Disney Live-Action: Not As It Once Was


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.


From a Mermaid to an Ice Queen: Is Frozen Better Than Beauty?

Frozen-Wallpaper-disney-frozen-35897178-1920-1200These days Sarabeth and I go to the movies about three times a year. Once in the summer to catch the newest Pixar movie, and twice in December for the latest Hunger Games and Hobbit installments. Since there will not be a Pixar movie released this year (insert ultra-sad face here), I insisted we catch Frozen because of all the hype (thanks to many of your comments).

We all remember the glory days of Disney when they repeatedly put out hits such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. There were some other good ones that followed, but none that held a candle to the greatness… flawlessness… no, majesty of the Phenomenal Four. Somehow that majesty just couldn’t be recaptured, though Disney filmmakers searched far and wide for it: from the age of dinosaurs, into the depths of space, on the Hawaiian islands, down to the depths of the lost city of Atlantis.

Disney, it seemed, just couldn’t quite recapture that African sunrise, or convince audiences that carpets can fly.

It seemed that the great entertainment empire had thrown in the towel when it released the horrendous Home on the Range, an embarrassing cartoon not even worth a slot on TV (Sarabeth and I turned it off after ten minutes – but the soundtrack is surprisingly good, to Disney’s credit).

And then Disney, apart from Pixar, debuted its first CGI movie, Chicken Little. This was a far cry from the best, but it was a step in the right direction, set in a town where Mickey and the gang could very well live. Suddenly it seemed the Mouse wasn’t out of the game just yet.

Then came Meet the Robinsons – the first of Disney movies to open with Mickey Mouse Steamboat-willieat the helm of Steamboat Willy, which communicated one thing loud and clear: The Mouse is back. Still a far cry from the majesty of the great fairytales of 90s, it touched a soft spot in audiences, and especially in me, since the theme is based on adoption. It’s a movie I cannot get through the end of without crying.

The Princess and the Frog came hopping into theaters with even louder drums and cymbals (and a great soundtrack, to boot!). Not only was the Mouse back, but the enchanting fairytale world Disney had created was expanding.

And man, was there ever a greater uproar than when Tangled hit silver screens across the world less than a year later, screaming Disney is back for good! That magic, that music, that humor, everything old Walt himself would have approved of a thousand times over!

And now, Frozen.


Paperman-shortFirst off, let me just say that the short before the film was the most inventive cartoon since Roger Rabbit! (It’s not as emotionally-charged as Wreck-It Ralph’s “Paperman”, but it certainly was a fun treat.) It was so nice to see Mickey Mouse on the big screen for once.

Frozen, without a doubt, will breed a whole new generation of Disney enthusiasts. Frozen makes you believe in happiness and magic and music all over again. Frozen, I am pleased to say, has recaptured that long-lost majesty. 

It will be a long time before we see another movie as good as Frozen. 

Is it as good as Beauty and the Beast? It’s too soon to tell. It certainly had its share of flaws that Beauty lacks, but I can say without reservation that Frozen has earned its place on the same shelf as the mermaid, the Beast, the street rat, and the king of Pride Rock. 

Welcome, Ice Queen, to the most prestigious Disney family in history.

And may that family continue to grow for our children’s children to enjoy all their lives.

What’s Your Disney Moment?

frozenMy social networking sites are exploding with clips from Frozen – especially videos of the hit song, “Let It Go.” I’ve been steadily refraining from watching these tempting clips since I haven’t seen the movie yet – but dying to.

It seems to be a unanimous consensus that Frozen is as good as Beauty and the Beast and Lion King. Is that true? But particularly, “Let It Go” is evidently quite the showstopper, and from what I’ve read, people all over the world are affected by it.

It got me thinking about my most favorite Disney moments.

Being a Disnerd – did I make that up, or has it already been coined? – I had a plethora of such moments to sift through:

* Up‘s opening sequence.

* The ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast.

* The last playtime scene or the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3.

* The first glimpse of the dwarves’ mine in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

* Getting the key upstairs in Cinderella.

* The last scene in Wreck-It Ralph.

