Movie of the Week for March 15-21, 2021

As mentioned in my March 15, 2021 podcast, I’ve started a new “Movie of the Week” feature. I’ll be recommending a favorite movie with the hopes that it will be a film that you’ll enjoy, too. I’d love to chat online about each week’s film on my Instagram and Twitter feeds if you’re so inclined.

First up are actually two films, both from my all-time favorite movie studio, Walt Disney Animation Studios. I selected both the first feature length film from Disney Animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), as well as their 59th animated feature length and most recent film, Raya and the Last Dragon (2021).

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs also happens to be an entry in the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Must-See Musicals viewing guide which I am following this year, so it’s a double bonus.

Snow White is available on the Disney+ streaming service. Raya is currently playing in theaters and is available on Disney+ Premier Access (additional fee required).

Here are posters for the two films.

©️ Disney

New Poster for “Raya and the Last Dragon”

We’re one month away from the opening of Raya and the Last Dragon, Walt Disney Animation Studios‘ 59th animated motion picture.

Check out this cool new poster for the film.

And in case you haven’t already seen it, here’s the latest trailer.

Raya and the Last Dragon is coming to theaters and Premier Access on Disney+ ($29.99) on March 5.

Review: “Frozen 2”

Attention: This review is spoiler-free.

Where did Elsa get her powers from? And what were Anna and Elsa’s parents really doing when their ship went down? These pivotal questions lie at the heart of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ supremely entertaining and beautiful sequel Frozen 2.

The film basically picks up where the first film (and the myriad of Frozen-themed short films) left off. Princess Anna (again voiced by Kristen Bell) and her big sister Queen Elsa (again voiced by the dreamy Idina Menzel) are best buddies once more and are peacefully ruling the kingdom of Arendelle. Anna is still with her boyfriend Kristoff (again voiced by Jonathan Groff) and they continue to be accompanied by Kristoff’s reindeer Sven and Elsa’s magical creation Olaf the snowman (again voiced by Josh Gad).

We’re treated to a flashback when Anna and Elsa are little girls and where we learn more about their parents, King Agnarr (voiced by Alfred Molina) and Queen Iduna (voiced by Evan Rachel Wood). Their parents tell the girls a story about an Enchanted Forest and other places outside of Arendelle when some important events took place that directly affected their family.

Queen Iduna (Evan Rachel Wood) sings a lullaby to young Anna and Elsa in FROZEN 2. (©️ Disney)

Back in present day, Elsa keeps hearing voices. She is troubled to know if she should try to figure out what they are saying to her or if she should just ignore them. Elsa decides to heed the mysterious call and sets the film’s adventure into motion. With all of the gang in tow, Elsa ventures off “into the unknown” (which is also a name of one of the many terrific new songs from the film) to try to find out what these voices are attempting to tell her.

When they find the Enchanted Forest, they meet the indigenous Northuldra people who have a long history with the Arendellians and who have a tradition of caring for the environment (and maybe have a little magic to throw into the mix, too). And while the people have been going on with their lives, there is (literally) a cloud hanging over them and a major mystery that needs to be solved. Can Anna and Elsa solve the puzzle? And do the Northuldra hold any answers to the big burning questions? One thing is for sure, our heroines Anna and Elsa are both up to the task.

Honeymaren (Rachel Matthews), Ryder (Jason Ritter) and Yelana (Martha Plimpton) are all part of the Northuldra people, who might hold the answers to some important questions in FROZEN 2. (©️ Disney)

I found this film utterly delightful. The trademark high quality animation done by the masters at Walt Disney Animation Studios is again absolutely stunning and is such a pleasure to watch. Co-directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck are back along with most of the creative team from the first film and they’ve infused this film with love, craft, and care. The new songs written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the same writing team as the first Frozen film and the Broadway musical, are again catchy and wonderful and help propel the story forward.

Ultimately, Frozen 2 serves as a terrific complement to its predecessor. Questions are answered, rights are wronged (including giving Jonathan Groff a full song to sing–and it’s a doozy), and the story all comes together in a very satisfactory way (at least for this viewer). Sisterly love once more reigns supreme along with the encouragement to all to be brave, loving, and to go into our own unknowns, whatever and wherever they may be.

Frozen 2 is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association for “action/peril and some thematic elements.”

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sisters rule in FROZEN 2. (©️ Disney)

All images ©️ Disney

Japanese Posters for “Frozen 2”

Check out these great character posters made for Japan for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ upcoming feature Frozen 2.

