Disney Live-Action: Not As It Once Was

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Remember Meet the DeedlesSnow DogsMax Keeble’s Big Movie? Me neither, because I never saw them. These are all products of the debacle that was Disney live-action films of the early 2000s.

It seemed the company was just churning out whatever cheap film they could make to get the attention of persistent 8-year-olds to drag their parents to the latest family comedy.

The Disney studio had become what Walt Disney himself never intended: cheap entertainment that pandered to the lowest denominator of audiences.

(No offense if you happen to like any of those movies; I confess I’m quite partial to Heavyweights.)

But those days are long behind us.

Just like Disney’s animation division, their live-action films are giving the rest of Hollywood a run for their money, especially in the realm of their sub-genre – live-action remakes of old Disney animated classics.

It started with the odd, yet bewildering Alice in Wonderland in 2010. That was improved on with 2014’s Maleficent, a bit formulated, but more impressive than most people expected. Last year’s Cinderella confirmed that Disney has hit upon something great with this remake franchise by delighting us all. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

And now the studio’s newest release, The Jungle Book, is taking the box office by storm. And well it should! I saw it the other day and was seriously blown away. It was like watching Peter Jackson’s King Kong all over again, only, dare I say it? I bit more dazzling.

Sure, it follows Disney’s original ’67 animated version, but the detours are delightful! It was hard to believe that these animals are completely CGI (be warned parents of young ones: this is not Babe – far, far from it). Nothing at all looks fake in this movie. As impressive as it was to look at, I’d say the most wonderful thing about it is that there’s literally not a single dull moment. I never checked my watch, I never even bothered to scratch the itch on my ankle for fear of missing something.

And you will never see Shere Kahn the same way again. This new version of him just may be the most fearsome villain in the whole Disney pantheon.

And the franchise, it looks like, has just begun. Disney has confirmed that they will be remaking many of our childhood favorites (Dumbo, Peter Pan, Aladdin, Pinocchio, etc.). And if they keep on doing whatever it is they’re doing right, I say bring it!

Have you seen The Jungle Book? Share your thoughts.

 

Silly Rabbit, Animated Movies Aren’t (Just) for Kids

 

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Zootopia is Disney’s 55th animated feature film, and it broke records as being the highest grossing Disney animated opening of all time.

Why is that? Personally, I think it’s because Disney has been delivering better and better films after their decade of mediocrity (1995-2004). The animation powerhouse, with the help from Pixar geniuses, has worked hard over the past twelve years to regain the world’s trust. Each film, from Bolt to Big Hero 6, has steadily gotten better and better, and diving deeper and deeper with substance and superior quality.

After seeing it with my son today, I can see why it’s garnered a near 100% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes by both critics and audiences alike (many even claiming it’s the best Disney film ever), and why it’s broken the record as the studio’s highest grossing opening.

Zootopia is not your typical animated film. Sure, it’s anthropomorphic, which is not uncommon in the medium, it pulls as many quips as it can, and… well, that’s pretty much where the similarities stop. Outside of that, it’s a seriously fun and entertaining crime drama.

In fact, it’s so reminiscent of my favorite buddy-cop movies, Lethal Weapon, that I no lethal_weapon_3longer feel a need for Riggs and Murtaugh to team up for a fifth installment because a sly fox and a “dumb bunny” beat them to it.

If you’re one of those closed-minded weirdos who write animated films off as being “kid movies,” you need to rethink your approach. If this movie doesn’t convince you that select animated films can be way better than your typical live-action release, then you’ve got some rewiring to do. (There’s a scene where a main character cries and it’s better than any crying I’ve seen any real actor pull off…yeah, I watered.)

Most of the jokes are subtle. Many of them I won’t notice until future viewings (and there will be many…by choice), but I caught enough to know that they’re there. And yes, it’s got that warmth and heart Disney is known for, but it never, ever feels cheesy.