But it all boils down to one all-time favorite scene in all Disney movies I’ve seen that I cherish the most:

The opening sequence of Toy Story.


Because those first few minutes tell you that the world may be a scary place, but when you’re home, everything is alright. When you go see Toy Story for the first time, you know it’s about toys coming to life, but for those first few minutes of the movie, you can sense that they’re real even before they come to their life.

It’s one of those things I can watch over and over and over and will never get bored of it.

When you put in Toy Story, everything becomes right in the world. And for 80 minutes, you’re safe.

What’s YOUR favorite Disney moment?

Why Disney is Better Now Than When We Were Kids


Walt Disney Pictures, in the 90’s, presented us with unforgettable films such as The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, etc. These formidable and successful years for the Walt Disney Co. are also known as Disney’s renaissance years, following many, many years of mediocrity just barely creeping out of the once-vibrant studio.

But the century turned, and the Y2K scare was debunked as a myth. Not so much. The mythical bug seemed to make its home inside the mouse’s kingdom, and sucked all the magic and life off of the studio’s story boards. Thus the studio tried to convince its well-earned masses that movies like Dinosaur, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and Home on the Range were just as worthy to be included on the shelf with such greats as Tarzan and Hercules.

Not to mention the overwhelming amount of straight-to-video sequels, in an attempt to remind fans and audiences of the glory days. (A book I would highly recommend on this topic and the reason behind Disney’s temporary downfall is Disney War by James B. Stewart.)

But as great as Disney was back in the ’30s, ’40s, and ’90s, I believe it has never been as on target with their films as they have been for the last several years (or at least since Robert Iger took over as chairman and chief executive officer, and placed Pixar’s John Lasseter as chief creative officer). You see, Disney’s mantra, since Uncle Walt himself breathed life into his creations, had always been to follow your dreams, and you can be anything you want to be. All you have to do is wish on a star, or follow your heart, or sing a merry tune. Follow these three easy steps, and all will be well with your life.

Perhaps due to influences from Pixar Studios, Disney has recently taken up another message to feed its impressionable audiences. And in a most critical time in our self-serving, egotistical, lazy history, to boot.

Nearly everywhere a child turns, he’s bombarded with messages of self-indulgence, take without any give, you’re number 1 for no reason at all… but it seems to me that Disney has been taking a more realistic turn in its messages. Somewhere beneath the storyline of magical princesses and arcade room battles, the messages of Disney have turned from the deflating cushion of fantasy to the hard truths of reality.

I haven’t seen Planes, nor do I know what sort of message the upcoming  Frozen will turn out. But if you look at Disney’s recent films, you’ll see that they are promoting hard work, above wishing on a star (The Princess and the Frog), and there are some things about your life you just can’t change and you must learnt to live with (Wreck-it-Ralph). 

Even the zany Meet the Robinsons, the first non-Pixar movie Lasseter produced, was filled with the hard-hitting message that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And some mysteries are meant to remain just that – mysteries for us to never know. (This film happens to be a favorite in our house because it surrounds the theme of adoption in a very appropriate, and sombre way, despite the fifty minutes of pure silliness in the middle of the movie.)

Pixar, also, has taken a bold turn in their recent films as well, daring to teach kids lessons that no other animated film has had the guts to do (just watch Monsters University and you’ll see what I mean).

Not everything that comes from Disney is great, but the great things that do come from them far surpass any other entertainment medium out there (with the exception of Pixar films, The Lord of the Rings movies, and maaaaybe Harry Potter – I’m a latecomer to that franchise and brand new convert). But one thing’s for sure: When we finally do get a kid, I’ll have no shame in indoctrinating him (or her) with the latest Disney has to offer.

Image Credit

Spoiler-free Monsters University Review


We don’t go to the movies often, but Pixar movies are are never missed in the Toy household. So last Saturday, Sarabeth and I went on a date to see Pixar’s newest film, Monsters University. 

You’ll recall 2001’s Monsters Inc. being about monsters, but there was nothing scary about it (which actually made it even more brilliant). The prequel however, capitalizes on the scare factor, especially in the dark and phenomenal third act. I’m not sure how it received a G rating – just make sure your four year olds are okay with monsters creeping beside sleeping children’s bedsides.

