Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

It’s time for an exploration of another Disney classic (or should-be classic?),

er-thehunchbackofnotredameThe Hunchback of Notre Dame

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 1996 Disney animation loosely based on Victor Hugo’s romantic, fatalistic, huge novel Notre Dame de Paris.

How I found it:
I was broadly aware of its existence but never actually watched the movie as a child. This was the first time.

Summary judgment:
Except for a few slightly hiccuppy moments, it’s a good movie and I enjoyed it. Whether I’d watch it with a child is a different matter – I’m not sure.

Best things about it:
It’s actually a good movie: strong, fairly focused, dramatic and socially involved. The characters are instantly likeable or hateable and you feel the atmosphere of the cathedral.

Worst things about it:
I feel this movie is not quite sure who it wants to be for. If it’s for an older audience (dare I say: young adults), there might be too much childish humor personified by the gargoyles. If it’s for kids, maybe there should be a little less sexual obsession and straightforward murder. However, to be quite honest, I might fall into this gray area because I felt I was a representative of the right audience, except I doubt that’s what Disney executives had in mind.

Other pluses:
It’s a very interesting, swiftly moving movie that touches upon extremely ambitious, unusual subject matters: xenophobia, fanaticism, alienation, all those things you normally only find in animations as metaphors.
Quasimodo’s character, as well as Esmeralda’s, are quite complex and relatable.
Animation is lovely, especially the cathedral looks great. It is so central to the narrative that is becomes another character and I always like when any place can be presented in such a lovely way, let alone a place so dear to my heart.

Other minuses:
I’ve got just one huge problem, which might even be “the worst thing.” Quasimodo is very marginalized in the story! It’s taken for granted that he could never get the girl, just because he’s not handsome. And yes, I know it’s loosely inspired by Hugo but the ending is different anyway, so couldn’t we make it a bit more progressive? Phoebus is great, I know, and they make a good couple with Esmeralda but Quasimodo is shown as having a huge crush on the girl only to have to learn that she is way out of his league. And it might even be a realistic lesson we all learn at one point in life but with the way he and Phoebus are presented, I’m afraid what children take out of this is “pretty goes with pretty.” Again, it might be true but not a message by whose reinforcement I stand.

How it enriched my life:
It’s always fun to look at the Notre Dame cathedral, which is one of my favorite places in the entire world, no kidding. Also, I always wonder what’s up there on those upper balconies where tourists are not allowed to go and the movie is taking place there so I enjoyed that.
It is also very interesting to see this different tone in a classic Disney animation. I think it might be the most underappreciated one out there.

Fun fact:
Esmeralda is not a part of the official Disney Princesses franchise and there is really no good reason for this omission. She’s one of the most kickass princesses (well, “princesses,” but so is Mulan), brave, talented and not afraid of her sexuality. Shame, Disney.

Follow-up:
In due time I will continue to explore those Disney classics that I somehow missed in childhood. And I will probably rewatch this one some time.

Recommended for:
Fans of Disney animation who are already capable of making their own judgments and not excessively afraid of hellfire or of depictions of fanaticism.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Marvels

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Zootopia

I may not follow most of modern cinematography but I’m reasonably up to date with animations (except for Minions; can’t stomach those) and recently I caught up on

er-zootopiaZootopia

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2016 animation about a city of anthropomorphic animals which have left behind their days of hunting and being hunted and instead live together in a civilized state – at least, until some of the predators start to go wild again. An ambitious rabbit police officer is determined to solve the case with the help of a fox con man (con fox?). In other words, it’s an animated action movie for kids, with a thinly veiled social message of tolerance.

How I found it:
I think the usual way, a trailer on IMDb. We also have friends whose child is just the right age to follow up current animated movies so they update us on what is good.

Summary judgment:
The story and animation are okay but the metaphor doesn’t really sit with me.

Best things about it:
The animation is pretty good, especially the attention paid to creating all the different environments in which different animals live – not just the more or less natural environments but the more creative ones, like the small district and the rural bunny area.

Worst things about it:
Okay, I know the message about tolerance and not stereotyping people is extremely important and current but it really took away from my pleasure of watching the movie. Not only was it extremely unsubtle but I couldn’t help feeling it didn’t exactly work. The more you get into the metaphor, the more unconvincing it becomes.

Other pluses:
The characters are pretty likeable, particularly the fox. I’m also glad a strong, determined female character continues to be favored by Disney and girls get new role models (even if to me personally Judy felt extremely on-the-nose). The message that if you try hard enough you can achieve anything is worth repeating and maybe it will become true one day.
I suppose the allusions to classic action dramas are exciting for people who actually watched them?

