Christopher Robin

christopher_robin_ver3_xlgDirected by Marc Forster who is best known for 2001’s Monster’s Ball, 2004’s Finding Neverland, and 2006’s Stranger than Fiction, Christopher Robin is a sweet and heartwarming re-imagination of the classic Winnie the Pooh stories written by A. A. Milne and Disney animated films beginning in 1966 and is able to appeal to both children and adults. The plot follows Christopher Robin, played by Golden Globe-nominated actor Ewan McGregor, as an adult who left his furry friends from the Hundred Acre Wood many years ago and now has a stressful job that takes him away from his wife Evelyn, played by Golden Globe-nominated actress Hayley Atwell, and his young daughter Madeline. The film starts with a flashback to when Robin is given a farewell party as he is about to go off to boarding school by his magical friends Winnie the Pooh, voiced by Jim Cummings who has been the voice of Winnie the Pooh for over thirty years, Tigger, also voiced by Jim Cummings, Eeyore, voiced by Brad Garrett from Everybody Loves Raymond, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, Roo, and Kanga. After a difficult day at work and having to skip a family vacation, Robin is astonished to find Winnie the Pooh in London who himself is looking for the other living stuffed animal characters. Robin decides he must take Winnie the Pooh back to the Hundred Acre Wood, a secret world only accessed through a tree’s door, located near the Robin family’s cottage in Sussex. Throughout the adventure to reunite Winnie the Pooh with Tigger and the others, Robin continues to reassert that he is no longer a child and that Winnie the Pooh must stop his silly childish behavior. He is also extremely frantic about a deadline at his workplace Winslow Luggages where he works as an efficiency expert, and things spiral out of control after some of his paperwork is misplaced right before a very important meeting in London. Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, and Eeyore along with Madeline try to track down Robin after taking a train ride from Sussex to London, and several funny and cute moments occur during their dangerous expedition in the human world. Eventually, with the help of his friends, especially Winnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin realizes that family is much more important than work and that it is okay to play like a child as an adult in order to better appreciate life. Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable family-friendly movie that was terrific for nostalgic purposes but did not reach the level of the original Disney animated films or other similar movies released recently, including 2015’s Paddington and this year’s Paddington 2 that are also based on classic British stories revolving around a playful bear.

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Incredibles 2

The long-awaited sequel of the wildly successful 2004 animated superhero movie The Incredibles, Incredibles 2 is yet another excellent Pixar Disney movie that comes close to the original with its unique retro style and family-friendly fun. Set shortly after the first movie, the story follows the Parr family in which each family member has a superpower but have not been able to publicly remain superheroes since they have recently been outlawed. In a publicity ploy to help legalize superheroes by the wealthy tech entrepreneur Winston Deavor, voiced by Emmy winner Bob Odenkirk, along with his brilliant sister Evelyn, voiced by Oscar nominee Catherine Keener, Helen who is the superhero Elastigirl, voiced by Oscar winner Holly Hunter, is recruited to serve as a positive image of a superhero saving lives. Her husband Bob who is the superhero Mr. Incredible, voiced by Emmy winner Craig T. Nelson, begrudgingly becomes a stay-at-home dad and is unable to use his superhuman strength in public because it is deemed too destructive. He is depicted as a stereotypical father who is in over-his-head while also dealing with three kids who happen to have superpowers. Violet, voiced by comedian and writer Sarah Vowell, is your typical teenage daughter with the exception that she can become invisible and project a protective force field. The middle son nicknamed Dash is a rebellious middle schooler who has superhuman speed. The most entertaining and funny moments occur with the baby Jack-Jack who we find out has some fairly unusual superpowers that are both cute and dangerous. Eventually, Elastigirl heroically fights off a new supervillain named Screenslaver who is hypnotizing citizens and ultimately other superheroes to commit crimes. Towards the end of the movie, we discover that the true villain is actually somebody completely unexpected. Overall, I found it to be a highly entertaining computer animated family movie that appeals to both kids and adults alike as a result of its exciting and sometimes funny action coupled with creative writing and look.

