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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
A Sequel You Will Never Forget!
A quick confession before starting this review. When How to Train Your Dragon came out in 2010, I thought it was a silver lining in the underwhelming slate of Dreamworks films. It had interesting characters, beautiful animation and imagery, a brilliant concept, and an even more brilliant musical score. And unfortunately, I did not see the original film until after its theatrical release when it happened to be on HBO. After fixing this mistake I felt an instant feeling of regret. It had a strong message and overall theme that made me realize animated movies can still pack a punch like they used to. And now four years later we finally have a sequel. And I saw it in IMAX 3D!
Did it deliver?.....
Absolutely! Many talks early in development for this sequel was that it was going to be handled in a style alike to "The Empire Strikes Back". I could personally agree that the film is more than worthy of such a title. The story this time around features an older and much more adventurous Hiccup and the undoubtedly lovable Toothless adventuring what lies beyond their home of Berk, until they discover a threat to their new found peace. There is a five year time jump that shows us how much these characters have grown, physically and progressively, which gives you more to be invested with. Hiccup still has his wit and spirit, but is still shy of how some aspects of the world work. It's a large theme that runs its coarse, and pays off in ways that one couldn't of seen coming.
For a movie with an aim mostly at young kids, it can pack a very emotional punch. Every actor in the roster brings everything they have and more to the table. Rather it's Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler as Hiccups father Stoick, or the fantastic addition of Cate Blanchett as the mysterious dragon riding liberator Valka. And if you thought the score for the first film by John Powell was good? He outdoes himself. Every time you think a scene couldn't get any more exciting or even heartbreaking his majesty plays each instrument as if they were individual emotions. And with the brilliant addition of Icelandic musician Jónsi, there is a particular with Hiccup and Toothless flying side by side in which he sings along with the John Powell's theme. It was one of the most exhilarating and heartwarming things I've ever witnessed on the screen.
This summer has had no shortage of great movies. Rather they are about a giant radioactive lizard, a patriotic super hero, or time traveling mutants. But having a movies whose heart that's just as powerful as it's visual trills takes the spot on my list. From it's stunning imagery to the emotional guy punches. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is not only the best animated movie of the year, but it's one of the best in general. And that applies as well to sequels in general, for I will be returning to the cinema again to help ease my anticipation for the next one!
Monsters University (2013)
It Shines in a Summer of Disappointment
First and foremost, this movie should be almost painfully relatable to the Disney Renaissance Generation. For the convenience of the meanings told in Disney and Pixar films, couldn't be more relatable to the age of those born in the mid 90's growing up. Also, for the question of a Monsters Inc. Prequel being necessary? Make that decision after the credits roll, for this was the most enjoyable movie I've seen so far in 2013. In an overwhelming blockbuster summer of over-hyped excitement followed by mild to severe disappointment, Monsters University isn't just a good sign for Pixar, it's a good sign that 2013 can be one of the best years of film.
Now! On to the review! The story of the origin of the friendship between one-eyed Mike Wazowski and the blue furred James P. Sullivan in their freshman year at Monsters University. This film has homages to all the classic college comedy movies, and as it doesn't hold out on laughs for the kids and adults, it has a great amount of heart. Questions of what the future holds, and if our dreams are as possible as we hope they are. Punches aren't pulled on these questions, which is why it isn't just some animated movie to take the kids to see.
References to real college life are blended with superb imagination of the monster world. Rather it be a long blonde haired guitar player, or the horns on the school bus. All original voice talent returns and keeps up with the track record of great performances in Pixar films. Billy Crystal, John Goodman, and Steve Buscemi grasp their characters and give them entirely different motivations compared to the original. Instead of a hardworking team, the two have a rivalry, and the supporting cast of their fraternity supply more relatability with a great variety of lovable monsters who help fill the story with even more heart.
