Review: “The Lion King” (2019)

Fancy technology and new CGI tools can’t save this dull, uninspired remake of Disney’s beloved animated musical The Lion King.

Photorealistic CGI Pride Rock in THE LION KING (2019)

Directed by Jon Favreau [Iron Man (2008), The Jungle Book (2016)], this new photorealistic re-telling of The Lion King is mostly a shot-for-shot and almost word-for-word remake of the 1994 original animated film from Disney Animation. The filmmakers have provided us with a beautifully-shot nature documentary-style of film (with animals that speak English, that is…) that sacrifices art for realism.

Scar and the hyenas in THE LION KING (2019)

The realism, while very well done, strips the story of one of the things that made it great in the first place—the incredible art and animation created by the artists at Walt Disney Animation Studios. Without the art and heightened interpretation of the natural world as done by the Disney Animation team, the film just becomes an impressive but lifeless technological shell of its former self.

Young Simba, Timon, and Pumbaa in THE LION KING (2019)

A major disappointment in choosing to follow the original script so closely is that the new vocal and musical artists brought on board (namely Donald Glover, the voice of grown-up Simba, Beyoncé, the voice of grown-up Nala, and music producer Pharell Williams) weren’t given anything new or interesting to do (Beyoncé gets half a new song near the end of Act II and is also involved with a Lion King-inspired album soon to be released but that’s it). I hate to be prescriptive here, but I was hoping for at least some new songs or some new material for these incredibly talented people to participate in that would make this re-telling more unique (think of what Disney did with the Broadway production of The Lion King).

The comic relief characters Timon (voiced by Billy Eichner) and Pumbaa (voiced by Seth Rogen) are funny enough and, thankfully, get a new line or two that actually made me laugh, but still should have been given more to do as well. And, sadly, the great actor Chiwetel Ejiofor’s interpretation of the villainous Scar can’t compare with the campy and scary performance of Jeremy Irons from the original animated film.

Every five minutes during the screening, I just wanted the projectionist to roll the 1994 original instead of this needless, uninventive rehash. I know that Disney is probably not going to stop with these remakes, at least not in my lifetime, but I sure wish they would just appropriately honor and re-release the original animated films on the big screen and focus their tremendous creative and financial resources in more original ways.

Nala and Simba feeling the love tonight in THE LION KING (2019)

The Lion King remake is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements.”

My score: 2 out of 5 stars

Images ©️ Disney

Review: “Toy Story 4”

Woody gets reunited with Bo Peep and has to make some serious decisions about how he wants to live his life in Pixar Animation Studios’ brilliant and beautiful Toy Story 4.

Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) and Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks) in TOY STORY 4 (©️ Disney/Pixar)

The film’s main storyline picks up basically right where we left the toys after 2010’s Toy Story 3: Andy has gone off to college and Woody (again voiced by Tom Hanks), Buzz Lightyear (again voiced by Tim Allen), and all of Andy’s other toys now belong to a young girl named Bonnie. Woody and the gang now all play second fiddle to Bonnie’s existing toys. In fact, Woody gets played with less and less as Bonnie is preferring other toys over him.

When Bonnie reluctantly goes to her orientation day of kindergarten, she ends up making a rudimentary toy out of a plastic “spork” and names him “Forky.” Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) instantly becomes Bonnie’s favorite toy; however, Forky isn’t quite sure that he wants to be a toy or that he wants to stay in Bonnie’s room so he keeps throwing himself in whatever garbage container he can find. Because of Bonnie’s devotion to him and because Woody needs something to do since he’s not needed as much, Woody makes it his primary job to keep Forky safe for Bonnie.

The toys are back, this time on an RV adventure with Bonnie and her family in TOY STORY 4 (©️ Disney/Pixar)

Things really start to get interesting when Bonnie and her parents rent an RV and take a road trip during the last week of summer before school starts. At one point along the highway, Forky decides to throw himself away outside a window, so Woody feels compelled to follow him with a plan to meet back up with the gang at an RV campground a few miles down the road where the family is planning to stop for the night.