Other minuses:
So, this metaphor… I feel the more you scratch at it, the more it doesn’t work because the animals can’t really change who they are, can they? So some of them are born with tendencies to prey on the others? And Judy and Nick can’t really be together, can they? All sorts of problematic.
And I do know metaphors are never complete analogies (sidenote, I did read Metaphors We Live By and I do find it insightful) but this one just doesn’t convince me. It might be my problem, I’ll admit.

How it enriched my life:
I always like spending some time watching animation and it’s a pretty, fast-paced, generally pleasant movie with a positive message if you don’t overthink it.

Fun fact:
We love foxes in all shapes and forms so a fox as the main character will always be a plus. And little Nick was almost too cute.

Follow-up:
I’m not at all excited for Zootopia 2. Also, I wish they didn’t make series of all the movies because the next ones are almost never good.

Recommended for:
Mostly children. And for people who like both action movies and children’s animations.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Lego Batman Movie

We spent two evenings recently trying to have fun despite a lot of work and too little sleep and the way we chose to achieve it was watching

er-batmanlegoThe Lego Batman Movie

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It’s like The Lego Movie only with Batman? It’s like a Batman movie made of Lego? Yep. That.

How I found it:
I liked The Lego Movie. And I have no religious admiration for Batman, like some people do, so I don’t mind his ridiculous rendition (in fact, it was one of the more likeable versions of Batman I’ve seen). So when I saw the trailer on IMDb (yes, that’s how I mostly find out about movies: I like trailers) I decided to watch it some time.

Summary judgment:
I don’t even know! This was such a weird thing. Maybe I expected something a bit different.

Best things about it:
Same thing that was great about the first Lego Movie: the animation that suggested stop-motion Lego movies made by fans and all the cute visual ideas of how to use recognizable blocks to tell the story (or just to insert some visual gags). Yet, I feel it was more impressive in the first movie (not least of all, because then it was a fresh idea).

Worst things about it:
I guess it just wasn’t exactly a movie for me. On the one hand, it had so much chaotic action it was hard for me to follow all the battles. I know I always rant about how I dislike battle scenes but here it wasn’t exactly that: I mostly resented that I couldn’t tell very well what was going on with too much action on the screen and too many elements (hehe) so that I was missing all the ingenious little details. On the other hand, the main theme of the story, how Batman needs to find a new family and have courage to accept it (yep) was clearly directed at (young) children with all the innumerous repetitions. It just bored me.

Other pluses:
I actually liked the unapologetic use of all the trade marks Warner Bros owns, particularly when Voldemort appeared so out of character. It was very in-your-face but, I guess, this kind of humor works for me? Also, I’ll never resent a Harry Potter allusion, whatever it is.
Of course, many jokes were still funny, I just think I hoped for more of them. Many visual ideas were cute.
Will Arnett’s Batman is one I stand behind.

Other minuses:
I managed to put them all into Worst Things and it just doesn’t feel right to look for even more of those faults in a movie whose target I clearly wasn’t. I would feel like harping on a movie for three-year-olds that it didn’t have enough depth and drama.

How it enriched my life:
It was mildly entertaining, and still better than most serious movies I could’ve been watching at the time. I also remember I learned something from the elusive Batman mythology but I’ve apparently already forgotten it…

Fun fact:
So, in case you haven’t noticed so far, I’m definitely a Marvel girl. And I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, as liking Marvel one should also like DC, but somehow it doesn’t work that way. Not for me, anyway.

Follow-up:
So I saw the trailer for the next Lego movie: Ninjago and I’m definitely NOT watching that one. It looks like a very extended ad.

Recommended for:
Children who like Lego and Batman. Adults who like them so much they will gladly watch a children’s movie that has both. Parents who need to watch movies with their children and prefer something that has at least some jokes for parents in it.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Waitress

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Rotten Tomatoes

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Beauty and the Beast

I find classic Disney movies one of those things you don’t really grow out of: like any true work of art you can enjoy it at any age for different reasons. Of course, not everything Disney comes up with fits the definition so join me on my judgment on

er-beautyandthebeastBeauty and the Beast (1991)

Category: Movies

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
One of Disney’s princess movies. An animated story based on the French fairy tale, where a young girl displeased with her provincial life, trades her freedom for her father’s. She gets to live in an enchanted castle with the Beast and his magical reified servants and both she and the Beast learn to love one another for a happily ever after.