The compatibility with Mike and Sully can be a bit surprising, for one is the study hard teachers pet, and the other a natural born scare student. And just as you think your more like one, the other comes in and you realize that even monsters can be scared of the real world just like us today. Fear of what life has in store, and if we have the talent to fulfill our dreams. This is a theme a lot of critics are missing, and shines making it worthy of being a great Pixar movie and prequel to a great classic.
The story isn't terribly generic as one may think, and every act is more different from the last. Starting with the clash between Mike and Sully, then onto the scare games, an intense series of games that declare supremacy of M.U. For the third and final act couldn't be more surprising though. It not only serves as a great climax, but something that we can once again commend Pixar for telling great stories in out of the box thinking that we should think paying for the $10 dollar ticket is worth it. And boy did I think this movie was worth it, for I will be definitely be seeing it a second and possibly third time. It wasn't a prequel we originally wanted, but it was a film that we and Pixar needed. And boy am I glad it happened.
The Lion King (1994)
The True Classic Disney Movie!
This may be an unorthodox way to start a review, but hey it's as meaningful as i'll ever be for a review. My lucky number is 14. I was born on August 14th. My birth sign is Leo (Lion), my State Football Team is the Lions, and its been 14 years since i'v seen my favorite movie from my childhood; The Lion King for the first time. And now I had the honor to experience it in the theater.
From the moment the black screen faded to the rising sun along on the African Plane, with opening Zulu lyrics playing to Circle of Life, I got chills up my spine and my lips were shaking as they were forming the biggest smile I think i'v ever had. Now of all the films to come out these past years like the final Harry Potter, Avatar, Inception, Super 8, Transformers, etc. I want make this clear; The Lion King was the funnest time i'v ever had at the Movies! I don't even care for it being part of the 3D effect.
I wanted to see it in the theater as if it was the opening weekend back in 1994. It's still The Lion King, but in a sentimental way (If your a 90's kid) it makes you completely feel dropped back into your seat like it's was the first time viewing it. The story of a young lion prince, Simba (Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Matthew Broderick) framed into killing his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) by his evil uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons). Then flees from his past and meets Timon (Nathan Lane) and Pumba (Ernie Sabella) whom teach him "Hakuna Matata" (Literally meaning No Worries). And in the end Simba returns to be the one true king. The story may be considered Hamlet with lions, but it's so much more than that. Most in part of the fun characters, humor, and still having the true drama and emotion that makes The Lion King what it is.
The 3D added depth to the film and actually didn't give me a headache. Zazu flying overhead Pride Rock, the music sequences, and the stampede scene are better than ever, yet I'm sure the new generation seeing it will probably be emotionally scarred for life. I don't want to be a "Lion King is the Best Disney Movie Ever" Guy without mentioning it has a flaw. Which is its quick resolve with the last 40 minutes of the movie. Yeah, Simba is intervened by his old childhood friend Nala and crazy shaman blue butt monkey Rafiki to go back home from his 'time away from home' that almost feels like the 10 second log scene in Hakuna Matata. In any way it still doesn't turn you away.
Then add the key ingredient to a classic Disney Movie; Songs! Just another element that adds to the formula. Elton John and Tim Rice won an Oscar for their work on this film! And who's to say they don't deserve it? Circle of Life, Just Can't Wait to be King, Be Prepared, Hakuna Matata, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, and even Timons Hula Song! It took every bone in my body not to sing in the theater but hey, now there's another reason for multiple viewings. I want to say to those who are curious, there is no "Morning Report" song in the film! Disneys Classic 2D Animated films are true Disney.
Disney mixed meaningful and powerful themes with maximum entertainment in a perfect way that are what make true classics. Today any critic from the New York Times can slap a comment on a movie saying it's a "classic" when really they can't say in 10 years people will be talking about it. But hey, Hakuna Matata! In the end if you want a luxury of seeing (Arguably) Disneys best film on the big screen than don't hold back. It will really make you feel like a kid for an hour and a half, and also give you witness to Disneys most beautiful masterpiece that isn't just Dinsey's Best, but possibly one of the greatest achievements ever made.....The Lion King!