The delightful and thought-provoking adventure comedy that follows focuses mostly on the character arc of our favorite toy sheriff, Woody. Through an interesting series of events, Woody gets reunited with his former love, Bo Peep (voiced again by Annie Potts), who has made a new life for herself independent of any human child (or any human for that matter). Also in Woody’s path is a defective talking doll named Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks) who thinks that Woody has what it takes for her to get repaired and, therefore, wanted by a human child.

While he has to continue to save Forky from himself and his surroundings, Woody also is faced with some difficult questions about what the purpose of his life is (I’ll keep this review spoiler free…). Needless to say, the conclusions are satisfying and surprising.

Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks) and one of her dummy henchmen meet Woody in TOY STORY 4 (©️ Disney/Pixar)

All of the living character voices have returned from the previous Toy Story films (the film has a dedication to actor Don Rickles, the voice of Mr. Potato Head, who passed away in 2017). New to the cast are the carnival plush toys Ducky and Bunny, voiced by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, and Canadian stunt motorcyclist Duke Caboom, voiced by Keanu Reeves, who steals the show.

Director Josh Cooley and team have created another outstanding animated comedy and a worthy addition to the storied Toy Story films. Probably what I loved the most about this film is its intelligent script and Pixar’s exacting commitment to story, as has been the case with the three previous Toy Story films, too. While I wasn’t sure that we needed another Toy Story after the extremely satisfying and emotional ending to Toy Story 3, this new adventure with the Toy Story gang is so entertaining and so much fun, it made me question why I questioned the Pixar folks in the first place.

Bo Peep (Annie Potts), Woody (Tom Hanks) , Buzz Lightyear (Tim Alen), Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key), and Bunny (Jordan Peele) on an adventure in TOY STOYY 4 (©️ Disney/Pixar)

Leave it to the magicians at Pixar to create not only a very interesting continuation to the storyline and ideas from the previous Toy Story films, but to also create a film with so much heart and humor and with so much gorgeous animation that it takes your breath away.

Bo Peep (Annie Potts) in TOY STORY 4 (©️ Disney/Pixar)

Toy Story 4 is rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America.

My score: 5 out of 5 stars

Make sure to check out the all of the cool Toy Story 4 posters from Poster Posse, too.

Images ©️ Disney/Pixar

Review: “Aladdin” (2019)

The Walt Disney Studios’ latest remake is a live-action/photorealstic CGI retelling of their 1992 animated hit musical Aladdin.

Thankfully, the storyline and the music in this remake remain mostly the same as the beloved 1992 original. Aladdin, played by Mena Massoud, is still a “diamond in the rough”—an orphaned “street rat” who is much more of a man than his appearance and situation shows. Upon the fateful meeting in the town’s marketplace with the kingdom’s princess, Jasmine, played by Naomi Scott, who has disguised herself to get a break from her trapped life in the gilt cage of the palace, the two form an instant connection. However, the laws of the kingdom of Agrabah where they live require the princess to marry a prince, and Jasmine has many princely suitors who are vying for her hand.

Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) and Aladdin (Mena Massoud) meet in the Agrabah marketplace in Disney’s ALADDIN (2019).

Enter the Genie, who in this version is played by a CGI-concoction of the actor and rapper Will Smith. After Aladdin gets trapped in the Cave of Wonders (again, very similar to the 1992 original), he becomes the master of the lamp and Genie grants him three wishes. So, of course, Aladdin wishes to be made a prince in order to have a chance with the Princess Jasmine. However, the sultan’s duplicitous vizier Jafar, played by Marwan Kenzari, has other things in mind for this new prince who appears to have won over the Princess’ heart.

Will Smith in full CGI-mode as the Genie in Disney’s ALADDIN (2019).

The new script for the film, co-written by John August and the film’s director Guy Ritchie, makes a few modifications and most of them work. The animal sidekicks remain—Abu the monkey, Rajah the tiger, and Iago the parrot—but instead are photorealistic CGI creations. Iago undergoes the most drastic character change of being truly just a parrot rather than the wise-cracking comic relief from the original, and the results are mixed. A more defined emphasis on Jasmine’s abilities and independent attitude is underlined with some added dialogue as well as a new song for the film written by Alan Menken and collaborators Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (composers of the music for the Broadway hit musical Dear Evan Hansen and the musical film The Greatest Showman).