How I found it:
It wasn’t the first time I watched it but a podcast I heard recently reminded me of the movie and made me wonder if I would still be so disenchanted with it as I was when I rewatched it a few years ago.

Summary judgment:
No, I wasn’t. In fact, I greatly enjoyed the movie, it might be one of my favorite Disney princess stories (up there with Tangled and Little Mermaid).

Best things about it:
It has a lovely atmosphere. I particularly like the pretend “Frenchness” of it: the beautiful landscapes and how the songs allude to various kinds of French music.

Worst things about it:
The curse makes so little sense, the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. Why did the servants get turned at all? How many were there? Did they get turned based on their job descriptions or last names? What happened to the original brooms and closets? Wasn’t it extremely awkward to eat with live spoons that used to be your table maids? Did they all eat people or just the one turned into a chest? If so, who did they eat???

Other pluses:
I’m normally not a fan of all the song interruptions in Disney movies but here they really work: I liked at least a half of these songs and the opening scene is quite brilliant. The story is enjoyable and does not meander into unnecessary places. Everything looks pretty great!

Other minuses:
There are some problems with representation, especially when it comes to Le Fou and the asylum doctor: more sensitivity wouldn’t have hurt. To be fair, though – it was the 90s.

How it enriched my life:
It charmed me and trasnported me to a pleasant place.

Fun fact:
We were watching the movie during our stay in Berlin and all the time we kept thinking: “Wish we were in France now.”

Follow-up:
I will probably rewatch this movie some time in the future. I also plan on watching and rewatching some other Disney movies that somehow slipped through the cracks for me.

Recommended for:
Girls who have dreams greater than marriage (but will settle for marriage, assuming it’s to a rich prince). People who like old-school, 2D animation. People who wish they were spending their holidays in Provence.

Enjoyment:

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: When Demons Walk

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Rotten Tomatoes

Legos Are Awesome: The Lego Movie

er-thelegomovieIf you think liking Lego bricks past the age of twelve is embarrassing, please be done with this post lest your opinion of me is irrevocably damaged, thank you.

For the rest of you: yes, I find Lego bricks one of those things you’re lucky not to grow out of and I know more such people. And four of us, all serious adults, went to see The Lego Movie without even taking neighbors’ kid for cover and unselfconsciously enjoyed it a lot.

To me the greatest attraction of the movie is visual: how the whole world is built from well-known, recognizable pieces. The first time we saw it done were Lego video games (full geek alert, we loved those, too): Harry Potter and Marvel Superheroes and, really, it shouldn’t be as thrilling as it is to recognize brick models remembered from childhood used as parts of, for instance, Hogwarts scenery. A clever, funny idea, like using coffee mugs for helmet elements, always surprises you and makes you smile. The movie works in the same way and we still enjoyed it a lot, especially that it can use so many more kinds of scenery than the games. Allegedly, were you a millionaire, you could build all the sets from actual bricks. The creators of the movie also drew inspiration from those fan-made stop-motion Lego shorts, which shows e.g. in sea scenes. Even though the movie is not stop-motion (because if it were the world would have to end from too much awesomeness), it often feels like it with the attention to textures and detail: such as bite marks on the bricks. The hardest thing to 3D-animate always seem to be human beings and The Lego Movie didn’t have that to deal with, but it feels like they took all the resources they would normally use for animating humans and used them to make the brick world feel tangible. It also reminded me a lot of an earlier animation, Wreck-It Ralph, which uses old video game imagery for building its world. This kind of visual game of reassembling the whole world (get it?) of something well-known really speaks to my designery soul.

With so much visual candy you hardly need a plot but you still get one. It’s not all that surprising but both you and that neighbors’ kid will enjoy it. It’s about Emmett, a regular construction figurine, who gets himself involved in an adventure, blah blah hero quest, blah blah shooting and car chases, blah blah happy ending. But while the grand message is obvious (believe in yourself, be loyal to your friends and you’re a special snowflake just like that guy next to you), I liked the anti-corporate jabs that abound especially at the beginning. In Emmett’s everyday world you need to follow instructions, buy overpriced coffee and enjoy the same TV show every day. This was a little more surprising, and more glum, than one would expect from this kind of movie – or, you know, a movie that only grand corporations with their money could ever produce.

Anyway, The Lego Movie quickly rose among the ranks of my favorite animated movies (up there with Tangled, Ratatouille and a few others) and I’m sure I’ll re-watch it, at least just to gorge on the background details I didn’t catch the first time.

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