Judy-Hopps-disneys-zootopia-38966363-777-777I can foresee myself choosing Judy Hopps as my favorite Disney character after a more timely analysis of her character. I want her to be my daughter’s role-model. She is strong, humble, and determined to be the best she can be doing what she wants to do. And no bull-headed water buffalo is going to get in her way.

Is Zootopia my all-time favorite Disney movie? I don’t know, but it’s way up there. But then again, A Goofy Movie isn’t technically considered part of the Disney animated movie lineup. So… of the official 55 releases… I guess I’ll just have to watch it a few more times to decide. And I can’t wait!

Disney does not make kid movies anymore, and this is just one more proof of that. If Hollywood didn’t segregate animated films in their award ceremonies, Zootopia would easily be in the running for best film categories just as Inside Out would have been earlier this year.

Don’t forget to vote for your favorite short story to cap off Endever’s first writing contest!

The Verdict Is In

 

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Every author, every screenwriter, every musician, wants to be the best in their trade.

We all want to produce the best short story, the best song, the best written final. We want to deliver the best graduation speech, publish the best article, make the boldest sale, cook the best egg sandwich on the planet.

And there are always people in our field to look up to and aspire to. People who have gone before us and set the bar.

For me, as a writer, I have a small number of authors I follow. But writing comes in many forms even outside of books and articles and other such mediums.

Writing can also be enjoyed through movies, and my favorite genre to follow is animated movies because they have the tough job of catering to every age of audience members from nearly every walk of life. (Admittably, not even animation studio believes this to be true.)

Movies like Deadpool and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot may be fun films, but the writer’s job is much easier than those writers in animation. Their workload is literally cut in half because they are writing to appease a smaller number of audience members.

It’s the difference between delivering a Thanksgiving speech at the family dinner table and speaking in front of news cameras for a worldwide audience. The risk is higher, the expectation is gargantuan, and the critical feedback is going to be much tougher and bloodier.

There’s not a new kid in town, but apparently the oldest kid on the block picked up some amazing new skills. It’s becoming official from critics everywhere that Disney’s new animated movie, Zootopia, is deemed the greatest animated movie of all time.

That’s taking into consideration that it’s apparently better than Up, Lion King, and even Toy Story. Or at least on the same level.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty excited to see this movie. And even more so, I’m excited to have a new movie to aspire to, in terms of writing and imagination. I have a feeling that if you’re in the creative profession, it will be in your best interest to see Zootopia when it comes out this Friday.

Always be on the lookout for the greatest in your field to aspire to. And maybe your work will be the next greatest thing.

And don’t forget! I’ll be posting the three finalists for our writing contest this coming Sunday! Check back then to see if you’ve been chosen!

Could “The Force Awakens” be the GREATEST MOVIE OF ALL TIME??

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Let’s all be perfectly clear – The Force Awakens is NOT just for Star Wars fans. It’s not just for geeks or sci-fi buffs. The Force Awakens is a genuine love letter to anyone who loves the movies and has a soul.

That said, let me back up.

2015 has brought us some of the greatest movies in years. From Mad Max to Jurassic World, I can’t remember when we had such a solid lineup of films.

I recently decided that this summer’s Inside Out was the greatest film ever made, dethroning The King’s Speech from the coveted spot in my heart. And then, just a few short months later, the “Best Movie of All Time” seat is challenged yet again with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. 

Few will argue with me that the movie was absolutely mind-blowing and fewer would argue that it was just really, really, really damn good.

But am I jumping the gun by saying it could possibly be the greatest movie of all time?? Do I just need to get a grip and wait for the hype to pass? Am I forgetting greats such as The Return of the King or the emotional surprise that was Toy Story 3? 

I don’t think so.

