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Babes in Toyland (1986)
What a mess!
I'm reviewing this movie based on its own merits. I'm not comparing it to any older productions.
The sets are hideous. Imagine the most boring and spartan buildings you can picture painted various shades of pink and purple, and you've got Toyland. Even the giant shoe the old woman used to live in manages to be boring.
The characters (most of whom are flat and dull) seem to spend most of their time running around and getting nothing of value done. For example, Jack gets thrown into jail, gets broken out of jail, and promptly gets himself trapped by the villain. Ample screen time is spent showing the characters running around town in kiddie cars instead of advancing the plot.
The movie hands out promises like it's Christmas and breaks every one of them. For example, George Porgie says that Barnaby occasionally rolls his bowling-ball-shaped house into town. You'd expect that to be foreshadowing for the film's climax, right? Nope, it never happens. Lisa attempts to play matchmaker between Barnaby and Mrs. Hubbard, something you'd expect to pay off SOMEHOW by the end of the film. It doesn't, unless you count a cheap joke to be a payoff. The Dark Forest is mentioned several times, leading you to think the characters might end up having to go into it, but in fact, they never leave town. The Toymaker hints that Barnaby could be redeemed... but in the end, he just gets banished to the forest.
A particularly ridiculous aspect was how Lisa, who frequently complains that she's "not a child," must learn to use her imagination again and "believe." However, up until the end of the film there is no real indication that Lisa isn't imaginative; whenever she insists that she's no longer a child she is clearly doing so because she does not want to be perceived as incompetent or incapable based on the fact that she's 11. Bucking against ageism and refusing to use one's imagination are not the same thing, which this film unfortunately implies.
As far as charming holiday specials go, this movie is not one of them.
A Movie With a Beautiful Message
Words just cannot express the beauty in this film. Mulan, our heroine, is a sweet, yet awkward young woman who wishes to bring honor to her also-loving family.
After a meeting with the matchmaker goes horribly awry, Mulan is left ashamed and distraught. She wishes so badly to please and bring honor to her family, yet her spunky, outspoken attitude makes this a struggle for her in a culture where women are expected to be quiet and subservient. But despite her failure, her family still loves her.
That very day, the Emperor's consul comes with a declaration: one man from every family is to serve in the Emperor's army in the war against the Huns. Mulan, knowing that her father will certainly be killed if he goes to war, disguises herself as a man and goes to war in his place. The sentiment and unconditional love portrayed in this movie makes it a very beautiful story.
The movie also pokes some good-natured fun at males in general, but never to a ridiculous degree. The one reference to a modern media (Batman) is subtle enough that it doesn't spoil the atmosphere. Mushu sometimes feels a little overdone, but isn't too bad overall. There's enough comic relief in the movie to keep it fun.
Another thing going for this film is that the dilemmas faced by the characters are very, very serious. The villain isn't just set out to conquer; he's set out to slaughter. This is made very clear to the audience - and although it was kept toned down, it wasn't completely sugarcoated, either.
Also, I feel that Mulan is a much better role-model for girls than certain other animated characters. The love and respect that she shows for her family (especially for her father) is a breath of fresh air compared to many other animated female leads.
THE worst film. Ever. (Small SPOILERS.)
Rarely do I see a film that I can honestly say I absolutely do NOT like. This film, bar none, is THE WORST.
Character rape abounds. Falkor, the wise, soft-spoken luck dragon we know and love, is transformed into a whiney, neurotic character who frequently makes lame complaints, a few concerning his back. Yeccchhh.
Then, there's the tree-like character. HIS wisecracks are often related to the human world. ("Call the fire department!") If there's one thing I despise, it's modern-Earth humor where it doesn't belong.
And the Child-like Empress. This lovely, polite, wise young lady has been mysteriously transformed into the Pre-Teen Empress. At one point, she even referred to someone as "old man." Can you imagine our beloved Stronach-version Empress doing that? Never!
The ONLY characters who had anything done right with them were the gnomes. These were actually played fairly well.
The story was horrendous. It didn't even feel like a Neverending Story movie at all. It didn't help that most of it took place in the "human world."
My rating? I big, fat, flat zero. >_<
Inspector Gadget 2 (2003)
MUCH more faithful the the cartoon!
Although IG2 is a bit sillier than the first movie, it's MUCH more faithful to the cartoon - once again Gadget says "wowsers!" (compared to "wowser" in the first one) and Dr. Claw (called both Claw and Dr. Claw) is faceless again. There is also no "John Brown" - it's just Inspector Gadget. Penny, although she has different hairstyles throughout the film, often wears her hair in her trademark pigtails of the cartoon.
At first I thought that Elaine Hendrix would be awful as G2, but she proved me wrong. She played her part extremely well. Although French Stewart doesn't have the boyish charm of Matthew Broderick, he acts more like the Inspector Gadget of the cartoon. (And don't worry - he doesn't try to play Mr. Magoo!)
This movie is also amazingly cartoon-like. The best way I can describe it is a "live-action cartoon". It's live action, but with all the silly stunts of an animated cartoon. (Such as a scene involving Gadget getting his head stuck in a toilet.) Although the CGI wasn't as good as it could have been, it wasn't too awful.
If you're looking for a film that's true to the cartoon, IG2 is definitely worth seeing. Be warned, though, it's quite silly! :)