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The Lorax (2012)
Sometimes change is a good thing...
...in this case, changes from the book/original TV short. A lot of people have been lamenting the "frame story" this movie adds in, as well as the idea of making the Once-ler a human character. As far as the frame goes, it's done pretty well. It's a bit flat but perfectly enjoyable for younger kids. Making the Once-ler human, though? BRILLIANT. Hear me out. The original Once-ler was a faceless force of destruction, a shadowy embodiment of greed. This Once-ler is just a stupid kid with a dream, a guy who wants to change the world. He's not evil, but he lets his success get to his head, and that brings about his own downfall and the destruction of the forest. That's FANTASTIC, and here's why: that's how the world really is! Companies don't sit around all day cackling about how much smog they're pumping into the atmosphere; it's a process, and something that happened gradually. Obliviousness is just as dangerous as maliciousness, and that's a really powerful lesson. This can happen to YOU if you're not careful; anybody can hurt the planet if they don't pay attention. That's a rare lesson, and one I'm really pleased to see in this movie.
So, is it silly and stupid sometimes? Yes, of course. But it's colorful and exuberant, and in a lot of ways I think it really captured the "Seuss-ness" that similar remakes have missed. There's nothing offensive about it (besides the miserable marketing) and my little brother enjoyed it as a fun movie. I enjoyed it for giving us a deeper--and in my opinion, very powerful--character type: the accidental villain, the everydude who makes a horrible mistake that the environment suffers for. So take that as you will...but overall, I found myself liking this a lot more than I expected. Definitely worth a watch.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Visually and Emotionally Breathtaking
I went to this movie because I love dragons, and I was hoping it would do the much-abused "dragonrider" genre a good turn.
I was not expecting *this.* This is something else entirely. This is a gorgeously wrought, stunningly good movie by any standards. I'm a college student, and I spent half of the movie with my mouth hanging open and the other half with a huge stupid grin plastered to my face. Here's the breakdown:
Visuals: the flight scenes by themselves are more than worth the price of admission. I'm not a big fan of 3-D, but this one time I think the extra depth really added to the experience; it didn't feel gimmicky at all. All I can say with regards to the designs and flight is: *somebody* did their research, and that somebody ought to get a medal. They got it *right.*
Characters: enjoyable and funny. I didn't mind Hiccup's voice at all; it really fit his character. The side characters are well developed and the conflict between Hiccup and his father is unusually well presented.
Score: stands out! Excellent use of...bagpipes? I've been listening to it nonstop since I saw the movie.
Plot: straightforward enough, but with a few really excellent twists that I won't spoil. Suffice it to say, the ending is very brave indeed and excellently done; I wasn't expecting it in the least but it makes the movie stunningly real. Bravo, Dreamworks.
Emotional connection and real heart? Yes, yes a thousand times over. I didn't realize how badly I needed a truly great dragon movie until I saw this.
The bottom line: right up there with the very best of Pixar...dare I say with the very best of film-making, regardless of medium? Yes, I think I do. Welcome to 2010, everybody.
Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004)
Dares to deviate from the book--and does it well
Howl's Moving Castle is an excellent book by Diana Wynne Jones. It is an even better movie by Hayao Miyazaki.
This film adaptation of a novel is one of the very few that I've found that actually IMPROVES itself by changing the plot of the book. Roughly the first third of the movie follows the pattern of the novel: a girl named Sophie is transformed into an old woman and must seek out the mysterious wizard Howl in the hopes of changing back. From there, however, the basic structure and purpose of the story are altered to fit Miyazaki's unique style--and it works wonderfully. The movie retains the same humor and heart that makes the book such a delightful read; and does it on its own, without bothering to align the tiny details. In the hands of anyone else, I would have been woefully depressed by the result; however, Studio Ghibli succeeds masterfully in creating a meaningful and deeply fun story that is enjoyable for every age. The art is whimsical and bright, the plot is coherent, and the characters are dimensional and interesting. I'm not a fan of anime in general, but even I can enjoy the liveliness of this delightful movie.