Even if it’s not your favorite film ever, I don’t think I’m far off the mark by asserting it’s the greatest film of all time. Here’s why:

1. The High Expectation

J.J. Abrams and everyone that worked on this movie had something going against them that no movie crew has ever had to deal with ever. Three generations of movie goers with impossibly high expectations and demands. I’m talking about a significant population rate of people who have been deeply wounded by the release of the previous trilogy. So not only was the audience-base expecting a good Star Wars film, but they expected their pain to be remedied. The reviews and audience reaction shows that Abrams and co. has indeed gone beyond wowing everyone and bandaging up our wounds, but they cut an incision in Star Wars fans and precisely and deliberately removed the cancer that was George Lucas’ prequels. Order has now been restored in the galaxy.

2. Big Risk; Little Effects

The Force Awakens team went against the Hollywood grain by going back to set pieces and costumes and minimizing on CGI effects. They replaced the needless cartoons with something of importance and substance: Story. And a damn good one to boot!

3. Emotions Run High

The writers knew who our favorite character(s) would be going in, and they punched us in the gut, and pulverized our hearts. One review on Rotten Tomatoes said it perfectly: “The Best Disappointing Movie Ever.” There were some high risks in some major decisions as well, but it was all carried out so deftly, so perfectly, so cleanly that audiences will love J.J. Abrams for stabbing them in the heart and leaving them for dead. Folks, this Star Wars film made me cry! That’s never happened to me in George Lucas’ galaxy. It’s also by far the funniest film in the franchise, which only heightens the experience.

I might try to come up with more reasons why this could be the greatest film ever made. But so far, that’s what I’ve got.

Share your thoughts! Come on, you know you want to talk about it and spoilers are allowed in the comments! Go!

Everything Episode VII Got Right

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Just got out of a viewing of The Force Awakens. I was going to title this post “Everything Episode VII Got Wrong” and then leave the entire post blank, but I didn’t want people sitting at their computer pressing the reload button repeatedly.

First off, Episode VII turned this mediocre Star Wars fan into a fanatic.

Here’s everything J.J. Abrams did right with the newest Star Wars installment:

1. The special effects were minimal

Thank you Abrams, Disney, and anyone else behind the making of this masterpiece, for realizing that story trumps special effects. They did away with the overt CGI and filmed it on sets and used costumes for, I’d say, about 70% of the movie. Any other CGI, I didn’t notice it.

2. Played the drama up 

It’s dramatic. There’s twits and turns and unexpected deaths, and they’re hard-hitting. It’s as though Abrams decided, “If we’re gonna hit the audience, we need to hit them hard … and where it hurts the most.” And it is a satisfying and resonating pain.

3. Old-Style Star Wars

It wasn’t filled with new gimmicks and gadgetry (though there are some new twists on old weapons). It was the old Tie-fighters and Millennium Falcon, and storm troopers, and everything else that makes Star Wars Star Wars. It was Star Wars to the core. The Star Wars people know and love.

Guys, I can go on and on, but it’s getting real late here and I’ve got to get up early to go to work. If you’re skeptical, don’t just take my word for it: Listen to virtually everyone who sees this film and watch their eyes light up and hear their hearts racing as they try to explain the glory of this movie.

Whoever says “Movies are dead” is wrong. We just have to wait for the right ones to bounce along every now and then, and this one not only bounces, but crushes with full force.

No pun intended.

“Something Move Me”

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I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but comedy is dying. People, for the most part, are bored with high explosives and fast action. It’s all been done before, more or less.

So what do people crave? What do people long for? I have a theory. I think people are in dire search of something moving.

Butch Walker sings:

 

You loved the preview but hate the movie.
You scream at the screen, "Something move me!"
before you start to fade away.

 

When we read about the monstrously enormous success of Pixar’s Inside Out, the biggest compliments are that it’s extremely moving and quite possibly the saddest Disney/Pixar movie ever. (Could it really be sadder than Toy Story 3?!?!?) And people love that.

Heck, I watched it just the other night because I needed a good cry.

John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is hugely popular in teen reading circles because it is quite possibly the saddest teen book ever written. (I’m attempting to out-do him in an upcoming teen book I’m working on. He’ll be eating his heart out.)

