ian, by contrast, is smart but timid, socially awkward, and thinks his brother’s obsession is mostly lunacy. It makes for a ton of great banter throughout the film as the two embark on a daring quest that features all of the elements you might expect, including but not limited to finding a quest giver to get a map, solving tricky puzzles, and overcoming dangerous beasts with legendary weapons of power.

Yes, “Onward” is basically Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft with a heartfelt and deeply poignant story of brotherhood and parental loss layered into that world, and it’s incredible just how powerful the emotions it evokes are! Make no mistake, at multiple points during the fun adventurous quest full of monsters, spells, and swords, the tears will flow and the heart will pound. This dramatic quest for family grieving is non-stop clever and charming along the way, and with “Onward” Pixar has a truly magical start to 2020 with a film that families (and especially fantasy fans who will enjoy the film’s many references) are going to find themselves enchanted by.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

Rating: G / Runtime: 1 hour and 26 minutes

There is something I find sincerely appealing about stop-motion animation, be it in the style of Laika or Aardman, who utilizes a beautiful and detailed claymation technique. Both styles of animating take significantly longer than CGI or even hand-drawn technique and is a big reason why these studios can’t pump out new films at the rate Disney and Pixar do. The first “Shaun the Sheep” film came out over four years ago and grossed over $100 million at the box office. This sequel was inevitable, but crafting it took time. 

“Farmageddon” is, in a nutshell, a remake of Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial”, with a much cuter alien and an overwhelming amount of references to other famous science fiction films and television sprinkled throughout. The extra-terrestrial, in this case, is Lu-la, a small light blue and pink alien with telekinesis and a powerfully loud/forceful belch. Her space ship lands in a forest and while she’s out exploring, it’s not long before the government sends Agent Red and a team to examine the landing and seek out answers.

Back on the farm, Shaun and his sheep family are living their normal everyday lives, being trouble-makers and fighting with Bitzer the farmer’s sheepdog. When Lu-la stumbles across Shaun and the group, they embark on an adventure of discovery with the goal of ultimately hoping to find Lu-la’s ship so that she can return home. There’s not a lot more to be said about the plot, although Agent Red does have some backstory that provides a reason for why she is so driven. It culminates in one of the sweeter moments of the film and is a welcome character development choice to take her beyond just the typical cookie-cutter governmental baddie. 

Those concerned about the silent nature of Shaun the Sheep films should honestly not be worried at all. I remember being incredibly surprised at how much I loved “Shaun the Sheep” back in 2015 despite the lack of dialogue and in “Farmageddon” I didn’t even miss it. The soundtrack and score show up perfectly, and sound effects are used to greatly enhance the already incredibly expressiveness of the claymation. Because this film is playing so heavily off of sci-fi films of the past, there are frequent musical cues that callback to famous themes, and it was a joy hearing one each and every time. Additionally, the aforementioned soundtrack does a wonderful job of occasionally letting the lyrics being sung help tell the story of what is happening on-screen at that moment. This tactic is used sparingly, but with great success.

References to favorite sci-fi properties are plentiful, and though the story of “Farmageddon” is tender, easy to follow, and full of hilarious goofy action, picking out these moments will be great for major fans of the genre. For one thing, there is the required mention of Area 51. Then the “Alien” tie-is done in a brilliant way that makes it kid-friendly. There are also “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, “Signs”, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Dr. Who” references and more. Agent Red even has a sidekick robot named Muggins that looks like a combination of Wall*E and Johnny 5 and serves as equal parts investigative partner and filing cabinet. This robot will quickly win kids over and is easily one of the film’s highlights. 

“Farmageddon” may not possess the deepest of storylines but that makes it accessible for everyone. With plenty for older geeks to enjoy along the way, this is a rare G film that parents and kids can sit through and enjoy equally together. It moves at a breezy pace and the cute factor is off the charts. This cosmic adventure is all-ages entertainment at its best. Pull up Netflix, hit play, and enjoy.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 215: 5 Centimeters Per Second

For our fourth and final week of Makoto Shinkai Director Month, we discuss his 2007 episodic film about longing for love across the years. As we note, it’s a beautiful bridge between earlier Shinkai works and his eventual feature film “Your name.” and (in what should be no surprise) another powerful emotional viewing experience.

5 Centimeters Per Second Review – 0:01:36

The Connecting Point – 0:56:19

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Episode 214: The Garden of Words

In week three of Makoto Shinkai Director Month, we dig into his 45-minute short film from 2013 about a young student and a mysterious woman who meet under the rains of Tokyo in a beautiful garden gazebo. It’s a lovely, slice-of-life tale with Shinkai’s signature striking weather animation and incredible sound design that helps pull you in emotionally. We also reveal the 2020 Feeler’s Choice Award nominations and tell you how you can participate in voting on this year’s awards!

The Garden of Words Review – 0:01:18

The Connecting Point – 0:36:38

2020 Feeler’s Choice Award Nominations Reveal – 0:49:06

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Episode 212: Weathering With You

It’s week two of Makoto Shinkai Director Month and we are stepping forward in the filmography to cover his newest film, which centers around the bond between a teenage runaway and a teenage orphan, set against the backdrop of climate change-induced crazy weather. As always there is a lot to emotionally unpack, and maybe a statement about humanity’s effect on the planet as well.