Will Smith stepped into absolutely impossible shoes trying to reprise actor Robin Williams’ and animator Eric Goldberg’s performances as the Genie. Smith tries very hard to make the role his own and I felt like he succeeded part of the time. I think the CGI artists are partly to blame here, since trying to make the Genie be as manic and shapeshifting as in the 1992 film (not to mention all of the blue skin and altered head and body features, too) works better in a 2D/traditional animation aesthetic than in a style rooted in realism that is used in all of these “live-action” remakes.

L-R: Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), Jasmine (Naomi Scott), and Sultan (Navid Negahban) argue over Jasmine’s future in Disney’s ALADDIN (2019).

Director Guy Ritchie adds his usual stylistic flair, but I was surprised that his usual camera and editing tricks were somewhat understated for this film. The production values are high, as is the case in all of these Disney remakes, with beautiful cinematography, sets, and costumes. Probably the most appealing thing about this film, other than being able to hear Alan Menken’s wonderful music again, is the overall chemistry with the actors. The casting choices were solid (the CGI performance of Will Smith’s Genie notwithstanding) and the actors were all appealing in their attractiveness and abilities. Particularly, Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott as Aladdin and Jasmine have the sort of on-screen spark and rapport that makes going to the movies so fun.

Overall, Aladdin is an entertaining retelling of a story that didn’t need to be retold. If you don’t plan to make it to the theater to see this one, the 1992 animated feature you’ve already got in your home movie library is really the only version you need.

Aladdin is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some action/peril.”

My score: 3 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s the IMAX poster.

©️ Disney and IMAX

All images ©️ Disney

Review: “Captain Marvel”

Who is Captain Marvel? That is the main question at the core of Marvel Studios’ marvelously entertaining new film.

This part mystery/part action film takes us through the journey of Carol Danvers (aka “Vers” and aka “Captain Marvel,” wonderfully played by Brie Larson) as she struggles to figure out where she comes from and who she really is.

When we first meet Captain Marvel, she is “Vers,” a powerful warrior in training and part of the Kree alien race. She is being trained by her Kree mentor and commander Yon-Rogg (played by Jude Law). The Kree are at war with another alien race called the Skrulls. The Skrulls are shape-shifters and can take the appearance of any other being that they see, making them all the more formidable. In the Marvel Comics, “the Kree and the Skrulls have been at each others’ throats for thousands upon thousands of years” (see

A battle mishap causes Vers to crash land on the planet Earth circa 1995 along with some of the shape-shifting Skrulls. On Earth, Vers encounters S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division) agents Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson in a pre-eye patch version of this well-known character) and Coulson (played again by Clark Gregg), who are amazed by her powers and want to learn more. And Vers wants to learn more as well, since somewhere in the back of her mind, things on Earth look rather familiar to her.

Carol Danvers (played by Brie Larson) and Nick Fury (played by Samuel L. Jackson) in “Captain Marvel.” (©️ Marvel)

Along the way in their earthly adventures, Vers and Fury meet up with U.S. Air Force pilot Maria Rambeau (played by Lashana Lynch), who might have some information that will help them out. They also have to deal with Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Agent Keller (played by Ben Mendelsohn), and the mysterious presence of a woman from Vers’ past (played by Annette Bening) who might just have the answers Vers is looking for.

This film has great action and great heart. Co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck create an excellent balance of mystery, exposition, and action (along with lots of entertaining 1990’s jokes, references, and music) as we learn who Captain Marvel really is and how she fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And by the time Captain Marvel’s formidable powers reveal themselves, you hopefully will also have a big smile on your face as this film has all of the excitement and enjoyment that make these Marvel Studios’ movies so much fun.