Why is this so? Why are the most emotionally-destructive books and movies so immensely popular with people? Why do we turn on songs like Ed Sheeran’s “All of the Stars” or Michael John Montgomery’s “The Girl” just to cry? (That latter example was the highest rated radio song at the time it was released.)

What’s wrong with us?

Well, my theory goes like this. We’re all zombies. For most of us, life is mundane. We get up, brush our teeth, go to a job where we spend most of the time pretending we weren’t at, go home, maybe watch a rerun of Friends on Netflix, and go to sleep.

Life is dull. We don’t go to enough funerals. So our souls kind of harden a little because we’re just swimming in this wet cement that’s holding us captive to a whole lot of nothing. To go biblical on you, Ecclesiastes even says it’s better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting (or a party).

And so we go see The Good Dinosaur to be stirred in a neglected place in our heart. And apparently the new Star Wars movie has quite a heartbeat to it that’s inclined to rejuvenate a lot of people. Even The Hunger Games has an incredibly bittersweet ending that even Sarabeth has a hard time accepting – yet she still rereads those books on a regular basis.

So go and be moved. Don’t be ashamed of your need to open up the waterworks every once in a while. I think those are gates we (especially us men) feel like we need to keep bared. Watch something sad and have a good cry. The feeling afterward is quite refreshing.

Check out my post on what I think are the saddest movies of all time (it’s updated!!).

A Love Letter to Pixar

Okay. This is a total geek-out post that I just can’t hold in any longer.

After Inside Out totally and completely rocked my inner world and forced me to rearrange my mental furniture, I decided that Pixar Animation Studios had reached the peak of perfection. And suddenly, I didn’t care if they had another major success or not, because in my mind, their work was done. 

But the geniuses in Emeryville are just getting started, apparently. With the release of The Good Dinosaur on Thanksgiving, I thought I’d write out a little ode to show my love – and thanks. 

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John, Andrew, Brad, Pete, Ed, Darla, and many many more names that encompass the greatest company ever built: Thank you.

Thank you for your courage to tell the truth in your movies. The format of your stories are kid-friendly, but the themes and messages are largely for the intellectuals, the deep thinkers, the workers, the dreamers.

You inspire the rest of us to take risks. You create role models for our kids to look up to and admire. You change the world by inspiring us to live better; to sacrifice; to explore; to not just survive, but to live!

When will other companies learn? You’ve put out several books on how to do business, how to tell stories, how to make a lasting impression. Where are the followers?

I’m one.

When I write, I constantly ask myself, “Does this live up to Pixar’s standards? … Would this live up to Brad’s or John’s expectations?”

I write to “Wow” you.

I have never visited Pixar Studios, nor met anyone from Pixar (top of my bucket list just below getting plugs), but I imagine I work for Pixar. I imagine that the people at Pixar will read every book I write. And perhaps one day they will and they’ll see talent…or at the very least, potential.

Pixar team, it’s because of each one of you I wake up each morning and dare to not give up on my dreams of becoming a bestselling author (and maybe one day writer for Pixar). To the artists who labor day in and day out on a monster’s hair flow, or the scales on a fish – your job is not to have your work noticed. Well, you are noticed, and appreciated.

You inspire me to grow old with my wife, to focus on creating joyful memories for my kids, to keep my friends close.

You make movies that matter – movies that last – and often, movies that change our perspective or even our lives.

Thank you for the thousand-and-twelf rewrites.

Thank you for changing course at the last minute.

Thank you for not accepting mediocre and always shooting for better. And then even better than that.

Thank you for the shorts that bring no financial gain to you whatsoever.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. From my family, thank you. From my grown-up corkers whom I will eventually convince that they’re missing out on something great, thank you on their behalf that there’s something great to be found.

Hopefully I’ll get to visit soon and wander the halls and eat your cereal and pose with the Lego Woody and Buzz. Maybe one day my kids will meet one of you and when they do, I’ll tell them, “You just shook hands with a world-changer.”

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