And, actually, the above point is a compliment. I loved how much darker this movie was (though not quite Toy Story 3 dark, but definitely scarier). But upping the fear factor isn’t the only risk Pixar takes in Monsters University. The message itself is very bold, which serves as yet another strength for the film.

We all remember growing up watching animated movies tell us that we can be anything we want to be if we just believe enough and blah, blah, blah. Well, Ratatouille was the first film to tell children otherwise. “Not everyone can be a great cook…” A few more Pixar movies hinted at these harsh truths, then Disney itself started to jump on the truth-bandwagon (once Lasseter took the helm, it seems) with Wreck it Ralph (he still had to play the bad guy at the end of the movie).

Monsters University comes out and just says it: You might not be good enough at what you want to do; your dreams might not actually come true.

And I love that! It’s the truth every kid needs to hear but few people are brave enough to tell them.

As for the film itself, it won’t likely be my immediate go-to when I need a Pixar fix on a rainy day (it falls somewhere between Cars and Wall-e), but it was far worth our admission price. The jokes were slick and continuous, the story was fluid and engaging and if you liked Sulley and Mike in the first movie, you’ll absolutely fall in love with them in this one.

The new cast of characters is enjoyable and a welcome addition to the Pixar family (I especially liked Art, the dim-witted hippy). And Dan is a monster any man stuck in a dead-end job can relate to.

So the big question is: is it better than Monsters Inc.? Well, I’ll have to watch it a couple more times when I get it for my birthday in November (another tradition in our house) before I make that decision. (In my experience, Pixar movies get better with age, so I expect MU will be no different.) But I can say that it makes the original Monsters sweeter, and gives it more substance than it already had (as if it lacked any to begin with).

Can’t wait to revisit Monsters University, especially with kids. We’ll just hold them extra tight during the scary scenes, and those will be great memories to look back on in years to come. Go see it and let me know what you think!

Why Pixar is Superior


It’s almost impossible to turn a corner in the street or flip through the TV and not see an ad for Disney/Pixar’s newest movie, Monsters University, which comes out this week. Sarabeth and I don’t go to the theaters often, but every summer we make an exception to hit the newest Pixar movie. This Saturday, for us, will be no exception.

You would be hardpressed to meet a person – kid or grown-up – who hasn’t seen at least two Pixar films in their lifetime. I always feel so sorry for the people who refuse to see “cartoons” because they think they’re just for kids. (Silly people – it’s the movies, not Trix!) Now, I can understand if some people can’t tell the difference between a Dreamworks movie and  Pixar movie (or even that there is a difference). If I was uneducated in this complex, competitive field of arts, and I went and saw… oh, I don’t know, Monsters vs. Aliens (DW), I would probably swear off those dumb “Disney cartoons” too.

But here’s what I’d like to say to those people. There is a difference – many, many, many differences – between Disney/Pixar “cartoons” and other cartoon movies.

For the purposes of keeping this post short, I’ll only be picking on Dreamworks, since it is Pixar’s most jealous rival. I’d also like to hear from you, the readers, your thoughts on the subject, as I haven’t quite yet figured out all of the major differences.

Dreamworks has produced some great stuff in the past – don’t get me wrong. I’ll never forget how groundbreaking Shrek was (its immediate sequel remains my favorite of the series), and How to Train Your Dragon, which came out more than a decade later, was a poignant, memorable, and honorable movie, worth many revisits. Oh, and I enjoyed Over the Hedge, but still, it was an afterthought just now. 

But the rest of their movies? They just seem to rely on pop-culture icons as fallback jokes, unnecessary innuendos that you can probably find in any Jim Carrey movie, and big-name stars as their voice actors that really don’t seem like they fit the character they’re playing.

Shark Tale, Flushed Away, Shrek the Third, and Bee Movie happen to be among the worst movies I’ve ever seen – (Megamind was the end of the road for me.) And the rest (save for the three mentioned above) were highly forgettable.