All images ©️ Disney

Anna (and I have no idea what the rest of the poster says other than probably the Japanese translation of “Frozen 2”)
Elsa (or whatever her name is in Japanese)
Sven and Kristof

Frozen 2 opens in theaters on November 22 (same day as in Japan).

Get Ready for “Frozen 2”

Some serious marketing started today for Walt Disney Animation Studios’ 58th animated motion picture Frozen 2. A new poster along with a new “special look” video have been plastered all over social media.

The new poster is spiffy.

©️ Disney

And this “special look” video includes some of the new song “Into the Unknown” written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and sung by the voice of Elsa herself, Idina Menzel.

Frozen 2 opens in theaters November 22.

Get Ready for “Frozen 2”

Today, Walt Disney Animation Studios debuted new artwork, a teaser poster, and a teaser trailer for their upcoming animated sequel Frozen 2. (Or is it Frozen II? The trailer and poster use the Roman numeral while the social media hashtag is #Frozen2.) Regardless, the trailer is impressive and the art looks beautiful (and have I mentioned lately how much I love the work of the talented folks at Walt Disney Animation Studios?).

Here’s the teaser trailer (see if you can spot the two new mystery characters).

Here’s the brand new teaser poster (with more of those fancy floating diamonds from the trailer).

And check out this beautiful art.

Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Frozen 2 opens in theaters on November 22.

All images ©️ Disney

Happy 60th Birthday to “Sleeping Beauty”

Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) is celebrating its 60th anniversary today.

I have always been a fan of the film’s distinctive look, which is primarily attributed to production designer and artist extraordinaire Eyvind Earle.

Eyvind Earle showing some of the backgrounds from SLEEPING BEAUTY (©️ Disney)
Eyvind Earle working in his office on SLEEPING BEAUTY art (©️ Disney)

The folks at D23, the official Disney fan club, have been posting some cool Sleeping Beauty articles over the past few days to commemorate the film’s 60th anniversary. One of the articles describes Earle’s approach to the film’s unique design:

“Determined to make this new film a Disney animated feature like no other, Walt assigned stylist Eyvind Earle as production designer. Creating a stylized approach that was a radical departure from previous Disney animated features, Earle combined Gothic French, Italian, and pre-Renaissance influences with his own abstract style of realism to create the formalized elegance and stylish design seen in Sleeping Beauty. To create the sumptuously stylized panoramas for this widescreen spectacle, Earle painted dozens of backgrounds in his distinctive style, some of them 15 feet long. Animation artist Tom Oreb skillfully incorporated the strong horizontal and vertical planes of the backgrounds into the character design, so that they had the Earle flair.”

Walt Disney showing Eyvind Earle’s work (©️ Disney)

Also stated in the D23 article is the painstaking work that was required to create the film. “Sequence director Eric Larson recalled the conscious effort to strive for Sleeping Beauty perfection. ‘Walt told me after one story meeting that he didn’t care how long it took, but to do it right,’ he said. Walt challenged the more than 300 Sleeping Beauty artists and technicians to make each frame an independent work of art. Because of the intricate stylization of the characters, the assistant animators had to work carefully with exacting specifications, even down to the exact thickness of the pencil lines. In the case of the carefully designed Briar Rose, it took one full day to create one cleaned-up animation drawing. For the jewel-like colors selected by Eyvind Earle, the Disney Paint Lab developed new hues using additives that gave the pigments a glow on the screen unseen in any animated film that had come before.”

Concept art for SLEEPING BEAUTY (©️ Disney)
Concept art for SLEEPING BEAUTY (©️ Disney)
Concept art for SLEEPING BEAUTY (©️ Disney)

Another interesting item of note is that brilliant animator and artist Marc Davis was assigned to animate both the film’s protagonist (Princess Aurora/Briar Rose) and the antagonist (Maleficent).

Marc Davis along with the voice of Sleeping Beauty, opera singer Mary Costa (©️ Disney)
Character design for Princess Aurora/Briar Rose (©️ Disney)
Love this concept art for Maleficent (©️ Disney)

The film was the first animated movie shot in Super Technirama 70 widescreen (and the second to filmed in widescreen after 1955’s Lady and the Tramp). It was also released in 6-channel stereophonic sound. Here’s a clip (and check out those amazing Eyvind Earle trees).

The great art of Sleeping Beauty lives on today. Princess Aurora even made a stylized appearance, along with all of the other princesses from Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, in last year’s Ralph Breaks the Internet. Here’s a tribute tweet today from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Here’s some great art by Walt Disney Animation Studios artist Lorelay Bove, too.