Weathering With You Review – 0:04:06

The Connecting Point – 1:24:04

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MOVIE REVIEW: Spies in Disguise

Based on Lucas Martell’s 2009 short film “Pigeon: Impossible”, in which a pigeon briefly becomes a spy and almost sets off nuclear war, “Spies in Disguise” remixes the story by having a spy become a pigeon instead. The premise is nonsensical and silly, of course, but that’s not a criticism. Early on we meet Walter Beckett (Tom Holland), a young inventor with a passion for creating non-violent gadgets and a dream of helping to save the world, who is written off by most who meet him as “too weird”. Walter eventually grows up to work for a super-spy organization of which its star operative is none other than the smooth-talking, ultra-fly Sterling… Lance Sterling (Will Smith). After Sterling is framed by a mysterious villain for stealing a dangerous piece of tech, he is forced to go on the run from Internal Affairs agent Marcy (Rashida Jones) and her sense-focused investigative team of Eyes (Karen Gillan) and Ears (DJ Khaled). This leads to a team-up with Walter and an accidental transformation into a pigeon. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But also, it absolutely works! 

“Spies in Disguise” makes no apologies for referencing the spy films we all know and love. In fact, its narrative emphasizes Walter’s journey as much as Sterling’s, giving it a balance that most live-action star-driven franchises don’t have. Imagine a movie that focuses on the career goals of Bond’s research specialist Q, and allows him to be present in James’ adventure and necessary to the plot instead of just a behind-the-scenes supplier of cool toys, and you’ll have an idea of the dynamic “Spies in Disguise” operates with. Walter believes in teamwork and has an emotional backstory that is easy to empathize with, but his pacifist views are in direct conflict with Sterling’s more aggressive, pro-violence, fight fire with fire and always fly solo methodology. It’s a wonderful theme to explore within this animated world and the relationship between the two isn’t just fun and exciting, it’s quite touching as well. 

The evil cyborg villain, Killian (Ben Mendelsohn), doesn’t have a lot of screen time but is perfectly voiced. Mendelsohn has a way of sounding cleverly sinister like few actors can. His motives are not revealed early on and one thing that sets “Spies in Disguise” apart from typical kid-friendly animation is just how evil Killian can be. The tech he steals is an assassin drone and several murders are very clearly committed on screen. His menacing nature makes him feel like a legit threat and not the bumbling idiot or goofy bad guy that you might expect. 

Another area where “Spies in Disguise” separates itself from other PG films is in its writing, which is very funny but definitely skews more toward teenage sensibility than that of younger children. There is even a “50 Shades of Grey” joke that is just as hilarious as it is surprising. The film is still great for all ages, however, with slick animated action set pieces set to a hot soundtrack, an abundance of cool spy tech, and plenty of bird-related shenanigans while Sterling is a pigeon. 

It might sound shocking, but “Spies in Disguise” takes advantage of the charisma and swagger that Will Smith brings in a way that few films this decade have. Holland is the perfect sweet, geeky companion and going on this adventure with them is a purely joyful experience. It’s hard to imagine a better blend of silly children’s animation with the genre-defining elements of spy films that fans love. The story sets up perfectly for sequels and I, for one, am absolutely here for it. Bring on more avian hijinks. #TeamWeird all the way!

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: Frozen II

“Frozen” grew up.

If there’s one central point to be made about “Frozen 2,” it’s that everything about the film feels more mature in some way. Thematically, it deals with tougher relationship challenges as Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, now happily enjoying life with their friends in Arendelle, risk disruption of their peaceful lives to venture off into the unknown enchanted forest on a quest to discover the origins of Elsa’s powers and potentially learn more about their deceased parents. Change is a constant threat throughout this darker story, and all of the primary characters must wrestle with what that means for them both individually and with regard to the relationships they value. The drama is heavier, the stakes are higher, and Olaf uses self-aware humor to pose some pretty fun questions for viewers to consider. It really seems as if Disney knows their target audience of kids has aged up by 6 years and is now ready to handle a little more emotional weight, while also being sure to allow adults the opportunity to engage a little more this time around. It’s a bold choice, reminiscent of how the House of Mouse handled its “Wreck-it Ralph” sequel “Ralph Breaks the Internet”.

The music also feels slightly more aimed at older kids and adults. The songs are a little more Broadway and a little less pop this time around but are no less singable. One song in particular midway through the film, an 80’s rock ballad solo by Kristoff that is shot like a music video from that era, is sure to leave audience members in stitches and is easily among the film’s most memorable scenes. And then there’s the new “Let it Go”, the anthem-like “Into the Unknown” which your kids will be singing and listening to non-stop for the next few months. While it’s not quite as catchy or memeable as the aforementioned track, it’s still likely to be in heavy radio play rotation just like its predecessor.

Another aspect of the film that has definitely gotten better with age is the animation. As should be expected, everything is more crisp and bright than before, and details on the new costumes really stand out. There are a few different mesmerizing sequences of magic being put to use, as well, that easily rival or improve upon anything in “Frozen”. This is simply a gorgeous film to look at, and even if other faults are found, your eyes can’t help but enjoy themselves.

I’m not quite ready to say “Frozen 2” is better than the original after only one viewing, but the feeling I had while watching it was similar, and I think it comes awfully close. Time will also be needed to tell whether the entire soundtrack becomes as unforgettable as the first film’s. But on the strength of deeper themes, solid character development all-around, some fantastic humor, and a dose of that Disney magic, “Frozen 2” is a triumphant sequel to one of the animation giant’s biggest smash hits.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

MOVIE REVIEW: The Lion King (2019)

This remake of my favorite animated film of all-time was coming up against some very high expectations, and despite being only my third favorite version (behind the original and theater musical), it is nonetheless an outstanding telling of this story in its own spectacular way.


 

Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on the emotional experience he has with a film. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 172: Toy Story 4

We approached TOY STORY 4 with apprehension, counting ourselves among those that considered Pixar’s trilogy to be one of the best ever made and already “perfect”. In this episode, Caless Davis joins us to discuss the new end of the TOY STORY franchise. We talk through our concerns and share what impacted us about Woody and the gang’s latest chapter.

Toy Story 4 Review – 0:01:38

The Connecting Point – 1:13:22

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