But a Pixar movie? Those are the ones that stay with you for a long time. I’ll give you Cars 2. That one was a mistake and shouldn’t have been made. But 1 out of 13 ain’t bad, right? And judging by the early reviews of Monsters University, it looks like it’s about to be 1 bad apple in 14.

The thing with Pixar movies that sets them apart from others is that their characters are flawed, and relatable, and in the end, selfless and loyal. I love that Pixar – and Disney, really – are still imparting these virtues to our children, and reminding us adults what it means to love and be faithful. These are the themes that bleed from these films, and never in a cheesy way.

Speaking of values and morals, I hear Monsters University takes its viewers in a very bold direction, and imparts a bit of  the world’s harsh realities to its younger viewers. I can’t wait to see this movie. I have refrained from watching the full trailer, so I’ll be in for many fun surprises. The video I have posted below is not a trailer nor a spoiler. It’s just a fun 30 second promo to get you pumped for seeing Monsters University.

Monsters University Acceptance

Always Wreckin’ It

650px-Wreck-It_Ralph_(2012)_-_Theatrical_Trailer_for_Wreck-It_RalphPoor Ralph. He just wants to be one of the good guys for once. He’s tired of his big, clumsy fists, tired of always hurting people, tired of wrecking everything.

Peter would have liked Ralph. Peter’s problem didn’t lie in his fists, but in his mouth. Always spouting off an irrational answer, making promises he can’t possibly keep, cutting people’s ears off, spewing poison before the cock crows…

Always wrecking things.

In the Toy household, we have enough faith in Disney to forego the theater outing and just buy their movies when they come on video. From Meet the Robinsons to Bolt to  TangledI’m not sure we’ve ever been disappointed.

Now, to be sure, Sarabeth didn’t care too much about our newest addition, Wreck it Ralph, which came on video last Tuesday. The video game setting threw her off, and she couldn’t connect with it. Until she decided to watch the second half… she gradually got sucked in and said, “I’m sure I’ll like it more when we watch it again next week.”

Yeah. That’s what we do here. When we find a fun new movie, we latch onto it for weeks at a time and watch it till we’re tired of it. Kids would fit in perfectly in our home, don’t you think??

So the story goes, that Ralph, this video game character was programmed to be a bad guy, always destroying the Nicelanders’ beautiful retro-style buildings. That’s what he was made to do. That was his lot is in life.

Destroy the nice people’s buildings, then go home to your junk pile until the next day.

We’re no different than Ralph in one regard.

Since the Fall, we too were programed to mess up, screw up, act out, lash out, trip up, slip up, break this, wreck that…

Calvin asked Hobbs of the famed Waterson comic strip, “Are people born good with bad tendencies, or born bad with good tendencies?”

Since sin squatted down and defecated on the world and since we are descendants of the first sinners, the answer is that we are all programmed to sin from the start. We are all programmed to wreck it.

If we’re not wrecking someone else’s heart, we’re wrecking our own.

But our friend Ralph, just like our brother Peter, wasn’t happy with his lot in life. He wanted something more. He wanted to be respected as a hero, and liked as a friend.

He wanted to be good.

And don’t we all? I mean, even the worst of us, at some point in our lives want to be good. Even the most flamboyant liberal and most money-grabbing conservative wants to be good somewhere deep inside.

But we’re incapable of that.

“Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am!” Romans 7:21-24

Most of us know this verse well. Many of us can resonate with it. The turmoil of ceaseless temptations, the slave driver of constant sin, the oppression of ousting God’s Word from our hearts!

We know this feeling! Ralph may not have voiced it, Peter might not have articulated it, but Paul gave words to our innermost groaning and shoved a bullhorn up to our hearts and exclaimed, “What a wretched man I am!”

Wretched. Always wrecking.

So what now? Just walk away with our heads down low, leaving behind a trail of wrecked hearts and broken promises?

“Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7 cont.

While we may constantly wreck things, remember in whom you are to put your trust:

“Behold, I make all things new.”  Revelation 21:1

Maranatha, Lord Jesus. Come fix this mess we’ve made of Your world.

[Image Credit]