(Plus, as I’m sure you’ve surmised, this film is a perfect setup for the upcoming action in Marvel Studios’ next superhero extravaganza Avengers: Endgame which opens on April 26. Make sure to stay through the end credits, as always.)

Captain Marvel is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief suggestive language.”

My score: 4 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s the IMAX poster for the film.

Also, check out the cool Captain Marvel poster series from Poster Posse on my blog here.

All images ©️ Marvel

“The Other Side of the Wind”

It’s been fascinating to me to learn more about and to finally see Orson Welles’ final film The Other Side of the Wind (Netflix, 2018).

A biting satire of Hollywood and sort of a film-within-a-film itself, The Other Side of the Wind is about a legendary film director named Jake Hannaford (played by the real-life legendary director John Huston) who is attempting to resuscitate his languishing career by making an avant-guard film called, well, The Other Side of The Wind. Hannaford needs an influx of cash to finish the project, so he throws a screening party at an expansive home in Arizona and invites potential investors and various members of the Hollywood media to show them parts of the unfinished film.

Orson Welles began shooting the film in 1970. Filming continued sporadically for six more years. From what I’ve read, it sounds like a combination of Welles’ temperament along with a series of complicated financial deals brought the work on the film to a standstill. Welles died in 1985 and the film remained in an unfinished state and became a “holy grail” of sorts for devotees of Welles’ work.

Multiple attempts have been made over the years to complete the film. Finally, the deep pockets of Netflix along with the work of director Peter Bogdanovich (who also stars in the film) and movie producer Frank Marshall (who was an assistant on the film) were able to get the job done.

While Welles supervised some of the editing himself when he was actively working on the film, what we have for our viewing pleasure now is an attempt by multiple filmmakers, artists, and technical experts to recreate a work by a notoriously fickle auteur. Writer and self-professed Orson Welles “obsessive” Alex Ross in a very interesting article in The New Yorker wrote:

“Welles buffs will long argue over their choices, but the film is a major addition to the director’s canon, offering a sometimes harrowingly personal vision. Hannaford is hardly a self-portrait, but his predicament is not unlike Welles’s own: he is a legend whose past overshadows his present. At the same time, ‘Wind’ is an exhilarating forward leap, its rapid-fire editing and pseudo-documentary format heralding modern styles. Ultimately, it has the Wellesian quality of not caring what you make of it. As one of Hannaford’s minions says, bringing out a stack of film cans, ‘Well, here it is, if anybody wants to see it.'”

Ross also details in his excellent piece about the physical and technical challenges of assembling the film. “[Sound supervisor Daniel] Saxlid, a wizardly Swede, spent more than three months cleaning up the dialogue, working seven days a week in a windowless room in Technicolor’s post-production facility on the Paramount lot. Multiple transfers of the soundtrack had caused a build-up of noise and distortion…Saxlid developed a…program, “a kind of forensics,” to expand microscopic portions of the track and reduce noise while preserving the voices. All this solitary activity gave him a curious sense of interaction with Welles himself. ‘So much of this we couldn’t have done even a few years ago. All these endless delays drove everyone crazy, but maybe the thing had to wait until we had all the right tools for it. I kept having a funny feeling that Welles had tossed all this to the future, for us to figure out.'”

They definitely figured things out technically. The film is fascinating to watch—almost as if Welles had come back from the grave to give us one last film. The imagery is sometimes a bit challenging and unplesant, but is also sometimes absolutely revelatory in its composition, style, and technical excellence. I wonder if we’ll ever figure out all of what Welles was trying to say. To me, it was like Welles taking his hands off the steering wheel of a speeding car, giving the middle finger to Hollywood, but then crashing and, sadly, losing his life in a rather self-consumed and futile way.

Behind-the-scenes photo with John Huston (L), Orson Welles (C), and Peter Bogdanovich (R) which looks like a happy time

The film is currently available on Netflix. Also of interest is a behind-the-scenes documentary about the creation of the final cut called They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, which is currently on Netflix as well.

The Other Side of the Wind is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sexual content, graphic nudity and some language.”

My score: 4 out of 5 stars

Images ©️ Netflix