Isle of Dogs

isle_of_dogs_ver2_xlgDirected by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Wes Anderson who is best known for 1998’s Rushmore, 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, 2009’s animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, and 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, Isle of Dogs is a beautiful stop-motion animated film with the trademark meticulous detailing and deadpan humor of a Wes Anderson project. The truly peculiar story revolves around the fictional Megasaki City in Japan that under the ruthless leadership of Mayor Kobayashi has removed all dogs and exiled them to a desolate island known as Trash Island. Kobayashi claims that all canines must be eradicated because they carry a particular disease that could spread to humans, and he even ignores the scientist Professor Watanabe who says he is close to finding a cure that would allow the dogs to live safely among humans again. Much of the film focuses on the adventures of a group of dogs living on the island: Rex, voiced by Edward Norton; Boss, voiced by Bill Murray; King, voiced by Bob Balaban; Duke, voiced by Jeff Goldblum; and Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston. After the appearance of a young boy named Atari who is looking for his beloved dog Spots, voiced by Liev Schreiber, the dogs decide to help Atari travel across Trash Island despite it being full of dangers, including a rumored gang of cannibalistic dogs. As a stray dog who feels out of place with the pet dogs, Chief begrudgingly goes along with the plan, but eventually he becomes more fond of Atari and the other dogs, especially the show dog Nutmeg, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Back in the city, a foreign exchange high school student named Tracy Walker, voiced by Greta Gerwig, is suspicious of Kobayashi and investigates him as the center of a conspiracy theory in which all dogs are purposely exterminated in order to favor cats. In an unusual twist, the film’s dialogue alternates between English, which all the dogs speak, and Japanese, which is presented without subtitles and is occasionally translated by the on-screen character Interpreter Nelson, voiced by Frances McDormand. As is the case with Wes Anderson’s other work, the most remarkable aspect of the movie is the obsessive detail that is put into the scene design and the painstaking lengths he takes in order to create a surrealistic depiction of the characters through the use of stop-motion animation. Overall, I found it to be a remarkable cinematic achievement because of its visionary use of animation and ability to tell an exceptionally creative and heartwarming story about persecuted talking dogs. It is definitely a weird film that will not appeal to all moviegoers but will delight fans of Wes Anderson’s unique style and dog lovers.

Paddington 2

A follow-up to the successful 2014 original film based on the classic British children’s character Paddington Bear created by Michael Bond, Paddington 2 is a wonderful children’s movie appealing to all ages with an abundance of charm in storytelling and visuals that makes for a feel-good moviegoing experience. Taking place several years after becoming a member of the Brown family in London, the plot revolves around the lovable talking bear Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw, trying to find the perfect gift for his Aunt Lucy back in Peru but somehow finds himself entangled in a mysterious crime. He discovers at an antique shop run by his friend Samuel Gruber, played by Oscar winner Jim Broadbent, a marvelous pop-up book about London landmarks and decides to take out several odd jobs to pay for the expensive book as a birthday gift for his beloved Aunt Lucy. However, the pop-up book is stolen by a mysterious thief, and Paddington is accused and convicted of the crime. He is sent to prison where he befriends several inmates, including the cook known as Nuckles and played by Golden Globe nominee Brendan Gleeson. In several funny scenes, Paddington helps to bring cheerfulness to the prison with a large helping of his favorite food: marmalade sandwiches. His human family headed by insurance agent Henry Brown, played by Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame, and the sweet Mary Brown, played by Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, try to solve the theft in order to prove Paddington’s innocence. Suspicions are raised about a local narcissistic actor named Phoenix Buchanan, played by a superbly villainous Hugh Grant, who has an unusual habit of dressing up as his most famous costumed characters. Once Paddington and the Browns discover the true culprit, they are led on a wild goose chase brimming with British charm and wit. Somewhat reminiscent of a Wes Anderson production, the filmmakers pay great attention to detail in creating stereotypically British and whimsical sets and an overall cute atmosphere. Overall, I thought it was a magical and clever movie with a heartfelt story and full of excellent British actors that feels quintessential British and is overflowing with lighthearted charm.