So read Diana Wynne Jones' book for a great story. Watch this movie for a completely different one. But be prepared to enjoy yourself either way.
A truly noble vision of the future
What makes Star Trek TNG so emotionally powerful, decades after its creation, is the durability of the message it carries: humanity CAN improve and overcome its petty modern squabbles. The human race CAN become a great force for good in the galaxy, can strive to explore the farthest reaches of the universe and discover wonders beyond our wildest dreams. We will still have problems; we will still be flawed, we will still be human. But we can strive nonetheless.
TNG is not some perfect and idyllic view of the 24th century, seen through the eyes of saints. The 24th century has problems too; seven seasons' worth of them. It wouldn't be any fun otherwise, and besides, Lt. LaForge wouldn't have anything to fix. But the scope and span of those problems are astounding even for today's world. TNG was one of the first shows to confront the problem of artificial sentience--and actually came up with an answer, and a good one. Captain Picard and his valiant crew faced problems in the 80's that were far-fetched and ridiculous at the time--from string theory to power sources that harmed the environment--and are far more pertinent or possible today. Gene Roddenberry and crew were visionaries who foresaw a future much like the present, except that humanity had gained a little more sense, thanks to WWIII.
The characters are complex and endlessly fascinating; the missions range from hilarious to heartbreaking to just plain breathtaking. Everybody slips and falls sometimes, but they pick themselves up again and keep on going. Picard remains my compass for utter moral steadfastness, and Data reminds me to never be afraid of the potential for artificial intelligence.
Unlike many, many of the other sci-fi shows available, Star Trek is nearly unique in that its vision of the future is a positive one. Not ridiculously perfect or stupidly happy, but just an improvement on the present. Humanity has not degenerated into a brawling pack of thieves but instead evolved into the co-creators of a vast and (mostly) peaceful Galactic Federation. And, most importantly, we retain the insatiable thirst for knowledge that led us to explore the wild west and the abyss and land a man on the moon. Humanity strives for something greater; it's who we are. It's the heart and soul of the Star Trek franchise, and especially TNG. Three hundred years in the future, we're still Boldly Going. And that is the true nobility that makes this series one of the greatest ever made.
Proof that a Pixar is worth a thousand words
Wall-E, Pixar's newest blockbuster, is more than merely a feel-good summer flick with cute robots and a happy ending. Surprisingly, a whole lot more. Its message is both superb and sobering, a haunting and starkly beautiful view of one possible future. With graphics that do for earth, air, and space what "Finding Nemo" did for water, it is a visual delight for all ages. Wall-E, EVE, and their pet cockroach are unbelievably cute (even the roach). The storyline is clever, quick, and accessible at every level, from a fun space adventure to a hauntingly sad--yes, sad, at least at first--story of what humankind lost when we left earth. And also how we can find it again, through the help of one little machine who has learned how to love. But perhaps the most amazing part of this film is not the incredible graphics or the tight, heart-string-pulling plot.
It is the complete lack of dialogue. With the exception of the few scenes featuring humans, the movie is carried out by showing, not telling. The titular character Wall-E and the love of his life, EVE, "speak" each other's names, but little else; the only humanizing sounds present in the first fifteen minutes of the movie come from a recording that Wall-E plays to keep himself company. His loneliness is palpable and heartrending in the extreme.
And he doesn't have to say so. The folks at Pixar have outdone themselves here; Wall-E's message is not shoved down our throats, but is both subtle and poignant. Something about this little machine embodies what it means to be human: to long for companionship and something beyond what we can see. The fact that the film can create such an emotional 3-D-ness about Wall-E without the need for words is truly proof of Pixar's genius. Such a tactic could have failed utterly, but here it succeeds in brilliantly transforming a good film about cute robots into an amazing visual and aural feast. Ratatouille's Remy would be jealous.