Speaking of D23, I am seeing Sleeping Beauty on the big screen next month as part of special D23 event and I can’t wait (more to come).

All images ©️ Disney

Review: “Ralph Breaks the Internet”

Video game buddies Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz venture into the big city of the internet in Walt Disney Animation Studios‘ new animated comedy adventure Ralph Breaks the Internet.

A sequel to Disney Animation’s 2012 animated feature Wreck-It Ralph, the film picks up six years after the original. Ralph (again voiced by John C. Reilly) and his BFF Vanellope (again voiced by Sarah Silverman), who are both still active players in their respective video games (Fix-It Felix, Jr. for Ralph and Sugar Rush for Vanellope), are in a pretty set routine in Litwak’s Arcade. Every night after the arcade closes, the two of them meet up for a root beer at Tapper’s and then go hang out in some of their other favorite games in the arcade (including a 1980s Tron video game!). While Ralph feels perfectly content with the way life is, Vanellope is wondering about if there might be something more to her existence than racing on the same tracks in her game every day.

When Ralph tries to help Vanellope feel better, he instead causes a major problem with the Sugar Rush game, leading to the breaking of the console’s steering wheel (he is Wreck-It Ralph, after all) and prompting Mr. Litwak to unplug the game. With all the citizens of Sugar Rush now homeless, the other characters of the arcade that we met in the first film, including Fix-It Felix, Jr. (again voiced by Jack McBrayer) and Sgt. Calhoun (again voiced by Jane Lynch), come to the aid of their fellow video game neighbors. Ralph and Vanellope then decide that they will try to get the required part to fix Sugar Rush and to restore things back to how they were in the arcade by traveling to the internet via the arcade’s newly installed internet connection.

Here’s the latest trailer that shows the film’s setup.

What follows is a classic small town kids traveling to the big city sort of story, just amped up a bit by turning many of the familiar websites we know and love (Google, eBay, Amazon, etc.) into places within the giant electric “city” of the internet. Ralph and Vanellope get in way over their heads, Ralph continues to, well, wreck stuff, and the two have a grand adventure of experiencing new things and figuring out what they want out of life. 

New characters introduced in the film include the stylish tastemaker algorithm Yesss (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), tough-as-nails race car driver Shank (voiced by Gal Gadot), know-it-all Knowsmore (voiced by Alan Tudyk), and dark net gangster Double Dan (voiced by Alfred Molina). And in one of the funniest segments of the film, all of the Disney (and Pixar!) princesses are in the same scene at the same time and are voiced by all of the living actresses who voiced them in the original films: Ariel (Jodi Benson) from The Little Mermaid, Belle (Paige O’Hara) from Beauty and the Beast, Jasmine (Linda Larkin) from Aladdin, Pocahontas (Irene Bedard), Mulan (Ming-Na Wen), Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) from The Princess and the Frog, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) from Tangled, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) from Frozen, and Moana (Auli’i Cravalho) along with the OG Disney princesses Snow White, Cinderella, and Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. Oh, and Merida (Kelly Macdonald) from Pixar’s Brave is there, too. Also making cameo or brief appearances in the film are some popular real-life YouTubers and internet celebrities, including Colleen Ballinger (aka Miranda Sings), Dani Fernandez, GloZell Green, Tiffany Herrera (aka Cupquake), and Flula Borg.

Director Rich Moore is back for the sequel. This time he is joined by co-director Phil Johnston, who also co-wrote the screenplays for this film as well as the original Wreck-It Ralph. The film is loaded with their trademark and witty humor, which I love. I admire so much how they are able to make situations and things funny without being cynical and without just dumping in jokes for the jokes’ sake. Rather, the humor, while extremely topical, always helps to propel the story and character development and it never feels out of place.

This is not only a great sequel, but an endlessly clever and entertaining film. With its compelling story, interesting characters, amazing visuals, and witty interpretations of how the internet might work if it were an actual place, huge kudos are due to all of the artists at Disney for creating something so beautiful to look at and so fun to experience. Taking this journey to the big city with Ralph and Vanellope is a total joy from beginning to end (and make sure to stay through the end credits, too).

Ralph Breaks the Internet is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some action and rude humor.” It opens in theaters on November 21.

My score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

As an added bonus, here’s the poster for the exclusive Real D 3D screenings of the film.

And here’s the official one-sheet for the film.

All Images ©️ Disney