Coco

Following in a long line of successful Disney and Pixar productions, Coco is a terrifically well-made CGI-animated film geared for kids that also delights adults for the dazzling visuals and creative story about family and loss. Voiced by newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, the main character Miguel Rivera is a 12-year-old Mexican boy living in a small town in Mexico who dreams of becoming a musician. However, his large family forbids anyone in the family from playing music after Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left his great-great-grandmother Imelda and his great-grandmother Coco so that he could become a musician. Miguel decides to secretly participate in a local talent show on the Day of the Dead in hopes of becoming just like the most famous Mexican musician and guitar player Ernesto de la Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt, who is from Miguel’s hometown and lived in his great-great-grandparents’ time. The night of the Day of the Dead, a special Mexican holiday when families visit their dead relatives’ graves to celebrate their lives, Miguel along with a friendly stray dog named Dante is magically among the dead spirits and travels to the Land of the Dead. He must get the blessing of one of his dead relatives before sunrise in order to go back to the Land of the Living. However, he discovers that he must speak with Ernesto de la Cruz to receive the proper blessing. On his adventures in the Land of the Dead, Miguel befriends a lonely trickster named Héctor Rivera, voiced by Golden Globe winner Gael García Bernal, who is trying to be remembered by his family so that he can visit his grave and see his beloved daughter. Towards the end, we learn that not everything is as it seems, and Miguel develops a greater appreciation for his family and perhaps will be able to be a musician. Besides the beautifully emotional plot, the movie does a remarkable job creating the Land of the Dead as a brightly colorful and whimsical world in which the dead depicted as skeletons are not scary and ghoulish. Overall, I found it to be yet another memorable Pixar film that uses its visual appeal to engender a story full of heart while also celebrating Hispanic culture, particularly Mexico and such traditions as the Day of the Dead.

The Lego Batman Movie

A spinoff of the hugely successful The Lego Movie released in 2014, The Lego Batman Movie lives up to its predecessor as a hugely entertaining film that delights kids and adults alike as a result of its clever use of animation and a script full of irreverent humor. Taking place several years after The Lego Movie in which Batman played a role, Batman, voiced perfectly by the deep-voiced comedian Will Arnett, feels lonely without family and is always eager to be the lone hero of Gotham City. The film humorously shows him moping throughout Wayne Manor and the Batcave accompanied by Alfred, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, who, among other things, prepares Batman’s favorite meal of microwaved Lobster Thermidor. Batman is overjoyed to be put back in action when the Joker, voiced by Zach Galifianakis, returns with a crew of famous villains to wreak havoc on Gotham City in order to become Batman’s most hated villain. The rest of the movie follows Batman in his madcap adventure to stop the Joker and is begrudgingly assisted by Robin, voiced by Michael Cera, and the daughter of recently retired Commissioner Gordon who herself was just promoted to police commissioner, voiced by Rosario Dawson. I particularly enjoyed the self-referential and very much irreverent humor: the character Batman makes fun of himself and refers to the many portrayals of Batman in TV and film. For instance, he refers to the speech bubbles with random words during a fight, an obvious ode to the famously cheesy original Batman TV show. Furthermore, I thought it was especially creative to depict villains from other Hollywood films, including King Kong, the Wicked Witch from the West from The Wizard of Oz, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, and Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. Overall, I found it to be a terrifically fun-filled movie that perfectly blends spectacular animation with extreme wit and humor to make for a wonderful cinematic experience even for adults hesitant to see an animated film involving Legos.

The Secret Life of Pets

From the same studio that produced Despicable Me, The Secret Life of Pets is a well-done animated movie that has a clever premise appealing to all members of the family. It sheds light on what pets actually do when their owners are not home by showing talking animals getting into mischief. The film follows Max, a terrier voiced by Louis C.K., as he enjoys life in New York City with his owner Katie voiced by Ellie Kemper until the appearance of a big shaggy dog named Duke voiced by Eric Stonestreet. Trying to get rid of his newly adopted “brother,” Max inadvertently goes on an adventure with Duke after getting lost. They encounter a gang of pets without owners who want to lead a revolution against humans; it is led by Kevin Hart who is an excitable and fast-talking rabbit named Snowball. At the same time, a group of Max’s pet friends, including a fat cat, a dachshund, and a little bird, look for Max at the insistence of a Pomeranian in love named Gidget voiced by the high-pitched Jenny Slate. All the different groups of animals get involved in antics that are both cute and amusing. The film’s wit is largely due to the great casting: each pet character has traits that remind you of the actors themselves. For instance, Kevin Hart known for his hyperactive comedy and diminutive stature comes off perfectly as a small rabbit with a loud mouth who wants to spark a rebellion. Furthermore, the large and fluffy Duke is voiced by Eric Stonestreet who tends to play big and lovable characters. Besides being family-friendly entertainment, the film conveys heartfelt messages about the bond between humans and pets and the grief that is felt when one or the other is lost. Overall, I enjoyed the movie for its charming concept and innocent family humor and would recommend it to those with little ones or pet lovers in general. It is almost up to the level of Pixar who seems to have a monopoly on well-crafted animated comedies, and, undoubtedly, there will be future sequels that are hopefully as good.